Italian Navy Reports on Surface Engagements with Force K

These are translations of reports from the Italian Navy’s official history “La Difesa Del Trafico con L’Africa Settentrionale” (The Defense of the Traffic with North Africa – Volume II), which was published in the early 1960s as part of the 8-volume complete history of the Regia Marina in World War II. The translation was done by me – apologies for the possible errors. My Italian is far from perfect.
1. Report by the Head of Escort Section Procida and Maritza convoy, Captain of Frigate Francesco Mimbelli

Extract from the report of Captain of Frigate Mimbelli regarding the engagement of Destroyer Escort Lupo on 24 November 1941

Omitted

b) The fire of the two Destroyer Escorts, considering the particularly difficult conditions under which it was conducted (frequent change of approach to avoid bracketing by the enemy; reduced visibility by smoke-screen; impossibility for Lupo to measure range etc.etc.), had a fairly satisfying result. As was already told, an Arethusa class cruiser was hit once or twice by Lupo. Previously, this same cruiser had already been hit by Cassiopea shortly before. In total 304 rounds of 100/47 [main armament of the torpedo boats] were expended: 116 by Lupo and 188 by Cassiopea. Perfect in every regard the performance of the munitions and guns: not one dud round. Less well however was the performance of the smoke generators on the two Destroyer Escorts, which generated smoke alright, but not of the density and opaqueness that could have been wished for.

c) After sighting, the enemy tried to disturb our radio communications on the naval frequency (m.55) by emitting a constant signal for several minutes. This probably aimed to stop or blanket our signal of discovery, and to prevent indirectly the assembly of naval or air forces in our support. Despite the efforts by the enemy, our signal of discovery was promptly received by the radio station of Naval Command South East.

d) The tactical conduct of combat by the English was in my view based on not running risks. Instead of aiming for the complete destruction of the enemy forces, which would not have been difficult to achieve given the great disparity in forces and the measurable distance in speed, they contented themselves with only sinking the steamers in the care of the Destroyer Escorts, in a way that could not cause significant damage to their own units The enemy destroyers remained all the time rigidly close to the cruisers and did never attempt a gamble, even though their higher speed would have allowed them to. When the two Destroyer Escorts had to leave the field of action, they renounced to pursue, or at the least pursue as far as possible. The fire of the English was as always heavy, but I can not say I was favourably impressed by the precision and the speed. It must of course be said that a Destroyer Escort taking high-speed evasive actions is anything but a simple target.

e) For the part concerning the conduct of the action on our side, I maybe allowed to observe that I missed the information from aerial reconnaissance about the approach of the enemy forces. If I had known of the approach of the English division towards me just a few hours before, I could most likely have evaded contact until sunset, and then return quickly to the Morea coast. When sighting the enemy forces I quickly understood that the steamers were practically condemned: we missed two hours to sunset; there was no support group nearby; the coast was too far. Only one hope remained for me: that of an intervention by German bombers. It was above all that hope which made me look for delaying, for as long as possible, the approach march of the enemy units and the destructive effect of their fire on the steamers. I had to renounce twice to conduct the attack to the finish with Lupo because the enemy, free of any restriction to maneuver, by turning bow to me, immediately conducted the counter-maneuver that is at the same time easiest and most effective. When at 16.30 hours I saw that nothing could be done to rescue the Maritza and the Procida, and that remaining close to them would lead only to the loss of the two Destroyer Escorts, I decided to abandon the two steamers with their precious cargo and their brave crews. Never before have I had to take such a painful decision which is in such contrast, at least apparently, to that which should be the creed of every torpedo commander: aggressiveness. I had to shut up the sentiment and obey the cold reasoning which ordered me to save Lupo and Cassiopea for other endeavours.

CHIEF OF THE SQUADRON

Captain of Frigate FRANCESCO MIMBELLI

German steamer Maritza in better days

German steamer Maritza in better days

2. Exchange of letters between Supermarina and Naval Command Trapani on the loss of tanker Iridio Montavani

COMMAND OF NAVAL BASE TRAPANI

Trapani, 21 December 1941/XX Office O.A.

SUPERMARINA SECRET – RESERVED – PERSONAL

Re: Mission report escort battle with enemy and sinking of Royal Destroyer Da Mosto

In conjunction with dispatch no. 28861 dated 16th of the current month relating to the same affair.

