Italian Navy in WWII Part III

Edited from material by Mike Yaklich, et al


January 1941:

British destroyer Gallant badly damaged by Italian mine near Malta (later bombed while under repair, never sails again).  Italian-flown Ju-87 dive-bomber scores one of the six bomb hits that severely damage British aircraft carrier Illustrious.   Free French submarine Narval sunk by destroyer escort Clio.  British merchantman Clan Cumming torpedoed by sub Neghelli but reaches port.  British tanker Desmoulea torpedoed by destroyer escort Lupo (towed back to port).

February 1941:

British gunboat Ladybird damaged (not seriously) by Italian air attack during unsuccessful commando raid on island of Kastelorizo.  Italian bombing raids on Benghazi force the British to stop using the port for the time being.

March 1941:

British heavy cruiser York severely damaged (beached, never sailed again) and tanker Pericles sunk by Italian “explosive motorboats” (launched from destroyers Crispi and Sella) in Suda Bay.  British light cruiser Bonaventure sunk by Italian sub Ambra.

April 1941:

British destroyer Mohawk torpedoed and sunk by Italian destroyer Tarigo (itself also sinking) in action against Italian convoy off the Kerkenah light buoy.  British tanker British Science (7,300 tons) sunk by SM79 torpedo planes.  Greek destroyer escort Proussa sunk by Italian Ju-87s. Small freighter Susanah (900 tons) hit by Italian Ju-87s, beached, later destroyed in another attack by Italian Ju-87s.  British fleet oiler British Lord damaged by SM79 torpedo planes.  British salvage vessel Viking sunk by SM79s. Freighter Devis (6,000 tons) damaged by SM81s (multiple bomb hits, seven men killed, 14 wounded, on fire but rejoins British convoy). (1)

May 1941:

During battle of Crete, British destroyer Juno sunk by Italian Z1007s in level bombing attack; destroyer Imperial sunk by Italian SM84 bombers; light cruiser Ajax damaged (20 serious casualties) by Italian SM84s. (2) British submarine Usk sunk either by Italian destroyers (Pigafetta and Zeno) or Italian mines.  British submarine Undaunted sunk either by Italian destroyer escorts (Pegaso or Pleiadi) or Italian mines.  British transport Rawnsley hit by SM79 torpedo planes (previously damaged by German bombers- towed to Crete after Italian attack, later sunk there).  British gunboat Ladybird sunk by Italian Ju-87s at Tobruk.

June 1941:

Australian destroyer Waterhen sunk in combined attack by German and Italian Ju-87s (Italian pilot Ennio Tarantola was credited with a near-miss that caused serious damage).

July 1941:

During Malta convoy operation, British destroyer Fearless sunk by SM79 torpedo bombers; British light cruiser Manchester damaged by SM79 torpedo bombers (38 killed, out of action nine months); British destroyer Firedrake damaged by Italian bomb (boilers and steering out, towed back to port); freighter Sydney Star torpedoed in attacks by MAS 532 and MAS 533, but reaches Malta.  Tanker Hoegh Hood (9,350 tons), returning to Gibraltar from Malta empty in simultaneous operation, hit by Italian torpedo plane but makes port.  British destroyer Defender sunk by Italian aircraft off Sidi Barrani. (3)  British sub Union sunk by destroyer escort Circe.  British sub Cachalot rammed and sunk by destroyer escort Papa.

August 1941:

British light cruiser Phoebe damaged by Italian torpedo plane (out of action eight months).  British sub P. 32 sunk by Italian mines while trying to enter port of Tripoli.  British sub P. 33 sunk in same area, presumably by Italian mines.  British tanker Desmoulea damaged by SM79 torpedo planes. Belgian tanker Alexandre Andre damaged by SM79 torpedo planes.   British tanker Turbo sunk by SM79 torpedo planes.  British small armaments carrier Escaut sunk by SM79 torpedo planes.  British netlayer Protector severely damaged by SM79 torpedo planes (out of action four years).

