The main island of Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean, 60 miles south of Sicily, is only 95 square miles. It is just 17 miles long by 9 miles wide. The landscape of this rocky island is almost Biblical with flat-topped houses in honey-coloured limestone set against stony hills. Contrasting with this is the brilliant blue sea and sky. Malta’s strategic position has made it attractive to traders, colonisers and invaders dating back to the Phoenicians. For 200 years, the Arabs ruled until ousted by Norman colonisers from Sicily. Spanish rule succeeded Sicily’s and it remained so until the sixteenth century in spite of persistent attacks from Berbers, Turks and Saracens. In 1530, Charles V of Spain granted the Knights of St John, ejected from Rhodes by the Turks, the islands as their new home. This move led ultimately to the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 when the Knights and the Maltese withstood and eventually defeated the huge Turkish invasion fleet of Suleiman the Magnificent. More than two centuries of peace and prosperity followed until the unwanted arrival of Napoleon’s revolutionary French Army, who had ambitions in Egypt. French rule lasted only two years. Blockaded by the Royal Navy commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson and harried by the Maltese, the French occupying troops were forced to capitulate. Thus began the long association with Britain.
The Mediterranean island’s most climactic episode was the second Great Siege of Malta during 1941-42 when Malta endured incessant air attacks from both the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica. Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, declared war against Britain and France on 10 June 1940, and the following morning, ten Savoia-Marchetti SM79 Sparviero (sparrowhawk) tri-motored bombers attacked Valletta and surrounding districts. The first casualties were six Maltese gunners of the Royal Malta Artillery who were killed outright by a high-explosive bomb as they manned their guns at Valletta’s Fort St Elmo at the entrance to Grand Harbour. Malta’s only aerial defence at this time was a handful of Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters. The islanders now rallied to the Allied cause, promptly gathered their resources of fortitude and courage and immediately prepared themselves for a long and painful siege. Much would have to be done, since Malta was clearly defenceless at this stage. The immediate priority was to provide shelter for the civilian population. A gigantic programme to excavate underground shelters in all towns and villages was quickly mounted. Old railway tunnels and historic catacombs were soon converted for this purpose. With the help of experienced miners from South Wales and Yorkshire, serving with the Royal Engineers in Malta, the authorities were successful in providing adequate protection for the population within a year. The early completion of this crash ‘building’ programme greatly contributed to the relatively low figure of civilian casualties registered in Malta during the war. However, with some foresight, more lives would have been saved.
The Regia Aeronautica continued their bombing raids over Malta. Initially, only four Gloster Gladiators opposed the 200-plus aircraft. Legend has it that these were soon reduced to three. Nicknamed Faith, Hope and Charity, they battled alone, day and night, for three weeks. On 28 June 1940, four Hurricanes en route to the Middle East were kept in Malta to help the stalwart defenders. On 13 July, only one Gladiator and one Hurricane were serviceable, but by the end of the month, twelve more Hurricanes arrived. The Italian raids became noticeably less effective at a time when their supply lines from Sicily were assuming more importance for the build-up of Axis forces in North Africa. The singular failure of the Italians to silence Malta and effectively blockade her supply lines despite little or no opposition proved to be of great concern to the German High Command. Clearly, Malta-based aircraft, shipping and submarines had to be prevented from ever taking to the offensive since the Axis lifeline from Sicily to North Africa would otherwise be jeopardised. For this reason, it was decided that the Luftwaffe should move in, take over from the Italians and ‘finish’ the job in Malta once and for all.
With the Luftwaffe based on Sicilian airfields by December 1940, the siege of Malta commenced in earnest. On 9 January 1941, when nine Ju 87 Stukas of the Regia Aeronautica bombed shipping in Marsa Scirocco Bay, Malta, the forces of Fliegerkorps X on Sicily totalled sixty-one Stukas, seventy-seven long-range bombers, twelve long-range reconnaissance aircraft and twenty-two Bf 110 fighters. In a sustained attack on the British Fleet, which was escorting a convoy to Malta and Greece, the Luftwaffe badly damaged the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. On fire and crippled, Illustrious limped into Grand Harbour for repairs, but the Luftwaffe soon struck again. Over seventy dive bombers appeared over Malta and Illustrious bore the brunt of their bombs as she lay in dock. The dockyards and the Three Cities were also badly hit. Soon, the Axis had gained air supremacy over most of the Mediterranean. Enemy bombing raids on Malta intensified and ‘box barrages’ of the Maltese artillery could not deter them. The high-level aerial bombardment techniques, which the Italians had previously adopted, were immediately discarded by the Luftwaffe, which preferred to swoop down onto their targets.
