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USS Wasp Supplies Malta Urgently Needed Spitfires

uss wasp in mediterranean flying off urgently needed spitfires to malta.

British_Spitfire_takes_off_from_USS_Wasp_CV-7-595x475

RAF Spitfire launches from USS Wasp

USS Wasp Twice Resupplied Malta with Spifires

Mediterranean_Relief

In the early 1930s the British government decided Malta would not be defended if war came. While a major naval base with huge warship repair years for the Royal Navy, no funds were allocated for building up the defenses of Malta. Those defenses which remained from World War One were left to decay.

As you will note from the map above, Malta was a key position if you wanted to control the Mediterranean. And when war came, the British desperately needed to either control the Med or deny its control to other belligerents like Italy or Germany. So the decision not to defend Malta was reversed.

BombDamageMalta

April 1942. A heavily bomb-damaged street in Valletta, Malta. This street is Kingsway, the principle street in Valetta. Service personnel and civilians are present clearing up the debris.  (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

Unfortunately for the British, since Malta had few defense installations, actually defending the island required a far greater effort than ever envisioned the Royal Navy and RAF. Both services suffered heavy losses in ships of the former and planes of the latter.

Wichita_and_Wasp_1942

USS Wichita (CA-45) at anchor in Scapa Flow in April 1942. USS Wasp (CV-7) is in the background. The Wichita sortied as part of the Allied escort of one of the PQ convoys to Russia while the Wasp sortied into the Med as described below.

(official US Navy photo)

As valuable as Malta was a naval base, it was even more valuable as an unsinkable aircraft carrier. The only problem was that German and Italian planes attacked the island constantly and kept shooting down all the RAF planes defending Malta.

In April and May of 1942, the British were desperate to send additional aircraft to defend Malta. But no British airfield was close enough so an aircraft carrier had to be loaded with planes and escorted to within about 400 miles of Malta (this being the range of fighter aircraft before running out of fuel) and then launch the aircraft which would fly to the island.

Because of the incredible danger from German and Italian air attacks on shipping, the aircraft carriers would not get closer and even coming within 400 miles was risky. The Med also was infested with numerous German and Italian U Boats.

The British did not have a carrier available so Churchill asked President Roosevelt if an American aircraft carrier could be sent to the Med to perform the urgent task of resupplying Malta with fighter aircraft.

Roosevelt agreed although Admiral King, CNO and C-in-C US Fleet (the only person ever to hold these two offices) no doubt was pissed off since he had an intense dislike of the British. USS Wasp was sent, first going to Great Britain to embark Spitfires. She subsequently entered the Mediterranean heavily escorted by units of the British Home Fleet including the battlecruiser HMS Renown. A very large number of Royal Navy destroyers and sloops formed the screen around the USS Wasp.

Wildcats_and_Spitfires_on_USS_Wasp_(CV-7)_in_April_1942

19 April 1942. U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats from Fighting Squadron 71 (VF-71) and Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfires Mk.Vc of No. 603 Squadron RAF on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) on 19 April 1942. 

(Official US Navy photograph) 

On 19 April 1942, USS Wasp launched 47 Spitfires which flew to Malta (several did not make it). Incredibly, the British forces on the island had no prepared revetments or other safe locations for these precious Spitfires and most were destroyed on the ground by the Germans and Italians within 24 hours.

The military Governor of Malta, Lt. Gen. Dobbie, was sacked several weeks later and replaced by Lord Gort, promoted Field Marshal in 1943 because of his successful leadership of the defense of Malta.

CV-7_Spitfires_1942_NAN10-1-45

Supermarine Spitfires Mk.VC spotted on the deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) in 1942.  HMS Eagle is visible in the background. 

(official US Navy photograph)

On 9 May 1942, USS Wasp again entered the Med, again heavily escorted by the Royal Navy, and flew off 47 Spitfires. The British had finished refitting HMS Eagle, a World War One battleship converted to an aircraft carrier and she joined the Wasp.

However, HMS Eagle could not carry many Spitfires because they did not have folding wings and did not fit her old lifts. But she did manage to fly off 17 Spitfires which joined the others flown off by the USS Wasp.

