Second Battle of Sirte
The Second Battle of Sirte was a naval engagement on 22 March 1942 in which the escorting warships of a British convoy to Malta frustrated a much more powerful Regia Marina (Italian Navy) squadron. The British convoy was composed of four merchant ships escorted by four light cruisers, one anti-aircraft cruiser, and 17 destroyers. The Italian force comprised a battleship, two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and ten destroyers. Despite the initial British success at warding off the Italian squadron, the battle delayed the convoy's planned arrival before dawn, which exposed it to intense air attacks that sank all four merchant ships and one of the escorting destroyers in the following days. The battle occurred in the Mediterranean Sea, north of the Gulf of Sidra and southeast of Malta, during the Second World War.
|Second Battle of Sirte|
|Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of World War II|
Italian battleship Littorio, Admiral Iachino's flagship
|Commanders and leaders|
4 light cruisers|
1 anti-aircraft cruiser
2 heavy cruisers
1 light cruiser
|Casualties and losses|
3 light cruisers damaged
2 destroyers disabled
3 destroyers damaged
1 battleship slightly damaged
Malta had long been a major factor in British successes against Italian convoys to North Africa, and in return became the target of an increasing number of heavy Axis air raids. By early 1942 the Allies lost the initiative in the central Mediterranean as Italian and German forces gained the upper hand in their attempts to isolate Malta and made plans to remove it as a threat. After a series of Allied setbacks, the Italians achieved naval superiority over their enemies by spring 1942. As Malta was running short of aircraft, antiaircraft guns, fuel, food and ammunition, convoy MW10 sailed from Alexandria on 21 March.
The British expected opposition from German and Italian aircraft as well as Italian surface units. In December 1941, the two battleships (Queen Elizabeth and Valiant) stationed in the eastern Mediterranean had been disabled by an attack by Italian frogmen, and so their Alexandria squadron consisted only of cruisers and destroyers. Meanwhile, a diversion was organized from Gibraltar: on the morning of 20 March, the battleship Malaya—with the aircraft carriers Eagle and Argus, supported by the cruiser Hermione and eight destroyers—set sail from "The Rock". The next day, the squadron aborted the operation and returned to port – the carriers were unable to fly off aircraft reinforcements to Malta due to defective long-range fuel tanks.
The escort of convoy MW10 relied heavily on destroyers — including lighter-built destroyer escorts — to provide anti-submarine protection and included the anti-aircraft cruiser Carlisle to bolster the convoy's anti-aircraft capability. Additional destroyers and another light cruiser were also sent from Malta.
British defensive plan
- 1st Division: destroyers Jervis, Kipling, Kelvin and Kingston
- 2nd Division: light cruisers Dido and Penelope with the destroyer Legion
- 3rd Division: destroyers Zulu and Hasty
- 4th Division: light cruisers Cleopatra (flagship) and Euryalus
- 5th Division: destroyers Sikh, Lively, Hero and Havock
- 6th Division: anti-aircraft cruiser Carlisle and Hunt-class destroyer Avon Vale
In case of an Italian surface attack, the first five divisions were to stand off from the convoy to face the enemy while the sixth division laid smoke across the wake of the convoy to obscure it from the enemy. The first five divisions would act as a rearguard to lay smoke and delay the enemy while Carlisle and the Hunt-class destroyers proceeded with the cargo ships to Malta.
At 14:30 the next day, the British were faced by a pair of heavy cruisers and escorting destroyers. Admiral Vian immediately implemented his plan; the cargo ships and escorts turned away to the south while the light cruisers and remaining destroyers laid smoke and charged the Italians. After an exchange of fire, the two Italian heavy cruisers backed off in an attempt to lure the British toward the incoming main Italian squadron, and at 16:37 they returned to attack with the battleship Littorio, a light cruiser and their screening destroyers.
The battle raged for two and a half hours, with the British ships leaving the safety of their huge smoke screen to fire a few volleys and then returning to it when the Italian salvos got too close. During one of these exchanges, Havock suffered heavy damage from a near-miss when fired at by the Italian battleship, and was ordered to withdraw from the battle line and join the convoy. At 18:34, Vian decided to send his destroyers in to launch torpedo attacks from about 5,000 yd (4,600 m), the closest the Italians would allow the British to approach. None of the torpedoes found their target, but as Kingston turned she was hit hard by a round which penetrated her boiler room, ignited a fire and temporarily brought her to a halt. The battle began with a 25 kn (29 mph; 46 km/h) wind blowing to the North-west, with the wind continuing to increase during the day; a factor which favoured the gunnery of the larger Italian ships throughout the battle, but the direction of the wind aided the laying of smokescreens by Vian's ships.
