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La verità su Punta Stilo su un documento ufficiale dell'Ammiragliato Britannico

Francesco Mattesini

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                Per tutti coloro che sono appassionati sulla Battaglia di Punta Stilo ed abbiano letto in questi ultimi tempi in vari articoli e in libri  tante castronerie, alcuni rendendosene perfettamente conto, mentre altri sono a ancora dubbiosi, riporto, semplicemente senza fare commenti affinché ognuno possa farsi una cultura veritiera sull’avvenimento, quanto ha scritto l’Ammiragliato britannico nel dopoguerra nel Battle Summary n. 8. Il documento e stato scritto dalla Historical Section dopo scambio della sua documentazione con quella dell’Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare, ed è quindi quanto di più aggiornato possa essere stato scritto sulla battaglia a livello ufficiale.


         Sono stati poi scritti libri da autori prtivati, soprattutto nei paesi anglosassoni, fatti passare senza pudore per revisione storica che sono addirittura mortificanti, da dimenticare se possibile. Sperò che leggendo il documento qualcuno, Autore o Editore, si ravveda.


Francesco Mattesini


Roma, 12 Settembre 2016






(Battle Summary No. 8)


Operation M.A.5 and Action off Calabria,July 1940


1. Strategical Situation, June - July1940


While declaration o f war by Italy on 11th June 1940 and the collapse of France on the 22nd, the strategic balance in the Medi­terranean underwent a radical change, much in favour of the Axis Powers. Prompt decisions by H.M. Government restored the situation remarkably quickly. Stern measures to ensure that no important units o f the French Fleet should fall intact into the hands o f the enemy and the form ation o f a powerful force at Gibraltar had largely neutralized  the effect of the French defection in the Western Mediterranean within a fortnight, while in the Eastern basin Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham had speedily induced the French Admiral Godfroy to demobilise his ships at Alexandria, and as early as 25th June had decided to resume the running o f convoys to and from the Aegean and Egypt and also between Malta and A lexandria.1 Having settled the distressing question o f the French Fleet, the British Naval Forces in the Mediterranean could turn their undivided attention to the Italians, and put Mussolini’s much vaunted pre-war claim to the control o f the Mediterranean to the test.

Possessing numerically superior forces and well-situated bases they had the advantage of being able to concentrate quickly, but as the lines of communica­tion to their African colonies intersected the important British route from Gibraltar to the Suez Canal, neither side could control their communications without anticipating constant attack. The initiative that the enemy would display in attempting to interfere with the British communications was an open question. H e could employ his forces— air, surface or submarine— singly or in combination. The first and third could yield only limited results, but the second or a combination o fall three might prove a very difficult problem to tackle.

E arly in July Sir A ndrew Cunningham drew up plans for an operation term ed M .A .5.


1 this operation he proposed to employ practically the whole strength o f his Fleet in making an extensive sweep into the Central Mediter­ranean almost as far as the Italian coast, while two convoys were passing from Malta to Alexandria. It so chanced that Operation M .A .5   synchronised 1 See Naval Staff History, Battle Summary No. 1, and Mediterranean, Vol.1 Operation M.A.5 as plan e d 3 with the passage of an important Italian military convoy from Naples and Catania to Benghazi, covered by the bulk of the Italian Fleet. This led to the first surface action between the British and Italian Fleets, an encounter which took place off the Calabrian coast on gth July 1940.



2. Operation M.A. 5: Objectand Organisation (Fig. 1)


The primary object of Operation M.A.5 was to ensure the safe passage of two convoys from Malta to Alexandria. These consisted of a fast convoy (M .F.1) of three 13-knot ships1 carrying evacuees, and a slow convoy (M.S.1) of four 9-knot ships 2 with stores. They were to sail from Malta at 1600,3 D3,4 and steer to pass through 34° 40' N., 210 50' E. (Position “ Q”).

Governing the convoy movement was the determination to seize any opportunity of bringing the enemy to action, whenever or wherever he might be encountered; and it was also intended to attack ships in Augusta with aircraft from the Eagle, while the Fleet was in Central Mediterranean waters.

For the Operation, the Fleet was organised in three forces, viz.:

Fo r c e “ A ”, under Vice-Admiral (D) J. C. Tovey, consisting of five 6-inch cruisers of the 7th Cruiser Squadron and the destroyer Stuart-,

Fo r c e “ B ”, the fast battleship Warspite, B flying the flag of the Commander-in-Chief, and five destroyers; Fo r c e“ C ” , under Rear-Admiral H. D. Pridham-Wippell, the battleships Royal Sovereign and Malaya, the carrier  Eagle, and 11 destroyers.

An escort force of four or five destroyers, known as Fo r c e “D ” , was to be detached to Malta after the Fleet reached a position east of Cape Passero (Sicily). This force, augmented by the Jervis (Lieutenant-Commander A. M. McKillop) and  Diamond (Lieutenant-Commander P. A. Cartwright) which were already at Malta, would form the convoy escorts.

The three forces were routed to arrive independently at about 1600, D3 (9th July), at which time the slow convoy was to sail from Malta, in the following positions:—


Force “ A ” 36° 30' N.,  16° 20' E. (60 miles  100° from Cape Passero),

Force “ B ” 36° 00' N.,  17° 00' E. (100 miles 115° from Cape Passero),

Force “ C ” 350 50' N., 180 40' E. (180 miles 105° from Cape Passero).


From these positions they were to work to the eastward under their respective senior officers, keeping pace with the convoys to the northward of their route till D6, when Forces “ B ” and “ C ” were to return to Alexandria, followed  by Force “ A ” , which was to keep to the north-westward of Convoy M.S.1 till nightfall that day.6


Arrangements were made for flying boat patrols of 201 Group to operate in conjunction with the Fleet on each day from 8th to 13th July. These patrols were to operate as follows:—

1 El Nil, Rodi, Knight of Malta.

2  Zeeland. Kirkland, Masirah, Norasli.

3 Zone minus 2 Time is used throughout.

4 Di being the date of commencement of the operation, i.e. when the covering force left Alexandria.

5 The Warspite had been modernised in 1937. Maximum range of her 15-inch guns was 32,200 yards, as against 23,400 for the Malaya and Royal Sovereign.

The Warspite and Malaya could steam at 23 knots, the Royal Sovereign at only 20— a serious disadvantage compared with the 26-knot Italian battleships.

6 A relief force consisting of the battleship Ramillies and the 4th Cruiser Squadron and four  destroyers was to leave Alexandria (as soon as the four destroyers which were to be drawn from Force “ C ” could be fuelled on arrival in the evening of D6) and cover the arrival of Convoy M.S.1.


D2 and D6 (8th and 12th July): flying boats on passage Alexandria-Zante- Malta.

D3, 4, 5 (gth-i ith July): continuous patrol on lines Malta-Cape Spartivento (Calabria) and Cape Colonne-Corfu.

D7 (12th July): to a depth 60 miles to westward of Convoy M.S. 1.

During the operation a diversion by Force “ H ” ,1 under Vice-Admiral Sir James Somerville, which had arrived at Gibraltar on 6th July after operations off Oran, was staged in the Western Mediterranean. The diversion was to take the form of an air attack by the Fleet Air Arm of the

Ark Royalon Cagliari (Sardinia), at dawn, 10th July (D4)— the day following the convoys’ first night out from Malta.



3. Italian Plan of Op e r a t io n s (Plan l)2


While Admiral Cunningham was making the arrangements just described the enemy were planning to run an important troop and military stores convoy from Naples to Benghazi at about the same time. Leaving Naples on 6th July, the convoy was to pass through the Strait of Messina in the forenoon of the 7th (M.A.5, D i) and follow the Sicilian coast till off Syracuse when it was to steer a diversionary course for Tobruk, altering direct for Benghazi after dark.

At 0500, 8th (M.A.5, D2) when it was expected to be in 340 54' N., 17° 58' E., the convoy was to split into a fast (18-knot) and a slow (14-knot) section, due to arrive at Benghazi 1600 and 1900 that evening respectively.

The convoy was to be escorted by two 6-inch cruisers,3 four fleet destroyers and six torpedo boats, while distant cover was to be provided to the eastward of the route by six 8-inch cruisers4 and 12 destroyers, and to the westward by four 6-inch cruisers8 and four destroyers. Two battleships, the Cesare flying the flag of the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral I. Campioni, and Conti di Cavour,with six 6-inch cruisers 6 and 16 destroyers, were to cruise in support.The surface forces were to remain in their covering positions till the afternoon of 8th July, when they were to return to their bases.

Special submarine dispositions between 6th and n th July were ordered west of a line joining Cape Passero-Malta-Zuara (32° 50' N., 12° 32' E.) to cover the approaches from the Western Mediterranean, and in the Eastern basin east of a line joining Cape Matapan— Ras el Hilal (330 N., 22° 10' E.), as shown in Plan 1 started in the afternoon of 7th July, when Rear-Admiral Pridham-Wippell sailed from Alexandria with Force “ C.” 1 That same afternoon, some 900 miles to the north-westward, the Italian squadrons were putting to sea from Palermo, Augusta, Taranto and Messina.




1 F o r c e H  Hood (Flag, F.O. Force “ H ” ) (eight 15-inch)

Valiant (eight 15-inch)

Resolution (eight 15-inch)




Ark Royal (Flag, V.A.(A) (30 T.S.R., 24 Fighters)

18 Destroyers, S.O., Capt.(D) 8 (Faulknor)

Vice-Admiral Sir James F. Somerville,

K.C.B., D.S.O. Captain I. G. Glennie.

Captain H. B. Rawlings, O.B.E.

Captain O. Bevir.

Captain Q.. D. Graham.

Captain J. C. Annesley, D.S.O.

Captain A. S. Russell.

Vice-Admiral L. V. Wells, C.B., D.S.O.

Captain C. S. Holland.

Captain A. F. de Salis.

2 This plan shows the actual movements of the Italian forces, which closely adhered to the original plan until after they had left the convoys off the North African coast.

3 Bande Nere, Colleoni (2nd Division).

4 Pola (flag, Vice-Admiral R. Paladini); <W , Gorizia, Fiume (1st Division); Trento, Bolzano (3rd Division).

5 Eugenio di Savoia, Duca d'Aosta, Attendolo, Montecuccoli (7th Division).

6 Da Barbiano, Cadorna, da Giussano, Diaz(4th Division) ; Duca degli Abruzzi, Garibaldi (8th Division).



4. Initial Moves Operation M.A.5, 7th – 8th July (Plan 1)

After clearing the swept channel, the Eagle embarked No. 813 Squadron from Dekheila,2 and course was then set for Kaso Strait. Forces “ A 1,1 and “ B ” x sailed that evening, and by midnight 7th /8th July all ships 3 were clear of the harbour, and steering to pass through the following positions:


Force “ A ”— 350 00' N., 210 30' E.; Force “ B ”— 340 15' N., 24° 50' E.;

Force “ C ”—-33° 20' N., 27° 50' E.


Evidence was soon forthcoming that the enemy was keeping watch on the approaches to Alexandria, when at 2339, 7th, the Hasty sighted and attacked a submarine on the surface at 1,000 yards range in 320 35' N., 28° 30' E. A full pattern of depth charges was dropped and it was considered that the1 submarine was probably sunk.



1 F o r c e “ A ” (7th Cruiser Squadron)

Orion (Flag of V.A.(D) (eight 6-inch, eight 4-inch H.A.).

Neptune (eight 6-inch, eight 4-inch H.A.)

Sydney (eight 6-inch, eight 4-inch H.A.)

Liverpool (twelve 6-inch, eight 4-inch H.A.)

Gloucester (twelve 6-inch, eight 4-inch H.A.)

Stuart (five 4 • 7-inch, one 3-inch H.A.)

Vice-Admiral J. C. Tovey,

Captain G. R. B. Back.

Captain R. C. O’Connor.

C.B., D.S.O.

Captain J. A. Collins, R.A.N.

Captain A. D. Read (joined from Port Said

a.m. 9th July).

Captain F. R. Garside, C.B.E.


Fo r c e“ B ”

Warspite (Flag of C.-inC.), (eight 15- inch, eight 6-inch, eight 4-inch H.A.)

Nubian (eight 4-7 inch)

Mohawk (eight 4 • 7 inch)

Hero (four 4 • 7 inch)

Hereward (four 4 • 7-inch)

Decoy(four 4 • 7-inch, one 3-inch H.A.)


Fo r c e “ C ”

Royal Sovereign (Flag R.A.i) (eight 15- inch, 12 6-inch, eight 4-inch H.A.)

Malaya (eight 15-inch, twelve 6-inch, eight 4-inch H.A.)

Eagle (Aircraft Carrier) (nine 6-inch, four 4-inch H.A.), (17 T.S.R.: 3 Fighters) Hyperion (four 4 • 7-inch)

Hostile (four 4 • 7 inch)

Hasty (four 4 .7-inch)

Ilex (four 4 • 7-inch)

Imperial (four 4-7 inch)

Dainty (four 4- 7-inch, one 3-inch H.A.)

Defender (four 4 • 7-inch, one 3-inch H.A.)

Juno (six 4 • 7 inch)

Janus (six 4 • 7-inch)

Vampire (four 4-inch)

Voyager (four 4-inch)

Commander H. M. L.  (Capt. (D) 10th D.F.). Waller, R.A.N.

Admiral Sir A. B. Cunningham, K.C.B.,

D.S.O. Captain D. B. Fisher, O.B.E.

Captain P. J. Mack (Capt. (D) 14th D.F.).

Commander J. W. M. Eaton.

Commander H. W. Biggs, D.S.O.

Lieut.-Commander C. W. Greening.

Commander E. G. McGregor.

Rear-Admiral H. D. Pridham-Wippell, C.B.,

C.V.O. Captain H. B. Jacomb.

Captain A. F. E. Palliser, D.S.C.

Captain A. R. M. Bridge.

Commander H. St. L. Nicolson (Capt. (D) 2nd D.F.).

Commander J. P. Wright.

Lieut.-Commander L. R. K. Tyrwhitt.

Lieut.-Commander P. L. Saumarez, D.S.C.

Lieut-Commander C. A. de W. Kitcat.

Commander M. S. Thomas.

Lieut-Commander St. J. R. J. Tyrwhitt.

Commander W. E. Wilson.

Commander J. A. W. Tothill.

Lieut.-Commander J. A. Walsh, R.A.N.

Commander J. C. Morrow, R.A.N.


2 For this occasion, in addition to her normal complement of two T.S.R. Squadrons, the Eagleembarked three spare F.A.A. Gladiators (fighters) from Alexandria, which proved their value in the ensuing operations, by shooting down a shadower and two or three bombers.

They were flown by Commander (Flying) Keighly-Peach, an old fighter pilot and another officer.


3 Except the Liverpool, which was at Port Said, having just arrived there after transporting troops to Aden. She sailed to rendezvous direct with Vice-Admiral Tovev.


When proceeding to rejoin Force “ G ” , the Hasty,at 0100, 8th, attacked a confirmed contact and possibly damaged a second submarine.1

A few hours later the Imperial burst a feed tank, and was ordered to return

to Alexandria. Enemy submarines were reported by the Eagle’s aircraft on

A/S patrol at 0658 and 0908; the latter was attacked with bombs.

During the night the Commander-in-Chief, with Force “ B ” , set a mean line of advance 305°, 20 knots. The original plan was modified, and a rendezvous appointed for all forces at 1400, 10th July, in 36° 30' N., 170 40' E. Meanwhile, unknown to the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Campioni’s forces were at sea, steering southerly courses in pursuance of their plan for covering their convoy to Benghazi.

The first intelligence of the enemy Fleet being at sea was received in the Warspite at 0807, 8th, from the submarine Phoenix (Lieutenant-Commander G. H. Nowell), who reported that at 0515 she had made an unsuccessful attack at extreme range on two battleships and four destroyers steering 180° in 35° 36' N., 180 28' E. (about 185 miles to the eastward of Malta). This enemy activity might well be due to movements covering an important convoy, and the Commander-in-Chief ordered the Vice-Admiral, Malta2, to arrange or a flying boat to search for and shadow the enemy force. Pending further information, the Fleet maintained its course and speed.