This time the British ground forces had prepared protected areas for the Spitfires and each time one landed, it was immediately taken off the runway and parked in a protected revetment.

These aircraft helped save the island which was under continual bombing attacks day and night by German and Italian warplanes.

Sources: The Siege of Malta 1940-1943 by E. Bradford and author’s research

SUPERMARINE SPITFIRES FOR MALTA. 19 TO 23 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS EAGLE. HMS EAGLE IN COMPANY WITH ‘FORCE H’ TAKING SUPERMARINE SPITFIRES FROM GIBRALTAR TO MALTA FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE ISLAND. THE AIRCRAFT WERE FLOWN OFF HMS EAGLE AFTER BEING TAKEN HALF WAY ON BOARD THE CARRIER. (A 9581) Supermarine Spitfire pilots in front of one of their planes. They are Empire and American pilots (Eagle Squadron). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143393

Supermarine Spitfire pilots in front of one of their planes. They are Empire and American pilots (Eagle Squadron). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143393

MOST OF THE PILOTS ABOVE WERE AMERICANS WHO HAD BEEN FLYING FOR THE RAF BEFORE USA GOT INTO THE WAR. THESE MEN WERE GROUPED IN THE FAMOUS EAGLE SQUADRONS.

Spitfires to Malta

AChtung! spitfire!

Attention! Spitfire!

This was not a warning German pilots liked hearing over the headphones during air battles over England.

Flames roar from the exhaust of a Spitfire as it starts its engine. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images. August 2015. Courtesy of the Guardian.

spitfires to malta

 

SPITFIRES FOR MALTA. 19 TO 23 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS EAGLE. HMS EAGLE IN COMPANY WITH ‘FORCE H’ TAKING SPITFIRES FROM GIBRALTAR TO MALTA FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE ISLAND. THE AIRCRAFT WERE FLOWN OFF HMS EAGLE AFTER BEING TAKEN HALF WAY ON BOARD THE CARRIER. (A 9580) Securing Spitfires on the flight deck of HMS EAGLE. On the port side of deck are more planes ready for their flight to Malta. In the background is the island of HMS EAGLE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143392

 

SPITFIRES FOR MALTA. 19 TO 23 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS EAGLE. HMS EAGLE IN COMPANY WITH ‘FORCE H’ TAKING SPITFIRES FROM GIBRALTAR TO MALTA FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE ISLAND. THE AIRCRAFT WERE FLOWN OFF HMS EAGLE AFTER BEING TAKEN HALF WAY ON BOARD THE CARRIER. (A 9586) One of the Spitfires taking off on its way to Malta. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143396

 

SPITFIRES FOR MALTA. 19 TO 23 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS EAGLE. HMS EAGLE IN COMPANY WITH ‘FORCE H’ TAKING SPITFIRES FROM GIBRALTAR TO MALTA FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE ISLAND. THE AIRCRAFT WERE FLOWN OFF HMS EAGLE AFTER BEING TAKEN HALF WAY ON BOARD THE CARRIER. (A 9584) Spitfires on the deck of HMS EAGLE on their way to their flying off destination. In the background can be seen HMS ARGUS and the cruiser HMS HERMIONE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143395

 

BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIERS CONVEY SPITFIRES PART WAY TO MALTA. 7 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD THE CRUISER HMS HERMIONE, AT SEA IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. FLYING SPITFIRES OFF THE CARRIER HMS EAGLE, THE FIRST TIME SPITFIRES HAD BEEN FLOWN OFF. (A 7953) The aircraft carrier HMS ARGUS which acted as fighter escort, with HMS EAGLE (centre) and the battleship HMS MALAYA (right distance) prior to flying off to Malta of the Spitfires. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141947

 

BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIERS CONVEY SPITFIRES PART WAY TO MALTA. 7 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD THE CRUISER HMS HERMIONE, AT SEA IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. FLYING SPITFIRES OFF THE CARRIER HMS EAGLE, THE FIRST TIME SPITFIRES HAD BEEN FLOWN OFF. (A 7954) The aircraft carrier HMS ARGUS which acted as fighter escort, with HMS EAGLE (centre) and the battleship HMS MALAYA (right distance) prior to flying off to Malta of the Spitfires. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141948