Right at the end of the action, at 18:55, Littorio had been hit by a 4.7 in (120 mm) shell, with negligible damage. Her floatplane caught fire from the blast from a salvo of her after turret at the same time. This led to the claim by the British that one of the torpedoes struck home.
At dusk, before 19:00, the Italians gave up and turned for home. Without radar, they would have been at a significant disadvantage in a night action, as in the Battle of Cape Matapan. The Italians outgunned their British counterparts but they appeared unwilling to close for a decisive blow, perhaps wary of the torpedo threat from the numerically superior British destroyer force.
According to British reports, "HMS Cleopatra was struck on the after part of the bridge at 16:44" by a 152 mm (6.0 in) hit from the light cruiser Giovanni dalle Bande Nere; 16 seamen were killed. Admiral Iachino in his memoirs attributes the damage to the secondary armament of Littorio. Cruisers Euryalus and Penelope were also damaged, with Euryalus straddled by Littorio at 16:43 and at 18:41. Kingston was hit amidships by a shell from Littorio that killed 15 men of her crew. and left the destroyer dead in the water, with her starboard whaleboat torn apart, her anti-aircraft guns, searchlight tower and torpedo launchers shattered by the explosion. Some sources claim that she was hit by the guns of the heavy cruiser Gorizia. Although Kingston had an engine in flames and a flooded boiler, she managed to get back up to speed, reaching Malta the next day. Havock was also badly damaged in a boiler by a near miss from Littorio at 17:20,; eight sailors died. Lively was forced to retreat to Tobruk for repairs at 18:55, after a near miss from Littorio′s aft turret holed her hull, resulting in some flooding. Three more destroyers—Sikh, Legion and Lance—suffered lesser damage from 8 in (203 mm) cruiser fire. The Italian fleet expended 1,511 rounds of all calibres upon the British squadron; the only Italian destroyer to open fire was Aviere. The British cruisers had replied with 1,553 rounds and the destroyers with about 1,300 rounds as well as 38 torpedoes. Axis aircraft made continual attacks, mainly against the convoy, throughout the naval action and Royal Navy AA gunners claimed the destruction of seven Axis aircraft and damage to several more.
Most of the escort force, now short of fuel and ammunition due to the protracted engagement and unable to find the convoy, turned back for Alexandria. The damaged destroyers and the cargo ships were sent on to Malta, with Carlisle, Penelope and Legion. The next day, they were subjected to continuous air attacks. The cargo ship Clan Campbell was sunk twenty miles from harbour, and the oil tanker Breconshire was too damaged to reach Valletta. Nonetheless, the other two merchantmen, Talabot and steamer Pampas, reached Malta's Grand Harbour virtually unharmed. Pampas had been hit by two bombs but these failed to explode. Penelope attempted to tow Breconshire, but the tow parted in heavy seas. She anchored short of the protective minefields and the destroyer Southwold attempted to take her in tow, hitting a mine in the process. She was eventually towed into Marsaxlokk Bay by tugs.
Intense Axis air raids against Malta on 24–25 March failed to damage the three surviving convoy ships. However, on 26 March, German dive bombers scored bomb hits on all three ships, sinking Talabot and Pampas that day with Breconshire capsizing on 27 March. Much of Breconshire′s oil was salvaged through the hole in her hull. Only about 5,000 short tons (4,500 t) of cargo had been unloaded, of the 26,000 short tons (24,000 t) that had been loaded in Alexandria.
The Italian fleet units were no more lucky after the battle. After failing to destroy the convoy by themselves, they were caught en route to their bases by a severe storm that sank the destroyers Scirocco and Lanciere.
While under repair in dry dock at Malta, Kingston was attacked a few days later by German aircraft and suffered further damage, this time beyond repair. She was scrapped in situ in the following months.
Whilst in dock at Malta, Havock, was a target for Axis aircraft and sustained further damage. On 3 April the ship was ordered to Gibraltar before her repairs were complete. Havock ran aground off Kelibia, Tunisia, in the Strait of Sicily on 6 April and was wrecked, with one crewman killed in the incident. Her crew and passengers were interned by the Vichy French at Laghouat in the Sahara but were released in November as a result of Operation Torch.
