Thursday 7 to Saturday 9 October 1943
Battles of the Tyrrhenian Sea
The Italian Navy had been preparing for the Allied invasion of Sicily for years, ever since the establishment of the Tyrrhenian Triangle strategy. It had long been recognised that the invasion of Sicily had to trigger a single, massive and convulsive effort to defeat the Allied fleets supporting the landings. Without the drain of a major land campaign anywhere, and with Soviet steel, oil and industrial assistance available until mid-1942 due to the alliance between them and the Axis powers, the Navy had been able to insist on obtaining the resources and labour to compete a number of programs. This included the completion of the Littorio battleship program and most of the fast light cruiser program.
Under Russian advice following their rejection of Italian-made 15” ammunition for their Sovietsky Soyuz class battleship program, quality control had been imposed on the ammunition suppliers and the RMI had spent a lot of time exercising. German assistance had been used to improve gunnery, and the big Japanese-Italian joint military missions had solved the aerial coordination matters with the RAI. All of this had helped, but the RMI high command certainly knew that the battles, when they came, would result in the near-destruction of the RMI, which would face three of the five most powerful navies in the world all alone. Long concentrated on the Italian west coast, the RMI was well prepared for what happened, well trained and well motivated. That said its personnel also knew that they would take tremendous losses even if they succeeded in their mission.
The hard core of the fleet was the four modern, powerful Littorio class battleships and three modern, well armoured heavy cruisers. The two surviving old battleships (Cesare and Doria) were used to build a reinforced cruiser force in all but name, with the lightly armoured heavy cruisers Trento and Bolzano. The Italian plan was to dash in daylight from Naples towards Palermo under massive air cover (which included the fighter-carrier Aquila’s aircraft), fighting a major engagement somewhere off the western tip of Sicily. It was correctly assessed that the Allies would expect and deploy for a night approach rather than a high-speed daylight one. This was recognised as a very thin and temporary advantage, but the RMI command also recognised that they faced long odds no matter what they did, so any possible edge at all had to be exploited.
The RMI planning was unusual in many ways. The inevitable battleship engagement was seen as the matador’s cape, a cover for the main attack. The battleships engagement was designed to occupy the Allied main forces, allowing very powerful and extremely fast Italian light forces to get through to destroy the Allied amphibious forces on the southern coast of Sicily. The main Italian offensive was built around the ten ‘Roman Captains’ class light cruisers and last six Condottieri class light cruisers and about 40 modern destroyers and torpedo boats. Of these, the older but larger and better armed Navigatore class had been sequentially withdrawn from operational service and carefully tended to, to restore their very high designed speed, as had the Montecuccoli and Aosta class light cruisers.
This gave the light forces three speed categories, a 34 knot group spearheaded by the Garibaldi class light cruisers, a 37 knot group composed of the Montecuccoli, Aosta and Navigatori classes, and a 44 knot group, the Roman Captains class light cruisers. Tactically, a lot of chasing was expected, and all groups had at least some ships fitted with linked mines in order that the lives of allied ships chasing the Italian fast groups be made more exciting. In addition, some ships had the first of the T3d Dackel long range slow speed torpedo, programmed in this case to perform a 5,000 yard straight run the then to perform figure of eight racetracks. These torpedoes were tactically intended to either form a sort of mine barrier against pursuers or to fire into inshore formations of anchored transports. The RAI had prepared several hundred of their 19” LT350 circling air-dropped torpedoes to attack the anchorages, intending to use them in the hours before the RMI’s light surface ships could get there so as to disrupt the protective arrangements and sink or damage as many amphibious ships as possible. As its modern bomber force had more important targets this mission was assigned to the captured Tupolev TB-3 bomber force, these machines having been refurbished and re-engined as transports for the RAI. The use of 900hp radials had not improved the TB-3’s speed – that was impossible with its corrugated skin and immensely thick wing chord – but it had improved its reliability and load carrying capacity. Each carried eight LT350. Even so, and operating at night, survival for such large, slow machines was problematic in open sky. Their attack runs were conducted by staying low and over land to avoid the attentions of Allied night fighters, so they ‘dashed’ from the Sicilian hills at 105 knots directly over the invasion beaches. Losses to light AA and the AA of the amphibious ships were expected to be (and were) heavy, although the TB-3 was an exceptionally rugged machine and many aircraft returned with surprising levels of heavy damage. Just as in the USSR, the RAI TB-3 fleet soldiered on for very many years, although (except for their use in Sicily) the RAI ones remained in the transport role unlike the USSR, where the famed 18th Air Army still had ten TB-3 on strength as night bombers when the war ended.
