Operation Calendar

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Operation Calendar
Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of World War II
British Spitfire takes off from USS Wasp (CV-7).jpg
A Spitfire takes off from USS Wasp.
Objective Reinforce Allied forces defending Malta with Spitfire aircraft.
Date 20 April 1942
Executed by  United States
 United Kingdom
Outcome Allied forces successfully delivered the Spitfire aircraft but they were destroyed almost immediately on the ground

Operation Calendar in 1942 was an Anglo-American operation in World War II to deliver Spitfire fighter aircraft to Malta. The aircraft were desperately needed to bolster the island's defence against strong Axis air raids.

Background[edit]

"Club Run" deliveries required the short-range fighters to be loaded onto an aircraft carrier in Britain or at Gibraltar and taken to within flying range of Malta where they would be "flown off" and make their own way to Malta. There had been several earlier "Club Runs" but by this time, no suitable British carriers were available.[note 1] The situation was urgent, so, after a personal request from the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill to the American President Franklin D Roosevelt, the American aircraft carrier USS Wasp was loaned for a "Club Run".

Operation[edit]

Spitfire VBs of 601 Squadron.

Wasp collected 52 aircraft from Shieldhall on the Clyde, from 601 and 603 Squadrons with pilots. The aircraft to be conveyed were Spitfire VBs fitted with external fuel tanks to extend their range. They were, however, inadequately prepared. The external tanks leaked badly, a fault that recurred on "Club Runs", many of the aircraft's guns were faulty and most of their radios didn't work.[1]

Wasp sailed from Glasgow on 14 April 1942 with her escort, destroyers USS Lang and Madison, and was joined by the British battlecruiser HMS Renown and her escort.[note 2] When this squadron, codenamed Force W, passed Gibraltar overnight on 18–19 April, they were joined by cruisers HMS Charybdis and Cairo and destroyers HMS Westcott, Wishart, Vidette, Wrestler and Antelope. During final preparations, the faults mentioned above were found, too late to be rectified.[1]

On 20 April, with Wasp '​s Wildcats providing air cover, 48 Spitfires flew off.[1]

Aftermath[edit]

Despite this addition to Malta's defences, all was lost. The Luftwaffe anticipated the Spitfires '​ arrival and bombed Ta'Qali airfield within minutes of their arrival. Most were caught on the ground and within 48 hours all were destroyed. Those that did fly were hampered by the faults with which they had arrived.[1]

The island's Governor, Lieutenant General Sir William Dobbie, reported that the local condition was worse than critical. He was soon replaced; the view was that he should have ensured adequate protection for the Spitfires and for an earlier convoy which had been sunk in harbour. A fresh man was needed; Lord Gort was the replacement.[1] The loss of the Spitfires made the subsequent Operation Bowery even more essential.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ark Royal had been sunk, Argus was too small for the needed numbers, Furious was undergoing emergency repairs and the lifts on more modern, larger carriers were too small for Spitfires (land based aircraft whose wings could not be folded to conserve space).
  2. ^ HMS Inglefield, Ithuriel, Echo and Partridge

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Woodman, Richard (2000). Malta Convoys 1940-1943. London: John Murray. p. 320. ISBN 0-7195-6408-5.