During the day of 8th July, all three forces experienced heavy bombing attacks by formations of aircraft coming apparently from the Dodecanese bases. Between 1023 and 1837, five attacks were made on Force “ A ” , in the last of which the Gloucester, seemingly singled out as a special target, was hit by a bomb on the compass platform. This unhappily caused the following casualties:— officers, 7 killed (including Captain F. R. Garside), 3 wounded; ratings, 11 killed, 6 wounded. The damage to the Gloucester’s bridge and D.G.T. obliged her to steer from aft and use her after gun control.

Force “ B ” was attacked seven times between 1205 and 1812, some 120 bombs being dropped without result. Six attacks were made on Force “ C ” between 0951 and 1749. No hits were made, though about 80 bombs were dropped, the Eagle being the chief target. In these attacks, which were all delivered from levels between 10,000 and 14,000 ft., there was a number of near misses.

Further information of the Italian fleet was received at 1557, 8th— a signal from Flying Boat L.5803, reporting two battleships, six cruisers and seven destroyers in 33° 08' N., 19° 45' E.3 (60 miles north of Benghazi) steering 340° at 1500. Later, the flying boat reported that the enemy had altered course to starboard, and gave their course at 1630 as 070° 20 knots: it was obliged to return to Malta at 1715 and no relief was then available to continue shadowing the enemy fleet.

Suspecting that the “ battleships ” reported by the flying boat were probably 8-inch cruisers, the Commander-in-Chief was of opinion that the enemy had some special reason for wishing to keep the British Fleet away from the Central Mediterranean. The intensive bombing already experienced strengthened


1 It is now known that neither of these submarines was sunk.

2 Vice-Admiral Sir Wilbraham T. R. Ford, K.B.E., C.B.

3 There are discrepancies in the reports of this position which cannot be reconciled, (a)


In the C.-in-C.’s report on the operation it is stated to be 330 35' N.190 40' E. at 1510. (b) In the C.-in-C.’s War Diary, 330 18' N.,190 45' E. at 1510. © The actual signal made by F/B L5803 (quoted in an enclosure to the C.-in-C.’s report) puts it as 10 miles 180° from 330 18' N.,ig° 45' E., i.e. 330 08' N., 19° 45' E. at 1500. This latter position is within 20 miles of the actual position of the Italian 8-inch cruisers (to which it undoubtedly refers) at the time.

His impression that the Italians might be covering the movement of an important convoy— probably one to Benghazi. Acting on this conclusion, he decided to abandon temporarily the operation in progress and to proceed at best possible speed in the direction of Taranto, in order to get between the enemy and that base. He accordingly took the following steps. Forces “ A ” , “ B ” and “ C ” were ordered to concentrate to the southward of Zante (36° 55' N., 20° 30' E.) at 0600, 9th July.1 Two flying boat searches were ordered to commence at dawn, one between 070° and 130° from Malta, the other westward of a line 180° from Cape Matapan between 350 N. and the African coast. At the same time, the Eagle was to fly off a search to a depth of 60 miles between 180° and 300°. The

submarines Rorqual and Phoenix were ordered to positions on a line 160° from Taranto— the Rorqual as far north as possible, the Phoenix south of 37° 30' N.

During the night 8th /9th July the Commander-in-Chief maintained a mean line of advance of 310°, 20 knots, Forces “ A ” and “ C ” adjusting courses and speeds as necessary to make the rendezvous.



5. Movements of Italian Fleet, 8 th – 9th July (Plan 1)


Meanwhile, the Italians had carried out their convoy movements almost exactly as planned. At 0150, 8th July, Admiral Campioni received a signal from the Italian Admiralty reporting that British forces from Alexandria were estimated to be in positions 340 10' N., 230 00' E. and 340 5' N., 240 00' E. at 2000, 7th July.2

Steps were taken to concentrate the covering forces, and just before 0500 the convoy’s course was altered to 180° till the situation should be clarified.

Air search at dawn to the eastward and south-eastward of the Cesare to a depth of 100 miles having proved negative, the convoy resumed its course for Benghazi during the forenoon and arrived there without incident that evening.

Between 1430 and 1520, 8th the covering forces turned to the north-north­westward to return to Italy, the battleships then being about 75 miles to the north-east of Benghazi and the 8-inch cruisers some 30 miles north-west of the battleships. It was shortly after the 8-inch cruisers had made this turn that they were sighted and reported by F.B. L.5803.3 Soon after this, on the strength of an air report of three enemy battleships and eight destroyers to the south of Crete, Admiral Campioni decided to steer to intercept them, and altered to a N.N.E.’ly course, the cruiser forces altering to close him; but at 1820 the Italian Admiralty intervened and cancelled this movement, pending further orders. Course 330° was therefore resumed.

The Italian Admiralty had intercepted and decyphered enemy signals,

which indicated that early next afternoon (9th) the British Fleet would be

some 80 miles east of Sicily. This information seemed to offer a golden opportunity of engaging the main British naval force in their own waters with shore-based aircraft, submarines and surface forces. They accordingly

directed Admiral Campioni to steer for this area (later amended to one further north, off Calabria), at the same time ordering five submarines to take up positions between 350 50' N. and 370 N. and 17° and 17° 40' E.

The plan was a good one, but it did not quite take into account Admiral

Cunningham’s offensive spirit, which led him to change his aim as soon as

he saw a chance of getting between the enemy fleet and its base, and to thrust2 boldly towards Taranto, thereby, as things turned out, leaving the submarine trap some 60 miles to the southward of him.


1 Sunrise, 0520; Beginning of nautical twilight (sun 6° below horizon), 0450, Zone minus 2.

2 It is not known on what information these positions were based. Actually, no British forces from Alexandria were so far west till nearly 24 hours later.

3 See Section 4.


These intentions and the information on which they were based were communicated to Admiral Campioni during the night, who continued to steer 330°. At midnight 8th/9th July the Cesare was approximately 200 miles west of the Warspite, both the opposing forces making to the north-westward on slightly converging courses. Soon after this Admiral Paladini, as the result of a signal from the Italian Admiralty giving warning of the presence of two British submarines, altered the course of his 8-inch cruisers to ooo°, 20 knots, without informing the Commander-in-Chief, thereby getting to the eastward of the battleships next morning. The four light cruisers of the 7th Division, which after covering the convoy to the westward were proceeding to Palermo, continued steering towards the Strait of Messina till soon after 0600, 9th, when they were ordered to join the Commander-in-Chief to the east of Cape Spartivento.



6. Action of Calabria: The Approach (Plans 1, 2)


To return to the British Mediterranean Fleet.

The concentration of the fleet was effected south of Zante at 0600, 9th July, in 36° 55' N., 20° 30' E., and the fleet took up the following formation: Force “ A ” in the van eight miles ahead of Force “ B ”, with Force “ C ” eight miles astern of the Warspite, the mean line of advance being 260° at 15 knots.

The air searches ordered the evening before had commenced at dawn, the Eagle having flown off her aircraft at 0440, and reports of the enemy began to come in. The first came from Flying Boat L.5807 at 0732— two battleships, four cruisers and ten destroyers steering 350°, 15 knots in 370 14' N., 160 51' E.

Further air reports quickly followed of a group of six cruisers and eight destroyers bearing 080°, 20 miles from the main fleet at 0739, and then at 0805 that the main fleet had altered course to 360°. According to this information the main enemy fleet now bore about 280°, 145 miles from the Warspite.

The Commander-in-Chief altered course to a mean line of advance

of 305° and an hour later to 320° at 18 knots in the endeavour to work to the northward of the enemy and so reach a position between him and Taranto.

At 0858, 9th, the Eagle flew off three aircraft to search the sector between 260° and 300° to a maximum depth. Several reports from these reconnaissance aircraft and from Flying Boats 5807 and 9020 were received between 1026 and 1135. These, though they differed considerably, seemed to afford fairly reliable information of the enemy’s movements. Thus, at 1105, one of the Eagle’s aircraft reported two battleships and a cruiser with four other cruisers near by in 38° 07' N., 160 57' E., while at 1115, Flying Boat L.5807 reported the enemy battle fleet in 38° 06' N., 170 48' E., steering North. It seemed probable that the ships in the latter report were, if correctly identified, actually considerably further to the westward.

These reports indicated that the enemy fleet consisted of at least two battle­ships, 12 cruisers and 20 destroyers, dispersed in groups over a wide area. It looked, too, as if the group of cruisers and destroyers, reported at 0739, had made a wide sweep to the north-eastward and had been joined by another group of cruisers and destroyers, possibly those reported as being in company  with the battlefleet.

At 1145,9th, acting on the assumption based on the air reports that the enemy fleet was then steaming north in a position 295° 90 miles from the Warspite, a striking force of nine Swordfish aircraft was flown off from the Eagle to attack  with torpedoes. But owing to a lack of reconnaissance aircraft and to un­ avoidable delay in flying off relief shadowers, air touch had been lost ten minutes earlier (1135), and it so happened that just before Admiral Campioni, deeming that he was getting too far to the northward, had altered the course of the Battle fleet to 165° in order to concentrate his fleet in about 370 40' N., 170 25' E.

Air touch was regained at 1215, when Flying Boat L.5803 reported six cruisers and ten destroyers in 370 56' N., 17° 48' E. steering 220° and five minutes later a group of three 8-inch cruisers in 370 55' N., 170 55' E.

steering 2250; but owing to the battlefleet’s turn to the southward, the striking force failed to find it, though at 1252 it sighted a large number of enemy ships and working round to the westward of this group, at 1330 attacked the rear ship.

The ship was thought at the time to be a battleship, but actually it was one of Admiral Paladini’s 8-inch cruisers which were then steering for the rendezvous; no hits were made in this attack, which had to face heavy A. A. fire, though the aircraft suffered little damage. Meanwhile the Warspite had maintained her course 320°, and at noon estimated herposition as 37° 30' N., 18° 40' E.

An air report at 1330 that there were no enemy ships between 3340 and 2910 to a depth of 60 miles from 38° N., 180 E. made it clear that the enemy battlefleet had turned to the southward, and that the cruiser groups which were thought to have been sweeping to the north-eastward had altered to the south-westward. The indications were that the enemy fleet was concentrating south-east of Calabria in the approximate position 370 45' N., 170 20' E.

Further air reports helped to establish its position and movements: thus, at 1340, Flying Boat 9020 reported three battleships and a large number of cruisers and destroyers in 370 58' N., 170 55' E., steering 220°, and at 1414 gave their course and speed as 020°, 18 knots.

Apparently the enemy had by that time completed his concentration, and turning to the northward was maintaining a central position with three

directions open for retreat. Whether he intended to stand and fight in an

area of his own choosing was still a matter of conjecture. The British Fleet

on its north-west course was rapidly closing and at 1400, having achieved his immediate object of cutting him off from Taranto, the Commander-in-Chief altered course to 270° to increase the rate of closing. Though the cruisers were well ahead, the Royal Sovereign’s speed limited the rate of approach, and at 1430, in 38° 02' N., 18° 25' E., the Warspite increased speed to 22 knots, acting as a battle-cruiser to support the 7th C.S., which in comparison with the enemy cruiser force was very weak, being fewer in numbers and lacking 8-inch gun ships.

At 1434, the Eagle’s striking force had landed on and an air reconnaissance  report received at 1435 gave the enemy’s course and speed as 360°, 15 knots.

This was amplified four minutes later when the enemy’s bearing and distance from the Warspite was signalled as 260°, 30 miles. Force “ A ” , less the Stuart which had just been ordered to join the Royal Sovereign’s

screen, was then eight miles ahead of the Warspite while Force “ C ” was about ten miles astern of her.

At this stage when the period of approach may be considered to end, there was a general impression that the enemy proposed to vindicate Mussolini’s claim of Mare Nostrum concerning, the Mediterranean. The moment for which the Italian Fleet had been built up was at hand, if the Italian Commander-in-Chief was prepared to accept the gage of battle.

This impression was not far wrong. The first enemy report received by Admiral Campioni that day had come from an aircraft at 1330. The signal, which arrived at rather an awkward moment, just as he was concentrating his fleet— a manoeuvre complicated by the F.A.A. attack on the heavy cruisers— made it clear that the British had been steering for an objective further north than had been conjectured the night before. He determined, therefore, to interpose his fleet between the Italian coast and the enemy, and if possible to get between him and Taranto, accepting battle and relying on his superiority of speed to enable him to break off the action if the superior weight of gunfire of the British capital ships should prove too much for him.

He then had in company the two battleships, six 8-inch cruisers, eight 6-inch cruisers and 24 destroyers.1 The four light cruisers of the 7th Division were still some distance to the south-westward, but in view of the urgency to keep open the route to Taranto and the marked numerical superiority in cruisers and destroyers he already possessed, he decided to steer to the northward without waiting for them.



7. Action off Calabria : Surface Contact (Plan 2)


At 1447, 9th July, the Orion sighted white smoke bearing 230° and two minutes later black smoke, bearing 2450, being laid by a destroyer. Apparently the enemy was completing his concentration behind this cover of smoke. At 1452 the Neptune reported two enemy ships in sight bearing 236°. These reports were amplified by further details at 1455 and 1500 from the Orion.

On first sighting the enemy the damaged Gloucester was ordered to join the Eagle, which— screened by the Voyager and Vampire — was taking station ten miles to the eastward of the Warspite, while the air striking force was re-arming and re-fuelling in readiness to renew its attack. The remaining four cruisers, in order from north to south Neptune, Liverpool, Orion, Sydney (henceforth referred to as the 7th Cruiser Squadron) were formed on a line of bearing 320°, steering 270° at 22 knots, distant ten miles 260° from the Warspite.

At 1500 the enemy fleet appeared to be disposed in four columns or groups spread over a wide area, with intervals of about five miles between the columns, which were on a line of bearing I30°-3I0°. The direction of their advance was reported as 020°, speed 19 knots. Only a few of their ships were visible simultaneously to the British ships and then only for short periods (see Fig. 2).  

The difficulty of gauging their formation and what ships were present can be seen by a comparison with Fig. 3, which shews it from Italian records. Taking the enemy columns in order, as they appeared to the British: the port wing column (marked A in Fig. 2) consisted of five or six cruisers, including some of the Bolzano class, the next column (B) was thought to consist of two or three cruisers, ahead of two Cavour class battleships. In the third column © four cruisers, probably 8-inch, and in the starboard wing column  (D) four 6-inch cruisers. In the van were a number of destroyers, probably three flotillas (X, Y and Z) while some others formed the battleship A /S screen.

Actually, this was an overestimate of the number of cruisers present in this opening stage, according to the Italian records. Admiral Campioni had been proceeding on a mean course 010°, the six 8-inch cruisers under Admiral Paladini in the Pola(in the rear), disposed three miles on his port beam, and four 6-inch cruisers (two from the 8th Division and two from the 4th) five miles on his starboard beam. At 1500 the 8-inch cruisers were going ahead to take station in the van, a movement facilitated by a turn to port by the battleships. The four cruisers of the 7th Division (which it will be remembered had been on their way home) were some distance off, coming up from the south-westward.

It was a fine day, with the wind north, force 4, sea slight, I / 10th cloud and visibility ranging from 13 to 18 miles.1 The 8th, 15th and 16th Destroyer Flotillas (nine destroyers) had been sent into harbour to re-fuel at 0600, 9th, and did not rejoin the fleet till 1930 that evening. Three other destroyers and two light cruisers (the Cadorna and Diaz) had been detached with engine trouble or defects in the course of the day.

