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Operation Pedestal

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Part 3 - 0500 August 13th - 2000 August 14th

Part 1 and 2 are under Actions.

The videos will display directly on the screen in most modern HTML5 compatible browsers. Let me know any comments or problems, or if you can identify any of the ships.

Notes on the Videos

Clip 1 - the Italian Navy, (there is a clip of a British KGV class battleship in the middle of this sequence)

Clip 2 - the sinking of the Waimarama. Looks like a Dido cruiser half way through the clip

Clip 3 - Freddie Treves and Jackson from the Waimarama describe the horror of the explosion

Clip 4 - the Captain of the Bramham, and Roger Hill of the Ledbury describe the rescue.

Clip 5 - the arrival of Melbourne Star, Port Chalmers and Rochester Castle at Malta.

Clip 6 - the arrival of Brisbane Star at Malta.

Clip 7 - Roger Hill and Jackson from the Waimarama describe their feelings as the Ohio approaches Malta.

Clip 8 - Roger Hill and survivors from the merchant ships describe the entry to harbour.

Clip 9 - Some updated clips of the Convoy battle, plus new material showing Ohio entering Grand Harbour.

The convoy could have been completely destroyed if the Italian fleet had decisively attacked the remaining ships.

Video Clip 1 - the Italian Navy - (there is a clip of a British KGV class battleship in the middle of this sequence - identified as HMS Anson)

The two light cruisers of the 7th Division had sailed from Cagliari at 8.10pm on the 11th, escorted by the destroyers Maestrale, Oriani and Gioberti. They were to rendezvous with the Attendolo from Naples in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea. In the early hours of the 12th the Trieste left Genoa and sped to Naples accompanied by the Fuciliere and the torpedo-boat Ardito. She would later join Parona's 3rd Cruiser Division, bringing it up to three heavy cruisers and one light cruiser plus escorting destroyers.

Admiral Parona's 3rd Division, comprising the heavy cruisers Gorizia and Bolzano, escorted by six destroyers, left Messina. He would later be joined by the Trieste and the Attendolo. Parona was supposed to leave early on the morning of the 12th, but a signal from the U-83 brought the news that an enemy formation of four cruisers and ten destroyers was near Crete.

During the 12th the Italian cruisers and destroyers rendezvoused 60 miles north of Ustica, an island north of Palermo, and headed south in two squadrons.

The morning of the 13th was marked by continuous attacks by Axis aircraft. Six He111 torpedo-bombers scored no hits, but a lone Ju88 hit the already wrecked Santa Elisa with a 500kg bomb, setting her on fire. A Wellington located the returning Italian cruisers at 1.56am and signalled the fact to Malta, where Park ordered an air attack by two Albacores and one radar-equipped Swordfish, and passed the information on to the submarines Safari and Unbroken.

The Unbroken took up an ambush position after having been informed of the presence of the Italian ships and sighted them at 7.25am. The light cruiser Attendolo, the heavy cruisers Bolzano, Gorizia and Trieste escorted by eight destroyers, two of which equipped with sonar, were steaming north with an air escort of two Cant Z506 seaplanes. They were passing between the island of Filicudi and Panarea at 20 knots when they encountered the Unbroken.

Unbroken took up position to attack, and when in position launched four torpedoes at the Italian cruisers. Two minutes and fifteen seconds later an explosion was heard, and 15 seconds after that another. In 45 minutes the Italians dropped 105 depth charges, but they were set for too shallow a depth to cause damage to the submarine.

At 8.05am the Italian cruisers had slowed to 18 knots to allow the Gorizia to launch a seaplane and a few minutes later the destroyer Fuciliere sighted a submarine to port, firing a machine-gun at the periscope at 450 yards. The Gorizia and Bolzano sighted the torpedo tracks, the former turning sharply and avoiding them, but for the Bolzano it was too late, and she was hit just as she began to turn. The Attendolo had not sighted the torpedoes or received the Fuciliere's alert and began to take evasive action only when the Bolzano was hit, but again too late as she was also hit a few seconds later. Two destroyers escorted the Gorizia and Trieste on to Messina, while the remaining five remained with the two badly-damaged cruisers, occasionally launching depth charges as a precaution.

