Operation Abstention

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Operation Abstention
Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of World War II
RM-Crispi in the Aegean Sea.jpg
Italian destroyer Crispi
Date 25–28 February 1941
Location Island of Kastelorizo, eastern Aegean Sea
Result Italian victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom
 Australia
Italy Italy
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Andrew Cunningham
United Kingdom E. de F. Renouf
United Kingdom H. J. Egerton
Italy Luigi Biancheri
Italy Francesco Mimbelli
Strength
1 light cruiser
1 anti-aircraft cruiser
7 destroyers
1 gunboat
1 submarine
1 armed yacht
200 commandos
200 soldiers and marines
2 destroyers
2 torpedo boats
2 MAS boats
SM.79 bombers
SM.81 bombers
280 soldiers
88 marines
Casualties and losses
5 killed
10 wounded
20 captured or interned
7 missing[1]
1 gunboat damaged
14 killed
12 captured[2]

Operation Abstention was a code name given to the British invasion of the Italian island of Kastelorizo, off Greece, during the Second World War, in late February 1941. The goal was to establish a base to challenge the Italian naval and air supremacy on the Greek Dodecanese islands.[3]

Background[edit]

After the attack on Taranto and the success of Operation Compass, an offensive in Cyrenaica, Libya from December 1940 – February 1941, the British conducted operations to neutralize Italian forces in the Dodecanese. Admiral Andrew Cunningham, the commander of the Mediterranean Fleet planned an occupation of the tiny Greek island of Kastelorizo, the easternmost of the chain just off the Turkish coast. The Island was some 80 mi (70 nmi; 130 km) from Rhodes and it was intended to establish a motor torpedo boat base.[4] The operation was intended as a first step towards the control of the Aegean Sea.[5][6] Italian naval and air forces in the area, were still capable of carrying out sporadic hit-and-run attacks on Allied shipping between Egypt and Greece.[7]

Battle[edit]

Landing[edit]

Map of the South-eastern Aegean Sea

About 200 commandos, transported by the destroyers HMS Decoy and Hereward and to land in the harbour, a 24-man detachment of Royal Marines on the gunboat HMS Ladybird, sailed from Suda Bay on 24 February. The plan was to establish a beachhead in the island, before the arrival 24-hours later of a Sherwood Foresters company to consolidate the British position.[8] The second force was to sail from Cyprus on board the armed yacht HMS Rosaura, escorted by the light cruisers HMAS Perth and HMS Bonaventure. Before dawn, the commandos landed and the Royal Marines occupied the port, after the submarine HMS Parthian had made a reconnaissance of the coast.[9]

The Italian presence at Kastelorizo consisted of a small and miscellaneous unit of soldiers and agents of the Guardia di Finanza in charge of a wireless station.[10] The British took the garrison by surprise, seized the radio outpost and took twelve prisoners but the Italians managed to send a message to Rhodes, the main Italian air and naval base in the Dodecanese. A few hours later, aircraft of the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) raided the harbour castle and the main hills of the small island, where the commandos were entrenched. Ladybird was struck by a bomb and three seamen wounded; already short of fuel, Ladybird was forced to re-embark the Royal Marines party and make for Haifa, which cut the radio link of the commandos with Alexandria.[11] After communications breakdowns and mishaps, the follow-up force from Cyprus was diverted to Alexandria.[12]

Italian landing[edit]

The Regia Marina (Royal Italian Navy) attack began at sunrise on 27 February, when torpedo boats Lupo and Lince landed about 240 soldiers north of the port and used their 3.9 in (99 mm) guns, to bombard British positions at the docks and the Governor's palace, killing three and wounding seven commandos.[13][14] The captain of Hereward was warned by the commandos and joined Decoy, about 40 mi (35 nmi; 64 km) off the coast. The commander ordered the warships to disrupt the Italian landings but the destroyers found no Italian ships. Hereward reported that the Italian surface action threatened the landing of the main British force embarked on Rosaura, which had already been compromised by the air attacks on the harbour. The landing was postponed and rearranged, to be carried out by the destroyers Decoy and Hero, after embarking the Sherwood Foresters company from Rosaura. The ships were ordered to Alexandria to reorganise; Admiral Renouf fell ill and was replaced by Captain Egerton, commander of HMS Bonaventure, which complicated matters.[15]

High seas forced the Italian Navy to suspend the landings until the morning of the 28 February, as the Italian forces already ashore, harassed the exhausted and isolated British commandos, who were equipped only for a 24-hour operation.[16][17] The Italian squadron returned some hours later, reinforced with two destroyers from Leros, Crispi and Sella and two MAS motor-launches, unloading the remainder of the land contingent and resuming bombardments, which made the Commandos' position untenable. When more British forces from Alexandria arrived on 28 February, the Company Commander, Major Cooper, after discussion with the other commanders, concluded that lack naval and air support, made withdrawal inevitable and the bulk of the landing party, isolated on a small plateau in the east end of Kastelorizo was re-embarked.[18] Italian troops surrounded and eventually captured a number of commandos who had been left behind. While covering the withdrawal, HMS Jaguar was attacked by Crispi, which fired two torpedoes. The torpedoes missed and Jaguar opened fire with its 4.7 in (120 mm) guns but a jammed searchlight made the gunfire ineffective and the British force sailed back to Alexandria.[19] The destroyers HMS Nubian, Hasty and Jaguar, made a sweep between Rhodes and Kastelorizo but failed to intercept the Italian warships as they returned to base.[20]

