Spitfires for Malta are flown off USS Wasp

USS Wasp (CV-7). British Royal Air Force Spitfire V fighter takes off from the carrier, after a 200-foot run, May 1942. Probably taken during Wasp's second Malta aircraft ferry mission.

On the 20th April 1942 another attempt was made to fly in reinforcements to Malta, this time from the USS Wasp which had collected 47 Spitfires and their RAF pilots from [permalink id=18729 text=”Glasgow on the 13th April”]. There was no time to practice taking off from a carrier.

Amongst them was Pilot Officer Michael Le Bas:

The deck ofiicer began rotating his chequered flag and I pushed forward my throttle until I had maximum rpm. His flag then fell and I released the brakes and I pushed the throttle to emergency override to get the last ounce of power out of my Merlin. The Spitfire picked up speed rapidly in its headlong charge down the deck but not rapidly enough. The ship’s bows got closer and closer and still I had insufficient airspeed and suddenly – I was off the end.

With only 60 feet to play before I hit the water, I immediately retracted the undercarriage and eased forward on the stick to build up my speed. Down and down with the Spitfire until, about 15 feet above the waves, it reached flying speed and I was able to level out.

After what seemed an age but was in fact only a few seconds, my speed built up further and I was able to climb away. Nobody had told me about that in the briefing!

This account is featured in Spitfire: Portrait of a Legend.

However the challenge lay not only in flying the long distance out to Malta but keeping the planes safe once they had arrived on the island which was under [permalink id=18731 text=”almost constant bombing attack”]:

On the 20th April a reinforcement of 47 Spitfires reached Malta. Some of these aircraft were in action against the enemy within three hours of their arrival.

During attacks on the Island our fighters destroyed 16 aircraft, probably destroyed 10 and damaged 27. Anti-aircraft guns destroyed 26, probably destroyed 6 and damaged 19. This is a total battle casualties, destroyed and damaged, of 104 enemy aircraft.

Although our losses in combat were only four Spitfires (two pilots were saved) and two Hurricanes, five other Spitfires crash-landed (pilots safe) and at least 12 were damaged in combat; on the ground eight Spitfires and three Hurricanes were destroyed and 25 others were damaged. This amounts to a total of 22 fighter aircraft destroyed and at least 37 damaged.

From the Air Situation Report for the week as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB 66/24/6

4 thoughts on “Spitfires for Malta are flown off USS Wasp”

  1. James McGuinness was my Grandmothers uncle. I am very well aware of this story and in actual fact the magazine of the RAF Ascociation had an article which included his story.

  2. Dear Laura
    My grandfather was in the raf air transport in preswick, my dad talked often of grandad getting those spitfires to the wasp in the med. my dad is old and doesn’t talk much, how can I find more info on my grandfather James McGuinness

    John MCGuinness

  3. To whom it may concern,
    My name is Laura Lynch, I am a student at Michigan Technological University in the Pavlis Institute. The Pavlis Institute for Global Technological Leadership is an initiative put in place at Michigan Tech in order to foster leadership skills in our students and to give them valuable international experience in this increasingly globalized world. This experience is gained through traveling to differing nations to searching out and completing service projects on their own in order to refine their independent leadership skills. This summer I will be in Malta working with the Malta Aviation Museum.
    As part of my project I am trying to research the US involvement in the Air Battle for Malta. More specifically I am looking for information on:
    1) Research on the USAAF Spitfire Operations in the Mediterranean with particular interest to the 31st Fighter Group that was based at Gozo prior to the invasion of Sicily, on an airfield built by the American Company E of the 21st Engineer Aviation Regiment.
    2) Research on the ZP 14 Blimp Squadron’s stay at Ta’Qali (Takali as it was spelt by the RAF).
    3) The delivery of Spitfires to Malta by USS Wasp in April and May 1942.

    And on the physical side, the museum is planning to restore a Sirkorsky S51 helicopter, built under license by Westlands in UK. The museum requires manuals and spares to be able to complete this project to static condition.
    Any help/information that you can give me would be extremely valuable for both me and the Maltese as they try to piece back together their history.
    Thank you kindly
    Laura Lynch

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