Almost all sources with an opinion on the matter have assessed the battle as a British victory, credited to the escort of light cruisers and destroyers which successfully prevented the Italians from inflicting any damage whatsoever on the convoy by staving off an Italian squadron, composed of a battleship and two heavy cruisers, while fending off heavy Axis air attacks. On the other hand, some authors while generally acknowledging the British success, write of the battle as a partial Italian achievement in delaying and turning the convoy aside.
Nearly all sources acknowledge the Italian fleet inflicted significant damage and several casualties on the British squadron while suffering minimal damage and no casualties in return. The action, however, represented a failure on the Italians' part to exploit their advantage and destroy the convoy. Indeed, they were unable to sink or cripple a single cargo ship. This was due to Admiral Vian's vigorous and skillful defence in the face of a superior adversary. The overwhelming strength of the Italian fleet was not fully exploited by Admiral Iachino also because bad weather and lack of radar prevented him from continuing the pursuit of the convoy at dusk.
But when the main objective, to re-supply Malta, is included in the assessment, the outcome is different. The British intention to reach Malta before dawn with a substantial escort was disrupted by the intervention of the Italian Navy. This left the cargo ships exposed to Axis air supremacy.
Thereafter, Italian and German aircraft caught the British convoy at sea and chased the surviving steamers to the harbour; more than 80% of the supplies were lost. The British convoy operation was, therefore, a strategic failure.
Order of battle
- Admiral Angelo Iachino
- 2nd division, Admiral Angelo Parona
- Submarine: Platino
- Carlisle squadron:
- 1 C-class light cruiser: Carlisle
- 5th Destroyer Flotilla (Hunt-class destroyer escorts) from Tobruk: Southwold (sunk by a mine on 23 March); Beaufort; Dulverton; Hurworth; Avon Vale; Eridge. HMS Heythrop lost en route on 20 March to submarine U-652
- 4 cargo ships: Clan Campbell, Breconshire, Pampas and Talabot (all sunk by 26 March)
- 15th Cruiser Squadron (Admiral Vian):
- 3 light cruisers: Dido; Euryalus (slightly damaged); Cleopatra (seriously damaged)
- 14th Destroyer Flotilla: Jervis; Kipling; Kelvin; Kingston (heavily damaged)
- 22nd Destroyer Flotilla: Hasty; Havock (heavily damaged); Hero; Lively (seriously damaged); Sikh (slightly damaged); Zulu (structural damage due to high speed manoevring)
- Support squadron from Malta:
- Submarine based in Alexandria:
- O'Hara, 2009 p. 163
- O'Hara, 2009 pp. 169–70
- "For most authors who have dealt with the Mediterranean theater, Malta was key to the war there." Sadkovich, page 68
- Austin, Douglas: Malta and British strategic policy, 1925–43. Volume 13 of Cass series—military history and policy. Routledge, 2004, page 186. ISBN 978-0-7146-5545-1
- "In April and during the first half of May while Malta was writhing under the effects of the air offensive and the naval blockade, the Italian supply operations for Africa were characterized by an intensity of activity and an ease of operation such as was not experienced at any other time during the war. Malta, that painful thorn in the Italians' side, had been practically eliminated as a threat to the Italian supply routes, and it was possible to send out several convoys, escorted by only one or two destroyers, without meeting the least opposition. The convoys could now be safely routed scarcely 50 miles from Malta, thereby enjoying the advantage of a much shortened trip, without provoking the island to unleash even one of its terrible weapons." Bragadin, page 155
- "The dramatic experience of the last months of 1941 and the gravity of the situation which Malta had imposed on the Axis were such close and tangible matters to everyone that finally Italian and German leaders who were responsible for the conduct of the war, were convinced that the problem must be met with radical measures. It had now become evident that to win the Mediterranean war, it was necessary to take the Suez Canal. And it now appeared crystal clear that above all else it was necessary to "sink" the airbase that was Malta. Rome and Berlin, therefore, finally began to reconsider the possibilities of conquering Malta. This operation was to be carried out by landings of Italian and German troops both from the sea and the air." Bragadin, page 156
- "The Alexandria operation, therefore, denoted the effective overcoming of the grave crisis under whose menace the Italian Fleet had lain for two months, and indirectly it delineated a definitive Italian victory in the ′first battle of convoys′. In fact, it opened a period of clear Italian naval supremacy in the east-central Mediterranean." Bragadin, page 152
- "With Force K decimated and the battleships Valiant and Queen Elizabeth resting on the bottom of Alexandria harbor, the British navy could not contest the Italians in the central Mediterranean basin. An Axis air offensive against Malta and the loss of air bases in Cyrenaica further weakened the British, who were having problems reading the new GAF signals and lost the German army cipher in early 1942. Ultra continued to read C38m through the spring, but if this was unfortunate for Axis convoys, it was less so for the Italian fleet, which used the cipher only after putting to sea. As a result, Axis air and naval forces dominated the central and eastern basins, and Comando Supremo ran convoys to Africa with relative impunity through the early summer." Sadkovich, page 219
- Woodman, page 293
- Thomas, page 143
- Woodman, page 295
- "With Vian's cruisers, Carlisle and the Hunts, the escort was well provided with anti-aircraft firepower as the entire force united on the morning of 21 March." Woodman, page 294
- Playfair (165)
- Woodman, page 298
- Woodman, pp. 299–300
- O'Hara, 2009 p. 168
- Llewellyn, p.37-53.
