Matapan

From the Washington Naval Treaty to the end of the Second World War.
User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2033
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Matapan

Post by wadinga » Tue Jul 02, 2019 4:18 pm

Fellow Contributors,

I believe Alberto and I have just agreed on something. Sending VALF to take on Iachino on his own would have been murder so Cunningham never did get the Long Message no matter what Bletchley old timers "remember". Cunningham just knew "something" was happening.

Given the very limited resources at his disposal, Cunningham could only intercept and engage one enemy force. Maybe the RAF could have engaged the northern force if it had continued, Cunningham never mentions it in his papers.

Why Supermarina decided to abort the northern mission, when the discovery of the now "decoy" force south of Crete could have drawn all British eyes southwards is a complete mystery.

Excuses for the abject performance of Ardilo and the Ambra simply won't wash. If he genuinely realised the Mediterranean Fleet was passing him on a mission to cause death and mayhem to his countrymen, his overwhelming duty was to warn HQ of its coming. "I was obeying orders to sink things not report things" is a dereliction of duty and admission of monumental stupidity. "Any idiot can follow orders!" Jacky Fisher
this was a great failure of the Italian complex command chain, that did not phase the surface and the submarine operation in any way,
This is a terrible excuse. When U-556 spotted Force H on its way to sink the Bismarck, she transmitted a warning straight away. U-boats were also a different arm to the surface ships but they knew their duty was to display initiative, and warn HQ and other wolves who might get a chance. Once again it should have made no difference if Ardilo knew Iachino was at sea, there were plenty of other Axis assets Cunningham could have been off to attack.

Ardilo, along with the poor reconnaissance of Alexandria, and Iachino's inability to recognise that short range biplane attackers might mean Formidable and hence the battleships were nearby, allowed Admiral Cattaneo and thousands of men to be sent on a suicide mission.

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

Byron Angel
Senior Member
Posts: 1114
Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2011 1:06 am

Re: Matapan

Post by Byron Angel » Tue Jul 02, 2019 7:20 pm

Interesting exchange. Bravo.

My only comment is that some circumspection might be shown in assessing coordination miscues and failures within the Italian command. There were some unpleasant examples on display on the Allied side as well - most notably the obtuseness of the staff planners in charge of the heavy bomber tactical missions in unilaterally ignoring targeting and approach plans (landing beach prep raid & Cobra tactical prep (twice).

B

User avatar
Alberto Virtuani
Senior Member
Posts: 3607
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:22 am
Location: Milan (Italy)

Re: Matapan

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Tue Jul 02, 2019 8:55 pm

Hello everybody,
"Excuses for the abject performance of Ardilo and the Ambra simply won't wash...a dereliction of duty and admission of monumental stupidity...."
I do agree that everyone should be entitled to have his opinion about the behavior of an officer clearly "derelicting his duty" or being blatantly "stupid" when in action...


However, the noise heard by Ambra was not telling Arillo that the whole Med Fleet was at sea to perform an attack. It was not "signed" A.B.Cunningham nor HMS Formidable....

He heard generic noise and he tried to intercept the ship(s) producing this noise, to recognize it/them and to sink them: he could only hear it twice at 2 hours distance (after having maneuvered to get closer), then he lost it. No sighting (it was night) and no further detail. It could have been a small merchant ship or a single RN destroyer out to perform trials....
He had to keep radio silence in order to chase his preys, and he just did the right thing. The terrible mistake was done by the command chain, not informing Arillo (and the others) that the Italian battlefleet was at sea and that his priority during that mission, especially on day X-1, was not to chase targets but to immediately inform about the British movements instead.

Had he signalled "Alarm, unknown noise, bearing 100°!", does anybody think that the mission would have been aborted for a such a generic statement (when it had not been aborted after the Sunderland sighting) ? Or that Iachino would have taken a different decision 18 hours later (when he had received already several very contradictory information about the distance of British heavy unit(s)) ? I don't.



