'Picket' (ii) was a British naval two-part undertaking ('Picket I' and 'Picket II') to deliver Supermarine Spitfire fighters to Malta (20/23 and 27/30 March 1942).
Continued reinforcement of Malta’s air defence capability being imperative given the losses its RAF defenders were suffering to a steady stream of German and Italian air attacks, the fleet carrier Eagle loaded nine Spitfire fighters from crated aircraft sent out from the UK in the freighter Queen Victoria, which had been escorted by the escort destroyer Airedale and corvette Petunia to reach Gibraltar on 13 March. The aircraft were assembled on board Eagle, while the older carrier Argus embarked Hawker Sea Hurricane fighters for fleet protection. The RAF element of the operation was 'Scantling I'.
In 'Picket I', both carriers sailed on 20 March escorted by elements of Vice Admiral E. N. Syfret’s Gibraltar-based Force 'H', including the battleship Malaya, the light anti-aircraft cruiser Hermione, and the destroyers and escort destroyers Active, Anthony, Blankney, Croome, Exmoor, Laforey, Lightning, Whitehall and Wishart. The tug Salvonia, escorted by the motor launches ML-121 and ML-168, operated as a rescue vessel. The nine Spitfire fighters were flown off on 21 March, and all of the aircraft arrived safely, while the naval squadron arrived back at Gibraltar on 23 March.
Back at Gibraltar, in preparation for 'Picket II', Eagle embarked eight Spitfire fighters of the RAF’s 'Scantling II' undertaking. These were the balance from the deliveries of the Cape Hawke and Queen Victoria shipments for 'Spotter', 'Picket I' and 'Scantling I', and Eagle and Argus sailed once more on 27 March. On 29 March seven Spitfire fighters were flown off Eagle and met two Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers and three Bristol Blenheim light bombers from Gibraltar, and all the aircraft reached Malta safely. Unfortunately, six Fairey Albacore naval attack biplanes to reinforce the FAA’s No. 828 Squadron could not be flown off and therefore returned to Gibraltar in Argus.
The escort screen for the carriers comprised major elements of Syfret’s Force 'H' in the form of the battleship Malaya, the light anti-aircraft cruiser Hermione, and the destroyers and escort destroyers Active, Anthony, Blankney, Croome, Duncan, Exmoor, Laforey, Lightning and Wishart, with the tugSalvonia, escorted by the motor launch ML-174, as the rescue vessel.
In the closing stages of this operation the opportunity was taken to fly in 10 Hurricane Mk IIC fighter-bombers from North Africa on 27 March, followed by another eight on 6 April and a final six on 19 April during a period when airfield in Libya were available for the reinforcement of the island. Unfortunately the Hurricane warplanes were totally outclassed by the newer aircraft now operated over Malta by the Luftwaffe and rapidly suffered very heavy losses in both aircraft and pilots during the days following their arrival.