Sunday, 1 February 2009

Operation Pedestal

In august 1942 the British Royal Navy embarked on an Operation called Operation Pedestal. Operation Pedestal was organised to supply the island of Malta that was quickly running out of supplies.

Malta played a pivotal role in World War Two as the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force used the island as a base to launch attacks on the German Kriegsmarine and Italian Navy as they were trying to bring convoys of supplies to the German and Italian forces fighting in the North Africa campaign.

Malta suffered greatly through 1941 and 1942 as the Axis powers tried to blockade any supplies coming to the island thus causing the island to not have the supplies needed to fight and sustain daily life.

Britain was sending convoys to Malta to sustain the island at any cost and the island only just survived as many convoys suffered heavy losses to German bombers.

The British Admiralty decided that it had to put up an extra effort on convoys to Malta as the chokehold that the axis had on the island was starting to asphyxiate the people who lived and fought there.

Operation Pedestal

The operation involved sixty four Royal Navy warships defending fourteen merchant vessels full of supplies.

The operation started on 2nd August with many Royal Navy warships moving around the Scottish cost to join forces before leaving Scapa Flow with the Merchant vessels. The convoy travelled from the United Kingdom to the Straits where it joined up with Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers for convoy air support.

For the whole convoy all ships kept radio silence to protect the operation they were embarking on.

Passage through the Straits on the 10th August was very quiet with no enemy ships or U-Boats seen in the area.

August 11th

On August 11th the convoy refuelled ready to continue their journey. In total three cruisers and twenty six destroyers were refuelled at sea in the middle of the Mediterrannean.

After refuelling the convoy carried on with its journey but not without incident as German U-Boat U-73 hit HMS Eagle with four torpedoes sinking her with a loss of 160 crew (767 crew survived). Throughout the rest of the day the convoy witnessed many torpedoes and U-Boats in the vicinity as well as air attacks from German bombers of the Luftwaffe which did cause some damage to ships of the convoy but did not sink any of the fleet.

August 12th

August the 12th started without incident but in the day things changed. HMS Ithuriel sank the Italian submarine Cobalto after seeing her surface and ramming her, this did also badly damage the HMS Ithuriel.

The British carriers launched and defense Hawker Hurricanes against nineteen German Junkers Ju 88s, the Hurricanes shot down four bombers for one loss of their own.

Much fighting continued throughout the day with damage caused on both sides. The British destroyers also deployed depth charges to reduce the potential of U-Boat attacks.

In the evening an Italian submarine by the name of Axum successfully torpedoed HMS Nigeria, HMS Cairo and the oil tanker SS Ohio. The Merchant Vessels Empire Hope and Glenorchy were sunk also, Glenorchy lost all hands.

A later attack at around 2130 sunk the Merchant vessel Deucalion and HMS Foresight was sunk not long after by another Italian submarine.

August 13th

The convoy had reached between north Africa and Sicily by now and the attacks intensified with 15 German and Italian torpedoe boats attacking continuously. It was during these attacks that another three merchant vessels were torpedoed and lost.

Later two Italian E-Boats managed to torpedoe HMS Manchester, all crew survived and the Commanding Officer had the HMS Manchester scuttled.

Two waves of German bombers came after this, the first was twleve Junkers Ju 88s that managed to bomb and sink the merchant vessel Waimarama. The second wave came from sixty German Stuka dive bombers that concentrated attacks on the limping SS Ohio, during this wave the Ohio saw a german bomber crash on her deck, an Italian plane bounced of the water and crashed into her and two bombs landing either side of her saw the ship lifted out of the water causing damage to her hull and rupturing her boilers meaning she could move no further.

Other ships were damaged in the attacks and the merchant vessel Dorset was immobilised after her engine room flooded.

Three merchant vessels had continued ahead of the rest of the convoy and managed to reach the Maltese Grand Harbour of Valetta at 6pm in the evening.

HMS Penn was trying to tow the SS Ohio when another wave of attacks ensured and all hands on the SS Ohio abandoned ship after the tow line to HMS Penn snapped and a bomb hit SS Ohio in the same place she was damaged previously.

The crew of the Ohio went back aboard the ship after the attack but another attack of Ju 88s saw Ohio damaged further and she was left limping along at only four knots.

August 14th

The merchant vessel Brisbane Star made it to the Grand Harbour in Malta badly damaged with its bow torn off. The SS Ohio was now being towed by a group of ships with two Royal Navy destroyers running along side her port and stern. The SS Ohio was constantly under air attack with another bomb blowing off her rudder.

August 15th

The SS Ohio finally managed to get into the Grand Harbour at Malta, being towed in by two Royal Navy destroyers (one was HMS Penn) and tug boats. As she was coming in there was a huge crowd cheering and a band playing Rule Britannia.

Operation Pedestal was a strategic victory and success with the delivery of the four merchant vessels and SS Ohio ensuring that Malta was still in the war and had enough supplies (32,000 tonnes) to last for the duration.

Ships in the Convoy


Aircraft Carriers:
Eagle (sunk)
Indomitable (damaged)


Nigeria (damaged)
Kenya (damaged)
Manchester (scuttled)
Cairo (sunk)


Foresight (scuttled)

Merchant Ships

SS Almeria Lykes (sunk)
MV Brisbane Star (damaged, arrived 14 August)
MV Clan Ferguson (sunk)
MV Deucalion (sunk)
MV Dorset (sunk)
MV Empire Hope (sunk)
MV Glenorchy (sunk)
MV Melbourne Star (arrived 13 August)
SS Ohio (damaged beyond repair, arrived 15 August)
MV Port Chalmers (arrived 13 August)
MV Rochester Castle (damaged, arrived 13 August)
United States SS Santa Elisa (sunk)
SS Waimarama (sunk)
MV Wairangi (sunk)

Although successful, Operation Pedestal was seen as a tactical disaster with a toll of nine merchant ships lost, one Royal Navy aircraft carrier, two Royal Navy Cruisers and a Royal Navy Destroyer.

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