Battle of Cape Bon (1941)
The naval Battle of Cape Bon took place on December 13, 1941 during the Second World War, between two Italian light cruisers and an Allied destroyer flotilla off Cape Bon, Tunisia. The loss of the two cruisers and their valuable fuel cargoes was a serious defeat for the Regia Marina.
When Italy declared war in June 1940, the Regia Marina was one of the largest navies in the world but it was restricted to the Mediterranean. The British Empire possessed enough resources and naval might to maintain a strong presence in the area and replace most losses by redeploying ships. This led to caution by the Italian command and a tendency to avoid conflict. Control of the Mediterranean was disputed by the Regia Marina the Royal Navy and their allies. The sea was vital for the supply of the Italian and German forces in North Africa, as well as the maintenance of Malta as a British offensive base. Without Malta, Britain could not intercept Italian convoys to prevent the supply of Axis forces. Possession of Radar and the breaking of Italian codes, particularly the Boris Hagelin C38 cipher machine used by the Regia Marina, further contributed to British success.
The Italian 4th Cruiser Division (ammiraglio di divisione Antonino Toscano), consisted of the Da Giussano class light cruisers Alberto da Giussano and Alberico da Barbiano, with the Spica-class Italian torpedo boat Cigno. The division sailed from Palermo bound for Tripoli, carrying an urgent deck cargo of nearly 2,000 short tons (1,800 t) of aviation fuel, for fighters of the Regia Aeronautica based in Libya.
The British 4th Destroyer Flotilla, consisting of the British destroyers HMS Sikh, HMS Maori, HMS Legion and the Dutch destroyer Hr. Ms. Isaac Sweers, (Commander G. H. Stokes), had departed Gibraltar on 11 December, to join the Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria. The flotilla was spotted by an Italian aircraft but Regia Marina headquarters concluded that the Italian cruiser division would pass Cape Bon safely. By 8 December, the British had de-coded Italian C-38 wireless signals about the Italian supply operation and its course for Tripoli. The RAF sent a reconnaissance aircraft to sight the ships as a deception and on 12 December, the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, which was to the west, was ordered to increase speed to 30 kn (35 mph; 56 km/h) and intercept.
The 4th Destroyer Flotilla sighted the Italian cruisers near Cap Bon, at 02:30 on 13 December. Arriving from astern, under the cover of darkness and using radar, the British ships sailed close inshore and surprised the Italians who were further out to sea, by launching torpedoes from short range. The land behind the Allied destroyers made it impossible for the Italians to see them and Di Giussano managed to fire only three salvoes. In five minutes both cruisers were disabled, Alberico da Barbiano becoming an inferno. After a brief encounter with the Dutch destroyer Isaac Sweers, Cigno rescued at least 500 survivors; others reached the coast or were later saved by Italian, MAS motor torpedo boats. The Italian navy lost 534 men on Da Barbiano, including Toscano and 283 perished with Di Giussano.
- it:''Ammiraglio di divisione'', equivalent to Rear Admiral Upper Half.
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