The torpedo blew open 82ft of the Attendolo's bow, but the rest of the hull resisted any additional damage. At first the ship had to be towed to Messina due to the wrecked bow, but when this fell off the cruiser could make 5 knots, escorted by the Grecale and Ascari, later joined by the Freccia. She arrived at Messina at 6.54pm, incredibly having suffered no fatalities. The Bolzano was hit amidships, flooding six engine-rooms and a magazine as well as starting a fire, although the ship was not in immediate danger of sinking.

Bolzano after the torpedo attack from Unbroken
Bolzano after the torpedo attack from Unbroken
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Attendolo and Bolzano after the torpedo attack from Unbroken
Attendolo and Bolzano after the torpedo attack from Unbroken
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Attendolo less her bow
Attendolo less her bow
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Bolzano beached
Bolzano beached
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Meanwhile, air attacks against the convoy continued. At 7.17am the convoy consisted, according to the Axis reconnaissance, of four transport ships, which was correct (Rochester Castle, Waimarama, Melbourne Star and Ohio), two cruisers (Charybdis and Kenya) and seven destroyers but there were also the Ashanti, Icarus, Intrepid, Fury and Ledbury as protection. Behind this main group, following at some distance were the Dorset and Port Chalmers, with the destroyers Penn and Bramham, while the Eskimo and Somali were further west. In the Hammamet Gulf was the damaged Brisbane Star and some submarines were stationed south of Pantelleria (Utmost, Unruffled, Ultimatum, United, Uproar and P222), but they did not sight any Italian ships.

Twenty-six Ju88s then took off in several formations and later at 9.15am an additional sixteen Ju87s escorted by eight Me109s and eight Me110s also started to attack the convoy. A group of ten Ju88s of II/LG 1 attacked and scored some near misses on the Ohio.

Three bombers turned their attentions to the Waimarama, the first missing wildly as the flak exploded around the nose of the aircraft, but she was unable to avoid the next attack. Two bombers screamed down on her, the first releasing a five-bomb stick which was extremely accurate, four of them scoring direct hits; no cargo ship could survive such punishment. All four bombs hit close together about the bridge, which disappeared as the vessel blew up with an enormous explosion, a huge ball of flame being followed by a gigantic column of smoke through which her masts could be seen collapsing inwards into the heart of the furnace like matchsticks.

The Waimarama was carrying a deck cargo of petrol stowed in tins which at once ignited in a searing blast which swept the mutilated vessel from bow to stern and spread in a roaring sheet of flame as the ship disintegrated. In seconds she listed to starboard, righted herself and went down leaving only a huge area of flaming sea and a dense oily cloud of smoke. The captain of the Charybdis reported that the second Junkers, caught in this mighty blast, itself disintegrated in mid-air.

the sea burning after Waimarama explodes
the sea burning after Waimarama explodes
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Video Clip 2 - the sinking of the Waimarama. Looks like a Dido cruiser half way through the clip ?

It seemed impossible for anyone aboard to survive such a holocaust, and indeed her casualties were severe. All the officers were lost save one, her Third Wireless Operator.

His escape was truly miraculous as he was standing on the bridge when the bomb hit. He was immediately enveloped in flames, and ran through the bridge deck-house and down to the boat deck. For brief seconds he stood amidst the flaming desolation, then seeing men shouting and splashing in the water alongside he jumped overboard to join them. He could not swim and remembered very little after hitting the water. He owed his life to Cadet F. W. Treves; this young boy, only seventeen, was on his first trip to sea but he acted like a veteran and rescued several of his shipmates. He was awarded the British Empire Medal and Lloyd's War Medal for his gallantry and bravery.

Sound Clip 3 Freddie Treves and Jackson from the Waimarama describe the horror of the explosion and the aftermath.

Ledbury goes into the flames to rescue survivors from Waimarama
Ledbury goes into the flames to rescue survivors from Waimarama
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In all thirty-three of the ship's company were rescued, due in no small measure to Roger Hill of the Ledbury. Ignoring the sea of fire the young lieutenant edged his small destroyer as near as he could to the spot where the ship had gone down and lowered the boats. They could hear the screams and cries of the trapped men caught by the flames and they were forced to leave those furthest from the inferno until later. The courage of these survivors was fantastic, many of them shouting encouragement as the destroyer, with scrambling nets rigged, moved past them into the blazing sea.

