Gulf of Sirte, November 1940
The Regia Marina was running a convoy of five large merchantmen to Libya in Novenber of 1940. The escort consisted of the cruiser Giovanni Delle Bande Nere and the destroyers; Antonio Pigafetta and Nicoloso Da Recco under Rear Admiral Randy. In addition there were the destroyers Freccia, Lampo, Scirocco, and Ascari under Commodore Condon.
A Royal Navy Sunderland out Malta had spotted the convoy and the Brits sent a group under Rear Admiral Clarkski and Captain (D) Preston to intercept. Clarkski, flying his flag in the cruiser Arethusa led the destroyers Tartar and Amazon while Captain (D) Preston in destroyer leader Grenville led the destroyers Jaguar and Jackal.
The visibility was about 8,000 yards and there were squalls rolling in from the north. Rear Admiral Clarkski led with Arethusa with Tartar and Amazon trailing in line astern. Preston’s division was 2,000 yards to the port of Clarkski’s column and echeloned back about 500 yards.
There was a squall between the Brits and the Italians moving at 10 knots and the Italians were pacing the squall while the Brit were steaming at 15 knots. The Brits were coming in at a forty five degree angle to the Italians on their port quarter. As the squall cleared HMS Arethusa’s front she was suddenly confronted with a view of most of the Italian convoy and its escorts at 6,000 yards.
The Arethusa opened on the Scirocco with her fore turrets firing rapidly and hit her six times, wrecking her and causing her to stagger out of line. Scirocco turned to starboard and retired from the fray for some much needed repair. Italian return fire was ineffective.
The leading Italian destroyers of their port column fired torpedoes at Arethusa’s column. The Arethusa increased her speed to twenty knots and turned sharply to starboard bringing her broadside to bear, but blocking Tartar and Amazon from firing. The Grenville was able to bring its fore guns to bear on the Lampo, hitting her once. At three thousand yards (even with her 90 degree turn) Arethusa’s rapid fire was devastating, sinking the next destroyer with nine hits. Again, Italian return fire was ineffective (horribly bad dice).
Clarkski expecting torpedoes turned Arethusa away, allowing fire from her fore turrets at Lampo only. Tartar and Amazon followed her around and the torpedoes missed. Preston turned sharply to port using the squall to get in close. The Italians now brought Bande Nere to bear on Amazon while Lampo fire at Arethusa. Bande Nere hit Amazon twice knocking out a rear gun and damaging her hull, slowing her to 30 knots while Amazon hit her once in return damaging her hull. Lampo’s fire was ineffective but Arethusa hit her twice knocking out another gun and damaging her hull. Lampo failed morale and had to withdraw.
Preston now popped out of the squall right in front of the Italian destroyers Freccia, Nicoloso Da Recco and Lampo. Grenville hit Freccia and was hit in return at point blank range. Jaguar hit Da Recco and was hit in return, again at point blank range. Jackal hit Lampo again in the hull.
Preston launched torpedoes from Grenville at the Bande Nere and hit her once causing extensive hull damage and an engine room hit. Jaguar’s torpedoes missed. Clarkski’s column reversed course together (trying to be cute) and steamed Arethusa right into two torpedo spreads that hit her once reducing her to ten knots and an engine hit. This time the Italian gunnery was a bit better and they reduced Grenville to almost DIW. Arethusa missed, but Tarter and Amazon hit Bande Nere four times sinking her.
Preston launched torpedoes from Jackal and missed while torpedoes from Condon’s destroyers sunk the Jackal. Clarkski launched torpedoes from all three of his ships as Arethusa at ten knots was left behind by Amazon leading Tartar. Arethusa, Tartar and Amazon pummeled Pigafetta for little in reply. Grenville went down.
The Italian destroyers turned away behind smoke leaving Arethusa with no target. Tarter hit a merchantmen five time setting her afire and causing the crew to abandon ship. Amazon hit another merchantman once setting her afire. Jaguar hit a destroyer and was hit in return, but managed to survive.
We resolved movement and torpedoes and called it. The Italian torpedoes fired at Tartar and Amazon missed. Amazon’s torpedoes hit a merchantman and sank her. Tartar’s torpedoes missed, Arethusa’s torpedoes hit a destroyer and sank her. Jackal’s torpedoes hit yet another merchantman and severely damaged her.
At this point the Italians had lost their cruiser, two destroyers and a merchantman sunk. Of their remaining four destroyers, two had withdrawn and the other two were damaged as were three merchantmen (two were severely damaged). The Brits had lost Grenville and Jaguar. Arethusa and Jackal were limping along (Arethusa’s firepower was intact); Amazon was at thirty knots and down to three guns. Tartar was undamaged. The Ref and the Italians called it a British victory and Clarkski was happy to take it as the Italian’s gunnery dice seemed to be improving towards the end and he was desperate to save Arethusa.
The Italians pointed to the British ability to rapid fire with their cruiser and destroyers as the deciding factor. But (IMHO) it was the incredibly hot British dice (I once rolled a two threes and a two with Arethusa’s three dice sinking a destroyer in one go) versus the Italians’ absolutely horrible gunnery dice for the first three turns of firing that caused their defeat.