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Contact in the Gulf of Sirte


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#1 W. Clark

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Posted 06 May 2018 - 07:34 PM

Gulf of Sirte

Date: 13 July 1940      Time: 0400 hours       Squalls: None             Sea Haze: None

Wind: Force 5             Speed: 20 knots         Direction: N    Sky: Overcast

Max Visibility: 24,000 yards              Dawn Reduction: 6,000 yards

British Mediterranean Fleet-Force B: Vice Admiral Tovey (2 I/C)

1st Battle Squadron (1st Div.): Rear Admiral Pridham-Whipple

BB HMS Warspite SF

BB HMS Malaya

Carriers: Rear Admiral Lyster

CV HMS Eagle            6 Swordfish & 1 Sea Gladiator

7th Cruiser Squadron: Vice Admiral Tovey

CL HMS Orion FF

CL HMS Neptune

CL HMAS Sydney

DesFlot 14

DesDiv 27                                                        DesDiv 28

DD HMS Jervis                                               DD HMS Nubian

DD HMS Janus                                               DD HMS Mohawk

DD HMS Juno                                                 DD HMS Garland

RN Heading: 270 degrees                  Speed: 15 knots

 

Regia Marina-1st Fleet: Vice Admiral Campioni

5th Battle Squadron: Vice Admiral Campioni

BB RMS Giulio Cesare FF

BB RMS Conte di Cavour

1st Cruiser Squadron: Rear Admiral Matteucci

CA RMS Zara SF

CA RMS Goriza

CA RMS Fiume

4th Cruiser Squadron: Rear Admiral Marenco

CL RMS Alberico da Barbiano SF

CL RMS Amberto di Giussano

CL RMS Luigi Cardorna

CL RMS Armando Diaz

DesRon 7                    DesRon 8                    DesRon 9                    DesRon 10

DD RMS Freccia          DD RMS Folgore         DD RMS Alfieri           DD RMS Vivaldi

DD RMS Dardo           DD RMS Fulmine        DD RMS Oriani           DD RMS da Noli

DD RMS Saetta          DD RMS Baleno          DD RMS Carducci       DD RMS Pancaldo

DD RMS Strale           DD RMS Lampo          DD RMS Gioberti       DD RMS Pigafetta

 

RM Heading: North   Speed: 20 knots         Relative Bearing: 4 points to starboard

 

Rear Admiral Pridham-Whipple looked at dawn breaking under a very overcast sky and muttered to himself something about the Itie fly boys deserving crappie weather for a change. His steward brought him a cup of tea as he gazed at Force B spread out before him. Vice Admiral Tovey’s 7th Cruiser Squadron was 3,000 yards ahead in line abreast, the HMS Orion, his flagship on the port end of the line. HMS Malaya trailed Warspite in line astern with HMS Eagle a 1,000 yards behind Malaya. The 27th and 28th Destroyer Divisions of DesFlot 14 were deployed in line astern to port and starboard respectively of the Bats as an anti-sub screen. They were still in night sailing formation at night time spacing. Pridham-Whipple expected Tovey to do something about that shortly.

Signal flags broke out from Orion’s masthead, but they were not directions for a daylight sailing formation. Instead they signaled enemy in sight, bearing 205 degrees, 2 point course change to starboard and to increase speed to 18 knots.

Pridham-Whipple ordered the signal acknowledged and signaled HMS Eagle to take station to starboard escorted by the 28th DesDiv for now.

At that moment, Tovey was ordering a squadron speed increase to 30 knots. He would run the contact down and see what kind of a mess he had steered himself into. He was very glad to have the two best dreadnaughts in the Mediterranean Fleet backing him up. He might not have Renown, but who wanted repair and refit anyway; No, he would seek acclaim instead.

 

Vice Admiral Campioni stared ahead to the north. He had searched all day and all night in vain for a convoy from Alexandria bound for Malta. He had received no ariel reconnaissance reports at all. He was not sure if the Regia Aeronautica was blind or had not even bothered to take off; he uncharitably suspected the later. No; he was convinced the convoy had cut behind him somehow and had reversed course to see if he could bump into it on the way back Taranto. The 1st Fleet was still in its night sailing formation with the DesRon 7 leading, followed by the 5th Battle Squadron, 1st and 4th Cruiser Divisions and the 8th, 9th and 14th DesRons. He would have to something about that, but wait. DesRon 7 was signaling enemy in sight, bearing 45 degrees. He signaled DesRon 7 to investigate and ordered a speed increase to 25 knots.

