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Battle of the Cigno Convoy
Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of World War II
Cassiopea-RM.jpg
RM torpedo boat Cassiopea
Date16 April 1943
LocationMediterranean off Marettimo Island
Result Italian victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  Kingdom of Italy
Commanders and leaders
Cdr. Basil Jones[1]
Lt.Cdr. Lawrence St. George[2]
Captain Carlo Maccaferri
Captain Vittorio Nasta[3]
Strength
2 destroyers 2 torpedo boats
1 transport ship
Casualties and losses
1 destroyer sunk
1 destroyer damaged
10 dead
1 torpedo boat sunk
1 torpedo boat disabled
100-120 dead


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).

Background[]

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".[4]

By April, Axis merchant ship losses reached an average of 3.3 per day.[5] The huge extension of minefields planted by both sides made surface trips against Axis shipping more unlikely than during the Libyan campaign.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

The action[]

File:Belluno.jpg

The liner Belluno (former Fort de France) in a pre-war photo

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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] Several of her crew were scalded by the explosion of a boiler.[12] Nine men were killed, another died of his wounds two days later.[13] Paladin was also damaged by shell splinters.[11][14]

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.[10]

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 37°26′N 12°30′E / 37.433°N 12.5°E / 37.433; 12.5. The transport Belluno reached her destination safely some hours later.[5][12][15][16]

Notes[]

  1. U-boat.net
  2. Uboat.net
  3. Roberti, Vero: Con la pelle appesa a un chiodo: la guerra sul mare: 1940-1943. U. Mursia, 1970. Page 240 (Italian)
  4. Bragadin, page 237
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sadkovich, page 326
  6. Bragadin, page 247
  7. Bragadin, pp 244-245
  8. Sadkovich, page 317
  9. Roberti, Vero: Con la pelle appesa a un chiodo: la guerra sul mare: 1940-1943. U. Mursia, 1970. Page 241 (Italian)
  10. 10.0 10.1 Andò, Elio & Bagnasco, Emilio: Navi e marinai italiani nella seconda guerra mondiale. Albertelli, 1977, page 273. (Italian)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Evans, Arthur S. (2010). Destroyer Down: An Account of HM Destroyer Losses 1939-1945. Pen & Sword Maritime, p. 157. ISBN 1848842708
  12. 12.0 12.1 BBC interview to survivor
  13. Royal Navy casualties, killed and died, April 1943
  14. E fecero tutti il loro dovere:Cause ed effetti, by Enrico Cernuschi. Rivista Maritima, November 2006 (Italian)
  15. Ufficio storico della Marina Militare: La Marina italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale, Volume 8. Stato maggiore della Marina Militare, 1958, pp. 236-237 (Italian)
  16. Kemp, Paul: The Admiralty Regrets: British Warship Losses of the 20th Century. Sutton Publishing,1999, page 212

References[]

  • Bragadin, Marc'Antonio: The Italian Navy in World War II, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, 1957. ISBN 0-405-13031-7.
  • Sadkovich, James: The Italian Navy in World War II, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1994. ISBN 0-313-28797-X.

Coordinates: 37°48′35.22″N 12°11′29.01″E / 37.8097833°N 12.1913917°E / 37.8097833; 12.1913917

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