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Battle of the Cigno Convoy
Part of the Mediterranean Theater of World War II
Cassiopea-RM.jpg
RM torpedo boat Cassiopea
Date 16 April 1943
Location Mediterranean off Marettimo Island
Result Italian victory
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom Kingdom of Italy Italy
Commanders
Cdr. Basil Jones
Lt.Cdr. Lawrence St. George[1]
Captain Carlo Maccaferri
Captain Vittorio Nasta[2]
Strength
2 destroyers 2 torpedo boats
1 transport ship
Casualties and losses
1 destroyer sunk
1 destroyer damaged
10 dead
1 torpedo boat sunk
1 torpedo boat disabled
100-120 dead

The Battle of the Cigno Convoy was a naval engagement between two Royal Navy destroyers and two Regia Marina torpedo boats which took place southeast of Marettimo island, on the early hours of 16 April 1943. The Italian units were escorting the transport ship Belluno, of 4,200 tons.

Contents

Background

The battle was part of the daily aerial, naval and submarine campaign mounted by the Allies against Axis forces, on the spring of 1943, in order to achieve a complete naval and air supremacy around North Africa and Sicily. Their aim was to isolate and defeat the bulk of the Afrika Corps and the Italian Army in Tunis by strangle their resupply lines. The struggle was so fiercely contested that the maritime area between Italy and Africa was dubbed the "route of death".[3] By April, Axis merchant ship losses reached a 3.3 ratio each day.[4] The huge extension of minefields planted by both sides, made surface trips against Axis shipping more unlikely than during the Libyan campaign.[5] The supply route for the Italian Navy was also shorter, but the Allied air supremacy and the attrition of the war made almost impossible to assemble large convoys. This, along with a sharp shortage of fuel, forced the Italians to use small and fast destroyers or torpedo boats to escort their cargo ships heading to Africa.[6] The convoys, however, were only capable of making 8 to 10 knots in practice, due to the loss of the main high-speed cargo ships by 1943.[7]

The action

The liner Belluno (former Fort de France) in a pre-war photo

One of these small convoys, comprising two Italian Spica class torpedo boats, Cigno and Cassiopea escorting the 4,200 ton former French transport Belluno, sailed from Trapani bound for Tunis on April 15. A rearguard escorting force composed of the torpedo boats Tifone and Climene was scheduled to depart a couple of hours later from Palermo to reinforce the convoy.[8] On 2:38 AM of the 16th, the forward escort spotted two British destroyers approaching. These were the P class destroyers HMS Pakenham and HMS Paladin. This was one of the few night engagements in the Mediterranean in which the British failed to take their opponents by surprise, owing to the full moon.[9] This circumstance was decisive to the outcome of the battle. However, the fire power of Pakenham and Paladin was fairly superior to that of the Italian side. In fact, they were armed with five 4" guns against three 3.9" of the Italians. The armour protection also favoured the Royal Navy ships. The first vessel to suffer the effects of gunfire was the Cigno, which was almost immediately knocked out. The Italian unit continued to fire on the British ships until a torpedo sank her at 3:00 AM. Around 100 seamen went down with the ship. Nevertheless, Cassiopea, albeit also struck by several rounds, was able to counter attack by launching a torpedo at Paladin and raking Pakenham with gunfire. The port side of the latter was hit at least four times and the engine room was seriously damaged. Several of her crew were scalded by the explosion of a boiler. Nine men were killed, another died of his wounds two days later.[10] Paladin was also damaged by shell splinters.[11] During the clash, the Belluno turned back to the northeast, under the protection of the rear escorting force. Meanwhile, the British ceased fire and withdrew. The torpedo boat Cassiopea, almost disabled, was assisted by her similar Climene, which towed her back to Trapani and later to Taranto for repairs.[9] After trying to reach Malta with an auxiliary engine, Pakenham broke down off Sicily and then Paladin, unable to take her in tow, scuttled her sister ship with a torpedo at 6:30 AM. The transport Belluno reached her destination safely some hours later.[4][12][13][14]

Notes

  1. ^ Uboat.net
  2. ^ Roberti, Vero: Con la pelle appesa a un chiodo: la guerra sul mare: 1940-1943. U. Mursia, 1970. Page 240 (Italian)
  3. ^ Bragadin, page 237
  4. ^ a b Sadkovich, page 326
  5. ^ Bragadin, page 247
  6. ^ Bragadin, pp 244-245
  7. ^ Sadkovich, page 317
  8. ^ Roberti, Vero: Con la pelle appesa a un chiodo: la guerra sul mare: 1940-1943. U. Mursia, 1970. Page 241 (Italian)
  9. ^ a b Andò, Elio & Bagnasco, Emilio: Navi e marinai italiani nella seconda guerra mondiale. Albertelli, 1977, page 273. (Italian)
  10. ^ www.naval-history.net
  11. ^ Rivista Maritima (Italian)
  12. ^ Ufficio storico della Marina Militare: La Marina italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale, Volume 8. Stato maggiore della Marina Militare, 1958, pp. 236-237 (Italian)
  13. ^ BBC interview to survivor
  14. ^ Kemp, Paul: The Admiralty Regrets: British Warship Losses of the 20th Century. Sutton Publishing,1999, page 212

References

  • Bragadin, Marc'Antonio: The Italian Navy in World War II, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, 1957. ISBN 0405130317.
  • Sadkovich, James: The Italian Navy in World War II, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1994. ISBN 031328797X.

Coordinates: 37°48′35.22″N 12°11′29.01″E / 37.8097833°N 12.1913917°E / 37.8097833; 12.1913917

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