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by Andrea Piccinotti

Upon Italy's entry in the war, the Regia Marina had to immediately concentrate resources on the protection of traffic destined for Libya. This was accomplished better than it is commonly believed, and in almost all of 1940 the Italian Navy did not organize any offensive action. In the summer of 1941, the first study for an offensive action, called "Operation BA", was started. This plan contemplated an incursion by light forces to surprise British naval units engaged in the surveillance of costal traffic between the Balearic Islands and Cartagena (Spain). Following the German offensive against Russia, destroyers based in Malta intensified patrols in the Spanish waters searching for contraband cargo aboard Spanish, French, Swiss and Turkish ships. It should be noted that the British considered contraband any goods destined for Italy or Germany, including medicines. The study of the operational habits of the enemy, and the British tendency to operate with only two groups of destroyers without the support of cruisers, pushed the operatives within Supermarina to immediately conceive the first plan (on July 15th, Admiral Campioni was replaced by the younger and much respected Admiral Sansonetti).

To overcome the limited range of their destroyers, the Italian Planning Office (operations planning office within Supermarina) decided to concentrate the attack force in La Maddalena (Sardinia). The Italian group would have included two light cruisers of the "Di Giussano" class and four destroyers. The group would have left port at 11:00 AM a day before action day (day X) and, taking advantage of the very limited British aerial reconnaissance in the area, would have reached the zone between Cartagena and the Balearic Islands early morning of the following day. The ships would have traveled 44 hours, covering around 800 miles at about 18 knots, thus leaving the commander at sea with the option of forcing to full speed for about one hour while engaging the enemy. The oil fuel consumed would have totaled 1,650 tons, to which one would have to add the fuel necessary to reach La Maddalena and then return to the original bases.

It was also necessary to obtain further intelligence regarding the patrol schedule followed by the British, thus reducing the quantity of fuel oil necessary to locate the enemy. A failed mission, even though politically useful, was not at the time acceptable. Furthermore, aerial exploration was to be intensified starting from the day before action day and up to a day after. Meantime, the British, starting in June 1941, began to periodically send naval groups composed of two aircraft carriers escorted by a battleship tasked with the delivery of airplanes to Malta. In a later study, it was taken into consideration that it would have been more appropriate to utilize two of the newer cruisers because they were more protected than the faster, but vulnerable, "Di Giussano" class. Up to this point, since 1939, the Regia Marina had realized that the "Di Giussano" class could not match enemy cruisers and therefore should be used in other functions.

Any further study of this operation ceased for various reasons: first, it was not possible to ascertain when the British destroyers would be engaged in a patrol, and second, there was an increasing demand for light cruisers to escort convoys to Libya.

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