Mystery Plane Loss (?) – Benghazi 31 October 1941

Mystery Plane Loss (?) – Benghazi 31 October 1941

Background

In the records of Marine Bordflak Kompanie Süd, the Kriegsmarine unit supplying German merchants with anti-aircraft capability, there are quite a few records of engagements between the anti-air gunners and attacking planes. Claims were meticulously recorded and verification by witnesses sought.

31 October 1941

One such claim was made in a report on 6 November 1941, by the gun commander of an anti-aircraft gun on the German merchant SS Brook, one of the smaller vessels plying primarily the coastal route from Tripoli to Benghazi. SS Brook was in port at Benghazi at the time, and joined the air defense of the port during an air attack late evening of 31 October. The claim made was for a Blenheim or similar, engaged at 2225 hours.

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Benghazi harbour map, July 1941. TNAAIR23/6489 Rommelsriposte.com collection

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Map of Benghazi, Berka Landing Ground in red. Detail from German January 1942 target map for air crew. From John Calvin’s Collection.

The issue with the claim is that I cannot find a corresponding loss. The Egypt Wellingtons were  not tasked to operate over Benghazi that night, attacking Berka landing ground and store depot instead. As the map above shows however, these are close enough to the port that a plane could have been free-lancing or chosen to cross out to sea via the port. 

Nevertheless, the Wellingtons, as far as I can see also do not report a loss or indeed having sustained AA damage, and reported AA as moderate and search lights as ineffective. The standard work on RAF bomber losses in the Mediterranean, by Gunby and Temple, also does not record a loss due to enemy action that night. There is also no record that Malta-based Wellingtons or Blenheims attacked Benghazi that night, or that the Beaufighters of No. 272 Squadron R.A.F. did so. South African Marylands did not operate at night, and also report no loss.

So the issue is not just whether a plane was actually lost, but also who operated over the port that night?

The claims report is below.

Current Location, 6 November 41

TO: Marine- Bordflak-Kompanie-Süd

N E A P E L

R e p o r t

on shooting down of an enemy plane by the embarked AA of SS Brook, 31 October 1941 around 2225 hours in Benghazi Port.

At 2225 hours a plane attempted to attack the harbour and was caught by the search light. The plane, which flew towards us, was at a distance of about 16 h/m[1]. At 13 h/m we opened fire and scored 10-12 clear hits until the switchover point (11 h/m)[2]. Hits were scored in the main fuselage and close to the engine on the wing. During impact on the wing it was noted that pieces of the plan (pieces of about the size of a hand) flew out of the wing, at the same time as sparks rained down. After this the plane wobbled heavily. The plane now went lower, escaped the search light beam, and could no longer be observed by us.

We were the first to engage the plane, and the later shots from other guns, which stood about 800m further from the target, were far off it. Furthermore, the plane, which was recognized by us as a Bristol Blenheim, immediately escaped the search light.

Following an inquiry with the Naval Transport Office Benghazi, we were informed that most probably two planes were shot down. I am convinced that the plane engaged by us must be one of them.

The remains of the crashed plane had not been found by the time of our departure from Benghazi, but the search was continuing.

The Armed Forces Communique reported the shooting down of four planes the next day.

The plane was engaged by us with armor-piercing high-explosive rounds, which I had exchanged for high-explosive rounds with the air force anti-air unit.[3]

Paul Hupperts

Naval Artillery Private and Gun Commander

Notes

[1]Hectometre – 100 m = 1,600m and typical engagement range for a light AA gun. The author served on 20mm AA during his time as a conscript.

[2] The point where the plane flies away from the location of the gun, and is no longer to be engaged.

[3] Obviously a very enterprising gun commander.

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Flak.- Light embarked AA 2 cm and 3 cm with gun shield; PK Marine West. Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv

First Attempts on Tobruk – April 1941

First Attempts on Tobruk – April 1941

Background

14 April 1941 marked the nadir of the history of M.G.Batl.8 or short ‘MG8’[1] in North Africa, when it lost its commanding officer, Lt.Col. Ponath, and several hundred men during a failed attempt to take Tobruk. The battalion had already been engaged heavily during the initial pursuit of the retreating Empire forces through the desert and along the coastal road, but without suffering heavy losses. When it reached Tobruk, the battalion was thrown into the assault on the town, which was erroneously perceived not to be held in strength.

This article examines the events that happened around Tobruk on the days from 11 – 17 April, drawing on war diaries, official histories, and the unit history of MG8.

The Assault on Tobruk

For the first week after reaching Tobruk, Rommel threw arriving units into an increasingly desperate battle in a piecemeal fashion. While the main event was the Easter battle, which really occurred over four days, culminating on the night of 13/14 April and ending with the rout of MG8 on the morning of 14 April, there were in fact several attempts all along the perimeter, undertaken by both German and Italian forces. None of them succeeded, and the Axis forces lost well over a regiment in troops in undertaking these disjointed attacks, which were individually defeated.

It is arguable that if instead of frittering away forces by throwing them into attack at different locations as they arrived, an effort had been made to concentrate them and attack at a chosen point, success against the defenders would have been more likely. By the end of 17 April, by combining German and Italian forces, a force equivalent to about 1.5 infantry regiments and about one battalion of tanks could have been generated, with support from about a regiment of artillery.

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The object of desire. Oblique view of Tobruk town and harbour looking west, 1941. The obsolete Italian armoured cruiser San Giorgio in the foreground.AWM.

Tobruk 41 Map

Tobruk Defense Overprint Map, Operation COMPASS, 14 Jan 1941. TNA – Rommelsriposte.com collection

The Easter Battle

The Easter battle for Tobruk ran from 11-14 April 1941. For MG8 it consisted of three days during which the battalion acted as assault infantry, and had made progress into the ring of fortifications around Tobruk, on the final night the battalion managed to break into the fortifications, but then couldn’t expand the breakthrough. The day-by-day account shows clearly how hard the fighting was.

11 April

On 11 April the impression of Rommel was that Tobruk was being evacuated, and the order came down to immediately attack to interrupt the attempt to withdraw men. An attempt by four companies of the battalion, with support from the remaining 20 tanks of Panzerregiment 5 (PR5) was duly made from mid-day, but faltered in the heavy artillery fire from the fortress. Initially held up by the artillery, the companies use a lull in the fire when the withdrawing tanks of PR5 draw the artillery to make one final advance. When the artillery fire switches back any further advance becomes impossible and the attack finally stops before reaching the Tobruk – El Adem road. The battalion digs in under artillery, MG, and AT gun fire. The attack is described well in the battalion history:

[…]We manage to advance some more metres in short jumps, until we receive MG and AT gun fire. Using the entrenching tool, bayonet, hand and feet, we dig small holes into the stony ground, and build small stone walls to protect our heads. We receive rifle fire. Any move means death or injury.

We cannot make out the enemy. His positions must be camouflaged too well.[2] It makes a man cry to see how comrades fall dead, how the wounded try to crawl towards the rear. 

In this inferno of artillery, MG, and AT-gun fire we see our stretcher bearers, especially Feldwebel[3] Urban and Uffz.[4] Weissgerber, dressing the wounded and carrying them to the rear. Does the hardly recognizable red-cross armband help somewhat? Some ask quietly for forgiveness that during peace time they looked down on the stretcher bearers…

During the night the battalion receives food and supplies, and enhances the positions.

12 April

The next day, 12 April, at 11 PR5 attacks at high speed, carrying the battalion forward. There is no communication between the two units, so when the tanks suddenly veer off and retreat because they have noted the anti-tank ditch, the battalion is surprised and has to go to ground again, now about 250-300 metres in front of this new barrier. While relatively unscathed from artillery fire, and in sandy ground that is easier to dig into, it is now under direct fire, and even the smallest movement is treacherous. When this is reported to Division HQ, the order comes that the battalion should hold the position it has reached, but it is realized that no further advance is possible. The battalion war diary estimates that the well-directed fire comprised about six batteries. Due to the more forward position re-supply and food supply almost fails. In some companies the men are brought their sports dresses, since these are darker, and can keep them warm during the night.

Estimated losses in these two days amount to ten killed and 42 wounded, including two company commanders. That is about half of all losses since the offensive commenced. It is estimated also that the rifle strength on the morning of 13 April was about 500 men.

13 April

On 13 April at 1100 hours Lt.Col. Ponath is ordered to the division HQ, and receives the order to attack at 1800 hours under cover of an artillery fire strike, and with support from one battery of 88mm guns of I./Flak 18 and with support from a 2cm battery of the same unit, which would advance to the forward line and provide direct fire support. 2nd and 3rd companies were to attack with one AT platoon as support each, roll up the enemy positions 500 metres in each direction, and open the way for the remainder of the battalion to break through to a road intersection deeper inside the fortress. If the attack went well during the night, then PR5 would advance in the early morning hours to exploit the breakthrough and advance into Tobruk proper.

Already the communication of these orders to the companies failed, and due to losses of runners, three of whom were killed and two wounded, elements of 2nd and 3rd companies never received the attack order. 3rd company had lost all its officers, and was now under command by a replacement from battalion HQ. They nevertheless attacked when they saw the rest of the battalion advance into the attack.

14 April

German Map of Tobruk Fortifications, August 1941. White arrow – direction of MG8 attack 1 – Dark circle – objective of MG8 attack. 2 – anti-tank ditch. 3 – direction of MG8 attack. 

The final Attack

At 1730 hours on 13 April the light AA battery dashes forward, only to be annihilated. One officer and six men pass back through the line of 5th company of MG8. The 88mm battery takes position but almost immediately comes under heavy artillery fire. After firing some rounds the survivors retreat. Now without fire support the infantry advances regardless, and reaches the anti-tank ditch. 2nd company then retreats back into its old position due to the heavy fire. The attack falters at the ditch.

At 2200 hours, Lt.Col. Ponath assembles men from the 2nd and 3rd company for a silent attack, which makes good progress. A crossing capable of taking wheeled and tracked vehicles is found on the anti-tank ditch, and engineers lift mines. Patrols find no sign of the enemy. It later was noted that by co-incidence the attack hit right in the middle between positions R33 and R35, and since the attack was directed north-east, also aimed at the middle between R32 and R34 on the inner ring of fortifications. This was however not luck, but the result of a careful recce from the air by a Hs 126 of 2./(H)14. The Rocket Troop war diary notes that the plane spent the late afternoon of 13 April reconnoitering the area, and finally at 1830 hours dropping a flare exactly at the point of the crossing, which was presumably the signal to MG8 where to direct the attack.

It was during this attack that Cpl;. Edmondson gained his Victoria Cross, posthumously. He was part of the crew on post R33, and when it was approached by about 30 Germans with two field guns and a mortar, a party under Lt. Mackell went out to engage them. Cpl. Edmondson was killed in the engagement.

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Cpl. Edmondson V.C.. Wikipedia.

Corporal Edmondson’s VC citation reads as follows:

‘War Office, 1st July, 1941.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:—

No. 15705 Corporal John Hurst Edmondson, Australian Military Forces.

On the night of 13th–14th April, 1941, a party of German infantry
broke through the wire defences at Tobruk, and established themselves
with at least six machine guns, mortars and two small field pieces. It
was decided to attack them with bayonets, and a party consisting of one
officer, Corporal Edmondson and five privates, took part in the charge.
During the counter-attack Corporal Edmondson was wounded in the neck and
stomach but continued to advance under heavy fire and killed one enemy
with his bayonet. Later, his officer had his bayonet in one of the enemy
and was grasped about the legs by him, when another attacked him from
behind. He called for help, and Corporal Edmondson, who was some yards
away, immediately came to his assistance and in spite of his wounds,
killed both of the enemy. This action undoubtedly saved his officer’s
life.

‘Shortly after returning from this successful counter-attack, Corporal
Edmondson died of his wounds. His actions throughout the operations were
outstanding for resolution, leadership and conspicuous bravery.

The bridgehead thus gained by MG8 nevertheless was estimated to extend 500m left and right and to a depth that was either close to or included R32. This bridgehead was now consolidated, while the Australian defenders kept quiet.A consolidated, if somewhat disorganized line was created, with 3rd company on the left, then one platoon 1st company, then 2nd and 5th company. AT guns of 4th company were inserted into this position. AT guns of 7th company were expected to be put into the line, but advanced too far to the right and got stuck in front of the AT ditch, leaving only one of their platoons with the battalion, which had advanced with it during the day. Battalion HQ was in the AT ditch, as was the dressing station for the wounded.