- Greene & Massignani, page 220
- O'Hara, 2009 p. 165
- O'Hara, 2009 p. 167
- Bragadin, page 162
- "However, without radar, Iachino could not exploit his success after the sun had set, and so at 18:41, well before the hit on the Littorio and a half-hour after Rome had ordered him to return if he could not close to Vian, he decided to turn for home." Sadkovich, page 245
- "Despite the difficult weather conditions, the Italian ships had maneuvered perfectly correctly along the lines laid down by their commander, and they fought the long battle with decision and tenacity. The British, however, maneuvered in a disorganized fashion and with unusual timidity – except for the last courageous attack carried out by their destroyers. It should not be forgotten either, that while the Italians had greater fire power on three of their ships, the British had the advantage in number of units engaged, and this factor was unquestionably important given the particular conditions of the battle." Bragadin, pp. 165–166
- Harwood, section 2, paragraph 12.
- Llewellyn, p.43: "The shell hit the starboard side of the Air Defense position, putting it out of action, also W/T and radar. One officer and fourteen ratings were killed; one officer and four ratings were seriously wounded. Splinters from near misses killed one rating and caused superficial damage."
- Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (2004), "HMS CLEOPATRA – Dido-class AA Cruiser", Service Histories of Royal Navy Warships in World War 2, www.naval-history.net
- Greene & Massignani, page 219
- Mattesini, Francesco (2014). La Seconda Battaglia della Sirte, 22 Marzo 1942 (PDF) (in Italian). Societá Italiana di Storia Militare. p. 33.
- Woodman, page 301
- O'Hara, 2009 pp. 165 & p.168
- Llewellyn. p. 49: "A 15-in. shell hit Kingston as she was about to turn..."
- Edited by Gordon Smith, "Royal Navy casualties, killed and died, March 1942", Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2, Naval-History.netCS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- O'Hara, 2009 p. 168: "Kingston had been hit in the battle by an8 in (203 mm) shell fired by the Italian heavy cruiser Gorizia"
- Thomas, page 152
- O'Hara, 2009 p. 166
- O'Hara, 2009 p. 169
- Sierra, p. 364 (probably from Vian, Adm. Philip: Action this day, London, Frederick Mueller Ltd., 1960). Also "No. 38073". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 September 1947. p. 4380.:
- "At 2248 LIVELY reported that she was unable to maintain more than 17 knots and she was detached to Tobruk where it was considered she could repair damage before proceeding to Alexandria."
- Woodman, pp. 301–305
- Greene & Massignani, p.221
- Llewellyn, p51: The cruisers fired the following number of main armament rounds: Cleopatra; 868, Dido; 200, Euraylus; 421 and Penelope; 64. The destroyers fired 275 4 inch rounds, with the remainder being 4.7 inch.
- Llewellyn, p.51.
- Woodman, pp. 307–308; Llewellyn, pp. 51–52: "As soon as the Italian ships had disappeared, Rear-Admiral Vian collected his force and steered to close the convoy, 10 miles or so southward. At 19:40, in the growing darkness with the convoy not yet in sight, the Rear-Admiral decided to shape course for Alexandria with force "B" and to send the convoy to Malta under the arrangements laid down in the operations orders."
- Llewellyn (52), Thomas (150), Roskill (55), Playfair (170–171), Macintyre (136), Holland (246), Bradford (206), and Greene & Massignani (220–221). By contrast, Woodman (309) claims a near-miss from a Ju 88 on Pampas that shook the ship and caused the taking of water aft. On the other hand, Belot (162–163) maintains that Clan Campbell and Breconshire were sunk on 23 March, while Sadkovich (245) has all four convoy ships sunk on 23 March.
