Vice Admiral Cunningham's fleet steamed toward Taranto, in order to cut Italian's return route and at noon on 9 July the two fleets were 90 miles apart. Cunningham could not close the distance to engage with the significantly slower Royal Sovereign and Malaya (18 knots vs 28 knots) and took Warspite in on its own. The Italian Supreme Command had planned to keep the action close to Italy and were deliberately moving north in order to draw the Allies closer to their airbases. By 14:00, however, Cunningham's plans to cut off the Italian fleet from Taranto had succeeded.
The Allied cruiser group was spread out in front of Warspite and at 15:15 they caught sight of the Italian main battle force and the two groups opened fire at 21,500 meters (23,512 yds). Splinters from a 6" (152mm) shell fired by the cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi hit HMS Neptune, damaging her catapult and the reconnaissance aircraft beyond repair. Vice Admiral John Tovey decided to disengage and by 15:30 fire ceased.
Shortly, the Italian commander decided to take on Warspite, and started moving his two battleships into position. At 15:52 Giulio Cesare opened fire at a range of 26,400 metres (28,871 yds). Conte di Cavour had been assigned to Malaya and Royal Sovereign, which were further back and did not enter the engagement.
At 15:59 two shells from Giulio Cesare fell very close to Warspite. Almost immediately after one of Warspite's 15" (381 mm) rounds hit the rear deck of Giulio Cesare, setting off the stored ammunition for one of her 37 mm anti-aircraft guns. Two seamen were killed and several wounded. The fumes from the burning ammunition were sucked down into the engine room, which had to evacuate and shut down half of the boilers. Giulio Cesare's speed quickly fell off to 18 knots and Conte di Cavour took over. Giulio Cesare and Warspite were over 24,000 metres (26,000 yards) apart at the time of the hit, which was one of the longest-range naval artillery hits in history.
At 16:01 the Italian destroyers generated smoke and the battleships got under cover. There is some debate about this point today, the Allied position being that the battleships were leaving battle, the Italian that they were attempting to make a torpedo attack with their destroyers from within the smoke.
Battle continued whith cruisers firing at each other and long range torpedo attacks with destroyers. The battle ended at 16:50 with both sides withdrawing. Both sides claimed victory, but in fact the battle was a draw and everyone returned to their bases as soon as possible. After the battle the Allies claimed to have achieved some sort of "moral ascendancy" over the Italian Navy; conversely, the Italian propaganda depicted the clash as a victory of their own.
Luck or good Shooting.????
Quo Fata Vocant-Whither the Fates call