Battle of the Mediterranean: Wikis

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Battle of Mediterranean
Part of World War II
WWII-Mediterranean-v1.PNG
Mediterranean Sea
Date June 10, 1940 – May 2, 1945
Location Mediterranean Sea
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom
 Australia
 United States
 Canada
 Netherlands
Kingdom of Yugoslavia Yugoslavia
Greece Greece
 Poland
 France
Italy Italy
Nazi Germany Germany
France Vichy France

The Battle of the Mediterranean was the name given to the naval campaign fought in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II.

For the most part, the campaign was fought between the forces of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina), supported by other Axis naval forces, and the forces of the British Royal Navy, supported by other Allied naval forces.

Each side had three overall goals in this battle. The first was to attack the supply lines of the other side. The second was to keep open the supply lines to their own armies in North Africa. The third was to destroy the ability of the opposing navy to wage war at sea.

Outside of the Pacific, the Mediterranean saw the largest conventional naval warfare during the war. In particular, Allied forces struggled to supply and retain the key naval and air base of Malta.

Contents

Main protagonists

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The British Mediterranean Fleet

The Mediterranean was a traditional focus of British maritime power. The Mediterranean Fleet was Britain's instrument of this maritime power. Out-numbered by the forces of Italian Royal Navy, the British plan was to hold the three decisive strategic points of Gibraltar, Malta, and the Suez Canal. By holding these points, the British held open vital supply routes. Malta was the lynch-pin of the whole system. It provided a needed stop for Allied convoys and a base from which to attack the Axis supply routes.[1]

The Italian Royal Fleet

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini saw the control of the Mediterranean as an essential prerequisite for expanding his "New Roman Empire" into Nice, Corsica, Tunis, and the Balkans. Italian naval building accelerated during his tenure. Mussolini described the Mediterranean Sea as "Our Sea" (Mare Nostrum).[2]

The warships of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) had a general reputation as well-designed. Italian small attack craft lived up to expectations and were responsible for many brave and successful actions in the Mediterranean. But some Italian cruiser classes were rather deficient in armour and all Italian warships lacked radar, although the lack of radar was partly offset by the fact that Italian warships were equipped with good rangefinder and fire-control systems. In addition, whereas Allied commanders at sea had discretion on how to act, the actions of Italian commanders were closely and precisely governed by Italian Naval Headquarters (Supermarina).

The Italian Navy also lacked a proper fleet air arm. The aircraft carrier Aquila was never completed and most air support during the Battle of the Mediterranean was supplied by the land-based Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica).[2]

However, the real problem for the Axis forces in North Africa was the limited capacity of the Libyan ports. Even under the best conditions, this limited supplies. Tripoli was the largest port in Libya and it could accommodate a maximum of five large cargo vessels or four troop transports. On a monthly basis, Tripoli had an unloading capacity of 45,000 tons. Tobruk added only another 18,000 tons. Bardia and other smaller ports added little more.[3]

In general, the Axis forces in North Africa exceeded the capacity of the ports to supply them. It has been calculated that the average Axis division required 10,000 tons of supplies per month. If the Italians had a fault in respect of logistics during the Battle of the Mediterranean, it was that they failed to increase the capacity of Tripoli and the other ports before the war.[3]

The French Fleet

In January 1937, France began a program of modernization and expansion. This soon elevated the French Fleet to fourth-largest in the world. However, the French Navy (formally the "National Navy" - Marine Nationale) was still considerably smaller than the navy of its ally, Britain.

By agreement with the British Admiralty, the strongest concentration of French vessels was in the Mediterranean. Here the Italian Fleet posed a threat to the vitally important French sea routes from metropolitan France to North Africa and to the British sea routes between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal.[4]

The Vichy French Fleet

In 1940, after France fell to the Germans, the French Navy in the Mediterranean became the navy of the Vichy French government. As the Vichy French Navy, this force was considered a potentially grave threat to the British Royal Navy. As such, it was imperative to the British that this threat be neutralised.