Careful Allied study postwar showed that the plan was as good as the Italians could develop given what they knew, and it depended on good coordination between the RMI and RAI/Luftwaffe. Very unfortunately for the Italians, the Allies had their own plans. These mostly revolved around the five King George V class battleships and Vanguard which were concentrated in the Mediterranean for this operation. Three KGV had been withdrawn from Eastern Fleet, which was by this time the main fleet of the RN. The strains of the Pacific war were so great that the USN had little to offer in terms of modern battleships as its losses had been heavy, but made the point of having its latest modern battleship conduct final workups and intensive training (especially AA training) in the theatre before heading for the Pacific. This reflected both reality – sending ships without sufficient training to the Pacific was against USN policy by this date and good Alliance politics. In late 1943 this was USS New Jersey, completed in April 1943 and scheduled to be replaced by USS Wisconsin at the end of the month. She had been used to transport President Roosevelt to the Algiers Conference and had returned at his express order after running him back to the Bahamas, the invasion being so close. This policy of briefly ‘blooding’ their modern battleships and cruisers in the Mediterranean bore the USN an excellent return in the Pacific, as these ships arrived honed to a razor’s edge and always with AA kills to their credit. What the USN could and did offer was a permanent sufficiency of its oldest battleships (Arkansas, Texas, New York) to bolster the five old French and two old Brazilian battleships (one an R class transferred from the RN) assigned to the theatre. This meant that the US Mediterranean Fleet was a substantial if heterogeneous force which also took pride in passing on all manner of tactical and operational lessons to the new ships temporarily assigned to them for final tactical training.
Part of the Allied plan to disrupt any RMI offensive plans was an area bombardment of Naples by the RAF VHA bomber force on the morning of the landing. The aerial defences of Naples were at the centre of the entire Italian ADGE for good reason and the system was so heavy that ‘normal’ heavy bomber attacks on it were simply prohibitive. A combined and heavily escorted AdA-USAAF daylight attack late in 1942 had resulted in over half the bombers being shot down. That, loss of aircraft on landing and a determined night attack on their bases by RAI Leone bombers in the intruder role just after they landed had knocked the Franco-US strategic bomber force out for two months. The RAF had not attempted to raid Naples for six months before that attack went in even at night, BCME had Wellingtons but their Stirlings ceiling was only 16,000 feet, making their use suicidal even if they did not have much higher priority targets in the form of the Rumanian oil industry.
What the RAF had planned was to use the weapon they had never used against Italy, the Victoria VHA force. A surprise stratospheric attack using the entire Victoria force would not allow the Italians to adapt their tactics, but the required numbers of 2000lb supersonic bombs could not possibly be provided for such a raid even had the numbers of Victorias required existed. Instead, an ingenious plan by Professor Barnes Wallis was adopted, and 9.2” shells adapted by being turned down to reduce weight, and fitted with a streamlined nose cap and ‘supersonic fins’ like a miniscule Grand Slam. These bombs came in at just 350 lbs and low cost, so the plan was to smother the anchorage and basins with them to damage as many Italian ships as possible, disrupting their sortie. As the port was known to have excellent smoke systems and the attack had to be done blind, hence the requirement for the largest possible numbers of bombs. However, when the Victorias arrived at dawn the harbour was seen to be empty (despite the smoke). The bomb loads could not be taken to Africa where the VHA force was to be turned around, so the force hit the diversion target of the base and docks, causing heavy damage to them and the port facilities.