With Rommel now preparing to redress Italian reverses in North Africa, German raids on Malta were intensified. This greatly assisted the Afrika Korps to win control of Cyrenaica and Rommel was looking to invade Egypt. By spring 1941, Greece and Crete had also fallen. These gains now posed a serious threat to Malta’s supply line from Alexandria. German strategy to strangle Malta to submission was clearly succeeding, but in June 1941, Hitler attacked Russia and strikes on Malta from Sicily became fewer. Malta’s strategic role in the battle for the control of supply lines in the Mediterranean now became vital. Rommel’s victories in North Africa had been largely due to his relatively secure supply links with Italy and Sicily and these depended on the Luftwaffe’s air superiority over Malta. Now, for the first time, the British in Malta went over to the offensive. Enemy shipping was attacked, Blenheims and Wellington bombers raided Naples and other Italian ports, and Hurricanes and Beaufighters systematically attacked targets in Sicily and Sardinia, while Tripoli in Libya was raided repeatedly and the Axis powers in North Africa were blockaded and deprived of supplies. By the autumn of 1941, the Allies had made sweeping gains in North Africa.
Almost too late, the Germans realised that Malta was the chief obstacle to progress in North Africa and the airfields on the island fortress would have to be put out of action permanently. By December 1941, the Luftwaffe in Sicily was back to full strength and the bombing of Malta recommenced with a vengeance. Plans were also laid for a German invasion. That December, the Luftwaffe made 169 air raids on Malta and the trickle of supplies to Rommel began to turn to a flood. By January 1942, he was able to re-take Cyrenaica and Malta’s supply route from Alexandria was now in jeopardy. Malta became isolated and on the defensive once more. From now on, the defence of Malta was crucial to the Allies. In a message to Malta, Winston Churchill tried to raise the island’s morale. ‘The eyes of all Britain and, indeed, of the British Empire are watching Malta in her struggle day by day and we are sure that her success as well as glory will reward your efforts.’
In early 1942, Malta was blitzed daily by the Luftwaffe, and in January, the Luftwaffe made 263 raids on targets in Malta. In February, 1,000 tons of bombs were dropped, and in March, the raids intensified. On 7 March, fifteen Spitfire Vbs were flown off the deck of the carrier Eagle and they landed at Ta’Qali. On 20 March, 143 Ju 88s and Bf 109s made a massed attack on the islands and heavy raids continued for two more days before the Luftwaffe switched to bombing a convoy of merchant ships heading for Valletta. Airfields came under constant attack and soon the blockade of Malta began to have a telling effect on the island’s reserves of stores, munitions and fuel. Food was in very short supply and ‘Victory Kitchens’ were introduced to feed the starving population. Sugar was unobtainable and even soap and matches had to be rationed. Many towns and cities were reduced to rubble. In April 1942 alone, more than 11,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged. Because of their proximity to the Naval Dockyards, the Three Cities were particularly badly hit. In Valletta too, many historic buildings were hit. The Royal Opera House, the Law Courts and some of the old auberges were totally destroyed. On 15 April, the morale of the Maltese people received a welcome boost. The following message arrived from King George VI: ‘To honour her brave people, I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.’
That same month, in Operation Calendar, which resulted by personal arrangement between Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt, the American carrier Wasp sailed from the Clyde for the Mediterranean with forty-seven Spitfires. On 20 April, when within range of Malta, the carrier flew off a combat air patrol of Grumman F4F Wildcats and then launched the forty-seven Spitfires of 601 and 603 Squadrons.