Bye, Alberto


P.S: even if Mr.Rico has conceded that "participation is not mandatory" (viewtopic.php?f=1&t=8576#p84231), I would b really interested in seeing Mr.Wadinga answers to simple questions here (viewtopic.php?f=1&t=8576)...
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

"There's always a danger running in the enemy at close range" (Adm.W.F.Wake-Walker)

User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2033
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Matapan

Post by wadinga » Tue Jul 02, 2019 11:16 pm

Fellow Contributors,

Once again we come against the problem of hindsight. Either Arillo heard the noise of 3 battleships, 1 aircraft carrier and several destroyers travelling at 20 knots or he heard "generic noise".

If, only with hindsight, he realised he had missed the British battlefleet, off to give Iachino a major surprise, one has to let him off the hook. It would be critical to know what he recorded at the time and before he was aware of the Matapan disaster. Decisions made in the heat of action, based only the information available at the time, cannot be second-guessed with knowledge not available at the time. Can they Mr Virtuani?

This was how it was presented:
However, the Ambra (lieutenent M.Arillo) heard the British Fleet twice with her sonar,
Is that what he logged or his or someone else's subsequent conclusion, based on hindsight?

Further reading around the subject has discovered VALF came down to the rendezvous from the north having sailed around Crete westabout. If Cunningham really had the Long Message this would have been an excellent way to get this weak squadron cut off on the far side of the Italian Battle Fleet. More strong evidence he never had the Long Message until some time later (if ever).

Does this:
In the evening of March 27 (at around 20:00) Supermarina re-transmitted the operative orders (originally sent on March 25 via plane) to Rhodes.
confirm the Long Message was resent to Rhodes, but instead of using the secure courier method, was radio transmitted, probably encoded using the Hagelin C-38 and thus probably picked up by Y service and decoded by Knox's group.
At around 21:30, however, the final decision after the Sunderland sighting, was not to abort the mission (due mainly to political aspects not to deceive the German ally), but to reduce her scope to a single operation south of Crete (same rendez-vous point as per initial planning for the second group).
If the plan was changed onshore at 21:30 and the northern mission aborted, how was this ordered to the ships at sea?

Has no-one any information on a second aerial report apparently carried out just before dusk on the fleet at Alexandria, which sneakily kept its sun awnings up until just before sailing, so as to give the impression they were going nowhere? Extra reconnaissance had been ordered, and one flight a day seems a little slack. This must have convinced Iachino he had a strong headstart.

Ambra's successful attack on Bonaventure was in the dark too, several hours after Dagabur had missed her. Did Dagabur "give away" her position by warning others the convoy was on its way?

From U boat.net
31 Mar 1941
Around 0245 / 0300 hours, HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN), while escorting convoy GA 8, was hit amidships by two torpedoes fired by the Italian submarine Ambra in position 33°20'N, 26°35'E. Bonaventure sank in a few minutes taking 23 officers and 115 ratings with her. 310 survivors were picked up by HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) and HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN).
HMAS Stuart heavily depth charged the Italian submarine but she managed to escape. (12)
Ambra found a slow-moving convoy OK.

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

User avatar
Alberto Virtuani
Senior Member
Posts: 3607
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:22 am
Location: Milan (Italy)

Re: Matapan

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Wed Jul 03, 2019 8:41 am

Hello everybody,
Wadinga wrote: "Either Arillo heard the noise of 3 battleships, 1 aircraft carrier and several destroyers travelling at 20 knots or he heard "generic noise". "
Generic "noise" (as normal for the Italian sonars at that time...) ,bearing 100° heard twice, at 2 hours distance (the second time much stronger after the maneuver to get closer). It's written in the official report of Mr.Arillo.

"or someone else's subsequent conclusion, based on hindsight?"
Subsequent conclusion of course, based on noise listening timing, Ambra position and presumable Med Fleet course and position at the same time.

