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Operation Pedestal was an attempt to get vital supplies to Malta during World War 2. Previous convoys such as Harpoon (from Gibraltar) and Vigorous (from Egypt) had lost most of the merchantmen sunk and their cargoes lost and their escorts damaged.
The supplies were to be carried in a convoy of fourteen merchant ships. Key among them was the SS Ohio, the only large tanker available. In case it was lost, the others would carry some fuel supplies in drums. So that the convoy could get through it was to be protected by a huge force of warships, including two battleships, three aircraft carriers, seven cruisers and thirty-two destroyers. Once they reached the Sicily channel, Z Force (the battleships, the aircraft carriers, and three cruisers) were to return Gibraltar, while the convoy was to continue on to Malta with the remaining four cruisers and the destroyers escorting. The operation started on 9 August 1942, when the convoy sailed through the Pillars of Hercules.
The Regia Marina, on their side, had the problem of low diesel oil reserves, which kept the largest vessels in the Italian ports, reducing their scope for operations. When the British convoy was detected, it was decided to attack it with German and Italian aircraft based in Sardinia, than send ten submarines into the Sicily channel; one Italian cruiser division was to deliver the final attack. To allow this to happen diesel oil was transferred from the battleships' tanks to the cruisers.
This operation is also known as the Battle of Mid-August and in Malta as the Santa Marija Convoy1.
1pm: The German submarine U-73 sneaked through the thirteen screening destroyers and launched four torpedoes against the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle , sinking it.
The Spitfires on HMS Furious flew on to Malta. Her part of the mission complete, Furious turns back to Gibraltar. That night one of her escorts, destroyer HMS Wolverine detected a submarine. The submarine, the Italian Dagabur, was rammed and sank without survivors. Wolverine damaged her bow but made Gibraltar for repairs.
Allied aircraft from Malta make attacks on Sicilian airfields to damage, deter or draw off Axis planes.
The Italian cruiser division, formed of three heavy cruisers (Gorizia, Bolzano, and Trieste), three light cruisers (Eugenio di Savoia , Raimondo Montecuccoli , and Muzio Attendolo ) and seventeen destroyers set sail to meet the British convoy.
5pm: a British destroyer rammed and sank the Italian submarine Cobalto .
Another Axis air attack sank a merchant ship and damaged the flight deck of HMS Indomitable. Indomitable's aircraft had to land on Victorious. The aircraft already on her deck were pushed into the sea to make room. Unable to take any more part in the operation, Indomitable turns back to Gibraltar. In the same air attack the destroyer HMS Foresight was sunk.
Z Force turned back to Gibraltar.
8pm: Italian submarine Axum launched four torpedoes, sinking the cruiser HMS Cairo and damaging the oil tanker SS Ohio and the cruiser HMS Nigeria . A combined Italian-German air attack sank two merchant ships.
0-2am: a MAS attack sank cruiser HMS Manchester and six merchant ships.
Marshal Kesselring, commander of the German Air Command based in Sicily, denied air coverage to the Italian cruiser division, having little regard for the fighting capability of the Regia Marina, and preferring to use his aircraft for direct attacks on the British convoy. Without the protection of the aircraft, and considering the proximity of the air base of Malta, the Supermarina (the Regia Marina High Command) decided to withdraw the cruisers to Messina. The British submarine Safari damages the Bolzano and the Attendolo.
Axis air and sea attacks sank eleven of the cargo ships as well as one aircraft carrier (Eagle), two cruisers (Manchester and Cairo), and one destroyer (Foresight).
The British claimed one Italian submarine and thirty-nine aircraft. Ohio under Capt. Dudley Mason, then the world's largest oil tanker capable of doing over 16 knots, suffered seven direct hits and twenty near misses and lost all power, but was taken under tow by three destroyers (HMS Penn, HMS Ledbury and HMS Bramham) and arrived in port on 15 August.
The arrival of the oil and supplies lifted the siege of Malta. By transferring fighters from the carriers to Malta, the British re-established a creditable air garrison on the island. Malta exerted a block of Axis supplies to North Africa immediately before the Second Battle of El Alamein.
British ships taking part in this operation included:
- Aircraft Carriers:
- Merchant Ships
- SS Almeria Lykes
- MV Brisbane Star (damaged, arrived 14 August)
- MV Clan Ferguson
- MV Deucalion
- MV Dorset
- MV Empire Hope
- MV Glenorchy
- MV Melbourne Star (arrived 13 August)
- SS Ohio (fuel tanker, damaged, arrived 15 August)
- MV Port Chalmers (arrived 13 August)
- MV Rochester Castle (damaged, arrived 13 August)
- SS Santa Elisa (freighter, drums of fuel, sunk)
- SS Waimarana (freighter, drums of fuel, sunk)
- MV Wairangi
- The arrival of the last of the convoy on August 15 1942 coincided with the Feast of the Assumption (Santa Marija) and to this day the convoy is known in Malta as the Santa Marija Convoy or Sta Marija Convoy. The public holiday and celebrations which occur on that day are in part carried out in celebration of the arrival of the convoy. For the fortitude and courage of the Maltese during the seige, the island and people of Malta were awarded the George Cross.
- Website about the proceedings of Operation Pedestal
- Operation Pedestal and SS Ohio save Malta
- Times of Malta Sta Marija Convoy Surviving Crewmen for Malta Reunion by Fiona Galea Debono, July 15, 2002.
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