The men tried to dig in, but like in a horror movie, were suddenly attacked by Australians coming from nowhere. First a man of 5th company is knifed to death, then a patrol hits 4th and 7th company so quickly that men cannot even grab their weapons. Then 2nd company, and the whole of the left wing is thrown back to the AT ditch. A counterattack regains some ground but notes 40 men of MG8 dead. Captain Bartsch, CO of 5th company and a survivor of the attack noted:

[…]Midnight came. When will these guys stop firing? I don’t even dare looking at our AT gun anymore. Then suddenly the fire ceases. We only hear the moaning of the wounded. 

Suddenly a cry: “Where are our officers?”
If I hadn’t lain on the ground already I would have been knocked over.

Then the angry reply from Lt. Schöllmann: “Shut your gob. I’m here!”

But then came the most extraordinary of the extraordinary: the Tommies suddenly started singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary…” and then it crashed like a storm. Shouting hurrah at the top of their voices they attacked with the bayonet.

A counterattack was undertaken by maybe 35 men under Lt. Dreschler of 2nd company. A survivor recalled that they set out with a Hurrah, but then came under heavy MG and mortar fire, and only five men made it back to the AT ditch.

Around 0500 hours the tanks of PR5 appeared and managed to pull forward the riflemen and AT guns of MG8. The men of the battalion were noted in 1 Royal Horse Artillery’s B/O Battery’s war diary as passing through ‘D’ Company positions (presumably of 2/17 Australian Infantry Battalion) at 0500, and occupying the house which was the observation post of the Rocket Troop.

These hit an artillery position further inside the fortress at 0600 hours, and give up after an hour-long duel with A/E battery of 1 R.H.A. and M Battery R.H.A.. While the tank commander offered to take back the men of MG8, Lt.Col. Ponath refuses. Uffz. Engelhardt of 1st company, an eyewitness, recounted this confrontation:

[…]At this time the English had shot up about 11 of the tanks that were accompanying us. I was then witness to an excited confrontation between Lt.Col. Ponath and the commander of the tanks. The latter requested Ponath to climb on the tanks with his men, since he had to turn back. He had fired all but the emergency reserve of rounds. Ponath refused because the English were already about to abandon their positions, and all that was required was to advance. The tank commander refused however, closed his hatch, and turned about[…]

Once the tanks had disappeared, and the MG 8 infantry was stuck in a newly constructed but unfinished trench system, the defenders methodically eliminated them. By 1000 hours MG8 forces inside the fortress were running out of ammunition, and Lt.Col. Ponath, erroneously believing that tanks to the south were German, ordered to fall back onto them. In carrying out this maneuver he was killed. The remnants of 3rd company was subdued by a Vickers light tank that had worked itself into the trench and used its machine guns to control the company.

Sometime later, at 1130 hours, Captain Bartsch of 5th company, now in charge of the force, decided to surrender. The message did not immediately get through to everyone, but eventually firing ceased along the line. 

In the meantime, the Australian infantry, supported by the Matilda IIs of ‘D’ Squadron 7 R.T.R. had attacked the bridgehead and eliminated it. The bayonet was again in use, for example in the charge of a small number of Australians from B Company 2/17 Battalion, described thus in its war diary for 14 April (available for download at this link):

0630 15 enemy located in ruined house NORTH of post 32 [i.e. further towards Tobruk]. B Coy [Company] was then about to counter-attack. B Comd [Company Commander] left post 32 and rejoined his Coy which had already been in action, Lieut. Owen having been wounded, in clearing the ruined house behind post 32. Rejoined (less 1 pl[atoon]) and found enemy about 0730 on hill below house and arty [artillery] OP [observation post]. They were then engaged, and a charge made by two sections [about 20 men] with Coy Comd. Enemy 100-150 strong. All were either killed or captured. […]

At 0800 the diarist of Rocket Troop notes with some satisfaction ‘The results of the battle was 300 prisoners and an equal number or more killed’ and ‘The enemy were completely ROUTED and withdrew showing complete lack of fight when faced with the bayonet.’ The estimate is 300 POW and the same or higher number killed, which seems reasonable.

 The Aftermath

 Following the battle, MG8 had been reduced to 300 men combat strength, compared to 1,400 men ration strength (note that this does not mean 1,100 men had been lost, the two strengths cannot be compared, for example temporarily detached units would still be on the ration strength, but not on the combat strength). It is estimated that about 700 men were lost, including 10 officers and 46 NCOs. Almost all weapons had been lost, including 36 HMGs, 15 AT guns[5], 5 81mm mortars, 40 SMGs, and 280 rifles.

On the morning of 14 April it could field the following, which equates to about one company between coys 1-5:

Sub-Unit[6] Strength
1st Company (MG) 2 heavy MG (s.M.G.) platoons
2nd Company (MG) 1 platoon with 4 s.M.G. and one ATR[6]
3rd Company (MG) 1 s.M.G. section, 1 ATR
4th Company (AT) 2 AT guns, 2 heavy mortars (81mm)
5th Company (motorcycle) Only trucks and supply vehicles/installations
6th Company (Engineers) Not used yet, remains in the rear in training

This would amount to 14 s.M.G., 2 ATR and no light mortars, roughly equivalent to a MG company, all told, with at most 1.5 times the manpower of a normal MG company.

Based on the February 1941 organization at this link, a machine gun company would field:

12 heavy machine guns

3 light mortars

3 anti-tank rifles

The 4th, anti-tank gun company (see this link) would normally hold:

6x 3.7cm AT gun

6x heavy mortar 81mm

15 to 17 April

The attacks did not end on 14 April.

Notes

[1]Machine Gun Battalion 8

[2]Contrary to many popular myths, the Italian positions in the fortification ring around Tobruk were very well constructed, flush with the ground, and extremely difficult to make out.

[3]Staff Sergeant

[4]Sergeant

[5]This probably covers AT rifles as well.

[6]The company numbering for the battalion is all over the place. The accounts in the unit history mention a 7th (heavy) company, which did exist, but was renumbered as either 4th or 5th at some point.

[7]Anti-tank rifle

Sources

AWM – Official History Tobruk

Lissance, Halder War Diaries

Liddell-Hart, The Rommel Papers

Molony – The Mediterranean and the Middle East

Unknown – History of MG8

War Diary – Deutsches Afrikakorps

Appendix

There’s a hadn-written note next to the entry on the battalion’s strength, which I cannot decipher – any help much appreciated:

Sea-Air Battle in the Mediterranean 10 – 13 September 1941

Sea-Air Battle in the Mediterranean 10 – 13 September 1941

Introduction

The summer of 1941 was primarily spent trying to build up the Axis forces in North Africa to prepare for the assault on Tobruk and the subsequent invasion of Egypt. While the supply route overall was delivering, with the vast majority of supplies reaching their destination, losses were suffered on a regular basis. I have previously written about the quite harrowing experience of the Malta Blenheim IVs of Nos. 105 and 107 Squadrons engaging the Axis supplies at this link.

Nevertheless, while the loss rate on daytime shipping strikes was brutal, the reward was high, when a fully laden merchant with vital supplies could be sent to the depths of the Mediterranean. This happened twice on 11/12 September 1941, when the Malta strike forces had a good outing against the 44th convoy with Italian and German supplies, known to the Italians as the TEMBIEN convoy, and also sank the single runner SS Alfredo Oriani, while the submarine HM/Sub Thunderbolt sank another German merchant on her way to Benghazi. While the loss of four merchant vessels in two days was a remarkable success to the Royal Air Force, it came at a price.

There are substantial discrepancies between the British and the Italian accounts, which I am aiming to clear up below. A big gap is the lack of an operations record book for No.830 Squadron. I have inquired with the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton, but to no avail.  The article below sets the historic record straight, by providing clarity on who sank what, addressing the claims made by the Fleet Air Arm Swordfish operating out of Malta, and correcting the Italian Official History regarding the sinking of SS Alfredo Oriani on 13 September.

The outcome of the battle, other than the losses of ships, men, and material, was also the replacement of the commanding officer of the Regia Aeronauticas commander in North Africa, General Ajmone Cat.

Many thanks go to Enrico Cernuschi and Lorenzo Colombo for their help.

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Convoy Information – ULTRA Intercept 8 September 1941. TNA DEFE3/832

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RN Alfredo Oriani underway. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Air/Sea Battle on the North Africa Route 10-13 September 1941

These four days saw heavy anti-shipping operations by the Malta-based British aircraft with substantial losses on both sides. The 10th and 11th of September saw No. 105 Squadron strikes against a reported convoy off Greece. Then 12th September saw the heaviest anti-shipping operations, with a total of 22-29 aircraft operating out of Malta according to the Malta War Diary, 7x Wellington of No. 38 Squadron in a night attack, 8x Blenheim IV of No. 105 Squadron in the afternoon, and 7x Swordfish of No. 830 Squadron F.A.A. operating possibly twice during the night and the afternoon, all against the same convoy.

Losses in this operation were heavy, with three Blenheims lost. These were the planes of S/Ldr Charney D.F.C. with Observer Sgt. Porteous and Wireless Op./Air Gunner Sgt. Harris, Sgt. Mortimer with Observer Sgt. Reid and Wireless Op./Air Gunner Sgt. Owen, and Sgt. Brandwood. The latter and his crew were rescued by HM/Sub Utmost on 14 September, and the former two crews were all killed. Another Blenheim belly-landed on Malta due to damage from the naval anti-air fire, meaning that No. 105 Squadron had suffered a loss of 50% of aircraft despatched on mission that day.

Two Axis merchant ships were sunk in these attacks, SS Caffaro by No.105 and SS Nicoló Odero by No.38 Squadron, both part of the Tembien convoy. Furthermore, on the 13th the  Italian 3,059t steamer SS Alfredo Oriani, a merchant with an identical name to the escort leader of the Tembien convoy, sank halfway to Benghasi following an air attack by No. 105 Squadron on 11 September while on the way to Benghasi from Patras. Thus, the R.A.F. sent a total of over 15,500 tons of shipping carrying thousands of tons of supplies and hundreds of vehicles to the bottom of the sea.

Based on information from Lorenzo Colombo, who runs the excellent Con la Pelle appesa a un Chiodo blog detailing all Italian vessel losses, and the war diary of Naval Transport Office Benghazi, the butcher’s bill for the four days amounted to 38 on the Axis side, to which need to be added six R.A.F. crew members in two of the lost Blenheims and the German army officer who died of wounds in Tripoli, for a total of 45 killed:

  • SS Caffaro carried 228 men, including 168 Germans; 224 survived and four were missing (two Italian crew members and two Germans)
  • SS Nicolò Odero had 285 survivors, the victims were about twenty including 4 crew members (the other being troops and AA crews)
  • SS Alfredo Oriani had 50 men aboard, two were missing and 48 survived.
  • SS Livorno, 46 crew and German AA gunners, 12 lost and 34 survived.

10-11 September

Off North Africa, at 0230 hours on 10 September HM/Sub Thunderbolt sinks Motor Schooner Svan I with gun fire. Svan I was at the time trying to fix an engine problem.

On the same day, following a sighting report by a reconnaissance sortie of No. 69 Squadron, No. 105 Squadron was despatched from Malta to search for a small convoy off Cape Spartivento. It returned empty-handed, not having located the target, and instead attacked a small schooner of the Regia Marinas auxiliary force, the V213 Anital L, claiming to have sunk it. Instead however she was merely damaged.

The next day, 11 September, the Squadron went out again, and claimed SS Alfredo OrianiThe steamer which had departed Petrasso on the 11th was escorted by torpedo boat CANTORE. While the timing of the attack reports in the British and Italian accounts diverges by a day, and the British pilots reported another merchant present, it is nevertheless certain that this was the successful attack on Oriani. The description of the attack and its location and the sinking are so close that only No.105 Squadron could have been responsible for her loss. This assessment follows a review in the Operation Record Books of Nos. 11, 14, 55 and 107 Squadron. 

One reason for the high number of survivors seems to have been that Livorno carried boats as deck cargo, enabling crew members to utilize them to abandon ship. The German report on the sinking notes:

Following the torpedo hit and the start of a substantial fire, the ship and the area of petrol burning on the water surface had to be abandoned as quickly as possible. There were no opportunities for participation in rescue or recovery work since every man had to concentrate on saving their bare life.

The Malta Admiralty War Diary describes the attack thus:

Italian steamer ALFREDO ORIANI (3059grt) was sunk by British Blenheim bombers in 35-05N, 20-16E.


Oriani

SS Alfredo Oriani in peacetime, from Wrecksite.eu

RN Cantore5

RN Generale Alfredo Cantore, an obsolete destroyer, downgraded to Escort Destroyer. She was lost on a mine in 1942. Courtesy Wikipedia.

