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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Giving You A Lone Fairy Swordfish attack on the Pola - Cape Matapan WWII






Watch a reconstruction of the attack on Italian cruiser Pola in 1941. The first attack is by a lone Swordfish piloted by Lieutenant 'Tiffy' Torren-Spence. Afterwards, the Royal Navy closed in for the kill. This Italian vessel was a very fine looking ship and in some ways, it is sad that such a ship should go down, but unfortunately enemy must be stopped.


In March 1941, when ships of the Mediterranean Fleet watched over troop movements to Greece, Allied intelligence received news that the Italian battle fleet consisting of a battleship, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and destroyers were intent on attacking the Allied convoys. The news was intercepted by Ultra decryption of Italian signals. This discovery had to be concealed from the enemy so another more plausible reason for discovery was offered by the Allies, allowing the Axis powers to think the Italian fleet was discovered by other means. Therefore, a reconnaissance plane flew over the fleet allowing the Italians to think this was the reason for their fleet’s discovery




The Italians also believed the Royal Navy’s Merchant fleet had only one battleship protecting it. There were actually three. Also, the Italians were ignorant of the fact that a recently lost British aircraft carrier had been replaced too. The Italian fleet was approaching a much more formidable force than expected.


The Royal Navy dispatched cruisers Ajax, Gloucester, Orion and the Perth and several destroyers from Greek waters to a position south of Crete. Another Royal Navy force consisting of Formidable, Warspite, Barham and Valiant left Eygpt on the same day to add to the force off of south Crete.


The Italians discovered on the route about the new aircraft carrier Formidable thanks to the decryption team aboard the Vittorio Veneto. After discussions, the Italians decided to continue with the mission, in order to show their German allies their will to fight.


In the morning of March 28, the Trento group encountered Admiral Pridham-Wippell's cruiser group off of the island of Gavdos. The British squadron was moving in a south-east direction and the Italians believed the British and Australian vessels were trying to escape Italy’s larger ships. The Italians gave chase, opening fire from 22,000 metres. The Italian guns had trouble grouping their rounds, which had little effect. The shooting was ineffective and after an hour of pursuit, the Italians cruisers broke off the chase and turned north-west, under orders to rejoin the Vittorio Veneto. The Allied ships also changed course and followed the Italians at extreme range.


The Vittorio Veneto met the Italian cruisers and immediately opened fire on the shadowing Allied cruisers. She fired several rounds inflicting just slight damage from shell splinters but the allied ships were able to fall back.


Then the Royal Navy ships from Egypt arrived close to hand and launched a sortie of Fairey Albacore torpedo planes from HMS Formidable. They attacked the Vittorio Veneto which caused no damage, but it did make the Italian pursuit of the allied cruisers difficult. The Italian fleet broke off the pursuit turned route towards Taranto, where they could expect their own air cover.


Later in the day, the British launched a second sortie, which surprised the Italians. Lieutenant-Commander Dalyell-Stead flew his Albacore at Vittorio Veneto and hit the vessel at her outer port propeller which caused 4,000 tonnes of water to be taken on. The ship was forced to stop while the damage was repaired. The British pilot (Dalyell-Stead) and his crew were killed when their craft was shot down.


A further strike was made by six Albacores and two Swordfish from HMS Formidable plus two more Swordfish from the island of Crete was made.


A lone attacker on one plane (Lieutenant F.M.A. Torrens-Spenc) dropped a torpedo and crippled the cruiser Pola, forcing her to stop. A squadron of Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers closed in for the kill. Other Italian ships, ordered to return and help Pola.


The Allies detected the Italians on radar and were able to close without detection. Italian ships were not supposed to meet enemy ships by night and had their main gun batteries disarmed; they also had no radar and could not detect British ships by means other than direct sight, so the British battleships Barham, Valiant and Warspite were able to get very close and unnoticed by the Italian ships. The Allies opened fire. The Allied searchlights illuminated their enemy making the Italians easy targets. Almost straight away, two Italian heavy cruisers, the Fiume and the Zara, were destroyed.


Then two Italian destroyers (Vittorio Alfieri and Giosue Carducci) were sunk. The other two destroyers managed to escape, one with heavily damaged.


The British boarding parties went aboard the Pola and seized a number of the much needed anti-aircraft machine guns.


Eventually, the Pola was sunk with torpedoes by the destroyers Jervis and Nubian after her crew had been taken off.


Allied casualties during the battle were a single torpedo bomber shot down by Vittorio Veneto's 90 mm anti-aircraft batteries, with the loss of the three-man crew. Italian losses were up to 2,303 sailors, most of them from Zara and Fiume.


After the defeat at Cape Matapan, the Italian fleet never again ventured into the Eastern Mediterranean until the Fall of Crete.


The Italian Fleet consisted of:


• Ammiraglio di Squadra Angelo Iachino


o 1 battleship: Vittorio Veneto (damaged)


o 4 destroyers (10a Squadriglia Cacciatorpediniere): Grecale, Libeccio, Maestrale, Scirocco


o 4 destroyers (13a Squadriglia Cacciatorpediniere): Alpino, Bersagliere, Fuciliere, Granatiere


• Commodore Antonio Legnani


o 2 light cruisers (8a Divisione Incrociatori): Luigi di Savoia Duca degli Abruzzi, Giuseppe Garibaldi


o 2 destroyers (6a Squadriglia Cacciatorpediniere): Emanuele Pessagno, Nicoloso da Recco


• Admiral of Division Sansonetti


o 3 heavy cruisers (3a Divisione Incrociatori): Bolzano, Trento, Trieste


o 3 destroyers (12a Squadriglia Cacciatorpediniere): Ascari, Carabiniere, Corazziere


• Admiral of Division Carlo Cattaneo


o 3 heavy cruisers (1a Divisione Incrociatori): Fiume (sunk), Pola (sunk), Zara (sunk)


o 4 destroyers (9a Squadriglia Cacciatorpediniere): Vittorio Alfieri (sunk), Giosué Carducci (sunk), Vincenzo Gioberti, Alfredo Orian


Force A, 14th Destroyer Flotilla, 10th Destroyer Flotilla (of Force C), Force B, 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, Force D






The Allied Fleet consisted of:


• Admiral Andrew Cunningham


o 3 battleships: HM Ships Barham, Valiant & Warspite


o 1 aircraft carrier: HMS Formidable


o 9 destroyers: HM Ships Greyhound, Griffin, Jervis, Janus, Mohawk, Nubian, Hotspur & Havoc and HMAS Stuart


• Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell


o 4 light cruisers: HM Ships Ajax, Gloucester & Orion and HMAS Perth


o 3 destroyers: HM Ships Hasty, Hereward & Ilex


• AG 9 convoy (from Alexandria to Greece)


o 2 light cruisers: HM Ships Calcutta & Carlisle


o 3 destroyers: HM Ships Defender & Jaguar and HMAS Vampire


• GA 8 convoy (from Greece to Alexandria)


o 1 anti aircraft cruiser: HMS Bonaventure


o 2 destroyers: HM Ships Decoy & Juno


o 1 merchant ship: Thermopylæ (Norwegian)


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