The Fleet had actually sailed before dawn and was racing across the Tyrrhenian for Trapani at 30 knots (with the old battleship group inevitably falling slowly behind even though they sortied first) underneath a very heavy CAP, while the RAI and Luftwaffe fought vast air battles which had been raging since dawn. The relatively small numbers of available Re-2005 Saggitario and Macchi MC.205V Veltro fighters in service saw their major combat debut not over Sicily but over the battlefleet. Forward-based at Palermo they were vectored on to Allied strikes coming from Tunis by the radar stations in western Sicily, and they caused carnage among the Allied raids. The backbone of the AdA fighter force was the Allison-engined P.40E and K and the North American P-51A. Only the latter was fully competitive with even the MC-202. Meanwhile, the Allied forces in the Mediterranean had caught the Allied Fleets on the hop. Admiral Sir John Cunningham (no relation to Admiral Andrew Cunningham who had replaced Admiral Pound at the Admiralty) had his main force of modern battleships west of Marsala, with his carriers (USS Ranger, HMS Unicorn, the brand new Indefatigable and Implacable, both still working up, the equally brand new Colossus class HMS Edgar with her worked up sister ship Glory). The Italian use of multiple formations and the poor ability of reconnaissance aircraft to survive meant that the tactical picture was not really clarified until about 1000, by which time Cunningham and Bergamini were less than a hundred miles apart and closing each other with blood in their eyes. By this time Cavour had been heavily damaged topside by Allied bombs although she was still in formation and able to maintain speed. Bolzano had been crippled by an aerial torpedo and bombs from a strike from Ranger and was heading for Palermo (which she reached, only to be scuttled offshore when the place fell), Aquila had been damaged and her all-fighter airgroup much reduced, and a dozen destroyers and torpedo boats had been sunk or badly damaged. Roma and Littorio had taken bomb hits. Cunningham’s formations had sorted themselves by this time, the carriers sped to the west with the AA cruisers and a heavy cruiser and destroyer screen while the seven modern battleships close Bergamini on a converging course at 25 knots, he having turned north-west by west in what was accurately assessed as an effort to break past and get to the carriers. The two formations were only fifty miles apart when the biggest Axis raids of the day hit them. A heavily escorted strike of 39 Leone torpedo bombers and no fewer than 48 Caproni D2 dive bombers, their license built variant of the D4Y. This strike was intended to hit the carriers but 9 Leone and 12 D2’s were diverted by the raidmaster to hit the battleship formation. This was to have important implications, for the raidmaster was in contact with the incoming Kampfgeschwader 100 He-177 attack, the first time this weapon had been used in action, although KG100 had been exercising for months with it in the northern Adriatic. Each of the 17 He-177 in the attack had two weapons, and the raid was heavily escorted. The Italian attack drew off many of the escorting fighters, so many that it was nullified, and only two Leone and two D2 returned having achieved nothing. The high-flying heavy bomber formation was also attacked by fighters and four shot down, but the battleship’s AA was engaging the Italian TB and DB, not them. However, their attack run on the formation was highly effective. Three ships were hit. Vanguard was struck by one Fritz-X which passed through her deck forward of A turret and burst just as it exited the shell plating six feet above the waterline. It caused heavy local damage and fires but did not affect the ship’s combat capability. The attack really concentrated on the three stern ships. Prince of Wales was ahead of Vanguard, and New Jersey (the largest target there present) was last in formation. Vanguard was probably saved by Prince of Wales, which received four to six hits in quick succession and reeled out of formation, burning from bow to stern and wracked by heavy secondary explosions. Vanguard had to manoeuvre violently to starboard to avoid her, and filled with smoke from the enormous fires erupting from her. She received her only hit just before she entered this smoke and was near missed by several more weapons.