- Breconshire at RedDuster.co.uk Archived 11 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine
- Green & Massignani, pp. 220–221.
- Bragadin strongly implies that Breconshire, Talabot, and Pampas were all sunk sometime between 24 and 25 March. Shores, Cull, and Malizia (145, 148), however, state that Axis aircraft failed to hit the ships on those days.
- For Talabot and Pampas: Playfair (172), Macintyre (139), Shores, Cull, and Malizia (150), Bradford (207), Woodman (313–314), Greene and Massignani (221), Llewellyn (52), Thomas (151), and Holland (245–246). For Breconshire: Roskill (55), Playfair (171–172), Macintyre (221), Shores, Cull, and Malizia (151), Bradford (206), Greene and Massignani (221), and Llewellyn (52). However, Holland (248) avers that Breconshire sank on 26 March.
- O'Hara, 2009 p. 170
- Thomas, page 150
- Memories of Leading Seaman William Davinson
- Archibald: "the best cruiser action of the war" (221);
- Belot: "one of their most brilliant naval actions" (159);
- Bradford: "a tactical and moral victory (205); brilliant naval action" (207)
- Llewellyn: "a heartening and thoroughly deserved victory" (54)
- Macintyre: "a tactical and moral triumph" (136)
- Playfair: "successful action" (172)
- Thomas: "successful defence" (152)
- Roskill: "defeated their purpose" (54)
- Shores, Cull, and Malizia: "a resounding triumph against odds" (140)
- Simpson: "a famous victory; one of the most brilliant retiring actions of the war, if not the most brilliant; Vian's triumph; a tactical victory" (119)
- Stephen: "Tactically it was a brilliant success for the British." (115)
- Woodman: "a noteworthy tactical victory" (316)
- Bernotti: *Considerando lo scontro si può tranquillamente dire che fù una vittoria inglese. ("Considering the encounter, it can be easily said that it was a British victory.") (79)
- The main exceptions are Sadkovich: "However qualified, Iachino had certainly won a moral victory." (page 247), and De la Sierra: Sus oponentes se retiraban, conscientes ya de los peligros de la noche pero no vencidos. ("Their adversaries [The Italians] withdrew, aware of the dangers of the night, but undefeated.")(page 365)
- Belot (162–163), Bernotti (79), Bauer & Young (762), Llewellyn (52), Macintyre (136), De la Sierra (365), Stephen (115) and Wilmott & Fowler (45) agree on the idea of a partial achievement. A handful of sources, most of them Italian, summarily describe the battle as an outright Italian victory:
- 23 Marzo 1942: Seconda Battaglia di Sirte, conclusasi con la vittoria Italiana. ("23 March 1942: Second Battle of Sirte, ended in an Italian victory.") Gigli, page 652
- 22.3: Nel mar della Sirte, vittoria navale italiana sugli inglesi, che perdono un intero convoglio. ("3/22/1942: At the gulf of Sirte, Italian naval victory over the British, who lost an entire convoy.") Secchia, page 296
- La nostra Marina, avvertita dalla vigile esplorazione del sommergibile Platino fece salpare da Taranto la Littorio e una divisione di incrociatori che bloccarono la formazione nemica e l'attaccarono vigorosamente. Questo incontro, che andó sotto il nome di seconda battaglia della Sirte frustrò le speranze inglese. ("Our Navy, alerted by the vigilant submarine Platino, ordered a sortie of the Littorio and a division of cruisers from Taranto. They intercepted the enemy squadron, and attacked them with full force. This encounter, called the Second Battle of Sirte frustrated the British hopes.") Guglielmotti, page 164
- "However qualified, Iachino had certainly won a moral victory." Sadkovich, page 247
- Cunningham, page 454:
- "Nor must the mistake be made of thinking the Italians were inefficient in this action. Our destroyers...were received by heavy and accurate fire, and was only by the mercy of Providence that many were not sunk and still more severely damage." Nearly all sources mention that two British cruisers and several destroyers were hit, for no damage to the Italian side.
- Bragadin, page 164:
- "As far as the balance sheet of the shooting is concerned, no Italian ship was damaged in the least, disregarding some scratches on the Littorio's deck caused by shell fragments. On the other hand, the Italian gunfire, in spite of its handicaps, caused considerably more damage to the enemy."
