On the 27th November the Royal Navy clashed with the Italian Navy in the Meditteranean. The Italian Force was under orders to attack only if assured of success – so when discovering that they facing a roughly equal sized force, it retired at speed, leading to an inconclusive engagement. From the Naval Situation for the week:
On the 27th November contact was made with Italian naval forces to the southward of Sardinia. The Italian force, which was sighted by aircraft in a position about 30 miles S.S.W. off Cape Spartivento, consisted of two battleships and a number of cruisers and destroyers.
The British force was in two parts : one, consisting of H.M. Ships Ramillies, Berwick, Coventry and Newcastle and some destroyers, was about 50 miles to the south of the Italian force; and the other, consisting of H.M. Ships Renown and Ark Royal with some cruisers and destroyers, was about 90 miles to the south-westward of the Italians when they were first sighted. Both our forces proceeded to make contact, and some three hours later the Renown sighted the Italian battleships at a range of 20 miles. The Italians retired at high speed towards Cagliari and a chase developed.
Our forces engaged the enemy at extreme range, but were unable to overtake them. Fleet Air Arm aircraft from H.M.S. Ark Royal, however, succeeded in attacking with the following results : one torpedo hit on a battleship of the Littorio class; and one almost certain torpedo hit on an 8-inch cruiser. Another 8-inch cruiser was observed to be in difficulties, and a dive-bombing attack was made on three 6-inch cruisers, probably causing some damage by near misses. The Italians are also believed to have sustained the following casualties by gunfire : one 8-inch cruiser probably severely damaged, one destroyer severely damaged and another damaged.
On our side H.M.S. Berwick was twice hit by 8-inch shell, resulting in slight structural damage and ” Y ” turret being put out of action. Her casualties were one officer and six ratings killed, two ratings seriously wounded. and six slightly wounded. All our aircraft returned except one Fulmar, and another which crashed on landing and was lost overboard.
After the action our forces were twice bombed by enemy aircraft without result. In the second attack the Ark Royal was missed by only ten yards by one bomb. Both attacks were intercepted by fighters and two enemy aircraft were shot down.
Only much later was it established that the Swordfish pilots were mistaken, none of their torpedoes had struck home.