The Sunday Times bestseller
‘One of the most dramatic forgotten chapters of the war, as told in a new book by the incomparable Max Hastings’ DAILY MAIL
In August 1942, beleaguered Malta was within weeks of surrender to the Axis, because its 300,000 people could no longer be fed. Churchill made a personal decision that at all costs, the ‘island fortress’ must be saved. This was not merely a matter of strategy, but of national prestige, when Britain’s fortunes and morale had fallen to their lowest ebb.
The largest fleet the Royal Navy committed to any operation of the western war was assembled to escort fourteen fast merchantmen across a thousand of miles of sea defended by six hundred German and Italian aircraft, together with packs of U-boats and torpedo craft. The Mediterranean battles that ensued between 11 and 15 August were the most brutal of Britain’s war at sea, embracing four aircraft-carriers, two battleships, seven cruisers, scores of destroyers and smaller craft. The losses were appalling: defeat seemed to beckon.
This is the saga Max Hastings unfolds in his first full length narrative of the Royal Navy, which he believes was the most successful of Britain’s wartime services. As always, he blends the ‘big picture’ of statesmen and admirals with human stories of German U-boat men, Italian torpedo-plane crews, Hurricane pilots, destroyer and merchant-ship captains, ordinary but extraordinary seamen.
Operation Pedestal describes catastrophic ship sinkings, including that of the aircraft-carrier Eagle, together with struggles to rescue survivors and salvage stricken ships. Most moving of all is the story of the tanker Ohio, indispensable to Malta’s survival, victim of countless Axis attacks. In the last days of the battle, the ravaged hulk was kept under way only by two destroyers, lashed to her sides. Max Hastings describes this as one of the most extraordinary tales he has ever recounted. Until the very last hours, no participant on either side could tell what would be the outcome of an epic of wartime suspense and courage.
Early praise for Operation Pedestal 'Veteran military historian Hastings' first full-length narrative of war at sea measures up to his usual high standards ... Vividly chronicling the sinking of the aircraft carrier Eagle, Hastings initiates 250 pages of gripping fireworks and insights that continue well past Aug. 15, when five battered merchantmen limped into Malta's harbour. Real-world war is sloppier than the Hollywood version, even more so under the author's gimlet eye. Heroism was in abundant supply but not universal. Through Hastings' keen analysis we see how commanders on both sides showed as much bad judgement as intelligence ... Another enthralling Hastings must-read' Kirkus, starred review Praise for Chastise 'A virtuoso performance from a veteran military historian. It is a white-knuckle narrative that brings clarity and insight to a much-loved tale, as well as offering a vital corrective to the drum-thumping conclusions of earlier books.' Sunday Times 'Hastings recounts the actual raids with dramatic intensity ... He brings us into those Lancasters, flying perilously low, straight into flak ... Superb.' Times 'Thoughtful and gripping ... This is a fine book combining great storytelling with a deep appreciation of the melancholy and waste that march in step with glory.' Patrick Bishop, Telegraph 'What is at stake in this revision of the old glorious narrative is something important. The debate over whether this particular raid mattered is, in miniature, the wider historiographical debate over the morals and efficacy of the whole bombing war ... A powerful parable which might instruct us in our own confused times.' Spectator 'Hastings, who is a master of his craft, unfolds the story skilfully ... It doesn't matter how many times you have seen the film, or heard the story, this book is gripping from start to finish' Keith Lowe, Literary Review
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