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Battle of Cape Teulada

by Cristiano D'Adamo

The British battleships had five 381mm guns more than the Italians who, on the other hand, could rely on the Cesare's 320mm. The Italian cruisers, of which most were on the “Washington”, or “heavy” ," outgunned the British who could, on the other hand, rely on the aircraft of the Ark Royal. In all, the two fleets were balanced and the only possible tilting factor, the Regia Aeronautica, never materialized.

The Italians had a ballistic advantage; their guns could be used up to 30,000 meters (30 km or slightly less than 18 miles ) while the British ones were limited to 24-26,000 meters (24 km or 15 miles. The weight of the largest projectile was similar, 880 Kg for the Italians and 800 Kg for the British. It should be noted that, as reported by Iachino, the British cruisers did not jointly concentrate fire on a single target. According to Sommerville, this was caused by lack of joint training amongst the various units.

The British had the incredible advantage of the Ark Royal. Naturally, knowing the results of the engagement, one might wonder about the true value of this card, but at the time it was enormous. The Italians had not quite recovered from Taranto where a few old biplanes had crippled their fleet. The same planes, though from a different and less trained squadron, were once again in the sky. The Italians could have counteracted using the Regia Aeronautica, although once again the only result were many "holes" in the water.

The chessboard was ready and Campioni made a critical decision; he would not engage. Before leaving Naples he had received precise orders to this effect. He was only authorized to seek battle if conditions were particularly favorable. The two battleships assigned to his battle group were the only available for service; the risk was too high. At 12:07 Campioni ordered the cruisers to change route and converge towards the battleships. The order was too late for Adm. Iachino, who was already maneuvering to engage the enemy. During this phase, while the British commander at sea was free to organize his own forces, Campioni was exchanging radio messages with Rome asking for directions. The organizational difference between the two navies was striking.

This exchange of communications would become a fertile ground for later interpretations. Some historians, among them the much respected Adm. Fioravanzo, cited the communications as a proof of Supermarina’s intent to engage the enemy. As Francesco Mattesini writes, “while Rome thought that Campioni was trying to avoid combat, Iachino was already exchanging salvos.”

Ballistic Contact

At 12:22, Adm. Matteucci aboard the cruiser Fiume opened fire against the enemy fleet. Soon after, all the cruisers of the 2nd Squadron opened fire very rapidly using explosive projectiles. According to Italian sources, fire was opened at about 23,500 meters and then the distance between the two formations decreased to 22,000 and , later on, to 14,000.

The Pola and Fiume aimed principally at the heavy Cruiser Berwick. This ship, the Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle aimed at the cruisers of the 3rd Division, while the Southampton focused on the ones of the 1st division. At 12.24 the Renown entered the frenzy by opening fire against the Trento at a distance of about 23,800 meters; six salvos completely engulfed the Italian cruiser, which, unscathed, made smoke and evaded. It should be noted that due to miscommunication, the Trento (and not the Trieste) was leading the formation, speed was 25 knots and part of the escort was delayed due to a temporary failure aboard the destroyer Lanciere.

The Ramillies opened fire at 12:26, but soon after she was out of range. The Renown was the only heavy gun platform left and targeted mostly the Bolzano. At 12:30 Iachino received orders not to engage! He commanded speed increase to 30 knots while the two battleships would get closer. These five minutes were the most dangerous for the Italian forces; British salvos were getting dangerously close and the evading maneuver clearly exposed them. One more time, the difference between Italian and British gunnery was clearly demonstrated; Italian telemetry was far superior, but Italian salvos were dispersed. British salvos were beautifully grouped, but often "short".

During this exchange the Lanciere was hit several times. The ship was literally devastated by several perfect hits but was able to fire up the boiler and continue moving; later it would be towed back to base. The other destroyers laid a smoke screen, which forced the attacking ship (Manchester) to change target pointing her guns at the Zaras.

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