MALTA WAR DIARY: OPERATION PEDESTAL – SANTA MARIJA – FINAL DAY
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“I think I am speaking for all in saying that we are disappointed at not doing better but we should like to try again.” E N Syfret, Vice-Admiral, Flag Officer Commanding, Operation Pedestal
OHIO COMES IN – WITH HER CARGO OF FUEL
Early this morning the tanker Ohio was cradled into Grand Harbour to a rapturous welcome. Maltese and military crowded every available space to cheer the battered ship as she passed through the arms of the harbour entrance and into shelter.
Her decks barely above the water line, the tanker was carefully inched into her place in history, and berth at Parlatorio Wharf in French Creek – where Illustrious had also survived an enemy bent on her destruction. After a traumatic twenty four hours, Ohio was berthed in shallow water and settled on the bottom.
Of the merchant ships now in harbour, Port Chalmers is undamaged and Melbourne Star only superficially. The Rochester Castle has been hit by a torpedo and water entered Nos 1 and 2 holds. The Brisbane Star has also received a torpedo hit forward and No 2 hold was slightly flooded. The Ohio‘s engine room was partly flooded due to a hit by a heavy bomb, and the port side of the pump room had been holed by either a mine or a torpedo. However, the majority of her fuel cargo is intact and available.
“That these five ships did make their goal is a magnificent tribute to the resolution shown by all concerned, and a special word of praise is due to the gallant Master of the Ohio (Captain D W Mason), to Penn (Lieutenant-Commander J H Swain, RN), Ledbury (Lieutenant-commander R P Hill, RN) and Bramham (Lieutenant E F Baines, RN), to the Malta local forces, and to the Royal Air Force based on Malta. (1)
“WE WERE A SITTING TARGET” – OHIO GUNNERS DESCRIBE LAST HOURS OF TANKER’S JOURNEY
“Seven planes appeared above and we shouted to the bridge who thought they were Spitfires and told us so. The ‘Spitfires’ banked and screamed down narrowly missing us with bombs but one hit the Ohio square on the stern. We really thought the whole damn lot of us were going to blow up, but our luck held. Thank God! The attack was so sudden that B gun only fired eight rounds. It was getting dusk and the planes were able to get gloriously close to us without being seen. We saw one going away which appeared to be badly damaged…
Darkness came as a godsend and then we really got to work…we decided that the Bramham should go alongside the tanker on her starboard side and that we should tow her between us…at last we were secured to the skipper’s satisfaction and although we were a lovely target for any lurking submarine we remained still until the following morning. Then we started the last stage of the hellish trip to Malta at seven knots!
All that day we were left alone, this being due to the fighter escort from Malta. We sighted the Island at 1930 and hoped we would make it that night. But we were informed that we would not arrive till next morning. So it was at 0800 the next day we steamed through the breakwater into the Grand Harbour at Malta. Two ships, small destroyers, of only 1600 tons, with an oil tanker between them had safely brought the last ship of the convoy safely to its destination. The people of Valletta lined the harbour to cheer us, and the military band played ‘Hearts of Oak’ as we entered, making us feel very fed up because we did not ask for praise. We had only done what we set out to do.” W R Cheetham and D Burke, WW2 People’s War (2)
CONVOY SURVIVOR REMEMBERS
“The attacks were terrifying; I cannot think of another word. The worst for me were the Stukas; their sirens made the most appalling noise. The sky was absolutely mottled with flak from the ships…nothing had ever been seen like it. The destroyers too were simply remarkable. To me, the worst sight of all was seeing Eagle go down, because you could see both planes and men sliding into the sea; you could actually hear the screams and yells…It was extremely frightening; no it was not frightening, it was terror, absolute terror.“ Survivor Frederick Treves, Junior Apprentice on Waimarama (3)
MILITARY SITUATION REPORT FOR WEEK ENDING 15 AUGUST 1942
From: Governor & C in C Malta To: C in C Middle East Rpt: War Office
1. Four merchant vessels and one tanker arrived ex convoy from UK out of original 14 ships. Only one of these unscathed. Approx gross tonnage 47000 mixed cargoes essential foodstuffs, ammunition, black and white oils. Supply situation will be considerably easier. General relief at arrival though cost fully realised. Two M/Vs and two D/Rs slipped away from here under cover of operation taking with them 44 German and 15 Italian from P of W cage. Arrived Gibraltar safely.
2. Army carrying out bulk of unloading operations as few naval personnel to assist. Total 3000 men working in three shifts day and night with civilian assistance are unloading 5000 tons per day and dispersing to field dumps and near consignees. Further 1500 men being provided assistance to RAF servicing, refuelling aircraft and ensuring maintenance aerodromes. All available transport in use. 150 Royal Artillery personnel working smoke screen. Operation proceeding satisfactorily.
