The Santa Maria Convoy

The Feast of Santa Maria is celebrated on the 15th of August, for the Maltese people this religious holiday has a very deep historical significance.

During World War II the Maltese population was saved from starvation thanks to a food convoy that arrived during the week of the feast day. It was the peak of World War II and the Axis forces had blockaded the Maltese Islands by bombing merchant ships heading towards the Islands.

Santa Maria Convoy
SS Ohio entering the Grand Harbour - 15th August 1942

In July of 1942 Malta only had a few weeks of supplies left when the Admirality started to plan Operation Pedestal to resupply the Islands with 14 merchant ships which were to be escorted by a large force that included two battleships and three aircraft carriers.

The supplies were to be carried by the 14 merchant ships, the most important being Ohio, the only large, fast tanker available, an American ship with a British crew. As partial insurance against Ohio's loss, the others would carry some fuel supplies in drums. The convoy was to be protected by two large forces of warships, one as distant cover (Force Z), and the other as close support all the way to Malta (Force X). Between the two forces there were two battleships, three aircraft carriers, seven cruisers and 32 destroyers. Once they reached the Sicilian channel, Force Z (the battleships, the aircraft carriers, and three cruisers) was to return to Gibraltar, leaving the convoy to continue to Malta escorted by the remaining four cruisers and destroyer flotilla of Force X.

On it's way to Malta the convoy was attacked several times by the Axis forces and finally on the 14th of August, the damaged Brisbane Star became the first ship to sail into the Grand Harbour. The next morning (the 15th) at 9:30am a severely damaged but still afloat SS OHIO managed to get through to the Grand Harbour amongst a cheering crowd that saw it as the answer to their prayers. The convoy was then named 'the Convoy of St. Maria' by the locals.

In all 4 merchant ships and the Ohio made it to Malta which provided enough supplies to sustain the islands and is seen by many as a big turning point of the war in the Mediterranean.