Roger Hill, the captain of Ledbury
Roger Hill, the captain of Ledbury
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Sound Clip 4 - the Captain of the Bramham, and Roger Hill of the Ledbury describe the rescue.

While the ship's boats moved around the edge of this area of carnage the Ledbury plunged into the heart of the fire four times to reach men trapped in pockets of flame-free sea. From Force X it appeared that she must surely be lost, but she re-emerged each time only to plunge back in again. On the last attempt great bravery was shown by Steward Reginald Sida who volunteered to go over the side with a rope to attach it to a man trapped on a burning raft, knowing full well that at any time the destroyer might have to back out and leave him to his fate.

So intense were the flames and so great was the explosion which sank the Waimarama that 36 of the crew of the Melbourne Star, which was following close astern of the ill-fated vessel, abandoned ship thinking that their own vessel was ablaze. Indeed it was a miracle that she was not, for there had been no time for her to avoid the searing flames or the burning sea. Although Captain Macfarlane ordered the helm hard to port, his ship was showered with falling debris after the explosion, steel plates five feet long and other jagged hunks of metal cascaded aboard while a 6-inch shell crashed into the roof of the captain's cabin.

As the ship passed through the grave of her companion the fierce heat threatened to ignite her own cargo, the paint blistered and the lifeboats caught fire. Captain Macfarlane ordered all hands to muster for'ard in readiness to leave the ship and in the chaos of the moment many took to the water. One of her kerosene tanks ignited, but in seconds she was through the worst of it. Most of those who had jumped found themselves in a worse situation, but fortunately the indefatigable Ledbury was on hand to rescue them.

The Ohio, also, only just managed to avoid the flames, Captain Mason swinging her around to port just in time. Even so the flames threatened to engulf his ship.

In all 87 of Waimarama's company were lost in that shattering explosion.

At 9.23am eight Italian Ju87s of the 102nd Group escorted by ten MC202s of the 20th Fighter Group (both had had one aircraft abort the mission due to mechanical breakdown) attacked. A Stuka was then shot down, crashed into the side of the Ohio, and another was lost to AA fire. One Spitfire was also shot down, according to the British by friendly fire and to the Italians by one of the MC202s.

During an earlier dive-bombing attack the Dorset had come to grief. She was struck aft by a heavy bomb which penetrated No 4 hold. The engine room was flooded and a large fire was started in the hold, which was next to the one which contained the high-octane. All the electric pumps failed due to the lack of current and there was no option but to abandon ship. It had been intended to use the scuttling charges to finish her off, but due to a misunderstanding they were left in the flooded part of the ship when the crew came up on deck. Like many of her companions before her Dorset was thus left ablaze but afloat.

Aboard the Dorset, which had endured so much so successfully hitherto, the end when it did come came with cruel suddenness and heartbreaking finality. Apprentice Desmond Dickens recalled how:

"At 0945 there came a very heavy air attack indeed, by Stukas. They circled round for a minute or so and then decided to attack Dorset and Ohio which were easier to attack than the other ships. Six went to deal with Dorset and three others to Ohio. Down they came lower and lower--we gave them all we had, but still they came, screeching louder and louder; then they let go their bombs--one could even see them coming straight for us. Amidst the awful whine and din I prayed harder than ever before and God heard those prayers for not one of the bombs hit the ship directly. Three went on either side and the ship was lifted right out of the water six times. 'Please God,' gasped the man at the wheel . . .

As soon as this terrific bombardment was over a brief inspection of Dorset's engine-room was made, but it was found useless to do anything. Water was pouring in from a gaping hole on the starboard side, and the generators were completely wrecked. No 4 hatch was ablaze in the lower hold so the order to 'Abandon Ship' was given. We had done all we could, but they had got us at last."

The boats were lowered and it is fortunate that all the crew were picked up by Bramham.

