If you have read all which it is contained in this site,
you have a sufficient view of the Regia Marina's history in the Second
Italy lost the war, and, from 1943 to 1945 was split
in two, with Italians who fought from both the parts, and both with
their reasons: could the Navy have modified the things?
I do not believe it, not by itself, even if I am convinced
that Navy could have given of itself a better image, above all at
the beginning of the conflict. On the other hand I do not want to
make considerations, moreover enough sterile, on the "what if...",
but rather to evidence the reason for which the Italian Navy had a
rather passive role.
When somebody speaks about the causes that carried the
Regia Marina to not have that supremacy in the Mediterranean sea,
which instead it should have had, you hear always justifications about
technical inferiority, above all to have not had the radar. I think
that this factor had surely an important weight, but not determining:
at the beginning of the war the Japanese did not have radar, nevertheless
in the first nocturnal battles they were advanced in respect of the
Americans; moreover the first English unit radar equipped to arrive
in the Mediterranean sea was the Ajax, in October of 1940.
I am convinced that the large problem of Italy was purely
political. Italy entered in war, unprepared, for a mere political
reason and continued its war strategy basing on the moment, without
having one true and own line of conduct. Also the Commanders had to
submit to the political power, unfortunately also for that which regarded
the war strategies.
The countries of the Axis had all this problem: often
they made bad strategic choices, also if advised against them and
contrasted by the military Commanders, but, to the end, Commanders
had to "bow their heads" and to obey, or to be dismissed;
therefore it happened that who always accepted without arguing the
regimen's directives made career, rather than who pointed out the
defects in the strategic plans.
Let us observe the situation of the Mediterranean theater
at the Italy's entrance in war: Alexandria was practically a defenseless
port, still lacking in anti-torpedo nets and with insufficient antiaircraft
cover; Malta was inoperative as a base for submarines and had only
three (three!) military airplanes: antiquated Gladiator fighters that
the population had nicknamed Faith, Hope, Charity. What it was made?
Nothing. Neither an air-sea attack to Alexandria, or a decided attack
against Malta, which, as it was already said, was seen by Mussolini
as strategically insignificant.
Still worse: it was not made anything in order to block
the operation "Hats", which could have been engaged by Italian fleet
in largely superior conditions.
The Supreme Command caused the Regia Marina to waste
tons and tons of precious fuel in the first months of war in order
to have the fleet to go "ahead and behind", without possibility to
have contact with the enemy.
Here it is necessary a clarification; in English Navy
the Command during an operation was held by the Commander in sea:
he was to decide, from time to time, and basing on his strategic considerations,
what to make; while for the Regia Marina it was not so; Supermarina
(the Central Naval Command on land) gave to the Commander in sea meticulous
instructions before the beginning of the operation, and the
orders were so precise to establish even route and speed; such orders
could be modified, under way, only by Supermarina. So it happened
that the fleet was sent in mission with orders, let us say, a little
Let us make an example: the enemy is spotted in New
York, we are in Miami; the orders are: leave Miami at 14.00, direction
New York, proceed at 100 mph; if within 16.00 you are not in contact
with the enemy, return to base. Has it sense? No, and it is enough
to read the bitter memories of the Italian Admirals who guided the fleet
in sea to understand it.
There were a lot of heroic actions by part of the members
of the Regia Marina, but these were often isolated actions, the work
of singles: it seems that, by part of the central power, it was considered
only the "land" point of view, and Navy was seen as a support force,
above all useful to defend the coasts and to escort convoys; which
then was what England wanted: to slowly decimate the Italian convoy
escorts and to have them to cast away the fuel supplies. Navy,
instead, would have had to assume a defensive-offensive role (ready
therefore to take advantage of every possibility against inferior
forces), in the moments of inferiority, and offensive in the moments
Instead, just after the short battle of Punta Stilo, Supermarina
adopted a very prudent way of action, so prudent that it had to call
for Supreme Command to have precise directives, because between the
crews there was a dissatisfaction which was due to the relative inactivity.
The answer document of the 16 September 1940 was signed by Marshal
Badoglio and, between the other things, it reported:
The Mediterranean English force is, for now, deployed in its bases
of Gibraltar and Alexandria. Gibraltar's fleet is composed by 3 battleships,
one carrier and some smaller warships. Alexandria's fleet is composed
by 5 battleships, two carriers and some smaller warships. It is always
possible a reinforcement from the Home Fleet, either to replace losses,
or to increase Mediterranean Fleet power. Our fleet is composed by 5
battleship, no carriers and some smaller warships. Considering numbers
it could engage a battle with Gibraltar's fleet. On the other hand,
it would be in a strong inferiority against Alexandria's fleet. It is
not possible to count on any reinforcement to our fleet, nor on a replacement
on its casualty. ...(omitted)...
Then there was displayed the Navy duties in the Mediterranean sea:
- Guarantee communications between Italy and Libya, assuring the
continuous goings of convoys between Home Country and Tripoli and Bengasi;
guarantee communications between continent and Albania.
- Intervene if our home coast should be menaced by enemy naval units
and, with submarines, obstruct actions against Libyan coasts.
- Damage with smaller units and submarines English traffic.
The document went on saying that the Command did not see any motive
to change these duties: Thinking of a naval battle as important for
its own is absurd. It did not worth of arguing. Conclusion: follow the
same way as before.
Apart from the passiveness planning of the document, it
remains the fact that the first consideration about the force ratio
in Mediterranean sea was not correct, because battleship Doria
was entering service and so Italy had 6 battleship, and Alexandria's
fleet had 3 operative battleships (the old Ramillies and Royal
Sovereign battleships were not more used after the Punta Stilo battle
and were soon withdrawn to England), moreover there is to say that not
always a fleet leaves its port with all its units, and so there would
have been some favorable opportunity. It was then absurd (I remind
you that this document was an answer to Supermarina and to the Squad's
Commanders, and so to naval strategy competent technicians) to speak
about a naval battle engaged without purpose. What is the meaning? A
weaker fleet (and faster) tries, normally, to avoid contact, at least
until there is a favorable opportunity: it is for this reason that,
in History, there were fewer naval battles than land ones. What sense
would have to search for destruction? In open sea there is no territory
So Italian politics decided to preserve warships, according
to the fleet in being theory; this term was minted by English
Admiral Lord Torrington during Anglo-French war of 1690, probably to
avoid using the term "in defense", and this theory said a
fleet sheltered in port is nevertheless enough strong to paralyze, fearing
an attack, the activity of the enemy fleet which is apparently victorious.
Theory which was more times denied, in History, by reality of facts.
In this way Regia Marina had, above all with its large
units, a duty always enough passive, which brought it to the armistice
almost intact: to politic power it was good, because it could use the
Navy as an "exchange money" to gain lighter conditions; for
Italian sailors instead this passivity was always cause of bitterness.
I say it again, I do not want to make a page of "what
if....?", and I do not say that thing could have gone on in a different
way: I am Italian and I live in Italy and I am satisfied with the Country
as it is today; simply I regret that the deeds of the fifth World Navy
(counting France defeat it was the fourth) are unknown to the most of
people, and that so many heroic deeds were darkened by a too much prudent,
in general, behavior and by sea Commanders perennially "bridled"
by superiors too often quite ignorant in naval strategy, if not even
of strategy in general.
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