- Hill, Gordon
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Vendetta I
- June 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
We once again entered Grand Harbour Malta on 11 October 1940 and proceeded to our old place in the graving dock and our tunnel accommodation to complete our engine refit. Some German dive bombers had joined the Italians and inflicted heavy damage on ships in the harbour. The AA defence had been strengthened; now 4.5 AA guns, Bofors and multiple pom poms managed to shoot down a number of bombers. The RAF had some Spitfires and other aircraft and it looked less likely that Italy could take the Island.
One of our sailors had a portable gramophone and a few records which he played in our tunnel to entertain us. One record was Gracie Fields singing Gounod’s Ave Maria. The memory of the constant playing of that record later evoked such strong emotions in me that for many years I would become profoundly upset when I heard it played.
On 13 September, the long expected Italian invasion of Egypt from Libya began and their forces occupied Sidi Barini. On 28 October the Italian army invaded Greece. Vendetta, still in dock in Malta, was like a greyhound straining at the leash to get the refit completed. We had missed a naval battle before by being in dock.
With the arrival of the Luftwaffe in Sicily only 60 miles from Malta bombing intensified. Living in the underground shelters, with food and fuel running short, people were getting desperate. No pets were allowed to be kept. Babies were born and people died in their air raid shelters. We finally sailed from Grand Harbour on 10November escorting the monitor HMS Terror to Suda Bay, Crete which was being set up as naval support base for the military reinforcement of Greece.
Aviation fuel by submarine
Our last visit to Malta was when we escorted a convoy from Alexandria arriving on 26 November 1940. This was a particularly hazardous trip. Several troop and supply ships were sunk by submarines and bombers. There was to be no further attempt to get supplies to Malta from both the east and west Mediterranean for some time. The navy even resorted to delivering aviation fuel to the RAF in Malta by submarine, carried in 4 gallon tins. In harbour, our ‘gashman’ was accused of selling our food scraps to people at the dockyard gate for a penny a plate, instead of feeding them to his goats. Goats were the only supply of milk as the Island land was too poor to support grazing cattle. The milkman came to your door or air raid shelter and milked the goats into any container you had.
In April 1942, HM King George VI awarded the George Cross to the islanders of Malta and Gozo as a tribute to their gallantry. The siege went on and the people were at the point of giving up the struggle when in August the Pedestal convoy, after the loss of many ships (including the aircraft carrier Eagle), got through from Gibraltar. The tanker Ohio made history by delivering vital fuel, though badly damaged and finally sinking at the wharf. While this was considered the end of the siege, it was some time before other convoys got through to supply food to the starving people.
Vendetta went on in 1941 to make a name for herself in other parts of the Mediterranean – North Africa. Tobruk, Greece and Crete. Malta was in the past.
The feather bed in the Emirates Airways hotel in Dubai during my return to Brisbane was a vast contrast to a hammock on the dirt floor of our tunnel dockside in Malta. Just a part of history.