The Battle of the Ligurian Sea was a naval surface battle that was fought on 18 March 1945 in the Gulf of Genoa. The German kriegsmarine consisting of two torpedo boats and one destroyer, were engaged in an offensive mine laying operation; the same mission that led to her first battle against the British navy in the North Sea 60 months before. In this action the British Royal navy destroyers HMS Lookout and HMS Meteor sunk two of the German ships and severely damaged another. Of note this was Germany's last surface naval battle of the war.
On the night of 17 March 1945 the last three operational ships of the German 10th flotilla conducted an offensive mine laying operation northeast of Corsica. After sailing out of Genoa, TA24 (Ex Italian Arturo) TA29 (Ex Italian Eridano) successfully laid 56 mines south of Gorgona Island while TA32 placed 76 mines in another field north of Cap Corse. The flotilla then reunited in line for the return to Genoa and were about twenty miles north of Cape Corse when Allied shore radar at Livorno detected their presence. Four Allied destroyers of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla were patrolling in the area, the French Basque and Tempete and the British HMS Meteor and HMS Lookout. In the early hours of the 18th all but Meteor had received Liverno’s radar report.
Believing the Germans might double back to intercept a convoy near Cape Corse Captain Morazzani the senior officer aboard Tempete ordered the British ships to intercept the intruders while he led the older and slower French destroyers southeast to cover. Lookout's commander Derrick Hetherington advised Meteor via TBS (Talk Between Ships) what was happening and the British ships went on separate courses northeast at full speed. By the time Captain Morazzani determined the Germans were no threat to the convoy, he was too far away to join the action.
Lookout established radar contact with the Germans at 3am on March 18th. They were sailing at twenty knots just west of north. The British destroyer approached at high speed from ahead and opened fire from about five thousand yards. Minutes later she swung around moving parallel to the Germans and launched torpedoes. The Germans were completely surprised by this attack and Lookout’s radar-directed guns quickly scored hits on TA24 and TA29. TA29 dropped out while the other two ships retreated north. Lookout decided to let them go to concentrate on the crippled TA29 and circled the German firing continuously with her six 4.7 inch guns from as close as two thousand yards. TA29 fought back, her gunners near missing Lookout a number of times, only hitting her with a burst of 20mm shells which hit some smoke floats and ignited a small fire that was quickly extinguished.
Lookout however continued blasting TA29 until just after 4am after being hit more than forty times she was burning furiously and quickly sunk. She only lost 20 men despite Lookout’s intense and accurate salvos.
Meteor, meanwhile, altered course in order to intercept the other German ships and at around the same that Lookout was battling TA29, she made radar contact from 12,300 yards on the other two German ships retreating north. Without hesitation Meteor at eight thousand yards opened fire and hit TA24 almost immediately. Seeing the hit in the dark she then launched a salvo of torpedoes a few minutes later with one hitting its target. Meteor's commander Richard Pankhurst, saw a geyser of flame and metal and TA24 sank at just after 4am losing thirty men in just thirteen minutes.
TA32 participated briefly but although damaged made good her escape, she was scuttled by her own crew at Genoa on 25 April 1945. 244 survivors in rafts and boats from TA24 and TA29 were picked up by the British destroyers and held as prisoner. This was to be the last surface action of the German Kriegsmarine of the war. The British destroyers had ended any possibility of German deep water offensive operations in the Ligurian sea let alone anywhere in the Mediterranean.
The Germans from January 1945 till 2 May 1945 had practically lost all its merchant shipping and virtually all its warships were destroyed. 112 warships and 118 small auxiliary vessels had been destroyed with more than half of these being scuttled to avoid capture. The engagement was also the last surface naval battle the British fought in the western theater and also the last major surface action in the Mediterranean sea.
- Tucker pg 467 the British destroyers achieved decisive results against a German unit... and their victory effectively ended the Kriegsmarine ability to undertake deep water offensive operations
- O'Hara pg 244-247
- Whitley pg 123
- Tucker pg 466-7
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- O'Hara, Vincent P. (2004). The German Fleet at War, 1939–1945. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-651-8. http://books.google.com.au/books?id=z85Xh21qniEC&dq.
- Roskill, S.W. (1961). The War at Sea 1939–1945. Volume III: The Offensive Part II. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. OCLC 464447827.
- Whitley, M. J. (1991). German Destroyers of World War Two. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-302-8.
- Tucker, Spencer (Nov 2011). World War II at Sea: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598844573.
- HMS Lookout (G 32) - U-Boat.net
- Service Histories of Royal Navy ships in WWII - HMS Meteor (G 73) (M-class Destroyer)
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