New Jersey received four hits. One exploded in the boiler rooms under the bridge and started a very severe fire which could not be extinguished. The second and third burst under the engine rooms, causing massive flooding which reduced her to one shaft and the fourth punched though the roof of Y turret and burst under the platform. The ready ammunition deflagrated, blowing the roof off the turret but rapid flooding of the magazine probably saved the ship. New Jersey had hauled out to port to clear Prince of Wales and this kept her in clear air, this and her large size meant she was severely handled by KG100.
Prince of Wales had lost all power and propulsion as well as internal communications. The fires never came under control and at least a quarter of the ships company was forced to abandon ship within ten minutes of the attack by flames, heat and smoke. The fires forward were especially bad, forcing abandonment of the forward superstructure very quickly. Fifteen minutes after the first hit the ship blew up, probably due to the fires reaching the forward magazines. The ship disintegrated, B turret was seen tossed into the air. The stern remained afloat for some minutes before sinking. The entire event from the point at which she hauled out of line was captured on film from one of the escorting destroyers.
Although badly damaged and with at least 10,000 tons of water inside her, New Jersey continued after the main formation at 12 knots as her two forward turrets were semi operational (in both the crews were severely smoke and heat affected) and her director was undamaged. As her CO later noted, he was not in a running mood, could not run anyway at 12 knots and in any case there was nowhere to run to.
The RAI attack on the carrier formation was disturbing effective. A RN AA cruiser was received two torpedo hits and later sank and HMS Edgar was hit by four bombs. Badly damaged and burning heavily, it was thought for a time that she would have to be abandoned and scuttled, but they were eventually controlled and the ship was able to retire to Tunis. Implacable and Indefatigable were also hit by bombs, but damage was limited by their heavy deck armour. The Italian torpedo bombers obtained a single hit amidships on USS Ranger. To the astonishment of the Admiral commanding the carriers, she immediately stopped and began to abandon ship. Six minutes after the hit, he received a report from the rescuing destroyers that the ship was visibly bending amidships. She broke in half twenty minutes after being hit and sank rapidly. Fortunately, her CO had fully understood his ships strengths and weaknesses and understood the second she was hit that her hull girder could not possibly survive such damage. He ordered all but emergency engineering crew to leaving ship stations and put engines astern to stop her. The instant she stopped he ordered all work below to be ceased and the abandon ship, which was orderly and rapid. By this time the flight deck was visibly buckling as the ship started to break. His action saved all but the 11 men killed when the torpedo hit, thereby saving a priceless highly experienced crew in its entirety – he was decorated for this action and both he and his crew were immediately assigned to a new Essex class carrier under construction.
Bergamini’s force had meanwhile been roughly handled by allied air attacks. Littorio had received numerous bomb hits which had knocked out her main director, Vittorio Veneto had been hit by a torpedo amidships which her TDS defeated, and both Roma and Impero had also been hit by bombs as well. Both fleets manoeuvred for position and the fleet action began at 1315. Visibility was patchy due to the usual afternoon heavy haze build up and cloud cover was increasing. Bergamini and Cunningham closed to 15,000 yards by 1400 and the action became general and roared off to the north, which brought grim satisfaction to Bergamini. Bergamini was in a poor and deteriorating tactical position which he could not abandon, with four ships (one firing in local control) against five. Littorio had the bad fortune to be engaged by Duke of York and Vanguard. She hit and damaged Duke of York, one hit jamming her A turret for half an hour, but Vanguard was not engaged at all (not even by the heavy cruisers) and wrought terrible execution. While she remained in formation, by 1430 Littorio was a burning ruin with only A turret in intermittent action, and Vanguard shifted fire to Vittorio Veneto. Anson had been severely handled by Vittorio Veneto while honours between the other four embattled ships were about even. Meanwhile, Andrea Doria and the damaged Cavour had come upon the severely damaged New Jersey and engaged her. New Jersey’s longer ranged fire was slow and inaccurate and the moment the two Italian ships (and their heavy cruiser) got to range they were able to smother her. This was a brisk action and was going the Italians way when two things occurred. Bergamini ordered the two ships to assist his formation, and one of New Jerseys salvoes hit Cavour forward. At least one shell crashed straight through her belt and burst in one of the forward magazines. The ship erupted like a volcano – there were no survivors from the disaster. Andrea Doria (and Trento) closed to just 7,000 yards and took revenge for her dead half-sister by pounding the wrecked American battleship for several more minutes. As Andrea Doria’s captain later said, he poured six full broadsides into her and every single, solitary 12.6” shell hit. He then broke off and raced off to join the main action. New Jersey was very severely damaged and her long narrow bow was fully flooded by heavy gunfire damage and one of two torpedo hits from Trento. The other hit abreast the bridge where the TDS had been flooded to reduce list and it caused heavy flooding of the forward boiler rooms, which at least extinguished the fire there. She was down to 7 knots and the foc’s’le was awash, her topsides destroyed and with serious fires burning.