September 1941:

During Malta convoy operation, British battleship Nelson damaged by SM84 torpedo bombers (one torpedo hit, out of action six months); merchantman Imperial Star (12,000 tons) sunk by SM79 torpedo planes.  British small tanker Fiona Shell, fleet oiler Denbydale, and merchantman Durham (11,000 tons) sunk at Gibraltar by “piloted torpedoes” launched from submarine Scire (however, Denbydale and Durham settled in shallow water and were both later recovered).

October 1941:

British merchantman (blockade runner to Malta) Empire Guillemot sunk by SM84 torpedo planes.  British sub Tetrarch presumed sunk by Italian mines off Sicily.

November 1941:

British merchantmen (blockade runners to Malta) Empire Defender and Empire Pelican sunk by Italian torpedo planes.  During sinking of “Duisburg” convoy, British destroyer Lively suffers minor splinter damage from near misses of 8-inch shells from Italian heavy cruisers.

December 1941:

British battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, tanker Sagona, and destroyer Jervis (tied alongside Sagona for fueling) damaged at Alexandria by “piloted torpedoes” launched from sub Scire (Queen Elizabeth sank but settled in shallow water:  raised and repaired, out of action almost a year and a half.  Valiant out of action eight months.  Sagona henceforth used only as a stationary fuel bunker.  Jervis under repair one month).  British light cruiser Neptune, destroyer Kandahar sunk (only one survivor from Neptune!), light cruisers Aurora and Penelope damaged by mines laid by light cruisers of Italian 7th Division (Aurora out of action eight months). British destroyer Kipling suffers minor splinter damage from near misses (one man killed) during “First Battle of Sirte.”  Small British steamer Volo (1,500 tons) sunk by SM79 torpedo bombers.


(1) Italian SM79s also claimed the sinking of the British transport Homefield, however according to Shores et al (“The Air War for Yugoslavia, Greece, and Crete”) the damage that resulted in this ship being scuttled was inflicted in a later attack by German Ju-88s.   Shores states that the Italian torpedo bombers which claimed a hit were mistaken, and that all damage resulted from (German) bomb hits.

(2) Italian torpedo bombers also claim to have fatally damaged British destroyer Hereward during the Crete battle.  Bragadin (“The Italian Navy in World War II”) repeats this claim, and also says that the badly-damaged Hereward was scuttled as Italian MAS torpedo boats approached.  Greene and Massignani (“The Naval War in the Mediterranean”) accept the account of Shores et al (op cit) that Hereward was hit by German Ju-87s (although, contrary to much of the book, Shores does not specify the exact unit or mission for the attacking aircraft), and refute Bragadin, Sadkovich, and others.  Shores does also note that survivors were picked up by Italian MAS boats, as do other British accounts.  My own conclusion is that the best evidence is for the ship being fatally damaged by German air attack, but that the Italians may be accorded a small role, as the appearance of the MAS probably prompted the decision to scuttle.

(3)  A number of accounts list this as a combined attack by German and Italian planes, but sources I consulted seemed to agree that Italian aircraft should get either full or partial credit for the sinking.


January 1942:

British sub Triumph sunk, apparently by Italian mines off Greek island of Milo.

February 1942:

British sub Tempest sunk by Italian antisubmarine forces, including destroyer escort Circe.  British sub P. 38 sunk by Italian convoy escorts, again including Circe.  British sub Thresher badly damaged while attacking Italian convoy.

March 1942:

During Malta convoy operation (“second battle of Sirte”) British light cruiser Cleopatra hit by 6-inch shell from light cruiser Bande Nere (radio and antiaircraft fire director knocked out, 15 men killed:  splinters from near misses kill one more man); light cruiser Euryalus suffers splinter damage from near-miss by 15-inch shell from battleship Littorio; destroyer Kingston hit by 15-inch shell from Littorio (passes through ship without exploding, but kills 14, wounds 20, and starts a small fire); destroyer Havock hit by splinters of 15-inch shell from Littorio (seven killed, nine wounded, one boiler flooded); destroyer Lively hit by 15-inch splinters from Littorio (minor flooding, funnel on fire); destroyer Sikh straddled by 15-inch shells, but only minor damage. (4)  British destroyer Southwold sunk by Italian mine outside Malta.