As the opening phase of Operation Catapult, the French squadron at Alexandria in Egypt was dealt with via negotiations. This proved possible primarily because the two commanders, Admiral René-Emile Godfroy and Admiral Andrew Cunningham, were on good personal terms. In contrast, a British ultimatum to place the bulk of the remainder of the French fleet out of German reach was refused. The fleet was located at Mers-el-Kebir in Algeria and on 3 July 1940 it was largely destroyed by bombardment by the British "Force H" from Gibraltar (Admiral James Somerville). The Vichy French government broke off all ties with the British as a result of this attack and the Vichy French Air Force (Armée de l'Air de Vichy) even raided British installations at Gibralter.

In June and July of 1941, a small Vichy French naval force was involved during "Operation Exporter". This was an Allied operation launched against Vichy French forces based in Lebanon and Syria. French naval vessels had to be driven off before the Litani River could be crossed.

In 1942, as part of the occupation of Vichy France during "Case Anton", the Germans intended to capture the French fleet at Toulon. This was thwarted by determined action by French commanders and the bulk of the fleet was scuttled at anchor.

German Fleet

The Mediterranean U-boat Campaign lasted approximately from 21 September 1941 to May 1944 during World War II. The German Navy (Kriegsmarine) aimed at isolating Gibraltar, Malta, and the Suez Canal so as to break Britain's trade route. More than sixty U-boats were sent to disrupt shipping in the sea, though many were already attacked at the Strait of Gibraltar controlled by Britain (of which nine were sunk while attempting passage and ten more were damaged).

History

First actions

On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on Britain and France. On the following day, Italian bombers attacked Malta on what was to be the first of many raids. During this time, the French Navy shelled some towns on the coast of Italy. When France surrendered on 24 June, the Axis leaders permitted the new Vichy French regime to retain its naval forces.

The first clash between the rival fleets, the Battle of Calabria, took place on 9 July 1940, just four weeks after the start of hostilities. This was inconclusive, and was followed by a series of small ship actions (the battle of the Espero convoy, battle of Cape Spada) during the autumn. In November, the RN mounted an aerial attack on the Italian fleet in Taranto harbour, crippling 3 capital ships and changing the balance of power in the Mediterranean.

Battle of Taranto

To reduce the threat posed by the Italian fleet based in the port of Taranto to convoys sailing to Malta, Admiral Cunningham organised an attack code-named Operation Judgement. Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers from HMS Illustrious attacked the Italian fleet while it was still at anchor. This was the first time in history that an attack such as this had been attempted. It was a great success and on November 11, 1940, the Royal Navy aircraft severely damaged two Italian battleships in the Battle of Taranto and sank a third, putting half of the Italian Navy's major ships out of action for several months. This attack also forced the Italian fleet to Italian ports further north so as to be out of range of carrier-based aircraft. This reduced the threat of Italian sallies to attacking Malta bound convoys.

The Battle of Matapan

The Battle of Cape Matapan was a decisive Allied victory, fought off the coast of the Peloponnese in southern Greece from March 27 to March 29, 1941 in which British Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy forces under the command of the British Admiral Andrew Cunningham intercepted those of the Italian Regia Marina, under Admiral Angelo Iachino.

The Allies sank the heavy cruisers Fiume, Zara and Pola and the destroyers Vittorio Alfieri and Giosue Carducci, and damaged the battleship Vittorio Veneto. The British lost one torpedo plane and suffered light damage to some ships.

Decisive factors were the use of Ultra intercepts and the lack of radar on the Italian ships.

Crete

The effort to prevent German troops from reaching Crete by sea, and later the evacuation of Allied land forces after their defeat by German paratroops in the Battle of Crete during May 1941, cost the Allied navies a number of ships. Attacks by German planes, mainly Ju-87 and Ju-88, destroyed several British warships: two light cruisers (HMS Gloucester, Fiji) and six destroyers (Kelly, Greyhound, Kashmir, Hereward, Imperial, Juno). Seven other ships were damaged, including the battleships HMS Warspite and Valiant and the light cruiser HMS Orion. Close to 2,000 British sailors died.