By 1530 Bergamini’s position was desperate and deteriorating fast. The ruined Littorio had broken off and was withdrawing towards Genoa at 20 knots, all she could make, and blazing from bow to stern. She did not make it, being torpedoed and sunk by HMS Unbroken (LEUT A. Mars) just on dusk, although he was unable to report this due to a heavy, proficient and damaging depth-charging which disabled his radios and seriously damaged his boat. It was not until he returned from patrol that he was able to confirm the fate of this ship. Bergamini fought on, using smoke and radical manoeuvres to stay in action and Cunningham was increasingly puzzled by his doing so. By this time Vittorio Veneto was in desperate condition, Roma was not much better and only Impero remained in good fighting trim. All the RN battleships except the much battered Anson (which he had detached) had received only moderate damage at worst, despite how visually spectacular some of it was. Andrea Doria had arrived, manoeuvring independently but so outclassed she was more a gadfly than the main game. The Italians continued this losing battle until 1655, when Bergamini received the message he’d been fighting to buy time for, confirmation that the light force groups were south of Mazara del Vallo and apparently undetected just two hours steaming from the beaches. He ordered Impero to take the Aquila group and some survivors of their screen and conduct a southern withdrawal. Roma, Andrea Doria and the undamaged Trento, with what was left of their screens, began to withdraw rapidly to the north-east with Cunningham in hot pursuit. The performance of the three battered Gorizia class heavy cruisers at this stage of the battle elicited admiration from Cunningham and his Captains. They screened Vittorio Veneto for almost half an hour, fighting the battleships alone before being forced away with heavy damage. Cunningham left the Vittorio Veneto to be dealt with by his destroyers. They did so but the wrecked battleship still had teeth and fought to the last, and took two of her attackers with her.
Bergamini quickly realised that Andrea Doria could not stay with him. He turned at 1700 and attacked Cunningham to give her the chance to escape to the north west. She was able to get clear, intending to get to Genoa. However, it was Bergamini’s own actions which prevented this as he was also being dogged by a relentless Cunningham, and was also heading to Genoa. It took until the early morning, but at 0200, after hours of intricate and heavy fighting before Roma was finally slowed down, beaten into a wreck and sunk. The British did not escape lightly. Duke of York received a torpedo from an Italian Ariete class torpedo boat and considerable damage from heavy gunfire, they lost a cruiser and four destroyers sunk, while sinking nine Italian destroyers and torpedo boats. His final action was to order the survivors of his screen to abandon him and make it to Genoa. His final signal to the shattered heavy cruisers became his epitaph, ‘Farewell, now we will teach the British how Italians die’. Bergamini did not survive his flagship’s loss, which was a drawn-out bloody pounding match. Roma maintained her speed and manoeuvred like a cornered eel to buy time for the lighter ships. When close to the end her last action was an attempt to ram which saw King George V and Duke of York literally blast her to a standstill at ranges down to 1,500 yards. She was finished off by these two ships and Vanguard firing full broadsides into her from point blank range, Vanguard ceasing fire only when she finally expended all her 15” ammunition.