April 1942:

British sub Upholder sunk by destroyer escort Pegaso.  British sub Urge sunk (exact cause uncertain, but all sources which cite cause agree it was to Italian action:  most probably Italian mines, possibly to destroyer escort Pegaso or to Italian aircraft).  British subs Pandora and P. 36 sunk by Italian bombers in raid on port at Malta.  British destroyer Havock torpedoed by sub Aradam, but only after it had been run aground, abandoned, and largely demolished by its crew. (5)

May 1942:

(None found?)

June 1942:

During Malta convoy operation, destroyer Bedouin sunk by SM79 torpedo plane, after having been heavily damaged in surface action by ships of Italian 7th Division (hit by 12 shells, mostly 6-inch, some of which passed through the ship without exploding); Dutch merchantman Tanimbar (8,000 tons) sunk by SM79 torpedo plane; British light cruiser Liverpool damaged by SM79 torpedo plane (towed back, out of action almost two years); freighter Burdwan and tanker Kentucky sunk by ships of Italian 7th Division (both had been badly damaged in previous air attacks); antiaircraft cruiser Cairo damaged in surface action with 7th Division (one armor-piercing 6-inch shell- used because the Italian light cruisers had run out of the more effective high-explosive ammunition- penetrates fuel bunker but fails to do fatal damage because it failed to explode); destroyer Partridge damaged by ships of 7th Division (stopped but gets under way again); minesweeper Hebe hit by one shell from ships of 7th Division (badly damaged).  (6)  British destroyer Nestor, badly damaged by German air attack but being towed back to port (SM79s also participated in that attack but scored no hits), is scuttled on appearance of more Italian aircraft due to the risk to the towing vessel.

July 1942:

Tanker Antares (Turkish but in British service) sunk by sub Alagi.  Small British freighters Meta, Shuma, Snipe, and Baron Douglas (total approx. 10,000 tons) sunk at Gibraltar by Italian “frogman” swimmers.

August 1942:

During major Malta convoy operation, British antiaircraft cruiser Cairo sunk, light cruiser Nigeria damaged (52 killed, severe structural damage), and tanker Ohio (10,000 tons) damaged by sub Axum (Ohio stopped and on fire, but fires are extinguished by water pouring in through large torpedo hole in its side!); light cruiser Manchester sunk by large torpedo boats MS 16 and MS 22 (each scored one hit); destroyer Foresight sunk by SM79 torpedo bomber; freighter Glenorchy (9,000 tons) sunk by large torpedo boat MS 31; freighter Wairangi (12,400 tons) sunk by torpedo boat MAS 552; freighter Almeria Lykes (7,700 tons) sunk by torpedo boat MAS 554; freighter Santa Elisa (8,300 tons) sunk by torpedo boat MAS 557; freighter Empire Hope (12,600 tons) sunk by sub Bronzo after being severely damaged by (German) air attack and abandoned;  light cruiser Kenya damaged (three killed, one wounded; sonar knocked out and extensive flooding- however, the ship remained with the convoy) by sub Alagi; freighter Rochester Castle (7,800 tons) damaged by torpedo boat MAS 564, but makes it to Malta; aircraft carrier Victorious hit by two 1,386-lb bombs by Re2001 fighter-bombers, but one bounces over the side before exploding, other one does minor damage to flight deck (six killed, two wounded); aircraft carrier Indomitable hit by one 220-lb bomb by CR42 fighter-bomber which does minimal damage to flight deck; battleship Rodney hit by one bomb by Italian Ju-87s, but it bounces off main gun turret before exploding and does no damage; tanker Ohio damaged again by near-miss from Italian Ju-87, which buckles bow plates and causes more flooding; freighter Port Chalmers hit on paravane of minesweeping gear by torpedo from SM79, but this is cut loose and the torpedo explodes underwater, causing no damage.  (7)  British destroyer Eridge damaged beyond repair by MTM small assault torpedo boats off North African coast (towed back to Alexandria but written off). British sub Thorn sunk by destroyer escort Pegaso.