"Did Dagabur "give away" her position by warning others the convoy was on its way?"
No he did not, he acted the same way Ambra had done 2 days earlier: just tried to get in a favorable position to sink ships, launched torpedoes but apparently failed to hit. No radio message was sent afterward. Submarine warfare has its rules: the hunter doesn't give away his position.

"If the plan was changed onshore at 21:30 and the northern mission aborted, how was this ordered to the ships at sea? "
Via radio (I have the message, cyphered at 21:30, exact TOO was 21:45) to Iachino and to Cattaneo, but as well as the "long one" this is not in ADM 223/76, thus even if it was ever intercepted and decrypted, it was not sent to Cunningham (probably because it was decrypted only late on March 28, when Cunningham was at sea and possibly had the whole situation quite clear. I think however that this operative change was not intercepted at all (just my guess as nobody ever spoke of it)).
For these info we should have access to BP documentation: I have only the ADM 223/76 record containing the Ultra info sent to CinC Med.Fleet.


Bye, Alberto
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

"There's always a danger running in the enemy at close range" (Adm.W.F.Wake-Walker)

User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2033
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Matapan

Post by wadinga » Wed Jul 03, 2019 12:12 pm

Fellow Contributors,

Since convoy GA-8 managed to run into two independently operating (non co-operating) submarines about four hours apart, their "cross" formation picquet line seems to have worked to an extent. Also despite Bragadin's speculation, nobody was apparently evading them based on prior knowledge.

For instance, presumably the victors of Matapan again passed through this submarine trap unscathed on their way back after the battle, having beaten off an attack by Ju-88s. Bonaventure was briefly attached to them for a few hours before being transferred to GA-8 which must have sailed round the western end of Crete after the battle. Destroyers protecting the convoy were also those which had been in the night action. Stuart had claimed a torpedo hit on Zara, Griffin which was sailing around with her forward fuel tanks open to the sea after bombing in Malta some days previously and so was unfit to be sent off in the striking force at high speed and stuck with the battlefleet, until this detachment. Hereward had been sent forward with Captain Mack's destroyer striking force to try and get to Vittorio Veneto, but the latter's higher speed after repairs meant this effort was in vain.

Thanks to U boat net:
28 Mar 1941
Around 1300 hours, HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN) and HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN), departed Alexandria to join the Mediterranean Fleet at sea. (12)
29 Mar 1941
Around 1000 hours, HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN) and HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN), joined 'Force A' of the Mediterreanean Fleet at sea.
Around 1930 hours, HMS Bonaventure was detached again to join the escort of convoy GA 8 at dawn the next day. (21)
30 Mar 1941
HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) joined the escort of convoy GA 8. This convoy had departed Pireaus for Alexandria the previous day and was made up of the transports HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) and Cameronia (16297 GRT, built 1920). They were escorted by the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN).
Around 2030 hours, the Italian submarine Dagabur made an unsuccesful torpedo attack on HMS Bonaventure. (12)
All the best
wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

User avatar
Alberto Virtuani
Senior Member
Posts: 3607
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:22 am
Location: Milan (Italy)

Re: Matapan

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Wed Jul 03, 2019 1:51 pm

Hello everybody,
Wadinga wrote "their "cross" formation picquet line seems to have worked to an extent"
it worked (and it was even logical) for trying to intercept both convoys running north-south courses and east-west courses.

Surely it was not ideal for sighting / attacking the Med Fleet exiting Alexandria to intercept a possible Italian battlefleet operation (a front line north-south would have been much better in this case).


