The Second Battle of Durazzo, or the Bombardment of Durazzo was a naval battle fought in the Adriatic Sea during World War I. A large Allied fleet led by the Regia Marina attacked the enemy held naval base at Durazzo, Albania. The fleet destroyed the Austro-Hungarian shore defenses and skirmished with a small naval force. Allied forces involved primarily were Italian though British, American and Australian warships also participated. It was the largest naval battle the United States participated in during the war.
From 15–29 September 1918 French General Louis Franchet d'Espèrey in command of a large allied army, campaigned in Macedonia. The offensive was a victory and ended with Bulgaria's surrender. Fearing the remaining enemies would fall back on the Austrian-held port of Durazzo for supplies, Franchet d'Espèrey requested that an allied naval fleet be assembled to attack Durazzo and thus prevent the city from supplying retreating enemy forces. Franchet d'Espèrey's request was approved and the Italian Regia Marina accepted the responsibility of leading the attack. Rear Admiral Carlo Paladini in the Italian cruiser San Marco was to command the operation.
Allied objectives were to bombard Durazzo and attack Austrian ships in the harbor if there were any. The Allies divided their fleet into two forces, one for bombardment and the other for screening the attacking ships from enemy submarines. Allied forces included one Italian dreadnought battleship, the Italian battleship Dante Alighieri, which was assigned to the covering force, three Italian armoured cruisers, three Italian light cruisers, five British light cruisers, fourteen British destroyers, two Australian destroyers, eight Italian torpedo boats and twelve American submarine chasers under Captain Charles P. Nelson and Lieutenant Commander E.H. Bastedo. Allied aircraft was also involved along with several Italian MAS boats. The two Australian destroyers were HMAS Swan and HMAS Warrego.
Before the battle began, the Austro-Hungarian government decided to withdraw most of their warships from Durazzo. Only two destroyers, one torpedo boat and two U-boats opposed the allied fleet though the Austrian troops on shore manned at least three different shore batteries which dueled with the allied ships. Also in port was a hospital ship. Austrian forces were commanded by Lieutenant Commander Heinrich Pauler.
The Second Battle of Durazzo began on the morning of October 2, 1918, when British and Italian aircraft attacked first by bombarding enemy troop concentrations and artillery batteries while the fleet was still steaming across the Adriatic. Afterwards several of the Italian and British cruisers formed a two-echelon line to begin their bombardment from about 8,000 yards (7,315 meters) off the coast. Meanwhile, the MAS boats and some American and British vessels attacked the three Austro-Hungarian naval ships, SMS Dinara, SMS Scharfschütze and No. 87.
The three warships sailed back and forth around Durazzo harbor firing their guns and dodging torpedoes and shell fire. Torpedo boat No. 87 and the two destroyers were chased by the Allied destroyer force as they fled north along the coast, but they managed to escape. The Scharfschütze took some minor hits and suffered three dead and five wounded while torpedo boat No. 87 was struck by a torpedo that failed to explode. Dinara managed to escape unscathed. The shelling of the port was carried out by the Italian armoured cruisers San Giorgio, San Marco and Pisa. Three merchantmen, the Graz, Herzegovina and the Stambul were hit. Stambul sank and the two others were damaged but escaped complete destruction. The Austro-Hungarian hospital ship, the Baron Call, was stopped, searched and then allowed to proceed by British destroyers. Most of the American forces were assigned to the covering force and at the battle's beginning were used to chart a clear path through a sea mine field off Durazzo. A few of the submarine chasers took fire from shore batteries at this time but none were damaged. After they were assigned to screen the other allied ships from submarine attacks. Patrolling to the north and to the south of the battle area, the Americans engaged the two Austro-Hungarian U-boats SM U-29 and SM U-31. At 11:05, a sailor on the submarine chaser No. 129 spotted U-29, which was then depth-charged for fifteen minutes and damaged heavily but she nevertheless survived the encounter.
U-31 was also depth charged and survived as well. At one point No. 129 was fired on by the enemy shore batteries, the closest shot landed about fifty yards (46 meters) from the vessel but the Americans suffered no casualties in the battle. Later, American forces reported sinking the two submarines but this was not the case. The submarines managed to damage at least one allied light cruiser; the HMS Weymouth (1910) was struck by a torpedo from U-31 under a Lieutenant Rigele, which blew off a large portion of her stern and killed four men. Weymouth was shelling inland facilities along with four other British cruisers when the torpedo struck home. She spent the remainder of the war under repair. The other British light cruisers are known to have been lightly damaged by shore battery fire before they were silenced or disabled. A British destroyer was also hit by a torpedo. The battle ended by half-past midnight on October 2–3 and from the beginning of the action civilians fled the city and by October 11 the once busy port was silent. A few days later, a Serbian army was landed and took control.
- Halpern & Koburger, p. 112
- Halpern, p. 176
- Halpern, Paul G., Koburger Jr., Charles W., The central powers in the Adriatic, 1914-1918: War in a narrow sea Wstport CT (2001), ISBN 0-275-97071-X
- Halpern, Paul G. (1995). A Naval History of World War I. Routledge, p. 176. ISBN 1-85728-498-4
- Howarth, Steven, To Shining Sea: A history of the United States Navy 1776-1991, New York: Random House, (1991), ISBN 0-394-57662-4[page needed]
|This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).|