Vice-Admiral Tovey was getting a long way ahead of the Warspite, and at 1508, in order to avoid becoming heavily engaged before she was in a position to support, he altered course together to ooo0.1 As he turned, the Neptune reported two battleships bearing 250°, 15 miles off. The 7th Cruiser Squadron was still closing the enemy and soon groups of enemy cruisers and destroyers were seen showing up between the bearings of 2350 and 270° at distances of 12 to 18 miles. Course was again altered— to 045°— and at 1514 the squadron was formed on a line of bearing 350°.

The surface action which ensued falls into three phases:


(1)1514 to 1536 - Cruiser action, in which the Warspite intervened.


(2) 1548 to 1615. Battleships and cruisers in action, and F.A.A. attack bythe Eagle's aircraft.


(3) 1615 to 1649. The Italian Fleet in full retreat; British cruisers and

destroyers engaging enemy destroyers as opportunity offered.


From 1640 to 1925 the enemy shore-based aircraft carried out heavy but ineffective attacks on both fleets with complete impartiality.



8. Action of Calabria: Phase 1 (Plan 3)


At 1514 the enemy cruisers ©2 bearing 250° opened fire at a range 23,600 yards on the 7th Cruiser Squadron. Vice-Admiral Tovey increased speed to 25 knots at 1515 and a minute later altered course to 025° to open the “ A ” arcs. With the advantage of the sun behind him, the enemy’s fire was good for range, but it fell off later. After a couple more alterations of course together to 355 and 030°, the 7th Cruiser Squadron was ordered at 1522 to engage an equal number of enemy ships.

The Neptune and Liverpool immediately opened fire, range 22,100 yards, followed by the Sydney at 1523 engaging the fourth cruiser from the right. The speed of the Squadron was increased to 28 knots and the Orion, at 1526, fired at a destroyer (Z) for three minutes, range 23,200 yards. When this destroyer altered course away, the Orion shifted target to the right-hand cruiser, then bearing 2490, range 23,700 yards. By this time the Warspite was intervening. It appeared urgently necessary to support the outnumbered cruisers, and at 1525 the Commander-in-Chief detached his destroyer screen, which formed single line ahead on the Nubian, and altered course to starboard to pass on the Warspite’s disengaged side. A minute later (1526) the flagship opened fire on what was believed to be an 8-inch cruiser ©3 bearing 265°, range 26,400 yards. Blast from the first salvo damaged the Warspite's aircraft, which was subsequently jettisoned. Ten salvoes were fired, and it was thought a hit was scored by the last.4 The enemy cruisers turned away under smoke; this took them out of range of the 7th Cruiser Squadron which checked fire a t I53.I-

During this opening stage of the action no hits had been observed on the enemy ships, whose fire had been equally ineffective. The British cruisers were straddled several times, but the only damage done was by splinters from a near miss to the Neptune’s aircraft, which was jettisoned shortly afterwards,as it was leaking petrol.


1 This manoeuvre anticipated the wishes of the Commander-in-Chief who at 1506 (time of receipt 1520) signalled: “ Do not get too far ahead of me. I am dropping back on battlefleet.

Air striking force will not be ready till 1530.” Throughout the action, Admiral Tovey manoeuvred his squadron by blue pendant only.

2 The 6-inch cruisers Garibaldi and Abruzzi.

According to Italian records their time of opening fire was 1518.

3 Actually a 6-inch cruiser, the Abruzzi or Garibaldi (8th Division).1 According to the Italians, no hit was scored.


Sir Andrew Cunningham was finding the slow speed of his battle fleet a sore trial. Having ordered the Malaya to press on at utmost speed, he turned in the Warspite through 360° and made an S ” bend to enable her to catch up. The 7th Cruiser Squadron, whose orders were not to get too far ahead of the Commander-in-Chief, made a complete turn to conform with this movement. While under helm the Warspite fired four salvoes between 1533 and 1536 at each of two 6-inch cruisers, forcing them to turn away.1 It was thought that these ships were attempting to work round towards the Eagle, as they were on an easterly course when sighted.

Apart from this burst of fire, there was a lull in the action till 154° the Commander-in-Chief could do nothing but wait for his battleships to come up. There is a smack of old world courtesy— almost of apology— in the signal he flashed to Vice-Admiral Tovey at this time:— “ I am sorry for this delay, but we must call upon reinforcements.”

The situation of the British Fleet was then as follows: the 7th Cruiser

Squadron, steering 310°, 28 knots, to close the enemy was 3I miles to the

northward of the Warspite, which was turning to 3450. The Malaya

and Royal Sovereign— particularly the former— had gained considerably. The destroyers, all of which had been released from screening duties, were con­centrating in their flotillas on the disengaged bow of the battle fleet. A

squadron of six enemy cruisers (presumably column A) was in sight ahead of their battle fleet.



9. Action off Calabria: Phase 2 (Plan 4)


Just at this moment (1548) the second phase or battleship action began, when the enemy battleships opened fire on the Warspiteat extreme range. Reserving her fire till I 553 > the Warspite then fired at the right-hand enemy battleship (Cesare), bearing 287°, range 26,000 yards. Just previously, the Eagle’s   striking force of nine Swordfish of No. 824 Squadron, which had flown off at 1545, passed over her on their way to the attack.

The enemy’s shooting was moderately good, most of his salvoes falling within 1,000 yards, some straddling, but nearly all having a wide spread. One closely bunched salvo fell about 400 yards off the Warspite sport bow.

The destroyers, then passing to the eastward of her, under orders to join Admiral Tovey, were narrowly missed by salvoes of heavy shells falling one to two miles over the Fleet flagship. At 1600 a salvo from the Warspite straddled the  Cesareat a range of 26,200  yards and a hit was observed at the base of her foremost funnel. The effect was immediate; the enemy ships altered course away and began to make smoke. The shell had exploded on the upper deck casing, starting several fires and killing or wounding 98 men. Four boilers were put out of action and her speed dropped to 18 knots, causing the ship to drop back on the Cavour.

This meant that Admiral Campioni had lost the margin of speed on

which he was relying to counter-balance the superiority of the British gunfire, and he decided to break off the action without more ado. Accordingly he altered course to west and later to 230°, and ordered those destroyers suitably placed to lay smoke and attack the enemy fleet, though he recognised that in broad daylight against practically untouched ships they were unlikely to achieve material success. All he hoped was that they might delay the enemy from closing during the critical stage of disengaging.


1 The Italian 4th Division, Barbiano and Giussano. Neither  was hit. The two ships altered right round to port and after steering to the southward for a few minutes passed astern of their battleships on a north-westerly course and took no further part in the action. The other two ships of the division, the Cadorna and Diaz, had been detached a couple of hours earlier to Messina, suffering from engine trouble.



The Warspite at 1602 tried to close the range by altering course to 310°. The Malaya,by then in station bearing 180° from her, fired four salvoes at extreme range, but all fell short. Three more salvoes, fired by her at 1608, had an equally disappointing result. The Royal Sovereign,unable to close the Warspite nearer than three miles, took no part in the action. At 1604 the enemy battleships became obscured by smoke, and the Warspite ceased fire, having got off 17 salvoes.

Just as this engagement between the battleships was ending, the Eagle’s striking force attacked Admiral Paladini’s 8-inch cruisers. After passing over the Warspite, the Swordfish had a bird’s-eye view of both fleets opening fire and noticed several salvoes straddling the Warspite.

When two-thirds of the way towards the enemy they came under A. A. fire at 6,000 feet. The enemy fleet, partially obscured by smoke, seemed to be in some confusion with 15-inch shell straddling their ships. Observing two large ships1 at the head of a line of cruisers, the squadron leader, Lieutenant-Commander A. J. Debenham, decided to attack the leading ship, which at the moment was turning in a circle. After the attack by sub-flights had commenced this ship became more distinct; though it then seemed probable she was a Bolzano class cruiser and not a battleship, he decided not to call off the attack. Anti-aircraft fire became general during the final approach, which was made at 1605 in three sub-flights from ahead. All the aircraft dropped their torpedoes successfully on the enemy ship s starboard side between her bow and beam bearings. Observers in the Neptune testified to the determined manner in which the attack was made.

On account of smoke from the ships’ guns the aircraft crews were unable to establish definite claims to results, but five members reported individually having seen columns of water, smoke, or an explosion. On the strength of this evidence it was assumed that at least one torpedo got home, but it is now known that this was not the case.2Meanwhile, the cruisers had renewed their action. The 7th Cruiser

Squadron, steering 3I0°) end eavoured to close the enemy, who at 1556 reopened an accurate fire. The Orion replied at 1559, her target being a Bolzano class cruiser (A) bearing 287°, range 23,000 yards. At 1600, the

Neptune and Sydney opened fire respectively at the second and fourth enemy cruisers from the right, and the I.iverpool followed suit two minutes later. The course of the Squadron was altered to 010° and then 070°, but as the enemy was seen to be turning away at 1606, course oio° was resumed.

About this time, too, the destroyer flotillas were coming into action. They

had been ordered at 1545 to join the 7th Cruiser Squadron, and after their

unpleasant experience among the “ overs ” while passing the Warspite,

were reformed at 1555 by Captain P. J. Mack, the Senior Captain (D), on course 350 in the following order:


14th D.F. Nubian, Mohawk, Juno, Janus.


2nd D.F. Hyperion, Hero, Hereward, Hostile, Hasty, Ilex (in single line ahead 25 knots on bearing 140° from Nubian).


10th D.F. Stuart, Dainty, Defender, Decoy (in single line ahead 27 knots on bearing 220° from Nubian).


From 1602 and 1605 the two leading flotillas (14th and 10th) came under1 3rd Division, Trento, Bolzano.2 “ The 3rd Division was attacked by torpedo aircraft, three of which were shot down; the torpedoes were avoided by manoeuvring ” heavy fire from the enemy cruisers but were not hit. The enemy destroyers were observed at this time by the Warspite moving across to starboard from the enemy’s van, and at 1607 two destroyer salvoes could be seen landing close to the Stuart.


  1. Italian Official History.



At 1609 the Warspite fired six salvoes at a cruiser bearing 313°, range 24,600 yards, which had drawn ahead of the enemy battleships. A minute later the tracks of three or more torpedoes were seen passing through the 14th Flotilla.

At 1611, the Orion shifted target to the right-hand cruiser bearing 308° range 20,300 yards,1 which was then the only ship within range. The

Sydney’ too fired a few salvoes at this ship, her previous target having become very indistinct.

The Neptune straddled her target which she claimed to have hit, and the Liverpool straddled with her fifth salvo, after which the enemy ships altered course away, throwing her salvoes out for line. During this period of the action, a hot fire from the enemy destroyers, which were moving up to gain a position for attack, was a constant source of annoyance to the British cruisers..

Their guns outranged the cruisers’ 4-inch armament, but as soon as the enemy cruisers had disappeared in the smoke, the cruisers turned their 6-inch guns on to these hornets, which were quickly silenced and driven off. This ended the  second phase of the action.



10. Action off Calabria: Phase 3


At the beginning of the third phase of the action (about 1615) the genera

position was thus roughly as follows:—

The Italian Fleet was withdrawing to the westward, the damaged Cesare and Cavour sorting themselves out behind a smoke screen on a westerly course and the cruisers gradually conforming on north-westerly courses.2 Their destroyers were either laying smoke, or proceeding to positions suitable for attack on the British; one flotilla was already firing on Admiral Tovey’s cruisers.

Turning to the British, the battleships on a north-westerly course were endeavouring to close the enemy battlefleet, with the destroyer flotillas bearing about 030° from the Warspite — steering to join Admiral Tovey, then some nine miles north of the Warspite; the 7th Cruiser Squadron had turned back to 010° to conform with the enemy’s turn away, and was engaging the 8-inch cruisers.

At 1614 the signal for our destroyers to counter-attack the enemy destroyers was made. The flotillas were then about four miles N.N.E. of the Warspite-, speed was increased to 29 knots and course altered to 270 to close the enemy, each flotilla manoeuvring as necessary to clear the others and keep their lines of fire open. Speed was increased to 30 knots at 1617 and at the same time the 7th Cruiser Squadron altered course to 340° in support 3 but four minutes later altered away to 040° to avoid fouling our destroyers.

The 10th Destroyer Flotilla opened fire at 1619 on an enemy destroyer ahead, range 12,600 yards, and the Stuart’s first salvo appeared to hit. T 2nd D.F. opened fire at 1626 on a destroyer bearing 290°, range 14,000 yards, and the 14th D.F. at 1629 on one of two destroyers bearing 278°, range 12,400 yards.


1 The It is difficult to reconcile this relative position with the Italian movements as shown on their plan.

2 If the impressions of the Eagle's striking force are correct, the fleet was in considerably greater disorder than the parade ground precision of their movements, shewn in the plan subsequently produced by them, would imply (see Plan 4).

3 About this time the Orion thought she scored a hit on the bridge of a destroyer of the Maestrale class, bearing 303°, range 175100 yards; but the Italians state that no such hit was obtained.

* This is not confirmed by Italian sources.


Apparently at this time a number of enemy destroyers, after working across to starboard of their main fleet, were attempting in a half-hearted manner to make a torpedo attack. After firing their torpedoes at long range, they turned away to the westward making smoke, the second flotilla retiring through the smoke made by the leading flotilla. On account of these cautious tactics, our flotillas were only able spasmodically to engage targets when they presented themselves within range, uno^scured by smoke. No hits on either side were seen by the Warspite's aircraft on observation duty.

To return to the 7th Cruiser Squadron, after turning to the north-eastward to clear the flotillas, the enemy quickly disappeared and fire was checked at 1622; at the same time a submarine was reported, which, however, proved to be the wreckage of an aircraft. In order to place the cruisers in a better position to support the destroyers Admiral Tovey then altered course round through south to 280°. The Orion then opened fire again on her former target, and the Neptune managed to get off a couple of salvoes at a cruiser, which showed up momentarily out of the smoke. The Sydney' starget, a smoke-laying destroyer, was engaged till she became obscured; and the Liverpool at 1625 fired four salvoes at a cruiser, range 19,000 yards, before she also disappeared into the smoke screen. At 1628, course was altered to 180°; the Orion, Neptune and Sydneyfired occasional salvoes whenever they caught fleeting glimpses of enemy destroyers, and four minutes later Admiral Tovey hauled round to 210° in pursuit of the enemy. At 1634, with all their targets rapidly disappearing in the smoke, the 7th Cruiser Squadron ceased fire. This marked the end of the cruiser action, apart from a few salvoes fired by a ship invisible to our cruisers at 1641. The principal feature of its desultory character was the unanimous determination of the enemy cruisers to avoid close action. This they achieved with conspicuous success.

The Commander-in-Chief, meanwhile, in the Warspite, with the Malaya in company and the Royal Sovereign about three miles astern, had been steering a mean course 3130 at 20 knots, and by 1630 was nearing the enemy’s smoke screen. Several enemy signals had been intercepted, saying that he was constrained to retire ” at 20 knots and ordering his flotillas to make smoke, and to attack with torpedoes; there was also a warning that they were approaching the submarine line. “ These signals,”— wrote Admiral Cunning­ ham afterwards— “ together with my own appreciation of the existing situation, made it appear unwise and playing the enemy’s own game to plunge straight into the smoke screen.”1 He therefore altered course to starboard to 340° at I®35> *-° work round to the northward and to windward of the smoke. A few minutes later enemy destroyers came in view and between 1639 and 1641 the Warspite

fired five salvoes of 6-inch and the Malaya one salvo at them and they

disappeared into the smoke. The proceedings were enlivened by the first

appearance that day of the Italian Air Force, which carried out an ineffective bombing attack on the Warspite at 1641.

The fitful engagement continued until 1649, our destroyers seizing every opportunity involuntarily offered by the enemy as he bolted in and out of the smoke cover. At 1640 two torpedoes were seen passing astern of the Nubian, and at 1647 she observed one of two enemy destroyers apparently hit and dropping astern. The 2nd Destroyer Flotilla passed through the smoke, while the 14th tried to work round it to the northward. All endeavours to  get to close quarters were unsuccessful, and at 1654 orders were received from the Commander-in-Chief, who three minutes earlier had altered course to 270, to rejoin the 7th Cruiser Squadron. When the destroyers finally cleared the smoke screen at 1700, the enemy was out of sight, having retired to the south- westward in the direction of his bases.


