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The Regia Marina in East Africa

by Cristiano D'Adamo

The primary mission for the Regia Marina in East Africa was the interdiction of naval traffic coming from the Indian Ocean and directed to North Africa and the Near East. Despite the tenacious efforts offered by the Duke of Aosta and his man, the Italian forces, under continuos British attach, withdrew from Ethiopia and Eritrea, thus allowing the British to close on the Red Sea.

During the brief conflict, Italian naval forces were continuously hampered by technical malfunctions, especially aboard submarines. Especially damaging were the failure in the air conditioning systems as it was shown by the capture of the submarine Galilei. Towards the end of March 1941, the Italian vision of a second Roman Empire saw its demise with the last few days of Italian possessions in Eastern Africa. With English troops near entering Asmara, an Italian surrender was inevitable, but the local command of the Regia Marina had to decide on the future of the few remaining units.

The only seaworthy units still operating, the 3rd Squadron Destroyers had barely enough fuel to reach Saudi Arabia and face interment, or fight a last very desperate battle against English forces in Port Sudan, thus causing disruption to the Suez Canal bound sea traffic.

The Manin, Sauro and Battisti left port while the few remaining submarines took to sea in a desperate attempt to make the long journey to the French ports on the Atlantic (La Rochelle). The colonial ship Eritrea sailed to Japan, where it arrived in Kobe on March 22nd, after 9,555 miles and 754 hours on navigation. All other units were scuttled or destroyed.

The Battisti, after years of ceaseless action and poor maintenance, failed not longer after having left port victim of a mechanical malfunction. The Sauro and the Manin sailed on and on April 3rd were the target of a fierce aerial attach where the Sauro was a complete lost. Soon after, the Manin, short of anti-aircraft ammunitions, was finally stricken by two bombs and soon after sunk.

Part of the brave crew of this last Italian fighting units in the Red Sea was rescued by the British destroyer Flamingo, while others, after an agonizing ordeal, reach Saudi Arabia were they faced internment.

This action was a last desperate act of courage and the end of any Italian attempt to interfere with Allied traffic through the Suez Canal. This military failure was to have a grave consequence for the Axis forces because it allowed for the British to maintain control over Egypt, from which, eventually, they drove the Axis forces out of North Africa.



RAMB II
Italian Naval Forces in Eritrea

Destroyers "Belva" class:
Pantera
Tigre
Leone

Destroyers "Patrioti" class
Nullo
Manin
Sauro
Battisti


Ocean-going Submarines
Archimede
Galilei
Torricelli
Ferraris
Galvani
Guglielmotti


Costal Submarines
Perla
Makallè

Colonial Ships
Eritrea
Ramb I
Ramb II



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