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Bristol Blenheim Mark IV, V6014 ‘GB-J’, of No. 105 Squadron RAF Detachment in a dispersal at Luqa, Malta. Canvas covers protect the cockpit and glazed nose section from the sun. From July to September 1941, 105 Squadron was detached from the United Kingdom to Malta, to operate against targets in the Mediterranean and North Africa, losing 14 aircraft during the period. Note the modified gun mounting under the nose. Courtesy of the IWM Collection.

No. 105 Squadron ORB states that five Blenheim IV went out on a shipping sweep at 0645am on 11 September. The four attacking aircraft returned at 1211pm, while two planes returned early with engine trouble, at 0750am. Crews were S/Ldr Smithers with Sgts. Harford and Green, F/Lt. Duncan with Sgts. Smith and Lyndall, Sgt. Bendall, with Sgts. Hindle and Brown, Sgt. Mortimer, Sgt. Weston, with Sgts. Storey and Kindell.

Five crews were detailed for an offensive sweep of the Ionian Sea.

The aircraft departed in two waves, the first sighting two MERCHANT VESSELS and DESTROYER escort in position 35°33N. 20°35’E.

One aircraft – SQUADRON LEADER SMITHERS – attacked first dropping bombs from stern to bow and registered a hit amidships.

The other aircraft attacking the same ship claim one hit each but not confirmed.

The MERCHANT VESSEL when last see appeared to be settling in the water in a sinking condition.

The second wave – FLIGHT LIEUTENANT DUNCAN and SGT. MORTIMER – returned with engine trouble.

All aircraft landed safely at BASE.

In the Italian official history, her loss is described thus.

11 September 4am from Patras to Benghazi. Steamer A. Oriani. Escort by Escort Destroyers Cantore then Altair (from 1700 hours on 13 September). Attacked  and repeatedly hit by bombers at 1400 hours on 12 September, 60 nautical off Cape Matapan, sinks at 1800 hours on the 13th.

The war diary of Supermarina has different information instead and it is difficult to understand why the Official History is not picking this up.

10 September

At 1200 hours the steamer Oriani, escorted by escort destroyer Cantore leaves Patras for Kalamata.

11 September (interceptions/notfications)

Escort destroyer Cantore notifies at 1000 hours 11 September to have seen enemy planes which are attacking it in 36°10N. 20°10’E (about 75 miles off Cape Matapan). Requests intervention by fighters.

11 September (damaged/lost)

Steamer Oriani, navigating from Patras to Benghazi escorted by Escort Destroyer Cantore was attacked by enemy bombers at 35°50N. 20°30’E (about 60 miles off Cape Matapan) and hit in the engine and steering gear. Cantore takes off the crew and makes for Kalamata, abandoning the steamer which she could not take under tow due to the condition of the sea. 

At 1500 hours a reconnaissance plane reports the steamer in 35°50N. 20°00’E lying to with a list. 

Marimorea Patras ordered the despatch of the tug Bagnoli from Zante and of the escort destroyer Altair which during the 12th would be replaced by Cantore..

At 1755 hours on 13 September Altair reports that Oriani has sunk.

The war diary confirms the following facts:

  • the departure time of the convoy was 16 hours earlier than given in the Italian Official History. 
  • the convoy was on a direct routing from Patras to Benghazi, and not via Brindisi
  • the location of the engagement was close to where the ORB of No. 105 Squadron places it
  • at the time of the attack, the convoy had been on its way for 22 hours
  • the time of the engagement was during the morning of 11 September, during the time for the mission given in the No. 105 Squadron ORB 

The Italian Official History is therefore considerably off the facts here, and the account of Supermarinas war diary together with the ORB of No. 105 Squadron confirms the actual events.

 

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The position of SS Alfredo Oriani’s sinking reported in the Supermarina war diary is not 75nm, but over 100 nautical miles off Cape Matapan. (Rommelsriposte.com using Google Maps)

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The position is about 175nm out of Patrassos, or about 16 hours steaming at full speed. (Rommelsriposte.com using Google Maps)

Also on 11 September at 1050 hours Tunderbolt sinks the German steamer Livorno out of a direct convoy from Naples to Benghazi with two torpedoes into the forward section, 24 miles at 327˚ off Benghazi. Hit between holds 1 and 2, she caught fire immediately and sank at 1120 hours. Of the crew of 46, including seven Italians, 14 members of Marinebordflak Kompanie Süd and 25 German sailors, 34 are rescued by the escort destroyers Polluce and Centauro. Of these 10 are wounded, including four severely. An escorting Cant Z 507 float plane attacks the submarine without effect.

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Attack Report on HM/Sub Thunderbolt – ULTRA Intercept. TNA DEFE3/832[1]

12/13 September

This day was the big one, and would lead to the total loss of two of the five steamers with their important cargo out of the important Naples – Tripoli convoy that departed on the 10th. It was attacked several times, first during the early morning hours by No. 830 Squadron F.A.A. with their Swordfish, without success. In the afternoon of the 12th, eight Blenheim IV were despatched by No. 105 Squadron. This time, the attack cost the Squadron severe losses, but it sank the steamer Caffaro. The final attacks came during the night 12/13 September, first another unsuccessful attack by the Swordfish, followed by high-level bombing from Malta-based Wellingtons, which struck and disabled Nicolo Odero, leading to her sinking later.

Official Accounts and Memories

The reconnaissance report from No. 69 Squadron notes that the convoy was first located on 11 September, by an ASV-equipped Swordfish. It was then relocated on 12 September by a Blenheim flown by Sgt. Bridge, and misidentified as consisting of none merchants with four destroyers. No. 105 Squadron later corrected this. The convoy was located at an unknown time, while steering 155˚ at 7-10 knots, at a distance of 37’ at 205˚ from Cape Lampion.  

The Italian official history La Difesa del Trafico Vol. I leads into the narrative of the battle.

 

An adventurous voyage, albeit marked by painful losses, was that of the TEMBIEN convoy, which left Naples the morning of the 10th for Tripoli. This was the second convoy of cargo vessels bound for Libya in the month of September and, since it was composed of slower vessels, it had orders to follow the route of the Marettimo Channel of Sicily to the Kerkennah Banks, the route called the Ponente [2].

 

The steamers TEMBIEN, CAFFARO, NIRVO, NICOLO’ ODERO and BAINSIZZA were part of the convoy; the escort[3] consisted of the destroyers ORIANI[4] (Convoy Leader Commander Chinigò[5]) and FULMINE[6] and the torpedo boats PROCIONE, PEGASO, and ORSA[7], with which the torpedo boat CIRCE[8] united in the Sicily Channel.

 

During the night 11/12 November the convoy was discovered by a nighttime reconnaissance plane south of Pantelleria. Thus at 03.10 hours of the 12th an attack by torpedo bombers followed, avoided  by the maneuvering of the convoy, a smoke screen, and the anti-air reaction of various units.

 

 The write up in the Malta war diary is below:

 

An Italian convoy of steamers TEMBIEN, CAFFARO, NIRVO, BAINSIZZA, NICOLO ODERO, and GUILA[9] departed Naples on the 10th, escorted by destroyers ORIANI and FULMINE and torpedo boats PROCIONE, PEGASO, ORSA, and CIRCE from Trapani, and OERSEO[10] which joined at 0600/13th.

 

Italian steamer CAFFARO (6476grt) was sunk by British Swordfish of 830 Squadron from Malta 105° northwest of Tripoli in 34-14N, 11-54E.

 

Italian steamer TEMBIEN (5584grt) was damaged by 830 Squadron attack.

 

Italian steamer NICOLO ODERO (6003grt) was damaged in the attack. She was sunk on the 14th by RAF bombing in 32-51N, 12-18E after the convoy arrived at Tripoli on the 13th.

 

One of the air crew of No 830 Squadron F.A.A., Sub-Lt. Campbell describes the attack thus at this link:

 

12/13.9 – If my memory serves me right this was the night about which the Malta Daily Paper headlined as “Ducks and Drakes in the Med”. The Squadron took off at dusk to attack a large Convoy heavily escorted by Destroyers. We found the Convoy and attacked individualy, splitting it up completely. At least three ships were hit and Destroyers were racing about all over the place. We returned to base and my flight were sent out again to finish off the remaining ships. As we approached the scene of the previous engagement, I saw a Destroyer racing along at high speed. I decided to follow it to see if it would lead me to the remaining ships, this took some doing in a “Stringbag”, if there had been any wind against me I couldn’t have done it. After awhile I saw a large MV and attacked it. There was a bright flash and then it just blew up.

 

The above two accounts are severely flawed.

The Swordfish attack happened the night of 11/12 September, it was carried out by an ASV Swordfish as ‘Searcher’ another ASV Swordfish as strike leader, and five strike planes. The Searcher left at 1925 hours and reported the convoy at 2145 hours. The strike force left Hal Far at 2225 hours, located the convoy 10 miles off Kuriat Island at 0105 hours, and gave signal to attack at 0110 hours. Results claimed were two certain and two probable hits, with one merchant as probably sunk and two more probably damaged. It noted heavy anti-aircraft fire, and aircraft ‘G’ was damaged at the tail. While the armament of the merchants in this convoy is not known, a few weeks later, merchant Bainsizza was reported to carry two quadruple 2cm guns fore and aft, two Italian 2cm guns, one Italian 13.2mm machine gun, and about half a dozen jury-rigged machine guns owned and operated by the troops it carried. In other words, this merchant ship it had a better light AA armament than some pre-war light cruisers. 

The seven aircraft despatched by No. 830 Squadron F.A.A. were ‘V’ (Searcher), S/Lt. Coxon, S/Lt. Robertson (Obs); ‘F’ (Strike lead) Lt. Whitworth, S/Lt. Parrich (Obs), Sgt. Parker (AG); ‘G’ (Torpedo) Lt. Garthwhite, S/Lt. Stokes (Obs); ‘K’ S/Lt. Nottingham, S/Lt. Wellington (Obs); ‘H’ S/Lt. Taylor, L/A/ Brown (AG); ‘M’ Lt. Lamb, S/Lt. Griffiths (Obs); ’S’ S/Lt. Cotton, L/A. Brewer (AG). The attack was reviewed in November 1941 by training authorities of the Fleet Air Arm, and considered ‘yet another good operation by 830 Squadron’. Questions were however raised over who attacked what, and suspected torpedo failures of the Mark VIII torpedo. It also attracted praise at command level. Despite the optimistic claims however, it is clear that no success or hits were achieved. It is puzzling how air crew could get results observation this wrong.

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Swordfish Attack Report No. 830 Squadron, night 11/12 September 1941. TNA ADM199/108

Fortunately though on the British side, a fairly detailed account by No.105 Squadron has survived, in AIR27/826, the Operations Record Book (ORB) of No. 105 Squadron, and a less detailed account in the ORB of No. 38 Squadron. The crews were S/Ld Smithers again with Sgts. Harbord and Fisher, Sd/Ld. Charney with Sgts. Portous and Harris, F/Lt. Ballands, F/O Greenhill, Sgt. Brandwood with Sgts. Miller and See, Sgt. Weston with Sgts. Storey and Kindell, Sgt. Bendall with Sgts. Hindle and Brown, and Sgt. Mortimer with Sgt. Reid and F/O Owen. The crews had severe misgivings about a daylight attack on such a heavily defended convoy, rightly so as it turned out. Newly arrived squadron CO W/Cdr Scivier agreed, and it was suggested that night attacks by Swordfish and Wellingtons were the best way forward. The station CO, Group Captain Cahill, disagreed, and Air Marshal Lloyd who was called on to make the final decision, sided with him. The Blenheims left at 1245 hours.

The Squadron ORB has the following entry:

Eight crews were detailed to attack a CONVOY attacked by SWORDFISH aircraft the previous night.

The CONVOY was estimated to consist of six MERCHANT VESSELS of 6000 – 12000 tons and six escorting DESTROYERS and was attacked at 1415 hours.

Two aircraft – SQUADRON LEADER SMITHERS and SGT. WESTON – claimed two hits each with 250lb and 500lb bombs respectively. This MERCHANT VESSEL was left a mass of flames and a later reconnaissance report indicated that it had probably sunk.

One aircraft – SGT. BENDALL – attacked a 10000 ton MERCHANT VESSEL and scored two direct hits with 500lb bombs causing a large fire.

Two aircraft – FLIGHT LIEUTENANT BALLANDS and FLYING OFFICER GREENHILL – did not bomb as their approach was obstructed by other aircraft. Anti-aircraft opposition was intense from the DESTROYERS and three MACCHI 200 FIGHTERS and three C.R.42’s were reported diving out of the clouds though no attacks were witnessed.

One aircraft – SQUADRON LEADER CHARNEY – was shot down in flames near the CONVOY with little hope of survivors. One aircraft – SGT. MORTIMER – failed to return and nothing further was heard of the crew.

