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Battle of the Espero Convoy
Part of the Mediterranean Theater of World War II
HMS Liverpool FL 004984.jpg
HMS Liverpool, Vice-Admiral Tovey's flagship.
Date June 28, 1940
Location Mediterranean, southwest of Crete
Result Allied tactical victory
Two-thirds of the Italian reinforcements reached destination
Two Allied convoys from Malta postponed
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Australia Australia
Italy Kingdom of Italy
Commanders
United Kingdom Vice-Admiral John Tovey Italy Captain Enrico Baroni 
Strength
5 cruisers 3 destroyers
Casualties and losses
1 cruiser lightly damaged 1 destroyer sunk
150–180 dead

The Battle of the Espero Convoy was one of the very first naval battles fought during World War II between vessels of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) and vessels of the British Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. The engagement took place southwest of Crete on June 28, 1940, when a force of seven cruisers and sixteen destroyers escorting three Allied convoys headed for Alexandria spotted a small Italian convoy. The Italian convoy consisted of three destroyers bound for Tobruk from Taranto.

Contents

Background

On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on Britain and France. The Italian High Command (Comando Supremo), foreseeing a British Army push into Cirenaica led by armoured forces, decided that an antitank unit should be deployed at Tobruk as soon as possible. The unit comprised ten antitank guns, one-hundred-and-twenty tons of ammunition, and one-hundred-and-sixty-two servicemen.

The two forces

The Italians chose three destroyers of the Turbine class to deliver the antitank unit. These vessels were chosen due to their high speed and loading capabilities. The destroyers chosen were the Espero (flagship), the Zeffiro and the Ostro. This class of warships could reach 36 knots if needed. The commander of the Italian squadron was Captain Enrico Baroni.

At the same time, three Allied convoys (two from Malta and the other from Greece) were heading towards Alexandria under the escort of seven cruisers (two light cruisers, HMS Capetown, HMS Caledon, the other five from the 7th Squadron: HMS Liverpool, HMS Orion, HMAS Sydney, HMS Gloucester and HMS Neptune) and sixteen destroyers. All twenty-three vessels were under the command of Vice-Admiral John Tovey. Reconnaissance planes from Alexandria and Malta also gave support to the Allied operation.[1][2]

The engagement

The Italian destroyers were spotted at noon by two Sunderland flying-boats some 50 miles west of Zante island.[3][4] They were at striking range of Tovey’s 7th Squadron, so the Vice-Admiral ordered the cruisers to intercept the enemy force with a two wings formation.

Sketch of the Battle

At 18:30, the first 6” salvoes from the five Allied cruisers began to fall on the surprised Italian convoy from a distance of 16,000 meters. Baroni, realizing that despite the best speed of his ships they were hopelessly outgunned, attempted to cover the remaining destroyers using smokescreens and faced his formidable adversaries with evasive maneuvers. Unable to escape this force, he elected to sacrifice his ship, the Espero, to save the others.[5] While Commander Baroni remained behind in his flagship to fight an unequal battle, the Zeffiro and Ostro headed safely to the southwest at full speed.

It was not until 19:20 that the first British broadside struck home, when the range had closed to 12,800 meters. By this time, Tovey had given up the chase of the other two destroyers. The 7th Squadron spent about 5,000 rounds before the Espero was sent to the bottom, after two hours and ten minutes of fierce fighting.

The destroyer Espero at anchor

A single Italian 4.7" shell hit the Liverpool, but caused little damage. The battle resulted in such a shortage of ammunition that the planned Malta convoys were suspended for two weeks.[6] HMAS Sydney rescued 47 men from the Italian destroyer, and six others were later found alive by an Italian submarine almost twenty-days later.[7] Captain Baroni was lost with his ship, and was posthumously awarded the Medaglia d´oro al valor militare. Zeffiro and Ostro both reached Bengasi the next day and arrived at Tobruk shortly after. Two-thirds of the convoy had been saved.

Aftermath

There were two main lessons learned by both sides after this battle. For the Allies, the lesson was that a daylight naval action at long range was unlikely to be decisive when the enemy units outmatched one's own speed. For the Italians, this was a grim forecast about the importance of well-coordinated air surveillance. Had Italian aircraft spotted the Allied cruisers before they reached the firing line, the three destroyers would have escaped unscathed.[8]

Notes

  1. ^ Greene & Massignani, pp. 63–65.
  2. ^ De la Sierra, pp. 58–63.
  3. ^ Greene & Massignani, pp. 63.
  4. ^ De la Sierra, pp. 58.
  5. ^ Miller, War at Sea, pg. 113
  6. ^ Green & Massignani, page 65.
  7. ^ De la Sierra, page 62.
  8. ^ Greene & Massignani, page 65.

References

  • Greene, Jack & Massignani, Alessandro: The Naval War in the Mediterranean, 1940–1943, Chatam Publishing, London, 1998. ISBN 1861760574.
  • Miller, Nathan: War at Sea: A Naval History of World War II, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995. ISBN 0-19-511038-2 (Pbk.).
  • De la Sierra, Luis: La Guerra Naval en el Mediterráneo, Editorial Juventud, Barcelona, 1976.
    ISBN 84-261-0264-6. (Spanish)

Coordinates: 35°08′16.36″N 20°36′37.27″E / 35.1378778°N 20.6103528°E / 35.1378778; 20.6103528

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Battle of the Espero Convoy
Part of the Mediterranean Theatre of World War II
File:HMS Orion (85).jpg
HMS Orion, Vice-Admiral Tovey's flagship
Date 28 June 1940
Location Mediterranean, southwest of Crete
Result Allied tactical victory
Two-thirds of the Italian reinforcements reached destination
Two Allied convoys from Malta postponed
Belligerents
 United Kingdom
 Australia
File:Flag of Italy (1861-1946) Italy
Commanders and leaders
Vice-Admiral John Tovey File:Flag of Italy (1861-1946) Captain Enrico Baroni 
Strength
5 cruisers 3 destroyers
Casualties and losses
1 cruiser lightly damaged 1 destroyer sunk
150–180 dead

The Battle of the Espero Convoy was the first World War II surface engagement between Italian and Allied warships. It took place southwest of Crete on 28 June 1940, after a force of seven cruisers and sixteen destroyers, preparing to escort three Allied convoys to Alexandria, were informed of the presence of an Italian flotilla of three destroyers. The Italian warships were bound from Taranto to Tobruk, carrying an anti-tank army unit to north Africa.

