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.

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

RAF Fighter Command Battle of Britain Photos

 

captured German pilot

A captured German bomber crewman drinks from a British soldier’s water bottle after baling out of his aircraft, 30 August 1940. (Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum).

2 Polish pilots receiving instruction on aircraft controls 27 August 1940

Two airmen of the Polish Air Force Depot at RAF Blackpool receive instruction on the controls of an aircraft during ground training at Squires Gate aerodrome, 27 August 1940. (Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum).

SPitifres of 610 squadron in formation 24 July 1940

Supermarine Spitfires (Mark I) of No. 610 Squadron RAF fly in formation, 24 July 1940.

(Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum).

British fighter doctrine at the time specified that fighters were to fly in groups of three which the RAF named a “vic”. Unfortunately, this made the system of having a wing-man watching your back difficult to emulate and it was only later in the war that the British adopted the successful “finger four” formation of the Luftwaffe.

Peter Townsend

 Squadron Leader Peter Townsend chats with ground crew sitting on his Hawker Hurricane at Wick, Scotland.

(Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum).

German BF 109 crashed

Locals watch as troops and police inspect a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 which crash-landed in a field near Lewes, Sussex. The pilot, Unteroffizier Leo Zaunbrecher, was captured.

RAF airman examines captured Heinkel HE 111

An RAF airman examines the cockpit of a captured German Heinkel He 111, 2 October 1940.

(Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum).

Sgt Furst greeted by squadron mascot

Sergeant Bohumil Furst of No. 310 (Czechoslovak) Squadron is greeted by the Squadron mascot on returning to RAF Duxford after a mission, 7 September 1940.

(Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum).

World War Two Spitfire pilot celebrates 100th birthday after his life was spared by two German fighter pilots

article from

Wales Online World War Two Spitfire Pilot

John Hamilton Nicholls, who is recorded in the Aces High book for his attacks on enemy aircraft, said he owes his life to two German pilots who allowed him to escape after shooting down his Spitfire.

JS86590924JPG

John Hamilton Nicholls (who is known as Jack) during his flying days

A Welsh World War II Spitfire pilot has put reaching his 100th birthday down to his life being spared by two German fighter pilots who admired his bravery…..he owes his life to two Messerschmidt pilots who allowed him to escape after shooting down his Spitfire.

Spitfire Mark VB, R6923 ‘QJ-S’, of No 92 Squadron RAF based at Biggin Hill, Kent, banking towards the photographing aircraft.  It was shot down over the sea by a Messerschmitt Bf 109 on 22 June 1941.(Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum. Posted by author Charles McCain).
Spitfire Mark VB, R6923 ‘QJ-S’, of No 92 Squadron RAF based at Biggin Hill, Kent, banking towards the photographing aircraft. It was shot down over the sea by a Messerschmitt Bf 109 on 22 June 1941.(Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

 

“….his Spitfire was chased and sprayed with cannon fire by the two Meserschmitts off the coast of North Africa. I was caught across one wing and the fuselage and one cannon shell exploded in the back of my seat.

“Fortunately I had a radio back pack on which cushioned the explosion but I momentarily lost consciousness and the spiralled out of control from 36,000ft.

“The Messerschmitts followed me down. “I regained consciousness and recovered control of a badly damaged aircraft at about 2,000ft.

“The enemy aircraft flew alongside me, saluted and peeled away to leave me to my fate. “I managed to limp home. But that experience taught me something about the honour of battle I have never forgotten.”

You can read the entire article here:

Wales Online World War Two Spitfire Pilot

SUPERMARINE SPITFIRES OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE IN ITALY, JANUARY 1944

 

 742587

 

Groundcrew refuelling Supermarine Spitfire Mark IIA, P7420, of No. 19 Squadron RAF from a tractor-drawn petrol bowser at Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire. This newly-arrived example was one of the few Spitfire Mark IIs to fly operationally with a front-line squadron before the end of the Battle of Britain.

 

sp7

Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire pilot of No 241 Squadron, Flying Officer W R B McMurray looking at a map in Italy. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum