No one is embarrassed by the fact that Rome and the Romans are long gone, and modern Italians are not Latins at all. Fact. But I want to match. Instead of piling yourself a plate of pasta, take a handful of olives and, of course, a clay mug with Chianti - and you won't need any war.
However, it so happened that everything happened in a completely different scenario.
So, our story refers to the very beginning of the Second World War. When it turned out that Italy was completely unprepared for war. Yes, many countries were, to put it mildly, not ready for war, but Italy is something special, as she herself showed история participation of the country in that war.
In general, speaking in the language of Italy, “La donna è mobile, qual piuma al vento, muta d'accento - e di pensiero”.
But the Italians rallied with a formidable force and went to fight. I really wanted to gnaw off more of the European pie. A piece from Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria ... Although the Bulgarians themselves could have bitten anyone they liked.
The Italians had a fleet. Very good for those times, but ... 4 battleships, 7 heavy cruisers, 14 light cruisers, 59 destroyers, 69 destroyers, 110 submarines. And 4 more battleships were being completed.
But the state of mind naval command and crew was, shall we say, below the world average. As shown by subsequent events.
On October 28, 1940, Italy declared war on Greece and launched an invasion. But everything went wrong, because the Greeks really did not want to be conquered and simply hung on the Italians, knocking them out of their territory. And in North Africa, things were no better. There, the British, as part of a counterattack, very seriously battered the Italian army. The Germans had to intervene ...
The German army began preparations for the capture of Greece and began to provide assistance in Africa. The position of Italy gradually leveled off, but the Allies demanded real action from the Italians in the Mediterranean. And first of all - by ships, since the British fleet very decently counteracted in the area of the same Malta.
To show its worth and loyalty to the allied ideals, the Italian fleet could carry out attacks on British convoys with weak escort, or organize its own convoy to the Dodecanese Islands with increased protection. Malta could be attacked. In general, the powerful and modern Italian fleet had a place to prove itself.
But the British were the first to prove themselves, having given the Italians a humiliating slap in the face on November 12, 1940 in Trento, where one battleship was sunk and two were badly damaged. And all this with the forces of two dozen bookcases from the only British aircraft carrier.
In general, the Italian fleet needed a victory, and the Italian propaganda needed a big victory.
And the Italians, as they say, began to stir. Around Crete, the number of submarines increased, cruisers and destroyers began to leave bases more often. The Germans appreciated this and promised to support the 10th Air Corps, but at the same time played a cruel joke by reporting the sinking of two British battleships in the Crete region. It was a lie.
A joint operation was planned to intercept British convoys. The Italian side provided ships and fighter cover in the Crete area, while the German side provided only 10 air corps along the entire route. There were even joint exercises between the Luftwaffe and the Italian fleet.
On the evening of March 26, the Italian ships went to sea. The squadron was led by Admiral Angelo Yakino.
The squadron included the battleship Vittorio Veneto, 6 heavy cruisers (Trenté, Trieste, Bolzano, Pola, Zara, Fiume), 2 light cruisers (Duca delli Abruzzi and Giuseppe Garibaldi ") and 13 destroyers.
The rally point was near the island of Gavdos. Luftwaffe planes were supposed to arrive there, but something went wrong. German planes did not arrive, although it was in this place that joint maneuvers were supposed to take place.
But the British intelligence officer "Sunderland" arrived. Only the 3rd division, Trento, Trieste, Bolzano and three destroyers were noticed from the scout. The battleship and the rest of the ships did not "burn". However, the surprise factor was lost.
And then the British Admiral Andrew Cunningham enters the scene.
One of the smartest naval commanders of that war. Cunningham realized that the Italians had gone to sea for a reason and calculated the threat to the convoys from Greece. The British headquarters decided that the Italian battleships must be somewhere nearby.
In general, there was only one convoy at sea, heading for Piraeus, and one convoy was preparing to leave Piraeus. Cunningham decided that the convoys would be a good bait and took his ships out to sea.
