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- Researcher 241611
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- 31 May 2004
The anti-aircraft defences of Gibraltar were slowly built up during the early years of the war. In June 1940 there were twenty 3.7-inch guns, four 3-inch guns, ten 40-mm Bofors and two Pom-poms, plus thirteen searchlights. By March the following year this had all been doubled. Later quite a large number of rocket projectors were brought in.
The British were worried about a number of concrete pillboxes which the Spanish had recently constructed only 1,200 yards from Gibraltar's main defence lines. These would have to be destroyed before they could be used by the Germans during their assault, but obviously no steps could be taken until Spain came into the war against Britain.
In November 1942 General Eisenhower set up his headquarters in Gibraltar prior to "Operation Torch", the plan to capture French North Africa and join up with Montgomery's victorious army, clearing the Germans and the Italians from the African continent.
Gibraltar was a strongly protected naval station from which ships could operate in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. Force H, under the command of Vice-Admiral Somerville was based in Gibraltar and had the task of maintaining Naval superiority and providing a strong escort for the convoys which had to be pushed through to help beleaguered Malta.
With two battleships, "Nelson" and "Resolution", the battle cruiser "Renown", the aircraft carrier "Ark Royal", the cruisers "Sheffield" and "Enterprise" and seventeen destroyers she formed a strong shield for the fast convoy of naval vessels which carried troops and munitions to Malta in July 1941. At the approach to the Sicilian channel the convoy ran on against fearsome air torpedo and E-boats attacks to gain the Grand Harbour at Malta. It soon became clear that with Crete in the hands of the Luftwaffe and German forces holding much of North Africa, that route which became known as "Bomb Alley" was not sustainable.
From then on, most of the help would have to come from Gibraltar and be covered by Force H.
In October 1942, in "Operation Pedestal" vital supplies were sent from Gibraltar, the naval cover being supplemented by two battleships of Force Z.
This was the most bitterly contested run when it was essential for Malta's survival that a tanker got through. Without it the Spitfires would be grounded and the defence of Malta broken.
In spite of appalling losses some ships did get through, including the oil tanker "Ohio", which had been hit. She finally made Malta strapped between two destroyers, who more or less lifted her into the Grand Harbour.
And so Malta was saved by the relief from Gibraltar.
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