I believe Alberto and I have just agreed on something. Sending VALF to take on Iachino on his own would have been murder so Cunningham never did get the Long Message no matter what Bletchley old timers "remember". Cunningham just knew "something" was happening.
Given the very limited resources at his disposal, Cunningham could only intercept and engage one enemy force. Maybe the RAF could have engaged the northern force if it had continued, Cunningham never mentions it in his papers.
Why Supermarina decided to abort the northern mission, when the discovery of the now "decoy" force south of Crete could have drawn all British eyes southwards is a complete mystery.
Excuses for the abject performance of Ardilo and the Ambra simply won't wash. If he genuinely realised the Mediterranean Fleet was passing him on a mission to cause death and mayhem to his countrymen, his overwhelming duty was to warn HQ of its coming. "I was obeying orders to sink things not report things" is a dereliction of duty and admission of monumental stupidity. "Any idiot can follow orders!" Jacky Fisher
This is a terrible excuse. When U-556 spotted Force H on its way to sink the Bismarck, she transmitted a warning straight away. U-boats were also a different arm to the surface ships but they knew their duty was to display initiative, and warn HQ and other wolves who might get a chance. Once again it should have made no difference if Ardilo knew Iachino was at sea, there were plenty of other Axis assets Cunningham could have been off to attack.this was a great failure of the Italian complex command chain, that did not phase the surface and the submarine operation in any way,
Ardilo, along with the poor reconnaissance of Alexandria, and Iachino's inability to recognise that short range biplane attackers might mean Formidable and hence the battleships were nearby, allowed Admiral Cattaneo and thousands of men to be sent on a suicide mission.
All the best