The Sunday Times bestseller
‘One of the most dramatic forgotten chapters of the war, as told in a new book by the incomparable Max Hastings’ DAILY MAIL
In August 1942, beleaguered Malta was within weeks of surrender to the Axis, because its 300,000 people could no longer be fed. Churchill made a personal decision that at all costs, the ‘island fortress’ must be saved. This was not merely a matter of strategy, but of national prestige, when Britain’s fortunes and morale had fallen to their lowest ebb.
The largest fleet the Royal Navy committed to any operation of the western war was assembled to escort fourteen fast merchantmen across a thousand of miles of sea defended by six hundred German and Italian aircraft, together with packs of U-boats and torpedo craft. The Mediterranean battles that ensued between 11 and 15 August were the most brutal of Britain’s war at sea, embracing four aircraft-carriers, two battleships, seven cruisers, scores of destroyers and smaller craft. The losses were appalling: defeat seemed to beckon.
This is the saga Max Hastings unfolds in his first full length narrative of the Royal Navy, which he believes was the most successful of Britain’s wartime services. As always, he blends the ‘big picture’ of statesmen and admirals with human stories of German U-boat men, Italian torpedo-plane crews, Hurricane pilots, destroyer and merchant-ship captains, ordinary but extraordinary seamen.
Operation Pedestal describes catastrophic ship sinkings, including that of the aircraft-carrier Eagle, together with struggles to rescue survivors and salvage stricken ships. Most moving of all is the story of the tanker Ohio, indispensable to Malta’s survival, victim of countless Axis attacks. In the last days of the battle, the ravaged hulk was kept under way only by two destroyers, lashed to her sides. Max Hastings describes this as one of the most extraordinary tales he has ever recounted. Until the very last hours, no participant on either side could tell what would be the outcome of an epic of wartime suspense and courage.
About the author
Max Hastings is the author of twenty-seven books, most about conflict, and between 1986 and 2002 served as editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, then editor of the Evening Standard. He has won many prizes both for journalism and his books, of which the most recent are All Hell Let Loose, Catastrophe and The Secret War, best-sellers translated around the world. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an Honorary Fellow of King’s College, London and was knighted in 2002. He has two grown-up children, Charlotte and Harry, and lives with his wife Penny in West Berkshire, where they garden enthusiastically.
Military historian Hastings (Operation Chastise) delivers a sterling account of the August 1942 mission to bring food, oil, and other supplies to the besieged island of Malta. By December 1941, when the Luftwaffe launched a months-long bombing campaign against the island, Malta was the sole "haven" for British naval and air forces in the Mediterranean between Gibraltar and Alexandria, Egypt. After numerous failed attempts to bring relief to the islanders, 14 merchant vessels set sail from Scotland and met up with 50 warships to make the journey across the Mediterranean. The convoy was bombed, torpedoed, and even rammed by German and Italian planes, submarines, and motorboats. Some heavily damaged vessels returned to Gibraltar, overloaded with survivors from sunken ships, while the rest of the fleet surged ahead in "two vague and straggled columns." Hasting details heated disagreements between commanders on both sides of the conflict, and pays close attention to chaotic events, including a near-mutiny and the looting of food and rum, aboard the USS Ohio, an oil tanker that eventually limped into port at Malta "with the wrecks of two enemy aircraft protruding from her deck piping and derricks." Buoyed by prodigious research and vivid prose, this is a brilliant illumination of one of WWII's most dramatic episodes.