The convoy that saved Malta

Farmer's Weekly|March 27, 2020

The convoy that saved Malta
Vice Admiral Edward Syfret’s superb planning and leadership qualities helped save the small but strategically crucial island of Malta during the Second World War, writes Graham Jooste.
Graham Jooste
Edward Syfret was born at Newlands in Cape Town in 1889 and educated at Diocesan College (Bishops). He arrived at Dartmouth in England for training as a midshipman during the 1904 intake. Upon completion of the two-year course, he was posted to his first ship.

This was the period during which the world balance of sea power swung in favour of Britain. In 1906, the largest battleship built up until then, HMS Dreadnought, was launched from Portsmouth. Displacing 21 060t, she could outgun any ship in the world and the word ‘Dreadnought’ came to signify an entire class of large battleships.

Midshipman Syfret specialised in gunnery and was aboard HMS Aurora during the Battle of Dogger Bank against the German High Seas Squadron in World War I. He also served on HMS Centaur and HMS Curacoa, and by the end of the war had reached the rank of lieutenant commander, with accolades from his commanding officers for his dedication to duty while under enemy fire.


In 1928, Syfret was awarded with his first full command on the destroyer HMS Volunteer, which was part of the Mediterranean Fleet based at Gibraltar. Three years after this, he was appointed captain of the light cruiser HMS Caradoc, which saw duty in the Indian Ocean. This was followed a few years later by his appointment as Deputy Director of Plans at Whitehall.

By 1938, the Admiralty knew that conflict with Nazi Germany was on the horizon. When hostilities broke out the following year, Syfret was Naval Secretary to the First Sea Lord at Admiralty House, with the rank of Rear Admiral.

The advance of the Japanese forces and the fall of Singapore meant that the east coast of Africa was under threat. Japanese submarines were already operating in the Indian Ocean.


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March 27, 2020