Operation Pedestal. Success or failure of the Royal Navy?
The strategic position of this Royal Navy fleet was quite beneficial. The stationed bomber squadrons inflicted considerable damage to Axis shipping off the coast of North Africa. But the frequent raids of the Italian and German air forces gradually depleted the resources of the base. To supply it, the Admiralty sent convoys one after another. To carry them out, the fleet developed entire operations, sometimes attracting significant forces.
In 1942, the situation was very difficult for the defenders of the island. In June, the Royal Navy carried out two operations to supply the island, but from these convoys only 2 transports reached Malta. If in August it was not possible to deliver food, fuel and ammunition, then Malta would find itself in a critical situation - under the threat of surrender.
The issue of the next supply of food was resolved as soon as possible. A new operation was planned for the first half of August, code-named Pedestal.
To implement the plan, the Admiralty decided to assemble the strongest cover possible. The battleships Nelson and Rodney, 14 aircraft carriers (Victorious, Indomitable and Eagle), 3 cruisers and 7 destroyers were to escort 32 transport ships. For the first time in stories the convoy was covered by such significant forces. The squadron had about 100 aircraft at its disposal, most of them fighters. In Malta itself, by the beginning of the operation, there were 159 combat aircraft, which were supposed to cover the convoy on the last leg of the route. In addition, several submarines were sent to Italy in case the Italian fleet went to sea. The general command was carried out by Vice Admiral Neville Sifret.
On the night of August 9-10, the ships passed Gibraltar. Since there was no fuel left in Malta, the escort refueled in advance. Along the way, the last preparations were made. But at the same time, their opponent was making his preparations. A squadron of the Italian fleet, consisting of 3 heavy and 3 light cruisers, as well as 20 destroyers, was preparing to intercept. And the submarines have already entered their positions. Nearby airfields hummed like hives, receiving more and more squadrons. The Axis Powers were ready to use 600-700 aircraft to destroy the convoy.
On the afternoon of August 11, the first blow was struck at the convoy. The German submarine U-73 sneaked into the warrant and hit the aircraft carrier Eagle with 4 torpedoes. The loss of the valuable ship deprived the convoy of almost one fifth of the fighters.
On the night of August 12, several more clashes took place. The destroyer Wolverine sank the Italian submarine Dagabur with a ram. Also, the main forces of the convoy underwent one attack from the German dive bombers, which ended in vain. But that was just the beginning. The main hostilities began the next day.
From the very morning on August 12, the convoy was under the supervision of enemy reconnaissance aircraft. It took the Germans some time, but already at 9 o'clock the first group of 19 Ju-88 dive bombers appeared over the British ships. Despite the actions of the fighters, some of the bombers broke through, but did not achieve results. The convoy continued to move without loss.
Large-scale attack aviation started in the afternoon. But different groups of Italian aircraft entered at different times. Poor coordination of the Italian pilots allowed the British to successfully repel all attacks. The air defense of the convoy managed to shoot down only 4 aircraft. But at 12:30 a group of 12 German dive bombers successfully hit the merchant ship Deucalion. It failed, and was finished off by torpedo bombers in the evening.
Intercepting the convoy, the Italians conducted several experiments: a radio-controlled aircraft with explosives was used (ended in failure due to radio failure) and an attack on the aircraft carrier with fragmentation bombs from Re-2001 fighters was carried out (several killed and wounded on the deck, without damage to the ship).
After 18:00, the most serious attack on the convoy of the day began. In addition to the Italian torpedo bombers and escort fighters, their dive bombers also appeared over the convoy. The first hits at 18:47 were received by Indomitable, attacked by 12 German dive bombers. The pilots achieved 2 direct hits and 3 close breaks. The flight deck was badly damaged, and there were heavy losses among the crew, including injuries to many pilots. Airplanes in the air were now forced to land on Victorious. Since there was not enough space on the ship, the heavily damaged vehicles were simply thrown overboard.
A little later, at 19:05, the destroyer Foresight received a torpedo hit, which sank later.
The Italian submariners were also successful. The Axum submarine hit the cruisers Cairo, Nigeria and the tanker Ohio with one torpedo salvo. The first was soon abandoned by the crew and finished off by the allies, and the second went to Gibraltar for repairs. And only Ohio continued his path full of dangers to Malta.
It was getting dark, and Admiral Sifret assumed that there would be no more attacks from the air. But this opinion was wrong. At a time when there were no British fighters in the sky, almost 40 dive bombers and torpedo bombers attacked the convoy. Several close ruptures occurred near the tanker Ohio, but it continued on its way. However, the main attention of the enemy was attracted by the transport of Empire Hope. More than 15 bombs were dropped on it, some of which reached their target. Empire Hope, carrying gasoline and ammunition, was abandoned by the crew and torpedoed by an escort destroyer.
Clan Ferguson suffered roughly the same fate. After a torpedo hit, a fire started on it. The ship was destroyed by an explosion from detonated ammunition.
Another vessel, the Brisbane Star, was also torpedoed, but continued on its way. After 9 pm, a couple of torpedo bombers sank the Deucalion transport. And the cruiser Kenya was damaged by a torpedo from an Italian submarine.
With the onset of dusk, the convoy split into separate groups. The night promised to be long, as Italian and German torpedo boats went out to hunt. Their first casualty was the light cruiser Manchester. In the next 4 hours, 4 more transport vessels Glenorchy, Almeria Likes, Santa Elisa and Wairangi were sunk.
The British have also made significant progress. The squadron of Italian cruisers, which had every chance to deal with the remnants of the convoy, turned around and went to the base. According to one version, this decision was influenced by the fact that the Italians were afraid of a retaliatory air raid by the Royal Air Force and did not want to risk it.
On the morning of August 13, Axis aircraft began to operate in the sky. Already at 8 am, the first groups of dive bombers made a raid. After several bomb hits, the Waimarama transport exploded. The next sections of bombers tried to finish off Ohio, but the transport escaped with only close explosions and continued on its way.
There was very little to go to Malta, and soon fighters from the island could provide a safe passage for the convoy. Nevertheless, the Germans managed to damage the transports Port Chalmers and Dorset. The latter was subsequently abandoned by the team and finished off by aircraft. The minesweepers and boats leaving La Valletta in the afternoon met the first cargo ships: Melbourne Star, Port Chalmers and Rochester Castle.
Already at dusk, the Axis pilots attacked the stragglers. The damaged Dorset was finally finished off, and the tanker Ohio was hit by a bomb, but continued on its way. She barely stayed afloat, but the destroyers Ledbury and Penn, and several smaller ships, diligently navigated the most valuable ship to Malta. On the morning of August 14, they all entered the La Valetta raid. A little later, the Brisbane Star transport arrived at the port.
This ended the operation. In total, only 5 transport ships out of 14 reached Malta. Also, in 4 days, the Royal Navy lost 1 aircraft carrier, 2 light cruisers and 1 destroyer. Another 1 aircraft carrier, 2 cruisers and 2 destroyers were seriously damaged. In total, the Royal Air Force lost no more than 40 aircraft. The loss of life was approximately 500 people. Axis countries lost 2 submarines and up to 60 aircraft during these days, and 2 cruisers and 1 submarine were damaged.
Operation Pedestal was not a huge success in Britain. However, the delivery of even such an amount of fuel and ammunition greatly strengthened the island's defenses. Air groups from Malta were again able to strike at enemy communications, weakening his forces in Africa. Malta continued its resistance, which eventually ended in victory.
Learn the history of the formation of British naval aviation - from balloons and Supermarine Walrus to Westland Wyvern and Fairey Swordfish - in the series of documentaries "Sea Legends" from Wargaming!
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