Two Ju87s and one Me109 were shot down, the British losing one Beaufighter. The Port Chalmers was also damaged, but when five S.79 torpedo-bombers escorted by fourteen MC202s attacked at 11.25am, the one torpedo that did hit was caught in the Port Chalmers' torpedo netting. One S.79 was shot down by a Spitfire after the attack. In the evening fourteen German Ju87s launched another attack and finished off the damaged Dorset. But the long-range Spitfire cover from Malta was becoming hour by hour too much for the Axis, and eighteen Ju88s which took off at 11.00am with only three fighters as escort were recalled for this reason.

Video Clip 5 - the arrival of Melbourne Star, Port Chalmers and Rochester Castle at Malta.

The surviving ships arrived at Malta at different times. First the Melbourne Star, Port Chalmers and Rochester Castle were met by four minesweepers and seven motor minesweepers from Malta and escorted in, arriving at 6.18pm. Brisbane Star arrived later after an eventful day, with extensive torpedo damage to her bow.

Video Clip 6 - the arrival of Brisbane Star at Malta.

Incredibly enough, the Ohio was still afloat although she was dangerously low in the water. Her 11,500 tons of fuel were too important to lose.

The tanker had been left, stopped and with a five degree list. Desperate work in the engine-room had now resulted--within half an hour--in getting her under way once again at sixteen knots, but the respite was only a brief one. She was brought under fresh air attack and another succession of near-misses shattered the electrical fuel pumps and tore the main switch from the bulkhead. Once more all lights were extinguished and the tanker slowed to a standstill.

Chief Engineer Wyld reported to Captain Mason the extent of the damage: he was asked to make a full inspection, hut this only confirmed the fact that Ohio's engines were finished; oil in the water meant that nothing more could be done for the crippled ship short of a tow, and there was no tug.

Lieutenant-Commander Swain of the Penn decided to attempt this task himself. A party under Second Officer McKilligan went forward on to the debris-littered fo'c'sle of the tanker to clear an area to take the line and Penn passed over a ten-inch manila. While doing so they were bombed and strafed by a lone Ju88 which scored near-misses and further aggravated the tanker's position.

The towline was secured and Penn, a mere 1,540-tonner, her 40,000 SHP engines straining as the 30,000 tons deadweight of the tanker took effect, attempted to move the Ohio. The tanker was now drawing some thirty-seven feet and the huge rent in her hull counteracted the tow and turned her steadily to port. Gradually, as the strain increased, she pulled away until the destroyer was pulling at ninety degrees angle and the wind, far from assisting, was gently drifting the lifeless hulk backwards.

Penn tried again to bring the tanker's head round, but with the same result--merely moving her in a slow, sluggish circle. Another attack developed and Penn in order to manoeuvre to meet it went hard ahead and parted the towline with a crack. Despite the fire from the two ships, one bomber planted his bombs close alongside the tanker where they exploded amidships under her keel. Already torn and stretched, this explosion opened the rent still further and it was plain that she was fated very soon to split asunder.

As the attack died away Captain Mason hailed the Penn and informed Lieutenant-Commander Swain that her only hope was to have two ships with towlines head and astern, one to act as a rudder; this was not possible, however, for Penn was the only escort now present.

There seemed no alternative but to abandon the tanker. At 2.15 the tired crew of Ohio were taken aboard the destroyer where they soon fell asleep, for, like their skipper, most of them had been at action stations now for three days, during which their ship had been a constant attraction for every form of attack. The Penn circled the drifting vessel awaiting reinforcements, but nobody aboard the escort expected her to stay afloat long enough for another attempt to be made.

Between 3.57 and 7 pm, 26 Ju88s and seven Heinkel111s were sent out in small groups and at 5.02 the Italians sent out five of 102 Gruppo's Stukas powerfully escorted by no less than 24 Mc202 fighters, in an attempt to bulldoze their way through the protecting fighter defences.

The Royal Air Force maintained a standing patrol of sixteen Spitfires at all times over the Ohio, which was a formidable barrier. In the ensuing fighting the RAF pilots claimed to have despatched three of the Mc202s and several of the Ju87s.

Meantime, at 5.40, the minesweeper Rye of the Malta Escort Force, joined the Penn in company with the motor-launches Ml. 121 and Ml. 168, both of which were despatched from the main body of the force because they lacked minesweeps.

