Francesco Mattesini Posted September 12, 2016 Report Share Posted September 12, 2016 (edited) LA VERITA’ SU PUNTA STILO SU UN DOCUMENTO UFFICIALE DELL’AMMIRAGLIATO BRITANNICO 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 RESTRICTED CHAPTER I (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 theArk 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)Arethusa.Enterprise.Delhi.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 Saida.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.1A few hours later the Imperial burst a feed tank, and was ordered to returnto Alexandria. Enemy submarines were reported by the Eagle’s aircraft onA/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°. Thesubmarines 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.2Steps 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 besome 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 accordinglydirected 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 AdmiralCunningham’s offensive spirit, which led him to change his aim as soon ashe 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 advanceof 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 threedirections open for retreat. Whether he intended to stand and fight in anarea of his own choosing was still a matter of conjecture. The British Fleeton 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’sscreen, 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 anddestroyers 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 CruiserSquadron, steering 310°, 28 knots, to close the enemy was 3I miles to thenorthward of the Warspite, which was turning to 3450. The Malayaand 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. Asquadron 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 onwhich 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 CruiserSquadron, 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, theNeptune 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. Theyhad been ordered at 1545 to join the 7th Cruiser Squadron, and after theirunpleasant 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. 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. TheSydney’ 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 generaposition 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 Warspitefired five salvoes of 6-inch and the Malaya one salvo at them and theydisappeared into the smoke. The proceedings were enlivened by the firstappearance 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. 3.1To 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, theircruisers 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, theOrion 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 Stuartwere 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 southeasterly 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 tothe 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, theHasty 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 oilerBritish 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 September 15, 2016 by Giuseppe Garufi Formattazione testo sandokan, CARABINIERE, Danilo Pellegrini and 1 other 4 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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