Operation Locatelli

This was an Italian convoy operation across the Strait of Otranto at the southern end of the Adriatic Sea (11/12 November 1940).

The operation resulted in the Battle of the Strait of Otranto, a minor naval action in the strait between Italy and Albania. The action took place after a British naval squadron had entered the Adriatic Sea in search for Italian naval targets, and although the most of the local commanders did not know it at the time, the squadron’s real purpose was to help divert Italian attention from the 'Judgement' (i) naval air attack on the main Italian fleet base at Taranto. The British squadron was commanded by Rear Admiral H. D. Pridham-Whippell, second-in-command of Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham’s Mediterranean Fleet and flying his flag in the light cruiser Orion, and included the light cruisers Ajax and Australian Sydney, and the destroyers Mohawk and Nubian.

On 12 November, an Italian convoy of four merchant vessels (5,601-ton Antonio Locatelli, 4,357-ton Premuda, 4,322-ton Capo Vado and 2,391-ton Catalani) was on passage back from Valona in Albania, to which they had delivered men and supplies for the 'Esigenza G' campaign against Greece, back to Brindisi in Italy under escort of the elderly torpedo boat Nicola Fabrizi and the auxiliary cruiser Ramb III commanded by Tentente di Vascello Giovanni Barbini and Capitano di Fregata Francesco de Angelis respectively. The ships were steaming without navigation lights.

The British ships were heading to the north during the night of 11/12 November and, after reaching a notional line between Bari and Durazzo by 01.00 without incident, turned to run southward. Some 20 minutes later, the British ships encountered six darkened Italian ships which the British took to be two destroyers and four merchant vessels. The Italian ships passed ahead of the British force on course toward the Italian mainland.

Mohawk opened fire at 01.27, and in an action which quickly became general and confused, as was often the case in nocturnal operations, Sydney attacked the leading freighter at a range of about 12,000 yards (10975 m), hitting it and setting it on fire. Over the next 23 minutes, the other three merchantmen were either sunk or damaged and left burning. Nicola Fabrizi was hit and heavily damaged and retired toward Valona with 11 dead and 17 wounded and, after an initial exchange of 19 salvoes, Ramb III broke off the action unscathed. The merchantmen were all sunk in the engagement.

The British ships suffered neither damage nor casualties, although a torpedo narrowly missed Sydney's stern at 01.40, while the Italian personnel losses were 36 dead and 42 wounded.

The Italians retaliated by despatching aircraft to locate the British squadron, but the Cant flying boats which eventually located the squadron were shot down. The Italian navy sent motor torpedo boats from a harbour to the north of Valona, the 7a Divisione Incrociatori (light cruisers Muzio Attendolo, Eugenio di Savoia and Emanuele Filiberto Duca d’Aosta) and 15a Divisione Cacciatorpediniere from Brindisi, and the 8a Divisione Incrociatori (light cruisers Luigi di Savoia Duca degli Abruzzi and Giuseppe Garibaldi) and 7a Divisione Cacciatorpediniere and 8a Divsione Cacciatorpediniere from Taranto in an attempt to intercept and overwhelm the British naval squadron in the Strait of Otranto Straits, but these Italian naval forces failed to make contact.

The day after the battle, the elderly Italian torpedo boats Curtatone and Solferino rescued 140 men from the sea.