Lieutenant-Commander Swain had a conference with Pearson and they decided to do the best they could with this small force to get the Ohio moving again, although their task seemed hopeless.

The bulk of the tanker's crew volunteered to go back aboard her again with a Naval party from the destroyer to assist in the new attempt. The ship was now drawing no less than 38 feet with her list slowly increasing and her bows dipping ever lower, but undaunted they set to work.

At 5.45 pm the tow was once more made fast from Penn and she moved slowly ahead again. It was to no avail; just a repetition of their earlier efforts, with the deadweight of the tanker turning her to port and overrunning the tow. It was clear that no further progress would be made with the rudder thus jammed so a party went below to clear it. Within half an hour they had cast off the emergency steering gear and rigged a hand steering gear by attaching cables to the chains and reeving them through the relieving tackles. This enabled Captain Mason to report to Swain that they had fixed the rudder to give them about five degrees to starboard which it was hoped would counteract her port swing.

The destroyer took the strain and the Ohio, with a quick shudder, began to move. Carefully Swain increased his speed until they were moving at five knots, the tanker, however, still yawed and edged, dragging the Penn back into her again. After a short time they were force to stop and Swain and Pearson had another get-together. By passing 500 fathoms of her sweep wire into the destroyer, the Rye was to act as a stabiliser. This was accomplished at 6.35 and both naval vessels went ahead together. This time success crowned their efforts and at four or five knots the tanker began to make slow progress.

It was at this crucial time that the German bombers put in another unwelcome appearance; four Ju88s appeared ahead, having been missed by the Spitfire patrol. They commenced their dives and, knowing that their chances of avoiding being hit were small, Captain Mason ordered all his men who were below decks, topside. The four bombers broke formation, circled the ships picking their easiest approach and then made independent attacks from astern where the amount of barrage fire was at its lowest density.

Moving sluggishly there was nothing the tanker could do but sit and wait for it; soon one heavy bomb erupted hard astern of her, once more knocking out her rudder. Another bomber scored a direct hit, the bomb bursting on the tanker's boiler tops after crushing through the fore-end of the boat deck and starting a fire there.

Captain Mason's assessment of the damage revealed that the engine-room was completely wrecked and the rudder was useless. Moreover in moving to meet the attack Penn had once more been forced to cast off the tow. Miraculously the ship still held together by her keel but the strain was now intolerable and under renewed attacks the two motor launches came alongside her to take off all hands. Both Penn and Rye were near-missed in these raids, but escaped serious damage. One of the motor launches, Ml. 168, was badly shaken and developed engine defects. Swain sent her back to Malta.

They were now right back at square one and Captain Mason was completely exhausted. During the air raid, as related earlier, the group had been joined by the Bramham laden with survivors from the Dorset and she took up an anti-submarine patrol round the group as a party under the command of Penn's executive officer, Lieutenant G. G. Marten, went back on board Ohio to make ready for yet another towing effort.

This time Rye was allocated the towing position ahead using the chain cable while Penn ran in astern of the tanker and made fast. In this position it was hoped she would stop the Ohio swinging, even without a rudder. It was 10.25 pm before the tow recommenced and this time good progress was made, initially at some four knots.

Through the dark Mediterranean night the little collection of ships moved forward at this agonisingly slow speed.

From the Axis viewpoint, the fading of daylight on the 13th virtually brought to an end their interest in the surviving ships of the convoy proper. They now set to inflict as much damage as possible on the returning warships of Force X. This provided a much-needed respite for the group around the crippled tanker.

On the 13th the Germans reported that no final results of the offensive operations had been received, but that contact was being maintained up to a point close to the southern coast of the island. At 2 pm no more than four or five merchant vessels, and four to six light escort vessels, were reported in the convoy then some twenty miles west of Malta.

In the evening the German Air Staff received reports of three cruisers and four destroyers proceeding westward north-west of Malta, which they correctly gauged as 'probably the escort forces detached from what was left of the convoy, which in the meantime had entered Valletta'. Their report also added that 'since it is pretty certain that 21 merchant vessels left the Straits of Gibraltar in an easterly direction, and that no more than five or six may be assumed to have reached the harbour of Valletta, the fact that an extraordinary success has been achieved is beyond doubt'.

