Battle of the Duisburg Convoy

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Battle of the Duisburg Convoy
Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of World War II
Rn fulmine.JPG
Italian destroyer Fulmine, sunk in the battle
Date November 8–9, 1941
Location Mediterranean Sea, southwest of Calabria
Result British victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  Italy
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Captain W. G. Agnew Kingdom of Italy Captain Ugo Bisciani
Strength
2 light cruisers
2 destroyers
2 heavy cruisers
10 destroyers
7 merchant ships
Casualties and losses
none 1 destroyer sunk
7 merchant ships sunk

The Battle of the Duisburg Convoy was fought on the night of 8–9 November 1941 between an Italian convoy sailing to Libya with supplies for the Italian Army, civilian authorities in Libya, and the Afrika Corps and a British Naval squadron which intercepted it. The convoy was named "Beta" by the Italian naval authorities, but is now often referred to as "Duisburg Convoy" after the German steamer Duisburg which was the largest ship in the convoy. The Royal Navy's Force K annihilated the Convoy sinking all the merchant ships and the destroyer Fulmine with no loss and almost no damage (Lively suffered some splinter damage). The Maestrale class destroyer Libeccio was sunk the next day by British submarine HMS Upholder while picking up survivors.

Background[edit]

The Axis forces engaged in the war against the British in North Africa were supplied across the Mediterranean. The besieged island of Malta was a key British base in the Mediterranean from where the British were able to interdict Axis supplies to Libya. Allied aircraft and ships were sinking up to 60% of Axis shipping.

Italian forces[edit]

The convoy included two German vessels, SS Duisburg (7,889 t) and SS San Marco (3,113 t) and three Italian—the MV Maria (6,339 t), SS Sagitta (5,153 t) and MV Rina Corrado (5,180 t). Between them, these cargo vessels were carrying 389 vehicles, 34,473 tons of munitions, fuel in barrels, and their associated crew and troops for the Italian and German forces in Libya. Carrying 17,281 tons of fuel, including gasoline for German aircraft, were the Conte di Misurata (7,599 t) and Minatitlan (5,014 t).[1]

The convoy was protected by a close escort and a distant escort.

Close Escort under command of Captain Ugo Bisciani.[2]
Distant Escort under command of Rear Admiral Bruno Bronovesi.[2]

British forces[edit]

Force K consisted of two light cruisers with six 6-inch guns each and two destroyers with eight 4-inch guns each. Both cruisers and destroyers carried 21-inch torpedoes.

Force K under command of Captain W.G. Agnew

Battle[edit]

The British discovered through "Ultra" intelligence that the Axis were about to send a large convoy to Libya. The presence of the convoy was confirmed by a Martin Maryland on air reconnaissance from Malta (piloted by Adrian Warburton); this camouflaged the use of Ultra which came from reading German secret messages. Force K left Malta to intercept the convoy.[2]

At the same time, 12 Blenheim bombers from Malta were dispatched over Cape Spartivento to attack a smaller convoy of two merchantmen escorted by an Italian destroyer. One of the freighters was set ablaze, but the British lost two bombers to the escorts.[3]

The British navy had the advantage of radar which the Italians lacked. Having located the main convoy they took up position with the moon silhouetting the convoy. The British gunnery was directed by radar and they fired from no more than 5,500 yards.

Grecale was hit by Aurora's first three salvos and was left dead in the water, with a fire aboard. The British destroyers opened fire on the convoy itself. Aurora then fired on Maestrale, which had already been hit by Penelope. Once the radio masts had been shot away, Captain Bisciani lost much of his ability to direct the convoy escort. Fulmine attacked the British force but was hit by both Lance and Penelope and as a result capsized and sank.[2]

The distant covering force, despite being only nine nautical miles away, did not interfere constructively due to confusion, firing some rounds ineffectively in the dark. Although they circled the convoy it coincided with the British movements such that the convoy remained between them. In the course of the battle the British closed with the convoy which took no evasive action and finished them off with guns and torpedoes.

The convoy escort destroyers attempted to engage the British force while using smoke to cover themselves but caused no particular damage.

The British retired to Malta at high speed with ineffective pursuit by the covering force.

All told, Force K sank some 39,800 tons of Axis shipping.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ USMM pp. 49-50
  2. ^ a b c d O'Hara, Vincent (2011). Spencer C Tucker, ed. World War II at Sea: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 100–102. ISBN 978-1-59884-457-3. Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  3. ^ Shores, Cull and Malizia, p. 325

References[edit]

  • J Green and A Massignani The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940–1943, Chatham Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1-86176-057-4.
  • Shores, Cull and Malizia: Malta: The Hurricane Years: 1940–41. Grub Street, London. ISBN 0-948817-06-2.
  • USMM La Difesa del Traffico con L’Africa Settentrionale dal 1 ottobre 1941 al 30 settembre 1942.
  • USMM La Bataglia degli Convoy
  • The Duisburg (Beta) Convoy Battle

Coordinates: 37°08′N 18°09′E / 37.133°N 18.150°E / 37.133; 18.150