The wreck of HMS Manchester, one of the cruisers torpedoed while escorting the famous Ohio convoy to Malta in 1942, has been filmed by a team of Maltese, English and Canadian technical divers.

The logistic requirements of the expedition were coordinated from Malta by Emi Farrugia.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the day when the severely damaged Ohio limped into Grand Harbour, sending the population into jubilation because the convoy meant salvation from starvation and the fear of having to surrender to the enemy.

Apart from the official name, Operation Pedestal, the convoy also became known as the Santa Marija convoy, associating it with the feast day on which it arrived.

The Manchester was scuttled off the Tunisian coast between Kelibia and Cape Bon after it was torpedoed. The wreck was finally located by the team about four miles off the lighthouse at Kelibia.

A Southampton class cruiser, the Manchester was launched on April 12, 1937. It was 182 metres long.

In the first week of August, 1942, the Manchester and other home fleet ships left the Clyde to escort the convoy Operation Pedestal to Malta. About midnight, on the night of August 12 and 13, the Manchester was hit by two Italian motor torpedo boats.

Most of the crew got ashore in Tunisia or were picked up by destroyers but one officer and 12 ratings were lost.

The Italian E boats continued on the rampage and after the Manchester they did away with Almeria Lykes, the Glenorchy, Santa Elisa and the Wairangi.

A flotilla of 15 merchant ships in the company of a huge British naval escort, the convoy Operation Pedestal entered the Mediterranean on the night of August 10, 1942, on its way to Malta to bring in much needed food, fuel and spare parts. Only five of the merchant ships survived the onslaught of enemy action.

Mr Farrugia said that together with his English diver friend Simon Bennett, he had been planning the search for the Manchester wreck for the past year.

The team of technical divers who took part in the search for the Manchester consisted of four Maltese, two Canadians, a South African and 15 Englishmen. The search expedition cost about Lm12,000.

Accompanying the divers were two survivors from the Manchester - Alan Walker who was steward to H. Drew, Commanding Officer of HMS Manchester and Edwin Pickett, 1st class stoker. Among the English team was a crew of technical divers from Carlton Television who shot footage for their documentary on the Ohio convoy to be called Running the Gauntlet.

The divers left Malta last week on the MY Princess Duda. Mr Farrugia, who was in charge of the logistics of the dives, said they encountered heavy currents during the dives and had to grab hold of the shot line not to be dragged away by the current.

The wreck of the Manchester lies on its starboard side at a depth of about 83 metres.

Having located the wreck, the crew held a commemorative ceremony on board the Princess Duda on behalf of the HMS Manchester Association remembering their mates who lost their lives on the convoy.

As part of that ceremony, a brass plaque remembering those war heroes was wrapped in a Royal Navy ensign and deposited on the bridge of the Manchester. Wreaths were later laid at sea.

Mr Walker and Mr Pickett are expected to visit Malta next month for a re-union of veterans who took part in Operation Pedestal.

Another visitor for that commemoration will be Daphne Freeman, whose father, H. Drew had captained HMS Manchester and had given the order for the cruiser to be scuttled in order to save the lives of the crew.

Mr Farrugia will present Ms Freeman with a copy of the documentary he is putting together on the Manchester.

Mr Farrugia thanked the Tunisian authorities for issuing the permits for the dive team to go down on the wreck and for providing a boat equipped with a decompression chamber. Four dives were made to the wreck - two near the stern and two over the bridge area towards the bow.

Dives on the Manchester wreck took between 20 to 24 minutes, this being the bottom line, but divers had to spend between one and a half to two hours to decompress before they were able to surface safely.

"Once the Manchester has been identified, technical divers would want to dive on it. This is akin to archaeologists discovering an ancient site - historians and scholars would want to go see it," Mr Farrugia said.

The documentary on the Manchester will be one of the six programmes for the TV series Dinja Ohra episodes. This is the third edition that Mr Farrugia is producing, a task which takes about two years to complete.

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