Aftermath[edit]

Analysis[edit]

The operation was described by Admiral Cunningham as "a rotten business and reflected little credit to everyone".[21] A Board of Inquiry found that Hereward‍ '​s commander made a misjudgement by rejoining Decoy, instead of engaging the Italian force without delay, which caused the failure of the main landing and the isolation of the commandos.[22] British commanders had also been surprised by the Italian riposte, especially the frequent air attacks which were unopposed.[23][24][25] Some Italian sources claim that the British forces captured the Italian cryptography code but this assertion is dismissed by the Italian author Marc’Antonio Bragadin, a high-ranking naval officer at the time; British sources make no mention of such issue.[26][27] The Italians retained control of the Greek Dodecanese Islands until the capitulation in September 1943. As soon Italy changed sides, the British landed on the islands in the Dodecanese Campaign (8 September – 22 November 1943). British and Italian troops were attacked and defeated by a German operation and the islands came under German control, until the end of the war. Kastelorizo was not occupied but constant air attacks destroyed many of the homes and forced the Greek population to flee to neutral Turkey or to Palestine.[28]

Order of battle[edit]

Italy[edit]

Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg

  • Admiral Luigi Biancheri

Allies[edit]

Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom Naval Ensign of Australia.svg Australia

  • Admiral Andrew Cunningham
  • Suda force:
    • 2 destroyers: HMS Hereward, HMS Decoy
    • 1 gunboat: HMS Ladybird
    • 1 submarine: HMS Parthian
    • Commando force : 200 soldiers
    • Marine detachment: 24 marines
  • Cyprus force:
    • 3rd Cruiser Squadron: HMAS Perth, HMS Bonaventure
    • Armed yacht: HMS Rosaura
    • Garrison force: c. 150 soldiers
  • Alexandria force:
    • 2 destroyers: HMS Jaguar, HMS Hero

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Castelrosso, p. none (Italian)
  2. ^ Smith & Walker, p. 22
  3. ^ Simpson, p. 85
  4. ^ Greene and Massignani, p. 145
  5. ^ Simpson, p. 85
  6. ^ Koburger, pp. 107–108
  7. ^ Bragadin, p. 80
  8. ^ Seymour pp. 69–70
  9. ^ Bragadin, p. 80
  10. ^ Bragadin, p. 80
  11. ^ Titterton, pp. 72–73
  12. ^ Playfair 1954 p. 326
  13. ^ Bragadin, p. 80
  14. ^ Castelrosso, p. none (Italian)
  15. ^ Titterton, pp. 73–74
  16. ^ Bragadin, p. 80
  17. ^ Seymour, p. 70
  18. ^ Castelrosso, p. none (Italian)
  19. ^ Titterton, pp. 73–74
  20. ^ Kindell 2012 p. none
  21. ^ Simpson, p. 85
  22. ^ Titterton, pp. 73–74
  23. ^ Sadkovich, p. 119
  24. ^ Smith & Walker, p. 32
  25. ^ Playfair 1954, p. 326
  26. ^ Santoni, p. 67
  27. ^ Sadkovich, p. 119
  28. ^ Kindell 2012 p. none

References[edit]

  • Bragadin, Marc'Antonio (1957). The Italian Navy in World War II, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis. ISBN 0-405-13031-7.
  • "Fasti e declino di un'isola del Mediterraneo". Castelrosso (in Italian). 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2015. 
  • Greene, Jack & Massignani, Alessandro (1998). The Naval War in the Mediterranean, 1940–1943, Chatham Publishing, London. ISBN 1-86176-057-4.
  • Kindell, D. (7 April 2012). "Naval Events, February 1941 (2 of 2) Saturday 15th – Friday 28th". Naval History Net. Retrieved 2 March 2015. 
  • Koburger, Charles W. Jr (1993). Naval Warfare in the Eastern Mediterranean (1940–1945). Praeger, Westport, CN. ISBN 0-275-94465-4.
  • Playfair, Major-General I. S. O.; with Stitt R.N., Commander G. M. S.; Molony, Brigadier C. J. C. & Toomer, Air Vice-Marshal S. E. (2004) [1st. pub. HMSO 1954]. Butler, J. R. M., ed. The Mediterranean and Middle East: The Early Successes Against Italy (to May 1941). History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series I. Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-065-3. 
  • Sadkovich, James (1994). The Italian Navy in World War II. Greenwood Press, Westport. ISBN 1-86176-057-4.
  • Santoni, Alberto (1981). Il Vero Traditore: Il ruolo documentato di ULTRA nella guerra. Mursia. Milano. (Italian) OCLC 491163648.
  • Seymour, William (1985). British Special Forces. Sidgwick and Jackson. London. ISBN 0-283-98873-8.
  • Simpson, Michael (2004) A life of Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Cunningham. A Twentieth-Century Naval Leader. Routledge. London. ISBN 0-7146-5197-4.
  • Smith, Peter & Walker, Edwin (1974). War in the Aegean. Kimber. ISBN 0-7183-0422-5.
  • Titterton, G.A. (2002). The Royal Navy and the Mediterranean. Routledge, London. ISBN 0-7146-5205-9.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 36°09′00″N 29°35′24″E / 36.15000°N 29.59000°E / 36.15000; 29.59000