It was a significant victory for the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), as it proved that the Royal Navy could not operate in waters where the Luftwaffe had air supremacy without suffering severe losses. In the end, however, this had little strategic meaning, since the attention of the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) was directed to Russia (Operation Barbarossa) a few weeks later, and the Mediterranean was to play a secondary role in German war planning in the following years. The action did, however, extend Axis reach into the eastern Mediterranean, and extend the threat to Allied convoys.

During the evacuation, Cunningham was determined that the "Navy must not let the Army down". When army generals stated their fears that he would lose too many ships Cunningham said that "It takes three years to build a ship, it takes three centuries to build a tradition". Despite advance warning through Ultra intercepts, the Battle of Crete resulted in a decisive defeat for the Allies, The invasion took a fearful toll of the German paratroops, who were dropped without their major weapons, which were dropped separately in containers. So heavy were the losses that General Kurt Student, who commanded the German invasion, would later say "Crete was the grave of the German parachutists.", referring to the German decision not to use parachutists in any future invasion attempts.

Malta

Main articles: Siege of Malta (1940) & Malta Convoys

Malta's position between Sicily and North Africa was perfect to interdict Axis supply convoys destined for North Africa. It could thus influence the campaign in North Africa and support Allied actions against Italy. The Axis recognised this and made great efforts to neutralise it as a British base, either by air attacks or by starving it of its own supplies.

For a time during the Siege of Malta it looked as if Malta would be starved into submission by the use of Axis aircraft and warships based in Sicily, Sardinia, Crete and North Africa. A number of Allied convoys were decimated. The turning point in the siege came in August 1942, when the British sent a very heavily defended convoy codenamed Pedestal. Malta's air defence was repeatedly reinforced by Hurricane and Spitfire fighters flown off to the island by HMS Furious and other Allied aircraft carriers. The situation eased as Axis forces were forced away from their North African bases and eventually Malta could be resupplied and become an offensive base again.

Greatest extent of Italian control of the Mediterranean littoral and seas (within green line & dots) in summer/fall 1942. Allied controlled areas in red.

The British re-established a credible air garrison and offensive naval base on the island. With the aid of Ultra, Malta's garrison was able to disrupt Axis supplies to North Africa immediately before the Second Battle of El Alamein. For the fortitude and courage of the Maltese during the siege, Malta was awarded the George Cross.

Later actions

Following the battle of Crete in the summer of 1941, the Royal Navy regained its ascendancy in the central Mediterranean in a series of successful convoy attacks, (Duisburg convoy, Cap Bon) until the events surrounding the First Battle of Sirte and the Raid on Alexandria in December swung the balance of power in the Axis favour.

The Italian Navy's most successful attack was when divers planted mines on British battleships during the Raid on Alexandria (19 December 1941). HMS Queen Elizabeth and Valiant were sunk but later raised and returned to active service.

A series of hard fought convoy battles (Second Battle of Sirte in March, Operations Harpoon and Vigorous in June, and Operation Pedestal in August) ensured Malta's survival, until the Allies regained the advantage in November 1942.

In Sept 1943 with the Italian collapse and the surrender of Italian fleet, naval actions in Mediterranean became restricted to actions against U-boats and by small craft in the Adriatic and Aegean seas.

Italian armistice

On 25 July 1943, the Grand Council of Fascism ousted Mussolini. A new Italian government, led by King Victor Emmanuel III and Marshal Pietro Badoglio, took over in Italy. The new Italian government immediately began secret negotiations with the Allies to end the fighting and to come over to the Allied side. On 3 September, a secret armistice was signed with the Allies at Fairfield Camp in Sicily. The armistice was announced on 8 September.