Bye, Alberto
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

"There's always a danger running in the enemy at close range" (Adm.W.F.Wake-Walker)

User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2033
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Matapan

Post by wadinga » Sat Jul 06, 2019 6:15 pm

Fellow Contributors,

I have just looked at Wikipedia for submarine Ambra and was surprised to read:
On March 22, 1941 Ambra together with Ascianghi and Dagabur was sent to patrol along Alexandria - Cape Krio line and arrived in her assigned area on March 24, 1941. The submarines deployed as a defensive screen for the Operation "Gaudo", an anticipated sortie by the Italian fleet into the Aegean which would end with a catastrophe in the Battle of Cape Matapan. On March 27, 1941 Ambra discovered that her hydrophones did not work. At 2:37 on March 31, 1941 she sighted a large escorted ship moving at an estimated speed of 10 knots. At 2:44 she launched three torpedoes at the target and remained on the surface to observe the results. Two torpedoes hit the ship in the middle, and Arillo, in the dark, assumed he had torpedoed a large tanker. The ship hit was actually British light cruiser HMS Bonaventure escorting convoy GA8 from Greece to Alexandria along with destroyers HMAS Stuart, HMS Griffin and HMS Hereward. Hit in both of her engine rooms Bonaventure quickly sank within five or six minutes in the position 33°20′N 26°35′E with 139 casualties and 310 survivors. After observing the success of her attack, Ambra moved away. While Hereward was rescuing the survivors, Stuart, who was missed by the third torpedo, detected Ambra with ASDIC and commenced a series of depth charge attacks against the submarine. Hereward soon joined in, and attacks lasted for several hours until approximately 6:30. The submarine suffered damage to a variety of her equipment, including both gyroscopic and magnetic compasses. Once the escorts moved away, Ambra surfaced and using Celestial Navigation made her way back to Augusta. Captain Arillo received Silver Medal of Military Valor for his performance during this patrol.
Now we know its not always accurate, but this specifically says the submarine trap was designed as protection for the Gaudo operation, and that the hydrophones failed on the 27th. Regrettably there is no reference for this detailed information but the timings sound authentic so what was happening with the hydrophones and was the group really a protection screen for Iachino, without telling them their primary responsibility was to watch for British interference?

Maybe it was Uomini sul fondo. Storia del sommergibilismo italiano dalle origini ad oggi Giorgerini, Giorgio (2002).

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

User avatar
Alberto Virtuani
Senior Member
Posts: 3607
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:22 am
Location: Milan (Italy)

Re: Matapan

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Sat Jul 06, 2019 9:16 pm

Hello everybody,

...exactly, we know Wikipedia is not always accurate. In this case it's almost completely wrong. No sonar failure was reported in the Ambra official report.
Of course, the submarines were sent out to support of the main operation, but the key (weak) point is that they were not aware of it. Their mission orders were generically to patrol their assigned areas and to sink any British merchant or military ship.
"Maybe it was Uomini sul fondo. Storia del sommergibilismo italiano dalle origini ad oggi Giorgerini, Giorgio (2002). "
...like it was Bragadin who wrote about the Barham casualties ? Please...
Giorgerini is a very serious university professor and a consultant of the Italian Navy...


Bye, Alberto
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

"There's always a danger running in the enemy at close range" (Adm.W.F.Wake-Walker)

User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2033
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Matapan

Post by wadinga » Wed Jul 10, 2019 12:22 pm

Fellow Contributors,

Whoever wrote the Wikipedia piece quoted
Uomini sul fondo. Storia del sommergibilismo italiano dalle origini ad oggi Giorgerini, Giorgio (2002)
as a reference. Are those points which contradict Mr Virtuani's account, contained in this work by a serious university professor? Or one of the other sources quoted?

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

User avatar
Alberto Virtuani
Senior Member
Posts: 3607
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:22 am
Location: Milan (Italy)

Re: Matapan

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Wed Jul 10, 2019 1:40 pm

....among all the other sources at the end of the entry and without any reference to the wrong statement quoted by Mr.Wadinga about the Gaudo operation....

As suggested already, before writing a book or a wiki entry anybody should check the primary sources like the official reports and the operation orders that exclude both the sonar failure and the "protection" for the Gaudo operation.

Another error of wiki (British version, the Italian one is more correct https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambra_(sommergibile)) is that Ambra reported no damage at all due to the depth bombing after sinking Bonaventure.