1 C.-in-C.’s Report (in M.05369/41).


The flotillas then proceeded as necessary to join Vice-Admiral Tovey, who was to the north of the Warspite steering 280° at 27 knots, taking stations in accordance with Destroyer Cruising Order No. 3.1

To the east, the striking force was just getting back to the Eagle',all the Swordfish landed on safely at 1705. Another striking force was being got ready, but it could not be despatched before the general recall of aircraft was made at 1750. During the engagement the Eagle had also maintained aircraft, as available, on reconnaissance, as well as one acting as spotter for the Royal Sovereign.

The surface action was over; its indecisive character at all stages was due to the “ safety first ” tactics of the Italians. Throughout its course, their

cruisers had kept at extreme ranges, the battleships called for smoke protection as soon as one was hit, and the destroyers— dodging in and out of the smoke screen— fired a few torpedoes at long range and then withdrew at their best speed. With the British Fleet between them and their main base (Taranto), they were hurriedly seeking shelter in other bases to the south and west. It was now the turn of the Italian Air Force to see if it could do better against Admiral Cunningham’s fleet.



11: Action off Calabria:Italian Air Attack 9 the July


The first appearance of enemy aircraft on the scene, as already mentioned, was at 1640—just as the surface action was petering out5—when the Warspite was attacked. From then till about 1930, the Fleet was subjected to a series of heavy bombing attacks by shore-based aircraft.

The Warspite and the Eagle were particularly singled out as targets, each being attacked five times; 2 but the 7th Cruiser Squadron received numerous attacks and many bombs fell near the destroyers. At 1654, the

Orion fired on a formation of nine aircraft which attempted to bomb the flotillas. Vice- Admiral Tovey effectively disposed his cruisers in a diamond formation to resist these attacks, which were frequent till 1920.

Most of the bombing was extremely wild, from heights of between 10,000 and 15,000 feet, carried out by formations of aircraft varying in numbers from nine to a single aircraft, but generally in formations of three. No ships were hit during any of the attacks, but there were numerous near misses and a few minor casualties from splinters. The Malaya claimed to have damaged two aircraft by A.A. fire, but none was seen to fall.

During this period of the action the coast of Italy was in sight, the high land of Calabria showing up prominently as the sun got lower in the West. About 600 miles to the westward, Vice-Admiral Somerville with Force “H ”, who was then south of Minorca on his way to carry out the diversionary attack on Cagliari, which had been arranged for the next morning, wa sunder ­going a similar experience at much the same time. Admiral Somerville, deeming that the risk of damage to the Ark Royal outweighed the importance of a secondary operation, cancelled the proposed attack and returned to Gibraltar.1 No damage was suffered from the air attacks, but the destroyer Escort was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine on the return passage two days later.


1 14th D.F. in the centre, 2nd D.F., to port, and 10th D.F. to starboard.

2 Warspite  at 1641, 1715, 1735, 1823, 1911; Eagle at 1743> I800, 1826, 1842, 1900. No records of times or numbers of attacks on other ships are available.



12. Fleet Movement after Action (Plan 1)


To return to the Italians.

The sudden retirement behind the smoke screens had naturally thrown the fleet into considerable disorder and the manoeuvre had not been helped by the F.A.A. attack on the Bolzano which had developed a few minutes later.

The battleships steered a westerly course till about 1615 and then steadied on 230, the other squadrons steering to the north-westward and gradually conforming.

By 1645 the Cesare’s boilers had again been connected up, and Admiral Campioni considered the possibility of pushing towards Taranto and regaining contact with the British Fleet. Nothing could be seen of the enemy, owing to the smoke screens, and he had received no report of his movements since 1615; but he knew that their battleships were by that time concentrated and there would be danger of his being forced on to the Calabrian coast by their gunfire.

He therefore decided to steer for the Sicilian ports. Shortage of fuel in his available destroyers prevented him from sending them to locate the enemy and subsequently attempt a night attack.

From this time onwards the various units of the fleet were repeatedly bombed by their own shore-based aircraft.2 “ Signals were made with searchlights, wireless messages were sent, national flags were spread on the turrets and decks— but without results. Ships frequently replied with gunfire to the dropping of the bombs.”3 The marksmanship of the Italian pilots seems to have been no better on their own ships than on the British for none was hit “ due to the quickness of the ships’ manoeuvring but the attacks kept the fleet in disorder, and it was not till 1800 that it was reformed, the light cruiser squadrons and destroyers then taking station to the east and south-eastward and the heavy cruisers disposed to the north-westward of the battleships.

At 1930 the destroyers which had been fuelling rejoined his flag, and the various units of the fleet arrived at Augusta, Messina and Palermo in the course of the evening— the majority, by order of the Ministry of Marine, sailing for Naples early on 10th July.

The British Fleet, meanwhile, had continued steering 270° from 1700 to 1735 = 9th July. As it was plainly evident that the enemy had no intention of renewing the action and that it was impossible to intercept him, the Commander- in-Chief, being then about 25 miles from the Calabrian coast, altered the course of the fleet to 200°. At 1830 the destroyers were ordered to resume their screening formations on the battleships and at 1910 the Gloucester was ordered to rejoin Vice-Admiral Tovey. A couple of alterations of course were made to open the land.


1 An interesting decision as illustrating the considerations which should govern the acceptance 01 risks. The Ark Royal, our only large modern carrier in the Mediterranean, was of unique importance. Already a major attack on Italian battleships (subsequently carried out at Taranto in November 1940) was under consideration. Under these circumstances, Admiral bomeralle declined to accept the risk to her for the sake of a subsidiary operation. It is to be noted that he had no hesitation in accepting a greater risk to her in connection with the bom­bardment of Genoa the following February. In war, risks must often be accepted, but the object should always be adequate.

2 Btween 1643 and 1750» 12 attacks were carried out by formations of varying strength usually three at a time. After a pause of about an hour, the attacks recommenced and between 1044 ano 2110 a further 11 attacks— the last in the Messina Strait— were carried out.

3 Italian Official History of the War at Sea.


An enemy destroyer was believed to have been severely damaged, but on account of shortage of fuel in his own destroyers, Sir Andrew Cunningham reluctantly decided not to detach a force to deal with her. The last information of the enemy fleet received from the Warspite's aircraft reported it in 37 54 ^ ■> 160 21' E. (about 10 miles from Cape Spartivento) at 1905, steering 230° at 18 knots.

At 2115, 9th, Admiral Cunnigham altered course to 220 for a position south of Malta. During the night, which passed without incident, eight destroyers (Stuart, Dainty, Defender, Hyperion, Hostile, Hasty, Ilex, Juno) were detached to arrive at Malta at 0500, 10th, to complete with fuel.1The Vice-Admiral, Malta, had been told to delay the sailing of the convoys for Alexandria. However, “on hearing that the fleets were engaged, hewisely decided that the Italians would be too busy to attend to convoys, so sailed the fast convoy ” 2— M.F. 1— escorted by the Diamond, Jervis and Vendetta (Lieutenant R. Rhoades, R.A.N.) at 2300, 9th July.



13 Moviments and F.A.A. Attackon Port Augusta 10th July


At 0800, 10th July, the fleet was in 350 24' N., 150 27' E. (about 50 miles E.S.E. of Malta), steering west, and throughout the day cruised to the south of Malta, while the destroyers were fuelling. An air raid took place on Malta at 0855, but no destroyer was hit. Three or four enemy aircraft were shot down. The second group (Hero, Hereward, Decoy, Vampire, Voyager) proceeded to Malta at 1525, the last three being ordered to sail with Convoy M.S. 1. Shortly after noon, the Gloucester and later the Stuart

were detached to join Convoy M .F.1.

A fiying-boat reconnaissance of Port Augusta having reported three cruisers and eight destroyers in harbour there, the Eagles striking force of nine Sword­fish aircraft was flown off at 1850, 10th, to make a dusk attack. Unfortunately, the enemy force had left before it arrived, and the only ships found were a destroyer of the Navigatori class and an oil tanker of 6,000 tons in a small bay to the northward. The destroyer— the Leone Pancaldo — was hit by two torpedoes and sank after breaking in two; the tanker also was hit. All the aircraft returned safely, landing at Malta.

At 2000, 10th, the 7th Cruiser Squadron was ordered to search to the eastward in the wake of Convoy M.F. 1; and half an hour later the Royal Sovereign, Nubian, Mohawk and  Janus were sent in to Malta to refuel. As they neared the island, an air raid on the neighbourhood of Calafrana was seen to be in progress. The ships entered harbour at midnight and left at 0430, 1 ith to rejoin the Commander-in-Chief. The remainder of the fleet at 2100 steered 180° from position 350 28' N., 14° 30 E., till 0130, 11th July, when course was altered to the north for a rendezvous at 0800.

In view of the bombing attacks experienced on the 8th and 9th July, the Air Officer, C.-in-C., Middle East, was requested to do everything possible to occupy the Italian air forces while the fleet and convoys were on passage to Alexandria.



14. Passage to Alexandria, 11th – 15th July (Plan 5)


1 The Stuart had only 15 tons of oil remaining on arrival.

2 Cunningham of Hyndhope. A Sailor's Odyssey, English edition, p. 263.


At 0800, on the … July, the ships which had been fuelling rejoined the flag in35° I0, N., 150 00' E., and the Eagle landed on her air striking force from Malta.

The slow convoy, M.S.1, escorted by the Decoy, Vampire and Voyager had left Malta at 2100, 10th, and at 0900, 11th, the Commander-in-Chief in the Warspite, screened by the Nubian, Mohawk, Juno and Janus(Force “ B ” )1 went on ahead at 19 knots for Alexandria, while Rear Admiral Pridham-Wippell in the Royal Sovereign, with the Malaya, Eagle and remaining destroyers (Force “ C ” ) 2 proceeded on a mean line of advance 080°, 12 knots, to cover the passage of the convoys. Vice-Admiral Tovey, who after being detached had kept to the southward of the track of convoy M S.i, closing to about 20 miles from it at daylight, was then about 80 miles to the eastward of the Warspite, and had just opened fire on a shadowing aircraft which had appeared a few minutes previously. Considering that the protection against air attack which cruisers of the Orionclass could give to the slow convoy was not of sufficient value to justify closing it, the Vice-Admiral decided to continue on a south­

easterly course until he was 150 miles from Sicily, when he altered course to 045° and took up a covering position.

As expected, it was not long before air attacks commenced. Between 1248 and 1815, 11th, 66 bombs were aimed at the Warspite and her destroyers in five attacks. 3 Force “ C ”— which had already experienced a submarine alarm, when the Defender attacked a contact at 0955, without result—suffered 13 bombing attacks, mostly directed against the Eagle, between 1111 and 1804, about 120 bombs being dropped. The Malaya and the Royal Sovereign each  claimed to have damaged an aircraft and one was shot down by a Gladiator in the course of these attacks. It was remarked that the attacks at lowest levels were made on destroyers, and that the seaplanes came in lower than other types of aircraft.

Convoy M .S.1 was attacked four times. None of the ships was damaged, and there was only one casualty— Mr. J. H. Endicott, Commissioned Gunner of the Vampire, who died after transference to the Mohawk.

Convoy M.S.1 was overhauled by the Warspite at 1500, and the Janus was then ordered to exchange stations with the Vampire in the convoy escort.

Further east, Admiral Tovey’s cruisers also were bombed. Between 1445 and 1500, they were attacked by 15 aircraft in waves of three. No damage was done to either side, though one stick of bombs fell close to the Neptune. After the attack an attempt to evade further attacks was made by altering course to 225° for 75 minutes, after which course 070° was resumed but this proved unsuccessful, for another attack developed at 1812, when eight bombs  all very bad shots ”— fell ahead of the Orion.

These aircraft, flying very high, were not engaged before they dropped their bombs. Another attack occurred at 1930, the bombs again falling wide. One aircraft hit in this attack made off to the north-west, then turned eastward losing height and with smoke coming from one of its engines. It was thought unlikely that it reached its base 180 miles away.


1 Less Decoy.

2 Less Vampireand Voyager.

3 The Warspite was shadowed during the day by aircraft which transmitted “ longs ” by W/T at intervals to direct the attacking aircraft.


The night of nth/12th July passed quietly. The Commander-in-Chief, who was in 340 22 N., 190 17' E. at 2100, nth, continued to the eastward, steering no°. Force “ C ” , after operating aircraft, at 2000, nth, feinted to

the north-west for an hour and a half, before turning to 150° at 2130, in order to keep to the westward of convoy M.S. 1. At 0254, 12th July, the

Hasty attacked a submarine contact. The 7th Cruiser Squadron, which had been ordered to join the Commander-in-Chief at 0800, 12th July, steered so as to approach the rendezvous from the northward. It sighted the Warspit at 0638, 12th; the Orion and Neptune were then detached to join Convoy M.F.1, the Liverpool and Sydney remaining in company with the Commander-in-Chief.

During this day, 12th July, the bombing attacks on the Warspite were  intensified. Between 0850 and 1550, in seventeen attacks about 160 bombs1 were dropped. The Warspite was straddled three times 2 and there were  several near misses, splinters from one killing three ratings in the Liverpool, and wounding her executive officer and five ratings. As a result of these  attacks course was altered to close the Egyptian coast and No. 252 Wing was asked to send out fighter aircraft, but when these arrived late in the afternoon  the attacks had ceased. Force “ C ” , after flying off A/S patrols at dawn, had sighted Convoy M .S.1 at 0621, 12th. At 0925 the Defender was detached to find and escort the oiler

British Union to Alexandria. As regards bombing, Force “ C ” got off lightly on this day, only three attacks being made between 1110 and 1804; 25 bombs were dropped, all of which fell wide. Haze overhead  made sighting of aircraft difficult. The Dainty reported passing the body of an Italian airman at 1848.

Vice-Admiral Tovey with the Orion and Neptune, on parting company with the Commander-in-Chief at 0730, 12th, had set course 1150, 25 knots, in search of the fast convoy. Between 0850 and 0950 the two cruisers were attacked by 30 aircraft without result, and again at 1312 by a solitary aircraft, which dropped four bombs near the Neptune.

The effect of these attacks was to deflect the ships to the northward, so that they did not gain touch with Convoy M.F.1— then about 150 miles from Alexandria— till 1825. After passing the morning rendezvous to the Gloucester, the Orion and Neptune pro­ceeded on course 080° to keep clear during the night and arrived at Alexandria at 0645 next morning (13thJuly). The Commander-in-Chief, in the Warspite, with the Liverpool, Sydney and destroyers had arrived three-quarters of an hour earlier, and Convoy M.F.1, with escort, arrived at 0900. The Ramillies (Captain H. T. Baillie-Grohman), screened by the Havock (Commander R. E. Courage), Imperial, Diamond and Vendetta, was then sailed to meet and cover Convoy M.S.1.

Meanwhile Rear-Admiral Pridham-Wippell with Force “ C ” had been slowly working to the eastward, adjusting his advance to keep to the westward of Convoy M.S.1. At nightfall 12th July, course was set to pass rather closer to Ras el Tin than to Gavdo, but as a result of instructions from the Commander- in-Chief, an alteration to 085°, in order to increase the distance from the Libyan coast, was made at 0215, 13th. Some three hours later (0524) the Capetown (Captain T. H. Back) flying the flag of the Rear-Admiral, 3rd Cruiser Squadron (Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf) and the Caledon (Captain C. P. Clarke), which had sailed from Alexandria the previous day to meet Convoy M.S.1 about 60 miles S.W. of Gavdo, hove in sight. These two cruisers then took over M .S.i and Force “ C ” went on for Alexandria.

