Pitched battles all around Pedestal convoy

12 August: Air attacks: An Italian aerial reconnaissance photograph of the convoy.

An Italian torpedo bomber comes under fire as it begins its run to attack the British fleet.

16-inch guns on the battleship HMS RODNEY open fire whilst she is steaming in the Western Mediterranean. In the foreground can be seen one of the battleship’s 4.7 inch guns in an open turret. Note how the barrels of the 16 inch guns are of uneven length, due to the recoil of the gun after firing.

Inevitably as the Pedestal convoy got closer to Italy, and the air bases on Sicily and Sardinia, the air attacks on it intensified. Enemy aircraft now had much longer time to spend over their targets and time to co-ordinate their attacks. The U-boat threat had not diminished and for a period the destroyers were firing depth charges merely asa deterrent.

L. Myers was on board the battleship HMS Rodney. He recalls that they were in almost continuous action for three days starting with the sinking of HMS Eagle. It was the following day that things started to get really busy for them:

The action, when it started, was a fairly gentlemanly affair with a few high level bombing and submarine attacks. But on the second day things got really hectic with combined high level bombing, torpedo bombing, dive bombing and submarine attacks. The action diary for this day as recorded by Kenneth Thompson, the ship’s Chaplain in his book ‘HMS Rodney at war’ lists some 80 plus entries between 0745 and 2015.

A short extract
1236 Mine, bomb or torpedo explodes astern
1239 Manchester opens fire
1241 Destroyers open fire port side
1242 Nine torpedo bombers coming in outside screen
1243 16″ open fire to port
1245 Torpedoes dropped port bow
1248 Six torpedo bombers on port beam
1248 Torpedo bomber shot down by fighter red 10
(Note use of 16″ in ack ack role)

Whenever possible I made my way to the upper deck to observe the operation of our two remaining carriers, ‘Indomitable’ and ‘Victorious’. With the convoy under constant air attack from dawn to dusk there was continual flight deck activity. It must be remembered that fresh aircrew manned each succeeding wave of enemy aircraft whereas our small band of pilots were continuously in action. I watched the aircraft land on and taxi to the forward lift where it was lowered into the hangar, I could imagine the action as it was moved back through the hangar being refuelled, rearmed and repaired while the pilot was debriefed, having a cup of coffee and a pee (not necessarily in that order) and by the time the aircraft reached the after lift he was ready to go again.

It was possibly the most concentrated period of action in the annals of the Fleet Air Arm. Very comparable to the Battle of Britain but with the added hazards of a moving airfield, having to fly through ‘friendly’ flak to reach it and flying aircraft inferior in performance to those of the enemy.

Regretfully I have no statistics to cover this period but the performance of those young Naval aviators is deserving of the highest praise.
I had many friends in both ships and was well aware of the intense activity that was taking place both on the deck and in the crowded hangar below.

Must admit to some embarrassment at the comparatively easy passage I was having but at the same time must admit to being very grateful for the security provided by the Rodney’s 14″ of armour plating.

Read more of Myers’ story on BBC People’s War

12 August: The sinking of the Italian submarine COBALTO: HMS ITHURIEL coming in to ram the COBALTO.

Elsewhere HMS Ithuriel had spotted a U-boat, the Italian Cobalto’s periscope had left a trail in the water, just visible to a lookout on the destroyer. Even though the periscope was withdrawn an attack was made where it was last spotted :

‘Stand by depth-charges. Depth-charges, fire’ The able seaman standing by the firing levers pulls them, and after a few seconds the ship shudders as they explode violently astern of us. ‘Quite a good attack I think, Sir,’ says the RNVR Sub Lieutenant, and everybody looks astern, hoping for some signs of wreckage to appear.

I decide to carry out a second depth-charge attack and the ship is just turning when a roar goes up, ‘There she is.’ It was a successful attack, and the U-boat has come to the surface, but the job is not yet finished. Perhaps she will crash-dive and try to escape. We can take no chances. So, ‘Full ahead both engines; prepare to ram.’ The guns need no orders. They have already opened fire and the U-boat is getting seven bells knocked out of her.

Some of the Italians start shouting and jumping overboard. I give the order ‘Full speed astern’ to take some speed off the ship and avoid damaging ourselves unnecessarily. After all, you don’t need to use a hammer on a boiled egg, so to speak. We hit her abaft the conning tower and heel her right over. It is a delightful crunch.

Lieutenant-Commander D. H. Maitland-Makgill-Crichton DSO RN, Captain of HMS Ithuriel – first published in the Listener, 22nd October, 1942.

12 August: The sinking of the Italian submarine COBALTO: A photograph taken from HMS ITHURIEL showing the COBALTO passing down the destroyer’s port side after she had been rammed.

12 August: The bombing of HMS INDOMITABLE: HMS INDOMITABLE on fire after being bombed. A Dido class cruiser, HMS CHARYBDIS, is screening the carrier.

12 August: The bombing of HMS INDOMITABLE: Detailed photograph of the damage to HMS INDOMITABLE’s flight deck.

12 August: The bombing of HMS INDOMITABLE: The score-board for the successes of HMS INDOMITABLE’s air group painted on the island. INDOMITABLE’s fighters claimed to have shot down 38 Axis aircraft.

12 August: Evening Air and Submarine Attacks: The Italian submarine AXUM’s torpedo strikes the tanker OHIO on her port side.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

pablo vassallo August 13, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Although most of us,including myself, haven’t lived the bitterness of the second world war,so to say luckily I missed it by a few years as I was born in 1950.

My mother used to tell us stories about the hard time our island(Malta) had suffered, i remember that there was wreckage that was caused by the heavies bombardment you could think of, on a small island as Malta. My uncle on my mother’s side died at the age of 22,while he was in a cinema.

When i grew older i lived most of my life in Pieta,which so to say is part of the Msida creek.I remember British ships berthed in the creek such as HMS Narvik,HMS Forth,as there was The torpedo depot the creek was full of ships and submarines.

To make the long story short what would have happened to us if we weren’t a British colony,we would have been invaded so easily as Italy was sided with Germany.I would like to praise and pray for all the Maltese and Allied people who gave their lives for us and being what we are today.

ALEXANDER HALSEY May 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm

My Father A.W.Halsey was a telegraphist on H.M.S. Ithuriel.
I’ve read the accounts of Operation Pedestal and if I’m right
I dont believe the skipper of H.M.S. Ithuriel was the Admiralty’s
favourite person after ramming the Cobalto.

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: