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Italy entered in war the 10 June 1940; the war was decided by Mussolini that, however, knew of the present unpreparedness to the conflict in the Italian Armed Forces. Also Hitler knew it, because already in the May of 1939 he had been informed of this from a memorial of the Italian government. In this page it is spoken about the History in Mediterranean Sea theater; the History of Italian surface units deployed in other theaters is in this page.

According to the Steel Pact, of May, 21, 1939, was convened that Italy would not have been ready to a participation in war before 1942;

The Italian king review the crew of BB Cavour

After the outbreak of the second world war, Mussolini became gradually more and more trusting in the Italian ability to get ready to the conflict, establishing, at first, the date of the participation to the half of 1941 and then, as arrived news of the German successes, always more anticipating, in arbitrary way, this date.

Tragically, at the moment of the entrance in war, with France by now on the hem of collapse, nothing was made in order to supply the Italian forces presents in Libya, the only land frontier in contact with English. Marshal Badoglio, chief of general staff of the Armed Forces, thought that little surface units in collaboration with the submarines would have been enough. The problem was that the Italian army in Libya amounted to 236000 soldiers that had need of all: provisions, tanks, weapons, ammunitions. With the space on board of the small units it could be made very little: but it was tried.

The 25 June of 1940 left the first small convoy, two motor-ships that sailed nearly empty: only 437 soldiers and 2775 tons of supplies, one drop in the sea. Some day after, the 27 June, leave another convoy, composed by three destroyers (Espero, Ostro and Zeffiro) with on board an unit of antiaircraft artillery, but this time the convoy was intercepted from English and attacked: the Espero sank, while the others two unit succeeded to escape.

Obviously it could not more be sent little units to slaughter, without no escort: consequently the 7 July 1940 great part of the Italian fleet takes the sea in order to escort a convoy of five steamboats directed to Bengasi. It seems an exaggerated deployment of forces, but the facts of the Espero had made the Italian Command prudent. Also the English fleet is in sea, the battle is unavoidable: it is the first sea battle between battleships in the Mediterranean and it will pass to History as the battle of Punta Stilo.

The battle, for itself not conclusive, put to knot the insufficient integration between Italian sea and air units, and, beyond that, the inefficiency of the Italian aircraft bombs, weighting only 250 Kg, against naval units (English sailors, after the first experiences, called them "cow shits").

Leaving to a side some smaller episode, the first months of war saw a substantial inactivity of the Italian naval forces, intentional by the orders from the High Command and the government: they were expecting the invasion of England and its defeat; to the contrary, in Navy headquarters there was much displeasing (they used the nickname of "Navy of non-intervention"), because it was wanted to search for a greater battle with English Navy, that, in that time, was numerically inferior.

The indolence of the Italian High Command made that English succeeded to carry out, the 29 August 1940, an operation, called "Hats", that previewed to send reinforces to the island of Malta and transfer some major surface units to the fleet of Alexandria. Now the force ratio was turned over.

The dawn of 28 October 1940 the Italian troops begin the invasion of Greece. This action was a Mussolini's idea, and was reported only later to Hitler: it was a strategically madness, and English happily offered themselves to help Greece, obtaining, in doing so, the base of Suda, in Crete, and, beyond that, precious airports on the same island.

Great part of the Italian naval efforts was centered, in this period, on the transport of men and supplies between the Italian ports and Albania; England found this very useful, because it could lead the operation "Judgment", another colossal operation of supplying of Malta, without having to fear Italian warships. Inside of this operation there was an action of the English carrier Illustrious from which took off torpedo bombers that attacked the port of Taranto, in the evening of 11 November 1940; this port was unprepared to face airplane attacks, so the English almost sank the BB Cavour and they seriously damaged the battleships Littorio and Duilio.

The aerial attack on Taranto had an enormous world-wide resonance (it seems that the Japanese were inspired by this in planning the attack to Pearl Harbor), much more for, in that moment, the "personal" campaign of Mussolini in Greece was going badly, so much that the Greeks were passing to the offensive.

