Action of 27 February 1941
|Action of 27 February 1941|
|Part of World War II|
Italian ship Ramb I sinking, February 1941
|Commanders and leaders|
|1 cruiser||1 auxiliary cruiser|
|Casualties and losses|
|none||One auxiliary cruiser sunk,
The Action of 27 February 1941 was a single ship action between a New Zealand cruiser and an Italian auxiliary cruiser. It began when HMNZS Leander ordered a flagless freighter to stop for an inspection. Instead of complying, the freighter, the Ramb I, raised the Italian colours and engaged the cruiser in a short battle. The action ended with Leander sinking Ramb I.
As the Allied forces closed on Massawa during the East African Campaign, the Italian Red Sea Flotilla was ordered to break out of the harbour and run for friendly ports. One group of Italian vessels consisting of the colonial ship Eritrea and the auxiliary cruisers Ramb I and Ramb II attempted to reach Japan and operate as commerce raiders. The Italian squadron managed to break the British blockade on 20 February and scattered into the Indian Ocean. Ramb I was heading for the Dutch East Indies when on 27 February she was challenged by the New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Leander off the Maldives.
Leander was the leader of her class of cruisers, armed with eight 6 in (150 mm) guns, ten 4 in (100 mm) guns, twelve .50 in (12.7 mm) Vickers machine guns in quadruple mounts, and eight 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes. Leander also had armour plating over her turrets, deck and magazines, as well as a top speed of 32.5 kn (60.2 km/h; 37.4 mph). Ramb I—as an auxiliary cruiser—was not a purpose-built warship, and therefore lacked armour protection. Her armament consisted of two 120 mm (4.7 in) guns and eight 13.2 mm (0.52 in) anti-aircraft machine guns. She was also slower than Leander, with a top speed of only 18.5 kn (34.3 km/h; 21.3 mph).
Acting on reports of commerce raiders in the area, Leander was sent to patrol the area of the Indian Ocean to the south and slightly west of India. On 27 February, Leander intercepted Ramb I off the Maldive Islands and challenged her. Ramb I attempted to bluff Leander with misleading signals but, although Ramb I was not flying Italian colours, Leander ordered her to stop. The Italian flag was raised and Ramb I simultaneously opened fire from 3,000 yd (2,700 m), splinters from her first salvo hitting Leander. Leander replied with five salvoes within the next minute, leaving Ramb I seriously damaged and on fire. She struck her colours and Leander ceased firing.
Ramb I had been badly damaged and, as Leander closed, the order to abandon ship was given. Ramb I was destroyed by an explosion after the majority of the crew had abandoned her. 113 men, including her captain, were rescued by Leander, of whom one later died from burns. The survivors of Ramb I were disembarked at Addu Atoll and subsequently transported to prisoner of war camps in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), by the tanker Pearleaf.