September 1942:

During foiled large-scale commando raid on Tobruk, British destroyer Sikh sunk and destroyer Zulu badly damaged by combined fire of Italian and German shore batteries (Zulu later sunk by air attack); British torpedo boats MTB 308, MTB 310, MTB 312, were sunk and MTB 314 was captured [She was later used by the Germans] in same raid, along with two motor launches, by Italian MC200 fighter-bombers and/or Italian shore batteries.  (8)  British small freighter Raven’s Point sunk at Gibraltar by Italian swimmers.

October 1942:

(None found?)

November 1942:

British sub Utmost sunk by destroyer escort Groppo.  British sloop Ibis sunk by Italian torpedo plane.  British auxiliary antiaircraft ship Tynwald and troopship Awatea (13,400 tons) sunk by submarine Argo (Awatea had previously been heavily damaged by bombing).  (9)  British minesweeper Algerine sunk by submarine Asciangi.  British minesweeper Cromer sunk by Italian mines off Mersa Matruh.  French tanker Tarn damaged by sub Dandolo but makes port.

December 1942:

British destroyer Quentin sunk by SM79 torpedo bomber.  British corvette Marigold sunk by Italian torpedo planes.  British sub P. 222 sunk by destroyer escort Fortunale.  British sub P. 48 sunk by destroyer escorts Ardente and Ardito.  British sub P. 311 sunk by Italian mines outside port of Maddalena.  British light cruiser Argonaut hit by two torpedoes from sub Mocenigo (only three men killed, but out of action eleven months).  Small Norwegian freighter Berto (1,400 tons) sunk, freighters Ocean Vanquisher

(7,000 tons), Empire Centaur (7,000 tons), and Armattan (4,500 tons) damaged in port at Algiers by “piloted torpedoes” and swimmers launched from sub Ambra.


4) There are many conflicting reports of damage inflicted at Second Sirte. The above reflects only what I have been able to verify from sources on the British side.  The Italians believed they had also damaged light cruiser Penelope and destroyers Lance and Legion, and at least one British source I consulted also gives this information.  On the other hand, the British thought they had torpedoed battleship Littorio and hit light cruiser Bande Nere and an unidentified heavy cruiser, when in actuality they only scored one hit, a 120mm (4.7-inch) shell which struck Littorio doing minimal damage.  The fog of war was apparently very thick in this battle (literally, given the effective British use of smokescreens), as the Italians thought that Kingston had been hit by a heavy cruiser, variously reported as Trento or Gorizia, and some Italian accounts also credit Trento (not Bande Nere) with having hit Cleopatra.

(5)  Italian accounts almost unanimously reverse the cause and effect, saying that Havock was first torpedoed, and then beached- including eyewitness reports from the crew of Aradam, which surfaced and reported seeing the British destroyer on fire.  I have accepted the British version, not necessarily incompatible with that eyewitness testimony.

(6) There are claims that Burdwan was crippled by Italian SM84s which were mistakenly reported as German planes.  Kentucky was eventually finished off by the guns of light cruiser Montecuccoli and a torpedo from destroyer Oriani.

(7) Great confusion surrounds the August 12 night action against the “Pedestal” convoy, which is perhaps understandable given repeated attacks by Italian submarines and various Axis aircraft, sometimes virtually overlapping, over a period of about two hours.  Sadkovich (op cit, p. 292-296, citing several other sources) mentions Italian claims that freighter Brisbane Star was hit by Italian sub Dessie (a claim often repeated but now generally considered to have been in error, the sub’s crew probably having heard the successful torpedo hits of Axum and assumed they were their own); that the sub Alagi also hit the freighter Clan Ferguson  (this is far more plausible, but as Sadkovich times the attack at 21:18, while Clan Ferguson with its load of ammunition had been reported hit by a German He-111 torpedo plane at 21:02, the ship would have already been abandoned, on fire, and rapidly sinking when this occurred);  and that sub Bronzo also crippled Glenorchy (this ship was at any rate credited to Italian action, as it was confirmed sunk by an Italian torpedo boat later that night).  Sadkovich also claims that Italian Ju-87s hit destroyer Ashanti while attacking Ohio on August 13, but I have been unable to find any other reference which verifies this, or indeed that Ashanti was damaged at all during “Pedestal” (the ship was providing close escort to Ohio at a time when Italian Ju-87s scored a near-miss, and was heavily engaged). Other sources mention Brisbane Star as having been torpedoed by an SM79 (a possibility, since there were only seven He-111 torpedo planes involved in the German air attack- the other German aircraft being 30 Ju-88s armed with bombs- and these already appear to have accounted for Clan Ferguson, the previously-damaged Deucalion, and possibly Empire Hope, which had a 15-foot hole in its side that sounds like a torpedo hit.  However, I have not come across anything that gives more specifics on any Italian planes involved in these air attacks), and still other sources list Deucalion as a victim of Italian rather than German torpedo planes (probably an error).  British destroyer Wolverine had its bows badly damaged when it rammed and sank Italian sub Dagabur with all hands, but I hesitate to classify that as “damage inflicted by the Italians,” given the circumstances.

