cover image Operation Pedestal: The Fleet That Battled to Malta, 1942

Operation Pedestal: The Fleet That Battled to Malta, 1942

Max Hastings. Harper, $35 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-298015-1

Military historian Hastings (Operation Chastise) delivers a sterling account of the August 1942 mission to bring food, oil, and other supplies to the besieged island of Malta. By December 1941, when the Luftwaffe launched a months-long bombing campaign against the island, Malta was the sole “haven” for British naval and air forces in the Mediterranean between Gibraltar and Alexandria, Egypt. After numerous failed attempts to bring relief to the islanders, 14 merchant vessels set sail from Scotland and met up with 50 warships to make the journey across the Mediterranean. The convoy was bombed, torpedoed, and even rammed by German and Italian planes, submarines, and motorboats. Some heavily damaged vessels returned to Gibraltar, overloaded with survivors from sunken ships, while the rest of the fleet surged ahead in “two vague and straggled columns.” Hasting details heated disagreements between commanders on both sides of the conflict, and pays close attention to chaotic events, including a near-mutiny and the looting of food and rum, aboard the USS Ohio, an oil tanker that eventually limped into port at Malta “with the wrecks of two enemy aircraft protruding from her deck piping and derricks.“ Buoyed by prodigious research and vivid prose, this is a brilliant illumination of one of WWII’s most dramatic episodes. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (June)