USS Wasp Supplies Malta Urgently Needed Spitfires

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Top Ace Denied RAF Pilot Training Because He Couldn’t Ride a Horse

“My dear chap, you’re just the type. Which hunt do you follow?”

When Johnnie said he did not even ride a horse, he was promptly shown the door.

 

 

The RAF’s top-scoring fighter pilot, Wing Commander James ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, with his Spitfire and pet Labrador ‘Sally’ at Bazenville landing ground, Normandy, July 1944. (photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

“In 1937, “Johnnie” Johnson tried to join the Auxiliary Air Force (AAF). On hearing that he came from Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, the interviewing officer said, “My dear chap, you’re just the type. Which hunt do you follow?” When Johnnie said he did not even ride a horse, he was promptly shown the door. Little did that interviewing officer think he had just rejected the man who, in the second world war, would shoot down more of the enemy than any other pilot in the RAF – and without ever being shot down himself.”

From the obituary of Air Vice-Marshal James ‘Johnnie’ Johnson in the UK Guardian.

The insidious British class system often resulted in highly qualified men being rejected because they weren’t thought to be of the “better classes.”

You can read the entire obit here:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2001/feb/01/guardianobituaries2

U-Boat Bunker St. Nazaire

 

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Vizeadmiral Dönitz during the opening (photo courtesy Uboat.net)

 

U-Boat Bases and Bunkers: Saint Nazaire: The U-Boat Bunker suffered thirty major raids through the war with three being extremely heavy. The 28 February 1943 raid consisted of 430 bombers, the 22 March 1943 raid consisted of 350 bombers, and the 28 March raid consisted of 320 bombers. The town was almost completely destroyed in these raids while the bunker saw minimal damage.

From Uboat.net:

“The construction work started in February 1941. The bunker, built on the western side of the basin at Saint-Nazaire, was 295m wide, 130m long and 18m high and contained 14 U-boat pens.

After only 4 months the first pens were ready and so Vizeadmiral Dönitz opened on the 30th June 1941 the bunker. U-203 under Kptlt. Rolf Mützelburg was the first boat to use one section of the newly completed shelter.

Later a sluice bunker was also built, which the U-boats used to reach the sea.”

uboat.net/flotillas/bases/saint_nazaire.htm

Nazi Flak Towers

Many an Allied bomber was shot down in flames by anti-aircraft fire from one of the handful of Nazi Germany’s Flak Towers

(If you have forgotten: the technique of firebombing used so successfully against many German cities was developed by the German Luftwaffe for their long campaign or aerial firebombing of London in the early years of the war)

 

Reichsgebiet, Alarm auf Flakturm

Fliegeralarm! Running to their action posts on the Zoo Tower 1944.

Most of these young gunners were fifteen or sixteen and were known as the kinderflak

 

augarten_flakturm_wien2008a

This is one of the surviving towers in Vienna. You can clearly see how massive these buildings were.

The main function of the towers was less shooting down individual Allied bombers, although that was important, but more to put up such a mass of anti-aircraft fire as to hinder bombing attacks on the area immediately around them. Flak, a word used by both sides, is the abbreviation of the German word “Fliegerabwehrkanone,” which translates as “air defense cannon”.

The batteries fired pre-set “box barrages” to create a curtain of flak which British Royal Air Force or US Army Air Force bombers would have to fly through on their bomb run. Shells were set to explode at different heights usually above 20,000 feet. The strategy was to force the bombers higher since the higher they were when they dropped their bombs the less accurate the bombing. (Although under the best conditions bombing was rarely accurate).

Additionally, while these photographs were all taken in daylight, the British Royal Air Force bombed at night. So the other reason to force the bombers above 20,000 or so feet was to put them in the path of German night fighters. When a spotlight caught a bomber, the point was to illuminate the bomber for the night fighters. Nonetheless, various anti-aircraft batteries in Berlin, for example, would open up. This often led to German flak batteries shooting down their own night-fighters.

German Fighter Command made regular complaints to the anti-aircraft command to stop doing this and toward the end of the war demanded that the gun captain of any battery which fired above its mandated ceiling be tried and shot.

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Exterior of flak tower in Vienna now used as a climbing wall.

Three such towers were built in Berlin, three in Vienna, and two in Hamburg. Each tower actually consisted of two towers: the very large gun tower known as the ‘G-Tower’ and a smaller fire-control tower located nearby known as the ‘L Tower’. The fire control tower transmitted the targeting values to the gun tower by wire – that is telephone/telegraph wire – that was buried deep below ground in a concrete tunnel to protect the wires from being severed.

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Another of the surviving towers in Vienna.

