Malta Convoys 1940-43 by Richard Woodman has been my heavyweight summer reading. It is the definitive history of the ships that supplied Malta and I’ve come to regard it as a sort of bible when it comes to finding out all the details.
Unlike some of my other Malta reading it offers tantalising glimpses of Taid’s ship M.V. Ajax. She was involved in three of the convoys – Operation Halberd in September 1941, MW8A and Operation Vigorous in June 1942.
The Ajax ended up stuck on Malta for the autumn of 1941 as it was not safe for the merchant vessels to leave the island without a naval escort. She spent the three months dodging bombs with most of the crew sheltering in the caves, leaving one watch on board ship. On Christmas Eve she was hit by a bomb but the only casualties were chickens in a crate, being fattened up by the Chinese greasers for New year. The bomb left a hole in the side of the ship which was still there when she sailed.
She finally got away on Boxing Day 1941 (convoy ME8) in the company of City of Calcutta, Clan Ferguson and Sydney Star. They were of course attacked and the Ajax was saved by the seamanship of her captain, John Scott watching astern as the bomber lined up and swinging her on one side or the other by a hard-over helm order and stopping one engine. They were near-missed numerous times but made it to Alexandria on 29th December, before going on to Port Said.
“No rest for the wicked” – as Taid might have said because on 16th January 1942 the Ajax and Thermopylae were in a convoy MW8A heading from Alexandria back to Malta, followed by Clan Ferguson and City of Calcutta (MW8B). One of the escorting ships the destroyer Gurkha was torpedoed by U-boat U133 on 17th January. her crew were saved by the Dutch vessel, Isaac Sweers. On 18th January Thermopylae developed engine trouble and was re-routed back to Alexandria. Her slow speed made her an easy target for the Luftwaffe and she had to be abandoned and sunk. by 19th January the convoy was approaching Malta and Hurricanes from the island drove off the German aircraft enabling Ajax, Clan Ferguson and City of Calcutta to reach Grand Harbour with 30,000 tons of supplies.