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Operation Pedestal

August 10th-15th, 1942

After the heavy losses of the battle of mid-June, the British continue supplying Malta only by plane or with the few tons of cargo that the legendary minelayer Welshman could deliver. In a new attempt to supply Malta with food and ammunitions, the British organized a new convoy of almost 60 American and British ships.

R.N. Bolzano.

In addition to the battleships Rodney and Nelson, the British deploy four aircraft carriers; the Eagle, Furious, Indomitable and the Victorious, the heavy cruisers Manchester, Nigeria and Kenya and the anti aircraft cruiser Cairo. Light cruisers and 25 destroyers provided protection for a convoy of 14 cargo ships, including three American. The convoy, mostly originating from Gibraltar, consolidates just south of the Baleary Islands where Italian and German submarines go to the attack, the later sinking the aircraft carrier Eagle.

On August 12, Axis air forces unleashed a massive attack which brought about the sinking of a cargo ship and other damage. Near Bizerte, just like it had happened during the Battle of Mid-June, the heavier escort turned back, leaving the defense of the convoy to 4 cruisers and 10 destroyers. On the evening of the 12th, two Italian submarines, the Dessie and the Axum, sink the cruiser Cairo and damage two cargo ships, the Ohio and Brisbane Start, and also damage the cruisers Nigeria and Kenia. This was a terrible blow which caused great chaos in the convoy. The same night, Italian motor boats sink the cruiser Manchester and 5 cargo ships. The following day, axis planes sink one more cargo ship.

Missing from the battle were the Italian battleships which, by now, had reached one of the highest points of the fuel crisis. Supermarina, well aware of the limited supplies of fuel left scattered amongst the several Italian naval depots, decided to deploy only lighter units which included the 3rd Division with the Bolzano, Gorizia e Trieste and the 7th with the Eugenio di Savoia, Montecuccoli and Attendolo.

The Italian naval force was to have intervened near Pantelleria, but Supermarina was alarmed by the increased air defenses now based in Malta. At this point a quarrel between the Italian and German naval officers and their counterpart in the air force caused the naval forces to be relegated to a secondary role. The air force inability to provide for air coverage would have left the Italian ships to the mercy of the Malta bombers, so a return to port was ordered. While in transit in the Tyrrhenian, the cruisers Bolzano and Attendolo were attacked by a British submarine which scores two hits.The Bolzano, fearing a fire which was quickly reaching one of the magazines, was beached on the island of Panarea and was later rescued, while the Attendolo, having lost the entire bow, made it to port under its own engines.

On the 13th, of the original 14 ships, three reached Malta while the Ohio and the Brisbane Start followed unescorted several hours later. The British Admiralty quickly realized that operations of this scale were too costly and would not be repeated. On the Italian side, despite the stunning victory, the feeling of an imminent demise was beginning to sink in. The inability of the fleet to fully display its power and especially the inability of axis air force to provide for cover clearly demonstrated that the tide had turned. Ultimately, Malta was still alive while any hope to maintain North Africa was quickly fading away.

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