(8) Again, it is difficult to decipher exactly who did what in this action. By the best accounts, Sikh was hit twice by a German 88mm battery and took at least three more shells of unknown origin.  From accounts of those aboard, the best reconstruction of its fate seems to be that the ship was crippled by the German guns and then finished off by the Italian (152mm). Zulu was probably hit by an Italian battery.  The exact identity of the aircraft that sank Zulu also remains unclear.  Many Italian sources credit MC200 fighter-bombers.  The MC200s definitely did effectively bomb and strafe British motor torpedo boats, claiming to sink three and badly damage a fourth.  Another four British torpedo boats were claimed by Italian shore batteries.  British reported losses of small craft, as seen above, were four torpedo boats and two motor launches.

(9) Italian SM79 torpedo bombers also claimed Awatea in the original air attacks, but most accounts have it set afire by German Ju-88s.


January 1943:

British corvette Samphire sunk by sub Platino.

February 1943:

British minesweeping trawler Tervani sunk by sub Accaio.

March 1943:

British sub Turbulent sunk either by Italian anti-submarine trawler or by Italian mines outside La Maddalena.  British sub Thunderbolt sunk by corvette Cicogna.

April 1943:

British destroyer Pakenham sunk as a result of gun battle with destroyer escorts Cassiopea and Cigno (Cigno was also sunk in this encounter). British sub Sahib sunk by corvette Gabbiano (after being attacked by German Ju-88s).  British torpedo boat MTB 639 sunk by destroyer escort Sagittario.

May 1943:

Freighters Pat Harrison (7,000 tons), Marhsud (7,500 tons), and Camerata (4,800 tons) sunk at Gibraltar by “piloted torpedoes” operated from derelict freighter Olterra (interned by Spanish at nearby Algeciras and converted by Italians into secret base for missions against Gibraltar).  British minelayer Fantome sunk by Italian mines off Bizerte.

June 1943:

(None found?)

July 1943:

During invasion of Sicily, British carrier Indomitable seriously damaged by SM79 torpedo plane (out of action seven months); British light cruiser Cleopatra damaged by sub Dandolo (out of action four months); US transport Timothy Pickering sunk by Re2002s (166 killed, including British troops aboard); US transport Joseph G Cannon damaged by Re2002s (hit by bomb which failed to explode, returned to Malta); British torpedo boat MTB 316 sunk by light cruiser Scipione Africano; sub Flutto inflicts 17 casualties before being sunk in surface battle with British torpedo boats MTB 640, MTB 651, and MTB 670.  Greek steamship Orion (4,800 tons) sunk by mine planted by Italian swimmer in neutral Turkish harbor one week earlier (the swimmer, Lt. Luigi Ferraro, smuggled in by undercover agents of naval intelligence, as were the mines).  Freighter Kaituna (4,900 tons) damaged by mine placed by same swimmer (Ferraro mined two other ships which were saved by underwater inspections after British found a second unexploded mine on Kaituna).

August 1943:

Tanker Thorshoud (10,000 tons), freighter Harrison Grey Otis (7,000 tons), and freighter Stanbridge (6,000 tons) sunk at Gibraltar by “piloted torpedoes” from Olterra.  British sub Saracen sunk by corvettes Minerva and Euterpe.