Cunningham's squad consisted of the aircraft carrier Formindeble, the battleships Worspite, Barem, Valiant, the light cruisers Perth, Ajax, Gloucester, Orion, and 16 destroyers. The light cruisers and 4 destroyers went separately under the command of Vice Admiral Pridham Whippel and had to arrive at the rendezvous point on their own.
Vice Admiral Pridham-Whippel
It so happened that at dawn on March 28, the Pridham-Whipple formation, which was going to join the squadron of Cunningham off the island of Gavdos, flew into the entire Italian squadron. Interestingly, the Italians and the British discovered each other almost simultaneously. But the Italians believed their pilots from the "Vittorio Veneto" and "Bolzano", and the British considered the testimony of the scouts from the "Formindebla" erroneous.
Therefore, when Italian ships were noticed from the flagship light cruiser Orion at 7.45, it was somewhat overwhelming for the British. The Italians noticed the British a little later, at 7.58.
Naturally, the British light cruisers, with their 152 mm guns, had virtually nothing to oppose to the Italian heavy cruisers with 203 mm guns. The firing range of the Italians was greater. And the number was also not in favor of the British: 6 heavy, 2 light cruisers of the Italians against 4 light cruisers of the British.
It was quite normal that Pridham Whipple ordered a retreat, the British ships turned around and began to withdraw. The Italians opened fire on the closing Gloucester from outside the area of operation of British guns, from about 25 kilometers. After a while, the advance detachment under the command of Admiral Sansonetti turned towards the main forces. The British followed them, not knowing that they were coming under fire from the Vittorio Veneto.
Realizing what was happening, Admiral Yakino turned the main force eastward to meet the British. It was planned to pinch the British detachment in a "tick" between Sansonetto's detachment and the main forces of Yakino.
At 10.50 the British discovered the main force and almost immediately the Vittorio Veneto opened fire with its main caliber. 381mm shells posed a great danger to British ships, so Pridham Whippel again ordered a withdrawal.
And here his squad was rescued by torpedo bombers from the Formindebla, who attacked the Vittorio Veneto at 11.15. All the torpedoes passed by, but the Italians distracted from the cruisers, dodging the torpedoes and eventually the British cruisers left.
Albacore takes off from the deck of the aircraft carrier Formindable
In general, the actions of the Italian fleet in the battle of Gavlos can be assessed as timid and indecisive. The British detachment of Pridham Whipple could be destroyed only by the forces of Italian heavy cruisers, without the participation of the battleship. But despite the fact that the Italian ships had complete superiority in speed and armament, the Italians were completely unable to realize it.
And the British now perfectly understood who was in front of them. And Cunningham decided to attack, and not just attack, but to the maximum.
Joining with the cruisers and destroyers of Pridham Whipple, Cunningham led his ships to intercept the Italian squadron. The goal was to destroy the Vittorio Veneto.
The planes from "Formindebla" "led" the Italian squadron, and they could not interfere with them in any way. The Luftwaffe never came to this war. When Italian ships entered the area of action of British land bombers from airfields in Greece, the Blenheims were raised and attacked the battleship. True, without results.
But the bombers diverted attention from the Formindebla torpedo bombers, who were able to come within striking distance and drop torpedoes, one of which hit the battleship. This was done by the crew of squadron commander Daleel-Steed. The squadron commander's "Albacore" was shot down, the crew was killed.
However, the torpedo did its job. The battleship lost its speed, however, the repair teams were able to restore it.
"Vittorio Veneto" with a trim to the stern after being hit by a torpedo
But the squadron reduced its speed and the British approached a distance of 50 miles. Cunningham decided to wait for the night and attack at dusk.
15 minutes after sunset, British torpedo bombers launched an attack. The crews of twelve 90-mm guns, 20 37-mm assault rifles and 32 20-mm Vittorio Veneto assault rifles put a fiery hell in the way of the Albacors and Suordfish. Searchlights, smokes, fire from all barrels ...
