Royal Navy clash with Italians at Calabria

A short and confused action resulted, the enemy retiring under cover of a smoke screen soon after the heavy ships became engaged. H.M.S. Warspite obtained one hit on an enemy battleship at long range. A torpedo attack by aircraft from H.M.S. Eagle is believed to have resulted in 1 cruiser being hit.

 

The Italian Battleship Cesare firing her salvoes near Punta Stilo (Battle of Calabria)

NAVAL SITUATION.

Mediterranean.
2. A force of cruisers and destroyers successfully attacked shipping in Bardia harbour (Libya-Egyptian frontier) on the 6th July and sank two military supply ships. Our ships were attacked from the air without result. Aircraft from the Fleet Air Arm at Malta carried out a dive-bombing attack on Catania aerodrome on the same date; 9,000 lbs. of bombs were dropped and four big fires were started in the hangars and workshops. A combined Fleet Air Arm and E.A.F. raid was also carried out successfully on Tobruk. The destroyer Zeffiro was sunk and 1 other destroyer, 1 submarine and a number of merchant ships damaged.

3. Early on. the morning of the 8th July H.M. Submarine Phoenix reported a force of 2 enemy battleships and 4 destroyers proceeding on a southerly course about 200 miles east of Malta, and later in the day another force of 6 cruisers and 7 destroyers was sighted by our aircraft proceeding north 60 miles north of Bengazi. At this time a strong force of the Mediterranean Fleet, consisting of 3 battleships, 4 6-inch cruisers, 1 aircraft carrier and 11 destroyers, was at sea but well to the eastward of these positions. While passing between Cyrenaica and Crete our ships were continuously bombed and H.M.S. Gloucester was hit on the bridge, killing the Captain and inflicting further severe casualties.

The Italian Cruiser Zara at the Battle of Calabria, 9th July 1940.

On the morning of the 9th numerous reports from our aircraft indicated that an enemy force of 2 battleships, 6 cruisers and 11 destroyers had been joined by several more cruisers and destroyers from Augusta. This force was sighted by H..M.S.Neptune at 1507 and shortly afterwards the Commander-in-Chief reported that he was engaging the enemy. A short and confused action resulted, the enemy retiring under cover of a smoke screen soon after the heavy ships became engaged. H.M.S. Warspite obtained one hit on an enemy battleship at long range. A torpedo attack by aircraft from H.M.S. Eagle is believed to have resulted in 1 cruiser being hit. Subsequently a damaged enemy cruiser was reported to be in tow about 70 miles from Messina at 1900. The Mediterranean Fleet suffered no casualties either in material or personnel other than those in the Gloucester.

From the NAVAL, MILITARY AND AIR SITUATION to 12 noon July 11th, 1940, as reported to the British Cabinet.

See TNA CAB /66/9/42

 

HMS Warspite, a veteran of the First world War ‘Battle of Jutland’, seen in 1942.

 

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