- "The superiority of the Italian marksmanship in comparison with that of the enemy can be judged from the known results of the engagement."
- "Italian gunners had fired 1,490 rounds without sinking any of Vian's ships, but they had damaged five, while British gunners fired over 1,000 rounds at close range, yet scored only one hit with a 120 mm round."
- "Vian had won a famous victory – even though his ships had suffered more damage than the Italians – a single hit on the Littorio."
- "The Italians were virtually untouched, whereas the British had had two destroyers badly damaged and had expended 36 torpedoes."
- Sadkovich, pp. 245–246
- Stephen, page 115:
- "In many ways the Battle of Sirte is like the Glorious First of June 1794. Tactically it was a brilliant success for the British but operationally and strategically it was a failure. Iachino had succeeded in forcing the convoy to manoeuvre so far south that Axis air power was able to act in synergy to ensure its destruction."
- "During 1941 and the first half of 1942, Axis air supremacy forced the British to abandon Malta as a destroyer base." Middleton, Drew: Submarine, the ultimate naval weapon: its past, present & future. Playboy Press, 1976, page 87. ISBN 978-0-87223-472-7
- Bauer, Young & others, page 763:
- "The result of this second battle of Sirte was not as disappointing for the Italians as it might at first have seemed. Admiral Cunningham had lost the destroyers Havock and Kingston, which had been heavily damaged and had had to make for Malta. The convoy, having had to sail south-west for hours, could not now reach Valletta before dawn on the 23rd."
- Belot, pp. 162–163:
- "Although it had escaped the Italian fleet, the convoy had not reached the end of its troubles. It had been delayed for several hours by evasive maneuvers during the battle, a delay which must be credited to Iachino's actions, and it could no longer reach Malta by dawn as had been planned. Furthermore, the cruisers had had to leave the convoy during the night and return to Egypt so as to avoid having to take on fuel from the limited supply at Malta. On the morning of the 23rd the merchant ships, sailing with reduced escort, were subjected to violent attacks from Axis aircraft."
- Bernotti, page 79:
- La seconda battaglia della Sirte si era conclusa. Considerando lo scontro si può tranquillamente dire che fù una vittoria inglese (infatti ad Alessandria si festeggò la vittoria), visto l'enorme disparità di forze: una divisione di incrociatori aveva tenuto in scacco una formazione molto più forte senza subire perdite, anche se non ne aveva inflitte. Però lo scopo italiano era quello di attaccare il convoglio e qui raggiunse dei risultati: la manovra di battaglia costrinse il convoglio inglese a spostarsi molto a sud e lo attardò, cosicchè il mattino dopo, all'alba, aerei tedeschi riuscirono ad attaccarlo: alle 10.30 del 23 marzo il primo piroscafo và a fondo, poi, a 8 miglia da Malta, viene centrata la petroliera Breconshire, che, costretta ad arenarsi, viene poi definitivamente distrutta. I rimanenti due mercantili entano nel porto di Malta ed attraccano, ma vengono anche qui attaccati dagli aerei e distrutti: delle 25000 tonnellate di rifornimenti diretti a Malta ne vennero scaricate solo 5000. ("The Second battle of Sirte was over. Assessing the encounter, it can be easily said that it was a British victory (indeed, the victory was celebrated at Alexandria), given the enormous disparity of forces: a cruiser squadron fought off a much stronger force without suffering losses, even if not inflicting any. But the Italian aim was to attack the convoy, and on this they achieved some results: the maneuver forced the British convoy to move too far to the south, delaying it. Therefore the following morning, at dawn, German aircraft were able to assault them. At 10:30 AM of 23 March the first merchantman gone down; later, the tanker Breconshire was hit 8 miles away from Malta, beached, and eventually destroyed. The remaining two steamers reached Malta, but were bombed there and sank; only 5,000 tn out of 25,000 were eventually uploaded.")
- Bragadin, page 166:
- "The four British supply ships with their precious cargo for Malta did not suffer any direct damage from the Italians in the battle itself, but the fight indirectly brought important results. The convoy was scheduled to arrive at Malta during the night, and was to begin unloading before the (expected) air raids began, but the naval battle made it at least four hours late in arriving, and this delay proved fatal. When the axis aircraft began its air raids next morning, the convoy was still considerably south of Malta."
- Hough, page 231:
- "The Second Battle of Sirte was a bloodless victory of moral superiority (...) But Sirte could also be called a hollow victory. The diversion from their course forced upon the transports prevented their entering Valletta harbour that night and in the morning dived bombers picked them off – all but one – in spite of the efforts of Vian and his men."
