|Battle of the Cigno Convoy|
|Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of World War II|
RM torpedo boat Cassiopea
|United Kingdom||Kingdom of Italy|
|Commanders and leaders|
Cdr. Basil Jones|
Lt.Cdr. Lawrence St. George
Captain Carlo Maccaferri|
Captain Vittorio Nasta
2 torpedo boats|
1 transport ship
|Casualties and losses|
1 destroyer sunk|
1 destroyer damaged
1 torpedo boat sunk|
1 torpedo boat disabled
The Battle of the Cigno Convoy was a naval engagement between two British Royal Navy destroyers and two Italian Regia Marina torpedo boats which took place southeast of Marettimo island, on the early hours of 16 April 1943. The Italian units were escorting the transport ship Belluno, of 4,200 long tons (4,300 t).
The battle was part of the daily aerial, naval and submarine campaign mounted by the Allies against Axis forces, in the spring of 1943, in order to achieve a complete naval and air supremacy around North Africa and Sicily. Their aim was to isolate and defeat the bulk of the German Afrika Corps and the Regio Esercito (Italian Royal Army) in Tunis by strangling their supply lines. The struggle was so fiercely contested that the maritime area between Italy and Africa was dubbed the "route of death".
By April, Axis merchant ship losses reached an average of 3.3 per day. The huge extension of minefields planted by both sides made surface trips against Axis shipping more unlikely than during the Libyan campaign. The supply route for the Regia Marina (Italian Royal Navy) was also shorter but the Allied air supremacy and the attrition of the war made it almost impossible to assemble large convoys. This along with a shortage of fuel, forced the Italians to use small and fast destroyers or torpedo boats to escort their cargo ships heading to Africa. The convoys were only capable of making 8–10 kn (9.2–11.5 mph; 15–19 km/h) in practice, due to the loss of the main high-speed cargo ships by 1943.
One of these small convoys - comprising two Italian Spica class torpedo boats Cigno and Cassiopea escorting the 4,200 long tons (4,300 t) transport Belluno - sailed from Trapani bound for Tunis on 15 April. A rearguard escorting force composed of the torpedo boats Tifone and Climene was scheduled to depart a couple of hours later from Palermo to reinforce the convoy.
At 02:38 on the 16th, the forward escort spotted two British destroyers approaching - HMS Pakenham and Paladin. This was one of the few night engagements in the Mediterranean in which the British failed to take their opponents by surprise, owing to the full moon. The moonlight was decisive to the outcome of the battle.
The first ship hit was Cigno, which was badly damaged but continued firing until sunk by torpedo at 03:00 with a loss of 103 seamen.
Cassiopea launched a torpedo at Paladin while attacking Pakenham with gunfire. Pakenham's port side took several hits. Its engine room was seriously damaged, its pom-pom and searchlight put out of action, and a fire started in the aft section. Several of her crew were scalded by the explosion of a boiler. Nine men were killed, another died of his wounds two days later. Paladin was also damaged by shell splinters.
During the clash, Belluno turned back to the northeast under the protection of the rear escorting force; the British ceased fire and withdrew. The torpedo boat Cassiopea, almost disabled and in flames, was assisted by Climene, which towed her back to Trapani and later to Taranto for repairs.
After trying to reach Malta with an auxiliary engine, Pakenham broke down off Sicily and then Paladin, unable to take her in tow, scuttled her sister ship with a torpedo at 06:30 at the position . The transport Belluno reached her destination safely some hours later.
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