The Malta Convoys are as famous as those are to Murmansk and one convoy to the beleaguered island stands above all others. Because of Allied pressure on Rommel’s forces in North Africa, the planned German invasion of Malta scheduled for June 1942 had to be abandoned. Troops were diverted to strengthen the Afrika Korps, now halted at El Alamein. Part of the German bomber force based on Sicily was also withdrawn. Even so, the situation in Malta remained desperate. Just two supply ships, out of a total of six reached the island in July 1942 and barely a fortnight’s supply of vital provisions and fuel remained for survival. Operation Pedestal, therefore, was mounted to force a convoy through to Malta. A fleet of thirteen merchantmen plus the American-built and British-manned tanker Ohio with 11,500 tons of kerosene and fuel oil was gathered off Gibraltar. It was vital that the Ohio’s cargo reach Malta if the islands were to survive. Petrol was desperately needed for fighters and bombers and motor transport. Fuel oil was for shipping, the kerosene for cooking and lighting and the diesel oil for well-head pumping, without which there would be no drinking water. The merchantmen’s escort consisted of three aircraft carriers – Eagle, Victorious and Indomitable – with a total of seventy-two aircraft – two battleships, seven cruisers and twenty-four destroyers.
Pedestal entered the Straits of Gibraltar on the night of 10/11 August as eighteen Italian and three German submarines lay in wait. Also ranged against the convoy were 784 German and Italian aircraft, twenty-three Axis motor torpedo boats and the Italian fleet. On 11 August, U-73 hit the Eagle with four torpedoes, and the carrier capsized and sank within minutes. Of the 1,100 men on board, 900 survived. At sunset, thirty-six Luftwaffe aircraft mounted the first Axis air attack on the convoy. Next day, south of Sardinia, seventy Axis bombers escorted by fighters made their attacks. A bomb hit the Victorious flight-deck but it broke up and failed to do any damage. At nightfall the enemy bombers disabled the carrier HMS Indomitable when a bomb exploded on the flight-deck and her aircraft that were already airborne had to land on board Victorious, now the only carrier still operational. The intense U-boat and air attacks by the Axis threw the convoy into confusion. The cruiser Cairo and Clan Ferguson and Empire Hope were sunk, while the cruisers Nigeria and Kenya and the Brisbane Star were damaged. Ohio was set on fire but the vital tanker was able to continue after the flames had been put out. At midnight on 12/13 August, as the convoy rounded Cape Bon, eight Italian and two German motor torpedo boats attacked. They disabled the cruiser Manchester (which was later scuttled) and sank four of the merchantmen – the American-built merchant ships Santa Elisa and Almeria Lykes and the freighter Wairangi and Glenorchy.
As planned, Force Z had withdrawn from the convoy on the evening of the 12th. On the 13th, Pedestal was reduced to just three ships. In the morning, Waimarama, which was carrying petrol stored on deck and fuel and ammunition below, was hit and blew up. Ohio was badly damaged again when first a downed Ju 88 and shortly afterwards a disabled Stuka both crashed into her superstructure. The tanker remained afloat – just – but when the engines finally stopped shortly after, she lay dead in the water. In the afternoon, Dorset and one other ship was sunk. Brisbane Star, Port Chalmers, Rochester Castle and the MV Melbourne Star, which was loaded with 1,350 tons of high-octane petrol, 700 tons of kerosene, 1,450 tons of high explosive and several thousand tons of heavy oil, reached Valletta the following day. The events of the voyage are mainly described by D. R. Macfarlane DSO OBE, captain of the Melbourne Star.
Enemy reconnaissance aircraft had shadowed the convoy for several days before they entered the Mediterranean, but nothing of note happened until two days past Gibraltar when, a few minutes after 1 p.m. on 11 August, three or four explosions were felt, and looking westward, Macfarlane saw the aircraft carrier Eagle heeling over and her own planes slipping off her decks into the sea. A pilot bravely tried to take his aircraft off the sloping deck but it was heeling so fast that he could not do it. Later in the afternoon, the first air attacks began and went on until after dark. Quiet fell until daylight next morning, when bombing attacks were renewed and continued throughout the day. About noon, the merchantman Deucalion was hit by bombs and left behind with a destroyer guarding her, but unhappily, the Deucalion was sunk later that day.
The air attack grew in intensity about 7 p.m., just before the battleships and carriers were due to leave, and it was then that the carrier Indomitable was hit. ‘It was a most impressive sight to see her anti-aircraft guns firing away through the flames as she steamed towards the setting sun.’ The Indomitable’s aircraft had done very fine work. Two hours later, the convoy was changing formation when U-boats added their attack to that of dive-torpedo and high-level bombers. In the ensuing battle, two warships were hit, the tanker Ohio was torpedoed but far from sunk, a merchant vessel was hit and blew up and another was bombed and set on fire so that she had later to be abandoned.