At midnight on the 13th/14th the Ohio was still slowly under way through the combined efforts of the Penn and Rye. They had been making slow but steady speed at four knots and there were hopes that at last the end was in sight. The Rye in the towing position at one o'clock attempted a slight increase in speed and the result was fatal; the tanker yawed badly to port, snapping the tow-line.

destroyers nurse Ohio towards Malta
destroyers nurse Ohio towards Malta
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Both 3-inch wires parted. Penn and Bramham proceed alongside Ohio, one each side and attempted to tow her. Rye made a 10-inch manila fast and towed from ahead.

Lieutenant-Commander Swain now decided to adopt the suggestion from Lieutenant Baines of the Ledbury, that an alongside tow might do the trick. Accordingly the Penn was carefully brought alongside the Ohio and made fast. At 1.10 the destroyer gingerly went slow ahead, but despite this the tanker refused to move. Swain rang down for increased power; closing his mind to the grinding together of the ships' plates and the damage this was doing to the frail hull of his destroyer, he made another effort, but it met with little success. However, it was now obvious that one destroyer on her own did not have the ability to do the job and that any further attempts to try it this way would result in seriously disabling the Penn. The attempt was therefore stopped.

There was nothing for it but to cast off once more and await daylight before trying a further effort. For the next three hours the Penn and Rye circled the Ohio which lay awkwardly and low in the water, her decks twisting and groaning with every movement of the sea.

This brief respite enabled the dog-tired crews on all the ships to catch a few more hours' rest and by the first half-light of dawn on the 14th they were ready to renew the battle. Once more the Penn went alongside and made fast. And yet again, at 4 am, as they commenced moving, the Ohio yawed wildly and the tow parted. Next the Rye tried to take both ships in tow using a ten-inch manila aboard the tanker, and a sweep wire attached to Penn's cable. At 5.05 this resulted in another failure for once more the Ohio took control, her massive deadweight swinging irresistibly away and parting both wires. It seemed impossible.

At 7.15 they were rejoined by the Ledbury returning from her fruitless search for the Manchester. The Rye now passed three hundred yards of sweep wire into Ohio while Ledbury made fast astern of the tanker, in order to act as a steering tug while the Penn remained clear. They got under way as before but the Ledbury still could not prevent the stubborn tanker swinging away and eight o'clock saw the hawsers parted once more. It was heartbreaking, but now the minesweeper Speedy and three motor launches arrived from Malta and Commander Jerome, as Senior Officer, took over salvage attempts. Captain Mason went back on board to make an inspection of his shattered ship and was soon reporting to Jerome: 'I think that with luck we'll last twelve hours and that should be enough for you to get us to Malta.'

At 10.50 there took place the final air attack against the crippled tanker: five Ju87s of the Italian 102 Gruppo escorted by twenty Mc202s made an attempt to finish her off. Fortunately the RAF had been maintaining their strong air umbrella over the ships; as well as several Beaufighters, there were always sixteen Spitfires from 229 and 249 Squadrons overhead. They briskly engaged the Italian fighters, but were unable to prevent one Stuka landing yet another bomb close alongside the tanker.

This bomb, of an estimated 1,000 pounds, burst hard in the Ohio's wake, flinging her forward with its concussion, twisting her screws out of alignment and holing her stern. Already dangerously low in the water this new inrush of water made her position critical.

That even this last blow failed says much for the American shipyard which built Ohio and reflects the soundness of the design of the big ship. Captain Mason made a further report to Jerome: although be fully recognised that there was a strong possibility of her breaking in half at any time, in his opinion, an effort should still be made to tow in the for'ard half if this happened; this section, as he pointed out, contained 75% of her oil fuel cargo.

As the enemy bombers droned away the naval escorts sprang into new life. The Bramham was carefully brought alongside the tanker's port side and made fast. Volunteers, including survivors from the Waimarama, Melbourne Star and Santa Elisa, as well as naval ratings, were put aboard to man her remaining weapons and assist in the new towing arrangements. Lieutenant-Commander Swain then edged the Penn up on the tanker's starboard side and also made fast.