Another aircraft – SGT. BRANDWOOD – came down into the sea about 12 miles from the convoy but the crew were rescued the next day by a submarine.

Five aircraft landed safely at BASE, one of these – SGT. BENDALL – was forced to execute a belly landing owing to damage to the hydraulic system. The observer – SGT. HINDLE – was slightly wounded.

While the ORB entry is much better than the entry in the Malta war diary, the British accounts are nevertheless incorrect in several aspects, and need to be read with the Italian account of the battle.  For example, while there were six merchants and six escorts, none of the merchants came in at 12,000 tons, and only one vessel, Caffaro, was hit. Nevertheless, in the chaotic melee it is understandable that reporting of hits was flawed. The Blenheims were going into attack at 210 miles per hour, with tracer flying all around them.

The Italian official history La Difesa del Trafico Vol. I continues with the actual story:

The following morning the formation navigated without incident or alarm along the Kerkennah following diverse routes. But at 14.00 hours, while under escort of Italian planes, it was again attacked by airplanes, this time by bombers. This was the second air attack during the crossing. Not the last one however, since two more times, between Zuara and Tripoli, during the nights of the 12th and 13th, the convoy was attacked from the air.

On the daytime attack of the 12th, and the two following nights, the Escort Commander, Commander Chinigo, referred thus in his report:

The 12th

14.00 hours – Eight enemy planes are sighted[11], coming from the west at low height towards the formation. The escorting units and the steamers open targeted and barrage fire. Numerous water columns are seen close to the escort units and the steamers. Three of the attacking planes hit by the anti-aircraft fire crash in flames.

14.10 hours – The CAFFARO, hit by a bomb, takes fire. I am ordering CIRCE and ORSA and then FULMINE to come to the aid of the unfortunate steamer. I send the standard signal of having been discovered.

15.00 hours – Continued observation of flames from the fire in the direction of CAFFARO, and more and more explosions can be heard.

15.55 hours – I inform Supermarina[12] and Marina Tripoli[13] of the air attack with the reservation that further information cannot be provided yet.

16.05 hours – I observe a strong explosion in the direction of CAFFARO. Immediately after CIRCE signals that the steamer has sunk.

16.50 hours – CIRCE, FULMINE, ORSA report that they have on board 110, 35, and 79 shipwrecked, respectively. CIRCE and ORSA also that they have no-one particularly badly hurt.

18.40 hours – Notify Supermarina and Marina Tripoli of the sinking of CAFFARO and the number of shipwrecked rescued. Communicate furthermore that FULMINE is navigating for Tripoli with one severely wounded.

23.54 hours – At point C of the safe route to Tripoli. Steamers proceed in line astern.

The attack at 0310 hours was reported by convoy leader Oriani as an unknown number of planes at 0320 hours, when the convoy was reported about 20 miles at 120˚ off Eurist.

It is worth noting that the German documentation on the downed Blenheims is somewhat more precise. German navy AA crews were on board of at least the steamer Nirvo. They reported that all three Blenheims were downed at 14.35 hours, one directly by the Kriegsmarine AA embarked on Nirvo, one by AA from a destroyer, with support from the Kriegsmarine AA on board Nirvo, and the other downed by AA weapons of embarked troops on Nirvo, again supported by the embarked Flak. Ammunition use was 23, 13, and 62 rounds of 2cm AA, respectively. The weather is described as clear and sunny, with medium visibility.

During the late afternoon, No. 69 Squadron sends out Blenheim L.9875 with P/O Geech, F/O Crockett, and Sgts/ Preece and Raff on a reconnaissance from 1545 to 1855 hours. This relocates the convoy, in 33˚56’ N 11˚52’ E on course 150˚ at speed 10 knots, and notes 30˚ nord of the convoy a large oil patch, four empty life boats, five rafts, and wreckage. It also sees a yellow dinghy which it considers may have contained the missing Blenheim crew.

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A Vickers Wellington Mark IC of No. 38 Squadron RAF Detachment, taxying at Luqa, Malta. Seven aircraft of the Squadron were detached to Malta from Shallufa, Egypt, between August and October 1941 for operations over the Mediterranean and Italy. Courtesy of the IWM Collection.

13 September

Two attack strikes were launched on the convoy, the first being No. 830 Squadron Swordfish again, and the second No. 38 Squadron Wellingtons. While the ORB of No. 38 Squadron places this attack on the 12th, I am certain it actually happened in the night 12/13 September.

The Swordfish attack was similarly structured to that of the preceding night. One Searcher, one strike leader, and this time six strike planes in two flights of three. The Searcher left Malta at 1955, followed by the Strike Force at 2055 hours. At 2250 the ASV radar picked up the convoy, and at 2315 hours the strike force sighted the convoy. At 2320 hours the signal to attack was given. The force claimed two certain and one probable hits, and one motor vessel and one tanker ball damaged. Opposition was described as intense light and heavy AA fire from the escort, the merchants, and shore batteries.

The eight aircraft despatched by No. 830 Squadron F.A.A. were ‘F’ (Searcher), Lt. Bibby, S/Lt. Kinghorn (Obs), L/A Clark (AG); ‘P’ (Strike lead) Lt. Lamb, S/Lt. Willett (Obs), Sgt. Parker (AG); ‘O’ (Torpedo) Lt. Osborn, Lt. Stevenson (Obs); ‘M’ S/Lt. Nottingham, S/Lt. Davies (Obs); ’S’ S/Lt. Williams, S/Lt Gordon-Smith (Obs); ‘G’ S/Lt. Campbell, L/A Fallon (AG); ’K’ S/Lt. Cotton, L/A. Salisbury (AG); ’A’ S/Lt. Coxon, L/A. Watson (AG)


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Swordfish Attack Report No. 830 Squadron, night 12/13 September 1941. TNA ADM199/108

Following the Swordfish attack, from 0340am to 0455am, seven Wellingtons of No. 38 Squadron bombed the convoy. They suffered no losses. Crews were led by Sgts. Robotham, Brine, Earl, Pottis, Secomb and Hawes, and F/Lt. Davis.

Target – Convoy – proceeding to Tripoli. Convoy was located 25 miles N.W. of Tripoli and was attacked from 03.40 to 04.55 hours.

Bombs dropped 24,500.lbs.

Results: four ships were hit, fires starting on two of them.

Opposition: light flack from escorting destroyers.

The timing of the attack fits exactly with the timing of the aircraft noise report by Tp Circe. The hits reported were those on SS Nicoló Odero, and no other hits were achieved. The earlier attack reported at 0105 hours was almost certainly the torpedo attack by Fleet Air Arm planes out of Malta, using the standard attack pattern.

The 13th

01.05 hours – Four or five airplanes are seen on a course of 240 degrees with landing lights illuminated. Issue the air alarm signal to all units.

01.20 hours – Numerous flares light up to the left of the formation. Order the escort units to make smoke. The units and the steamers fire targeted and barrage. A total of 18 flares are counted.[14]

02.30 hours – The attack ceases and the formation is reordered, and normal navigation proceeds.

03.33 hours – Marina Tripoli informs me that the PERSEO leaves Zuara and will join the convoy to strengthen the escort. Further informs that at sunrise a MAS will be the pilot for the safe route.

03.45 hours – CIRCE signals aircraft noises to the rear.

03.55 hours – A flare light is seen on the right of the convoy. I issue the standard signal of having been discovered. Escort units and steamers open barrage fire. Smoke is made.

04.00 hours – An explosion on one of the steamers is observed.

04.04 hours – CIRCE signals that the steamer ODERO was hit.

04.24 hours – A bomb hits in our wake at about 100 meters from the stern. Fire is opened with the machine guns.

04.30 hours – CIRCE signals that there are men in the water and requests that another escort is sent. I order ORSA and PERSEO, which during the attack rejoined the formation, to get close to CIRCE and cooperate in the assistance of the hit steamer and to the rescue of the  shipwrecked.

05.00 hours – The attack ceases and the formation is taken up again, and we proceed on the safe route.

05.05 hours – CIRCE signals that the ODERO has fire on board, but that she is not sinking, and requests sending a tug.

The steamer NICOLO’ ODERO, even though in flames, remains afloat for many hours, with the support of the torpedo boats ORSA, CIRCE, and PERSEO which, in the first instance, are engaged in saving the men embarked on the merchant.

In support of the steamer, the tugs PRONTA and PORTO PALO leave Tripoli at sunrise,  seeking with any means to extinguish the fire which is still raging on the merchant. The PORTO PALO even goes alongside the ODERO, sending men to fight the fire.

Only when it is clear that the flames cannot be doused do the two tugs take the burning steamer in tow, first trying to reach Tripoli, and then to beach it on the coast. During the whole night, the two tugs and two motor trawlers, also coming from Tripoli, remain close to the steamer with the hope to ultimately save it, but during the afternoon of the 14th September a hold with ammunition blows up, causing the destruction of the NICOLO’ ODERO.

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Torpedo boat RN Perseo, lead of her sub-class of Spica torpedo boats.

No. 38 Squadron then ‘visited’ Tripoli on the 13th, again I believe this was the night of 13/14, probably to attack during the unloading of the convoy.  The report of Odero having been beached, which only happened on the 14th, is a give-away in this regard.

Numerous bombs on the harbour edge are reported and six  Italian soldiers killed in a direct hit on their MG position near the lighthouse. Seven Wellingtons went out, with the crews of Flight Officer Pascall, Pilot Officer Ridgway, and Sgts. Cooper, Fell, McManus, and Nankivell. None were lost.

Target – Tripoli – shipping alongside Spanish Quay. Attack lasted from 03.00 to 04.35 hours.

Bombs dropped 27,500. lbs.

Bombs fell on or near the Quay.

Aircraft reported a large ship aground 30 miles W. of Tripoli. This M/V presumed to be one of those set on fire during previous night’s attack on convoy.

Opposition: effective smoke-screen. Heavy A.A. aimed at aircraft, not barrage fire. Light A.A. as usual. Eleven searchlights operated.

Overall, it is clear from the Italian accounts that the British accounts were severely mistaken about the impact of their attacks. Contrary to the very optimistic claims, again no ships had been hit in the attack by No. 830 Squadron on 12/13 September. In the afternoon attack by No. 105 Squadron, only one merchant had been hit, not two. It is noticeable that both Swordfish attacks claim substantial damage to the convoy when in fact no hits were achieved at all, describing fire and smoke where there can have been none, while the attacks by RAF bombers overstated the number of vessels hit. If all claims had been correct, this convoy would have been wiped out.

Impact

According to the German loading lists, Nicoló Odero did not carry any German supplies on this voyage. Caffaro however did. She went down with substantial numbers of vehicles, rations, and ammunition, losses that the German forces could ill afford, and that further delayed the build up to the attack on Tobruk, which in turn enabled the Allied forces to attack first. The full list of her German load is given below. She almost certainly also carried Italian cargo, but I have not been able to find the manifest for this. While Caffaro carried a substantial number of soldiers, primarily drivers for the vehicles of 7./Flak 25, Heeresfunkstelle XVIII and Stab Panzergruppe, most of these are likely to have been rescued, with 224 men being picked up.

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The Aftermath

On 13 September Hitler requested that the X. Fliegerkorps should ensure surveillance over all Mediterranean convoys. After an intervention by Göring this was reduced to the route from Greece to Cyrenaica, and the coastal defense of Cyrenaica and Marmarica, which meant in practice no change to the existing arrangement. Following further negotiations between Göring and Gen. Pricolo, Chief of Staff of Superaereo, the command of the Regia Aeronautica, this was confirmed in a letter by Hitler to Mussolini on 29 October, with the line of Cape Matapan signifying the division of responsibility.

For No. 105 Squadron, this was to be one of the last operations it flew in the Mediterranean. It suffered two more losses before returning home in October to convert to Mosquitos. It did however maintain a Blenheim I as a ‘hack’ plane. No. 107 Squadron then took over operations on Malta, following the pattern of success bought at a high price. 

The last losses of No. 105 Squadron in the Med were Sgt. Bendall and crew on 17 September when attacking a small convoy, and Wing Commander Sciviers and his crew on 22 September, when his plane collided with that of Sgt. Williams during an attack on the barracks at Homs in Libya. The attack on the small convoy on 17 September during which Sgt. Bendall and his crew were lost is again well documented.

First the British side:

Three aircraft took off to attack one small MERCHANT VESSEL, one TUG and two SCHOONERS. One SCHOONER was left a mass of flames and the other was seen to blow up and disintegrate. One aircraft failed to return from this OPERATION. The crew were – SGT. BENDALL – Pilot: Sgt. HILL – Observer. SGT BROWN – W/OP/A.G.

PILOT OFFICER ROBINSON of No. 107 Squadron also proceeded on this operation and failed to return.