At 19.25 the attack began, at 19.45 it ended in nothing. The battleship was unharmed. Moreover, "Vittorio Veneto" was able to increase the speed to 19 knots and the entire squadron began to retreat towards their bases.
And only half an hour later Yakino learned that not all torpedoes had passed by.
At 19.46 a torpedo from Lieutenant Williams' Albacore hit the starboard side of the Paul in the area of the aft bulkhead of the engine room. All generators were out of order, the ship was completely de-energized.
At 20.18 Yakino ordered the 1st cruiser division to go back and provide assistance to the damaged cruiser. Zara, Fiume and 4 destroyers went back in search of Paul, and the entire squadron of Cunningham came out on them.
Meanwhile, the rest of Yakino's squadron, having successfully maneuvered, finally broke away from the British and disappeared into the darkness.
At 20:14, the cruiser Orion's radar screen showed a stationary ship about 6 miles down the bow. Pridham Whippel decided that the discovered ship was a damaged Italian battleship. After finding the damaged ship, Pridham-Whipple decided to bypass it from the north and continue to search for the rest of the enemy ships.
At 21.55 Ajax spotted three more ships with its radar. The British decided that these were their own destroyers and left everything unchanged. And the detachment continued on a course of rapprochement with the Italian squadron. Allegedly for rapprochement.
There were battleships, the flagship Worspight with Cunningham and his headquarters on board, the Barem and Valiant, the aircraft carrier Formindeble, the close cover destroyers Greyhound, Griffin, Stewart and Havok. The group of cruisers was to the east.
When Ajax received data on targets on the radar, a combat alert was announced. The destroyers moved forward, the aircraft carrier was ready to leave the general formation at the first signal.
At 22:03 pm, the radar operator of the battleship Valiant also noticed a mark indicating a stationary ship 8-9 miles away. At 22:23, destroyer Stuart sounded the alarm. Directly on the bow from the port side, the course of the formation was crossed by unidentified ships in number of six: two large and four smaller.
It was an Italian detachment from the 1st division of heavy cruisers and the 9th destroyer flotilla, which went to the aid of the cruiser "Pola".
The first was the destroyer Vittorio Alfieri, followed by the heavy cruisers Zara and Fiume, and the destroyers Jesus Carducci, Vincenzo Giberti and Alfredo Oriani were at the rear.
In general, there were seven Italian ships in the square, unaware of the presence of a British squadron. Speaking of the benefits of radars ...
Cunningham quickly got his bearings and ordered to go on a course parallel to the Italian one. The guns of the British battleships were aimed at the Italian ships ...
At 22.27, the destroyer Greyhound turns on the searchlights and shines them on the Zara, Fiume and Vittorio Alfieri. For the Italians, who were unaware of the British ships, this was a very unpleasant surprise.
Worspight and Valiant opened fire on Fiume almost point-blank. What is the distance of 3 (for Worspite) and 4 (for Valiant) kilometers for a battleship? Both the 381-mm main caliber and the 152-mm anti-mine caliber were used.
Italians have learned what hell can look like ...
"Fiume" lost its speed, caught fire, from the hit of the "suitcase" 381-mm tore the stern tower from the shoulder straps. The shells of the battleships literally tore the sides of the Fiume, whose armor was simply not designed for such tests. The cruiser began to take water and heel to starboard.
In general, in this battle, the British artillerymen behaved beyond praise.
Worspight fired two full volleys at the Fiume in a minute, then switched its guns and fired a third volley at the Zara. The Valiant's gunners generally fired at two cruisers at once. The front towers fired at Fiume, the rear ones at Zara. And they shot well! Five volleys in three minutes is gorgeous!
The Fiume sank at 23.15, some 45 minutes after the beginning of the end of the world in British style.
