aurora wrote:Despite this one further attack was made by aircraft from the Ark Royal, which saw nine torpedo bombers attack the Vittorio Veneto
The Italians were smarting from the Taranto attack and, having seen what Swordfish torpedoes could do, there would be no risking the two operational battleships with an enemy carrier in the vicinity. (Their fears were later justified at Matapan!) It is clear from the track chart of the battle, that Campioni had no intention of engaging offensively with the two battleships since he altered course AWAY from the battlefield when the cruiser engagement started.
The Ark Royal's aircraft then intervened and he immediately turned the battleships away completely and withdrew, eventually loosing off a few salvos from VV's aft turret at the pursuing British cruisers causing them to break off the chase. Renown was too far back to engage VV, only spotting her briefly hull down at extreme range. By that time there was too much danger of Italian air attacks and no real chance of closing the range. There had even been a submarine alert. It was only prudent for Somerville to call off the chase. The track chart of the battle shows this pretty well. There is no question that he showed great offensive spirit in the face of a superior Italian force. Churchill was just being Churchill!
(Here I go illustrating again!) Here's the track chart to which (a few years ago) I added notations to show exactly how the battle progressed. I did it by matching the points on the chart with the events described in Peter C. Smith's Renown bio. It all matched up pretty well.