September 1943:

(none found?)

French Ships

See below.  My comments marked *.

– French “super-destroyer” Albatros hit by 6-inch shell from Italian coastal battery during bombardment of Genoa (ten men killed).

* 14/6/40: the “contre-torpilleur” Albatros was indeed hit by a 152mm round from the Pegli coastal battery; 12 men in all died from burn wounds.

– Small freighter Elgo (1,900 tons) sunk by sub Capponi while en route to a French North African port.

* 22/6/40: the Elgo was a Swedish freighter going from Tunis to Sfax.

– Small French steamer Cheik (1,000 tons) sunk by sub Scire.

* 10/7/40: torpedoed by error on the Marseille-Alger route; 13 men missing.  I suppose this does not count as a legitimate sinking since the Franco-Italian armistice was already in effect.  The Italian sub rescued the survivors, later repatriated to Corsica on board Italian minesweeper Argo.

* Other reported incidents involving Vichy French vessels in the Mediterranean:

* Note: there could be more cases, but the attacker often remains unidentified, or no damage was done.

* 13/9/40: a French convoy (11 merchantmen) drifted a bit from its Bone-Marseille route and entered an Italian minefield near San Pietro (Sardinia).  The liner Cap Tourane struck a mine first but kept afloat; 3 dead and 17 missing among military passengers.  The freighter Cassidaigne, coming to help, then struck a mine too and sank rapidly.   Finally, the freighter Ginette-Leborgne, bringing up the rear of the convoy, suffered the same fate.  No other casualties are reported.

* 28/7/41: Tunisian sail-ship Sidi Fredg attacked by 3 Italian seaplanes (somewhere between Nabeul and Korba); 2 wounded, ship abandoned, later retrieved.

UK Losses in the Mediterranean

The UK losses in the Mediterranean for the duration of the war were 41 submarines and 175 surface warships of all types. So, the impact of Italian Navy and Italian/German aircraft was not small.

Coincidently the surface ships lost in the Atlantic also amounted to 175 of all types (the Japanese accounted for another 50).

I do not denigrate the Italian war effort, but emphasise that their surface combats between Warships (not MTB’s etc) could have been more effective.

Figures are from “Standard of Power”, Dan Van Der Vat.

Italian Chances

The Italian pre-war doctrine was very similar to that of the USN. Their ships were designed to fight long-range (20,000 yards plus) gunnery duels. The Italians practiced this doctrine almost exclusively. Thus, their ships were designed with extremely long, high-velocity guns to give great range. However, this gave the guns extremely short barrel lives for modern designs, as much as a third of their foes. Barrel life has a significant effect on accuracy, especially if the individual guns have different wear. Further, the Italians had poor production standards in both shells (weight) and powder. This further exacerbated gunnery calculations. All this was then combined with optics that were not designed with good water resistance – but the same optics were also usually mounted too low and were, thus, extremely wet! Taken in concert, the resulting gunfire, under wartime conditions, produced patterns with great variations in dispersion, which greatly affected the chance to hit, especially at long range! Thus, the Italians went to war with a doctrine that was all but assured to fail – but they did not know it! Of course, neither did anybody else!

Another serious factor was the fact that the new Littorio class battleships, which had a new and marvelous torpedo defense system in theory, found that it was seriously flawed in actual practice. Thus, their newest and most powerful warships were prone to suffering severe underwater damage at inopportune times.

One the Italians became aware of these two serious issues, it was 1941, and they found themselves with a navy that was designed to fight in a fashion that it could not, really, succeed at. Add a severe fuel crunch into the mix, and you can see why the Italians ended up relying on small craft.


“For Vittorio Balbo Bertone Di Sambuy [Mach Pari tra due grande flotte Mediterraneo, 1940-1942], the naval war was a “match pari”– a draw– between the British and the Italians, and this seems a reasonable judgement.  While Supermarina (1) certainly made errors, and cooperation with the air force was not perfect, in the spring of 1941, the RMI understood the need to occupy Tunisia, and it pressed for the seizure of Malta in 1941 and 1942. Had Supermarina been able to use Tunis and Bizerte, and had the Germans aided their ally as generously as the United States did theirs (2), the war would probably have run a different course.  Certainly, the Italian navy cannot be blamed for the failure of Hitler and OKW to appreciate the importance of the Mediterranean, and it is clear that the British held crucial technological and intelligence advantages in their struggle with Italy (3).