 

BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIERS CONVEY SPITFIRES PART WAY TO MALTA. 7 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD THE CRUISER HMS HERMIONE, AT SEA IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. FLYING SPITFIRES OFF THE CARRIER HMS EAGLE, THE FIRST TIME SPITFIRES HAD BEEN FLOWN OFF. (A 7956) Left to right: HMS ARGUS, EAGLE and MALAYA seen under the guns of HMS HERMIONE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141950

 

ROYAL AIR FORCE: OPERATIONS IN MALTA, GIBRALTAR AND THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1940-1945. (CM 3215) Ground crew of No. 249 Squadron RAF take a break from maintaining their Supermarine Spitfire Mark VCs at Ta Kali, Malta, to observe the activity on the airfield. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208952

 

Arrive in Malta at last. If the Spitfire pilots didn’t keep an eagle eye on their fuel mixture and fly in such a way as to conserve fuel they coulnd’t make it to Malta from their flying off point and over the years a number of them crashed into the Med never to be heard from again.

Anderson Shelter Bomb Proof Yet Cold & Wet

Usually tougher than nazi bombs,anderson shelters, were named after home secretary  John Anderson. He also served as MINISTER OF HOME SECURITy, A WARTIME DEPARTMENT, ATTACHED TO THE HOME OFFICE.

 

AIR RAID SHELTERS IN LONDON, 1940 (HU 63827A) Mrs Alice Prendergast of 3 Western Lane, Balham, is not at a disadvantage through building an Anderson shelter where her vegetables grew. She planted her vegetables on top of the shelter, and now has lettuce, beetroots and marrows growing. Mrs Prendergast is seen watering the vegetables on the top of her shelter. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205070170

 

“While a properly installed Anderson shelter could withstand the effects of a hundred-pound bomb falling six feet away, Anderson shelters often leaked, were cold, dark and cramped and amplified the noise of falling bombs.”

http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-to-do-during-an-air-raid

While given free to people of limited means, others had to pay £7.  Anderson shelters were useful only to the middle class because one had to have a garden (backyard in the US) as usually referred to in England. More than three million were eventually erected in gardens throughout those cities in England often bombed by the Nazis. (source: Warrior Race: A History of the British at War, by Lawrence James. 2003)

BOMB DAMAGE IN BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND, C 1940 (D 4127) Although some debris has been cleared on this site on James Street, Aston Newtown, Birmingham, brick rubble can be clearly seen. Dominating the photograph, however, are the twisted remains of several Anderson shelters, one of which is still standing and intact, although warped. In the background, all the houses in row of terraced homes is missing a roof. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205198720

Unfortunately, the fourteen galvanized and corrugated steel plates which were bolted together to create the Anderson shelter weren’t waterproof. Unless one took extra measures, as many did, to make the shelter more comfortable, it wasn’t easy to get a restful night’s sleep. The shelters were often damp or even had standing water in them. They were cold. People waited until bombs got close to run to their Anderson shelters because they didn’t like being in one.

 

AIR RAID PRECAUTIONS DOG AT WORK IN POPLAR, LONDON, ENGLAND, 1941 (D 5949) An Anderson shelter remains intact amidst destruction and debris, after a land mine fell a few yards away. The three people that had been inside the shelter were not hurt. The effects of air raids in this area of London can be clearly seen behind the shelter. This photograph was taken on Latham Street in Poplar. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205198906

 

The reference to the landmine falling a few feet away is slightly inaccurate. What the Germans dropped were heavy sea mines which could break through heavy roofs, even ones made from cement, and the go off, creating a powerful explosion. Having learned this technique from the Germans, the Allies dropped sea mines on Nazi Germany.

 

A WORKING CLASS FAMILY IN WARTIME: EVERY DAY LIFE WITH THE SUTER FAMILY IN LONDON, 1940 (D 778) Doris and Alan Suter step down into the Anderson shelter in the garden of their home at 44 Edgeworth Road, Eltham, London, SE9, sometime between June and August 1940. Their mother, Mrs Suter, can just be seen behind them outside the shelter. Alan is carrying his gas mask box with him. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205195781

Obviously, this was an upper working class family given how well the children are dressed and that they have a back garden which provided enough room to dug in the Anderson shelter. The box around the boy’s neck is his gas mask.

