MALTA WAR DIARY: OPERATION PEDESTAL – SANTA MARIJA – DAILY DIARY
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“CHEERIO, GOOD LUCK, BALING OUT – PORT ENGINE ON FIRE”
These were the last words of Beaufighter pilot David Jay to his crewman Sergeant McFarlane this morning, before their aircraft plunged into the Mediterranean. Pilot Officer Jay, a New Yorker who volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force, was flying one of five RAF Beaufighters of 248 Squadron which took off frm Malta this morning to provide vital air cover for the approaching convoy.
They ran into a fierce battle as the Stuka bombers and fighters attacked, countered by heavy anti-aircraft fire from the convoy ships. Several ME 109s turned from the convoy to chase the Beaufighters. Moments later, Pilot Officer Jay was overheard by another aircraft saying his farewell to Sgt McFarlane, who was heard to answer him before their radio fell silent. Both were reported missing.
Wellington bombers were also engaged in bombing missions today over enemy aerodromes used as bases for attacks on the convoy. One Wellington making its second attack on Comiso was damaged by flak. The aircraft made it back to Malta but crashed near Luqa, killing the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Sergeant Harry Fox. Pilot P/O Shepherd and three other crew members (Sgt Langley, Sgt Maslin, and Sgt Thompson) were injured in the crash but survived.
Beaufighters and Spitfires flew 179 sorties and 46 patrols today, providing constant cover for the convoy. 14 enemy aircraft were destroyed, with three probables and nine damaged, for the loss of one Beaufighter and four Spitfires from Malta. Two of the Spitfire pilots are confirmed safe.
Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron reported that, especially given they had no direction aid from Force X, he considered the fighters performed “a magnificent job of work throughout the day”.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 13 AUGUST TO DAWN 14 AUGUST 1942
Weather Fine; visibility 10-15 miles.
Dawn The convoy is some 50 miles behind schedule but is now close enough to come under the protection of Malta’s Beaufighters and long-range Spitfires. HMS Ashanti, flagship of Rear-Admiral Burrough, Commander, 10th Cruiser Squadron is leading the protective force of HM Ships Kenya, Charybdis, Intrepid, Icarus, Fury, Eskimo and Somali, covering the merchant ships Melbourne Star, Clan Ferguson and Rochester Castle. HMS Ledbury is five miles astern escorting the damaged SS Ohio. SS Dorset is afloat and underway but is detached from the convoy and unescorted. SS Port Chalmers, escorted by HMS Pathfinder and HMS Bramham is ten miles off with HMS Penn beyond standing by SS Waimarama, which is on fire. SS Brisbane Star has spent the night close to the Tunisian coast. The ship is boarded by the French authorities who are persuaded to treat the crew fairly.
0505-0910 hrs One Beaufighter 248 Squadron Ta Qali on patrol to cover the convoy sights one JU 88 and several ME 109s; no combat.
0527-0835 hrs Four Beaufighters 248 Squadron are dispatched on convoy patrol; one does not get airborne and is damaged. W/Cdr Pike attempts to intercept a JU 88 but is counter-attacked by several ME 109s. One bullet hits his Beaufighter in the stern; the crew is uninjured. W/Cdr Pike does not return fire.
0639-0726 hrs Eight Spitfires 185 Squadron Hal Far on patrol over Malta: no sightings.
0712 hrs Rear-Admiral Burrough orders HM Ships Eskimo and Somali to return and stand by HMS Manchester. On their way to do so they picked up survivors of SS Almeria Lykes and Wairangi.
0730 hrs Five Beaufighters 248 Squadron are dispatched on protective patrol over the convoy.
0810-0900 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron Ta Qali are airborne on intercept patrol over Malta: no sightings.
0810 hrs JU 88s carry out a dive-bombing attack on the convoy, concentrating on SS Clan Ferguson, which receives a direct hit and blows up. HMS Charybdis reports seeing two aircraft dive on the merchantman and only one coming, the other is presumed destroyed in the explosion. Ledbury rescues 45 of her crew.
0925 hrs Ju 87 dive-bombers attack, while Italian aircraft lay parachute mines ahead around the convoy. The Stukas target Ohio which has rejoined the convoy. The tanker suffers several near-misses: her steering gear is disabled but her guns shoot down one JU 87 which collides with the ship. Port Chalmers is set on fire but continues underway.
The Beaufighters of 248 Squadron approach the convoy as enemy bombers and fighters attack, countered by heavy anti-aircraft fire from the ships. Several ME 109s over the convoy chase the Beaufighters. Pilot P/O Jay his crew Sgt McFarlane are reported missing.
0941 hrs HMS Kenya is attacked by dive-bombers and suffers near-misses.
1017 hrs; 1050 hrs Two more dive-bombing and minelaying attacks bring more near-misses for Ohio and for SS Dorset. HM Ships Penn, Ledbury and Bramham stand by as protection for the two ships.
1020-1135 hrs Four Spitfires 229 Squadron Ta Qali are dispatched to patrol over the convoy. They sight two Junkers bombers: the first has not dropped its bombs and is chased away by a Spitfire. The second has dropped its bombs when F/Lt Northcott attacks, firing from 400 yards down to point-blank range: he observes masses of strikes. F/Lt McRuder fires at the same aircraft and also observes many strikes: the aircraft is ‘probably destroyed’. P/O Barbour fires but does not see the results due to oil on his windscreen. The Spitfire pilots note that the JU 88 had unusual bottle-green camouflage and no crosses could be seen.
1120 hrs Italian torpedo bombers attack the convoy, dropping torpedoes too wide of the ships to cause damage. Ships’ companies observe Malta Beaufighters and Spitfires engaging the enemy and shooting down at least four enemy aircraft. The convoy has now reached the range of Malta’s main Spitfire forces and the enemy stays clear.