Seen the situation of weakness in which it poured Italy, England thought about make another mission of supplying, called "Collar". The morning of 25 November 1940 the Italian spies in Gibraltar, (they were very active during the whole of the war), signaled to Supermarina (Navy headquarters) the sight of the convoy; this time the situation and the moral of the crews demanded that something was to made: so had place the battle of Capo Teulada.

Gibraltar; this postcard was received by my mother's aunt in March, 5, 1942. Gibraltar, in a propagandistic postcard of the time made for soldiers of the Regio Esercito (Italian Army).

This battle, ended more or less in a draw, had some "political" undergoing in the two Navy headquarters; admiral Somerville, who commanded the English fleet at Capo Teulada, was inquired for not having shown a sufficient energy in front of the enemy; he was then acquitted by this inquiry, but his career was damaged; on Italian part admiral Cavagnari, who was the Navy commander in chief, was fired by Mussolini, who had, a little later, fired Badoglio too for the going of the war in Greece. Admiral Riccardi took the place of Cavagnari.

Mussolini (left) and Adm. Cavagnari (right)

Riccardi's duty was certainly not easy, also because, in that days, arrived from Greece front very bad news: Mussolini, the 8 December 1940 thought to ask the German mediation to an armistice with Greeks; he however asked a strong military help to Germany. The 9 December it came another terrible news: English troops, commanded by general Wavell, were attacking near Sidi el Barrani, in north Africa: in few days the Italian army, commanded by general Graziani, was almost destroyed. Every day Italy calls out for an help by Germany.

The month of December of 1940 was one of the happiest for the English Mediterranean fleet: admiral Cunningham, commander of the fleet based in Alexandria, left the port the 16 with all of his warships and went to bombard Rhodes, then went to Suda to refuel, left the port and entered in the low Adriatic sea, going to bombard the port of Valona, in Albania; the day 20 entered, between soldiers and civilians acclaims, in the port of La Valletta, in Malta; then, finally, re-entered to Alexandria for Christmas.

It seemed the English campaign was going for the better, January, the 3, fell Bardia, Italian fortress in Libya, under the combined attack of English Army and Navy: the way for Tobruk is open to the English. The moral of Italian commands, in these days, is underground, there was a great lack of initiative, but, here it was, the hoped help arrived: German X Fliger Corps, three hundred aircraft, under general Geisler command, arrived in Sicilian airports, where it operated in combination with Italian Air Force: main objective Malta.

Malta was guilty left apart by Italian commands, under strictly orders of Mussolini, who had always think about Malta as an island of scarce strategic importance for its nearness to Sicily. Now Malta had to be neutralized: from its bases left submarines and aircraft that attacked Italian ports and shipments. Between the 10 January and the 22 May, 2188 German and 975 Italian aircraft attacked the island: it was the beginning of a black period for Malta.

In the night between 9 and 10 January 1941 starts the English operation called "Excess", which was to escort steamboats going to Greece, with the same escort pattern which was so positive for other operations; this time the English did a major mistake: they did not inform the Navy command that Sicily was filling by Italian and German aircraft, and, above all, that these aircraft were the most dangerous for ships: torpedo aircraft and dive bombers; so, at 12.30 of the 10 January, the English fleet was attacked by Italian torpedo bombers, that made no damages but the fighter escort of the fleet had to go to sea level; the attack is well planned, at this very moment, without the nuisance of the English fighters, dropping by the sky, arrived the notorious German dive bombers, the Stukas: in few minutes the carrier Illustrious is aflame, and the battleship Warspite, flagship of the English, is slightly damaged. The Illustrious, with the rest of the fleet, succeeded to reach Malta, where it was newly attacked some times, between 11 and 19 January; during one of these attacks was sunk the English cruiser Southampton. The carrier, that was unable to combat, succeed however to take the sea by the 23 January and to go to Alexandria, port from where it left for the American shipyards of Norfolk.

In few days the force ratio was turned radically over: the English fleet based in Alexandria was without carriers, and it would be without till March; without air superiority the combat was under the same conditions.

Meanwhile, in Africa, the Italian retreat went on; the 22 January 1941 felt Tobruk, the collapse was near, but Hitler decided to send in that war theater the force called Afrika Corps, under general Rommel command. The transport of German soldiers and tanks to Tripoli was made by the Regia Marina which, without the aerial attack menace, had not any loss.

The 9 February 1941, at 8.14 a.m., the English fleet based in Gibraltar, commanded by Somerville, bombarded Genoa port. This action was made because the English wanted to show to the neutral Spain (they feared Franco could ally with the Axis) that no port was sure from them, and moreover they wanted to lower the Italian morale. Genoa bombardment was a true "joke": Italian fleet was at sea, but, for a lot of incredible delays and a lot of mistakes in air recognition (even a group of seven French cargo ships was mistaken with the English fleet), it did not succeed to intercept the English one. At the moment a group of Regia Marina units was at sea, and it was far larger than English one, so, in case of contact, it could have "punish" very hard the enemy units. After this action will follow a set of excuses by the Italian headquarters, either of Air Force and Navy, and some lies to justify the mistakes (they speak about bad weather conditions, while that day the sea was calm and there was a very good visibility), until all the reports were filed, drawing a veil over that day's events.

The 26 March 1941 a large part of Italian fleet left Italian ports; objective of the mission was to go in Aegean sea for intercept English convoys to and from Greece in expectation of the German invasion of Greece. The mission had to have, theoretically, an air cover, but in fact this was not always present; moreover, thanks to the English decoding service, Cunningham knew of the mission. So the Italian fleet went towards one of the more tragical page of its history: first the battle of Gaudo and, in the following night, the truly tragedy of Matapan. Luckily English made some mistakes too, losing the opportunity to completely destroy the Italian fleet on sea.

The 31 March 1941, after a meeting with Regia Marina admirals, Mussolini had to admit that the Matapan defeat was due to the lack of air cover; so Mussolini ordered to begin the construction of the carrier Aquila (which was never finished) and said that, from that moment on, Regia Marina could have to operate only in waters covered by the fighters' range. The battle of Matapan brought finally the Navy High Command at the conclusions that English had the radar, they won because they used combined sea and air units, and they knew how to fight by night.

For a little time Regia Marina was idle, to repair damages, with the exception of submarines and assault crafts (which, besides, in these very days sunk cruisers York and Bonaventure). But the war balance returned, in April, to be inclined towards Axis' part: in North Africa, general Rommel repeatedly defeated general Wavell's forces, in Greece and in Yugoslavia began the German invasion that ended with their conquest by the month's end.

Another hard blow for the English was in May, when, the 20, German forces, under command of general Student, baled out on Crete ending its conquest the first of June. Cunningham's fleet (that based in Alexandria), in those days, went to Crete's sea, to help English troops, facing overwhelming Axis' air superiority.

Bomber is launching torpedo   An Italian torpedo bomber is attacking an English formation.

English painfully discovered too what was to sail without an adequate air cover; cruisers Gloucester, Fiji, Calcutta and destroyers Greyhound, Kelly, Imperial and Hereward were sunk and moreover battleships Warspite, Valiant and Barham, carrier Formidable, and cruisers Najad, Carlisle, Dido and Orion were damaged. It was a very hard blow that turned over again the force ratio.

Also if no greater Italian units were present on Crete's sea, and until autumn there was no major happenings, this is not meaning that Regia Marina was idle: for all the duration of the war Italian units escorted convoys to and fro Libya, route that saw a multitude of little but often heroic, from both parts, combats between Italian and English units.

Germans had to diminish their pressure against English too, because the 22 June 1941 Hitler attacked Soviet Union, retreating, in doing so, troops and crafts by Mediterranean war theater.

Domenica del Corriere's cover   The 21 September, Italian "pigs" (assault crafts) entered in Gibraltar's port and sunk two tanker, a 6000 tons cargo ship with ammunition load and damaged another one. At the side you can see the cover of an Italian magazine of the time, the issue of 28 September, dedicated to the raid.

In the month of October 1941 arrived in Malta strong reinforcements, also naval, between them some new and speedy units, two light cruisers and two destroyers, called "K" force, which hardly stroke Italian cargo ships and their escorts on the Libya route.

In the month of December, K force was nearly destroyed in the period following the first Sirte battle; this month was particularly favorable for Regia Marina, that saw the success of the attack to Alexandria port, by the commandos of the Xth M.A.S. flotilla.

We are now at the beginning of 1942; Malta is newly under an heavily air attack; Axis Commands had decided that the island is a danger for Libya routes, if left undisturbed: the air-sea island blockade was, in the first six months of the year, almost complete. There were some battles, the most famous of which was called the second Sirte battle.

The Italian High Command finally had decided itself to plan the invasion of Malta, that was coded "C 3"; in order to carry out an operation of such kind, with disembarkation of troops and launch of paratroopers, the island had to be neutralized by air attacks; they were the blackest days for English who saw their air forces based in Malta nearly destroyed, until the pressure on the island fainted. There had happened two things: Russia had demanded an increase of the forces engaged in the Mediterranean sea in order to alleviate the pressure on its front, that, however, absorbed men and crafts to the Axis, and in the second place it was begun to feel the economic and military weight of the United States, that, after having contained in the first months of 1942 the Japanese offensive, could now permit to send in Europe a part of its gigantic military apparatus.

At the end of May 1942 Rommel begins his advance that from Libya carried him to El Alamein. The Ally headquarters become aware that the successes obtained by Afrika Corps were due to the Italian mercantile traffic that, not more contrasted, had allowed Germans to reconstruct supplies of fuel, weapons and ammunitions. This was happened because Malta, under besiege, was not more able to launch submarines, ships and airplanes in order to attack the Italian convoys. Seen the loosened pressure on the island (the majority of the German airplanes had moved in Libya and on the east front), English thought about supply the island with a massive operation that previewed the simultaneous shipment of two convoys, one from Gibraltar and the other, simultaneous, from Alexandria, called, respectively, "Harpoon" and "Vigorous". The shipment of these convoys carried to the battle passed to history by the name of half June battle.

It is, by now, the turning-point: Rommel is blocked to El Alamein and the Germans are trying the last offensives in Russia, until arriving to Stalingrad; the Americans have resumed themselves after the first months of war and are beginning to use their enormous war and economic potential. Churchill is convinced that the Mediterranean sea is enormously important from the strategic-political point of view and he strengthens the VIIIth Army, commanded by general Montgomery, in Egypt in order to contain Rommel, and agrees with the Americans the operation "Torch" that planned the disembarkation in Morocco and in Algeria, so to conquer the North Africa by taking the forces of the Axis between two fires; after it, it would be the turn of Italy.

To Regia Marina, in waiting that the Ally plans would became reality, remained the usual tasks: to escort the convoys on the Libyan route, to try to contrast the renewed efficiency of Malta, and to try to intercept the ally convoys. It is in this context that was intercepted a big convoy, battle that was called battle of half August.

The hard opposition to the passage of this convoy was the last great test of force of the Axis in the Mediterranean; after one strongly loss of aircraft on the sky of Malta, 20 October 1942, the offensive against the island was definitively suspended: endured uninterruptedly 28 months, it was ended with the victory of the Allies.

23 October 1942 begins the battle of El Alamein, that, seen the difference in crafts and supplies, ended with Axis defeat; in 13 May 1943 stops the last resistance of the Axis in Africa; approximately 200000 Italian soldiers fall captive. In this period the activity of the Regia Marina was concentrated on the Libyan route, that was nicknamed by the crews "the Death route", for the enormous number of losses.

Between the 10 June 1940 and the 13 May 1943 the Italian Navy lost on the Libyan route approximately a million tons of cargo ships, tens of warships along with their crews and 22735 Italian soldiers.

The 10 July 1943 begins the operation "Husky": the eighth Army, guided by generals Patton and Montgomery, disembarks in Sicily; they are in total 181000 men, escorted by 2770 ships and 4000 airplanes.

The 25 July 1943 Mussolini was jailed; Badoglio becomes chief of the Italian government.

The 17 August 1943 ends the evacuation of the Sicily, that remains completely in Allied hands.

The 3 September 1943 was signed, in secret, the armistice between Italy and the Allies; it was given public announcement the 8 September 1943.

After the armistice a part of the Italian Navy was employed in action to flank the Allies. At the end of the war a part of the remained ships was placed in disarmament, a part was given to foreign countries as compensation for war damages, and to Italy remained little, almost nothing.

Regia Marina did not exist any more.

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