From the Italian side:

14 September 2200 hours from Trapani to Tripoli. Steamer Ascianghi, Steam Tug Mirabello del Parco with Minesweeper Pietrino in tow; Motor Schooner Filuccio. Escorted by Escort Destroyer Clio. At 1600 hours of 17 September, 15 miles north of Zuara, the convoy is attacked by bombers. Three are shot down and one of these crashes on Mv Filuccio, provoking a fire and her sinking. The Ascianghi rescues 10 out of 13 members of the crew. On the 18th at 0900 hours at Tripoli without Mv Filuccio.

The sections show again how easy it was to get things wrong.

  Footnotes

[1] The sinking of Livorno as well as the other events of the preceding days, with many vessels sank close to ports, arose the ire of Rommel himself who wrote an aggressive letter to the commanding officer of 5a Squadraarrogantly lecturing the Regia Aeronautica commander on how to do his job. General Ajmone Cat was not having any of it and wrote a clear response. This probably contributed to him being relieved in early November. General Cat was then appointed commander of the Air Force School, and from the armistice became Head of the General Staff of the Regia Aeronautica, a position he held until 1951.

[2] Western

[3] This was a powerful escort with substantial AA capabilities. Strangely, the report omits to mention the MV Giulia, which was definitely part of the convoy,.

[4] The Orianis were a class of four modern, large destroyers. An improved repeat of the Maestrale class, with 2,470t at full displacement, 4x120mm (4.7”) main guns and six torpedo tubes as main armament, and a claimed top speed of 38 knots. They carried improved anti-air guns compared to the Maestrales. Oriani survived the war and served in the French navy until 1954.

[5]Commander Chinigò survived the war and after the war rose to the rank of Captain and commanded the Italian battleship Littorio, being her last captain.

[6] A Dardo II class destroyer (also known as Folgore class), an older ship, she was sunk less than two months later in the Duisburg/Beta convoy battle on 9 November 1941 with the loss of 141 men including her commander, Lt.Cdr. Mario Milano. The Dardo II were not a lucky class, with all four ships lost during the war. They displaced 2,096 tons at full load, carried 4x120mm guns and six torpedo tubes as main armament, and had a claimed top speed of 38 knots. An almost identical repeat of the Freccia class they had less stability and range than the preceding class due to a reduction in their beam.

[7] Orsa-class torpedo boats, an enlarged version of the Spicas (see below). At 1,575 tons full displacement, they traded one 10cm gun for improved AA and ASW equipment, carrying also 4x 450mm torpedo tubes and only running at up to 28 knots. Pegaso claimed four Royal Navy submarines, which if confirmed would make her one of the top submarine hunters of the Regia Marina. There are however doubts over this record. Pegaso and Procione were scuttled at the armistice in September 1943, while Orsa survived the war and continued to serve until 1964.

[8] Circe was also a Spica-class boat. Circe destroyed four confirmed Royal Navy submarines during the war, making her one of the most successful sub-hunters of the Regia Marina.

[9] Should be MV Giulia.

[10] Orseo should be Perseo, a Spica class boat, the staple Regia Marina escort. Displacing 1,020 tons at full load, they were armed with 3x10cm guns, four 450mm torpedo tubes, and a reasonable set of AA and ASW weaponry, running 34 knots top speed.

[11] This are likely to have been the eight Blenheims of No. 105 Squadron out of Luqa, Malta, on their attack run.

[12] Regia Marina High Command

[13] Naval Command Tripoli

[14] This was standard attacking practice for the torpedo bombers. The lead aircraft which carried radar instead of a torpedo would drop flares behind the convoy, to silhouette it, and enable the attacking planes to approach from the dark.

Sources

British

  • Operations record books of Nos. 11, 14, 38, 55, 105, 107, and 272 Squadrons R.A.F..
    Admiralty War Diary, Malta
  • Battle Axe Blenheims – unit history of No. 105 Squadron
  • ADM199/108 – Night operations from Malta

Italian

Official history:

  • La Difesa del Trafico con l’Africa Settentrionale Vol. I
  • La Difesa del Trafico con l’Albania e la Grecia
  • War Diaries of Supermarina, September 1941

German

  • War diaries Naval Transport Offices Benghazi, Tripolis.
  • Cargo Manifests, Naval Transport Office Naples
  • Combat reports Marinebordflak Kompanie Süd

Websites:

Axis merchants lost on the North Africa Route – 1941-1943

Axis merchants lost on the North Africa Route – 1941-1943

Background

In the appendix of the USMM Official History

The most helpful Lorenzo Colombo, owner of the excellent Con la pelle appesa a un chiodo blog has taken time during the lockdown to type up the list. He summed up as “sunk” a few ships that were actually run aground and considered total losses: Sebastiano Venier (Jason), Regulus, Vettor Pisani, Napoli, etc. These were lost to all effects and purposes as well as if they had been sunk. The list does not include warships and ships sunk in port for whatever reason.

The list also does not include naval transport vessels such as German F-lighters (see this link) or minor vessels such as Motoveliere, small sailing cargo vessels which were heavily used in coastal traffic in particular.

Oriani

SS Oriani, lost to Blenheim bombers of No.105 Squadron from Malta, 11 September 1941. 

See this link.

Losses by Year

The total of 230 vessels lost is given below. The list will make it possible to compare claims by e.g. Malta-based aircraft against actual losses, and should therefore help researchers.

I am grateful for Lorenzo’s permission to repost it here with some minor formatting.

1941

  1. Maria, Italian steam freighter, 440 GRT, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 28/6/1940
  2. Celio, Italian passenger steamer, 3864 GRT, route Derna-Benghazi, sunk by mine 24/7/1940
  3. Leopardi, Italian steam freighter, 3298 GRT, route Benghazi-Derna, sunk by mine 14/8/1940
  4. Famiglia, Italian steam freighter, 813 GRT, route Benghazi-Tobruk, sunk by submarine (HMS Pandora) 28/9/1940
  5. Cuma, Italian motor freighter, 6463 GRT, route Porto Empedocle-Catania (both locations in Sicily, so I am not sure why it was include in this list: I will mark other such cases with a *), sunk by mine 18/10/1940
  6. Marangona, Italian steam tanker, 5257 GRT, route Tripoli-Palermo, sunk by mine 10/12/1940
  7. Norge, Italian refrigerated cargo ship, 6511 GRT, route Palermo Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 21/12/1940
  8. Peuceta, Italian steam freighter, 1926 GRT, same convoy and fate as Norge
  9. Vulcano, Italian steam freighter, 273 GRT, sunk by mine 5/1/1941
  10. Giovanni Maria, Italian steam freighter, 636 GRT, route Benghazi-Tobruk, sunk by mine 9/1/1941
  11. Città di Messina, Italian troopship, 2472 GRT, route Benghazi-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Regent) 15/1/1941
  12. Ingo, German steam freighter, 3950 GRT, route Palermo-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 27/1/1941
  13. Multedo, Italian steam freighter, 1130 GRT, route Benghazi-Tripoli, went missing 3/2/1941 (possibly mined or foundered in bad weather)
  14. Silvia Tripcovich, Italian steam freighter, 2365 GRT, route Trapani-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Upright) 22/2/1941
  15. Capo Vita, Italian steam freighter, 5683 GRT, route Trapani-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Utmost) 9/3/1941
  16. Fenicia, Italian steam freighter, 2584 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Unique) 10/3/1941
  17. Heraklea, German steam freighter, 1927 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Utmost) 28/3/1941
  18. Persiano, Italian steam tanker, 2474 GRT, route Palermo-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Tetrarch) 12/4/1941
  19. Adana, German steam freighter, 4205 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by surface ships (destroyers HMS Jervis, Janus, Nubian and Mohawk) 16/4/1941 (“Tarigo” convoy)
  20. Aegina, German steam freighter, 2447 GRT, same convoy and fate as Adana
  21. Arta, German steam freighter, 2452 GRT, ditto
  22. Iserlohn, German steam freighter, 3704 GRT, ditto
  23. Sabaudia, Italian steam freighter, 1590 GRT, ditto
  24. Egeo, Italian armed merchant cruiser, 3311 GRT, route Tripoli-Palermo, sunk by surface ships (destroyers HMS Jervis, Janus, Jaguar, Juno) 24/4/1941
  25. Leverkusen, German steam freighter, 7836 GRT, route Tripoli-Naples, sunk by submarine (HMS Upholder) 1/5/1941
  26. Arcturus, German steam freighter, 2596 GRT, same convoy and fate as Leverkusen
  27. Tenace, Italian steam freighter, 1142 GRT, sunk by surface ships (cruiser HMS Ajax, destroyers HMS Havock, Hotspur and Imperial) 8/5/1941
  28. Capitano A. Cecchi, Italian AMC, 2321 GRT, same convoy and fate as Tenace
  29. Giovinezza, Italian steam freighter, 2362 GRT, route Tripoli-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Tetrarch) 18/5/1941
  30. Conte Rosso, Italian troopship, 17,869 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Upholder) 24/5/1941
  31. Arsia, Italian steam freigther, 736 GRT, route Tripoli-Trapani, sunk by submarine (HMS Unique) 3/6/1941
  32. Montello, Italian steam freighter, 6117 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 3/6/1941
  33. Beatrice C. (or Beatrice Costa), Italian steam freighter, 6132 GRT, same convoy and fate as Montello
  34. Silvio Scaroni, Italian steam freighter, 1367 GRT, route Tripoli-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Taku) 12/6/1941
  35. Pietro Querini, Italian steam freighter, 1004 GRT, route Trapani-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Union) 22/6/1941
  36. Ninfea, Italian steam freigher, 607 GRT, route Benghazi-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Triumph) 5/7/1941
  37. Caldea, Italian motor freighter, 2703 GRT, route Brindisi-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Taku) 13/7/1941
  38. Barbarigo, Italian motor freighter, 5293 GRT, route Tripoli-Naples, sunk by submarine (HMS P 33) 15/7/1941
  39. Brarena, Italian steam tanker, 6996 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 22/7/1941
  40. Preussen, German steam freighter, 8230 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 22/7/1941
  41. Nita, Italian steam freighter, 6813 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 7/8/1941
  42. Adua, Italian refrigerated cargo vessel, 400 GRT, route Benghazi-Tripoli, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 15/8/1941
  43. Maddalena Odero, Italian steam freighter, 5479 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by aircraft (bombs and torpedoes) 18/8/1941
  44. Esperia, Italian troopship, 11,398 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Unique) 20/8/1941
  45. Lussin, Italian Navy transport, 3988 GRT, route Palermo-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Upholder) 22/8/1941
  46. Costanza, Italian steam freighter, 582 GRT, route Lampedusa-Tripoli, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 23/8/1941
  47. Cilicia, Italian motor freighter, 2747 GRT, route Brindisi-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Rorqual) 28/8/1941
  48. Andrea Gritti, Italian motor freighter, 6338 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 3/9/1941
  49. Sirena, Italian steam freighter, 794 GRT, route Tripoli-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Thunderbolt) 12/7/1941
  50. Livorno, German steam freighter, 1824 GRT, route Naples-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Thunderbolt) 11/9/1941
  51. Caffaro, Italian steam freighter, 6476 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 12/9/1941
  52. Alfredo Oriani, Italian steam freighter, 3059 GRT, route Brindisi-Benghazi, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 13/9/1941
  53. Nicolò Odero, Italian steam freighter, 6003 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 14/9/1941
  54. Oceania, Italian troopship, 19,403 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Upholder) 18/9/1941
  55. Neptunia, Italian troopship, 19,328 GRT, same convoy and fate as Oceania
  56. Fluvior, Italian steam tanker, 389 GRT, sunk by mine 29/9/1941
  57. Castellon, German steam freighter, 2086 GRT, route Naples-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Perseus) 2/10/1941
  58. Rialto, Italian motor freighter, 6099 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 5/10/1941
  59. Paola Z. Podestà, Italian steam freighter, 863 GRT, route Trapani-Pantelleria-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 8/10/1941
  60. Zena, Italian steam freighter, 5219 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 11/10/1941
  61. Casaregis, Italian steam freighter, 6485 GRT, same convoy and fate as Zena
  62. Bainsizza, Italian steam freighter, 7933 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by aircraft (bombs and torpedoes) 15/10/1941
  63. Caterina, Italian steam freighter, 4786 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 19/10/1941
  64. Marigola, Italian steam freighter, 5996 GRT, route Palermo-Tripoli, damaged by torpedo bombers while grounded 24/9/1941, further damaged by submarines (HMS Urge on 22/10 and HMS Utmost on 1/11) while still grounded, total loss
  65. Anna Zippitelli, Italian steam freighter, 1019 GRT, route Tripoli-Benghazi, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 5/11/1941
  66. Minatitlan, Italian motor tanker, 7599 GRT, route Messina-Tripoli, sunk by surface ships (Force K: cruisers HMS Aurora and Penelope, destroyers HMS Lance and Lively) 9/11/1941 (“Duisburg” convoy)
  67. Sagitta, Italian steam freighter, 5153 GRT, same convoy and fate as Minatitlan
  68. Rina Corrado, Italian steam freighter, 5180 GRT, ditto
  69. Maria, Italian motor freighter, 6339 GRT, ditto
  70. Conte di Misurata, Italian steam tanker, 5014 GRT, ditto
  71. Duisburg, German steam freighter, 7389 GRT, ditto
  72. San Marco, German steam freighter, 3113 GRT, ditto
  73. Maritza, German steam freighter, 2910 GRT, route Piraeus-Benghazi, sunk by surface ships (Force K) 24/11/1941
  74. Procida, German steam freighter, 1842 GRT, same convoy and fate as Maritza
  75. Capo Faro, Italian steam freighter, 3476 GRT, route Brindisi-Benghazi, sunk by aircraft (bombs and torpedoes) 30/11/1941
  76. Adriatico, Italian AMC, 1976 GRT, route Argostoli-Benghazi, sunk by surface ships (Force K) 1/12/1941
  77. Iridio Mantovani, Italian motor tanker, 10,540 GRT, route Palermo-Tripoli, sunk by surface ships (Force K) 1/12/1941
  78. Sebastiano Venier, Italian motor freighter, 6311 GRT, route Benghazi-Brindisi, sunk by submarine (HMS Porpoise) 9/12/1941
  79. Calitea, Italian troopship, 4013 GRT, route Brindisi-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Talisman) 11/12/1941
  80. Carlo Del Greco, Italian motor freighter, 6836 GRT, route Naples-Taranto-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Upright) 13/12/1941
  81. Fabio Filzi, Italian motor freighter, 6836 GRT, same convoy and fate as Carlo Del Greco
  82. Lina, Italian steam tanker, 1235 GRT, route Pantelleria-Tripoli, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 17/12/1941
  83. Cadamosto, Italian steam freighter, 1010 GRT, route Benghazi-Tripoli, sunk by mine 22/12/1941
  84. Spezia, German steam freighter, 1825 GRT, same convoy and fate as Cadamosto

