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Battle of Cape Spartivento
Part of the Mediterranean Theater of World War II
RNBolzano-Teulada.jpg
Italian heavy cruiser Bolzano during the battle
Date 27 November 1940
Location Mediterranean Sea, near Sardinia, Italy
Result Inconclusive
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom Kingdom of Italy Italy
Commanders
United Kingdom James Somerville Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Inigo Campioni
Strength
1 carrier
1 battleship
1 battlecruiser
1 heavy cruiser
5 light cruisers
1 anti aircraft cruiser
4 destroyers
4 corvettes
4 freighters
2 battleships
6 heavy cruisers
14 destroyers
Casualties and losses
1 heavy cruiser damaged 1 destroyer damaged

The Battle of Cape Spartivento, known as the Battle of Cape Teulada in Italy, was a naval battle during the Battle of the Mediterranean in World War II. It was fought between naval forces of the British Royal Navy and the Italian Regia Marina on 27 November 1940, during World War II.

Contents

Origins

On the night of 11 November 1940, the British incapacitated or destroyed half of the Italian battleships during the Battle of Taranto. Until then, the Italians had left their battlefleet in harbour, using it as a threat against British shipping, even if it never left port, as a fleet in being. After the attack, the Italians realised their fleet was no safer sitting still than in combat and started using their remaining units.

On the night of 17 November, an Italian force consisting of the battleships (Vittorio Veneto and Giulio Cesare) and a number of other units were about to intercept British cruisers and two carriers, Ark Royal and Argus, on their way to deliver aircraft to Malta (Operation White). The British convoy was warned of their approach and immediately turned about and returned to Gibraltar, sending off their aircraft (two Skuas and twelve Hurricanes) prematurely. One Skua and eight Hurricanes were lost at sea, as they ran out of fuel well before they could reach their destination. Seven airmen were lost.

This Italian success in disrupting the aerial reinforcement of Malta seriously upset British plans for a further convoy to supply the island (Operation Collar). The convoy was then rerun, with much more support, including ships from Gibraltar, Force H and Alexandria, Force D. The convoy from Gibraltar was spotted by the Italians, who once again set out to intercept it.

Battle

The British, aware of the Italian fleet's movements, sent their forces north to intercept them before they could come anywhere near the cargo ships. At 11:45 on the 27th, the British were informed that the Italians were only 50 miles away and closing for battle. Force D had not yet arrived from Alexandria and the British were outgunned, but only 15 minutes later, Force D was spotted and the tables turned. The two forces were fairly even; although the Italian ships had better range and heavier fire, the British had an aircraft carrier, which had recently proven itself to be equal to a battleship at Taranto. However, the Italian commander had been given orders to avoid combat unless it was heavily in his favour, so a decisive battle was out of the question.

Admiral Somerville deployed his forces into two main groups, with five cruisers under Rear Admiral Lancelot Holland in front and two battleships and seven destroyers in a second group to the south. Much further south, the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal was preparing to launch a force of Fairey Swordfish. The Italians were organised into three groups, two from six heavy cruisers and seven destroyers and a third of two battleships and another seven destroyers in the rear. At 12:07, it was clear a battle was about to start with evenly-matched forces, so the Italian commander ordered the cruiser groups to re-form on the battleships and prepare to depart. However, by this point, the lead cruiser formation had already angled toward the British and was committed to combat.

At 12:22, the lead groups of both cruiser forces came into range and Fiume opened fire at 23,500 metres. Rapid fire between the two forces continued as the distance between them dropped, but the Italians outgunned the British. An older battleship, the HMS Ramillies, evened the odds, but was too slow to maintain formation and dropped out of battle after a few salvoes at 12:26. Four minutes later, Vice Admiral Angelo Iachino, commander of the Italian cruiser group, received order to disengage, although the battle was slightly in their favour. Iachino ordered an increase in speed to 30 knots, laid smoke and started to withdraw. At this time, the Italian destroyer Lanciere was hit by a broadside from Manchester and seriously damaged, although she was towed to port after the battle. The British heavy cruiser Berwick was hit at 12:22 by a single 8" shell, knocking out her Y turret and killing seven men. A second hit at 12:35 did little damage.

For the next few minutes the tables turned in favour of the British, when the battlecruiser Renown closed the distance on the Italian cruisers. This advantage was soon negated when Vittorio Veneto opened fire from 29,000 yards at 13:00. Vittorio Veneto fired 19 shells in seven salvoes from long range and that was enough for the now outgunned British cruisers. Both forces withdrew, the battle lasting a total of 54 minutes and causing little damage to either side.

Order of battle

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Regia Marina

Kingdom of Italy

Royal Navy

Royal Navy Ensign

See also

References and external links


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