After the armistice, the Italian Navy was split in two. In southern Italy, the "Co-Belligerent Navy of the South" (Marina Cobelligerante del Sud) fought on for the King and Badoglio. In the north, a much smaller portion of the Italian Navy joined the Republican National Navy (Marina Nazionale Repubblicana)of Mussolini's new Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, or RSI) and fought on for the Germans.

Major naval actions of the campaign

  • 28 June 1940, Battle of the Espero Convoy. Italian convoy attacked, destroyer Espero sunk. Conversely, two British convoys from Malta were delayed as result of the battle.
  • 9 July 1940, Battle of Calabria. Encounter between fleet forces escorting large convoys. Inconclusive results.
  • 19 July 1940, Battle of Cape Spada. Cruiser action, Bartolomeo Colleoni sunk.
  • 12 October 1940, Battle of Cape Passero (1940). One destroyer and two Italian torpedo boats sunk, cruiser HMS Ajax seriously damaged.
  • 11 November 1940, Battle of Taranto. Aerial attack on Italian fleet in harbour, 3 battleships sunk in shallow waters, one of them disabled for the rest of the war.
  • 27 November 1940, Battle of Cape Spartivento. Inconclusive fleet action.
  • 6–11 January 1941, Operation Excess. British convoy to Malta. Italian torpedo boat Vega sunk, British destroyer HMS Gallant permanently disabled after hitting a mine.
  • 26 March 1941, Action of Suda Bay. British cruiser HMS York sunk by explosive motor boats.
  • 27–29 March 1941, Battle of Cape Matapan. Fleet action, the Italian navy lost three cruisers and two destroyers.
  • 16 April 1941, Battle of the Tarigo Convoy. Italian convoy attacked and destroyed. Two Italian destroyers lost along with the British HMS Mohawk.
  • 20 May–1 June 1941, Battle of Crete. Series of actions supporting army in Crete, 9 British warships sunk by Axis air attacks.
  • July 1941, Operation Substance. British convoy to Malta. British destroyer HMS Fearless lost to air attack.
  • September 1941, Operation Halberd. British convoy to Malta. The transport ship Imperial Star, of 12,200 tn was sunk by an Italian aerial torpedo.
  • 8 November 1941, Battle of the Duisburg Convoy. Axis convoy destroyed. Italian destroyer Fulmine also lost.
  • 13 December 1941, Battle of Cape Bon. Italian convoy attacked, Italian light cruisers Da Barbiano and Da Giussano sunk.
  • 17 December 1941, First Battle of Sirte. Indecisive clash between the escorting forces of two convoys.
  • 19 December 1941, Raid on Alexandria (1941). Manned torpedoes attack British fleet, 2 battleships sunk in harbour, raised and repaired several months later.
  • 22 March 1942, Second Battle of Sirte. British convoy attacked by the Italian fleet, managed to slip away, but all its four cargo ships are sunk during subsequent air strikes.
  • June 1942, Operation Harpoon. British convoy attacked by Italian cruisers and aircraft, four merchants and destroyers HMS Bedouin and ORP Kujawiak sunk.
  • June 1942, Operation Vigorous. British convoy attacked, drove back by the Italian fleet.
  • August 1942, Operation Pedestal. British convoy attacked, nine merchantmen sunk by Axis E-boats, aircraft and submarines.
  • November 1942, Operation Stone Age. British convoy to Malta.
  • 2 December 1942, Battle of Skerki Bank. Italian convoy attacked and destroyed.
  • 11 December 1942, Raid on Algiers. Manned torpedoes attack Allied shipping, two steamers sunk.
  • 16 April 1943, Battle of the Cigno Convoy. Failed British attack on Italian convoy, Italian torpedo boat Cigno sunk, British destroyer Pakenham scuttled.