AIR RAID PRECAUTIONS, 1940 (HU 104527) Sir John Anderson, the Home Secretary, examines hosing equipment used by the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in Southampton, 25 February 1940. His visit coincided with a large-scale Air Raid Precautions (ARP) exercise in the towns of Portsmouth, Gosport and Southampton. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205229899

 

An Anderson shelter stands intact amongst a scene of debris in Norwich, c.1941

(photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)

“Anderson shelters – named after Sir John Anderson – consisted of two curved corrugated sheets of steel, bolted together at the top and sunk three feet into the ground, then covered with eighteen inches of earth. If constructed correctly, they could withstand the effects of a hundred-pound bomb falling six feet away. However, many Anderson shelters leaked, were cold, dark and cramped and amplified the noise of falling bombs.”

http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-to-do-during-an-air-raid

 

 

British Women at War

By 1943, almost half the workforce in great Britain was comprised of women. ^

While often deployed on what was known as “women’s work,” the behind the scenes work of the women of Great Britain underpinned the massive war effort of the nation. As Churchill wrote to President Roosevelt in late 1940, “Mr. President, we are fighting for our lives.” As indeed they were.

In fact, they fought to save Western civilization, which they did.

In World War Two, the demand for industrial workers and personnel for auxiliary service in the military became so great that women were subjected to conscription into industry and the forces for the first time in modern Western history.

WOMEN ON THE HOME FRONT 1939 – 1945 (H 26470) The Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS): At an ATS School of Cookery auxiliaries are seen undergoing training on outdoor stoves. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205193274

 

THE WOMEN’S AUXILIARY AIR FORCE, 1939-1945. (CH 6748) WAAF cooks show the morning’s batch of cakes, scones and pies for personnel at an RAF station. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210232

 

THE WOMEN’S AUXILIARY AIR FORCE, 1939-1945. (CH 200) A member of the WAAF peeling potatoes in the kitchens at RAF Debden, Essex. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208435

 

THE WOMEN’S AUXILIARY AIR FORCE, 1939-1945. (CH 214) WAAF teleprinter-operators at work in the Communications Centre at RAF Debden, Essex. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208437

 

While women had been drawn into the workforce in World War One, the numbers and percentages were smaller. * In World War Two, the demand for industrial workers and women in auxiliary service for the military became such that women were subjected to conscription into industry and the forces. While not supposed to be in combat situations, many WAAF communications operatives often worked in fighter control stations at different airfields and were subjected to regular bombing and strafing by German planes.

As might be expected, although surprising to many men, women carried on amidst the raids and if several were killed, they helped dig them out of the rubble and went back to their posts.

THE WOMEN’S AUXILIARY AIR FORCE, 1939-1945. (CH 215) WAAF telephone-operators at work in the manual branch exchange at RAF Debden, Essex. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208438

The work was not glamorous. Women had to go to a shortened version of basic training and spent hours in “square bashing” or learning to march in formation and perform parade ground drills. Pay was low. Hours were long. Barracks were often uncomfortable and usually very cold due to the shortage of coal.

 

^”Wartime: Britain 1939–1945″ by Juliet Gardiner

*While women had worked in World War One, the percentage of the female population who worked because of the war itself was not nearly what it became in WW Two. Overall, the number of women who went to work in some capacity because of World War One was less than 1.5 million. Higher figures are often quoted but these are the total numbers of women in the workforce. Usually ignored or forgotten, millions of working class women worked because they had to and were working long before the war.

Anderson Shelter Tougher Than Nazi Bombs

 

An Anderson shelter stands intact amongst a scene of debris in Norwich, c.1941

(photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)

“Anderson shelters – named after Sir John Anderson – consisted of two curved corrugated sheets of steel, bolted together at the top and sunk three feet into the ground, then covered with eighteen inches of earth. If constructed correctly, they could withstand the effects of a hundred-pound bomb falling six feet away. However, many Anderson shelters leaked, were cold, dark and cramped and amplified the noise of falling bombs.”

http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-to-do-during-an-air-raid

 

A Morrison shelter in a dining room, 1941 (photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)

“Morrison shelters – named after the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison – were produced from January 1941. They consisted of a rectangular steel and mesh cage which could accommodate two adults and two children. The Morrison was intended for use indoors so was suitable for those without gardens. Though more popular than Anderson shelters, they were less effective as they provided no lateral protection. They could also be used as a dining table during daytime.”