The first warning of trouble from the air came at 0802, when one of the Eagle’s Gladiators reported a shadower, which it shot down a little later. Air attacks on Force “ C ” began at 1056 and continued till 1622. From m o to 1300 the attacks were too numerous to record precisely, the Eagle being the favourite target. The attackers found she could hit back, however, two of them being shot down by the Gladiators and a third so seriously damaged as to prevent its return home. A destroyer was sent to pick up the only airman seen to come down, but no body was found. The average height of the attacking aircraft was about 12,000 feet; although there were several near misses and straddles, no damage was done to any of the ships.


1 The Commander-in-Chief’s report (in M.05369) puts this number as 300. The number 160 is taken from the Warspite’s detailed return of the attack, enclosed in the C.-in-C.’s report.

2 The Commander-in-Chief subsequently remarked that “ the most unpleasant attack on Warsbite at 1530, 12th July, resulted in 24 bombs along port side and 12 across starboard bow simultaneously, all within 1 cable but slightly out of line ” (Mediterranean War Diary).



At 1210, 13th, Force “ C ”steered to close the coast off Mersa Matruh, in compliance with orders from the Commander-in-Chief and at 1800 course was altered to the east-north-east to adjust the time of arrival at Alexandria next morning. Force “ C ” entered harbour at 0815, 14th July, and the 3rd Cruiser Squadron, Ramillies and Convoy M.S.1 on the morning of the 15th, thus bringing operation M.A.5 to a successful conclusion.



15. Remarks on Action off Calabria


Commenting on the action of 9th July, the Commander-in-Chief, Medi­terranean,  remarked:—


“ It is still not clear what brought the enemy fleet to sea on this occasion, but it seems probable that it was engaged on an operation designed to cover the movement of a convoy to Libya. When our fleet was reported south of Crete it seems that the enemy retired close to his bases, fuelled his destroyers by relays, and then waited hoping to draw us into an engagement in his own waters (under cover of his Air Force and possibly with a submarine concentration to the southward of him) whence he could use his superior speed to withdraw at his own time.“ If these were, in fact, the enemy’s intentions he was not altogether disappointed, but the submarines, if there were any in the vicinity of the action, did not materialise and, fortunately for us, his air attacks failed to synchronise with the gun action.“ It will be noted that the whole action took place at very long range and that the Warspite was the only capital ship which got within range of the enemy battle­ ships. Malaya fired a few salvoes which fell some 3,000 yards short. Royal Sovereign,owing to her lack of speed, never got into action at all.“ Warspite’shit on one of the enemy battleships at 26,000 yards range might perhaps be described as a lucky one. Its tactical effect was to induce the enemy to turn away and break off the action, which was unfortunate, but strategically it probably has had an important effect on Italian mentality.“ The torpedo attacks by the Fleet Air Arm were disappointing, one hit on a cruiser being all that can be claimed,1 but in fairness it must be recorded that the pilots had had very little practice, and none at high speed targets, Eagle having only recently joined the Fleet after having been employed on the Indian Ocean trade routes.

“ The enemy’s gunnery seemed good at first and he straddled quickly, but accuracy soon fell off as his ships came under our fire.

“ Our cruisers— there were only four in action— were badly outnumbered and at times came under a very heavy fire. They were superbly handled by Vice- Admiral J. C. Tovey, C.B., D.S.O., who by his skilful manoeuvring managed to maintain a position in the van and to hold the enemy cruiser squadrons, and at the same time avoid damage to his own force. Warspite was able to assist him with her fire in the early stages of the action.“ The enemy’s smoke tactics were impressive and the smoke screens laid by his destroyers were very effective in completely covering his high speed retirement.

With his excess speed of at least five knots there was little hope of catching him once he had decided to break off the action. An aircraft torpedo hit on one of his battleships was the only chance and this unfortunately did not occur. . . .“ A feature of the action was the value, and in some cases the amusement, derived from intercepted enemy signals. We were fortunate in having the Italian Fleet Code, and some of his signals were made in plain language. . . .“ M y remarks on the bombing attacks experienced by the Fleet during the course of these operations are contained in my signal timed 1619 of 14th July 1940.2


1 Actually no torpedo hit was obtained by the F.A.A. According to the Italians, three 6-inch shell hits on the Bolzano was the only damage suffered by the 8-inch cruisers.

2 See Appendix C.“ I cannot conclude these remarks without a reference to H.M .S. Eagle. This obsolescent aircraft carrier, with only 17 Swordfish embarked, found and kept touch with the enemy fleet, flew off two striking forces of nine torpedo bombers within the space of four hours, both of which attacked, and all aircraft returned. 24 hours later a torpedo striking force was launched on shipping in Port Augusta and through­ out the five days’ operations Eagle maintained constant A /S patrols in daylight and carried out several searches. Much of the Eagle’saircraft operating work was done in the fleeting intervals between, and even during, bombing attacks and I consider her performance reflects great credit on Captain A. M. Bridge, Royal Navy, her Commanding Officer.


“ The meagre material results derived from this brief meeting with the Italian fleet were naturally very disappointing to one and all under my command, but the action was not without value. It must have shown the Italians that their Air Force and submarines cannot stop our fleet penetrating into the Central Medi­terranean and that only their main fleet can seriously interfere with our operating there. It established, I think, a certain degree of moral ascendancy since, although superior in battleships, our fleet was heavily outnumbered in cruisers and destroyers and the Italians had strong shore-based air forces within easy range compared to our few carrier-borne aircraft. On our side the action has shown those without previous war experience how difficult it is to hit with the gun at long range, and therefore the necessity of closing in, when this can be done, in order to get decisive results. It showed that high level bombing even on the heavy and accurate scale experienced during these operations, yields few hits and that it is more alarming than dangerous.

“ Finally, these operations and the action off Calabria produced throughout the fleet a determination to overcome the air menace and not to let it interfere with our freedom of manoeuvre, and hence our control of the Mediterranean.” 1


The Italian Official History contains a lengthy review of the operations. Much of it deals with topical and technical matters, and with Admiral Campioni’s reasons for the decisions he took, all of which seem to have been approved by the Ministry of Marine. The latter in their remarks stress the value of the information received by wireless interception in the early stages of operation M.A.5, and from reconnaissance aircraft on 8th July. On the other hand failure of air reconnaissance on the gth embarrassed Admiral Campioni in the early stages of the approach. As regards the action they were impressed by the advantage conferred on the British Fleet by the presence of an aircraft carrier:—“ English reconnaissance aircraft were able to follow our fleet undisturbed, providing valuable information all the time to their Commander-in-Chief, because of our failure to stop them owing to our shore-based fighters being out of range, and not possessing an aircraft carrier with our fleet.

“ The presence of an aircraft carrier with the English fleet, besides permitting them to fight off the activities of our aircraft, both bombers and reconnaissance, allowed the enemy to carry out attacks with torpedo aircraft which, although frustrated by ships’ manoeuvring, interfered with the formations attacked and so delayed their rejoining the remainder of our forces.”Naturally, as Admiral Cunningham remarked, there was considerable disappointment in the Mediterranean Fleet that the Italians had managed to evade close action. Nevertheless, this first encounter set the tone, as it were, for the whole naval war in the Mediterranean and was the first step in establishing that moral ascendancy which Sir Andrew Cunningham— with numerically inferior forces— maintained against the Italians till their capitula­tion in 1943.

It was no doubt recognition of this aspect which in some measure prompted 1 C.-in-C.’s report, in M.05369/41. 24 the message from the Admiralty received by the Commander-in-Chief on 17th July:—“ Their Lordships have read with great satisfaction your telegraphic report of operations carried out between 7th and 13 th July, and wish to congratulate you and all concerned on the determined and efficient manner in which they were conducted.”

Edited by Giuseppe Garufi
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Per chi volesse approfondire l'episodio, sintetizzato, della Battaglia di Punta Stilo:




I compiti assegnati alla flotta italiana dallo Stato Maggiore della Regia Marina prevedevano, in caso di guerra con le potenze di Gran Bretagna e Francia coalizzate, di attenersi nel Mare Mediterraneo al seguente concetto operativo:


Guerra di logoramento con atteggiamento difensivo ad occidente e ad oriente, ed atteggiamento offensivo e controffensivo al centro.


Inutilmente il Capo del Governo italiano, Benito Mussolini, tentò di ribaltare questa mentalità d'impiego, che riduceva drasticamente le possibilità d'intervento della flotta italiana alla sola difesa delle coste metropolitane. Informando il 31 marzo 1940 i capi delle Forze Armate della sua decisione di entrare in guerra al fianco della Germania, il Duce, infatti, con il Promemoria Segretissimo n.328, stabilì per la Regia Marina il seguente concetto operativo:


Mare: offensiva su tutta la linea in Mediterraneo e fuori.


Nel commentare le direttive di Mussolini ai capi di Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito, della Marina e dell’Aeronautica, il Maresciallo d'Italia Pietro Badoglio, Capo dello Stato Maggiore Generale (Comando Supremo), nella seduta del 9 aprile affermò quanto segue:


Circa l'azione a fondo della Marina io dico che bisogna interpretarla nel senso di non gettarsi a testa bassa contro la flotta inglese e francese ma di assumere una dislocazione, soprattutto con i sommergibili, atta ad intralciare il traffico degli avversari.


Il Capo di Stato Maggiore della Marina, ammiraglio di armata Domenico Cavagnari, condivise in pieno le idee strategiche di Badoglio. Con il suo famoso, ma particolarmente cauto, promemoria del 14 aprile egli fece notare al Duce che la possibilità di fronteggiare la coalizione delle flotte anglo-francesi era resa difficile dall'inferiorità dei mezzi delle forze navali italiane, e aggravata da una sfavorevole situazione geografica. L’ammiraglio Cavagnari espose a Mussolini un quadro demoralizzante, affermando l'impossibilità di «realizzare una condotta di guerra decisamente offensiva» con la flotta di superficie. Aggiunse che le operazioni dei sommergibili sarebbero state infruttuose per la mancanza di traffico nemico nel Mediterraneo, e la guerra delle mine resa inefficace per inadeguatezza dei fondali.


Sostenendo che tali condizioni avrebbero costretto la Marina a combattere “sulla difensiva”, Cavagnari concluse il suo sconsolante promemoria sostenendo:


Qualunque sia il carattere, che la guerra potrà assumere in Mediterraneo, ingente sarà, alla fine, il bilancio delle nostre perdite navali. Alle trattative di pace l'Italia potrebbe giungere non soltanto senza pegni territoriali, ma anche senza flotta e forse senza Aeronautica.


Questa prudente presa di posizione del Capo della Marina portò alla conservazione del concetto strategico della difensiva nei bacini occidentale e orientale del Mediterraneo, per «avere in mano il Canale di Sicilia», come ricordò Cavagnari nella riunione dei capi di Stato Maggiore del 30 maggio 1940, presieduta dal maresciallo Badoglio. Il 10 giugno, dal balcone romano di Palazzo Venezia, il Duce mise al corrente la Nazione della dichiarazione di guerra consegnata agli Ambasciatori del Regno Unito e della Francia. Quindi, a partire dalla mezzanotte dell’11, ebbero inizio le ostilità. Per tutto il mese di giugno, mentre le flotte anglo-francesi effettuavano alcune scorrerie sulla coste della Cirenaica, e bombardavano Genova con gli incrociatori pesanti di base a Tolone (, la Marina italiana limitò la sua attività a realizzare, con divisioni di incrociatori e flottiglie di cacciatorpediniere, alcune crociere di carattere difensivo nei settori meridionali, tra la Sardegna e lo Ionio.


Tuttavia, anche da parte della Royal Navy l'attività fu alquanto limitata, non essendo stata prevista alcuna azione offensiva contro le comunicazioni marittime italiane colla Libia e gli obiettivi navali nel bacino centrale, mancando la Flotta del Mediterraneo (Mediterranean Fleet), comandata dell’ammiraglio Andrew Browne Cunningham e concentrata nel porto di Alessandria, di sufficienti forze leggere di superficie. La Regia Marina era allora considerata dagli esperti britannici come la più preparata ed efficiente tra le Forze Armate italiane, e costituiva un'incognita per l’Ammiragliato, a Londra, anche perché era appoggiata da oltre centoquindici sommergibili e da una potente aviazione di oltre 3.000 aerei di prima linea, in cui impressionava l’elevato numero di bombardieri in quota: S. 79, Br. 20, Cant. Z. 1007 bis.


Apparve però ben presto evidente che la minaccia costituita dagli aerei e dai sommergibili italiani era stata sopravvalutata. I primi, mancando l’Aeronautica di bombardieri in picchiata, non apparivano pericolosi nei loro attacchi ad alta quota, e i secondi erano poco efficaci, essendo stati addestrati gli equipaggi secondo i concetti operativi della prima guerra mondiale. Ciò rese più ardito l'ammiraglio Cunningham, che all'inizio della seconda settimana di luglio salpò da Alessandria con il grosso della Mediterranean Fleet, comprendente tre navi da battaglia, una nave portaerei, cinque incrociatori e diciassette cacciatorpediniere, spingendosi in pieno Mediterraneo centrale per prelevare e scortare in Egitto sette piroscafi, ripartiti in due convogli, che trasportavano civili britannici evacuati da Malta. Il caso volle che il movimento navale britannico, denominato operazione “MA.5”, coincidesse con un'importante operazione italiana, organizzata per scortare un grosso convoglio di cinque motonavi, trasportanti settantadue carri armati medi M. 11 e altri materiali bellici, da trasferire in Libia per rinforzarvi le grandi unità dell’Esercito dislocate in quella regione del Nord Africa al comando del maresciallo dell’aria Italo Balbo.


In una riunione del 2 luglio, in cui da parte italiana furono esaminati dettagliatamente i problemi militari connessi alla resa della Francia e alla favorevole situazione venuta a crearsi nel Mediterraneo occidentale e centrale, il maresciallo Badoglio sostenne che i carri armati da inviare oltremare servivano per «passare dalla difesa all'offesa», avanzando in Egitto, con l’obiettivo primario di conquistare il Canale di Suez. Pertanto il Capo del Comando Supremo ordinò a Cavagnari:



La Marina mi scorti il convoglio con tutte le unità della flotta. Se gli inglesi vorranno contrastare il viaggio, saremo ben lieti di poterli affrontare, giacché ho perfetta fiducia che in caso di scontro gliele molliamo. Lo Stato Maggiore della Marina studi la cosa con la massima cura: si deve andare là da padroni.


Badoglio concluse il suo ottimistico intervento, in cui sottovalutava le possibilità di reazione della flotta britannica, chiedendo al capo di Stato Maggiore dell'aeronautica, generale di squadra aerea Francesco Pricolo, di dare con l'aviazione tutto l'aiuto possibile all’operazione navale. Il convoglio, costituito dalle moderne e veloci motonavi “Esperia”, “Calitea”, “Vector Pisani”; “Marco Foscarini”, e “Francesco Barbaro”, stava per mettersi in moto da Napoli, quando la 5a Sezione crittografica del Servizio Informazioni Estere della Regia Marina (Maristat) decifrò parzialmente un messaggio della Mediterranean Fleet, nel quale era riportato l'organico delle forze navali che dovevano mettersi in movimento da Alessandria per svolgere un’imprecisata operazione denominata in codice “MA.5”. Il contenuto della decrittazione, trasmesso alle ore 19,20 del 6 luglio al Comando Supremo e a Superaereo con dispaccio n. 373, era il seguente:


Forze di Alessandria risulterebbero pronte per eseguire l'azione ((MA.5" suddivise come segue:

Forza A = incrociatore CALEDON (?) - Forza B = nave . battaglia WARSPITE, cacciatorpediniere NUBIAN, MOHAWK, HERO, HEREWARD - Forza C = navi battaglia ROYAL SOVEREIGN, MALAY A, nave portaerei EAGLE, cacciatorpediniere HYPERION (un gruppo indecifrabile), squadriglia cacciatorpediniere DAINTY, JUNO - Forza D = cacciatorpediniere STUART, VAMPIRE, VOYAGER, DECOY.