Bye, Alberto
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

"There's always a danger running in the enemy at close range" (Adm.W.F.Wake-Walker)

User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2033
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Matapan

Post by wadinga » Wed Jul 10, 2019 4:30 pm

Fellow Contributors,

I see
Uomini sul fondo. Storia del sommergibilismo italiano dalle origini ad oggi Giorgerini, Giorgio (2002)
is the prime source for the Italian language version too. So which of the sources is the origin of the so-called "wrong" statement about the submarine trap being aware of why they were there?
The submarine suffered damage to a variety of her equipment, including both gyroscopic and magnetic compasses. Once the escorts moved away, Ambra surfaced and using Celestial Navigation made her way back to Augusta.
Who could have invented this level of detail? And why? No British source could know this, it surely can only have come from an Italian source, either official report, medal citation or maybe a piece of propaganda made to make Arillo's accomplishment more "heroic" than it was. Hmmm that kind of assertion sounds eerily familiar.

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

User avatar
Alberto Virtuani
Senior Member
Posts: 3607
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:22 am
Location: Milan (Italy)

Re: Matapan

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Wed Jul 10, 2019 4:55 pm

Hello everybody,
I'm sure someone invented them, possibly, as Mr.Wadinga said, to make a more interesting story for Ambra by any of her sailor....

However, as they don't appear in the official documents nor in the Italian wiki entry (whose only reported source is Giorgerini and that is basically correct https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambra_%28sommergibile%29), I can only think of a superficially written (English language) book from which this was lightly picked up (see references here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_submarine_Ambra), possibly to make a less humiliating story for the British, who lost a cruiser and were not able to damage their hunter....

I suggest to Mr.Wadinga to investigate where the errors come from in the British wiki version....


Bye, Alberto
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

"There's always a danger running in the enemy at close range" (Adm.W.F.Wake-Walker)

User avatar
wadinga
Senior Member
Posts: 2033
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 3:49 pm
Location: Tonbridge England

Re: Matapan

Post by wadinga » Wed Jul 10, 2019 6:54 pm

Fellow Contributors,
that is basically correct
I'm sorry who decides what is "correct"? We have two contradictory versions, one including intimate, detailed descriptions of Ambra's damage which can only have come from an internal Italian Navy source.

Once again we have an attempt to generate unnecessary emotion for effect (real provocation). I expect we are seeing "intuition" at work again:
less humiliating story for the British, who lost a cruiser and were not able to damage their hunter.
There is nothing "humiliating" about being torpedoed in the dark, it is a pure chance of war. Making up a story that in return you broke the enemy's compasses and he had to get home by celestial navigation would hardly "even the balance".

BTW I've just checked the only English origin reference, Chesneau, in the English language Wikipedia article, and he makes no mention of Ambra's action against Bonaventure, so the origin is clearly one of the Italian authors, Pollini, Giorgerini or the famous editor of that most excellent journal which only prints the most "correct" material, ERMINIO BAGNASCO.

Which of these "made up" or more likely, revealed, the details of the submarine trap's actual mission, and Ambra's damage, remains to be seen.

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

User avatar
Alberto Virtuani
Senior Member
Posts: 3607
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:22 am
Location: Milan (Italy)

Re: Matapan

Post by Alberto Virtuani » Wed Jul 10, 2019 7:43 pm

Hello everybody,

let's leave these very poor attacks to the Italians writers (first Bragadin, then Giorgerini, now Bagnasco...), only motivated by the anger after all the defeats suffered re. the Denmark Strait battle by the Italians (Adm.Santarini included) ....
"who decides what is "correct"?"
The official documents, of course (such as the mission report of Ambra). The ones someone has never seen, preferring to trust his wikipedia (English version)...

I suggest to research a bit using primary sources before posting again nonsense....


Bye, Alberto
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

"There's always a danger running in the enemy at close range" (Adm.W.F.Wake-Walker)

Post Reply