Operation Rocket

This was the British naval delivery of Hawker Hurricane fighters to Malta (4/7 June 1941).

As the ‘Splice’ aerial reinforcement of Malta was being implemented, the elderly carrier Argus was loading 29 crated Hurricane fighters of the RAF on the Clyde river, and sailed with the heavy cruiser Exeter to join the WS.8B convoy on 22 May, reaching Gibraltar on 31 May after being met by the destroyer Foresight.

After a fast passage to the UK and a rapid turnaround, the carrier Furious arrived at Gibraltar on 1 June with 48 Hurricane Mk II fighters, some of which were loaded onto the fleet carrier Ark Royal immediately on arrival. Argus made a stern-to-stern transfer of her aircraft to Furious at the same time, the final disposition of the aircraft being 20 and 24 in Furious and Ark Royal respectively. The other fighters were landed at Gibraltar for local assembly.

Escorted by elements of Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville’s Gibraltar-based Force ‘H’ in the form of the battle-cruiser Renown, light cruiser Sheffield, and destroyers Faulknor, Fearless, Foresight, Forester, Foxhound and Fury, Ark Royal and Furious departed Gibraltar on 4 June and launched their 44 Hurricane fighters on 6 June from a position to the west of Malta. One Hurricane returned with defects, but the remaining 43, escorted by eight Bristol Blenheim aircraft from Gibraltar, arrived safely.

One of the Blenheim aircraft detoured to make a night reconnaissance of the naval base of Mers el Kébir in Vichy French North Africa for an assessment of the likely readiness of the battle-cruiser Dunkerque for a possible intervention against the imminent British ‘Exporter’ operation to take Lebanon and Syria.

After flying off the fighters, the squadron returned to Gibraltar, which it reached on 7 June, after which Furious departed for the UK to load more aircraft, joining Argus at sea en route. Both carriers reached the Clyde river on 14 June in company with the liner Nea Hellas and escorted by the destroyers Cossack, Maori and Sikh. Furious was escorted from Gibraltar by Force ‘H’, which then transferred to escort the fleet carrier Victorious on meeting Argus and her escort.