Major Axis and Allied amphibious operations

The following are the major amphibious operations staged during the Battle of the Mediterranean:

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ Mollo, p.128
  2. ^ a b Mollo, p.94
  3. ^ a b Walker, p.58
  4. ^ Mollo, p.55

References

  • Mollo, Andrew (1981). The Armed Forces of World War II. New York: ISBN 0-517-54479-4: Crown.  
  • Walker, Ian W. (2003). Iron hulls, iron hearts : Mussolini's elite armoured divisions in North Africa. Marlborough: Crowood. ISBN 9781861266460.  

Simple English

Battle of Mediterranean
Part of World War II
Date 10 June 19402 May 1945
Location Mediterranean Sea
Result Allied victory
Combatants
United Kingdom
Australia
United States
Netherlands
File:Flag of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (civil).svg Yugoslavia
Greece
Poland
File:Flag of Italy (1861-1946) Italy
Germany
Croatia
Vichy France

The Battle of the Mediterranean was the name given to the naval campaign fought in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II.

Contents

Characteristics


For the most part, the campaign was fought between the forces of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina), supported by other Axis naval forces, and the forces of the British Royal Navy, supported by other Allied naval forces.

Each side had three overall goals in this battle. The first was to attack the supply lines of the other side. The second was to keep open its own supply lines, the Axis to their own armies in North Africa and the Allies to supply the island of Malta. The third was to destroy the ability of the opposing navy to wage war at sea.

Outside of the Pacific ocean, the Mediterranean saw the largest conventional naval warfare during the war. In particular, Allied forces struggled to supply and retain the key naval and air base of Malta.

Radar and Fuel differences

Italian warships had a general reputation as well-designed and good-looking. But some Italian cruiser classes were rather deficient in armour. All Italian warships lacked radar for most of the war, although the lack of radar was partly offset by the fact that Italian warships were equipped with good "rangefinder" and "fire-control" systems. In addition, whereas Allied commanders at sea had discretion on how to act, Italian commanders were closely and precisely governed by Italian Naval Headquarters (Supermarina). This could lead to action being avoided when the Italians had a clear advantage (e.g., During "Operation Hats" [1]. Italian Naval Headquarters was conscious that the British could replace ships lost in the Mediterranean, whereas Italian Navy resources were limited and there was a terrible lack of fuel).

The Italian Navy entered the war with only one year of fuel required to operate normally (in 1943 practically there was no fuel to do naval operations far away from the coasts of Italy).

The Allies had "Ultra" intercepts, which predicted the Italian movements, and radar, which enabled them to locate the ships and range their weapons at distance and at night. The better air reconnaissance skills of the Fleet Air Arm and their close collaboration with surface units were other major causes of the initial Italian defeats (like in the Battle of Cape Matapan).

Forces

The Axis forces in this campaign were:-

  • Italian Navy, Air Force and Army
  • German Navy (u-boat force), Air Force and Army

The Allied forces in this campaign were:-

  • British Navy, Air Force and Army
  • Australian Navy, Air Force and Army
  • New Zealand Navy, Air Force and Army
  • Greek Navy, Air Force and Army
  • French (at the beginning; later they were neutral)
  • United States (at the end)

History

On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on Britain and France. On the following day, Italian bombers attacked Malta on what was to be the first of many raids.

The first clash between the rival fleets, the Battle of Calabria, took place on 9 July 1940, just four weeks after the start of hostilities. This was inconclusive (neither side won), and was followed by a series of small ship actions ( the battle of the Espero convoy, battle of Cape Spada) during the autumn.

In spring 1940 the British Royal navy attacked at Mers el Kebir (Algeria) the French navy of Vichy, sinking 2 battleship with other minor ships.

In November, the RN mounted an aerial attack on the Italian fleet in Taranto harbour, crippling 3 capital ships and changing the balance of power in the Mediterranean.

Three months later the fleets clashed again at the Battle of Cape Matapan. This was a major Allied victory; 3 Italian cruisers were sunk, and a battleship damaged in a 2-day battle ending in a night action.

Following this the Allies suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Crete, supporting the army when the island was invaded by the Germans.