In realtà la ripartizione organica della Mediterranean Fleet, che si mise in movimento da Alessandria alla mezzanotte del giorno 7, era alquanto differente, a cominciare dalla ripartizione dei gruppi che, nella navigazione verso Malta, erano praticamente tre, denominati Forza A, B e C. Di essi il primo includeva gli incrociatori della 7' Divisione Orion, Neptune, Sydney, Gloucester e Liverpool e il cacciatorpediniere australiano Stuart; il secondo disponeva della corazzata Warspite (nave di bandiera dell’ammiraglia Cunningham) con i cacciatorpediniere Nubian, Mohawk, Hero, Hereward e Decoy; il terzo gruppo, infine, quello che appariva il più potente, includeva le corazzate Royal Sovereign e Malaya, la portaerei Eagle e i cacciatorpediniere Hyperion, Hostile, Hasty, Ilex, Imperial, Dainty, Defender, Juno, Vampire e Voyager. Come si vede le lacune di decrittazione italiane furono molteplici, perché, rispetto all'organico reale della Flotta del Mediterraneo (Mediterranean Fleet), la Forza A non disponeva dell'incrociatore Caledon, ma ne aveva altri cinque e un cacciatorpediniere; la Forza B mancava del cacciatorpediniere Decoy, assegnato alla Forza C, nella quale non erano stati rilevati i cacciatorpediniere Hostyle, Hasty, Ilex, Imperial e Defender, oltre allo Stuart assegnato alla Forza A.


Pertanto, l'ordine operativo desunto dalla 5a Sezione Crittografica Informazioni Estere di Supermarina alterava considerevolmente la consistenza dei gruppi navali britannici, risultati precisi soltanto nella ripartizione delle tre corazzate e dell'unica portaerei. Come se ciò non bastasse un altro messaggio, fatto pervenire a Superaereo dalla “Fonte Intercettazione Marina” alle ore 23.00 del 7 luglio, riportava che il Comandante della Mediterranean Fleet aveva trasmesso che la partenza delle navi per l'operazione “MA.5” era rinviata “alle 15 ...”, mentre in realtà essa si svolse alla mezzanotte.


Nel pomeriggio del giorno 8 furono decrittate parti di altri messaggi tattici britannici, di minore importanza operativa e di più facile interpretazione, dai quali a Roma fu appresa la presenza in mare, in zone del resto non sufficientemente identificate dello Ionio, dei sommergibili Rorqual e Phoenix, e l'attività di alcuni aerei da ricognizione [sunderland] dislocati a Malta, impegnati in crociere sistematiche che interessavano anche la costa sud-orientale della Sicilia. Sulla base di queste incomplete decrittazioni, e dai dati forniti durante la giornata dell'8 luglio dai velivoli italiani dell’Aeronautica dell'Egeo e della Libia (5a Squadra Aerea), che svolsero numerose missioni di ricognizioni ed attacchi con bombardieri “S. 79”, Supermarina giunse alla supposizione che la formazione britannica comprendesse quattro navi da battaglia (inclusa la Ramillies), invece delle tre effettive, e che tra i suoi probabili obiettivi potessero rientrare azioni aeronavali contro le coste della Puglia e della Sicilia.


Dalla relazione dell’ammiraglio Cunningham sappiamo infatti che “la flotta avrebbe dovuto portarsi in una posizione di copertura ad est di Capo Passero nel pomeriggio del 9 luglio”, e che da parte delle navi britanniche vi era anche l'intenzione “di svolgere operazioni contro le coste siciliane”. Tale supposizione si rafforzò nel pomeriggio dell'8 luglio, quando il Servizio Crittografico della Marina germanica (B-Dienst), che si manteneva in stretto contatto con quello di Maristat, fornendogli in ogni occasione preziose notizie ricavate dai suoi abilissimi analisti in crittografia, fece pervenire a Roma, alle ore 15,40, il seguente messaggio:


Le unità che in Mediterraneo Orientale formano i gruppi da battaglia da A fino a D hanno ricevuto incarico dal Comandante in Capo del Mediterraneo per la operazione MA.5, si portino sino a 75 miglia a ovest della Sicilia [poi corretto in est, N.d.A.]. Per l'impresa saranno indicati i giorni dal 1° al 4°. I Gruppi da battaglia B e C (il C ha lasciato Alessandria il 7/7) devono trovarsi il giorno 9 alle 06,00 in 35.40 N 20.30 E. Alle ore 14,00 dello stesso giorno i gruppi A e B devono trovarsi in 36.30 N 17.40 E et alle ore 18,00 trovarsi come segue:

-Gruppo A in 37.20 N 16.45 E - Gruppo B in 37.00 N 17.00 E - Gruppo C in 36.20 N 17.00 E

Il giorno 10 è probabilmente il 7/7 (partenza del gruppo da battaglia da Alessandria) Idrovolanti partiranno da Malta ad intervalli di 50 minuti.


Nel frattempo l’ammiraglio Inigo Campioni, Comandante della 1a Squadra Navale e Comandante Superiore in mare della flotta italiana, aveva accompagnato il convoglio delle cinque motonavi Esperia, Calitea, Pisani, Foscarini e Barbaro, diretto a Bengasi, con un complesso navale che comprendeva le due corazzate della 5a Divisione Navale Giulio Cesare e Conte di Cavour, sei incrociatori pesanti della 1a e 3a Divisione Navale (Pola, Zara, Gorizia, Fiume – Trento e Bolzano), dieci incrociatori leggeri della 2a, 4a, 7a e 8a Divisione Navale (Bande Nere, Colleoni – Da Barbiano, Cadorna, Di Giussano, Diaz – Eugenio di Savoia, Montecuccoli, Aosta, Attendolo – Garibaldi, Abruzzi), trentasei cacciatorpediniere e sei torpediniere.


Nel pomeriggio dell'8 luglio, quando il convoglio era ormai prossimo a Bengasi, il grosso della flotta, meno le unità di scorta diretta (incrociatori Bande Nere e Colleoni, quattro cacciatorpediniere e le sei torpediniere) aveva assunto la rotta del rientro alle basi, l’ammiraglio Campioni fu informato che la ricognizione aerea italiana aveva avvistato a sud-est di Creta un complesso di tre corazzate e otto cacciatorpediniere diretto a occidente. Il Comandante Superiore in mare, ritenendo che la Mediterranean Fleet potesse “giungere in tempo per colpire il convoglio in porto a Bengasi all’alba del giorno successivo” decise pertanto di andarle incontro, per affrontarla in combattimento a nord delle coste della Cirenaica, informandone Roma. Tale lodevole iniziativa, che avrebbe dovuto portare al combattimento prima del tramonto del sole, fu però impedita da Supermarina, il quale supponendo, sulle informazioni ricevute da Berlino, che i britannici intendesse attaccare la Sicilia, con tele cifrato delle17.25 dell’8 ordinò a Campioni, categoricamente:


Non impegnatevi con gruppo corazzato nemico. Seguono istruzioni per la notte e per domani.”. E ciò, come riferì al Comando Supremo e a Superaereo l'ammiraglio Cavagnari, anche “in considerazione della rilevante distanza in cui si sarebbe verificato il combattimento navale e per le sfavorevoli condizioni di luce per la nostra flotta.


Supermarina, infatti, considerò che uno scontro con la Mediterranean Fleet sarebbe stato reso possibile soltanto a condizione di trovarsi in una posizione favorevole, che consentisse alle proprie forze navali la possibilità di impegnare separatamente i nuclei avversari, lasciando nel contempo alla flotta italiana un margine di manovra per eventualmente permetterle, in condizioni risultanti sfavorevoli, di ritirarsi sia verso la base di Taranto che verso quella di Messina. Pertanto, tenendo in considerazione l'errata ipotesi che la Mediterranean Fleet avrebbe dovuto trovarsi alle 14,00 del 9 luglio a un centinaio di miglia a levante di Malta, con rotta nord-ovest, per realizzare un attacco di aerosiluranti contro le basi di Augusta e Messina, Supermarina decise di concentrare la flotta a levante del Golfo di Squillace.


La posizione scelta, al largo delle coste della Calabria, era però tanto precauzionalmente distante da quella stimata della flotta inglese, da non poterne assolutamente disturbare un'eventuale incursione diretta contro gli obiettivi della Sicilia. Supermarina, infatti, alle 20,00 informò Superaereo sulle presunte posizioni in cui si sarebbero dovute trovare l'indomani le forze navali britanniche, facendo nel contempo sapere che la squadra navale italiana avrebbe incrociato all'incirca nel punto di lat. 37°40'N, long. 17°20'E, che corrispondeva a 65 miglia a sud-est di Punta Stilo e a una distanza di ben 85 miglia a nord della posizione in cui si riteneva si sarebbero trovate le navi della flotta britannica.


Fu inoltre comunicato che cinque sommergibili (Brin, Pisani, Sciesa, Settimo, Settembrini), salpati la sera dell'8 luglio dal porto di Augusta, si sarebbero trovati in agguato lungo le probabili direttrici di marcia della flotta inglese, mentre alcune torpediniere avrebbero vigilato all'entrata del Golfo di Taranto.


Dopo aver esposto quanto sopra, Supermarina prospettò a Superaereo di concentrare “tutte le forze da bombardamento disponibili in Sicilia e nelle Puglie ... contro i reparti navali nemici”; (Nota **) richiese la vigilanza degli aerei da caccia per contrastare l'eventualità che il nemico attaccasse con aerosiluranti “le basi navali di Augusta, Messina e Taranto”; e riferì che a partire dall'alba del 9 i reparti della Ricognizione Marittima avrebbero cercato di “localizzare il nemico e di seguirne i movimenti”. In definitiva, Supermarina si limitò a richiedere alla Regia Aeronautica l'intervento in massa dei reparti da bombardamento contro la Mediterranean Fleet, senza fare alcun riferimento alla sua effettiva volontà di affrontare il combattimento navale con il nemico, la cui superiorità potenziale era stata d'altronde chiaramente sopravvalutata.


Infatti, esistendo la possibilità che fossero presenti ben quattro corazzate britanniche, era categoricamente da escludere, per Supermarina, la possibilità di impegnare le due navi da battaglia dell’ammiraglio Campioni, che erano inferiori anche nel calibro delle artiglierie, dal momento che i loro cannoni da 320 mm dovevano fronteggiare i 381 mm delle corrispettive unità nemiche. Gli italiani possedevano invece una netta superiorità nel numero degli incrociatori, potendo schierarne quattordici, sei dei quali pesanti, contro i cinque leggeri in possesso degli inglesi.


L'ammiraglio Iachino, che nel dicembre del 1940 sostituì l’ammiraglio Campioni nel comando della flotta, ha sostenuto nel suo libro “Tramonto di una grande Marina” che Supermarina avrebbe potuto impiegare le nuovissime corazzate Littorio e Vittorio Veneto al momento in stato di addestramento a Taranto, dando con ciò alla flotta italiana un indiscutibile vantaggio. Egli affermò che l'intervento di quelle navi della 9a Divisione Navale era stato sollecitato dal loro stesso comandante, ammiraglio Carlo Bergamini, ritenendole pienamente efficienti ad affrontare un combattimento. Quanto affermato da Iachino in «Tramonto di una Grande Marina» è inesatto, dal momento che il 7 luglio, il giorno avanti la decisione di concentrare la Squadra Navale dell' ammiraglio Campioni presso le coste meridionali della Calabria, si era verificato un incidente a bordo della Littorio. Sulla corazzata, già soggetta per un nubifragio, avvenuto il 5 luglio a Taranto, ad infiltrazioni d’acqua all’interno di una torre di grosso calibro, messa temporaneamente fuori servizio, il successivo giorno 7 era scoppiato un incendio nelle condutture elettriche della torre n. 1 dei cannoni da 381 mm, che causò la morte di un operaio civile e danni ai locali da richiedere per la Littorio un mese di lavori.


Era inoltre da considerare che anche la Vittorio Veneto aveva limitata efficienza a causa di ritardi nella messa a punto delle artiglierie di grosso calibro, soprattutto riguardo ai calcatoi, a cui si aggiungevano (per entrambe le corazzate) lacune di addestramento; ragion per cui, anche se la sola Vittorio Venero fosse stata inviata a raggiungere la flotta dell’ammiraglio Campioni, da parte di Supermarina non vi sarebbe stata ugualmente la certezza di disporre di accertata superiorità per riuscire ad affrontare in condizioni vantaggiose la flotta britannica. Le cause dei ritardi nella messa a punto delle artiglierie principali sulle due grandi navi da battaglia, e le infiltrazioni d’acqua verificatisi all’interno della torre della Littorio per il nubifragio, era stati portata alla conoscenza di Supermarina dallo stesso ammiraglio Bergamini con lettera n. 573/S del 5 luglio 1940.


E’ quindi da ritenere errato quanto scritto dall’ammiraglio Iachino, perché l’ammiraglio Bergamini, a soli tre giorni di distanza dalla diramazione della sua lettera a Supermarina, non poteva sollecitare l’uscita da Taranto di quelle due navi per sostenere l’urto delle più vecchie, ma al momento ben più efficienti corazzate della Mediterranean Fleet.; tanto più che la Littorio, lo ricordiamo, aveva in quel momento ben due delle tre torri di tiro da 381 mm inutilizzate, la n. 2 per le infiltrazioni d’acqua e la n. 1 per l’incendio.


A rendere ancor più precaria la eventuale uscita della Littorio e della Vittorio Veneto si aggiungeva la indisponibilità di unità di scorta, dal momento che tutti i cacciatorpediniere di Taranto e dei porti della Puglia si trovavano in mare con le due Squadre navali, e la distanza che le due corazzate avrebbero dovuto percorrere per raggiungere le coste meridionali della Calabria, dove si trovavano le navi dell’ammiraglio Campioni, era di circa 100 miglia. In definitiva, l’affermazione, ritenuta valida da molti storici disinformati, che l’ammiraglio Bergamini avesse telefonato da Taranto a Supermarina, per chiedere di autorizzarlo a salpare per impegnare le sue navi in combattimento, è stato sostenuto pubblicamente soltanto dall’ammiraglio Iachino, e non trova alcun riscontro nei documenti degli archivi storici militari italiani. Per saperne di più vedi i libri di Francesco Mattesini, editi dall’Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare, Le direttive di Supermarina”, 1939 – 1940, Primo Tomo, Doc. 139, p. 143, e La battaglia di Capo Teulada, Doc. 1, p. 231-232.


Che i capi della Regia Marina non desiderassero un combattimento navale, ma soltanto limitarsi a sorvegliare il nemico secondo la teoria della «Fleet in being» (Flotta in potenza), ed eventualmente sfruttare i vantaggi derivati dagli attacchi in massa dell’Aeronautica, appare evidente analizzando le istruzioni diramate il mattino del 9 all'ammiraglio Campioni. Il Comandante Superiore in mare, dopo aver ricevuto nella notte l'informazione che una delle quattro presunte corazzate britanniche faceva parte di un gruppo navale d'avanguardia, distanziato alquanto dal nucleo principale della Mediterranean Fleet, ricevette con il telecifrato di Supermarina n. 20613 i seguenti tassativi ordini:


«Vostra azione odierna sia ispirata seguenti concetti (alt) Primo non ripeto non allontanarsi dalle nostre basi aero-navali scopo permettere preventive aut contemporanee azioni aeree contro nemico (alt) Secondo impegnarsi possibilmente contro gruppi corazzati quando sono ancora separati secondo nota previsione (alt) Terzo ritardare contatto balistico scopo consentire menomazione forze nemiche per bombardamento aereo (alt) Quarto al tramonto dirigere con navi maggiori verso basi senza vincoli normali dislocazioni (alt) Quinto se condizioni favorevoli impiegare notte tempo naviglio silurante (alt) 123009».


