Lord Ashcroft buys the iconic “Ohio GC” awarded for the relief of Malta

  • 12 October, 2023
  • Bravery
  • Medals

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC has acquired the prestigious medal group to Captain Dudley Mason, who was awarded the George Cross (GC) for his relentless bravery as master of the oil tanker Ohio during the relief of Malta.

Mason, who served in the Merchant Navy, and his crew played a key role in “Operation Pedestal”, which was launched by the British in the summer of 1942 to carry supplies by sea to the besieged island. Despite heavy losses, the mission was ultimately successful, and it eventually resulted in the siege of Malta being lifted.

The strategically important Mediterranean island of Malta was under enemy siege from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany from June 1940 to November 1942. The islanders suffered horrendous bombing raids and dreadful deprivations and, at one point, it looked as if they would be forced to surrender.

Mason, who was born in 1901, joined the merchant marine in September 1918. He was appointed Chief Officer in 1935 and began his war service on the Atlantic convoys, until being appointed master of the US-built oil tanker SS Ohio in 1942.

When Ohio was attached to “Operation Pedestal”, which sailed early in August 1942, Mason’s trials began soon after his ship entered the Mediterranean. On the 12thOhio received a torpedo hit from the Italian submarine Axum. The next day some 60 German Stukas attacked Ohio; two aircraft were shot down, both crashing on to the tanker. Furthermore, a bomb penetrated the engine-room and two straddling sticks of bombs exploded, lifting the ship out of the water and “breaking her back”.

Somehow, despite the terrible damage, Ohio managed to steam on, although progress was painfully slow. It was eventually decided to take her in tow but, on the 14th, the enemy began a further assault on the Ohio in an attempt to finish her off.

More carnage followed: she was holed in the stern and her propellors were badly damaged. By this point, it was clear that she was sinking. However, Ohio’s saviour – in the guise of Commander “Jake” Jerome and his rescue force – arrived on the scene and pulled off an audacious plan to get her to Valletta, the Maltese capital.

For his exceptional gallantry, Captain Mason was awarded the GC. The citation referred to his “skill and courage of the highest order”. The number of GCs awarded for gallantry at sea is small and, in the opinion of many medal experts, Mason’s is considered one of the best – if not the finest – of them all.

In a separate purchase, Lord Ashcroft has also secured the medal group to Commander “Jake” Jerome, who awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his valour in helping with “Operation Pedestal”.

Jerome, who was born in 1900, joined the Royal Navy in 1917 and served throughout the inter-war period and into the Second World War. In June 1942, with the war in the Mediterranean reaching a critical stage, Jerome was sent to Valletta as Commander Minesweepers Malta.

Jerome soon led his trio of minesweepers into action and knocked out the enemy’s mine-laying submarine supply ships, thereby allowing the 10th Submarine Flotilla to return to Malta. The flotilla had earlier been forced to leave the island for safety reasons, due to the prevalence of enemy mines and the supremacy of enemy aircraft.

Despite this initial success, the situation in Malta continued to worsen as supplies of food and other goods, notably aviation fuel, were running out.

Jerome and his men were soon to play a key role in assisting “Operation Pedestal”. Three days into the Mediterranean, nine of the 14 merchant ships in the convoy had been sunk and three others had been damaged. On top of these heavy losses, the Royal Navy had lost an aircraft carrier, a cruiser and a destroyer, plus other ships damaged.

Of the surviving merchant ships, the most seriously damaged was Ohio, which was carrying aviation fuel without which Malta’s tiny force of fighter planes would soon be grounded.  In short, it was absolutely crucial that Ohio made it to Valletta.

As detailed above, Ohio was hit several times by enemy fire and was close to sinking when Jerome came up with an ambitious plan. He ordered two of his minesweepers Bramham and Penn to make fast to Ohio’s sides and, with HMS Ledbury secured astern to act as a “rudder” and HMS Rye positioned for towing, four warships aiding the sinking Ohio set off on the final leg of its tortuous journey into Valletta.

It was on the morning of August 15 that Ohio finally limped into Grand Harbour amid joyous scenes. Indeed, it seemed as if the entire population of the island had turned out to welcome the tanker and her crew and, as the crowds cheered, a band played “Rule Britannia”.

The key role that Jerome played in saving Ohio and, arguably, the island of Malta from being forced to surrender, led to him being awarded one of the war’s most outstanding DSOs.

Lord Ashcroft has acquired both the Mason and Jerome medal groups privately. He already owns the largest collection of Victoria Crosses (VCs) in the world, currently more than 200 in number. Lord Ashcroft also has collections of GCs, Special Forces medals and medals for gallantry in the air. Furthermore, he is the author of seven books on bravery in the “Heroes” series.

The VC is Britain and the Commonwealth’s most prestigious gallantry medal for bravery in the presence of the enemy. The GC is Britain and the Commonwealth’s most prestigious gallantry medal for courage not in the presence of the enemy.

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