Tuesday, March 22, 2005

On March 22nd in military history....in 1942

On this day in military history….in 1942. The Italian Regia Marina wins the Second Battle of Sirte. The Battle of Sirte took place east of the island of Malta to the north of the Gulf of Sirte. Because of the stepped up bombing campaign of Malta by the Axis, the British needed to re-supply the garrison there and a convoy was sent out from Alexandria, Egypt on the 21st of March. Since the British had found the Italian Regia Marina quick to avoid surface engagements, a light escort that was heavy on anti-aircraft capabilities and light on surface-to-surface warfare capabilities was assigned to the convoy. If the Italian Regia Marina decided to attack, the British were expecting only light surface ships.

The next day, the British fleet spotted smoke on the horizon, but instead of light surface ships, there was a force of Italian heavy cruisers and destroyers followed by the battleship Littorio and more destroyers. The British forces started laying smoke to obscure the convoy and although the Italians outgunned the British forces and could have completely destroyed the convoy, they never pressed home the attack. As night fell, the Italians decided to break off the attack and return to harbor. The British had three cruisers and six destroyers damaged and the Italian suffered no real damage but two destroyers were lost later in a storm while returning to base. Most of the British escorts were short on fuel and turned back to Alexandria. The next day, the German/Italian air forces found what was left of the convoy and were able to sink a cargo ship and damage an oil tanker. After the convoy arrived at Malta, the harbor was attacked and the oil tanker was struck by bombs and rolled over and two more cargo ships were sunk. However, the British were able to salvage the oil in the tanker by making a hole in hull of the ship. Of the 26,000 tons of supplies which left Alexandria, only about 5,000 were ever unloaded at Malta.

2 Comments:

At 3:31 PM, Blogger The Iconic Midwesterner said...

This has to be one of the few high points (if such it can be called) for the Italian navy.

When I was a kid I used to have a book that had a whole section of Italian Navy jokes. I wish I still had the book or remembered any of the jokes.

All I remember is something about cannons being too heavy for garbage skows.

 
At 1:08 PM, Blogger The Great El-ahrairah said...

Actually, during World War II, of the three Italian armed forces (Army, Navy and Air Force), the Regia Marina gave the best accounting of itself. The Italian Army really wasn't that fearsome without German support and the Regia Aeronautica was essentially worthless. The Regia Marina at least tried to take the battle to the British, but due to problems with fuel availability and no air cover, they pretty well ended up on the short end of the stick.

 

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