Warspite recovers Swordfish before the Battle of Matapan
WARSPITE RECOVERS HER SWORDFISH FLOATPLANE

HMS Warspite picks up her reconnaissance plane at speed in the Mediterranean, a manoeuvre never tried out before, as the British fleet steam flat out to catch the Italian warships. The Swordfish, piloted by Petty Officer 'Ben' Rice, had been aloft for nearly 5 hours, searching in vain for the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto and her task force. Low on fuel, with only 15 minutes flying time left and now unable to reach Suda Bay, PO Rice was recovered by the fast moving Warspite in a challenging operation, that was faultlessly accomplished. Talking to the Artist in 2003, the late 'Ben' Rice recounted how he had landed ahead of the battleship, which was steaming up at 18 knots plus, on a flat sea. He explained: "I had to keep the plane's speed a little below that of the approaching Warspite, but when the battleship pulled alongside, the ship's bow wave threw the Swordfish completely off course and it took all my skill to control the plane, until the strop from the crane had been attached - which was another scarey moment for my observer, Lieutenant Commander Bolt, standing on the fuselage."

Although Warspite and her consorts succeeded in sinking a few enemy cruisers in the night action that followed at Matapan, the Italian battleships escaped the British guns.

 


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