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The Battle of Calabria

The Battle of Calabria

Unit/ Formation: HM Ships

Location: Mediterranean Sea

Period/ Conflict: World War II

Year: 1940

Date/s: 9th July 1940

Naval battle of Calabria fought against the Italian Navy.

On the 7th, Admiral Cunningham sailed from Alexandria with battleships "Warspite", Malaya", Royal Sovereign", carrier "Eagle", cruisers and destroyers to cover convoys from Malta to Alexandria and to challenge the Italians to action.

The Italian Battleship Cesare firing her salvoes near Punta Stilo (Battle of Calabria)

Next day - the 8th - two Italian battleships, 14 cruisers and 32 destroyers were reported in the Ionian Sea covering a convoy of their own to Benghazi in Libya. Italian aircraft now started five days of accurate high-level bombing (also against Force H out of Gibraltar) and cruiser "Gloucester" was hit and damaged*. Mediterranean Fleet headed for a position to cut off the Italians from their base at Taranto.

‘HMS Warspite at the Battle of Calabria, 7 July 1940’ by Geoff Hunt which is on loan to the Britannia Naval College Dartmouth

On the 9th, Eagles aircraft failed to find the Italians and first contact was made by a detached cruiser squadron which was soon under fire from the heavier Italian ships. "Warspite" came up and damaged "Giulio Cesare" with a 15in hit. As the Italian battleships turned away, the British cruisers and destroyers engaged, but with little effect.

Mediterranean Fleet pursued to within 50 miles of the south west Italian coast off Calabria before withdrawing. The British had 2 light cruisers damaged and 2 destroyers damaged. The Italians had 1 battleship damaged, 1 heavy cruiser damaged plus 1 destroyer damaged. [1]

*From 10:00 to 18.40 on the 8th July, 72 land-based bombers of the Italian Regia Aeronautica (Royal Air Force) from the mainland attacked their fleet. Unlike the dive-bombers favored by the Germans, Italian bombers operated in formations at high altitudes during the early stages of the war, about 12,000 feet. While scores of bombs were dropped by the Italians, a single hit on HMS Gloucester represented the outcome of two major attacks.

HMS 'Eagle' and 'Gloucester' off Calabria, 9 July 1940 - This painting was done from life. Its shows the ‘Eagle’ in the centre of the painting with the ‘Gloucester’ on the right. The ships of the Italian fleet can be seen in the distance amidst considerable bombing. An aircraft is shown on the left. The painting has been signed by the artist, and inscribed ‘'Eagle' and 'Gloucester', Calabria.'’ The limited palette gives the painting the effect of being a photograph, by Langmaid, Rowland John Robb [National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London]

This was a serious hit on the bridge, killing the captain, six officers and eleven ratings. In addition, three officers and six ratings were wounded. The forward fire control and the steering equipment was destroyed, and for the rest of the battle, she would be commanded from the emergency station. Royal Marine John Gerrard Godliman aged 17 was killed in this action.

[1] Soldier and Sailor Too - (

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