Operation Splice

This was a British naval undertaking to reinforce the air defences of Malta with Hawker Hurricane fighters (19/22 May 1941).

In its basic concept, ‘Splice’ was similar to the preceding ‘Dunlop’. At Liverpool some 64 Hurricane single-seat fighters were loaded onto the older carrier Furious, which then sailed to the Clyde river to rendezvous with the heavy cruiser London, which was carrying 575 servicemen in addition to her crew. The two ships departed the Clyde river on 12 May with an escort comprising the destroyers Brilliant, Legion, Mashona and Tartar, replaced from 15 May by Fearless, Harvester, Havelock and Wrestler.

The force reached Gibraltar on 18 May, and Furious then berthed stern to stern with Ark Royal for the transfer of 20 Hurricane fighters and five of her own Fairey Fulmar two-sea naval fighters by means of a timber ramp erected between the two ships’ round-downs. Both ships then departed Gibraltar on 19 May screened by elements of Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville’s Force ‘H’, in the form of the battle-cruiser Renown, light cruiser Sheffield and destroyers Brilliant, Faulknor, Forester, Foxhound, Fury and Hesperus.

After launching 48 Hurricane and five Fulmar aircraft to fly the rest of the way to Malta, the ships returned to Gibraltar, arriving on 22 May. Three Martin Maryland aircraft from Malta were sent out as leaders for the fighters, 46 Hurricanes arriving safely at Malta, one crashing off Cape Bon and one being logged as missing; the other 16 aircraft remained at Gibraltar.

Patrolling in the area to the south of Sardinia, the Italian submarines Corallo and Diaspro failed to make contact with the British ships, and after turning back on 22 May Force ‘H’ pressed forward with all speed from 02.00 on 24 May to become involved in the British operation in the Atlantic against the German battleship Bismarck in her ‘Rheinübung’ sortie.