Dal momento che la flotta italiana aveva ricevuto l'ordine di incrociare a sud-est di Punta Stilo, con rotta di pendolamento tra la costa calabra e la zona di agguato dei sommergibili dislocati a sud del Golfo di Squillace, e il nemico per attaccare la Sicilia si sarebbe trovato molto più a sud-ovest, era palese che, sulla base di tali direttive di carattere restrittivo e condizionanti per lo spirito d'iniziativa dell’ammiraglio Campioni, le navi italiane sarebbero arrivate a contatto con quelle britanniche soltanto se queste ultime avessero cambiato rotta, dirigendo a nord. Quello che Supermarina non sapeva era che l'ammiraglio Cunningham stava proprio effettuando quella inaspettata manovra.


Durante la giornata dell'8 luglio la Mediterranean Fleet, in rotta per Malta, fu attaccata a più riprese da settanta due bombardieri italiani di base in Libia e in Egeo, che conseguirono, con gli “S. 79” del 10° Stormo della 5a Squadra Aerea, il solo risultato di colpire con una bomba l'incrociatore Gloucester, danneggiandogli il timone e distruggendogli la stazione principale della direzione del tiro. Questo fatto costrinse il Gloucester a manovrare con il timone a mano e ad effettuare il controllo del tiro con l’impianto di riserva. Danni superficilali, per bombe cadute nei pressi dello scafo, riportarono la corazzate Warspite e Malaya, ma senza comprometterne affatto le possibilità di navigazione e di combattimento


Alle 07,32 dell’indomani 9 luglio, trovandosi a 60 miglia dalle coste greche di Navarrino, a occidente della Morea, il comandante in Capo britannico fu informato da un ricognitore «Sunderland» della presenza delle navi italiane a 50 miglia a levante di Capo Spartivento. Sebbene tale posizione fosse distante 145 miglia ad ovest rispetto a quella in cui si trovava la sua squadra, Cunningham, attenendosi al concetto vigente nella Royal Navy di sfruttare qualsiasi occasione potesse presentarsi per imporre la battaglia navale, abbandonò la rotta per Malta e alla velocità di venti nodi diresse per portarsi a nord delle forze italiane, nel tentativo di tagliare loro la rotta per Taranto.


Mentre i ricognitori decollati dalla portaerei Eagle riuscivano a localizzare la flotta nemica a 50 miglia a levante di Capo Spartivento, agevolando considerevolmente la manovra di Cunningham, le predisposte esplorazioni della Ricognizione Marittima italiana non dettero segnalazioni sulla flotta inglese per l'intera mattinata. Per quel giorno 9, allo scopo di preservare i consistenti reparti da bombardamento concentrati in Sicilia e nelle Puglie per l’attacco alle corazzate nemiche, a cui era previsto dovessero partecipare circa 150 velivoli, Supermarina si era riservata l'incarico di effettuare le ricognizioni, con i suoi idrovolanti “Cant. Z. 501” e “Cant. Z 506”. Ritenendo che la Mediterranean Fleet avrebbe continuato a dirigere con rotta ovest, i settori di ricerca dei velivoli delle squadriglie dell’83° Gruppo Ricognizione Marittima di base ad Augusta riguardarono le acque a levante della Sicilia e in direzione della Cirenaica, mentre quelli dell’Aviazione del Basso Adriatico, di base a Taranto, furono diretti verso le coste della Grecia per sorvegliare le provenienze verso la Puglia.


Avvenne pertanto che le navi di Cunningham si trovarono a passare in un corridoio centrale, non coperto dalla ricognizione italiana, che fu letteralmente messa in crisi dall'inaspettata manovra verso le coste della Calabria attuata dalla flotta britannica. In tali condizioni, durante tutta la mattinata del 9 si verificò a Roma uno stato di forte disagio, che andò aumentando con il trascorrere delle ore. Apparendo inconcepibile che decine di aerei non riuscissero ad avvistare la Mediterranean Fleet a levante della Sicilia, sorse il dubbio che gli obiettivi del nemico fossero ben diversi da quelli ipotizzati sugli indizi crittografici. Pertanto fu presa in considerazione l'ipotesi che la minaccia di un'azione aeronavale potesse presentarsi anche contro obiettivi della Calabria e delle Puglie.


In questo stato della più completa incertezza sulle intenzioni della flotta britannica, che si stava avvicinando a quella italiana da posizione radicalmente opposta a quella in cui era attesa, alle 13,30 si verificò contro gli incrociatori pesanti della 2a Squadra (ammiraglio Riccardo Paladini) l’attacco di nove aerosiluranti «Swordfish» degli Squadron 813° e 824° decollati dalla portaerei Eagle, che fu fronteggiato con successo dal fuoco delle artiglierie contraeree e dalla tempestiva manovra delle unità navali. Campioni comprese allora che il nemico era nelle vicinanze. Che fosse poi orientato con direttrice di marcia nord-est, invece che sud-est, fu subito dopo rilevato da un idrovolante «Canz Z.506» della 142a Squadriglia Ricognizione Marittima che, avente per pilota il tenente Zezza, stava svolgendo un normale pattugliamento antisom a sud del Golfo di Taranto, lungo la congiungente con Bengasi.


L’avvistamento si verificò a levante di Capo Spartivento, con la flotta britannica che procedeva con rotta nord-nordest. Tuttavia l’ufficiale osservatore, sottotenente di vascello Mario Loffredo, commise l’errore di segnalare due corazzate e otto cacciatorpediniere a 80 miglia a sud della flotta italiana, 30 miglia oltre la posizione esatta in cui si trovavano le navi britanniche, come poi rettificarono i Ro. 43 decollati dagli incrociatori della 1a Squadra, fino a quel momento trattenuti a bordo per servire come direzione del tiro nell’eventuale combattimento navale.


Supponendo che intenzione del nemico fosse quella di impegnare la flotta italiana «in condizioni di netta superiorità», tagliando la rotta verso Taranto ed eventualmente, in caso di combattimento favorevole, attaccare l'indomani quell’importante base, l’ammiraglio Campioni decise di andare senza indugio contro il nemico. Pertanto ordinò un'inversione di rotta ad un tempo verso nord, quando ancora la flotta non si era completamente riunita per assumere il dispositivo di combattimento previsto. Secondo le sue istruzioni le navi avrebbero dovuto costituire quattro colonne parallele, con i sei incrociatori pesanti della 2a Squadra Pola, Zara, Fiume, Gorizia, Trento e Bolzano) dislocati 5 miglia a sud-ovest delle corazzate della 1° Squadra Cesare e Cavour, mentre quattro incrociatori leggeri (Abruzzi, Garibaldi, Da Barbiano e Di Giussano), dovevano trovarsi 5 miglia a levante delle navi da battaglia, e altri quattro (Eugenio, Aosta, Attendolo e Montecuccoli) alla stessa distanza sul lato opposto. Ciò avrebbe permesso alla squadra di avere in testa una divisione d'incrociatori qualunque fosse la direttrice di marcia che il nemico avesse seguito provenendo da sud-est, e nello stesso tempo consentito ai sei incrociatori pesanti di entrare in linea di fuoco con le due corazzate, per concentrare il tiro sulle navi da battaglia britanniche.


Invece l’inversione di rotta portò la flotta italiana ad assumere uno schieramento molto allungato e alquanto disordinato. Le corazzate, che avrebbero dovuto trovarsi arretrate nella formazione, si trovarono invece in testa, seguite dalle divisioni d'incrociatori che faticavano per risalire, e che avevano in formazione, gli incrociatori pesanti,  le navi ammiraglie in ultima posizione, mentre nell’impartire gli ordini avrebbero dovuto mantenerne la testa. Ne conseguì, quando stava per iniziare il contatto balistico, che gli incrociatori pesanti si trovarono ancora distanziati di 3 miglia verso ponente rispetto alle corazzate, che inoltre vennero ad essere private, in posizione opportuna, dell'ideale gruppo esplorante.


Il gruppo «Eugenio» era rimasto molto arretrato e non prese parte alla battaglia, mentre il gruppo «Abruzzi» entrò in contatto con gli incrociatori della 7a Divisione della Mediterranean Fleet quando ancora si trovava a 5 miglia sulla dritta delle proprie corazzate.


L’avvistamento delle unità britanniche si verificò alle 15.05 alla distanza di 30.000 metri. In quel momento gli incrociatori Orion, Neptune, Sydney e Liverpool precedevano il grosso della Mediterranean Fleet suddiviso in tre gruppi, con la nave ammiraglia Warspite avanzata di 8 miglia rispetto alle due corazzate meno veloci Malaya e Royal Sovereign. In retroguardia, vi era la portaerei Eagle, alla quale era stato aggregato il menomato incrociatore Gloucester. Dapprima, a partire dalle 15,15, si fronteggiarono ad armi pari, alla distanza di 20.000 metri, gli incrociatori leggeri delle due flotte, in cui da parte italiana furono impegnate le quattro unità del gruppo “Abruzzi” (Abruzzi, Garibaldi, Da Barbiano, Di Giussano). Poi, con le corazzate italiane che stringevano le distanze per portarsi al tiro, la Warspite aprì il fuoco sulle unità del gruppo «Abruzzi» per poi spostarlo sulla Cesare e sulla Cavour.


Mentre i quattro incrociatori leggeri italiani della 8a e 4a Divisione si sottraevano alle salve dei 381 passando ad ovest delle proprie corazzate, per poi rimanere estraniati dalla battaglia (cosa che non fecero i quattro incrociatori britannici che mantennero la posizione), la Cesare e la Cavour risposero al fuoco della Warspite alla distanza di 26.400 metri. Seguì un' azione piuttosto rapida, perché alle 15,58 la Cesare fu colpita alla base del fumaiolo poppiero da un proietto da 381 che, inutilizzando quattro delle otto caldaie, fece scendere la velocità della nave da 26 a 19 nodi.


Consapevole di dover sostenere uno scontro con un nucleo di corazzate superiore, senza essere appoggiato da nessun incrociatore, dal momento che quelli pesanti della 2a Squadra entrarono nel dispositivo di combattimento con molto ritardo, alle 16,01 l'ammiraglio Campioni prese la decisione di interrompere uno scontro che non rientrava nelle direttive operative, né nella opportunità tattica del momento. La diminuzione di efficienza della Cesare poneva sulla sola Cavour l'onere di sostenere la constatata precisione del tiro delle corazzate nemiche, anche se la lenta Royal Sovereign si trovava ancora alquanto distante, e le salve della Malaya risultavano corte. Pertanto Campioni ordinò alla flotta di invertire la rotta.


La rottura del contatto fu accompagnata da attacchi col siluro, effettuati da grande distanza dalle, squadriglie dei caccia torpediniere, e dalle cortine di nebbia stese dai sei incrociatori della 2a Squadra, che erano stati decisamente impegnati da quelli britannici, impedendo loro di concentrare il tiro sulle corazzate di Cunningham. In questa fase il Bolzano fu colpito da tre proietti da 152 sparati dall'Orion , e riportò danni al timone e l'imbarco di 300 tonnellate d’acqua, che però non gli impedirono di allontanarsi alla massima velocità permessa dalle sue potenti macchine, che raggiunse i trentacinque nodi. Fu anche colpito all’estrema prua, sempre dall'Orion, il cacciatorpediniere Alfieri, ma senza riportare gravi conseguenze.


Cunningham non fece nessun tentativo per ristabilire il contatto, temendo che dietro la cortina di fumo stesa dalle navi italiane fosse stata predisposta una concentrazione di sommergibili. Nel frattempo, per il fallimento delle ricognizioni, la Regia Aeronautica non aveva potuto dare lo sperato appoggio alla flotta prima del combattimento navale, e quando nel pomeriggio avanzato cominciò ad intervenire trovò nella zona dello scontro una situazione assai confusa. Le navi italiane, che erano state segnalate alla partenza delle prime formazioni offensive con rotta verso nord, avevano invertito la direttrice di marcia e si ritiravano in direzione dello Stretto di Messina. Le navi inglesi, che inizialmente si trovavano a settentrione di quelle italiane, le fronteggiavano da levante. Inoltre la visibilità, resa cattiva dalle cortine di fumo, determinò errori di riconoscimento degli obiettivi, ragion per cui su 131 bombardieri in quota inviati ad attaccare le navi più della metà sganciarono le bombe su quelle italiane, fortunata- mente senza colpirle.


Purtroppo, a conferma della scarsa efficacia degli attacchi in quota, anche le bombe (da 100, 250 e 500 chili) sganciate contro le navi britanniche fallirono tutte il bersaglio. Ritiratasi la flotta italiana, e rimasta la Mediterranean Fleet padrona della zona di battaglia, l’ammiraglio Cunningham riprese la rotta per raggiungere le acque di Malta per prelevarvi i sette piroscafi dei due convoglio salpati dalla Valletta e diretti ad Alessandria.


Le navi mercantili dei convogli trasportavano il personale considerato superfluo per la difesa di Malta e parecchi civili, in particolare mogli e figli di militari,evacuati da Malta, la cui situazione difensiva, resa allarmante dagli attacchi degli aerei italiani della Sicilia, sollevava preoccupazioni nel Comandi britannici.


I programmi di Cunningham non prevedevano alcuna azione di bombardamento contro i porti italiani, ma soltanto un attacco con aerosiluranti contro la base di Augusta. Attacco che la portaerei "Eagle" realizzo nella notte sul 10 luglio con una modestissima formazione di tre aerosiluranti Swordfish, che affondarono in porto il cacciatorpediniere "Pancaldo". Dopo di che la Mediterranean Fleet al completo, essendo rientrati ai loro posti di scorta i cacciatorpediniere che erano stati mandati a rifornirsi alla Valletta, riprese la rotta del ritorno, navigazione che fu alquanto tormentata per una serie di attacchi a cui la sottoposero i bombardieri italiani dell’Aeronautica della Libia e dell’Egeo, senza però riportare avarie alle navi, se non per qualche colpo vicino.


Di fronte ai cinque colpi in pieno messi a segno dalle navi britanniche sulle navi italiane (uno sulla Cesare, tre sul Bolzano e uno dall’Alfieri) , ì danni riportati dalle navi britanniche nel corso dell’operazione M.A. 5 furono insignificanti, e tutti casusati dalla Regia Aeromnautica.


Dalla vastissima documentazione dell’Ammiragliato (Londra), fatta pervenire nel dopoguerra all’Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare, e in particolare dal Battle Summarti n. 8, risulta che l’8 luglio la corazzata Warspite fu danneggiata da una bomba di aereo caduta vicino allo scafo, e lo stesso accadde per la Malaya, mentre danni più considerevole, per colpo in pieno, riportò l’incrociatore Gloucester. Un’altra bomba da 250 chili, sganciata da una pattuglia di due S.79 del 10° Stormo della Libia, alle 18.30 del 12 luglio cadde nuovamente vicina alla Warspite (come dimostrò una chiara fotografia dell'Aeronautica), aumentandone le leggere avarie, riparate in due giorni.  In effetti la bomba cadde vicinissima alla corazzata Warspite, caausandogli i danni che da anni Enrico Cernuschi cerca di assegnare  al tiro delle navi italiane.


Quindi, dal momento che il 9 luglio nessun danno fu inferto alle navi britanniche dalle navi e dagli aerei italiani, occorre sfatare la favola di colpi vicini che nel combattimento balistico di Punta Stilo avrebbero danneggiato, oltre alla Warspite, anche l’incrociatore Neptune, sul quale era scoppiato un incendio. Questo fu però determinato, secondo la suddetta documentazione britannica, dalla benzina dell’aereo da ricognizione Walrus dell’incrociatore che si trovava sulla catapulta, e che aveva preso fuoco durante la partenza delle salve d’artiglieria del Neptume. Incendiò che fu subito domato e non procurò all’incrociatore danni strutturali.


