Operation Spotter I

'Spotter I' was the British naval attempt to deliver the first Supermarine Spitfire fighters to Malta (27/28 February 1942).

By the beginning of 1942, the Luftwaffe had returned in force to the Mediterranean from the first stages of the campaign on the Eastern Front against the USSR, and Malta was under increasing pressure. By the middle of February 1942 there remained very few serviceable Hawker Hurricane single-seat fighters on Malta, and Argus, the only carrier now available in the Mediterranean, was sent back to the UK to load reinforcements. The carrier took on board 15 Spitfire Mk VB single-seat fighters, the first such aircraft destined for the island or indeed for any overseas destination, and sailed in the WS.16 convoy on 16 February to detach to Gibraltar, which she reached on 24 February.

In addition the freighter Cape Hawke had already sailed from the UK on 10 February with 16 crated Spitfire fighters, 13 officers and 131 ground crew, under escort of the destroyer Whitehall and corvettes Asphodel and Hydrangea. These aircraft were assembled at Gibraltar after Cape Hawke's arrival on 23 February.

At Gibraltar the 15 Spitfire fighters from Argus were transferred to the Eagle, and Argus embarked Fairey Fulmar two-seat naval fighters for fleet protection. Eagle departed on 27 February, escorted by almost the full strength of Rear Admiral E. N. Syfret’s Gibraltar-based Force 'H' (battleship Malaya, light anti-aircraft cruiser Hermione, and destroyers Active, Anthony, Blankney, Croome, Duncan, Laforey, Lightning, Whitehall and Wishart).

Defects were then discovered in the Spitfires' fuel tanks and the operation had to be aborted, the ships returning to Gibraltar on 28 February.