The Battle of Sfax

RM Luca Tarigo

The British naval victories at Taranto and Cape Matapan allowed Adm. Cunningham to anchor the 14th Destroyer Squadron in Valletta Harbor on Malta to raid Axis shipping heading to Libya. The first fruits of that opportunity came on the night of 15-16 April, 1941 just off the coast of Sfax, Tunisia.

Three days before, four troopships carrying the remainder of the 15th Panzer Division (less vehicles), and one ammunition ship carrying three basic loads, departed Naples escorted by three Italian destroyers. The British, informed by ULTRA intercepts, tracked the convoy by seaplane until it was in the shallow waters off Tunisia, where it couldn’t disperse if attacked.

On the evening of 15 April, the four destroyers of the squadron: HMS Jervis, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, and HMS Janus, exploited the Italian’s lack of radar and snuck to within 2000m of the convoy. Just before 2 am, the British destroyers ambushed the convoy and immediately sank or damaged all three destroyers with torpedoes or 4.7″ guns. They then turned their guns on the defenseless and cornered transports and sank all five. Only the heroic efforts of an Italian ensign, the surviving officer aboard the destroyer Luca Tarigo, prevented a one sided victory. The young 20 year old officer rallied what remained of the crew, and attacked the British flotilla as they were systematically destroying the transports. He managed to put two torpedoes into HMS Mohawk, whom had to be abandoned and scuttled.

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