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Red Sea Flotilla
Gulf of Aden map.PNG
Red Sea & Gulf of Aden, with modern boundaries
Active to June 1940
Country Italy
Branch Regia Marina
Size (1940) 7 destroyers, 8 submarines, 5 motor torpedo boats & auxiliary ships
Disbanded April 1941
Commander Carlo Balsamo di Specchia Normandia

The Red Sea Flotilla was a unit of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina Italia) based in Massawa, Eritrea, when Massawa was part of Italian East Africa. In World War II, the Red Sea Flotilla was active against the British Royal Navy's Eastern Fleet from Italy's declaration of war on 10 June 1940 until the fall of Massawa on 8 April 1941.

The location of the squadron meant it was isolated from home bases in the Mediterranean by distance and enemy dispositions. Unless Italian forces consolidated their possessions in north and east Africa and thus gained control of an overland route (via Sudan) or of the Suez Canal, reinforcement or resupply would have been virtually impossible. British capture of Massawa and other Italian ports in the region ultimately ended the Italian naval presence in the region in April 1941.


Purpose and organization

While, in general, the Red Sea Flotilla was not used aggressively by the Italians, the British viewed it as a potential threat to Allied convoys traveling in the Horn of Africa area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. This was a critical resupply route for British forces operating from Egypt. The Red Sea Flotilla was especially well situated to attack convoys headed from the Gulf of Aden through the Red Sea and to the Suez Canal, forcing Allied ships to take a much longer passage around the Cape of Good Hope.

On 10 June 1940, the day Italy declared war, the Italian Red Sea Flotilla had seven destroyers organized into two squadrons, a squadron of five Motor Torpedo Boats (Motoscafo Armato Silurante, or MAS), and eight submarines organized into two squadrons. The main base was at Massawa, with other bases at Assab (also in Eritrea) and Kismayu, in southern Italian Somaliland.[1]


Several attempts were made after Italy's entry into the war in June 1940 to stage offensive actions against the British Royal Navy and Allied convoys from Massawa. The three submarines, Galileo Galilei, Torricelli and Galvani struck early; Galilei sank the freighter James Stove off Djibouti before British counter measures forced the submarines to depart the area.

Galiliei was spotted on 23 June while approaching Massawa and a determined search ensued involving four warships and aircraft from Aden. After a determined resistance, during which HMS Khartoum was damaged beyond repair and HMS Shoreham was also damaged, the Galilei was captured and taken to Aden. As a mark of respect for his crew's gallantry, the Italian captain was guest of honour at a dinner at the British naval base. Torricelli had also been found and sunk on the same day. Galvani sunk HMIS Pathan[2] on the same that her sisters were fighting and was herself sunk on the following day.[3]

The destroyers based at Massawa attacked the British convoy BN7 unsuccessfully in October 1940. The convoy's escort beat off the attack and the Italian destroyer Nullo was driven ashore and sunk by air attack the following day.[3]

As Italian fuel supplies in Massawa dwindled, so did the offensive capability of the Red Sea Flotilla. Ultimately, the vessels of the flotilla became what is known as a "fleet in being", offering a threat without action, and rarely left port.

In late March 1941, the three large destroyers, Leone, Pantera and Tigre, were to attempt a night attack on Suez but Leone ran aground off Massawa and had to be sunk by gunfire. The delay caused the operation to be cancelled. Instead the two remaining ships joined three smaller destroyers - Battisti, Manin and Sauro, on a final raid on Port Sudan in early April. Engine problems kept Battisti in port, where she was subsequently scuttled to prevent her capture by the British. The Italian ships were spotted by aircraft while en route and came under attack from land and carrier based aircraft. Pantera and Tigre were scuttled on the Arabian coast and Manin and Sauro were sunk by Swordfish aircraft.[3][4]

Ramb I on fire and sinking

The armed merchant cruisers Ramb I and Ramb II and the colonial despatch ship Eritrea were ordered to escape and join the Japanese effort. Ramb II and Eritrea reached Kobe successfully but Ramb I was intercepted and sunk by HMNZS Leander. The four Italian submarines that had survived were ordered to join the Italian submarine flotilla at Bordeaux, which they all did successfully, despite concerted British attempts to intercept them. All motor-torpedo boats (MAS) were lost, but one, MAS213 made a successful torpedo attack on HMS Capetown, causing serious damage.[3]

On 8 April 1941, Massawa fell to the British and the Red Sea Flotilla ceased to exist for all intents and purposes. Few vessels of the flotilla survived the East African Campaign.

Order of battle


Destroyers, motor torpedo boats (MAS), and submarines

Seven destroyers were organized into two divisions:

  • 3rd Destroyer Division (All Sauro class[5] (1,600 tons full load displacement))
    • Francesco Nullo - Lost 22 November 1940
    • Nazario Sauro - Sunk by RAF 3 April 1941
    • Cesare Battisti - scuttled 3 April 1941
    • Daniele Manin (1,058/1,600 tons displacement) - Sunk by RAF 3 April 1941
  • 5th Destroyer Division (All Leone class[5] (2,690 tons full load displacement))
    • Pantera - Scuttled 3 April 1941
    • Tigre - Scuttled 3 April 1941
    • Leone - Run aground and scuttled 1 April 1941

The five MAS were organized as follows:

  • 21st MAS Squadron
    • MAS 204 - Lost due to mechanical difficulty
    • MAS 206 - Lost due to mechanical difficulty
    • MAS 210 - Lost due to mechanical difficulty
    • MAS 213 - Scuttled 8 April 1941
    • MAS 216 - Lost due to mechanical difficulty

The eight submarines were organized in the 8th Submarine Group as follows:

  • 81st Submarine Squadron
    • Guglielmotti (896/1,265 tons displacement) - Sailed to Bordeaux, France
    • Galileo Ferraris (880/1,230 tons displacement) - Sailed to Bordeaux, France
    • Galileo Gallilei (880/1,230 tons displacement) - Captured 19 June 1940
    • Luigi Galvani (896/1,265 tons displacement) - Lost 24 June 1940
  • 82nd Submarine Squadron
    • Perla (620/855 tons displacement) - Sailed to Bordeaux, France
    • Macallè (620/855 tons displacement) - Lost 15 June 1940
    • Archimede (880/1,230 tons displacement) - Sailed to Bordeaux, France
    • Evangelista Torricelli (880/1,230 tons displacement) - Lost 23 June 1940

Other vessels


  1. ^ Regia Marina Italiana (Italian Naval Bases; Order of Battle, Italian East Africa Naval Command). 1996-2007. 2 Jan 2009.  
  2. ^ Kindell, Don. "Sunday, 23 June". British and Other Navies in World War 2 Day-by-Day. Retrieved 29 Dec 2008.   Disputes that Pathan was sunk by Torricelli.
  3. ^ a b c d Jackson, pp.281-283
  4. ^ Whitley, M J (2000). Destroyers of World War Two: An International Encyclopedia. London: Arms and Armour Press. pp. 158–161. ISBN 1-85409-521-8.  
  5. ^ a b Porch, The Path to Victory, p. 129.

See also


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