- Llewellyn, page 52:
- "Captain Hutchison, of the "Breconshire", the convoy commodore, had in fact complied with the operation orders on his own initiative at 19:00, dispersing the ships on diverging courses with a destroyer or two apiece for escort, each ship to make her best speed so as to reach Malta as early as possible next morning; they had been intended to arrive at dawn, but the Italian fleet, by forcing the convoy south of its route, had given the German bombers a second chance, as Admiral Iachino had foreseen."
- Macintyre, page 136:
- "Nevertheless Iachino had partially achieved his aim. The diversion of the convoy to the southward, under the threat posed by his approach, had caused just enough delay to prevent the ships from reaching Malta at first light on 23rd."
- Roskill, page 55:
- "Unfortunately the delays caused by the recent battle prevented the convoy making harbour early on the 23rd, and this gave the German bombers another chance."
- Sadkovich, page 245:
- "Because Iachino had delayed the convoy, after the weather had partially cleared the next day, Axis aircraft were able to sink the cargo ships Talabot and Clan Campbell at sea and the Breconshire and Pampas in port."
- Shore & Malizia, page 140:
- "The merchant vessels, meanwhile, had veered from their course to avoid the battle, being forced further south. As a result they were now way behind schedule, since it was necessary for them to reach Malta early next morning to avoid being caught in daylight by the full force of the Axis units from Sicily."
- De la Sierra, page 365:
- Sin embargo, los esfuerzos y los riesgos corridos por los italianos no resultaron inútiles, pues aparte de los daños logrados en cuatro buques británicos-dos de lo cuales serían después hundidos precisamente por no poder escapar a tiempo del infierno de Malta-, el retraso impuesto al convoy iba a resultarle fatal. ("The efforts and risks taken by the Italians were not in vain; besides the damage inflicted upon four British vessels - two of them later sunk at Malta - the delay imposed on the convoy would prove to be fatal.")
- Simpson, pp. 119–120:
- "However, Vian's triumph was only a tactical victory (even that is disputed by Italian apologists). The action had delayed the convoy and pushed it far to the south, thus bringing it well within the range of enemy bombers on the following day. (...) The March convoy represented, therefore, a strategic defeat; though the Italian fleet had failed to locate it, its pressure had placed the ships in the palms of Axis airmen. The collective gunfire of the warships might have saved ships which, supported by a single warship, became easy targets."
- Stephen, page 115:
- "Iachino had succeeded in forcing the convoy to manoeuvre so far south that Axis air power was able to act in synergy to ensure its destruction."
- Thomas, page 150:
- "By driving the convoy south, the Italian fleet had given the Luftwaffe a longer journey that last morning."
- Wilmott & Fowler, page 45:
- "...however, the Italians did have some compensation for the action delayed the arrival of the convoy at Malta with the result that two of the merchantmen were sunk by aircraft the following day; had there been no delay then almost certainly these ships would have survived."
- and Weichold (cited by Sadkovich, page 246):
- "...Weichold, who believed at the time that the action had been crucial to the GAFs success the following day."
- Woodman, page 316:
- "Although the squadron had achieved a noteworthy tactical victory against considerable odds, as Vian's immediate knighthood attested, Operation MG1 as a whole had been a strategic failure."
- Thomas, page 154:
- "From the British point of view the convoy battle was a failure: of the 25,900 tons of stores fought through to Malta only about 5,000 tons finally came ashore."
- Greene & Massignani, page 217
- HMS ZULU (L 18) – Tribal-class Destroyer, retrieved 27 December 2011
- Thomas, p. 145
- Thomas, pp. 144–145
- Bauer, Eddy; James L. Collins, Jr; and Peter Young: The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of World War Two. Marshall Cavendish, 1985. ISBN 978-0-85685-954-0.
- Belot, Raymond de: The Struggle for the Mediterranean 1939–1945, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1951.
- Bernotti, Romeo: La guerra sui mari nel conflitto mondiale:1940–1945 Tirrena Editoriale. Livorno, 1954. (in Italian)
- Bradford, Ernle: Siege: Malta 1940–1943, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1986. ISBN 978-0-688-04781-8.
- Bragadin, Marc'Antonio: The Italian Navy in World War II, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, 1957. ISBN 978-0-405-13031-1.
- Cunningham, Andrew: A Sailor's Life, New York, 1955.
