Malta Convoy

In 1941 I was serving in the cruiser HMS Edinburgh as an ordinary seaman. At that time the island of Malta was in dire straits, isolated in a hostile sea and heavily bombed. In July it was decided that the Royal Navy should force a Merchant Navy convoy through to Malta.

On July 20th HMS Edinburgh and the other ships of the convoy left Gibraltar and headed east. Every vessel carried food and essential supplies; Edinburgh also had on board several hundred Servicemen to reinforce Malta's garrison. On July 23rd heavy air attacks began at 9:45 am and continued at intervals until about 8:00 pm. Of the naval escort HMS Fearless was sunk, HMS Manchester and HMS Firedrake damaged. The convoy pressed on. At 2:15 am on the 24th the island of Pantelleria was sighted. Fifty minutes later an enemy torpedo-boat (E-boat) attack developed. Edinburgh's searchlights illuminated an E-boat half a mile away on the port side: this was immediately struck by six 4" shells and blew apart. The remaining E-boat disappeared into the night.

A final air attack occurred at 7:00 am on the 24th and was beaten off. At 7:45 am the Edinburgh (flagship of the 18th cruiser squadron) was ordered to proceed to Malta at full speed, accompanied by the cruisers Arethusa and Manxman.

And so it was that at 11:30 am on July 24th HMS Edinburgh entered the Grand Harbour, the other cruisers in line astern. We put on quite a show. The ship's company manned the guard rails, port and starboard. On the quarterdeck the band of the Royal Marines played a series of patriotic tunes - "Rule Britannia", "Land of Hope and Glory", "Heart of Oak", and so on. We were given the most tremendous welcome by what must have been the entire population of Valletta. The emotion of the moment was so great that I found the odd tear was rolling down my cheeks, a reaction which seemed to apply to hardbitten sailors around me.

At 5:15 pm the same day Edinburgh left Malta and by 7:30 am on July 27th we were back at Gibraltar, morale high from a sense of achievement.

Colin Kitching