Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The rest of the story

Regarding the question I posed to you earlier today about the credibility of a man who claimed to have flown from the USS Wasp, an American aircraft carrier--in a British Spitfire--during World War Two, it's actually true, as most of you apparently knew or figured out via Wikipedia/Google.

The USS Wasp, CV-7, was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet early in the war. In April of 1942, the Wasp took on 47 Spitfires from Scotland for delivery to Malta in an attempt to fight off German attempts to take that crucially important island nation.

On April 20th, all 47 Spitfires took off from the Wasp's flight deck enroute to Malta's three airfields. Unfortunately, the Germans caught most of them on the ground shortly after they landed and wiped out the bulk of them. The rest were lost in the next few days, not at a little cost to the Luftwaffe.

Wasp went back and got another load of Spitfires. On May 9th, this second batch launched from Wasp's deck, again bound for the Maltese coast. Sadly, the first one off lost power on take-off and crashed into the ocean. Sergeant-Pilot Herrington was lost with the aircraft.
Shortly thereafter, another one of the Spitfire pilots accidentally jettisoned his external fuel tank as he climbed away from the carrier. Now left without enough fuel to reach Malta, he had a choice of bailing out of the aircraft or trying to land back aboard Wasp. Sergeant-Pilot Smith opted for the latter, and despite his not being carrier-trained, and the aircraft lacking any sort of arresting gear to stop it, he managed to put it down on the carrier deck, stopping it just fifteen feet from the far edge of the flight deck. This was the first--and only--time that Wasp actually recovered a Spitfire. The rest of the aircraft reached Malta and fought on against the Germans.

Wasp never again launched Spitfires, but on those two dates she had the distinction of putting nearly a hundred British Air Force fighters into the skies from her deck.

And yes, this fellow that made the claim was one of those 601 Squadron pilots who'd flown into Malta from Wasp. He wrote a short bit up about it for a book that Douglas Bader wrote about the history of the Spitfire and the Hurricane entitled Fight for the Sky: the story of the Spitfire and the Hurricane. But it was a way-cool story, one that's easily confirmed via a bit of interweb research. (I told Murphy that this crowd would be tough to fool but I figured that we'd catch up a couple of you...)


  1. There are a ton of stories like that... most ARE true... :-) Friend of mine few OV-10s on/off the carrier without a tailhook or cat launch.