Battle of the Tarigo Convoy

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Battle of the Tarigo Convoy
Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of World War II
RM Lampo at full speed.jpg
Destroyer Lampo, sunk in the battle and later salvaged by the Italian Navy
Date 16 April 1941
Location Mediterranean Sea off the Kerkennah Islands, Tunisia
Result British victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  Italy
Commanders and leaders
Captain Philip Mack Commander Pietro de Cristofaro 
Strength
4 destroyers 3 destroyers
Casualties and losses
1 destroyer sunk
43 dead
2 destroyers sunk
1 destroyer beached
5 cargo ships sunk or beached
350-1,800 dead

The Battle of the Tarigo Convoy (sometimes referred to as the "Action off Sfax") was a naval battle of World War II, part of the Battle of the Mediterranean. It was fought on 16 April 1941, between four British and three Italian destroyers, near the Kerkennah Islands off the Tunisian coast. The battle was named after the Italian flagship, the destroyer Luca Tarigo.

Control of the sea between Italy and Libya was heavily disputed as both sides sought to safeguard their own convoys while interdicting those of their opponent. Axis convoys to North Africa supplied the German and Italian armies there, and British attacks were based on Malta, itself dependent upon convoys.

The battle[edit]

In mid-April, 1941, a five ship Axis convoy sailed from Naples, en route to Tripoli. It consisted of four German troopships (Adana, Arta, Aegina and Iserlohn) and an Italian ammunition ship (Sabaudia). The convoy was escorted by a "Navigatori" class destroyer Luca Tarigo (flagship) and two Folgore class destroyers, Baleno and Lampo, all commanded by Commander Pietro de Cristofaro. The convoy was delayed by bad weather, sailing in the evening of 13 April.

The British had been alerted to the convoy's sailing by intercepted radio messages. On 15 April, a British Maryland reconnaissance plane sighted and shadowed the convoy. Two Italian SM.79s that were ordered to provide air cover did not arrive, due to the continuing bad weather. During the night of 15–16 April, the convoy was intercepted by the British 14th Destroyer Flotilla (HMS Jervis (flagship), HMS Janus, HMS Nubian, and HMS Mohawk, commanded by Captain Philip Mack). At least three of these destroyers were equipped with radar.[1] The encounter took place as the Italian convoy maneuvered around the shallow waters surrounding the Kerkennah Islands.

By the use of the radar, the British force ambushed the Axis convoy in the dark. As the convoy passed a buoy marking sandbanks, the British opened fire at 2,000 yards (1,800 m) and closed to as near as 50 yards (46 m).[2] Three of the Axis transports were sunk, and the other two beached on the sandbar and became a total loss.[3] Lampo was run aground and later salvaged, while Baleno sank in shallow waters. The flotilla commander, Commander de Cristofaro, on board Tarigo, had his leg shot off and later died of his wounds; he was posthumously awarded the Medaglia d'Oro (the highest Italian military decoration). While listing to port and sinking, Tarigo (now under the command of the only surviving officer, Ensign Ettore Bisagno) launched two torpedoes which hit HMS Mohawk. Mohawk was subsequently scuttled by HMS Jervis, and settled on the sandy bottom at a depth of 12 meters. The outcome of the battle marked the end of the relatively unopposed Axis transport to Libya, which they had enjoyed since June 1940.[2]

Aftermath[edit]

The Italian maritime command in Libya immediately organised a rescue operation which involved the destroyers Malocello, Da Noli, Vivaldi, and Dardo, torpedo boats Centauro, Clio, Partenope, Perseus, and Sirtori, seaplane carrier Orlando, hospital ship Arno, and merchant ships Antonietta Lauro and Capacitas. A total of 1,271 survivors were recovered of about 3,000 men on board.

During April, May, and June 1941, Italian divers, disguised as local fishermen, retrieved documents and other material from the wreck of Mohawk. In 1998, researchers asserted that documents recovered were essential to the later, successful Italian attack on Alexandria.[4]

The destroyer Lampo was salvaged from the shallow water after a four-month effort, and repaired by May 1942. She was sunk again on 30 April 1943. The cargo of the two beached transports -Adana and Arta- was transferred to another merchant ships and eventually reached Libya.[3] The wreck of Arta was destroyed with explosive charges by the crew of the submarine HMS Upholder on the night of 26 April 1941.[5]

Axis casualties are variously reported as 350, 700, or 1,800 men; British losses were 43.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ D'Adamo, citing Derek Howse's Radar at Sea
  2. ^ a b Greene & Massignani, pp. 163-164
  3. ^ a b Joseph, Frank (2010). Mussolini's War: Fascist Italy's Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45. Casemate Publishers. p. 125. ISBN 1906033560. 
  4. ^ Greene & Massignani, p. 164
  5. ^ Allaway, Jim (1991). Hero of the Upholder: The Story of Lieutenant Commander M.D. Wanklyn VC, DSO**. London: Airlife. pp. 92–95. ISBN 978-1853102189. 

References[edit]

Coordinates: 35°9′27.13″N 11°30′49.22″E / 35.1575361°N 11.5136722°E / 35.1575361; 11.5136722