Another party armed with portable pumps from the destroyer to replace those destroyed on the Ohio also went on board to increase her buoyancy and pump out her engine-rooms. With a destroyer on either side and the Ledbury secured astern to act as a rudder the Rye positioned herself for towing. Around the mass of ships the minesweepers Speedy, Hebe and Hythe formed a protective circle.

First attempts were held up because Ledbury's wire hawser threatened to foul the tanker's twisted screws, but this was avoided by the destroyer going ahead slowly on one engine while the wire was inched clear. Exhaustion among all the men of the little flotilla was beginning to tell with more and more alarming effects. There was nothing strange in this, for all had been at full alert for more than three days and two nights, under constant attacks from above and below the surface. Many had been worn out before the day started and now the added strain was beginning to reach unmanageable proportions.

Soon after the tow had commenced it became apparent that the Ohio, as stubborn as ever, was not responding as she should and that the Ledbury was slowly but surely being dragged round with her. Finally the destroyer ended up alongside the Penn and attempting to rectify the drift resulted in the Rye losing the towing wire altogether. The group came to another halt.

Commander Jerome now organised a further effort and with both destroyers going slow ahead on either side of the tanker she finally began to move ahead on a straight course. They worked up to five knots before Captain Mason warned that his ship would not hold together with any further increase. At this snail's pace they continued towards Malta, but with every tortuous mile the level of the water in the flooded engine-rooms of the tanker increased. At noon yet another setback was suffered when one of the Bramham's wires parted under the increasing strain. The tow was cast off and a new wire secured and the wearisome journey was resumed.

approaching Malta
approaching Malta
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entering harbour
entering harbour
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Sound Clip 7 - Roger Hill and Jackson from the Waimarama describe their feelings as the Ohio approaches Malta.

Under the scorching Mediterranean sun the British flotilla pressed on and by late afternoon the distant coastline of Malta came slowly into sight, the southern shores of the low-lying island gradually becoming plainer as they crawled towards it. Their goal was in sight, but still there was no certainty that the Ohio would make it. The waters around the island and especially in the long approach to the main harbour, were thick with mines and the only channel swept and kept clear was long and involved several abrupt changes of course. In her present condition it seemed very unlikely that Ohio could be manoeuvred through it.

As they approached the entrance to the channel the destroyers began the complicated process of turning 30,000 tons of steel into the gap in the minefields. As they turned tenderly to port the towing wires, unable to take this extra demand on them, once more parted with a sharp crack. Close by the dangerous waters the whole complicated process of resecuring the tow began again.

They had been joined by this time by more ships, the ancient tug Robust and the STU Supply. The Robust was secured to the tanker and, belching smoke, tried to move her but the tanker contemptuously resisted the efforts of the old veteran and began to pull the tug into the side of the Penn. Attempts at unshipping the towing wire failed and she crashed hard into the destroyer, holing her above the waterline. This round lost, the Robust was sent back to Malta while the destroyers resumed their duties once again.

Soon the tanker was under way into the swept channel, but anxiety was far from over as dusk settled over the group.

As the night progressed more ships put out from Valletta to render aid including the three tugs Carbine, Coronation and Robust which left harbour at 2.30 pm. Help was needed still, for as the towing formation approached Zonkor Point it was necessary for the tanker to execute another different turn. Cautiously the Penn and Bramham nursed her round; then, with the turn half-made, the Ohio began yet again to make her incurable drift, edging herself and the two helpless destroyers into the minefield.

The Ledbury came alongside and passed her six-inch wire into the tanker and tried to pull the three ships round again. Two of the motor launches also assisted by pushing as hard as they could against the destroyer's bows. It was an agonising battle with little movement either way; for a time it was touch and go whether or not the whole group would end up in the minefield, so close to their goal.

