I think we need to clarify here which were the Regia Marina readiness and preparation conditions when entering war regarding night actions:pgollin wrote: "So none of the officers and fire control personnel had ever worked in destroyers ?
ANY main armament can be manned and fired when a star shell or searchlight illuminates the target.
Did cruisers have star shell to fight against enemy destroyers ? Did cruisers have searchlights to fight against enemy destroyers ?
So, IF what you are saying is about night fighting is correct (which I doubt), then the Italian Admiral was acting against the Fighting Instructions in sending the cruisers out and hence according to the logic expressed on this thread by some should have been court martialled."
RM had basically the same night fighting readiness as per WWI, meaning that the action of the large calibers was not envisaged at night. On the other side, destroyers and (partially) light cruisers) had (poor) night fight capabilities.
In detail: 100mm (Zara class dual purpose secondary armament), 120 mm and only a few 150mm from some light cruisers were considered usable at night.
No 203 mm (Zara class main batteries), no 320 mm nor any 381 mm gun was supposed to be used at night. The fact that star shells could illuminate an enemy does mean nothing as the turrets were not manned (as per the procedure) and the directors were not trained for night fire. In addition no stabilized projectors were available.
Your question about gunners aboard Zara class being previously used to fight at night on destroyers make no sense as you can't expect to be able to fire a 203 mm if you are able to fire a 120 mm: whoever has been on board a warship knows very well that training is key for being able to do things in a real situation and that improvisation can't be trusted.
The big ships (battleships and heavy cruisers) were instructed to sail in the night with a curtain of destroyers in front of them (spread from left to right) in order to be sure that any encounter would be seen by the destroyers first.
At the "enemy in sight" alarm from the destroyers, the big ships were instructed to turn away from the enemy at maximum speed leaving the battlefield to the destroyers only.
Italians were also underestimating the RN night fighting capabilities, despite some episode with British light cruisers at the beginning of the war should have warned them, ignoring that the RN has trained the British ships for night actions since the 30's.
Coming to your last point, regarding Court Martial for Italian admiral, who do you mean ?
Adm Cattaneo died on Zara and could not have been able to answer why he was sailing with the cruisers ahead and destroyers on a single line, disregarding the instructions.
Regarding Adm. Iachino decision, that is not in contrast anyway with the fighting instructions, he communicated to Supermarina (Italian Admiralty) his intentions. Therefore the Court Martial should have been held against Supermarina chiefs too....
The (wrong, with hindsight) decision to send back the full division was taken because he considered impossible for the destroyers only to tow Pola to Italy defending themselves during the following dayand the 2 heavy cruisers would have guaranteed protection to the towing mission at dawn (when gun action could possibly be resumed).
I honestly find a bit distasteful the British "humor" related to the surviving destroyers (2 of them, Gioberti and Oriani not "several", the former of which heavily damaged, as the other 2 destroyers (Carducci and Alfieri) were immediately sunk together Zara and Fiume) after that more than 2300 Italian sailors were dead (mostly without even being able to defend themselves.....)A Raven wrote: "One very interesting fact re the Matapan episode, is that for one hour after the RN force had retired and re-grouped following the night action, several Italian destroyers continued to engage imaginary enemy ships using their main armament. This was observed from several miles off, with some amusement/puzzlement by the RN commanders.
This comes from the official contemporary RN records. However, Cunningham may have had 'sinister' motives in signing off on these reports."
However, as you seem to like this "humor", I can tell you that at least nobody was decorated after Matapan in the RM, on the contrary the RN decorated officers that were clearly acting against the Naval Discipline Act at DS.......
I fully agree the preparation level of Italians was very poor in general and especially for night actions.A Raven wrote: "Another example of the night fighting abilities of the Italian Navy took place on the 9/11/41....... "
However, as a general consideration, radar was the key advantage for British ships during the night actions (including Matapan) as well as Enigma decritted messages.....