Ohio ultimately reached Malta two days after the Melbourne Star. The chief officer, Mr Douglas H. Gray, had just finished his watch and was still on the bridge. ‘When the torpedo struck, the ship shook violently, steering gear broke, and all communication with the engine-room and after-end of the ship was cut off, with the exception of the telephone, which was still working. Fire broke out in the pump-room.’ He made an attempt to get the compressor started forward. The engineers were all down below … About an hour later, the vessel was under way and Mr Gray remained on the poop deck throughout the night carrying out the captain’s orders and steering the ship from that position. At 6 a.m. next day, they rejoined the convoy. The respite was brief. Two hours later, their guns were in action again. During that morning a Stuka which had dropped several near misses had its tail shot off; the tail landed on the Ohio’s poop. ‘In the same forenoon,’ says Mr Gray, ‘the second boiler blew out and the engines stopped. I was still steering from aft and the captain gave me instructions to come forward and make fast the tow to a destroyer which had offered to assist us. After I had made fast the tow, I came aft and disconnected the steam steering gear and connected up chain blocks to move the rudder, as the destroyer hadn’t enough weigh to tow us and the Ohio was going round in circles … We proceeded in this manner for about an hour, when the tow rope parted.’ A destroyer took them off but put them aboard again at 6 p.m. and they were towed by the destroyer Penn and the minesweeper Rye. They were again steering with chain blocks and had let go the paravane gear. Half an hour later, another air raid occurred; the Ohio was hit in the engine-room, and the boiler-room was wrecked. Orders were given to abandon ship, and Mr Gray along with others was picked up by a motor launch. Darkness was falling and a heavy raid was still centred upon the ship.
The Melbourne Star had continued to be in the thick of it. She had had to put her helm hard a-port and increase speed to avoid a collision just after the heavy fight in which the Ohio was first disabled, and she later found herself proceeding towards Malta, with two other ships following but, for the moment, unable to see any escort. However, as she neared Cape Bon lighthouse, a destroyer overtook her. They followed the destroyer inside the minefields but eventually lost her on account of her speed while, on the other hand, the Melbourne Star outdistanced the two ships following behind. She observed great activity ahead in the shape of tracer shells and bullets, which suggested E-boat attacks, but fortunately, when she reached that spot, all was quiet again. Captain Macfarlane adds, ‘We were giving a wonderful fireworks display from our exhaust and I was very perturbed about it. Everything possible had been done to stop it, without success.’ Soon afterwards, two things happened – they came up to a destroyer escort, and they received an SOS by wireless that a merchantman was torpedoed and stopped. The Melbourne Star zigzagged to the south of the destroyers, trying at intervals to drop in astern of one of them; during this period, she observed a very heavy explosion to the northward. Some time later, she was able to rejoin the main body of the convoy coming up astern and took up her station behind the Waiwarama.
‘At 8.10 a.m.,’ reports Captain Macfarlane, ‘dive bombers suddenly came out of the sun and a stick of bombs fell on the Waiwarama, which blew up and disappeared in a few seconds. We were showered with debris from this ship. A piece of plating five feet long fell on board. The base of a steel ventilator, half an inch thick and two feet six inches high, partly demolished one of our machine-gun posts. At the same time, a piece of angle iron narrowly missed a cadet. The sea was one sheet of fire, and as we were so close, we had to steam through it. I put the helm hard a-port and had to come down from where I was on monkey island to the bridge to save myself from being burned. It seemed as though we had been enveloped in flame and smoke for years, although it was only a matter of minutes, otherwise the ship could never have survived. The flames were leaping mast high – indeed, air pilots reported that at times they reached 2,000 feet. The heat was terrific. The air was becoming drier every minute, as though the oxygen was being sucked out of it, as, in fact, it was. When we inspected the damage afterwards, we found that nearly all the paint on the ship’s sides had been burnt away, and the bottoms of the lifeboats reduced to charcoal.’
Unable to see how they could avoid being blown up as they sailed through the flames, Captain Macfarlane had ordered everybody forward; however, they cleared the fire safely and he thereupon ordered everybody back to stations. It was now reported to him that thirty-six men were missing. ‘These men, thinking that the for’ard end of the ship had been struck and being quite certain that if they stayed aboard they would be blown up, jumped over the side. All our defences had now to be reorganised. Throughout the action, my men behaved splendidly; the team spirit was perfect, but after the loss of their comrades, they were keener than ever and we could not hold them back.’
