Operation Pedestal. Success or failure of the Royal Navy?

During World War II, the Mediterranean became a battleground between the British Navy on one side and the Axis forces on the other. Germany and Italy needed to ensure an uninterrupted supply of their armies for a successful military campaign in North Africa. However, they got in the way of a British naval base on the island of Malta.

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.

Royal Navy aircraft carriers - Indomitable and Eagle. Photo from the deck of the aircraft carrier Victorious

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.

The death of the aircraft carrier Eagle

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).

Aircraft carrier Indomitable

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.

Convoy under attack by Axis bombers

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.

Операция «Пьедестал». Успех или поражение Королевского флота?

Arrival of the surviving transport ships to Malta

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.

Tanker Ohio in La Valletta harbor

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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  1. +11
    23 September 2021 16: 06
    Success or failure of the Royal Navy?
    Operation Pedestal can be considered an example of a battle where seemingly disproportionate losses are justified by the strategic outcome achieved. After all, it was about the rescue of the "unsinkable aircraft carrier of the British Empire" - Malta. On the afternoon of June 10, 1940, Mussolini declared war on England, and at night a specially equipped Italian ship cut the first of seven telephone cables connecting Malta with Gibraltar. It took another two months to destroy the remaining six cables. Thus began the blockade, which lasted more than two years. The cradle of the ancient glory of the knights-crusaders, which for its unprecedented defense still had to earn the honorary nickname "Mediterranean Stalingrad", held on with unshakable tenacity. But before its defenders and civilians, the ghost of an enemy more terrible than the German and Italian planes - hunger arose. Malta, even in peacetime, depended on food supplies from outside, and under the blockade, a two-week ration per person was only 300 grams. flour, 400 gr. canned meat, 400 gr. sugar and 200 gr. fat. Women fainted in lines for a meager ration, doctors noted signs of exhaustion in children. But the fuel famine was even worse - without fuel, planes would not take off, submarines and boats would not go into battle, the generators that supplied the life and defense of Malta with electricity would stop ... After eight transports managed to break through to Malta in September 1941, Delivering 85 tons of cargo, regular Allied convoy raids were thwarted by aggressive and energetic actions of the Italo-German forces, which were coordinated from Italy by one of the best Nazi strategists, Field Marshal Kesselring. Until August 000, the British, at the cost of huge losses, managed to navigate only four transports to Malta, and two of them were sunk by German bombers in Grand Harbor in front of desperate Maltese before they managed to unload most of the vital materials for the island. Not a single tanker reached the coast of Malta during this period.
    Analysts at the British headquarters came to the ominous conclusion: if by the end of August 1942 the necessary cargo (primarily fuel) does not reach Malta, the island will fall. The fatal count went on for days, and the command of the Royal Navy began feverishly to develop a plan for emergency rescue of Malta, which had no right to fail. The operation of escorting the convoy, which should make its way to the island no later than mid-August, was named "Pedestal", as if a monument was already being cast for those who were to find a grave in the deceptively gentle waves of the Mediterranean Sea ...
    1. +11
      23 September 2021 16: 11
      Ohio was hit by a bomb but continued on his 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.
      Damage to the Brisbane Star transport.
      the Ohio tanker was brought to Grand Harbor and run aground for reliability. Crowds of jubilant residents of Valletta greeted him with applause and enthusiastic shouts. The brass band on the shore played "Rule, Britain, by the seas", and on that day the solemn words of the anthem sounded especially appropriate. The arrival of the long-awaited convoy to Malta coincided with the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, so in the Maltese historical tradition the name “Convoy of St. Mary” was firmly entrenched in it. The ships that broke through to Malta delivered 32 tons of various cargo and 000 tons of fuel - that was enough. to provide the island until December 15 In terms of irreplaceable losses in equipment, Operation Pedestal cost the British one aircraft carrier, two light cruisers, one destroyer and nine transport ships. The death toll was approximately 000 people.
      The Germans and Italians lost just over 100 people, two submarines and up to 60 aircraft.
      However, the success of the Germans and Italians was nullified by the cargo in the womb of the Ohio. 10 thousand tons of oil and kerosene allowed Malta's aviation to get rid of the fuel shortage. These reserves lasted until December 1942.
      The "unsinkable aircraft carrier" once again crushed Italian convoys, and Rommel complained about the insufficient supply of his army. It was the lack of supplies that turned out to be one of the main factors that predetermined the defeat of the Germans in the battle of El Alamein.
      1. +10
        23 September 2021 16: 14
        Participated in the escort of the convoy to Malta, which was named "Pedestal", the aircraft carrier of the Fleet of His Majesty the aircraft carrier "Eagle"
        was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U73
        under the command of Lieutenant Commander Helmut Rosenbaum
        1. +11
          23 September 2021 16: 21
