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Battle of Pantelleria (Operation Harpoon)

Saetta

New Member
This post is in reference to the Battle of Pantelleria, a surface engagement between the Italian 7th Cruiser Division under command of Admiral Da Zara, facing an equally sized Royal Navy "Force X" under Admiral Cecil Hardy, which attempted to escort a resupply convoy to the besieged Malta on June 15th, 1942. This engagement was an important episode during the British Operation Harpoon. Much of the information was obtained from Vincent P. O'hara's In Passage Perilous: Malta and the Convoy Battles of June 1942.

While Da Zara was highly criticized by his own superiors (as well as Kesselring) for not pressing the attack further, O'hara explains in great detail why Da Zara and the ships under his command actually performed exceptionally well given the circumstances, ultimately proving how the Regia Marina had evolved quicker than the Royal Navy at that time, or at least in terms of lessons learned from previous engagements.

The OoB are as follows:
Italian 7th Cruiser Division
Eugenio de Savoia - Light Cruiser (Condottieri class)
Raimondo Montecuccioli - Light Cruiser (Condottieri class)
Ascari - Destroyer (Soldati class)
Alfredo Oriani - Destroyer (Poeti class)
Lanzoretto Malocello - Destroyer (Navigatori class)
Premuda - Destroyer (Yugoslavian built)
Ugolini Vivaldi - Destroyer (Navigatori class)

Royal Navy Force X
HMS Cairo - Light Cruiser (C-Class)
HMS Welshman - Minelayer (Abdiel class)
HMS Bedouin - Destroyer (Tribal class)
HMS Partridge - Destroyer (P-Class)
HMS Marne- Destroyer (M-Class)
HMS Matchless - Destroyer (M-Class)
HMS Ithuriel - Destroyer (I-Class)
HMS Blankney - Destroyer (Hunt Class)
HMS Badsworth- Destroyer (Hunt Class)
HMS Middleton- Destroyer (Hunt Class)
ORP Kujawiak - Destroyer


Minesweepers: HMS Hebe, HMS Speedy, HMS Rye, HMS Hythe

Convoy WS-19z (escorted by Force X):
Transports: Burdwan, Chant, Orari, Tanimbar, Troilus and the tanker Kentucky



Now, some things to consider regarding the condition of the two combatants before discussing the engagement itself. The Italians had been frustrated from previous inconclusive attempts to intercept the British convoys, such as The 2nd Battle of Sirte in which a superior Italian force withdrew from a surface engagement due to lack of radar and threat of torpedo attacks. Up until that point, Italian reconnaissance had been abysmal, and in many cases, Superaero was simply not sharing information with Supermarina. But in regards to reporting the positioning of Force X, Italian recon was actually much improved for the case of Operation Harpoon and Vigorous (certainly favorable weather conditions played a factor as well), though there was still great room for improvement. Da Zara, when given the order to depart with his cruiser division to intercept the British convoy had asked for the cruiser Bolzano, but was denied her participation much to his frustration. He claimed later that had he possessed the extra firepower he very well may have been able to deal a decisive blow to the British. His orders were unclear, expressly told not to engage a stronger fleet which to his knowledge was exactly the case. Force X was accompanied by a covering fleet (Force W) which included, among others, the Battleship HMS Malaya and the aircraft carriers HMS Argus, and HMS Eagle. Da Zara nonetheless, adopted a very aggressive stance and decided to intercept the convoy proceeding all ahead full. At some point, the destroyers Malocello and Vivaldi fell behind, unable to keep up. Da Zara ordered them to turn and intercept the convoy directly, while the remaining ships in the 7th Crusier Division engaged Force X.

In regards to the condition of the Royal Navy, the Admiralty's mindset was quite different from her Italian counter-parts. Da Zara and the ships in the 7th Cruiser Division could fairly be considered veterans, who had experience fighting at Punto Stilo and Sirte. Admiral Hardy, on the other hand, was new and untested. There was a mind-set in the Royal Navy that the Italians would not engage, that they were at this point nothing but a fleet-in-being and simply did not expect a surface engagement. They underestimated their enemy and as consequence were completely caught off-guard. Additionally, Operations Harpoon and Vigorous were simultaneous operations, so when the Italians engaged, Hardy had called for air support from Malta-based bombers. Malta had recently been strengthened with fighter and bomber aircraft during Operation Julius. However, the air support could not provide assistance for an estimated 13 hours because they were already committed with attacking Admiral Iachino's fleet tasked with intercepting the eastern convoy of Operation Vigorous. There was limited air support of carrier-based fairey's and swordfish initially, but the effective Beaufort's and US B-24's were not available at the start of the engagement. The Italians, however had consistent land-based support from the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica in nearby Sicily.

