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Battle of Cape Bon
Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of World War II
File:Da Barbiano at Venice.jpg
The Italian cruiser Da Barbianoin about 1940, she was sunk by Allied destroyers near Cape Bon
Date13 December 1941
LocationMediterranean Sea, Cape Bon, Tunisia
Result Allied victory
 United Kingdom
 Kingdom of Italy
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom G.H. Stokes Kingdom of Italy Antonino Toscano
4 destroyers 2 light cruisers
1 torpedo boat
Casualties and losses
None 2 light cruisers sunk
900+ dead

The naval Battle of Cape Bon took place on December 13, 1941 during the Second World War, between two Italian light cruisers and an Allied destroyer flotilla off Cape Bon, Tunisia. The loss of the two cruisers was a serious setback for the Regia Marina.


The control of the Mediterranean was disputed between the Italian Regia Marina and the British Royal Navy, with both sides being supported by ships from other military powers. The sea was a critical sector for the supply of the Italian and German forces in North Africa, as well as the maintenance of Malta as a British offensive base. Without Malta, Britain could not intercept Italian convoys and thus prevent the supply of troops and supplies to the Axis forces. At times, demand was high enough to warrant the use of warships as transports by both the Axis and the Allies.[1]

When Italy declared war in June 1940, it had one of the largest navies in the world but its strength was limited to the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the British Empire possessed enough resources and naval might to maintain a strong presence in the area and replace most losses by merely redeploying ships. This led to caution on behalf of the Italian command and a tendency to avoid conflict.[2]

Radar systems and broken Italian naval codes further contributed to British forces success over the Regia Marina.[3]

The action

The Italian 4th Cruiser Division, commanded by Contrammiraglio Antonino Toscano and consisting of the two Da Giussano class light cruisers Alberto da Giussano and Alberico da Barbiano and the Spica class torpedo boat Cigno, sailed from Palermo bound for Tripoli, carrying an urgent supply of aircraft fuel (nearly 2,000 tons). The fuel was vitally needed by fighters based in Libya[4] and space was limited, forcing the crew to place tanks on the decks of the ships.

In the meantime, the British 4th Destroyer flotilla, consisting of four warships (the destroyers HMS Sikh, Maori, Legion and the Dutch destroyer Hr. Ms. Isaac Sweers, commanded by Commander G. H. Stokes), was sailing to join the Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria.[5]

The Allied flotilla was spotted by an Italian aircraft but Regia Marina headquarters concluded that the British would not be able to reach Cape Bon before the 4th Cruiser Division was passed. However, the British, with intercepted signals from Ultra, ordered their destroyers to intercept the Axis cruisers.

The two forces met near Cape Bon On December 13 at 3:25 AM.[6] Arriving from astern under the cover of darkness and using radar, the Allies surprised their adversaries, launching torpedoes and opening fire at short range.[7] Di Giussano managed to fire only three salvos during the battle.[8] Both Italian cruisers were sunk, Alberico da Barbiano became a blazing inferno. After a brief encounter with the Dutch destroyer Isaac Sweers, Cigno rescued at least 500 survivors, while others reached the coast or were later saved by Italian motor torpedo boats (or MAS). Over 900 men lost their lives, including Admiral Toscano.

The entire battle had lasted a mere five minutes.


  1. "The Battle for the Mediterranean". World War II Multimedia Database. Retrieved November 8, 2010. 
  2. D’Este, Carlo (1990). "World War II in the Mediterranean". Retrieved November 8, 2010. 
  3. "World War II Naval Engagements: The Mediterrean". HBC. Retrieved November 8, 2010. 
  4. "Battle of cape Bon". Lemairesoft Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 8, 2010. 
  5. "BRITISH NAVY IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, including Malta Convoys, Part 2 of 4". Naval History. September 9, 2009. Retrieved November 8, 2010. 
  6. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". Surface Action Battle of Cape Bon. Retrieved November 8, 2010. 
  7. "BRITISH NAVY IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, including Malta Convoys, Part 2 of 4". Naval History. September 9, 2009. Retrieved November 8, 2010. 
  8. "Battle of cape Bon". Lemairesoft Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 8, 2010. 

External links

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