In addition to serving as platforms for anti-aircraft guns, each G Tower had a large bomb shelter for civilians. These shelters were designed to accommodate thousands of civilians, a hospital, workshops of various sorts, and Wehrmacht command posts. Each tower had an independent supply of electricity and water as well as barracks and offices for the Luftwaffe personnel who operated the tower and the guns. In the Third Reich, all anti-aircraft defense was the responsibility of the Luftwaffe.

ADN-Zentralbild/Archiv II. Weltkrieg 1939-1945 Schwere Flak in Feurebereitschaft auf dem Flakturm des Berliner Zoo-Bunkers, eine der wenigen großen Schutzanlagen aus Eisenbeton. Aufnahme: Pilz April 1942

April 1942. One of the main gun platforms of the Zoo Tower, most famous of all the flak towers. Shells were kept in the heavy steel ready-use ammunition locker at right and carried to guns by a squad of men as seen above and right. Because the gunners were out in the open on the platforms without protection from bomb splinters or the shrapnel from their own anti-aircraft shells casualties were often heavy.

The Zoo Tower was the first one to be built and was located by the Berlin Zoo in the center of city and was meant to protect the key government buildings. The tower was destroyed by the British in 1946. It was located in what is now the aviary section of the Berlin Zoo.

Although the zoo was destroyed during the war with most of the animals being shipped to other cities or shot by the army, it was rebuilt in its original location which is very close to where the Kurfürstendamm ends at the Tiergarten.

(Photo from: German National Archive.  Schwere Flak in Feurebereitschaft auf dem Flakturm des Berliner Zoo-Bunkers, eine der wenigen großen Schutzanlagen aus Eisenbeton. Aufnahme: Pilz April 1942)

 

The towers were almost indestructible with the walls on each tower being 2.5 meters thick or 8 1/2 feet of solid concrete. The towers could – and often did – survive direct hits by Allied bombs. Because these were such massive structures, many of them remain since no one can figure out how to dismantle them without wrecking an entire neighborhood. I think the surviving towers are an important part of the history of WW Two and should be preserved.

flakbunker-heiligengeistfeld-hamburg

Flak tower in Hamburg

The best, and to my knowledge, the only book devoted to the towers is The Flak Towers: In Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna 1940-1950 by Michael Foedrowitz. The book was translated from the original German. The research is impeccable. The author worked almost exclusively from primary sources as well as interviewing the leading expert on the towers. Four stars.

Lancaster Bomber

A Lancaster bomber swoops over Derwent dam to mark the 70th anniversary of the raids on German dams...A Lancaster bomber swoops over Derwent dam to mark the 70th anniversary of the raids on German dams in May 16 and 17, 1943, at Derwent Reservoir in central England May 16, 2013. The fly over on Thursday marked the 70th anniversary of the raids on German dams, of one of the most memorable operations of the Second World War, in which 617 Squadron flew in Operation Chastise, using the famous bouncing bomb to attack the industrial region of Germany,  and are now best known by the name of the film that dramatised these events - The Dambusters. REUTERS/Darren Staples   (BRITAIN - Tags: TRANSPORT ANNIVERSARY MILITARY)
A Lancaster bomber swoops over Derwent dam to mark the 70th anniversary of the raids on German dams in May 16 and 17, 1943, at Derwent Reservoir in central England May 16, 2013. The fly over on Thursday marked the 70th anniversary of the raids on German dams, of one of the most memorable operations of the Second World War, in which 617 Squadron flew in Operation Chastise, using the famous bouncing bomb to attack the industrial region of Germany, and are now best known by the name of the film that dramatised these events – The Dambusters. REUTERS/Darren Staples (BRITAIN – Tags: TRANSPORT ANNIVERSARY MILITARY)

Britain’s last Dambuster launches attack on David Cameron for failure to mint Bomber Command medal.

 

 

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19th May 1967: Members of the original Dam Busters crew stand in front of Lancaster bomber of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

from London Daily Telegraph

Britain’s last Dambuster launches attack on David Cameron for failure to mint Bomber Command medal. 

George “Johnny” Johnson says decision to award only a clasp to Bomber Command veterans, rather than full medal, is an “insult”

Britain’s last Dambuster has launched an extraordinary attack on David Cameron’s refusal to acknowledge fully the veterans of Bomber Command.

George “Johnny” Johnson said the Government’s belated decision to award a clasp to veterans of the Second World War bombing campaign rather than minting a campaign medal was such an “insult” that he has not even taken his out of the box.

Veterans of Bomber Command, which suffered the highest casualty rate of any military unit during the war, have campaigned for decades for the medal that was denied them by Winston Churchill.

The rest of the story is here:

Britains-last-Dambuster-launches-attack-on-David-Cameron-for-failure-to-mint-Bomber-Command-medal.