The result of the engagement between Da Zara and Hardy's Force X, was moderate damage on HMS Cairo and HMS Partridge, with severe damage on HMS Bedouin. She was completely disabled and listing heavily with no less than 17 direct hits from Italian guns. Malocello and Vivaldi found themselves in their own isolated battle squaring up against HMS Matchless, Ithuriel, and several of the minesweepers. After trading salvo's, and realizing they were outnumbered, the two Italian destroyers changed focus to the freighters directly, scoring hits on several of the ships. O'hara describes the sinking of HMS Chant with an interesting perspective. Credit is usually given to German JU-88's who had successfully level-bombed the freighter. However, at that same time, Malocello and Vivaldi had launched torpedo's in the direction of the convoy and claimed a hit on Chant immediately following the launch. The Chant was described as listing heavily to one side, damage that is consistant with torpedo damage and an inflow of water below the sea-line. The Italians did not escape unscathed either, Vivaldi had been disabled at one point in the action and required towing assistance. The cruisers received light damage and splinter's from near-misses, but to the credit of the Italian ships, none were sunk or put out of action for an extended period.

Another significant aspect of this engagement is that it delayed the convoy, so the ships that did survive and make it to Malta consequently found themselves lost outside the harbor with poor instructions. It was dark, they were exhausted from fighting all day, and found themselves sailing right through a mine-field. ORP Kujawiak, HMS Badsworth, HMS Hebe, HMS Matchless and the freighter Orari had all struck mines within view of Malta.

In conclusion, this surface engagement between equal sized fleets demonstrates that the Regia Marina was not afraid to aggressively attack the British convoy's attempting to resupply Malta. The Battle of Pantelleria is one example of the Regia Marina squaring up against the Royal Navy and proving that, at least at the time of the engagement, that the Regia Marina had evolved quicker than her British counterparts. Supermarina had put to effect hard learned lessons from previous engagements and came out on top, even if the results were not the decisive, Mahanian-victory she had hoped to achieve.

Any corrections or comments are greatly appreciated, most of my short summary was paraphrased from Vincent O'hara's In Passage Perilous: Malta and the Convoy Battles of June 1942 (which I highly reccomend!)

-Chris
 
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Saetta

New Member
To add to this summary, I recently became aware that the light cruiser Raimondo Montecuccioli achieved the longest confirmed hit in a naval surface action at 26,000 yards in their engagement with Force X on June 15th, 1942. The shot on the Minesweeper HMS Hebe is an impressive one given that the profile of the minesweeper is much smaller than that of a battleship or aircraft carrier, but it's also the theoretical max range of the Condottieri class light cruiser's 6in (152mm/53) guns.

This record is shared with HMS Warspite and SMS Scharnhorst
 

Darren Marshall

New Member
To add to this summary, I recently became aware that the light cruiser Raimondo Montecuccioli achieved the longest confirmed hit in a naval surface action at 26,000 yards in their engagement with Force X on June 15th, 1942. The shot on the Minesweeper HMS Hebe is an impressive one given that the profile of the minesweeper is much smaller than that of a battleship or aircraft carrier, but it's also the theoretical max range of the Condottieri class light cruiser's 6in (152mm/53) guns.

This record is shared with HMS Warspite and SMS Scharnhorst
Where did you find this informations about the Montecuccoli's hit?
 

Saetta

New Member
Admiral Da Zara's memoirs are published in a book titled, Pelle d'ammiraglio in wihch he gives a detailed description of the engagement. According to da Zara at 1325 hrs on June 15th, 1942 during the 3rd phase of the battle, Montecuccoli hit at 24km (26,000 yds) HMS Hebe as she was attempting to assist the HMS Kentucky, which was at that time on fire and listing badly.

I cross-referenced this with O'hara who actually states the range of this action as 23k yards, so roughly 21km. I usually tend to agree with the newer information, but in this case it is contrary to a primary source account. I would be interested to see if there's any British records of the Hebe during this (although the immediate reports have been criticized as incorrectly assuming much of the damage was due to un-substantiated air attacks). In any case even if it is not quite the record for longest hit, it is certainly one of the furthest from a cruiser, and still impressive none-the-less

I will continue to dig for more info!
 

Darren Marshall

New Member
Admiral Da Zara's memoirs are published in a book titled, Pelle d'ammiraglio in wihch he gives a detailed description of the engagement. According to da Zara at 1325 hrs on June 15th, 1942 during the 3rd phase of the battle, Montecuccoli hit at 24km (26,000 yds) HMS Hebe as she was attempting to assist the HMS Kentucky, which was at that time on fire and listing badly.

I cross-referenced this with O'hara who actually states the range of this action as 23k yards, so roughly 21km. I usually tend to agree with the newer information, but in this case it is contrary to a primary source account. I would be interested to see if there's any British records of the Hebe during this (although the immediate reports have been criticized as incorrectly assuming much of the damage was due to un-substantiated air attacks). In any case even if it is not quite the record for longest hit, it is certainly one of the furthest from a cruiser, and still impressive none-the-less

I will continue to dig for more info!
That can be an important discovery! I will try to obtain some documents from the british archives.
 
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