In spring 1941 the Greek and Yugoslavian navy were destroyed and/or made captive by the Italians (with help from the German air force) during the Italo-German war in the western Balkans against Greece and Yugoslavia.

Following the battle of Crete in the summer of 1941, the Royal Navy got the better of things in the central Mediterranean in a series of successful convoy attacks, ([such as the Duisburg convoy and the Battle of Cape Bon) until the events around the First Battle of Sirte and the Raid on Alexandria in December swung the balance of power in the Axis favour.

The Italian Navy's most successful attack was when divers planted mines on British battleships during the raid on Alexandria harbour (19 December 1941). HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMSValiant were sunk (but ten months later raised and returned to active service). During those ten months the Italian Navy enjoyed a temporary control of the Mediterranean sea (called by Mussolini's propaganda "the Italian Mare Nostrum").

A series of hard fought convoy battles (Second Battle of Sirte in March, Operations Harpoon and Vigorous in June, and Operation Pedestal in August) were victories for the Axis but ensured Malta's survival, until the Allies regained the advantage in November 1942.

In Sept 1943 with the Italian collapse and the surrender of Italian fleet, naval actions in Mediterranean became restricted to actions against U-boats and by small craft in the Adriatic and Aegean seas.

Major surface actions of the campaign

  • 28 June 1940, Battle of the Espero Convoy. Italian convoy attacked, destroyer Espero sunk.
  • 9 July 1940, Battle of Calabria. Inconclusive fleet action.
  • 19 July 1940, Battle of Cape Spada. Cruiser action, Bartolomeo Colleoni sunk.
  • 12 October 1940, Battle of Cape Passero.
  • 11 November 1940, Battle of Taranto. Aerial attack on Italian fleet in harbour, 3 battleships sunk.
  • 27 November 1940, Battle of Cape Spartivento. Inconclusive fleet action.
  • 6-11 January 1941, Operation Excess. British convoy to Malta.
  • 26 March 1941,battle of Suda Bay. British cruiser sunk by torpedo boats.
  • 27-29 March 1941, Battle of Cape Matapan. Fleet action, 3 Italian cruisers sunk.
  • 16 April 1941, Battle of the Tarigo Convoy. Italian convoy attacked.
  • 20 May-1 June 1941, Battle of Crete. Series of actions supporting army in Crete, 9 British wrships sunk.
  • July 1941, Operation Substance. British convoy to Malta.
  • September 1941, Operation Halberd. British convoy to Malta.
  • 8 November 1941, Battle of the Duisburg Convoy. Axis convoy destroyed.
  • 13 December 1941, Battle of Cape Bon. Italian convoy attacked.
  • 17 December 1941, First Battle of Sirte. British convoy attacked.
  • 19 December 1941, Raid on Alexandria. Manned torpedoes attack British fleet, 2 battleships and one destroyer sunk.
  • 22 March 1942, Second Battle of Sirte. British convoy attacked.
  • June 1942, Operation Harpoon. British convoy attacked.
  • June 1942, Operation Vigorous. British convoy attacked.
  • August 1942, Operation Pedestal. British convoy attacked.
  • November 1942, Operation Stone Age. British convoy to Malta.
  • 2 December 1942, Battle of Skerki Bank. Italian convoy attacked.
  • 11 December 1942, Raid on Algiers. Manned torpedoes attack Allied shipping.
  • 16 April 1943, Battle of the Cigno Convoy. Italian convoy attacked.

Major Axis and Allied amphibious operations

The following are the major amphibious operations staged during the Battle of the Mediterranean:

See Also

References

  • Stephen Roskill : The War at Sea 1939-1945 Vol I (1954) ISBN (none)
  • Stephen Roskill : The War at Sea 1939-1945 Vol II (1956). ISBN (none)
  • Eric Groves : Sea Battles in Close-Up Vol II ( 1993) . ISBN 0-7110-2118-X


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