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Summary

The Sunday Times best seller

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 14 fast merchantmen across a thousand of miles of sea defended by 600 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.

©2021 Max Hastings (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"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)

"One of the most dramatic forgotten chapters of the war, as told in a new book by the incomparable Max Hastings." (Daily Mail)

"Over this past year of pandemic, we’ve lost so much. People have died, great institutions have gone under, life itself seems permanently altered. Yet one certainty remains: Max Hastings still churns out military histories, and they continue to be outstanding. This book like all the others...is a cracker. With his usual combination of sensitivity to human suffering and superb dramatic instinct, Hastings has given us a gripping tale.... The immediacy of this book obliterates the cold detachment that time’s passage usually allows.... We feel in our bones torpedoes hitting home...the four-day ordeal British sailors endured...is a drama superbly told.... The delight lies in the detail, the percussive power of tiny facts...is what makes Hastings such a superb storyteller." (The Times

What listeners say about Operation Pedestal

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Very Good But...

Max Hastings is an outstanding writer, who's work on conflict, and WW2 especially, marks him out as one of the giants of the field alongside Anthony Beevor

This is a well researched volume, drawing in large part on published memoires of combatants, and skillfully strings together a complex narrative into a clear and comprehensive whole. There can be no doubt that this is a superb account, and I think the only one published this century

But

Max, as with many 1970s/80s writers, really doesn't like the British - everyone else is better, smarter, better organised and just, well Good At Their Jobs, whilst the British muddle through. Which is really bunkum and needs revisiting - if for no other reason that we won!

13 people found this helpful

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An epic story well told.

I found this account fascinating my own father having sailed on this convoy on Nigeria.

5 people found this helpful

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Never Forget Them!

Probably for most, a less well known part of WWII that has been given a thoroughly detailed examination in this brilliant audible book. Brilliantly written and performed. As my wife’s Grandfather served during the Malta convoys on HMS Manchester, it was so interesting to hear the details. Brought a lump to my throat many a time, to hear the desperation and hardships that these men went through! I will never forget any of them!!

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A truly gripping story, wonderfully told and read

Max Hastings tells this extraordinary story using the records of ship’s logs and the diaries and letters of individuals who took part. I found this compelling and the book left me with a greater awareness of the important part and contribution that so many people can and do make to events but who so often receive little recognition or praise. A powerful story, powerfully told.

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Excellent narrative

The thoroughly detailed structure of this book, and the crisp narration create a compelling story.

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Lesser known war time story explained.

A quite thrilling listen of an event that I had never heard of. The narrator seems to have captured the wartime British accents quite well.

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Pedestal , Terrible

Started story, inept British, 'how did we win the war?'
Very nearly stopped listening.
Do, continue.
Worthwhile listening to end.
Informative, sometimes cringing, emotional, awe inspiring.
Lest we forget!

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Great account of convey warfare

By concentrating on the story of just one convey to Malta Max Hastings has given a very good account of what the air/sea war was like in the Mediterranean. How the combined arms were supposed to work, or not, is clearly explained. The bravery of the men is clearly shown, although the author also says that the convey in the end played little part in changing the direction of the war, but was important in helping moral.

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Staccato bland reading style spoils the book

Incredible attention to detail, with Hastings conveying the feel of the action with copious live accounts. Amazing level of research which holds the interest.
Such a shame the reader comes across as though he is reading a shipping weather report..

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First class

Well done Max Hastings and well done John Hopkins. Top notch story of a truly remarkable piece of history. Leaves you on the edge of your seat at every chapter, that you just have to go straight into the next, and the next, and afore he know if you're in Grand Harbour. Why isn't there a movie or a film about it? There certainly should be.