Andrea Doria was able to track some of this by listening to Roma’s reports. Knowing that daylight would bring overwhelming air attack on his much-reduced formation and with ammunition (especially AA ammunition) low, Captain Castoldi had few choices and very few possible options for survival. He took the best of them, running at full power through the Straits of Bonifacio and arriving at Port Mahon next day with what was left of his force.
The CO of Impero had obeyed Bergamini’s orders. She and the Aquila group (Aquila, Etna, Vesuvio and six destroyers) rendezvoused near Ustica then ran for Messina at maximum speed. Their orders were the implementation of the RMI’s ‘go to hell’ plan. One or two capital ships could have no value on the west coast in the face of massive enemy superiority, but could perform a major strategic function in the Adriatic: with land-based aircraft they could dominate that sea. The plan called for them to assemble survivors and to pass through the straits and head for the Adriatic. They collected a variety of surviving screening units, the largest of which was the old cruiser Luigi Cadorna. Incessant but small air attacks cost several light ships and more damage to Aquila, but the formation reached Messina. Numerous MAS and E-boote were already fighting Allied light forces to the south of the strait but the most serious clash was with a French destroyer group. This cost Cadorna and two French destroyers but the French admiral had misread Italian intent. His slow battle line of three old ships (Provence, Lorraine, Ocean) was off Catania to protect the landing beaches, a thoroughly correct decision. The Italian formation raced past the Calabrian coast at 28 knots. The British scrambled to get submarines off Taranto and the RAF laid mines there, but again Italian intent was misread. The force was temporarily lost off Crotone because it did not turn for Taranto, and it was not relocated until near Otranto. It was not until this report came in that it was realised that they were heading into the Adriatic – and no forces were anywhere near them. They got away clean.
Few Allied forces were available because the three Italian light striking forces had been creating absolute chaos off the beaches. The TB-3’s had done their job after dusk, putting over 300 LTC350 into the sea. However, their effectiveness was low, only eleven ships (only one was large) were hit, although eight of them sank. The 34 knot Garibaldi group was located and destroyed by a Franco-US cruiser destroyer force as it closed the coast near Agrigento. The Italians turned and ran, leading their enemy into a linked mine trap which sank three US destroyers. They were then headed off by the USS Nashville and two French cruisers. The Italians fought hard, shattering Nashville and damaging a French cruiser before being overwhelmed – the Garibaldi class were a modern, powerful design.
The Roman Captains formation lost a the Ciao Mario to aerial attack before reaching the beaches. A lucky torpedo chopped her bow off and her own engines drove her under in less than a minute. Losing the bow at 44 knots had that effect. Twice they were intercepted by Allied destroyers and simply walked away from them. Six Fletcher class sent an astonished report saying that the Italian formation had simply ignored them and roared away at over forty-four incredible knots. This formation hit the beach areas at 2300, just as the Montecuccoli group was engaging the covering forces. The Montecuccoli group fired 24 Dackel torpedoes into the assembly area off Gela and these were effective. Six transports were hit, of which three sank and one (an ammunition ship) exploded. The Inshore forces (commanded by Admiral Hewitt) were mostly the old battleships, older USN destroyers and frigates. These held off the Montecuccoli group although the battleship New York was damaged by a torpedo and seven USN and French older destroyers and frigates sunk for the loss of two Navigatori class destroyers sunk.
When the Roman Captains came in behind the screen the situation became chaotic and tactical cohesion was to all intents and purposes lost to both sides. They caused enormous disruption but (as was proven next day) not a lot of actual losses. Only 17 vessels were sunk by them and six of those were anti submarine escorts (three USN frigates being the largest). Of the 11 amphibious ships five were loaded transports but none held troops, they were Liberty ships. The rest were amphibious vessels but only one was a LST, the rest were LCI and LCT. What they did do was to damage a lot of amphibious ships, 52 being the total, but in all but eight cases of torpedo damage the damage was not enough to force the ship involved to be withdrawn. LST’s proved to be tough if they did not burn, and even four or five 5.3” hits did not necessarily stop the LST from continuing its duties after temporary repairs. The problem for the Italians was that there were simply too many targets and even seven fast light cruisers could not carry anything like the ammunition needed to deal with the vast mass of targets. And all the targets shot back, the only Italian loss during this phase was caused by a lucky hit starting an uncontrollable fire which caused Scipione Africano to blow up. The downside of the return fire was that hundreds of Allied ships hit each other, causing numerous casualties but only trifling damage in most cases. Post war evaluation revealed that several of the ships sunk had been sunk by Allied torpedoes which missed the blindingly fast Italian ships.
