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Operation Pedestal 1942: The Battle for Malta’s Lifeline

31 Oct 23


(Osprey – £16.99)

ISBN 978 1 4728 5564 0

96 pages

Capt Andrew Welch (retd.)

This book is one of Osprey’s Campaign series, of which there are presently 389, with 18 of those written by Angus Konstam.[1] Having examined a few others in Waterstones, it looks as if all the Campaign series follow the same format: Intro, Chronology, Origin of the Campaign, Opposing Commanders, Opposing Forces, Opposing Plans, the actual Operation or War, Aftermath & Legacy. So, this book covers, on the whole, the big picture stuff. There are no detailed stories of each ship’s actions – just a very comprehensive overview of what was happening when and where, and how any event affected others. The illustrations – both photos and specially commissioned artwork – are good, as are the maps & plans. That is not to say that there aren’t a few errors – Ajaccio moves on one map from Corsica to central Italy & HMS Argus (the WWI one) is described, at one stage, as a ‘Fleet Carrier’ rather than a training and ferry carrier.

Despite the broad scope of this book, there are several aspects of Operation PEDESTAL that I was unaware of. Konstam describes all the supporting operations; for example, the refuelling activities necessary, both in Gib & at sea, the ‘dummy’ convoy run from Alexandria to Malta and Argus and her role in supplying aircraft to strengthen Malta’s air defences. He also observes that the pausing of the Arctic Convoys after PQ17 made PEDESTAL possible by releasing the necessary escorts.  His research in the Axis archives shows how fortunate we were that the shortage of fuel meant that the Italian battlefleet stayed in Taranto and that the lack of coordination between Italian & German commanders significantly reduced their effectiveness. A final quote that I find hard to accept as contemporary, is from an observer in HMS Kenyawho observed the Clan Ferguson and her cargo of ammunition and aviation fuel disappear in “a huge atomic-like explosion”.  This was three years before anyone outside the Manhattan programme knew anything about atomic explosions.

So – I would strongly recommend this book (and by inference Osprey’s Campaign series) to anyone who wants to understand Operation PEDESTAL in the round.  There are plenty of other books covering the bravery of the men & their ships, but in just under 100 pages, I have not come across any that give such a balanced overall picture.

[1] Matapan, also by Angus Konstam, will be published shortly.