THE Royal Navy has paid tribute to hundreds of sailors who were killed 70 years ago in a daring Second World War mission to deliver supplies to Malta.
In August 1942, Operation Pedestal saw more than 23,000 navy and merchant sailors sail in a convoy from Gibraltar to Malta after it was heavily bombed.
The flotilla met a fearsome enemy onslaught of 21 submarines, 23 E-boats and 540 aircraft, and more than 350 service and merchantmen lost their lives.
Only five merchant ships eventually made it to Valetta. But despite the best efforts of Italian and German forces, 30,000 tonnes of cargo reached the islanders, including aviation fuel for Spitfires based on the island.
Portsmouth-based minehunter HMS Middleton was joined by HMS Pembroke for a ceremony held at Valetta’s Grand Harbour.
The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, attended to pay his respects.
He said: ‘We lost four warships, damaged five more and out of 14 merchant ships only five got through. But they were a critical five and key to the survival of Malta. The navy was at sea, in the air and under the sea, because it was vital we got these supplies through.’
At the ceremony, which was attended by eight Royal Navy and Royal Marine veterans, Malta’s Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi unveiled a large black anchor as a symbol of the courage shown by the islanders and the convoy.
Middleton’s captain Lieutenant Commander Steve Higham said: ‘The courage, resilience and fortitude shown by the people of Malta and the dedication, sacrifice and commitment of the members of the Royal Navy who contributed to that success are keen reminders of the bond between the service and Malta.
‘The ship’s companies of HMS Middleton and Pembroke are delighted to be here to support the commemoration.
‘We have enjoyed sharing the experiences of those veterans, and discussing with them the roles and commitments of today’s Royal Navy.’
Middleton is currently making her way home to Portsmouth after three years on patrol in the Gulf. The minehunter has three rotating ship’s companies which deploy on six-month cycles.
Her role in the Gulf has been to keep the sea lanes open by detecting and destroying sea mines and preventing devices from being laid in one of the world’s busiest trading routes.