Struggle for the Middle Sea - The Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theatre, 1940-1945

Author(s)                 Vincent P. O'Hara
Publisher Naval Institute Press
Date 2009
Pages 360
Format epub
Size 9.6 Mb

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   Enrico Ricciardi was a young midshipman fresh from the Livorno Naval Academy serving aboard the light cruiser Eugenio di Savoia, flagship of Rear Admiral Luigi Sansonetti's 7th (Cruiser) Division. Eugenio di Savoia was about to fight in Italy's first fleet engagement against Great Britain. Ricciardi  remembered his admiral's reaction when combat commenced: "When we saw the first salvo, even before the sound reached us. Admiral Sansonetti excitedly placed his hand on my shoulder and said to me these exact words. 'Take a log sheet and note this down: at 1520 on 9 July 1940 on the Ionian Sea an Italian battle fleet fired its first gunshots against the English.' He added, 'This is a historic moment, and you. young man. should be proud to be living it.'" Aboard the British warships, similar excitement reigned when the signal "Enemy battle fleet in sight" fluttered up HMS Neptune's halyards. The British commander. Admiral Andrew Browne Cunningham, noted this was the first time such a signal had been seen in the Mediterranean since the time of Nelson. Italy declared war on 10 June 1940. nine months into the conflict that became World War II. The Action off Calabria, as this engagement is known in English histories, was the war's first fleet clash and Britain's first attempt to establish sea control in the central Mediterranean. Accordingly expectations ran high, but rather than leading to a crushing naval victory, like Trafalgar. Calabria proved to be just the opening round in a protracted and bitter campaign that ultimately enmeshed five of the world's six great navies and dragged on to the very end of the European war...

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