The next move was "Barem", which was initially hindered by "Formindable".
When the aircraft carrier fell out of the general formation, "Barem" first prepared to shoot at the "Paul", which was illuminated by its searchlights. But then the destroyer Vittorio Alfieri hit the spotlights, and the Barema's guns were aimed at it. It is not worth describing what a battleship shell could have done with a destroyer, hitting from a distance of 3 kilometers. The British hit, and more than once ...
Then the artillerymen of "Barem" transferred fire to "Zara" and made six more volleys at it ...
"Zara" burned, heeled, lost speed and control. The destroyer Vittorio Alfieri drifted behind him in a useless carcass.
It is worth noting that British destroyers were systematically hit by the "distribution" of battleships, but they did without much damage and casualties.
The Italian destroyers following in the tail of the detachment were not injured, turned around, and began to retreat under cover of smoke. The Greyhound and Griffin followed them, but the Italians were able to break away.
Stewart and Haywok went to finish off the Italian ships. "Stewart" sent torpedoes to "Zara" and hit one. After that, the destroyers fired a little at the Zara and calmed down on that.
The next number on the program was "Vittorio Alfieri", which was in a deplorable state, burned and was immobilized. At 23.15 the destroyer sank.
Further, the Italian destroyers managed to go off course and again collide with the British destroyers, who finished off the cruiser. The Stewart fired two shots, presumably at the Jesus Carducci, but missed. The Italians reciprocated and also missed.
Haywok sent four torpedoes into Carducci and hit one. This was followed by firing from guns at close range, after which at 23.30 "Carducci" sank.
Alfredo Oriani and Vincenzo Gioberti were able to leave.
At 23.45 the destroyer Haywok discovered the hero of the occasion, the cruiser Paul, which still stood quietly without moving. The destroyer fired several volleys at the cruiser, causing a fire.
But before deciding what to do with "Paul", it was decided to finish off "Zara". Five torpedoes from the destroyers sent the Zara to the bottom. It happened at 2.40.
They wanted to take "Paul" as a prize. On the British destroyers there was no longer enough room for the Italians prisoners, so the trophy would not hurt. But dawn was approaching, and it is quite possible that the Luftwaffe would appear. So we decided not to take trophies, the destroyer "Nubian" sent two torpedoes to the cruiser and on this "Pola" ended its journey. At 4.03 the "Pola" sank.
The British went home, but Cunningham was a gentleman to the end. A radiogram was sent to the Italian command with the coordinates of the place where the Italian sailors remained, who did not want to surrender and remained in the water. A hospital ship came for them and picked up 13 officers and 147 sailors from the water. Greek ships were also involved in the rescue of the Italians and picked up another 110 people.
Amazing fight. Three heavy cruisers and two destroyers went to the bottom. About 3 Italian sailors were killed and over a thousand were captured. British losses - one torpedo bomber ... Three crew members. All.
The battle at Cape Matapan showed that the methods of reconnaissance by the Italian fleet did not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, Yakino acted blindly, and sent ships to help Paul, having no idea where the British ships were at that time.
Radars. The British mastered this very useful tool perfectly and got an advantage with it both at night and in bad weather. And for the British, the radar was a completely mastered topic and was installed even on destroyers. As a result, the British saw the enemy, but the Italians were guessing on the bones of the olives.
Marine application aviation... Yes, after this battle, the Italians began to take steps to create their own naval aviation, but, of course, they did not have time.
And the last thing. The Italian navy was not ready for night combat, while the British navy had regular night combat exercises. Fewer parades, more combat work - a motto that Mussolini would be nice to adopt.
The battle at Cape Matapan undermined not only the morale of the Italian fleet, it introduced uncertainty into the very concept of using heavy ships, battleships and cruisers. So in the hellish fire in which the Italian ships burned, Italy's confidence in its fleet burned out. And until the very end of the war, the Italians no longer recovered from this defeat.