Operation Coat, 15-20 November 1940

Operation Coat (15-20 November 1940) was the second attempt to ferry Hurricane fighters to the beleaguered island of Malta by aircraft carrier, but unlike the first attempt the operation ended in failure. The first attempt, Operation Hurry of 1-4 August 1940, had seen twelve Hurricanes fly onto Malta from the old aircraft carrier Argus. In November the attempt was repeated, once again using the Argus and twelve Hurricanes, as part of a larger convoy operation. This time the operation was less successful. Admiral Somerville, in command of Force H at Gibraltar, had the task of escorting the Argus into range of the island, and defending it against any attack by the Italian fleet. Somerville was particularly concerned about the low speed of his force, forced on it by the 33 year old Argus. On 15 November, when the convoy left Gibraltar, Somerville was already concerned that his force was not strong enough to deal with any possible Italian sortie, and on the next day bad weather promised to further slow him down.

To reduce the danger of any Italian intervention Somerville decided to launch the Hurricanes from as far from Malta as the airmen felt was safe. They advised him that the Hurricanes could safely cover 400 miles, and so before dawn on 17 November the twelve Hurricanes, with two Skua escorts, took off. Tragically only four of the Hurricanes and one Skua reached Malta, while the remaining aircraft disappeared over the Mediterranean. A Board of Enquiry, inevitably operating with very little solid data, decided that the pilots of the aircraft were at fault, for the trip was well within the ferrying range of both the Hurricanes and the Skua. On the day after the aircraft were lost Somerville himself reproached himself for not moving 40 miles closer to Malta, but the loss of any one of his ships would have far outweighed the actual loss of nine aircraft.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 July 2008), Operation Coat, 15-20 November 1940 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/operation_coat.html

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