        Yet Italy was the major Axis player in the Mediterranean, and it was the Italian navy and air force, with only sporadic help from their German ally, that stymied the British navy and air force for most of the thirty-nine months that Italy was a belligerent.  To pretend otherwise is to raise propaganda to the level of reasoned analysis, just as to explain the RMI’s defeat by culling criticism regarding Italian competence from German and British sources is to credit racist prejudice as objective observation. All navies made mistakes, and all navies had personnel who were bureaucratic, marginally competent, prone to error, and individually unpalatable, but to criticize Iachino as cowardly for not entering British smokescreens while praising Cunningham’s decisions to avoid Italian smokescreens as prudent is to apply a pernicious double standard. If Vian is to be praised for avoiding Iachino in the two battles of Sirte Gulf, then Campioni should also be praised for avoiding Cunningham and Somerville at Punta Stilo and Cape Teulada (4).  And if so much is made of the few convoys that managed to reach Malta, much more should be made of the many that kept the Axis war effort in Africa alive by repeatedly braving attack by aircraft, submarine, and surface vessel.  If doomed by its technical weaknesses and Ultra, the Italian navy still fought a tenacious, and gallant, war; and if it did not win its war, it avoided defeat for thirty-nine long, frustrating months.”

        (1) Supermarina was naval command, the central headquarters for the RMI.

        (2) In the previous paragraph, Sadkovich had mentioned that “between 1940 and 1942, the United States supplied Britain with over 11,000 aircraft, far more than the few squadrons of Ju.87s sold Italy by Germany.”

        (3) the chief intelligence advantage was of course Ultra, which from the spring of 1941 proved invaluable in locating and harassing Italian convoys to North Africa.

        (4) Sadkovich’s point here is that at Punta da Stilo and Cape Teulada the Italians were the inferior force and should be given credit for being able to disengage more or less intact.  An assertion open to argument, perhaps, but not too much of a stretch.  At Punta da Stilo (Jul ’40) Cunningham had three 15-inch gun battleships (Warspite, Malaya, Royal Sovereign) plus a carrier (Eagle), while Campioni had the two small battleships Cesare and Cavour (also the oldest in the Italian navy), which had 12.6-inch guns.  The Italians did possess a considerable advantage in cruisers– six heavy and a dozen light compared to five cruisers total for the British– but in a long-range gun battle, which was essentially what

Punta da Stilo was, the characterization of Campioni as being at a disadvantage is pretty accurate.  At Cape Teulada (Nov ’40) the British had two forces which managed to unite, giving them the battleship Ramillies, battlecruiser Renown (both with 15-inch guns), carrier Ark Royal, five large cruisers, and ten destroyers. Campioni had battleships Vittorio Veneto (15-in) and Cesare (12.6-in), six heavy cruisers, and 14 destroyers.  So again, it is not unreasonable to say the advantage lay with the British.  Furthermore, Campioni was under very restrictive orders—he was no to move beyond the range of land-based air cover from Sardinia, and he was not to risk what remained of the Italian fleet (this encounter occurred less than three weeks after the raid on Taranto) unless he had a clear superiority. Personally, although there is much to be said about the Italians in these two encounters–for starters, they did come out and face arguably superior British battle fleets on both occasions, something their critics frequently say they were too “afraid” to do, even when they had an advantage that was definitely lacking in these examples–I would choose as the Italian counterpart to the escapes of Vian at the two Sirte battles (albeit on a smaller scale) the incident in May 1941 wherein the Italian destroyer escort Sagitario, escorting 30 small vessels carrying German mountain troops to Crete, held off a British force of five cruisers and three destroyers, and saved the convoy.