1942

  1. Perla, Italian steam freighter, 5741 GRT, route Tripoli-Palermo, sunk by torpedo bombers 7/1/1942
  2. Victoria, Italian troopship, 13,098 GRT, route Taranto-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 24/1/1942
  3. Napoli, Italian motor freighter, 6142 GRT, route Taranto-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Umbra) 3/2/1942
  4. Ariosto, Italian steam freighter, 4116 GRT, route Tripoli-Trapani, sunk by submarine (HMS P38) 15/2/1942
  5. Tembien, Italian steam freighter, 5584 GRT, route Tripoli-Palermo, sunk by submarine (HMS Upholder) 27/2/1942
  6. Marin Sanudo, Italian motor freighter, 5081 GRT, route Trapani-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Uproar) 5/3/1942
  7. Bosforo, Italian steam freighter, 3648 GRT, route Trapani-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Proteus) 31/3/1942
  8. Gala, Italian steam freighter, 1029 GRT, route Tripoli-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Thrasher) 18/4/1942
  9. Bellona, German steam freighter, 1927 GRT, route Benghazi-Brindisi, sunk by submarine (HMS Torbay) 18/4/1942
  10. Assunta De Gregori, Italian steam freighter, 4219 GRT, route Brindisi-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Umbra) 19/4/1942
  11. Bolsena, Italian steam freighter, 2384 GRT, route Benghazi-Taranto, sunk by submarine (HMS Turbulent) 18/5/1942
  12. Capo Arma, Italian steam freighter, 3172 GRT, route Benghazi-Messina, sunk by submarine (HMS Turbulent) 29/5/1942
  13. Gino Allegri, Italian motor freighter, 6836 GRT, route Taranto-Benghazi, sunk by combined action of bombers and submarine (HMS Proteus) 31/5/1942
  14. Reginaldo Giuliani, Italian motor freighter, 6837 GRT, route Brindisi-Benghazi, sunk by torpedo bombers 5/6/1942
  15. Reichenfels, German motor freighter, 7744 GRT, route Taranto-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 21/6/1942
  16. Sant’Antonio, Italian steam freighter, 1480 GRT, route Tripoli-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Thrasher) 23/6/1942
  17. Regulus, Italian steam freighter, 1085 GRT, route Tripoli-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Turbulent) 24/6/1942
  18. Città di Agrigento, Italian motor cargo and passenger ship, 2480 GRT, route Tobruk-Marsa Matruh, sunk by surface ship (HMS Dido and Euryalus, destroyers HMS Paladin, Pakenham and Javelin) 20/7/1942
  19. Vettor Pisani, Italian motor freighter, 6339 GRT, route Taranto-Tobruk, sunk by torpedo bombers 25/7/1942
  20. Monviso, Italian motor freighter, 5322 GRT, route Brindisi-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Thorn) 3/8/1942
  21. Wachtfels, German steam freighter, 8647 GRT, route Benghazi-Souda-Piraeus, sunk by submarine (HMS Proteus) 7/8/1942
  22. Ogaden, Italian steam freighter, 4553 GRT, route Benghazi-Tobruk, sunk by submarine (HMS Porpoise) 12/8/1942
  23. Lerici, Italian motor freighter, 6070 GRT, route Benghazi-Tobruk, sunk by submarine (HMS Porpoise) 16/8/1942
  24. Rosolino Pilo, Italian motor freighter, 8326 GRT, route Trapani-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 18/8/1942
  25. Istria, Italian steam freighter, 5416 GRT, route Souda-Tobruk, sunk by torpedo bombers 27/8/1942
  26. Dielpi, Italian steam freighter, 1527 GRT, route Souda-Tobruk, sunk by torpedo bombers 27/8/1942
  27. Manfredo Camperio, Italian motor freighter, 5463 GRT, route Brindisi-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Umbra) 27/8/1942
  28. Paolina, Italian steam freighter, 4894 GRT, route Tripoli-Palermo, sunk by mine 27/8/1942
  29. Sanandrea, Italian steam tanker, 5077 GRT, route Taranto-Piraeus-Souda-Tobruk, sunk by torpedo bombers 30/8/1942
  30. Picci Fassio, Italian steam tanker, 2261 GRT, route Souda-Tobruk, sunk by torpedo bombers 2/9/1942
  31. Padenna, Italian steam freighter, 1589 GRT, route Piraeus-Tobruk, sunk by submarine (HMS Thrasher) 4/9/1942
  32. Davide Bianchi, Italian steam freighter, 1477 GRT, route Piraeus-Tobruk, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 4/9/1942
  33. Albachiara, Italian steam freighter, 1245 GRT, route Benghazi-Tobruk, sunk by submarine (HMS Traveller) 5/9/1942
  34. Carbonia, Italian steam freighter, 1237 GRT, route Naples-Tobruk, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 17/9/1942
  35. Leonardo Palomba, Italian steam freighter, 1110 GRT, route Palermo-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Unruffled) 22/9/1942
  36. Francesco Barbaro, Italian motor freighter, 6343 GRT, route Brindisi-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Umbra) 27/9/1942
  37. Kreta, German steam freighter, 853 GRT, route Tobruk-Benghazi, sunk by submarine (HMS Turbulent) 8/10/1942
  38. Dandolo, Italian steam freighter, 4964 GRT, route Piraeus-Souda-Benghazi, sunk by torpedo bombers 8/10/1942
  39. Lupa, Italian motor tanker, 379 GRT, route Tunis-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Unbending) 8/10/1942
  40. Alga, Italian steam freighter, 1851 GRT, route Palermo-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Unbending) 9/10/1942
  41. Una, Italian steam freighter, 1397 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Unruffled) 11/10/1942
  42. Loreto, Italian steam freighter, 1055 GRT, route Tripoli-Palermo, sunk by submarine (HMS Unruffled) 13/10/1942
  43. Beppe, Italian steam freighter, 4459 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Ubending) 19/10/1942
  44. Titania, Italian steam freighter, 5397 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Unbending and HMS Safari) 20/10/1942
  45. Amsterdam, Italian steam freighter, 8970 GRT, route Patras-Tripoli, sunk by submarine (HMS Umbra) 23/10/1942 while grounded (she had been torpedoed by torpedo bombers on 15/10)
  46. Tergestea, Italian motor freighter, 5890 GRT, route Taranto-Piraeus-Tobruk, sunk by torpedo bombers 26/10/1942
  47. Proserpina, Italian steam tanker, 4869 GRT, same convoy and fate as Tergestea
  48. Luisiano, Italian steam tanker, 2557 GRT, route Taranto-Tobruk, sunk by torpedo bombers 29/10/1942
  49. Tripolino, Italian steam freighter, 1464 GRT, route Benghazi-Tobruk, sunk by torpedo bombers 1/11/1942
  50. Ostia, German steam freighter, 359 GRT, same convoy and fate as Tripolino
  51. Zara, Italian AMC, 1976 GRT, route Piraeus-Tobruk, sunk by torpedo bombers 2/11/1942
  52. Thessalia, German steam tanker, 2875 GRT, route Piraeus-Benghazi, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 11/11/1942
  53. Falco, Italian steam freighter, 325 GRT, route Benghazi-Tripoli, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 12/11/1942
  54. Scillin, Italian steam freighter, 1579 GRT, route Tripoli-Trapani, sunk by submarine (HMS Sahib) 13/11/1942
  55. Hans Arp, German steam freighter, 2645 GRT, route Benghazi-Ras el Hilal, sunk by submarine (HMS Safari) 16/11/1942
  56. Giulio Giordani, Italian motor tanker, 10,534 GRT, route Taranto-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers (drifting wreck finished off by submarine HMS Porpoise) 17/11/1942
  57. Lago Tana, Italian AMC, 783 GRT, route Trapani-Pantelleria-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 20/11/1942
  58. Giacoma, Italian steam freighter, 223 GRT, route Trapani-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 23/11/1942
  59. Algerino, Italian steam freighter, 1371 GRT, route Tripoli-Buerat, sunk by torpedo bombers 26/11/1942
  60. Città di Napoli, Italian AMC, 5418 GRT, route Bizerte-Palermo, sunk by mine 28/11/1942
  61. Aventino, Italian troopship, 3794 GRT, route Palermo-Bizerte, sunk by surface ships (Force Q: cruisers HMS Auroa, Sirius and Argonaut, destroyers HMAS Quiberon and Quentin) 2/12/1942 (“H” convoy)
  62. Aspromonte, Italian steam ferry, 976 GRT, same convoy and fate as Aventino
  63. Puccini, Italian troopship, 2422 GRT, ditto
  64. KT 1, German naval transport, 850 GRT, ditto
  65. Sacro Cuore, Italian steam freighter, 1097 GRT, route Tripoli-Trapani, sunk by submarine (HMS Umbra) 2/12/1942
  66. Veloce, Italian steam freighter, 5451 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers (wreck finished off by destroyers HMS Jervis, Nubian, Kelvin, Javelin) 2/12/1942
  67. Audace, Italian steam freighter, 1459 GRT, route Trapani-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 3/12/1942
  68. Minerva, Italian steam freighter, 1905 GRT, route Pantelleria-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 3/12/1942
  69. Palmaiola, Italian steam freighter, 1880 GRT, route Trapani-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 3/12/1942
  70. Menes, German steam freighter, 5609 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, sunk by mine 3/12/1942
  71. Noroit, German steam tanker, 453 GRT, route Tunis-Trapani, sunk by mine 5/12/1942
  72. Süllberg, German steam freighter, 1699 GRT, route Trapani-Tunis, sunk by submarine (HMS Umbra) 9/12/1942
  73. Macedonia, German steam freighter, 2875 GRT, route Palermo-Sousse, sunk by submarine (HMS Umbra) 13/12/1942
  74. Foscolo, Italian motor freighter, 4500 GRT, route Naples-Tripoli, sunk by torpedo bombers 13/12/1942
  75. Castelverde, Italian steam freighter, 6666 GRT, route Naples-Tunis, sunk by submarine (HMS Unruffled) 14/12/1942
  76. Honestas, Italian steam freighter, 4959 GRT, route Naples-Tunis, sunk by submarine (HMS Sahib) 14/12/1942
  77. Sant’Antioco, Italian steam freighter, 5048 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, sunk by submarine (HMS Unruffled) 15/12/1942
  78. Dora, German steam freighter, 584 GRT, route Sousse-Tripoli, sunk by surface ships (Force K) 21/12/1942
  79. Etruria, Italian steam freighter, 2633 GRT, route Palermo-Bizerte, sunk by torpedo bombers 22/12/1942
  80. Gran, German motor freighter, 4140 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, sunk by submarine (HMS Ursula) 28/12/1942
  81. Iseo, Italian steam freighter, 2366 GRT, route Trapani-Tunis, sunk by torpedo bombers 29/12/1942
  82. Torquato Gennari, Italian steam freighter, 1012 GRT, route Tripoli-Trapani, sunk by submarine (HMS Safari) 29/12/1942

