Remembering Operation Pedestal

Sternpost - Another view from London by Paul Ridgway, October 21, 2019

Remembering Operation Pedestal

 

This fine painting by Arthur James Wetherall Burgess R.I., R.O.I., R.B.C., R.S.M.A (1879-1957) is titled Convoy under aerial attack during Operation Pedestal, August 1942. It is oil on canvas, signed by the artist, measures 20 x 30 in. (50.8 x 76.2 cm) and provenance is indicated ‘With James Bourlet and Sons Ltd.’ It is currently on sale for £7,250 with the Rountree Tryon Gallery in Petworth, Sussex where it will be displayed until 19 October. See: www.rountreetryon.com

 

We must not forget Pedestal known in Malta as the Santa Marija Convoy. This was a British operation to carry supplies of food and fuel to the beleaguered island of Malta in August 1942. From here Malta  as a base enabled British and Allied ships, submarines and aircraft to attack Axis shipping that was supplying German garrisons in North Africa.

 

From 1940 to 1942, the Axis conducted the Siege of Malta, with air and naval forces. Despite many losses, supplies were delivered by the Allies for the population and military forces on Malta

 

The most crucial cargo in Operation Pedestal was fuel, carried by ss Ohio, an American tanker with a British crew.

 

As part of a large well-defended convoy Ohio sailed from Britain on 3 August 1942 and passed through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean on the night of 9/10 August and arrived in Malta on 15 August.

 

This was in the face of the last sizeable attempt by Axis forces to disrupt the supply of Malta.

 

Only five of the 14 merchant ships reached Grand Harbour, Malta to deliver 55,000 tons of stores and fuel. Allied losses included an aircraft carrier, two cruisers, a destroyer and nine merchant ships and 350 lives in what has been described as more of a naval operation than a convoy. As one commentator put it years later, Pedestal’s chief asset was the synthesis that bound its constituent collection of warships and merchantmen.

 

While costly for the Allies, it was a strategic victory for arrival of Ohio justified the decision to hazard so many warships. Ohio’s cargo of aviation fuel revitalised the Maltese air offensive against Axis shipping.

 

Much has been written about the war in North Africa, Malta Convoys and the Merchant Navy in the Second World War. Two good examples are here: Richard Woodman’s, Malta Convoys, 1940–1943 published by John Murray (ISBN 0 7195 5735 4) and Peter C Smith’s Pedestal: The Convoy That Saved Malta published by Crécy, (ISBN 0 907579 191).