There’s an old children’s verse:
“For want of a nail a shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe a horse was lost.
For want of a horse a message was lost.
For want of a message a battle was lost.
For want of a battle a kingdom was lost.
And all for want of a nail.”
It’s about the knock-on effect of everyone doing their job.
Imagine how differently we’d all do our jobs if we believed that.
In 1942 Rommel’s Afrika Corps had beaten the Eighth Army all the way back across North Africa.
One more big attack would see the British totally and utterly defeated.
All Rommel needed was supplies.
The only thing stopping him getting them was Malta.
The base from which the RAF, and Royal Navy submarines, cut German supply routes.
So the Germans attacked Malta relentlessly.
Until Malta had just two week’s supplies left.
It was a simple equation.
If Malta fell, the British lost all of North Africa.
If Malta survived, the British won.
Churchill sent a convoy to relieve Malta.
It was protected by aircraft carriers, battleships, and destroyers.
But the most important ship, although no one knew it at the time, was an oil tanker.
The Ohio carried 10,000 tons of fuel oil.
Enough to keep Malta’s planes and subs going for 3 months.
If the Ohio gets through, Malta survives.
If it doesn’t, Malta falls.
The Germans and Italians threw everything at that convoy.
On the first day, a U boat sank a British aircraft carrier and torpedoed The Ohio.
The Ohio was on fire, with a massive hole in her side.
Enemy bombers and submarines attacked the convoy for 6 days and nights, non-stop.
A bomb dropped next to the Ohio and buckled the hull.
A British destroyer rammed and sank an Italian submarine.
A German bomber crashed into The Ohio, with a bomb still on board.
A British destroyer was torpedoed and sunk.
Another British destroyer rammed and sank another Italian submarine.
Then bombs on either side of The Ohio lifted it clear out of the water.
Then a British cruiser was torpedoed and sunk.
The Ohio was blazing from the bombs, the flames reached her engines and they stopped.
Now she was dead in the water, burning, ready to explode.
The crew abandoned the ship, expecting it to sink in the night.
But in the morning it was still there, just about afloat.
The sea washing over the deck.
The crew clambered back on board and put the fires out.
Then another air raid, a bomb exploded in the same place as the torpedo and broke The Ohio’s back.
For any ship, this is the end.
Now it was just a matter of time.
The crew were forced to abandon The Ohio, which must now sink.
Now it was just a doomed hulk.
But a hulk full of fuel-oil.
And the fuel-oil kept it just about afloat.
In the morning they clambered back on board again, to attempt a tow.
Then the Ohio was hit by another bomb.
Now it was truly just a scrap heap, ready to sink any moment.
They couldn’t tow it, the rudder was jammed.
So they lashed a destroyer to either side, and dragged it slowly along at 5 mph.
Walking pace, through the air raids and submarines.
A half-ton bomb just missed the stern, and lifted it out of the water.
Now they could hear the constant creaking as The Ohio fell apart.
The ship’s life could be counted in hours, at best.
But it wasn’t over.
They had to empty The Ohio of oil before she sank.
And they made it, just.
After they took the last drops, The Ohio sank to the bottom of Malta harbour.
At the end of that convoy, the Royal Navy had lost one aircraft carrier, 2 cruisers, and 1 destroyer.
Plus 11 out of 15 merchant ships.
The Germans and Italians had lost 2 submarines, 2 cruisers, and 42 aircraft.
But the real result was Malta stayed open as a base.
Which meant the RAF, and Royal Navy submarines, carried on sinking German convoys.
Which meant Rommel’s Afrika Corp was starved of supplies.
Which meant The Eighth Army won the battle of El Alamein.
Which meant the Germans and Italians were driven out of North Africa.
Which meant the Allies were able to invade Sicily, and then all of Italy.
All because the guys on The Ohio did their job as if it counted.