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Battle of the Tarigo Convoy
Part of World War II
RM Lampo at full speed.jpg
Destroyer Lampo, sunk in the battle and later salvaged by the Italian Navy
Date April 16, 1941
Location Mediterranean off the Kerkennah Islands, Tunisia
Result British victory
Belligerents
RN Ensign United Kingdom Kingdom of Italy Italy
Commanders
Captain Philip Mack Captain Pietro de Cristofaro 
Strength
4 destroyers 3 destroyers
Casualties and losses
1 destroyer sunk
43 dead
3 destroyers sunk
5 cargo ships sunk
350-1,800 dead

The Battle of the Tarigo Convoy (sometimes referred to as the "Action off Sfax") was fought on 16 April 1941 between four British and three Italian destroyers during the Mediterranean Campaign, in World War II. The battle was named after the Italian flagship, the Navigatori class destroyer, Luca Tarigo; it took place near the Kerkennah Islands off the Tunisian coast.

Control of the sea between Italy and Libya was heavily disputed as both sides sought to safeguard their own convoys while interdicting those of their opponent. Axis convoys to North Africa were critical to the resupply and reinforcement of the German and Italian armies and British attacks were based on Malta, itself dependent upon convoys.

In mid-April, 1941, a five ship convoy sailed from Naples, en route to Tripoli. It consisted of four German troopships and an Italian ammunition ship. The convoy was escorted by a Navigatori class destroyer, Luca Tarigo (flagship) and two Folgore class destroyers, Baleno and Lampo, commanded by Captain Pietro de Cristofaro. They were delayed by bad weather.

The British had been forewarned of their passage by intercepted messages and, on the 15th, the convoy was sighted and shadowed by a British reconnaissance plane. Two Italian SM.79s that were ordered to provide air cover did not arrive, due to the continuing bad weather. On the night of the 16th, the convoy was intercepted by the British 14th Destroyer Flotilla - HMS Jervis (flagship), HMS Janus, HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk - commanded by Captain P J Mack. The encounter took place as the Italian convoy maneuver around the shallow waters sourronding the Kerkennah Islands.

The Italian convoy was ambushed by the British force after passing off one of the buoys marking the sandbanks nearby. The British destroyers' radar enabled them to surprise the Italians in a night attack and destroy the convoy, sinking all the transports and the three destroyers (although the Lampo was run aground and later salvaged after a four month effort). While sinking, the Tarigo torpedoed HMS Mohawk, which was subsequently scuttled. Captain de Cristofaro had his leg shot off: he was posthumously awarded the Medaglia d'Oro (the highest Italian decoration for valour).

During April, May and June 1941, Italian divers made two attempts to retrieve whatever they could from the Mohawk. Some sources assert that documents recovered were essential to the later, successful Italian attack on Alexandria.

Axis casualties are variously reported as 350, 700 and 1800 men, the British lost 43.

References

  • J Green and A Massignani - The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940-1943, Chatham Publishing 1998 - ISBN 1-86176-057-4

Coordinates: 35°9′27.13″N 11°30′49.22″E / 35.1575361°N 11.5136722°E / 35.1575361; 11.5136722

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