- Greene, Jack & Massignani, Alessandro: The Naval War in the Mediterranean, 1940–1943, Chatam Publishing, London, 1998. ISBN 978-1-86176-057-9.
- Gigli, Guido: La Seconda Guerra Mondiale. Laterza, 1964. (in Italian)
- Guglielmotti, Umberto: Storia della marina italiana. V. Bianco, 1961 (in Italian)
- Harwood, Admiral Sir Henry H., Despatch on the Battle of Sirte 1942 Mar. 22., Supplement to the London Gazette, 18 September 1947.
- Holland, James: Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege, 1940–1943, Miramax Books, New York, 2003. ISBN 978-1-4013-5186-1.
- Hough, Richard Alexander:The longest battle: the war at sea, 1939–45. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986
- Jellison, Charles A.: Besieged: The World War II Ordeal of Malta, 1940–1942, University Press of New England, 1984. ISBN 978-0-87451-313-4.
- Llewellyn, M. J.: The Royal Navy and the Mediterranean Convoys: A Naval Staff History, Naval Staff History series, Routledge, London, 2007. ISBN 978-0-415-39095-8.
- Macintyre, Donald: The Battle for the Mediterranean. Norton ed., New York, 1965.
- O'Hara, Vincent P.: Struggle for the Middle Sea, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59114-648-3.
- Playfair, I.S.O., et al.: British Fortunes reach their Lowest Ebb, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series, The Mediterranean and Middle East, Volume III (September 1941 to September 1942), Naval & Military Press, Uckfield, 2004. ISBN 978-1-84574-067-2. First published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1960.
- Roskill, S.W.: The Period of Balance, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series, The War at Sea 1939–1945, Volume III, Naval & Military Press, Uckfield, 2004, ISBN 978-1-84342-805-3. First published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1956.
- Sadkovich, James: The Italian Navy in World War II, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1994. ISBN 978-0-313-28797-8.
- Secchia, Pietro: Enciclopedia dell'antifascismo e della Resistenza. La Pietra, 1989.
- Shores, Christopher and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia: Malta: The Spitfire Year, 1942. Grub Street, London, 1991. ISBN 978-0-948817-16-8.
- Sierra, Luis de la: La guerra naval en el Mediterráneo, 1940–1943, Ed. Juventud, Barcelona, 1976. ISBN 978-84-261-0264-5. (in Spanish)
- Simpson, Michael: A life of Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Cunningham. A Twentieth-century Naval Leader. Routledge Ed., 2004. ISBN 978-0-7146-5197-2.
- Stephen, Martin; Grove, Erik: Sea Battles in Close-up: World War Two. Naval Institute press, 1988. ISBN 978-0-7110-2118-1.
- Thomas, David A.: Malta Convoys, Leo Cooper Ed., South Yorkshire, 1999. ISBN 978-0-85052-663-9.
- Weichold, Eberhard: Die deutsche Führung und das Mittelmeer unter Blickwinkel der Seestrategie. Wehrwissenschaftlichen Rundschau, 1959. (in German)
- Wilmott, Ned & Fowler, Will: Strategy & tactics of sea warfare. Marshall Cavendish, 1979. ISBN 978-0-85685-505-4
- Woodman, Richard: Malta Convoys, 1940–1943, Jack Murray Ltd., London, 2000. ISBN 978-0-7195-5753-8.
References and external links
- "No. 38073". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 September 1947. pp. 4371–4380. Royal Navy official despatches relating to the battle, written shortly after the battle, but not published until after the war. Also available as a single pdf file at ibiblio.org
- The 2nd Battle of the Sirte
- Seconda Battaglia della Sirte – Plancia di Comando
- Main page with link to sources (scroll down and open link to Bibliografia)
- "Our Navy in Action" video newsreel film
- The Ship (1943) by C. S. Forester is a fictionalised account of the battle, seeing the action through the eyes of the crew of a Royal Navy light cruiser "HMS Artemis" (it is dedicated to "the officers ands ship’s company of H.M.S. Penelope"). It depicts the Italians as inept and cowardly, even though deploying a superior force of two battleships, three heavy and four light cruisers; but it seems fairly accurate on the action (while overstating the accuracy of British fire) and gives an excellent account of the roles of different crew members. Published in 1943, the novel did have a propaganda/morale raising aspect, stressing that everyone's efforts were important, and not mentioning the loss of merchant ships afterwards. C.S.Forester, best known for his Hornblower R.N. novels, sailed with both the British and American navies during World War II to gather material.