          This attack went down in the history of submarine warfare as one of the most brilliant and successful attacks carried out by a German submarine. Unfortunately, Igla had no chance of surviving, since Rosenbaum, who had perfectly chosen a position for a volley, literally hit him point blank with his torpedoes. All four torpedoes fired from the U73 hit the target and sent the ship to the bottom. No matter how the U-73 managed to slip inside the guard ring, it wasted no time when it got close to the aircraft carrier. At that moment, 13 destroyers were near the convoy and Formation F, the rest were with Formation R a few miles from the scene. Nobody noticed the torpedo tracks. Apparently, the German boat passed under the third and fourth columns of transports. Lieutenant Commander Rosenbaum had an unambiguous order: his target was aircraft carriers, not merchant ships. Immediately after the salvo, the boat went deep, filling the bow tanks. All free crew members were collected in the bow compartments. They heard 4 explosions, and after 12 minutes the roar of the exploding boilers of the aircraft carrier came. Only then did the first depth charge detonate. Three hours later, the explosions of the depth charges ceased. Rosenbaum climbed under the periscope. The hydrophones were out of order and did not work, so there was no other way out. But as soon as he glanced around the surrounding area, he was convinced that the enemy destroyers had left - and just in time, because a wide trail of oil stretched behind the stern of the boat. Fuel was leaking from the damaged tank. Probably, he was not noticed only because at the place of the death of the aircraft carrier, a huge oil stain shimmered with rainbow stains.
          Having risen to the surface and pumping the remnants of fuel from the damaged tank, Rosenbaum sent the first message to Admiral Kreish, commander-in-chief of submarine operations in the Mediterranean: "The composition of the convoy: battleship (in question) - one, aircraft carrier - one, name" Eagle ", cruisers - two , destroyers - fifteen plus nine (or ten) transports ... "
          This was followed by data on the course, location and time when the submarine last observed the convoy. Rosenbaum concluded the talk with the following words:
          The Eagle is hit by four torpedoes from a distance of five hundred yards. The sound was clearly heard as it went down. The boat was bombarded with depth charges, I have no damage. "
          That evening, at ten o'clock, the U-73 crew caught a German radio transmission.
          A special bulletin reported that a German submarine had sunk the British aircraft carrier Eagle in the Mediterranean. And soon messages were sent by radiotelegraph communication with congratulations to the U-73 team and its commander Lieutenant-Commander Helmut Rosenbaum for their outstanding achievement.
          Reports of the death of an aircraft carrier took center stage in all the newspapers.
          That same night, Rosenbaum wrote in his war diary: “What a day! One of those when it seems that everything is going smoothly. For two days he suffered from dysentery, but now the temperature was asleep, and things were finally getting better ... ”It seems that this very fact gave him maximum joy, even more than the Knight's Cross
          1. +10
            23 September 2021 16: 25
            What was happening on board the Igla at that time? Henry Rathbone was the signalman.
            “In the morning there was an air raid alert several times, but at last I was able to return to the signalmen's quarters to have a bite. I dreamed of taking a nap in my bunk. I must explain that our cockpit is located one deck below the main cockpit, closer to the bow of the ship. When the Eagle was hit, I first got the impression that we were being bombed. But after a few seconds the ship turned sharply to the left, leaning heavily. Several emergency lights flashed and I managed to climb the ladder to the main deck.
            By this time the roll had increased and it became difficult to stay on deck. But the cockpit tables were firmly anchored, and we used them to hold on. I got to the starboard ramp, which led to a platform that protruded overboard. The first of us found a tench and helped us out of the cockpit, encouraging us with his voice. I was lucky because I could swim and my lifebelt was in good condition. I remember that the Eagle was practically on board. I was able to descend into the sea by climbing over the "torpedo boules". I wonder what happened to them on the port side?
            Several people who escaped from the platform saw the commander of an aviation warhead in a cap with gold embroidery floating next to us. We exchanged a few words, but we all tried to sail as far as possible from the sinking ship. However, when this happened, the end of the old ship was peaceful. There was no maelstrom that could suck us in.
            Now the destroyers have stepped in and have begun to drop depth charges. I hoped they wouldn't get too close, as I wasn't sure I could survive the concussions from the explosions. Fortunately, the sea was warm and calm, and after 45 minutes I was picked up by the tug "Jonty". I saw a large blue flag in the locker and wiped myself off with it. I was the lucky one. "
            Forest Owen's story turned out to be similar:
            “It happened when we got behind the convoy to receive the returning plane. We got 4 torpedo hits in the middle section. I can’t remember the order to leave the ship, but it was clear that he immediately began to sink, lying on the port side. Planes rained down on the water, and a significant portion of the crew, including my old friend Ginger Gerhard, the ship's hairdresser, went missing.
            I think it took 7 minutes from the moment we got the hits to the moment it sank. At this time, a combat alert was announced on the ship, my post was at the front pom-pom. Before jumping overboard, I tried to close the fenders so that the shells would not fall out, otherwise they could cripple our comrades as they climb onto the flight deck. Then I thought that there was still enough time and actually went down the side of the ship to the boules with most of the crew. Then I inflated my lifebelt, took off my shoe covers and jumped into the sea. At first I was carried away by the whirlpool from the sinking ship, but then I surfaced and was able to grab a chair from the cockpit. Then I, along with 6 comrades, were almost blown apart by depth charges, which were being dropped by the destroyers.
            After some time - it seemed to us that it was a clock - we were picked up by a boat, lowered by the tug "Jonty". The destroyer Malcolm took us from her and later dropped us off in Gibraltar. "
            Thus ended the service of the "Igla" veteran. Official British history reports: "If we were destined to lose him, the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, which he knew so well, became the best grave." "
          2. 0
            19 November 2021 18: 27
            Thanks for the interesting information. Dysentery she is like this for 3 days passes-the relief after constipation is just incredible-I understand the submariner :) ... double gesheft :)
  2. +9
    24 September 2021 08: 17
    Tanker Ohio ... it can be like that, a directly spellbound ship, not only is it fire and explosive itself, but also endless attacks and hits. So, after all, I got there, brought me to my destination.
    An excellent captain and a great team! good

    Rear Admiral H.M. Burrow, BCH, in command of the near escort, shook hands with Captain Dudley Mason.

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