Further air attacks occurred in which a merchantman was lost and the Ohio again damaged, but from the time the escort from Malta met them, the voyage was without further excitement. They reached Malta in company with two other merchantmen; a fourth arrived on the next day and the Ohio in tow the day after. The Melbourne Star had been in Malta over twelve hours before it was discovered that a 6-inch shell had landed during the voyage on top of the master’s dayroom, smashing deck planking and setting in but not penetrating the steel deck – all this without exploding.
On 15 August – the Feast of the Assumption – huge crowds in Grand Harbour witnessed an astounding sight. Incredibly, the stricken Ohio, which though disabled and sinking, had nevertheless remained afloat and was heading for Grand Harbour. Seventy miles out and unable to move under her own steam, she was lashed between two destroyers, Penn and Ledbury, and for forty-eight hours, Rye, a minesweeper painstakingly towed her to Valletta. Her precious cargo was discharged and the gallant tanker then left, for it was unable to put to sea ever again.
This epic convoy passed into legend and to this day is known as the ‘Santa Maria convoy’. Its safe arrival marked a turning point in Malta’s fortunes. Although still under siege, Malta was now in a better position to hit back. With a stronger fighting force, which soon included 100 Spitfires, air superiority was achieved by October 1942. By now, Malta had endured 1,660 air attacks and 1,386 people killed. October also coincided with General Montgomery’s 8th Army victory over Rommel at El Alamein. With North Africa in Allied hands, the siege of Malta was finally lifted. Soon after the islands became the operational launching pad for Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily.
The fighter pilots that defended Malta arrived from all parts of the British Empire, Europe and the USA and Canada. On the night of 26 April 1943, Flight Lieutenant A. J. Hodgkinson DFC* of 23 Squadron shot down two Ju 88s which brought Malta’s defences score to 999 ‘kills’. But Hodgkinson was beaten in the Maltese sweepstake by Squadron Leader John Joseph Lynch, OC 249 Squadron at Qrendi, who was awarded the 1,000th Malta-victory when he shot down a Ju 52/3m 5 miles north of Cap Cafafu. An American citizen from Alhambra, California, Lynch joined the RAF in 1941, completing his training at OTU in September 1941 and being posted to 232 Squadron. The following month, he joined 121 ‘Eagle’ Squadron and later 71 ‘Eagle’ Squadron.43 Another American Malta ‘ace’ was Reade Franklin Tilley. Born in Clearwater, Florida, Tilley joined the RCAF on 10 June 1940, arriving in the UK early in 1941. Upon completion of training, he joined 121 ‘Eagle’ Squadron in May as a sergeant, subsequently receiving his commission in August. He claimed a probable on 24 March 1942, and in April, he was posted to 601 Squadron preparing to sail for Malta aboard the US carrier Wasp as part of Operation Calendar. Tilley damaged a Bf 109 on 28 April before transferring to 126 Squadron. His first victory came on 8 May, and on the 20th, he was awarded the DFC. Early in June he was one of several pilots flown to Gibraltar, where he re-embarked HMS Eagle to lead a new batch of Spitfire Vs and their pilots to Malta as part of Operation Salient. By 23 July, Tilley had destroyed seven enemy aircraft, plus damaging five. On 16 August, he left Malta and returned to Britain, where he later transferred to 8th Fighter Command in London where his first assignment was to carry orders for the invasion of North-West Africa to American fighter units in Britain.
In October 1942, the Mediterranean was the scene of yet another huge build up of forces when the Torch invasion with landings on the coast of French Morocco went ahead. Confusion in the Axis command was such that, even up until 7 November, the German Naval High Command still believed that the armada was a Malta-bound convoy. The Ranger and the escort carriers Suwannee (ACV-27), Sangamon (ACV-26) and Santee (ACV-29) were included in the three Naval Task Forces, which were under the direct command of Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham. The carriers’ combined strength numbered sixty-two Douglas SBD-3 and Grumman TBF-1 bombers, plus 109 F4F Wildcats. ‘Fighting Four’ (VF-4) in Ranger had been the original Wildcat unit and Lieutenant Commander Tommy Booth’s pilots generally had 500 hours or more in Wildcats alone. Opposing them were about 200 French naval and air force planes including many Martin- and Douglas-built bombers and Curtiss fighters. (Ironically, one of the French fighter units traced its ancestry to the Escadrille Lafayette, the squadron of American volunteer aviators in the First World War!) Many of the Vichy French pilots had fought in the Battle of France. American aviators were specifically forbidden to fire at the French aircraft unless fired upon.