After expending their torpedoes and most of their main armament ammunition in a wild and chaotic series of sweeps past the masses of Allied shipping, the Montecuccoli and Roman Captains formations broke west, again at very high speed. As their entire movement had been to the east and the last lonely remnants of the RMI’s main strength were also heading east, this move was not recognised for some time in the bedlam. By the time it was realised they had vanished they were again in waters relatively empty of Allied ships. The carriers had withdrawn west of a line north of Bizerte, most light forces had been drawn towards the Gulf of Gela, and Cunningham was well north, shepherding the damaged Anson. These formations had done their best, but it had not even been close to enough. The Montecuccoli and Roman Captains groups had taken about a quarter losses (although every ship was damaged to a considerable degree) and the Garibaldi group had effectively been wiped out. What it meant was that were a large and powerful fleet had steamed out from Naples 36 hours earlier, what came back was a few last, lonely remnants. The RMI had been destroyed and reduced to being a third class navy in two days of ferociously bloody fighting, yet it was so savage that it shook the Allies considerably. The loss of two first-class battleships was a heavy and unexpected blow yet as Cunningham noted, the enemy lost three modern battleships as well as both of their remaining old ships (even if one was only a temporary loss).
The final major loss of the battles of the Tyrrhenian Sea occurred next day. The very severely damaged modern battleship USS New Jersey crawling towards Bizerte with her bow awash when she was hit by two torpedoes from the Italian Flutto class submarine Marea about 20 miles off Bizerte, sinking half an hour later. Cunningham was disappointed at the news, but pointed out that four Italian battleships had been sunk, a fifth lay damaged in the Spanish Port Mahon while a puzzled Spanish government worked out what to do with it, and that the largest remaining serviceable Italian warship between Messina and Genoa appeared to be a small light cruiser, given the state of the three Gorizia class and attending destroyers reported by reconnaissance as they close on Genoa. Not only had the RMI been destroyed, once Sicily was taken the Mediterranean would be open for the through-traffic of trade convoys – and that made all the difference in the world, as good as the magical appearance of four million tons of new merchant ships. It was a crushing Allied victory in both the strategic and tactical senses and for Rome it was an apocalypse.
RMI – Lost
BB Littorio sunk
BB Roma sunk
BB Vittorio Veneto sunk
BB Cavour sunk
CA Bolzano sunk
CL Luigi Cadorna
CL Ciao Mario
CL Scipione Africano
6 Navigatori DD
7 Soldati DD
12 other DD/TB
RMI – Damaged
BB Impero damaged (Escaped to Adriatic)
CV Aquila damaged (Escaped to Adriatic)
CA Zara badly damaged (Genoa)
CA Fiume badly damaged (Genoa)
CA Gorizia badly damaged (Genoa)
RMI damaged (light to medium)
All remaining cruisers
All remaining large DD
Interned Port Mahon
BB Andrea Doria
12 modern DD
4 modern TB
BB Prince of Wales sunk
BB Vanguard damaged
BB Anson seriously damaged
BB Duke of York damaged
CV Edgar seriously damaged
CV Implacable damaged
CV Indefatigable damaged
CL Arethusa sunk
CLAA Cleopatra sunk
2 DD sunk
2 DD sunk
BB New Jersey sunk
BB New York damaged
CV Ranger sunk
CA Nashville damaged
3 fleet minesweepers
17 ambhibs sunk (LCI/LCT)
52 Amphibs damaged (mostly moderate, 8 LST/LSI seriously damaged by torpedoes)
6 transports damaged
5 Liberty ships sunk