Operation Pedestal was a British operation to carry supplies to the island of Malta in August 1942, during the Second World War.
Malta was a base from which British ships, submarines and aircraft attacked Axis convoys to the Axis forces in Libya and Egypt, during the North African Campaign (1940–1943).
From 1940 to 1942, the Axis conducted the Siege of Malta, with air and naval forces. Despite many losses, enough supplies were delivered by the British for the population and military forces on Malta to resist, although it ceased to be an offensive base for much of 1942. The most crucial supply item in Operation Pedestal was fuel, carried by SS Ohio, an American tanker with a British crew.
Image 13 August: Air Attacks: The DORSET under air attack. She was eventually sunk on the evening of 13 August.
The convoy sailed from Britain on 3 August 1942 and passed through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean on the night of 9/10 August.
The Axis attempt to prevent the fifty ships of the convoy reaching Malta, using bombers, German E-boats, Italian MAS and MS boats, minefields and submarine ambushes, was the last Axis Mediterranean victory.
While a costly tactical defeat for the Allies, it was also one of the greatest British strategic victories of the war. More than 500 Merchant and Royal Navy sailors and airmen were killed and only five of the 14 merchant ships reached Grand Harbour.
The arrival of Ohio justified the decision to hazard so many warships, its cargo of aviation fuel revitalising the Maltese air offensive against Axis shipping. Submarines returned to Malta and Supermarine Spitfires flown from the aircraft-carrier HMS Furious enabled a maximum effort to be made against Axis ships. Italian convoys had to detour further away from the island, lengthening the journey and increasing the time during which air and naval attacks could be mounted.
The damaged tanker OHIO, supported by Royal Navy destroyers, approaches Malta after an epic voyage across the Mediterranean as part of convoy WS21S (en:Operation Pedestal) to deliver fuel and other vital supplies to the besieged island. OHIO's back was broken and her engines failed during heavy German and Italian attacks. Because of the vital importance of her cargo (10,000 tons of fuel which would enable the aircraft and submarines based at Malta to return to the offensive), she could not be abandoned. In a highly unusual manoeuvre, two destroyers supported her to provide buoyancy and power for the remainder of the voyage. The OHIO's captain was subsequently awarded the George Cross. The OHIO itself was sunk outside the harbour after discharging its cargo.
The Siege of Malta was broken by the Allied reconquest of Egypt and Libya after the Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October – 11 November) and by Operation Torch (8–16 November) in the western Mediterranean, which enabled land-based aircraft to escort merchant ships to the island.