Cape Spada, why did the Italians retreat?

From the Washington Naval Treaty to the end of the Second World War.
mstary1
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Cape Spada, why did the Italians retreat?

Post by mstary1 » Thu Aug 09, 2018 4:51 am

2 Italian light cruisers with Vice-Admiral Ferdinando Casardi in charge come up against 4 British destroyers and begins to chase them, not knowing they are drawing him towards reinforcements. An enemy light cruiser and another destroyer appear and open fire. It looks pretty evenly matched to me. So why did Casardi retreat? He was the senior officer present on both sides and came out of the battle with his reputation tarnished IMO, yet he was given command of the 7th Naval Division soon after and another cruiser to hoist his flag on. I find that weird. The loss of the Bartolomeo Colleoni is particularly distasteful to me as Casardi left her to her fate and retreated back to Benghazi. Must have been quite a boost to the crew morale of the stopped and crippled Colleoni to watch the senior officer dissapear over the horizon as the destroyers closed in for the kill. If there is a site with more information on this battle, I'd be happy to view it.

dunmunro
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Re: Cape Spada, why did the Italians retreat?

Post by dunmunro » Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:41 am

mstary1 wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 4:51 am
2 Italian light cruisers with Vice-Admiral Ferdinando Casardi in charge come up against 4 British destroyers and begins to chase them, not knowing they are drawing him towards reinforcements. An enemy light cruiser and another destroyer appear and open fire. It looks pretty evenly matched to me. So why did Casardi retreat? He was the senior officer present on both sides and came out of the battle with his reputation tarnished IMO, yet he was given command of the 7th Naval Division soon after and another cruiser to hoist his flag on. I find that weird. The loss of the Bartolomeo Colleoni is particularly distasteful to me as Casardi left her to her fate and retreated back to Benghazi. Must have been quite a boost to the crew morale of the stopped and crippled Colleoni to watch the senior officer dissapear over the horizon as the destroyers closed in for the kill. If there is a site with more information on this battle, I'd be happy to view it.
You can read a full account of the action here:
https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com ... 519628.PDF

mstary1
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Re: Cape Spada, why did the Italians retreat?

Post by mstary1 » Tue Aug 14, 2018 4:48 am

Thank you Dunmunro. An interesting read. Especially the part about Mussolini depressed because his forces had not fought very well.

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RF
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Re: Cape Spada, why did the Italians retreat?

Post by RF » Thu Aug 16, 2018 9:10 am

It was entirely Mussolini's decision to go to war when he must have known that Italy was unprepared for war.

The reality of Italy being unprepared when it has to fight would no doubt be depressing to the dictator who made that decision.

My main observation on the action itself is that the Italians acted in much the same way the KM would have done, following the German ''no risks dictat'' entirely in line with the Italians strategic defensive posture.
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

GiZi
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Re: Cape Spada, why did the Italians retreat?

Post by GiZi » Wed Aug 29, 2018 2:47 am

This one is actually pretty simple, once you understand what Casardi knew - or at least, thought he knew.

Once spotting the destroyers, he decided to pursue, but not on a direct course, as he suspected that there was a much larger force behind 2nd Destroyer Flotilla.

The engagement had gone on for about an hour, although only the first quarter involving gunfire (Casardi opened fire at 0627, suspended at 0648), when at 0730 Sydney joined the fight,Collins having approached under radio silence. However, she also opened fire from inside a fog bank, so the Italian didn't know what, aside from a 6" cruiser, was shooting at them when the rounds started falling. In his own words; “We could make out only the flash of the fire, nothing more could we distinguish, not the silhouette of the ship nor their number.” - although despite this they were able to straddle the cruiser when returning fire.

Although he only faced one light cruiser, he actually believed he faced two, one of the type of Sydney (correct), and also one of the Gloucester-class, which utterly outclassed his cruisers in everything but speed. This probably confirmed to him his earlier theory of the British destroyers being the vanguard of a larger force (I say probably because in this case I don't know if that was his conclusion or not, but I speculate it may have been). Casardi feared his force being trapped between a far superior British force and the coast of Crete. Thus, he retreated for the open sea with his cruisers.

As for abandoning Colleoni, there really wasn't much too do with Sydney and so many destroyers closing - and, at the very least, he had stuck around after the stricken cruiser was disabled, only turning away to the west at 0850 - and Colleoni had been disabled since before 0840, as that was when Hyperion fired her first torpedo spread from 7500 yards. She went down at 0859, not even 10 minutes after Bande Nere had turned to leave, pursued by Sydney.

On the one hand, it may seem distasteful for Casardi to have retreated with his remaining cruiser, but I think it would be harder to explain to common why he uselessly expended the other cruiser defending a stricken ship against superior enemy forces. There's no real way to justify doubling your losses for no gain, and I doubt Colleoni's crew, or the crew of any warship, would've expected otherwise in such a situation.

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