3. Other than attacks on convoy enemy air activity over Island has consisted of fighter sweeps only and slight night bombing. Total of 32 night bombers, few of which crossed coast. Total RAF claims 23 destroyed, three probables, ten damaged, including three destroyed by night fighters. Ack Ack no claims and few engagements. RAF offensive against Sardinian and Sicilian aerodromes to protect convoy also providing permanent umbrella. Further reinforcement of Spitfires arrived.
4. Military casualties nil except six Other Ranks wounded on convoy. Reinforcement 31 all ranks details arrived on convoy, also 90 carrier pigeons.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 15 AUGUST TO DAWN 16 AUGUST 1942
Weather Fine; visibility 10 to 15 miles.
Day Spitfires keep up a standing patrol over Grand Harbour.
0530-0655 hrs Two Spitfires 249 Squadron Ta Qali on patrol over convoy ships: no sightings.
0555-0700 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron on patrol over convoy ships: no sightings.
0620-0730 hrs Eight Spitfires 229 Squadron Ta Qali are scrambled to intercept possible enemy raiders: no sightings. Sgt Ballantine runs into a stationary Spitfire on landing: both aircraft are damaged but he is unhurt.
0623-0725 hrs Two Spitfires 249 Squadron on convoy patrol: no sightings.
0643-0816 hrs Eight Spitfires 185 Squadron Hal Far patrol over the incoming tanker until it arrives in Grand Harbour.
0755 hrs After an epic struggle by her gallant Master and escorts, SS Ohio in tow of Penn and Bramham enters Grand Harbour followed by Ledbury. The sweepers and motor launches enter Marsamxett.
0905-0920 hrs Air raid alert. Eight Spitfires 185 Squadron are airborne to intercept enemy aircraft. Capt Swales and Sgt Tarbuck together destroy one ME 109. Sgt Tarbuck’s Spitfire has airscrew trouble and he is forced to bale out but is picked up unhurt by the High Speed Launch.
0955-1025 hrs Air raid alert. Raid does not materialise.
1100-1205 hrs Two Spitfires 229 Squadron on patrol: no sightings.
PM Spitfires 185 Squadron Hal Far carry out three patrols over shipping in Grand harbour.
1445-1545 hrs Eight Spitfires 249 Squadron are scrambled to intercept possible enemy raiders; four return early. Lt Hetherington sees one ME 109 streaming glycol but does not make contact.
1535-1540 hrs Eight Spitfires 229 Squadron on intercept patrol see two enemy aircraft but cannot make contact.
1800 hrs Force X and Force Z arrive at Gibraltar. The damaged ships of Force Z, sent home earlier in the operation, also all reached Gibraltar safely except the destroyer Foresight which had to be sunk by Tartar who had tried to tow her in.
1910-2015 hrs Four JU 88s are reported nearby, escorting an enemy ship. Four Spitfires 229 Squadron are scrambled to intercept but visibility is poor and they do not locate the enemy.
1935-2020 hrs Two Spitfires 229 Squadron on patrol: no sightings.
2230-2235 hrs Air raid alert for one enemy aircraft which drops bombs in the sea before receding.
Military casualties Gunner Carmel Grech, Royal Malta Artillery; Gunner Frederick Hornsey, 12 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.
Civilian casualties Zurrieq Pauline Grech, age 46.
OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 15 AUGUST 1942
ROYAL NAVY A smoke screen was developed over the Dockyard on two occasions for large formations of aircraft, but no bombs were dropped. Utmost and P 46 arrived from Gibraltar to join Tenth Submarine Flotilla, the former having obtained one torpedo hit on an Italian AMC off Marittimo. After dark the presence of E Boats was suspected and fire was opened by shore batteries on one occasion, but no results observed.
AIR HQ Arrivals Three Hudsons from Gibraltar; one DC3 from Bilbeis. Departures One Hudson to Gibraltar; one Spitfire to LG 224; two DC3 to Bilbeis. Aircraft casualties One Spitfire shot down into the sea: pilot rescued uninjured.
HAL FAR One special Swordfish and two Albacores from Hal Far are despatched on a shipping strike off the west coast of Sicily. Weather conditions are very bad and they sight nothing.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 2. Dealt with: nil. BD Sections manpower on convoy and transport duties except for party standing by to deal with unexploded bombs Grand Harbour. Also dealt with week ending 15 August: 62 anti-personnel bombs.
(1) E N Syfret, Vice-Admiral, Flag Officer Commanding, Operation Pedestal
(2) ‘WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar’ INSERT LINK!!!!!
(3) Malta: Blitzed But Not Beaten, Philip Vella, Progress Press 1985
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