I made a cruise aboard USS WASP in 1956, China Fleet area. I flew F2H'3's. I was just going over my cruise book, and I cam across an interesting item.
47 MK V's were loaded aboart the Wasp and ferried to Malta to help defend the place. They were equiped with an external tank to increase their range so Wasp and HMS Eagle would not have to go too far into the Med.
When they were in the extended range of malta, they launched the Spitfires. The first to go was Sargeant-Pilot Herrington, who died in a crash when his engine failed. The others took off in order, with USN F4F-3's flying CAP. One of the Spitfire pilots, Sargeant-Pilot "Butterfingers" Smith, accidentlly jettisoned his external tank. This meant he could either ditch, or try to land on the WASP. No tailhook, no carrier experience, he decided to try it. The Wasp went to full ahead, and Smith made it aboard, stopping 15' short of the end of the deck.
This occured on 9 May 1942. The Japs sunk this Wasp, but hey, we built another one. Happy ending.
Is this part of any British history? Anyone out there with more details?
Yes, It's quite well known, the defence of Malta is second only to the Battle of Britain in 'against all odds' legends. Smith was awarded a pair of US Navy wings in honour of his achievement. He got to Malta with a later batch from the RN carrier Eagle. Sadly he was killed within months. Actually he was a Pilot Officer and he didn't drop the tank, it failed to feed. I've seen a picture of it with tank still attached.
[This message has been edited by jigsawblue (edited 03 April 2000).]
Thanks Gents. According to one book dealing with the history of WW11, an author claimed the first pilot airborn was an "Israeli". I doubt this, as Israel didn't exist at the time. Ships log shows Sargeant-Pilot Herrington was first, and he was killed when his engine failed. Any comments?
Wasn't there some statute miles versus nautical miles cock-up involved in the Eagle/Wasp's Malta Spitfire launch which finally persuaded the RAF to adopt knots instead of MPH?? Or is that just another fable??
[This message has been edited by BEagle (edited 03 April 2000).]
[This message has been edited by BEagle (edited 03 April 2000).]
Ed,if you're interested in the siege of Malta, an even more fascinating story is the one of Captain Mason who against absolutely all odds and by nothing but shear guts and determination got the totally crippled tanker "Ohio" into Valetta harbour to off-load its aviation fuel when the island was down to two day's fuel for its defence fighters - including the spitfires which were launched from the USS Wasp. Had Mason not got that tanker in, Malta would certainly have fallen and as a result El-Alamein would not have happened......????
In recognition for Captain Mason's courage and fortitude, he was awarded the George Cross.
All a long time ago but you've got to admire these people..............the trouble is that no-one bothers to teach the kids about courage, loyalty, determination and self-sacrifice now-a-days.....
Great posts all. Off topic but you may want to know ... HMS Ohio is remembered every year on every 15th September for the feast of 'Santa Maria' because the Ohio and what remained of the convoy, entered Valletta on that date to save Malta as you said. Still called the Convoy of Santa Maria. It is a National Holiday in Malta and the George Cross awarded to C. Mason and Malta flies on the flag because of him. If anyone is interested in pics of Ohio (sinking after being unloaded), Wasp and Eagle I have a few which I can mail.
Before some other pedant picks you up, it was the ‘SS’ Ihio, I think, alpafloor. It wasn’t a military ship, but a civilian merchant tanker. It was a sorry mess by the time it entered Valletta Harbour, its decks literally awash and its superstructure shot to hell. And pause for a minute to think about the sheer guts of the civilian crew who remained aboard to man a seriously damaged tanker full to the gunnels with high octane avgas. Don’t know that I’d have that kind of guts.
Re the fighters flying off the Wasp: mph versus knots was an issue. (The RAF stuck with all sorts of old world anomalies until they were dragged screaming into the 1940’s. One famous one was the use of the term ‘airscrew’ rather than ‘propeller’. They switched to ‘propeller’ only after The System sent three hundred pilots – (aircrew) – to an RAF station one day in reply to a urgent request for ‘airscrews’. A typist left one little letter out.)
Even more than the mph -v- knots issue, (and as a military pilot at the time, this was a real eye-opener to me when I first read it), the problem was that pilots on the first ferry flight to Malta were so scantily trained that they did not understand – or were not told – that they needed to fly on a lean fuel mixture for the transit flight. They had been trained to fly the Spitfire to fight in it, not to be ferry pilots, and not surprisingly, they flew combat missions with the mixture control in full rich.
The RAF simply didn’t have time to teach students at Fighter OCUs anything more than what they absolutely needed to know. Interesting – and sad – that most of the people involved in these historic and heroic events were dead within weeks. That’s the way it was in air combat at the time.
Off the subject of the WASP, but does anyone here on PPRuNe know the full story of the very young and inexperienced RAF Gladiator (or possibly Hurricane?) pilot who shot down SEVEN Italian aircraft with one burst of machine gun fire in the Greek campaign in 1941? It actually happened.
Spotting an Italian twin engined reconnaissance aircraft through the clouds, he dived on it, opening fire too early. ‘Walking’ his tracer onto the aircraft, he kept his finger on the trigger until he hit the aircraft, shooting it down. When he claimed the kill, Army observers on the ground credited him with seven kills. Unseen by the RAF pilot through the clouds, a flight of six Italian fighters escorting the recce aircraft were flying in echelon formation off to one side and behind it. Apparently his line of tracers had ‘walked’ exactly along the flight of Italian fighters and he unknowingly shot every one of them down.
Very interesting thread. Worth looking out for second hand copies of "Malta Spitfire", which recounts the exploits of George "Screwball" Beurling, one of the RAF's most unorthodox fighter aces (he was killed in a crash at Rome after the war whilst ferrying aircraft for Israel's nascent air force). Does anyone know, by the way, whether the Gladiators that defended the island before the Spitfires arrived were really called Faith, Hope and Charity, or whether, as I have seen suggested, this was a propaganda tale spread by the Air Ministry soon after the event.
FNG When Italy declared war there were I believe 4 Sea Gladiators (navalised version; hooks and stonger u/c and longer range). One was lost fairly early; the remaining 3 picking up their nicknames for PR purposes. When monoplane fighters arrived later the Glads were dumped in a quarry and one of them survived the war and is now in Valetta Museum.
Generally britain had a poor record with naval fighters; most (ie Firefly) having poor performance due to FAA lack of confidence in its pilots - they needed a navigator. However they did accept some modified fighters later in the war, along with some american types unsuitable for USN service. There were a few problems; the Sea Hurricane being deemed suitable only for immediate defence against German a/c, catapulted from merchant (CAM) ships and ditched when the fuel ran out. Seafires (navalised Spitfires) largely failed because of the combination of tailwheel u/c and Merlin/Griffon engine; visibility is poor when taxying and weaving is not a good idea on a flight deck.