While returning the mission report of the commander of Royal destroyer Da Mosto I would like to allow myself to present the following:
The losses we have suffered in the channel of Sicily in the last six month because of increased activity of enemy air forces are in my view due to imperfect air-sea co-operation. Leaving aside the reasons why this co-operation has thus far not been effective, it is a fact that the convoys, in particular those of one or two units with a naval escort, do not have aerial escorts for the whole daylight time, or don’t have it at all. This allows enemy air reconnaissance a lot of liberty and following that deadly attacks. It can also be observed that often the attacks happen when fighters are absent. Reiterating that the convoys, against which Malta is an effective air base, which can be seen at the moment, should not venture south of Pantelleria without aerial escort during the day, and can therefore not leave the final port of call in Italy before that escort is available and assured. 1. In the case we are looking at here, the attack at 13.00 hours, the fighters which were present from 10.40 hours, did not intervene. In the second attack at 16.50 hours, with the aerial escort absent, the attack could develop with only board weapons against it. 2. Finally the sighting of the two cruisers and the accompanying destroyer occurred just when, by fatal coincidence, the Da Mosto expected the Malocello and the Prestinari. Even this uncertainty could have been avoided had the aerial reconnaissance worked, and rapidly signaled the discovery. This would have allowed Da Mosto to be informed of the presence of enemy warships, and enabled her to make for Tripoli, only 60 miles away, avoiding a day-time battle without hope of success while having shipwrecked on board. Because of the situation created by the uncertainty, a retreat would almost certainly not have allowed to prevent the destruction of Da Mosto by the enemy force, and her commander therefore decided to take on the battle, leading his ship with determination and bold daring to her glorious end.

ADMIRAL OF DIVISION

Commander of the Naval Station

LUIGI NOTARBARTOLO

SUPERMARINA TO NAVAL STATION TRAPANI

Re: Mission report escort battle with enemy and sinking of Royal Destroyer Da Mosto

SECRET – RESERVED – PERSONAL

Referring to sheet 3/1716 S.R.P. dated 21 December 1941 – XX

Regarding the aerial escort of the Da Mosto convoy, this was assured for the whole duration of daylight. During the first attack of 13.00 hours the fighters, while present, did not intervene because they were not aware of the presence of enemy aircraft. While this is inconvenient, this has already been verified on other occasions, and continues to be verified until it is possible to have an adequate system of communication between ships and planes, since the visibility from the planes is limited, and the first spotting is always effected by the naval unit. During the second attack at 16.50 hours the fighters, while in flight, were not in the sky above the ships because the attacks happened during the change of escort, when the first patrol, at the limit of fuel, had turned away to return to base, while the second patrol had not yet arrived above the convoy.

CHIEF OF THE GENERAL STAFF

4 thoughts on “Italian Navy Reports on Surface Engagements with Force K

  1. Hi, another little ‘linguistic’ correction: the translation of “Capitano di Fregata” in English is not a literal “Captain of Frigate”; the equivalent rank is “Commander”. Do you have “Defense of the Traffic with North Africa – Volume II”? If so, may you be so kind to take a look – when you have the time? I was looking for the crew losses (casualties, survivors, and if possible also Commanding Officer and whether he survived or not) of some Italian warships lost during the convoy war for North Africa. I think in that book there should be such data about the following ships:
    Destroyers Libeccio (sunk 9.11.1941 after the battle of Duisburg convoy – I know the CO, but I don’t know the crew losses and survivors), Fulmine (sunk 9.11.1941 battle of Duisburg convoy; I know the CO, I have a figure of 141 dead but don’t know how many survivors), Alvise Da Mosto (I know the CO; I found 138 fatalities and 135 survivors, is that correct?), Antoniotto Usodimare (sunk 8.6.1942, know the CO, found 135 survivors, fatalities?), Emanuele Pessagno (sunk 29.5.1942, know the CO, found 86 survivors, casualties?), Strale (ran aground 20.6.1942, torpedoed and destroyed while still aground on 6.8.1942)
    Torpedo boat/Destroyer escort Polluce (sunk 4.9.1942)
    Armed merchant cruiser/Auxiliary escort ship Adriatico (sunk 30.9.1941, CO Commander Campagnoli but don’t know his first name, 87 survivors, fatalities?)

    You would do a huge favour to me.

  2. Pingback: German Sonar on Italian Vessels – Pt. 3 | The Crusader Project

  3. Pingback: 23 November 1941: Malta Force Destroys Axis Fuel Supply | Malta: War Diary

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