Dawn bombardment of Tripoli

The Commander in Chief, Mediterranean Admiral Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham, widely known as 'ABC', responsible for several famous naval actions including Taranto and Matapan.

The Mediterranean fleet was especially busy during this period even after the success of Matapan. So vital was the task of halting the passage of munitions from Italy to Libya that Churchill had urged Cunningham to block the port of Tripoli by running a ship into the harbour entrance. He had proposed the use of HMS Barham, a dramatic use of one of the battleships in the Mediterranean. Eventually it was decided that the probability of air attack meant that getting the ship into position to block was to likely to be too difficult to be worth risking a capital ship. As an alternative a surprise bombardment was delivered:

The Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, in H.M.S. Warspite, with H.M. Ships Barham, Valiant, and Gloucester, accompanied by destroyers, bombarded the port and shipping at Tripoli for 42 minutes at dawn on the 21st April; the Naval bombardment was preceded by bombing and flare dropping by R.A.F. and naval aircraft.

Air spotting was rendered difficult by smoke and dust from the air attack, but three or four ships were set on fire or sunk in the naval basin and two or more others hit as well as a destroyer; the harbour facilities and shore establishments were also seriously damaged, some 530 tons of shells having been fired. No naval units were encountered and there was no reply from the shore batteries for 20 minutes.

There was no damage or casualties to our ships. During the approach naval aircraft shot down four troop-carrying aircraft and one bomber, and after the bombardment destroyed one bomber and defeated an attack by dive-bombers, one of which was shot down and one probably destroyed.

From the Naval Situation Report for the week.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sabina May 30, 2018 at 5:47 am

For photos of the bombardment on the ground you can visit this site: http://www.storiologia.it/aviazione2/tripoli.htm
It includes images of the destruction caused to civilian habitation. My grandmother who lived through the bombardment gave me a spine-chilling account of what civilians like her experienced under the bombing. My grandma, my grandpa, father and uncle (then a baby and toddler) were interned by the British into a prisoner camp, where they all suffered malnutrition due to insufficient food provisions. The family was finally evacuated and offered asylum in Italy as war refugees.

Francesco Ciarlini September 20, 2017 at 12:32 pm

It should be noted that the bombardment had relatively modest damage (the worst was that suffered by the docks and the infrastructure), was reluctantly undertook by Cunningham (who refused to perform another afterwards, deeming them not worth the effort), and that it spurred the Italians to deploy additional minefields to prevent the Royal Navy to perform another bombardment. On one of these, on 17 December 1941, Force K met its demise while trying to intercept an Italian convoy, being decimated and therefore depriving the RN from one of its most successful tools in their struggle to cut Italian sealanes.

John Martin Bradley April 24, 2016 at 7:23 pm

Ahmed, I am saddened to read your story. I personally am sorry for what happened. John

Ahmed Tmalla May 24, 2015 at 8:49 pm

On that day, at least 50 houses were destroyed by that bombardment, in the area close to Tripoli harbour, including my family’s house, in which I was born on 16 April 1939. Many Libyan people were killed while asleep in their homes on that dawn. Luckily my family and some others had left their houses a few days before the attack. The area is a hill that faces north, and about 100 meters away from the sea-water. In the seventies of the last century, people started rebuilding their houses in that area. I hope one day the British Government will apologise to the people of Tripoli on that massacre

Editor September 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm

My sources are mainly from the British perspective so not really of much use to you.

Anyone help Bruna with sources here?

Bruna Di Giuseppe-Bertoni September 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm

on the bombardment of Tripoli on April 21, 1941 how many casualties were there?
was there an Italian ship that was bombarded by the name of SS Girogio?

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