1943

  1. Emilio Morandi, Italian steam freighter, 1523 GRT, route Tripoli-Trapani, sunk by submarine (HMS Umbra) 9/1/1943
  2. D’Annunzio, Italian motor freighter, 4553 GRT, route Tripoli-Palermo, sunk by surface ships (destroyers HMS Kelvin and Nubian) 16/1/1943
  3. Zenobia Martini, Italian steam freighter, 1454 GRT, route Tripoli-Trapani, sunk by submarine (HMS Unseen) 17/1/1943
  4. Sportivo, Italian steam freighter, 1598 GRT, route Tripoli-Trapani, sunk by submarine (HMS Unseen) 18/1/1943
  5. Edda, Italian refrigerated cargo ship, 6107 GRT, route Tripoli-Sfax, sunk by torpedo bombers (after having already been damaged by submarine HMS Unbroken) 20/1/1943
  6. Calino, Italian troopship, 5186 GRT, route Bizerta-Naples, sunk by mine 9/1/1943
  7. Emma, Italian motor freighter, 7931 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, sunk by submarine (HMS Splendid) 16/1/1943
  8. Favør, German steam freighter, 1323 GRT, route Cagliari-Bizerte, sunk by surface ships (destroyers HMS Loyal and Lightning) 18/1/1943
  9. Ankara, German motor freighter, 4768 GRT, route Palermo-Bizerte, sunk by mine 18/1/1943
  10. Saturno, Italian steam tanker, 5022 GRT, route Bizerte-Naples, sunk by torpedo bombers 21/1/1943
  11. Ruhr, German motor freighter, 5955 GRT, route Palermo-Bizerte, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 22/1/1943
  12. Pistoia, Italian steam freighter, 2448 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, sunk by torpedo bombers 24/1/1943
  13. Verona, Italian steam freighter, 4459 GRT, same convoy and fate as Pistoia
  14. Vercelli, Italian steam freighter, 3094 GRT, route Messina-Tunis, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 30/1/1943
  15. Parma, Italian steam freighter, 2548 GRT, route Messina-Tunis, sunk by mine 30/1/1943
  16. Lisboa, German steam freighter, 1799 GRT, route Trapani-Sousse, sunk by submarine (HMS Unruffled) 31/1/1943
  17. Pozzuoli, Italian steam freighter, 5345 GRT, route Trapani-Palermo (*), sunk by submarine (HMS Turbulent) 1/2/1943
  18. Salemi, Italian steam freighter, 1176 GRT, route Naples-Messina (*), sunk by submarine (HMS Safari) 2/2/1943
  19. Utilitas, Italian steam tanker, 5342 GRT, route Taranto-Palermo (*), sunk by submarine (HMS Turbulent) 5/2/1943
  20. Jaedjoer, German motor freighter, 309 GRT, route Palermo-Sousse, sunk by submarine (HMS Unison) 11/2/1943
  21. Petrarca, Italian steam freighter, 3229 GRT, route Taranto-Tunis, sunk by submarine (HMS Una, while aground) 15/2/1943
  22. Capo Orso, Italian steam freighter, 3149 GRT, route Palermo-Tunis, sunk by torpedo bombers 16/2/1943
  23. XXI Aprile, Italian steam freighter, 4787 GRT, route Palermo-Tunis, sunk by submarine (HMS Splendid) 17/2/1943
  24. Col di Lana, Italian motor freighter, 5891 GRT, route Tunis-Palermo, sunk by torpedo bombers 18/2/1943
  25. Baalbeck, German steam freighter, 2115 GRT, route Trapani-Tunis, sunk by submarine (HMS Unruffled) 21/2/1943
  26. Thorsheimer, Italian steam tanker, 9955 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, sunk by torpedo bombers 21/2/1943
  27. Gerd, German steam freighter, 1700 GRT, route Tunis-Palermo, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 22/2/1943
  28. Alcamo, Italian steam freighter, 6987 GRT, route Bizerte-Naples, sunk by torpedo bombers 25/2/1943
  29. Ines Corrado, Italian motor freighter, 8061 GRT, route Naples-Tunis, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 7/3/1943
  30. Balzac, German steam freighter, 5372 GRT, same convoy and fate as Ines Corrado
  31. Henri Estier, German steam freighter, 1984 GRT, route Naples-Tunis, sunk by mine 7/3/1943
  32. Rosario, Italian steam tanker, 5468 GRT, route Naples-Palermo-Tunisia, sunk by torpedo bombers 10/3/1943
  33. Caraibe, German steam freighter, 4048 GRT, route Naples-Tunis, sunkb by torpedo bombers 14/3/1943
  34. Pegli, Italian steam freighter, 1593 GRT, route Trapani-Palermo (*), sunk by submarine (HMS Sybil) 14/3/1943
  35. Devoli, Italian naval oiler, 4500 GRT, route Palermo-Trapani (*), sunk by submarine (HMS Splendid) 17/3/1943
  36. Forlì, Italian steam freighter, 1519 GRT, route Bizerte-Naples, sunk by submarine (HMS Trooper) 17/3/1943
  37. Manzoni, Italian motor freighter, 4550 GRT, route Bizerte-Naples, sunk by torpedo bombers 22/3/1943
  38. Monti, Italian motor freighter, 4301 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 22/3/1943
  39. Zeila, Italian steam tanker, 1834 GRT, route Taranto-Messina (from which she was to proceed to Tunisia), sunk by submarine (HMS Unison) 23/3/1943
  40. Nuoro, Italian steam freighter, 3075 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, sunk by torpedo bombers 31/3/1943
  41. Crema, Italian steam freighter, 1684 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, sunk by British MTBs 1/4/1943
  42. Benevento, Italian steam freighter, 5229 GRT, same convoy and fate as Crema
  43. KT 13, German naval transport, 850 GRT, route Palermo-Tunis, sunk by mine 1/4/1943
  44. Aquila, Italian steam freighter, 3386 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, lost to grounding and collision 1/4/1943
  45. Charles Le Borgne, German steam freighter, 1789 GRT, same convoy and fate as Aquila
  46. Rovereto, Italian steam freighter, 8563 GRT, route Naples-Bizerte, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 6/4/1943
  47. San Diego, German steam freighter, 6013 GRT, same convoy and fate as Rovereto
  48. Foggia, Italian steam freighter, 1227 GRT, route Sousse-Trapani, sunk by submarine (HMS Unshaken) 8/4/1943
  49. Fabriano, Italian steam freighter, 2942 GRT, route Naples-Tunis, sunk by torpedo bombers 11/4/1943
  50. Monginevro, Italian motor freighter, 5234 GRT, route Bizerte-Naples, sunk by British MTBs 17/4/1943
  51. Capua, Italian steam freighter, 600 GRT, route Trapani-Palermo (*), sunk by fire 17/4/1943
  52. Mostaganem, Italian steam freighter, 1942 GRT, route Bizerte-Palermo, sunk by submarine (HMS Unrivalled) 19/4/1943
  53. Bivona, Italian steam tanker, 1647 GRT, route Palermo-Bizerte, sunk by submarine (HMS Unrivalled) 19/4/1943
  54. KT 7, German naval transport, 850 GRT, route Tunis-Trapani, sunk by surface ships (destroyers HMS Laforey, Lookout and Loyal) 21/4/1943
  55. Marco Foscarini (II), Italian motor freighter, 6406 GRT, route Bizerte-Naples, sunk by submarine (HMS Unison) 21/4/1943
  56. Aquino, Italian steam freighter, 5043 GRT, route Livorno-Tunis, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 23/4/1943
  57. Galiola, Italian steam freighter, 1428 GRT, route Reggio Calabria-Tunis, sunk by submarine (HMS Sahib) 24/4/1943
  58. Teramo, Italian steam freighter, 1592 GRT, route Pozzuoli-Tunis, sunk by aircraft (bombs) and MTBs 30/4/1943
  59. Fauna, Italian steam freighter, 575 GRT, route Pantelleria-Porto Empedocle (*), sunk by surface ships (destroyers HMS Nubian and Paladin) 30/4/1943
  60. Campobasso, Italian steam freighter, 3566 GRT, route Pantelleria-Tunis, sunk by surface ships (destroyers HMS Nubian, Petard and Paladin) 4/5/1943
  61. San Antonio, German steam freighter, 6013 GRT, route Naples-Tunis, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 5/5/1943
  62. KT 5, German naval transport, 850 GRT, route Trapani-Cape Bon, sunk by aircraft (bombs) 9/5/1943
  63. KT 9, German naval transport, 850 GRT, same convoy and fate as KT 5
  64. KT 21, German naval transport, 850 GRT, ditto.
An unlucky group – the Regia Marina’s Dardo Series II Destroyers

An unlucky group – the Regia Marina’s Dardo Series II Destroyers

Background

In the early 1930s the Regia Marina continued expanding and modernising its destroyer fleet. Following the reduction in the construction programme for the larger light scouts of the Navigatori class, a more conventional destroyer design was chosen and built in an initial two groups of four, known as Dardo Series I and Dardo Series II.[1] 

This second series was an almost identical repeat of Dardo I, other than a reduced fuel load (530 tons instead of 640), which reduced range from 4,600 to 3,800 miles.

Another group of four Dardos was built for the Royal Hellenic Navy as Hydra class. Unlike the Dardos it carried its four main guns in single turrets though. Of the Hydras, two were lost to German aircraft in April 1941, while the other two escaped and survived the war.

The succeeding Maestrale and Oriani classes were essentially improved Dardos, which addressed some of the major issues the Dardo class had, and they were considered a major improvement.

Fulmine5

Fulmine – Official Photo. USMM

 

Lampo05

Lampo underway at speed. USMM

Description

The names of the second group of Dardos all related to thunderstorms, similar to the first series of four Dardos

  • Folgore  – Thunderbolt (class leader)
  • Baleno – Flash or lightning
  • Lampo – Lightning
  • Fulmine – Lightning or lightning bolt

The Dardos of both classes were built on what was standard destroyer tonnage at the time, around 2,100 tons at full displacement[2], and are similar in terms of capabilities to the Royal Navy’s D, E, and F classes of destroyers which were being built around the same time. 

The Dardos were an OTO Genoa design, improving on the previous Turbine class by providing ten per cent more power, lengthening the hull by one metre and widening it by half a metre. They also improved substantially on the range of the Turbine class, while being considerably faster. They were the first Regia Marina destroyer design with a clipper bow, a late design addition which was not retrofitted to Dardo and Strale of the first group.

Like preceding Regia Marina destroyer classes, the Dardos were armed with four 120mm (4.7”) guns in twin turrets fore and aft, unlike the Navigatoris which had the same gun turrets, but shipped an additional turret added amidships. They received the same, modern Ansaldo M1926 120L50 turret installation. The Dardos also received the same forward superstructure as the Navigatori class. 

They were originally equipped with four 40L49 AA guns and four 13.2mm machine guns for air defense, but these were replaced with eight[3] modern single-mounted Breda 20L65 guns before the war.

The Dardos were also armed with two triple-sets of 533mm torpedo tubes amidships. The aft set was removed early in the war to make space for additional 37mm AA guns and depth charge racks, which they strangely did not carry originally. Like almost all Italian vessels, they were equipped for mine-laying, and could carry up to 60 mines.

The propulsion system was conventional, with three boilers working on two turbines and two shafts. 44,000 horse power could be generated which enabled them to reach 38 knots, again in keeping with the Regia Marina philosophy, which emphasized speed. For the first time in a destroyer in any navy however, the Dardos were designed using a single, large stack located directly behind the forward superstructure. This reduced clutter and gave the AA equipment a better field of fire. This design was adopted by other navies during the 1930s.

The Dardos were originally crewed by 156 sailors and officers, although in wartime this increased to over 200 men, accounting for the additional weapons and equipment.

Issues

Like many other Regia Marina vessels designed in this period, the Dardos suffered from  from stability issues due to being top heavy. These were addressed to some extent in the succeeding Maestrale class, which was slightly lengthened but otherwise remained similar in terms of layout, speed, and capability.