Western Naval Task Force commanded by Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt consisted of 102 American vessels, of which twenty-nine were transports and they all sailed directly from the United States. The entirely British Centre Naval Task Force under Commodore Thomas H. Troubridge sailed from the Clyde with 18,500 American troops (building up to 39,000) who had been brought over to Scotland and Northern Ireland early in August. Eastern Task Force commanded by Rear Admiral Sir Harold Burrough was also entirely British50 but the assault force consisted of 23,000 British and 10,000 American troops commanded by Major General Charles Ryder, an American, whose objective was Algiers. All the Assault Force commanders reported directly to Lieutenant General Eisenhower.
Final operational orders were issued between 3 and 20 October 1942 in eight parts for the naval operation. The first convoys left the Clyde on 2 October. The first troop convoy left on 22 October with others following on 26 October and 1 November. The last convoy was due in Gibraltar on 4 November. The covering warships left their respective bases between 20 and 30 October. The concern over U-boat attacks did not materialise since their command in Germany failed to realise the significance of the convoys, despite spotting two leaving their bases. At this critical time in the Mediterranean, U-boats were engaging a convoy en route from Sierra Leone to Britain, so they too missed the naval build-up. As 340 ships converged on Gibraltar, the Allies had one last vain attempt to persuade the Vichy French to join the Allies or at least not to interfere with the landings. On 5 November, the whole operation hung in the balance as the entire force passed through the Straits of Gibraltar in just thirty-three hours. This involved the smaller vessels diverting to Gibraltar and refuelling, which demanded a flexible and fast refuelling programme. The Allied convoys came together at prearranged locations guided by infrared signal beams from Royal Navy submarines. On 7 November, RAF reconnaissance patrols commenced along a line between the east coast of Spain and the Bonifacio Strait (between Sardinia and Corsica) in order to detect any threatening moves by the Italian fleet; and north and west of Dakar in French West Africa to give early warning of any northward move towards Admiral Hewitt’s task force by French warships. All the while, Coastal Command aircraft were flying anti-U-boat operations and reconnaissance sorties over Italian and French naval bases.
On 8 November, Ranger and Suwannee steamed off Casablanca and Sangamon and Santee operated off the northern and southern areas respectively as the troops went ashore. A flight of seven F4Fs from the Santee became disorientated and ran low on fuel. One ditched in the sea and five crash-landed ashore. All six pilots were unhurt but a seventh was later reported killed. ‘Fighting Four’ and VF-9 from the Ranger lost six F4Fs in its first combat mission but VF-26 from Sangamon claimed three Vichy bombers and a fighter without loss. Eighteen of Ranger’s SBDs attacked naval facilities in Casablanca harbour where the French battleship Jean Bart added her 15-inch firepower to the shore batteries’ guns. The battleship was hit and one submarine was sunk. When a Vichy light cruiser and destroyer force threatened to intervene, Dauntlesses and Wildcats dropped to bomb and strafe and the cruiser and two destroyers were beached to prevent their sinking. SBDs and TBFs flew anti-submarine patrol and attacked Vichy airfields and strong points. Casablanca’s batteries continued to operate on 9 November until nine of Ranger’s SBDs silenced them with 1,000-lb bombs, scoring two direct hits on the Jean Bart. Suwannee’s TBF Avengers sank at least one Vichy vessel at sea, and in air combat, F4F pilots claimed about five enemy aircraft destroyed.
Finally, on 10 November, when Oran fell to General Fredendall’s forces, Admiral Jean Darlan, the Vichy Naval commander, issued an order for a cease-fire. After pressure from the Germans, the Vichy government in France countermanded this order, but the French forces in North Africa obeyed. Early in the morning of 11 November, Vichy forces in French West Africa surrendered. German forces then overran the unoccupied part of France. They also began pouring into Tunisia, but British forces eventually defeated them. The Allied push that followed into Tunisia on 15 November culminated in the defeat of the Axis forces, and in mid-May, German forces in northern Tunisia surrendered.