At 6 pm the situation was remedied by the arrival of the Malta tugs and one of these made fast ahead and one astern; with the two destroyers still lashed on either side of the tanker as splints, the Ohio was again proceeding up the channel towards the harbour entrance. By eight o'clock they had passed through the entrance to a fabulous welcome. The ancient battlements were lined with cheering throngs of Maltese and a band was playing with gusto to accompany them on their way. Even so the last mile was never-ending, with her decks awash and her torn and rent hull protesting at every movement there was still a grave fear that even at this eleventh hour the Ohio might sink and block the channel.

the wreck of Ohio enters harbour with Bramham alongside
the wreck of Ohio enters harbour with Bramham alongside
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Sound Clip 8 - Roger Hill and survivors from the merchant ships describe the entry to harbour.

Video Clip 9. Penn had now been cast off and the Bramham remained alone to hold the ship together for the final few hundred yards to her berth. Slowly the gallant Ohio crawled towards the wreck of another tanker, the Plumleaf, which lay with its upperworks just above the water. Bramham now cast off and a naval auxiliary, the Boxol, took over. As she slid into her place and was secured the dockyard men swarmed aboard her with pumps and pipes to unload her vital cargo before she settled. The Boxol also began embarking the precious fuel into her own tanks. It was a race against time for as the oil fuel was pumped out of her fore tanks her heavy after part continued to sink and threatened to break her in half.

Already the Rochester Castle, Melbourne Star and Port Chalmers had completed discharging and the gallant Brisbane Star, which had reached safety the previous day under an umbrella of Spitfires, was similarly almost empty.

The last to arrive was the Brisbane Star which came in alone after being attacked by a couple of S.79s, but the torpedoes malfunctioned. She continued to navigate along the coast of French North Africa and was lucky that the MAS boats were unable to find her. The Ledbury was attacked also but succeeded in shooting down both the S.79s. Finally, the Germans suffered some casualties attacking the ships and also some friendly fire incidents occurred. For example the Alagi was attacked by three Ju88s but was fortunately undamaged.

The last gallons of precious fuel were hardly pumped clear of the Ohio's tanks before the tanker, her task accomplished, at last, settled finally on the bottom of Valetta Harbour. A total of 32,000 tons of supplies reached Malta, enough for 2 months' operations by the submarines and aircraft based there.

This marked the end of Operation 'Pedestal'.

It has been said that 'Pedestal' was the last victory by the Axis in the Mediterranean, although only in tactical terms, because, strategically, the arrival of the heavily-damaged tanker Ohio was a major success and justified the decision to field such a powerful naval force. Allied losses were very heavy and the low percentage of shipping that actually arrived made the operation a failure in general terms. But the arrival of the aviation fuel allowed the Malta striking forces to become more powerful as they continued their harassment of the Axis shipping which was now more vulnerable given the longer distances it had to travel.

After the arrival of the Ohio, the submarines returned to Malta and the island began to recover its effectiveness. Coupled with the arrival of the Spitfires launched from the Furious, this allowed a major effort against Axis shipping lanes. On 15 August the freighter Lerici was sunk by the Porpoise and on 17th the 8000-ton freighter Pilo was also sent to the bottom by air attack. More serious for the Italians in Africa was the sinking of the tanker Pozarica on the 21st.The cumulative effect contributed to the failure of Rommel's offensive against the Alam-Halfa position at the end of August.

The II Fliegerkorps reported employing 650 aircraft between 11-14 August, losing 18 and claiming 12 enemy planes shot down. The Axis lost a total of sixty-two aircraft, of which forty-two were Italian and nineteen were German, including the aircraft destroyed on the ground and those shot down erroneously by friendly fire. The Allied AA fire and fighters shot down forty-two aircraft of which twenty-six were Italian and sixteen German, against an estimate of seventy-four made by the British. Claims by the Italians and German pilots were also too high. Naval losses were limited to two submarines sunk and two cruisers heavily damaged for the Italians, while the Germans had the S58 badly damaged.

For the Allies it was a dearly bought victory, since not only nine transport ships were sunk (another one was sunk at Malta after unloading), but also several warships were lost or heavily damaged.

a message from Churchill to Admiral Burroughs, dated 19 August 1942, and emphasising the impact of "the crash through of supplies to Malta" on the future of the war
a message from Churchill to Admiral Burroughs, dated 19 August 1942, and emphasising the impact of "the crash through of supplies to Malta" on the future of the war
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