Unlike the Navigatoris and di Giussanos, no fundamental reconstruction took place for the Dardos, meaning that the issue was never fully addressed, although some actions were undertaken during construction to improve matters somewhat. These included the replacement of the tripod mast behind the superstructure with a lighter one, adding 90 tons of ballast which reduced speed and range, the redesign of the rear rangefinder cover and the elimination of the two planned 120L15 star shell howitzers in the second group. Just before war started a major reconstruction project was planned, but Italy’s entry into the war prevented it from being carried out.

The seriousness of the design issue is shown by the fact that Dardo capsized in Palermo port while under tow for maintenance. It is also likely that while they were designed to carry mines, the stability issues prevented them from actually carrying out mining missions.

 

Fulmine4

Fulmine – plans as built. USMM

Operational History

Pre-war

The Dardos participated in the Spanish civil war, and were at first used as main destroyer force escorting the battle fleet. By 1940, their age was telling and their speed was not considered to be able to reach above 30 knots. They were nevertheless considered capable enough to work with the modernized battleships of the Cavour class, and in this role participated at the Battle of Calabria/Punto Stilo in July 1940, although they did not engage in combat during this battle. 

After the summer of 1940 they were consequently relegated to work with the older cruisers of the di Giussano sub-class of the Condotierri light cruisers who in their turn had suffered severe speed degradation.  

Both Dardo series were unlucky, and none survived the war. Of the second group, all four vessels were lost in surface battles, which is highly unusual, and it is probably the only group of Regia Marina vessels that was lost this way, even though the second time Lampo was sunk was due to air attack.

Loss of Lampo and Baleno

The Dardo II group suffered its first loss on 16 April 1941, when Lampo and Baleno escorted the 20th German convoy to North Africa, which was carrying parts of 15. Panzerdivision. The convoy was intercepted by Royal Navy destroyers from Malta off the Kerkennah Banks off Tunisia. In the ensuing battle the whole convoy was lost, together with all escorting destroyers.[2]

In the engagement on 16 April 1941, Lampo came under fire first, and while she managed to engage HMS Nubian with three salvoes from her rear 120mm turret before this was disabled, she was quickly hit and rendered dead in the water. Her forward turret was disabled before firing a single shot, and Lampo was then hit several times while trying to come about and making speed. She managed to launch her torpedoes without achieving any success, but was then left without power or fighting capability, ultimately drifting onto the Kerkhennah Banks where she sank in four metres of water.

TribalDD HMS Nubian

HMS Nubian underway. Wikipedia

Baleno was the next Dardo to go, shortly after Lampo. While trying to cover the convoy with smoke she in turn came under heavy fire, which devastated her bridge and main armament, the boilers and steering gear. On fire and with a third of her crew, including her commander, dead she was deliberately grounded on the Kerkennah Banks.  

Despite being severely damaged and sunk in shallow water, Lampo could be raised in August 1941 and returned to service in 1942. She was finally lost on a supply run to Tunisia in April 1943, when she was bombed carrying over 50 tons of ammunition (see below).

Loss of Fulmine

After a few months of convoy duties over the summer and into autumn, it was then the turn of Fulmine. She was part of the close escort of the Beta or Duisburg convoy from Naples to Tripoli in early November 1941, which was sunk in its entirety by Force K, a mixed cruiser/destroyer force operating from Malta during the night 8/9 November. Two destroyers were also sunk during this disastrous encounter, Fulmine by gun fire from Force K, and Maestrale-class Libeccio the next morning by a torpedo from HM/Sub Upholder, while she was rescuing survivors of the sunk vessels. The Maestrale class destroyer Grecale was also heavily damaged. 

In the engagement, Fulmine was on the side of the convoy approached by Force K, and she was the Italian vessel most closely operating to the attacking Force K. She initially came under fire from destroyer HMS Lance, followed by being fired on by the 40mm pompoms of HMS Aurora which caused severe losses to her crew. She finally came under fire from light cruiser HMS Penelope who quickly disabled and mortally wounded her with 6” rounds from her main guns. Fulmine attempted to fight back and her main turrets kept firing to the last, but within just nine minutes of the start of the engagement she was a barely afloat wreck, quickly capsizing and taking most of her crew and passengers with her. Her captain, Commander Milano, made it off the ship severely wounded but bled to death in the water. He was decorated with the Gold Medal for Military Valour. Lt. Graura, commander of A turret, kept firing until the water reached the turret, and after getting his men off the ship, decided to go down with her, shouting “Long live the King” as she went down. He also received the Gold Medal.

Many survivors of Fulmine were picked up by Libeccio, but then perished when she was sunk in turn the next morning by HM/Sub Upholder. In total, 177 men of Fulmine died on either Fulmine or Libeccio that night. Of these, 151 were members of the crew, and 26 soldiers who had taken passage on her. About 90 men survived, between the crew and passengers.

Loss of Folgore

The leader of the Dardo II group, Folgore, then was lost on 2 December 1942, in the Battle of Skerki Banks off Tunisia, while escorting convoy H with men and supplies for the Axis forces in Tunisia. The convoy was attacked by Force Q, a mixed cruiser/destroyer force including the old adversary HMS Aurora. Over 2,200 men were lost in the destruction of the convoy.

Folgore was again the first Italian vessel to engage, attacking Force Q with torpedos and gunfire, but was heavily damaged by the superior enemy without scoring a success. Her fire enabled the commander of the escort, Captain Aldo Cocchia to locate Force Q and to engage it. Almost wrecked, with many crew members wounded and out of ammunition, Folgore attempted to withdraw to Sicily, but took on so much water that she sank an hour after the battle. Her captain, Commander Bettica, who had just been appointed to her, chose to go down with the ship. Like the attacks on the Tarigo and Beta convoys, the battle of Skerki Bank pitted a weaker Italian force against a strong Royal Navy force, and the outcome was pre-ordained.

Final loss of Lampo

The last member of the Dardo II group to go was Lampo. Having been raised and refurbished until the middle of 1942, she was finally destroyed in April 1943, when carrying 50 tons of munitions to Tunisia. On this mission she was attacked by P-40 Warhawk fighter bombers of the USAAF’s 79th Fighter Group, with 86th, 87th and 316th Fighter Squadrons. She was sunk in Tunisian waters when her escort of Regia Aeronautica fighter planes was simply overwhelmed by the number of attackers. Thus, she met her fate two years and two weeks after first being sunk, in the same waters she sank in during the Tarigo convoy battle on 16 April 1941. 

316th Fighter Squadron P 40 Warhawk316th Fighter Squadron P-40 Warhawk, North Africa, 1943. Wikipedia.

Conclusion

Thus, after almost three years of war, this group of four elderly destroyers had been wiped out by enemy action. They had collectively participated in over 450 wartime missions, sailing over 140,000 miles. 198 missions were convoy escorts. These ships had worked hard, and found a hard end, fighting in all cases against superior odds but not giving up. Over 480 sailors went down with them, including every one of their commanding officers.

While the Dardo class suffered from serious design issues, and had aged by the start of the war, it nevertheless provided important lessons for the subsequent destroyer designs of the Regia Marina, and indeed other navies.

Notes

[1]The second group is sometimes referred to as Folgore class, but this is not correct. They are also referred to as Freccia/Folgore classes, e.g. in Bagnasco & Cernuschi. The Dardo I and II comes from the USMM website.

[2]Sources vary, with 2,100 tons being the upper limit at full displacement, and 1,540tons the lower limit at empty.

[3]Some sources say six.

[4]The battle was a one-sided affair, with the Royal Navy destroyer force superior both numerically and in terms of gun armament, while also aided in their night attack by radar, which the Italian destroyers did not have. It was a close-fought brawl at 2,000 yards maximum engagement range, going down to 50 yards at times. See regimarina.net for details.

[5]After the war Cocchia was to become head of the Italian navy’s Office of History.

Sources

Source verification and selection – a case study

Source verification and selection – a case study

Background

Many people are aware of the ‘Every tank a Tiger, every gun an 88’ phenomenon, where faulty perceptions of participants are taken at face value. Source selection and verification is a major issue in historical research, and particularly difficult in WW2, where we sometimes suffer from an avalanche of sources. While many of these seem quite reliable, it is necessary to cross-check, even where primary sources are concerned, and most certainly so where secondary sources are involved. 

No. 105 Squadron and the Mystery Schooner

So for this short vignette, I am using something rather closer to home, namely an air attack by Blenheim bombers of No. 105 Squadron R.A.F. on a schooner off Sicily on 9 September 1941. This attack is well remembered and described in Battle Axe Blenheims, the unit history of the squadron, where the target is described as a ’Squealer’, a radio-equipped early warning vessel that acts as spotter for the the defenses on Sicily. 

Four ships had gone out that day, led by Squadron Leader Duncan, the others commanded by Sgts. Brandwood, Mortimer, and Weston. They were looking for a convoy off Cape Spartivento, but did not find it. Sgt. Smith, observer on the CO’s plane, recorded the attack in this personal log. 

Search for convoy SE coast Sicily – not found, but saw a schooner off the coast – later confirmed my conviction. This was a Squealer, equipped with radio sending [equipment], sighting information to Italian Fighter Command. Their SOS was intercepted in Malta.

IMG 8898

Picture of the attack from Battle Axe Blenheims, p. 173

Source Review

Now for the first oddity. there is no mention of this attack at all in the Squadron Operations Record Book (ORB), which is rather strange, since one would presume that the sinking of such a vessel would be recorded.

No105

TNA AIR27/849 No 105 Squadron ORB 9 September 1941. 

At this stage, my inclination would be to file this under over-active imagination, date error, whatever. This is confirmed by a quick check in Navi Mercantili Perduti , the official loss listing of the Italian merchant navy[1], also shows no schooner lost that day. Nevertheless, there is a picture of the attack, and a rather detailed log entry. 

Fortunately enough however, I have received the relevant days from the war diary of Supermarina, the High Command of the Italian Royal Navy. This diary contains a lengthy entry on a note from Naval Command Augusta in Sicily, of an attack on the Motoveliera[2] Anita L.[3] of the Vigilanza foranea[4] at Capo Murro di Porco. During the afternoon of 9 September was attacked and bombed by four enemy bombers. She was hit several times at the waterline and in the masts/rigging. Nobody was hurt and the vessel sought refuge in Siracuse harbour where repairs were ongoing.

Conclusion

So despite no mention in the ORB, it appears pretty certain that the memory of Sgt. Smith is quite correct, and an attack took place, and that this was an operational auxiliary navy vessel. It is wrong however in overestimating the effect of the attack, since the Anita L. was not sunk after all.

To arrive at this conclusion, following interest being triggered by a secondary source, a review of two primary sources, one on each side (the ORB and the war diary of Supermarina) was necessary, together with a check in the Official History of the Italian navy. Interestingly in this case, if one had just reviewed the British sources, the attack would likely have been dismissed as an imaginary event or at the very least wrong in date. Only the combination of sources from both sides makes it possible to come to the right conclusion, and confirm and correct as necessary the record in Battle-Axe Blenheims.

Notes

Thanks go to Lorenzo Colombo of the Con la pelle appesa a un chiodo blog, and Italian naval historian Enrico Cernuschi, for their help.

[1]This is part of the Italian Navy’s Official History set of WW2. Lorenzo Colombo checked it for me.

[2]Sailing vessel with an auxiliary engine.

[3]M/V Anita L of 95 grt was requisitioned as V213 from 19/02/1941 until 02/04/1942, enrolled in Lussinpiccolo (today Mali Losinj in Croatia), and it appears she survived the war. She had registration number 68. Many thanks go to Marco Ghiglino who provided this information.

[4]Part of the Regia Marina, a service utilising requisitioned vessels to stand guard and alert defenses to incoming seaborne and aerial attacks.

105 Blenheim

Bristol Blenheim Mark IV, V6014 ‘GB-J’, of No. 105 Squadron RAF Detachment in a dispersal at Luqa, Malta. Canvas covers protect the cockpit and glazed nose section from the sun. From July to September 1941, 105 Squadron was detached from the United Kingdom to Malta, to operate against targets in the Mediterranean and North Africa, losing 14 aircraft during the period. Note the modified gun mounting under the nose. IWM CM1357

A Counterfactual Consideration of Rommel’s 1st Offensive

A Counterfactual Consideration of Rommel’s 1st Offensive

Following some further work on the older blog article at this link  I have now turned this into a more substantive and better referenced article, which can be dowloaded here:

Counterfactual Considerations on Rommel’s First Offensive.

The conclusions of the blog are refined in this article, but they remain fundamentally aligned with those of the blog entry.

Happy reading, and comments as always welcome.

0172.jpg

Rommel and Gariboldi during a Planning Meeting, probably February 1941. Rommelsriposte.com Collection