1130-1230 hrs; 1145-1245 hrs; 1200-1315 hrs; 1230-1340 hrs; 1245-1304 hrs; 1335-1450 hrs Groups of four Spitfires 229 and 249 Squadrons Ta Qali patrol over the convoy: no enemy aircraft sighted. Through the afternoon Spitfires of 185 Squadron are also scrambled in sections of four on fifteen occasions to provide cover for the incoming convoy. No enemy aircraft are encountered. One Spitfire crashes on take-off, writing off the aircraft and badly injuring the pilot, Sgt Chewley.
1350-1515 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron on patrol over the convoy. F/Lt Watts gets in a three-second burst on an enemy bomber and sees strikes on the port wing (claims damaged).
1400-1510 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron on convoy duties. F/Sgt Parkes’ engine blows up; he bales out and is picked up, unhurt, by the naval launch.
1420-1520 hrs; 1440-1610 hrs; 1500-1605 hrs Groups of four Spitfires 229 and 249 Squadrons patrol over the convoy: no enemy aircraft sighted.
1500 hrs 17th Minesweeping Flotilla and 3rd Motor Launch Flotilla sail from Malta and carry out a sweep of searched channel, with orders to rendezvous with the convoy Force X and take over the escort of merchant vessels.
1550-1710 hrs Seven Spitfires 229 Squadron patrol over the Island: no enemy aircraft sighted.
1600 hrs Dingli monitors sight three merchant ships escorted by two minesweepers.
1600 hrs Force X makes rendezvous with the Malta minesweeping forces. SS Port Chalmers, Melbourne Star and Rochester Castle are turned over to the local escort, under the Senior Officer, Minesweepers, aboard HMS Speedy. HM Ships Penn, Bramham and Ledbury remain with the damaged SS Ohio and Dorset while the remainder of Force X withdraws to the west.
1630-1750 hrs; 1810-1920 hrs Groups of four Spitfires 229 and 249 Squadrons patrol over the convoy: no enemy aircraft sighted.
1740-1910 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron on patrol sight one JU 88. P/O Jones fires and is sure his aim is accurate but cannot see strikes due to dazzle from the enemy cockpit. Sgt Wynn fires twice, seeing strikes both times. Sgt Beurling fires; the starboard engine catches fire and pieces fly off. The bomber dives into the sea (destroyed).
1810-1935 hrs; 1815-1935 hrs Four and then eight Spitfires 249 Squadron on patrol see no enemy aircraft.
1815 hrs Rochester Castle enters Grand Harbour, followed by Melbourne Star and Port Chalmers. Two Motor Launches land the wounded at Sliema and then proceeded with 17th Minesweeping Flotilla to assist Dorset and Ohio.
1945-1950 hrs; 2225-2235 hrs; 2345-2355 hrs Air raid alerts for a total of 6 enemy aircraft of which only 3 cross the coast: all bombs are dropped in the sea.
2014 hrs Ohio and Dorset are attacked again. Dorset is set on fire and she sinks.
2030 hrs Force X departs for Gibraltar leaving orders for Bramham, Ledbury and Penn to rendezvous later.
2100 hrs Rye reports that she is assisting Penn to tow Ohio with 2 Motor Launches as A/S screen. A vessel south of Lampedusa is considered to be the Brisbane Star. Hythe, Hebe, and 2 Motor Launches are despatched to rendezvous with her at 0800 hrs on 14th.
0130 hrs Force X is attacked by E-Boats off Cape Bon. The ships engage and one is blown up.
0450 hrs A U-boat attacks Force X off Fratelli Rock, just missing HMS Ashanti. HMS Kenya attempts to ram the submarine without success.
Military casualties Flight Sergeant Robert Buntine, Royal Australian Air Force; Sergeant Harry Fox, Royal Australian Air Force; Pilot Officer David Jay, Royal Canadian Air Force; Flight Sergeant John Tanner, Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Operation Pedestal casualties CLICK HERE
Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 13 AUGUST 1942
ROYAL NAVY See above.
AIR HQ Arrivals One Hudson, one Spitfire, four Beaufighters from Gibraltar; one DC3 from Bilbeis, two Baltimores from LG 98. Departures Two Liberators to Fayid; one Hudson to Gibraltar; one DC3 to Bilbeis; two Spitfires to LG 224. Aircraft casualties One Wellington overshot the aerodrome and crashed: Wireless Operator/Air Gunner killed; rest of crew injured. One Beaufighter failed to return from patrol: crew missing. One Spitfire crashed on the aerodrome: pilot injured. One Spitfire crashed in the sea through enemy action: pilot injured. Two Spitfires believed shot down by enemy action: pilots missing.
LUQA Intensive activity surrounding inbound convoy. Station strength has gone up to 2783. All entertainment is stopped; the cinema is used for accommodation which is very cramped – not enough beds, airmen sleeping with only two blankets.
TA QALI Extensive operations: 32 Spitfires and 16 Beaufighters attacked enemy aerodromes and provided cover to the convoy. 1200 gallons of petrol were used in one day. All ranks worked from dawn to dusk and through the night, servicing aircraft to enable the operation to proceed.
W/Cdr Wyatt was observing a Beaufighter taking off from his car when the aircraft failed to lift and turned to make another attempt. In the dark, the pilot did not see W/Cdr Wyatt’s car and the aircraft swung into the side of the vehicle, the Beaufighter’s propeller ripping open the side of the car. W/Cdr Wyatt escaped with slight injuries but was admitted to hospital.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 6. Dealt with: 5 High Explosives, including 1 delayed-action (3 x 250kg; 2 x 50kg).
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