Sta Marija convoy defender passes away

The carrier escort force for the Sta Marija convoy - Indomitable (top) Victorious and Eagle.

The carrier escort force for the Sta Marija convoy - Indomitable (top) Victorious and Eagle.

While Malta celebrated the 62nd anniversary of the Sta Marija convoy's arrival yesterday, a family in the UK was mourning one of the convoy's defenders, a Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot, who has just passed away.

Brian Paterson flew Sea Hurricanes from HMS Victorious in Operation Pedestal, the all important August 1942 convoy which decided whether Malta would survive or surrender to the Axis forces.

Of 14 merchant ships which set out in convoy from Gibraltar, only five survived the gauntlet of air, submarine and E-boat attacks and mines, including the badly damaged, and vitally important tanker Ohio, which limped into Grand Harbour on August 15, feast of the Assumption.

HMS Victorious (sister ship of HMS Illustrious) was one of three aircraft carriers in the massive convoy escort force, and - it turned out - the only one not to be sunk or seriously damaged, due mainly to good fortune.

The old HMS Eagle was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine and HMS Indomitable was hit by bombs from Stuka dive bombers and its flight deck could not be used. As a result, all surviving aircraft operated from the Victorious, with some of the pilots flying off as many as four times a day to intercept the hordes of enemy bombers.

After one such raid two Re2001 Italian bombers were able to approach Victorious - they were mistaken for a pair of returning Hurricanes, which they resembled. Two bombs crashed down, one killing six and wounding two but causing no major damage, while the other bounced off the deck and exploded over the water.

Brian Paterson started the war flying obsolete Sea Gladiator aircraft in defence of the major RN base at Scapa Flow and then served on the old aircraft carrier HMS Furious.

In 1941 he was one of those pilots who had the unenviable job of serving on a fighter catapult aircraft, in his case the Springbank. These were merchant ships fitted with a catapult from which a Hurricane aircraft was launched in the event of an air attack beyond the range of land-based RAF fighter defences. Once the Hurricane made its interception, the pilot's options were either to ditch in the sea or bail out, as there was no flight deck on which to land. As it turned out, the Springbank was torpedoed and sunk before Paterson could fly off. He survived and was posted to Victorious.

In 1943 he was drafted to the Dasher, an American built "escort carrier" but this vessel blew up and sank off the Clyde when aviation fuel ignited. Nearly 400 crewmen died.

Paterson ended the war serving in a naval fighter school. He later became one of the Royal Navy's first helicopter pilots and was in Malta based at Hal Far when, on August 13, 1953, an earthquake struck the Ionian Islands. At his instigation the cruiser Bermuda, which rushed to give assistance, embarked two helicopters, one of which operated from the top of one of her gun turrets. Paterson was busy for three weeks reporting on damage, evacuating survivors and flying in aid. He was awarded an MBE for his efforts.

Paterson, who has died aged 85, also served in Malaya and retired from the Royal Navy as a lieutenant commander in 1958.

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