World War One Aircraft Deployed In World War Two?

Swordfish only entered active service in 1936 and Served Royal Navy Throughout the WORLD War Two.

A Swordfish taking off from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, with another passing by astern, circa 1939.                                                                                      (Photo courtesy of US History and Heritage Command).

Although the Swordfish bi-plane looks like a relic from World War One, it only entered active service in 1936. The Fairey Aviation Company came up with the plans for the Swordfish. The plane was made of heavy canvas stretched over a wooden frame.

While originally built as a prototype for the Greek Navy, they turned it down in the mid-30s and Fairey Brothers Aircraft offered it the Royal Navy primarily for use on aircraft carriers. After design changes the plane went into production as the famous Royal Navy Swordfish which served multiple roles: patrol and reconnaissance, torpedo bomber, tactical bomber to support infantry and U-boat hunter/killer. The plane was oddly effective in all of these roles and was used operationally for the entire war.

 

THE BATTLE OF ATLANTIC, 1939-1945 (A 19718) A batman uses signal bats to guide the landing of a rocket-firing Fairey Swordfish of No. 816 Squadron Fleet Air Arm on board HMS TRACKER in the North Atlantic, September-October 1943. Note the rocket projectiles under the wings. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186701

 

A FAIREY SWORDFISH IN FLIGHT (TR 1139) Distant view of two Fairey Swordfish aircraft in flight. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188677

FAIREY SWORDFISH’S NEW STING. JUNE 1944, ROYAL NAVAL AIR STATION, ST MERRYN, PADSTOW. THE FIRING OF ROCKET PROJECTILES FROM FAIREY SWORDFISH AIRCRAFT OF THE RAF. THE FAIREY SWORDFISH IS PRACTICE FIRING AT A ROCK TARGET. (A 23783) Fairey Swordfish loaded with rocket projectiles. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155832
A FAIREY SWORDFISH IN FLIGHT (TR 1138) Close-up of a Fairey Swordfish Mark II, HS 545 ‘B’, in flight as seen through the struts of another aircraft, probably while serving with No 824 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, 1943-1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188676
THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 3538) No 785 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm: Fairey Swordfish Mk I Naval torpedo aircraft during a training flight from Royal Naval Air Station Crail. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205015987

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 24983) Three rocket projectile Fairey Swordfish during a training flight from St Merryn Royal Naval Air Station This operational squadron was commanded by Lieutenant Commander P Snow RN. Note the invasion stripes carried for the Normandy landings on the wings and fuselage of the aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016145

(Shortly before D-Day, all Allied aircraft with the exception of heavy bombers had three black stripes painted on each wing to help Allied troops ientify them as friendly aircraft. Allied soldiers had a tendency to fire on any aircraft and this continued despite the three black stripes)

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 24986) Three rocket projectile Fairey Swordfish during a training flight from St Merryn Royal Naval Air Station This operational squadron was commanded by Lieutenant Commander P Snow RN. Note the invasion stripes carried for the Normandy landings on the wings and fuselage of the aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016147

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 23784) Rockets fired from a Fairey Swordfish on their way to the target. The Fairey Swordfish was firing 60 lb HE heads at a rock target. The aircraft has flown from the Royal Naval Air Station at St Merryn, Padstow. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016140

 

ROCKET FIRING FAIREY SWORDFISH. 1 AUGUST 1944, ST MERRYN ROYAL NAVAL AIR STATION. PRACTICE WITH AN OPERATIONAL SQUADRON OF ROCKET PROJECTILE FAIREY SWORDFISH, COMMANDED BY LIEUTENANT COMMANDER P SNOW, RN. (A 24985) Rocket projectile Fairey Swordfish in flight. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205156785