Contents

Background

On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on Britain and France. The Italian High Command, or Comando Supremo, expected a British Army advance into Cyrenaica led by armoured forces, and decided that an anti-tank unit should be moved to Tobruk as soon as possible. The unit comprised ten anti-tank guns, 120 tons of ammunition, and 162 soldiers.[1][2]

The opposing forces

The Italians chose three Turbine class destroyers to transport the antitank unit, for their high speed (36 knots) and loading capacity. The three were the Espero (flagship), Zeffiro and Ostro. The Italian flotilla was commanded by Capitano di Vascello Enrico Baroni[3].

At the same time, three Allied convoys (two from Malta and another from Greece) were to be brought to Alexandria, covered by seven cruisers (two light cruisers, HMS Capetown and Caledon and five of the 7th Cruiser Squadron: HMS Orion (flagship),[4] Liverpool, Gloucester, Neptune and HMAS Sydney) and 16 destroyers. The British warships were commanded by Vice-Admiral John Tovey. The Allied operation was supported by Sunderland flying-boats from Alexandria and Malta.[5][6]

The engagement

The Italian destroyers were found at noon by two Sunderland flying-boats some 50 miles west of Zante island.[1][7] They were within striking range of Tovey’s 7th Squadron, so he ordered them to intercept the Italians in two divisions.

The first 6” salvoes from the Allied cruisers were fired at 18:30 at the surprised Italian flotilla at a range of 16,000 metres (18,000 yards). Baroni realised that, despite the best speed of his ships, they were hopelessly outgunned.[note 1] He therefore decided to sacrifice the Espero in order to enable the other two to escape: Espero laid smokescreens and conducted evasive manoeuvres.[8] The Zeffiro and Ostro headed safely to the southwest at full speed.

Despite heavy firing, Espero was not hit until 19:20, when the range had closed to 12,800 metres. By this time, Tovey had given up the chase of the other two destroyers. The 7th Squadron expended about 5,000 shells before the Espero was sunk, after two hours and ten minutes of fierce fighting.

A single Italian 4.7" shell hit the Liverpool, but caused little damage. The battle exacerbated a shortage of ammunition at Alexandria so that the planned Malta convoys were suspended for two weeks.[9] HMAS Sydney rescued 47 men from the Italian destroyer, and six others were later found alive by an Italian submarine almost 20 days later.[10] Captain Baroni died aboard his ship, and was posthumously awarded the Medaglia d´oro al valor militare. Zeffiro and Ostro both reached Benghazi the next day and arrived at Tobruk shortly after. Two-thirds of the convoy had been saved.[11]

Aftermath

There were lessons learned by both sides after this battle. For the Allies, the battle showed that a daylight naval action at long range was unlikely to be decisive when the enemy units outmatched one's own speed. For the Italians, this was a grim lesson about the importance of well-coordinated air surveillance. Had Italian aircraft spotted the Allied cruisers before they came within range, all three destroyers would have escaped unscathed.[12]

Notes

  1. ^ The destroyers should have been able to outrun the cruisers, but one source states that the Espero had mechanical problems that limited it to 25 knots.

Citations

  1. ^ a b Greene & Massignani, p. 63
  2. ^ De La Sierra, p. 59
  3. ^ "Enrico Barone, Captain (translated from Italian)". Ministero della Difesa. http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=it&u=http://www.marina.difesa.it/storia/movm/parte06/movm6007.asp&ei=3bZZTM2SMZKI0wSopMjYCA&sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCcQ7gEwBA&prev=/search%3Fq%3Denrico%2Bbaroni%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dopera%26hs%3DY5O%26rls%3Den%26prmd%3Do. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  4. ^ Woodman, p.42
  5. ^ Greene & Massignani, pp. 63–65
  6. ^ De la Sierra, pp. 58–63
  7. ^ De la Sierra, p. 58
  8. ^ Miller, War at Sea, p. 113
  9. ^ Green & Massignani, p 65
  10. ^ De la Sierra, p 62
  11. ^ O'Hara, p. 34.
  12. ^ Greene & Massignani, p 65

References

  • Greene, Jack & Massignani, Alessandro: The Naval War in the Mediterranean, 1940–1943, Chatam Publishing, London, 1998. ISBN 1-86176-057-4.
  • Miller, Nathan: War at Sea: A Naval History of World War II, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995. ISBN 0-19-511038-2 (Pbk.).
  • De la Sierra, Luis: La Guerra Naval en el Mediterráneo, Editorial Juventud, Barcelona, 1976. ISBN 84-261-0264-6. (Spanish)
  • O'Hara, Vincent P. (2009). Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theater, 1940-1945. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-648-3. 
  • Woodman, Richard (2000). Malta Convoys 1940-1943. London: John Murray. ISBN 0 7195 6408 5. 

Coordinates: 35°08′16.36″N 20°34′37.27″E / 35.1378778°N 20.5770194°E / 35.1378778; 20.5770194


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