Ship - USS Wasp, Aircraft -
The USS Wasp launches Spitfires
of 601 and 603 Squadrons towards Malta in a desperate, but successful,
attempt to defend the beleaguered island, April 1942
The besieged isle of Malta, the tiny fortress island so vital to Allied
strategy in the Mediterranean, was in April 1942, the most heavily bombed
place on earth. With some 600 fighters and bombers based in Sicily, the
Axis air forces were intent on neutralising the island, to gain total
air and sea supremacy in the region. By early April the RAF could muster
just 6 serviceable fighters against this continual aerial onslaught. The
vital naval dockyards and airfields were in danger of annihilation.
Following an urgent cable from Winston Churchill to President Roosevelt,
the carrier USS Wasp embarked 52 Mk Vc Spitfires of 601 and 603 Squadrons
and, under Captain J.W.Reeves Jr. USN, sailed from Glasgow on 14 April.
In the early hours of 19 April, escorted by the cruiser Renown and four
British and two American destroyers, the heavily laden carrier slipped
through the Straits of Gibraltar in darkness. "Operation Calendar"
began early the following day, when Wasp launched 11 of her F4F Wildcat
fighters to provide air cover while the Spitfires started taking off.
With the sun already up, by 0645 all 47 serviceable fighters were despatched.
Monitoring all this activity, Luftwaffe Me 109s lay in wait, attacking
as the Spitfires made landfall. All but one landed safely, and from their
arrival the Spitfires began to dominated the sky above the beleaguered
island, and Malta was saved.
Viewing the carrier from the wake of one her escort destroyers, Simon
Atack’s fine painting shows the USS Wasp launching Spitfires early
on the morning of 20 April, 1942. A dramatic and moving scene from a vital
moment in history.
Overall print size:
30¼ inches wide x 22¾ inches high
Each print hand signed
in pencil by the artist Simon Atack and one of the few surviving Aces
to fly Spitfires to Malta; Flight Lieutenant Ken Evans DFC
Edition size 500 Signed
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