 

Tovey could just make out what appeared to be 4 single funneled destroyers. Tovey knew where his 3 J class destroyers were; nope these had to be Italian. Tovey gave a sigh of satisfaction. He had asked Sir John (Cunningham) what his instructions were and received the typical Cunningham reply of; “Go forth and sink ships”. Well, he intended to do just that.

 

DesRon 7 now signaled; “Have identified 3 light cruisers. 2 are single stack and 1 is a twin stack, believe them to be British. Campioni snapped, “Well”. At his flag lieutenant, who was rapidly thumbing through his recognition book, exclaimed; “Leander class for the single funnels and probably an Apollo class for the two stacker”. DesRon 7 signaled that the cruisers had turned to starboard as they opened their broadsides towards DesRon 7.

 

Orion, Neptune and Sydney all opened fire at 18,000 yards, but the destroyers were being evasive and they failed to straddle at first. Tovey now began a series of 2 point turns to port with the intent to keep the destroyers in his broadside arcs while closing the range.  Tovey ordered spotters up from his cruisers and his battleships.

 

At the same time Campioni had DesRon 7 turn a bit way from Tovey’s cruisers while continuing evasive action to draw the cruisers closer to Campioni’s battleships. Camioni also ordered spotters up from his battleships and cruisers.

 

Orion, Neptune and Sydney fired on Freccia, Dardo and Saetta respectively. The combination of spotters and not being engaged improved the cruisers gunnery situation and they opened with rapid fire. Orion and Sydney missed, but Neptune hit Dardo three times. Dardo lost both her gun mounts and suffered hull damage slowing her to 29 knots. Dardo staggered under the impact of Neptune’s gunnery, but continued bravely in line (she made her morale).

 

Campioni signaled DesRon 7 to cover itself with smoke while he angled towards the cruisers. Campioni ordered a speed increase to 27 knots.

 

0418 hours; up to this point the spotters of both sides had kept their distance because of the extremely low ceiling to avoid being shot at point blank range.  The smoke now blinded both sides’ ships and they then used their spotters to see (over the smoke as it were). The fly boys of both sides approached the smoke screen that DesRon 7 was laying enough to see beyond.

Now for the first time both sides knew what they were faced with. Tovey, relying on his Queen Elizabeth class battleships pressed on; although he reigned his cruisers in a bit. Campioni ordered his cruisers to full speed and sent them ahead while he turned his bats to port to open up their broadside arcs as DesRon 7 withdrew under smoke towards him at 29 knots. His intent was to try and engage the British cruisers while remaining outside of the British battleships’ visibility.

 

Over the next hour, the Regia Marina danced around trying to stay beyond the British battleships’ visibility while trying to close enough to pummel the British cruisers. But Tovey due to his spotter planes and smoke when needed was able to stay out of trouble while he tried to get Warspite in range. At 0500 hours the visibility opened up to 24,000 yards, but the Italians made smoke as needed to keep Warspite blinded. Tovey having tired of chasing a faster force launched an air strike at the Italian battleships with 5 flights of Swordfish torpedo bombers. The Swordfish targeted Giulio Cesare, whose AA fire coupled with that of Conte di Cavour destroyed 1 Swordfish and damaged another. The Giulio Cesare barely evaded a torpedo, but was not hit never the less.

 

Eventually, Campioni realized that he was not going to be able to get the fight that he wanted and used his speed advantage to break contact.



#2 simanton

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Posted 06 May 2018 - 10:37 PM

Nice scenario, Bill!  Hope it was fun!  Niggling nit pick, the Cavours couldn't carry spotters, but if a couple of the Italian cruisers got their second spotter up that problem would go away.  Keep the battles coming!

 

John



#3 W. Clark

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Posted 09 May 2018 - 05:19 AM

Whoops, my bad. I don't think spotter a/c from another ship should be able to correct fall of shot, but I may very well be wrong there.






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