La battaglia di Punta Stilo, denunciando in modo allarmante una inaspettata carenza operativa nella collaborazione aeronavale italiana, rappresentò per la Regia Marina il primo duro impatto con la Royal Navy. L'episodio fece comprendere che le navi non erano ancora pronte ad affrontare quelle nemiche in una battaglia di grosse dimensioni e dagli esiti, se non decisivi, strategicamente condizionanti. Ciò rese ancora più cauti Supermarina e il Comando Supremo nella pianificazione delle operazioni offensive, anche quelle che apparivano di natura favorevole, e nello stesso tempo, per diminuire il divario tecnico-tattico nei confronti del nemico, fu data attuazione ad un intenso programma di esercitazioni di manovra e di tiro. Tuttavia la passività imposta alla flotta italiana dopo Punta Stilo finì per rendere più aggressiva la Royal Navy. Il disastro di Taranto (11 novembre 1940), il rinunciatario combattimento di Capo Teulada (27 novembre 1940) con le navi italiane impegnate da quelle britanniche mentre si ritiravano verso il Tirreno, a cui si aggiunsero (il 9 febbraio 1941) il mancato incontro con la Forza H di Gibilterra che aveva bombardato Genova, e (il 28 marzo 1941) la dura sconfitta di Capo Matapan, confermando le gravi carenze di addestramento e organizzative della Regia Marina, portarono a fissare norme d'impiego bellico ancora più restrittive.


Norme che, imponendo alla flotta di evitare il combattimento in presenza di navi portaerei e navi da battaglia del nemico, non le permisero, in particolare per la prudente condotta tattico-strategica di Supermarina, di ricercare o realizzare un'altra azione balistica contro formazioni navali britanniche che comprendessero corazzate. Pertanto Punta Stilo rappresenta nella storia l'unico scontro combattuto tra navi da battaglia italiane e inglesi, del quale, purtroppo, la Marina italiana non può oggi vantare il successo che all’epoca gli era stato accreditato dalla propaganda orchestrata nei Bollettini di Guerra del Comado Supremo e mediante gli ampi servizi diramati dalla stampa e dalla radio nazionale, e neppure sostenere, come taluni sono propensi ancora a credere, di aver sostenuto il 9 luglio 1940 un combattimento finito ai punti. Sugli esiti strategici della battaglia, valutati nel dopoguerra da parte britannica, mi riferisco a quanto ha scritto il capitano di vascello Stephen Roskill, nel volume primo del suo famoso “The War at Sea”, tradotto ad uso interno dall’Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare:


Benché il non aver potuto impegnare il nemico a battaglia fosse una delusione, il breve incontro fu interessante perché palesò la ripugnanza della flotta italiana a cimentarsi colla flotta inglese e a combatterla e chiarì la tattica probabile a cui il comando italiano si sarebbe attenuto, avvenuto il contatto fra le forze di superficie. Ma se questa azione recò al nemico poco danno, essa concorse probabilmente a stabilire quell’ascendente sulle forze italiane di superficie, che doveva essere una caratteristica così saliente nella campagna navale nel Mediterraneo e doveva ridurre la flotta italiana teoricamente possente alla virtuale impotenza.


Sebbene queste parole siano molto dure, non possiamo ignorare che lo svolgimento della politica di guerra navale dei maggiori Capi Militari italiani, a cominciare da quelli del Comando Supremo che condividevano la cautela di Supermarina, fu proprio quella di aver realizzato una condotta di estrema prudenza nell’impiego della flotta, con il risultato di non aver saputo sfruttare le favorevoli situazioni che si presentarono nel corso della guerra, anche quando la relatività delle forze in campo era nettamente a vantaggio della Regia Marina.


Francesco Mattesini




Edited by Giuseppe Garufi
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Affinché non vengano più scritte inesattezze o addirittura elucubrazioni. Controllare attentamente e confrontare quanto di seguito riportato con quello che è contenuto in scritti di storici male informati o confusionari.


Francesco Mattesini


Documento SECRET Allegato al Rapporto di Missione dell’ammiraglio Cunningham,  Report of the action to Italian Fleet, 9 July 1940,  non pubblicato  (omissis)  nel SUPPLEMENT OF LONDON GAZETTE del :28 Aprile 1948.





Battleship Action (period 15.26-16.41)


1526 - Opened fire on an enemy 8” cruiser bearing 265°, range 26,400.  This vas then engaging and being engaged by the 7th Cruiser Squadron. 10 salvos were fired and hit was possibly obtained whit the last salvo. WARSPITE aircraft on the catapult was damaged by the blast from X turret and subsequently jettisoned.


1530 – Checked fire ….


1533 – WARSPITE opened fire on a 6” cruiser of the GIUSSANO class. After 4 salvos she turned away …


1555 – WARSPITE shifted traded to the next 6” cruiser [tipo “Abruzzi”], which was steaming away. Range 23,000 yards, bearing 233°. After 4 salvos fire was checked. …


1553 – WARSPITE opened fire on the right hand of two enemy battleships of the CAVOUR class. Bearing 287° range 26.000 yards. WARSPITE was under fire from the enemy and was shortly afterwards straddled.


1600 - Enemy straddled and one hit observed. Enemy started to alter course away, making smoke.


1602 – WARSPITE altered course to 310°, 17 knots.


1606 – MALAYA was now in station on a bearing 180° from WARSPITE and firing four salvos at the enemy battleships but the fell short.


1604 – WARSPITE ceased fire after firing 17 salvos. The enemy ships were then obscured in smoke.


1608 – MALAYA fired 3 more salvos but the also fell short.


 1609 – WARSPITE opened fire on an enemy cruiser bearing 313°, range 24,600 yard. This was presumably one of B Squadron (see diagrams) which drawn away ahead of the battleships.


1611 – WARSPITE ceased fires after 6 salvos. Enemy cruisers turned away making smoke. …


1639 – WARSPITE opened fire with port 6” on enemy’s destroyer bearing 230°, 15,000 yards. MALAYA also fired one salvo at enemy destroyer ahead.


1641- Ceased fire. Enemy destroyers turned away and disappeared in smoke.

         This was the end of the battleship action ROYAL SOVEREIGN was never less than 3 milers astern of WARSPITE and was unable to get within range.

Edited by Francesco Mattesini
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Per chi volesse leggere i documenti trascritti da Francesco Mattesini in versione completa e originale e farsi un'opinione sulle ricostruzione, vi metto due link.


Primo documento (Battle Summary n.8, Operation M.A.5 Action off Calabria)




troverete qui il libro digitalizzato interamente (è unfile di 13 MB) compilato direttamente dalla Sezione storica dell'Ammiragliato e pubblicato nel 1957, è comprensivo dei rapporti e delle rotte di avvicinamento. Il rapporto citato da Mattesini parte da pag, 1


Mentre il SUPPLEMENT OF LONDON GAZETTE del 28 Aprile 1948 è qui




mentre il supplemento che è omissis dalla London Gazette e che Francesco copia non l'ho trovato.

Francesco dove l'hai preso? Suppongo si trovi al Public Record Office


buona lettura

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Il Battle Summary n. 8 fa parte di una serie di quattro operazioni e si trova in Internet. Il Documento Omissis mi fu portato a suo tempo dall'amico Professor Alberto Santoni, purtoppo deceduto.

Dovrebbe trovarsi nel National Archives, ex PRO, ma non ho la collocazione.





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Sui presunti colpi a segno delle navi italiane su quelle britanniche l’articolo di Enrico Cernuschi  “Punta Stilo - Marinai d’Italia Agosto/Settembre 2014”, del quale riporto il sottostante frammento, è il massimo della fantasia, e non merita alcun commento ma, rileggendo il  Battle Summary n. 8 e il mio  seguente articolo, occorre soltanto commentare: “Allora, abbiamo vinto la guerra”. 


        “I rapporti della Marina inglese del luglio 1940 sui danni lamentati dal Warspite e attributi a bombe d’aereo. I documenti inglesi, tratti dal Fondo TNA ADM 267/111 sono qui riprodotti per la prima volta e pubblicati con il permesso del Lord Controller  [sic]


        Il registro di navigazione del  Warspite che evidenzia il fatto che la nave abbia cambiato rotta in modo “impazzito” nello stesso momento in cui dalle navi italiane si vide il colpo da 203 mm del Trento esploso a bordo di quella stessa corazzata britannica be, oltre a quelli, già noti, patiti dal Gloucester il giorno 8. Insomma, come si dice in Veneto, pèso el tacòn del buso. Forester cercò, a sua volta, di metterci una pezza attribuendo allora e in seguito l’incendio osservato dagli italiani a poppa del Warspite all’incendio dell’idroricognitore di quella nave, poi gettato a mare, provocato dalle vampe delle torri poppiere di quella stessa corazzata.

        Pecca-to che l’ora (15.27) indicata dagli inglesi in merito all’incidente in questione corrisponde, casomai, al centro rivendicato dal Di Giussano contro la corazzata inglese e non a quello del Trento e che, soprattutto, quel giorno la nave ammiraglia britannica disponesse di un solo velivolo, regolarmente catapultato alle 15.48, come osservato anche da bordo delle unità della Regia Marina, e ammarato, in seguito, a Malta. Lo studio delle matricole militari degli idrovolanti Swordfish conferma, infine, che nessun velivolo di quel tipo andò perduto quel giorno.

        Ultimo e non ultimo, l’incidente del velivolo incendiato (ma non distrutto) si verificò effettivamente il 9 luglio 1940, ma a bordo del Malaya, alle ore 15.21 [sic]. I danni da schegge (alcune grosse come un pallone da calcio) registrati a bordo del Warspite, infine, coincidono, a poppa, con il cono dell’esplosione di una granata da 203 mm esplosa centrando l’albero poppiero di quella nave inutilizzando (come recita il rapporto inglese) l’impianto binato poppiero da 102 mm, il complesso d sei canne da 40 mm poppiero di dritta, i due complessi antiaerei da 12,7 sul cielo della torre X e la gru di sinistra, oltre a guasti minori. I danni, parimenti ammessi in sede tecnica, verificatisi a prora e in plancia (attribuiti, in seguito, dai britannici a un’altra bomba aerea, caduta questa volta il 12 luglio senza essere ricordata, essa pure, nei Bombing Survey e dagli stessi italiani) sono, viceversa, da attribuire al near miss del Cesare delle 16.02 e, soprattutto, a un analogo colpo da 203 mm dello Zara caduto a meno di dieci metri dall’ammiraglia inglese alle 16.18.

        I danni causati minori da bombe italiane alla portaerei Eagle (8 luglio), al caccia  Vampire e al piroscafo  Novasli (11 luglio), sono invece noti, anche se ci è voluto mezzo secolo per acclararli.

       In conclusione l’ammiraglio Cunningham scrisse, in sede di re-dazione del proprio rapporto finale, che l’esito dell’azione del 9 luglio 1940 fu “disappointing”, ovvero deludente, e che “...l’Ae-ronautica e i sommergibili italiani non potevano impedire alla Mediterranean Fleet di penetrare nel Mediterraneo Centrale, soltanto la loro Squadra da battaglia può interferire seriamente con le nostre operazioni in quel bacino”.

        In effetti, la flotta inglese rimase assente da quelle acque per tre anni esatti di fila, fino al giorno, cioè, dello sbarco in Sicilia. La Royal Navy si ridusse, invero, fino a quell’invasione, a condurre una mera guerriglia, sia pure di lusso, a base di sommergibili, aerei, mine e, talvolta, divisioni leggere di incrociatori e caccia, contro i convogli italiani per l’Africa Settentrionale. Subì, nel corso di quella lunga e dura campagna, gravi perdite senza impedire all’83,99% dei materiali e al 91,99% del personale inviati via mare in Libia, Egitto e Tunisia di arrivare a destinazione.

        Quanto agli sbarchi del 9 luglio 1943, infine, questi ebbero luogo quando la Royal Navy poté nuovamente schierare nel Mediterraneo, per la prima volta dal maggio 1940 (dopo averle rastrella e attraverso tutti e sette i mari), sei corazzate e due portaerei riunite in un’unica squadra. Anche allora, però, ci fu un trucco, in quanto questa concentrazione eccezionale (da opporre alle sole due navi da battaglia italiane, il Littorio e il  Vittorio Veneto,in servizio, in quel momento,a Spezia) non fu altro che una cortesia americana favorita in misura determinante dal prestito delle navi di linea della U.S. Navy Alabama, South Dakota e Nevada, inviate in Gran Bretagna con l’aggiunta, in seguito, della portaerei statunitense Ranger dopo che un aerosilurante italiano aveva messo fuori combattimento, il 16 luglio 1943, la portaerei inglese Indomitable [scoperta di Mattesini].

        Punta Stilo, la “battaglia da manuale”, rappresentò così la differenza tra la vittoria inglese (rovinosa per l’Italia) pianificata a Londra sin dal 1937 e da incassare, con poca spesa, il prima possibile e la successiva pace statunitense di compromesso all’origine degli attuali equilibri mondiali. Un risultato storico, politico ed economico, pertanto, non piccolo e conseguito dai marinai italiani nonostante tutto e tutti, tanto da bruciare, evidentemente, ancora oggi, quantomeno a giudicare dalla cortina di bugia con cui si è cercato di nascondere, contro ogni evidenza, quello che successe veramente nel corso di un pomeriggio degno di gloria e di memoria.”

Edited by Giuseppe Garufi
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Caro Platon,


certo che mi interessano i messaggi, é un argomento importante per conoscere quello che esattamente intercettavano i britannici sui movimenti delle navi italiane.


Poi faremo il contronto con quanto intercettavamo e decrittavamo nella nostra Marina.


Li accetto volentieri.


Un caro saluto



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Circa un fumo blu che secondo vari testimoni, tra cui il comandante e il primo direttore del tiro della Cesare, capitano di vascello Varoli Piazza e capitano di fregata Cipollini, sarebbe stato visto sollevarsi dalla Warspite alle 16.02, ciò  non derivava da un colpo a segno sulla corazzata britannica ma, come rispose la Sezione Storica dell’Ammiraghliato all’Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare, dell’incendio dell’aereo da ricognizione Walrus che aveva preso fuoco sulla catapulta per poi essere gettato in mare, sollevando evidentemente bagliore e colonna di fumo blu, trattandosi di incendio di benzina.


E l’incendio avvenne in seguito alla prima salva da 381 della Warspite, in partenza dalla vicina torre X, ossia la seconda da poppa. Inoltre,  non si ebbe alcun danneggiamento da schegge della Warspite o addirittura della gemella Malaya.


La salva più vicina alla Warspite, molto compatta, cadde 400 yard a prua a sinistra dalla corazzata, corrispondente a 365,76 metri, e a questa distanza un’esplosione subacquea non avrebbe potuto generare schegge da portarsi tanto lontano.


E’ poi addirittura fantasioso che anche un colpo da 203 dell’incrociatore Trento oppure un colpo da 152 dell’incrociatore Di Giussano abbia colpito la Warspite. Il tutto generando a bordo sconquasso e preoccupazione nel Comando della corazzata, da influire sulla manovra dell’unità, che addirittura avrebbe cambiato rotta per portarsi al sicuro.


C'è modo e modo di scrivere la Storia, e ciò comporta di documentarsi bene e di non ascoltare le chiacchiere dei male informati, soprattutto in Internet dove tutti sono Professori, ragion per cui  il controllo delle notizie deve essere molto accuratamente controllato. Io, prima di scrivere una inesattezza, per qualcosa che mi rende dubbiosi e perplesso, lo faccio, a volte perdendo molto tempo per ricerche in più Archivi!


Ma se qualcuno, dati alla mano, mi convince del contrario non ho nessun timore di dirlo e correggermi.


Francesco Mattesini

Edited by Giuseppe Garufi
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Caro Franco,


ADM223/121 is now available via Dropbox.





Caro Platon,


certo che mi interessano i messaggi, é un argomento importante per conoscere quello che esattamente intercettavano i britannici sui movimenti delle navi italiane.


Poi faremo il contronto con quanto intercettavamo e decrittavamo nella nostra Marina.


Li accetto volentieri.


Un caro saluto



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