Many missed opportunities in the Med for one reason or another.
Indeed. It is an intriguing what-if to swap Cunningham (and for Supermarina to exert less restrictions) for Campioni. With an aggressive commander in charge, it would have been interesting to see what the Regia Marina, commanding the Central Med, could have done against the overstretched Royal Navy, split between two bases at either end of the Middle Sea. The naval war in the Mediterranean could have been a whole lot different....
Of course in saying that, O'Hara might be right and in pursuing a Nelsonian strategy, the RM may have been destroyed, but I cannot help thinking that the Italian navy could - and should - have made life much more difficult than they did while they had the chance. When the Littorios came on the scene they had more powerful and faster battleships than anything the British could offer, plus a large number of heavy cruisers that the British did not.
O'Hara makes great play of the fact that the RM (unlike the Kriegsmarine or IJN) remained largely intact by 1943 - but I do not understand this argument when the country was kicked out of North Africa and then invaded three years after declaring war... makes you wonder what the navy was built for if it wasn't to help fully prosecute the war.
Well, the British had radar and knew how to use it. They also could put (sometimes) aircraft carriers to sea whereas the Italians could not. The British were getting their first real ultra intercepts by the time of the battle of Cape Matapan, and Italian fire control at night was decidedly inferior. Combine all this and you are looking at a recipe for disaster. Without the best of luck the RM should have been defeated by any comparable British force. Just too many factors in their favor.
A lot is made of radar - and clearly having it helped, there is no denying that. But it is too simplistic to say the British had radar and that was why they won at Matapan for example.
Yes Cunningham had radar available but the fact that the battle took place was only because Cunningham was sufficiently aggressive to decide to sail his ships into an area whereby (whether the sortie was successful or not) they would be vulnerable to air attack the following day. Had he been Campioni, operating under orders from Supermarina, Cunningham would not have made that decision.
This was a calculated risk - there was nothing guaranteed about it – and this comes back to the qualities of the Admirals in charge – and the orders dished out from their respective commands.
You say the RM should have been defeated by any comparable force, but rarely did the fleets put to sea with comparable numbers - the numbers, the firepower, the speed and the air cover available were usually in the Italians favour. As for carriers and carrier aircraft, as I said, the British capabilities here were overrated - you mention carriers plural. Having even one carrier available was a luxury not always afforded to Cunningham - and when that carrier is Eagle.....
Coming back to Alfred’s points, he is clearly a proponent of O’Hara’s view (and that is absolutely fine – O’Hara’s points are hardly without merit) but there is a point missed here. One of the central points being made is that the Italians had no choice but to supply their overseas territories and the troops within via the Mediterranean, whereas the British could always use the Cape and supply their forces in Egypt via that route. That is true, but ignores the fact that (rightly or wrongly) the British decided to keep Malta in the war. That meant the need to supply the island – just as the Italians needed to supply North Africa. One only has to look at Malta’s position on the map to realise what this meant. The Italians held the central, dominating position in the Med, the British naval forces were split thousands of miles apart, the Italians thus had the ‘choice of the battlefield’. They had aircraft on the aircraft carriers ‘Sicily’ and ‘Calabria’ - the opportunity of defeating a smaller British force in detail had to be there, but was never properly taken. British ships damaged and sunk in supplying Malta was no small number, but imagine if the RM had supported the submarines and aircraft fully?
And it’s not just Malta I know that there were concerns about German aircraft being able to identify Italian ships from British ships, but surely the RM could have sortied during the evacuation from Crete? The Luftwaffe did a job on the RN ships, the Italian navy could have stuck the boot in… but didn’t.
As I said in Post 13, there is no guaranteed right or wrong here. The Italian navy had a job to do – and it can be argued they did it reasonably well (in terms of quantity of supplies and troops delivered). By adopting a more aggressive strategy, they could have suffered a major defeat that would have made Libya untenable (although one could argue that may have actually helped in the long run!). But equally, I remain unconvinced that they could not have made a better job of it. The British position (particularly in those first 24 months of the Med War – alleviated for a time post Taranto) was perilous enough as it was, but the Italians could – and in my book should – have been more aggressive.
Being ‘effectively’ an island, i.e. being invaded from the sea – Sicily, Calabria, Salerno, Anzio - and ending up on the losing side – but with one’s navy largely intact cannot be considered a positive in my view.
< Message edited by warspite1 -- 11/27/2015 7:11:13 AM >
England expects that every man will do his duty. Horatio Nelson October 1805