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The Battle of Cape Matapan

On 28 March 1941 the Italian navy sent out a task force to prevent the Royal Navy sending troop reinforcements to Crete.

 Not only did they fail in that mission, they unexpectedly three Royal Navy battleships and an aircraft carrier. The Italians thought that they were only facing a small force of British destroyers, and light cruisers, and gave chase. Not the most sensible decision of the Second World War by any means.

Meanwhile Admiral Cunningham with the benefit of spotter planes and radar sent aircraft from HMS Formidable. These bombers managed to damage the battleship Vittorio Veneto badly enough to return to port, and thus unable to protect its cruisers and destroyers.

The aircraft had also damaged the cruiser Pola, the Italians were so busy attempting to salvage her that they were completely unaware that three Queen Elizabeth class battleships were in striking distance.

The presence of Barham, Valiant, and Warspite was only detected when flares from British destroyers highlighted their victims. The veteran ships were so close they did not need radar to hit their prey. All the Italian ships were sunk, the two ton 15 inch shells being unstoppable from such close range.


Johnston I and McAuley R (2000) The Battleships, 4 Books, London

Kennedy P (1976) The Rise and fall of British Naval Mastery, Penguin, London


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