James Sadkovich – The Italian Navy in World War II

This revisionist history convincingly argues that the Regia Marina Italiana (the Royal Italian Navy) has been neglected and maligned in assessments of its contributions to the Axis effort in World War II. After all, Italy was the major Axis player in the Mediterranean, and it was the Italian navy and air force, with only sporadic help from their German ally, that stymied the British navy and air force for most of the thirty-nine months that Italy was a belligerent. It was the Royal Italian Navy that provided the many convoys that kept the Axis war effort in Africa alive by repeatedly braving attack by aircraft, submarine, and surface vessels. If doomed by its own technical weaknesses and Ultra (the top-secret British decoding device), the Italian navy still fought a tenacious and gallant war; and if it did not win that war, it avoided defeat for thirty-nine, long, frustrating months.

James Sandkovich: The Italian Navy in World War Ii, ed. Westport. 1994 (In Rome, at the Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare, Mr.Sandkovich epic activity looking for documents which were used for this very documented work is still a legend. He arrived to buy a personal Xerox machine to copy the various files he needed without having so to wait for the official copy service and presented it at the Ufficio Storico – where they consider it quite a monument in loving memory – after a year of continuous activity, almost night and day).

Jack Greene and Alessandro Massignani, The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940-1943, July 15, 2011 Updated and Revised.

This was the first [1998] English-language account of the naval war to take advantage of the research in all languages to provide a comprehensive record of fighting in the Mediterranean during World War II. Far more than an operational history, it explains why the various warship classes were built and employed, the role of the Italian Air Force at sea, the successes of German planes and U-boats, the importance of the battle of Malta, and the distrustful relationship between the Italians and Germans.

Period photographs and detailed maps illustrate the realities of war at sea and provide a clear visual record of the war’s key events in the Mediterranean theater. With its in-depth background information, exhaustive research, and fascinating narrative, this book is essential reading for those interested in World War II.

Marc’Antonio Bragadin, The Italian Navy in World War II, Annapolis 1957 (It is dated but is the only one which can give you the right idea of what were the actual opinions at Supermarina – The Royal Italian Navy H.Q. – during the war)

Cdr. Junio Valerio Borghese, Sea Devils, Chicago 1954, reprinted 2009 by the Naval Institute Press.

Erminio Bagnasco and Mark Grossman, Regia marina, Italian battleships of World War Two ed. Pictorial Histories Publ. Co. Missolula, Montana (good photos, excellent drawings and a concise but authoritative text); Erminio Bagnasco is also the author of “Submarines of World War Two”, ed. U.S. Naval Institute (there’s a German version too)

Aldo Fraccaroli, Italian Warship of World War Two, ed. Ian Allan, London, 1967 (a precious pocket book with the right description and data of all the Italian Warships of the last world war).

A.Santoni/F.Mattesini “La partecipazione tedesca alla guerra aeronavale nel Mediterraneo (1940-1945)”

Though about the Germans, could perhaps be useful for contested hits. The authors wrote it (25 years ago) to prove that, compared with the Germans’, the Italian Navy and Air Force achievements in the Mediterranean War were poor: this against some Italian authors who over-estimated or over-exalted them, not for anti-national feelings (btw Santoni was teacher of Naval History at the Italian Navy’s Naval Academy).

G. Giorgerini “Uomini sul fondo” and “La Guerra Italiana sul mare”.

Giorgerini’s first book is a history of the Italian Navy submarine branch (a good work, very objective if not even a little bit too severe with our submariners in some judgements), the other one is a general overview of the Italian Navy’s WWII (the book is recent and, well researched, a good work too).

The Rivista Marittima (the Italian Naval staff monthly since 1868) has got, at the end of its various articles a summary in English, German, French and Spanish. It’available on the web at while the e-mail is

and the address is: Via dell’Acqua Traversa 151 00135 ROMA. You may have the 11 numbers of the year and the 12 “supplementi” (separate books inclusive of the service).

With a bit of will and a good dictionary (The Associazione Navimodellisti Bolognesi, C.P. 976 40100 Bologna, may let you have, with their catalogue formed by more than 2.200 drawings of ships, weapons and boats based on the original projects of the Italian ships since XIX to XXI century a concise but very useful technical Naval dictionary in English, German and French) Italian language is not a too much difficult obstacle for naval matters and it may give you quite a lot of surprises.


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