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