Battle of the Ligurian Sea
The Battle of the Ligurian Sea was a naval surface action of the Second World War, that was fought on 18 March 1945 in the Gulf of Genoa in the Mediterranean Sea. A Kriegsmarine flotilla, of two torpedo boats and one destroyer, was engaged in an offensive mine laying operation and was intercepted by a British Royal Navy force. In this action, the British destroyers HMS Lookout and Meteor sank two of the German ships and severely damaged the third. This was the last German naval surface action of the war.
At the Malta Conference (30 January – 3 February 1945) transfers of air force and army units from Italy to the Western Front in France and Belgium, as Operation Goldflake. In February and March 1945 the I Canadian Corps was moved from Italy to the French port of Marseilles. Escorts for the troopships was provided by Flank Force (Admiral Robert Jaujard) a mixture of British, French and US ships, with air cover from the Mediterranean Allied Coastal Air Force (MACAF).
On the night of 17 March 1945, the last three operational ships of the German 10th Flotilla (Korvettenkapitän Franz Burkart) conducted an offensive mine laying operation north-east of Corsica. After sailing from Genoa, torpedo boats TA24 (ex-Italian Arturo) and TA29 (ex-Italian Eridano) laid 56 mines south of Gorgona Island and the destroyer TA32 (ex-Yugoslavian Dubrovnik, later Italian Premuda) placed 76 mines in another field north of Cap Corse. The flotilla rendezvoused for the return to Genoa and was about 20 nmi (23 mi; 37 km) north of Cape Corse, when an Allied shore radar at Livorno detected them. Four Allied destroyers of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla were patrolling in the area, the French L'Adroit-class destroyer Basque, Bourrasque-class destroyer and Tempête, along with the British L and M-class destroyers HMS Lookout and Meteor.
In the early hours of 18 March, all but Meteor had received the radar report from Livorno. Captain André Léon Jean Marie Morazzani, the senior officer aboard Tempête, ordered the British ships to intercept the intruders, while he led the older and slower French destroyers south-east, because he believed the Germans might double back to intercept a convoy near Cape Corse. Lookout's commander, Derick Hetherington, advised Meteor via Talk Between Ships (TBS) and the British ships went on separate courses north-east at full speed. By the time Captain Morazzani determined that the German ships were no threat to the convoy, he was too far away to join the action.
Lookout established radar contact with the Germans at 03:00 on 18 March, sailing at 20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h) just west of north. Lookout approached at high speed from ahead and opened fire from about 5,000 yd (2 nmi; 3 mi; 5 km). Minutes later she swung around, moving parallel to the Germans and launched torpedoes. The Germans were surprised and Lookout's radar-directed guns quickly scored hits on TA24 and TA29. TA29 dropped out of formation while the other two ships retreated north. Lookout 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 2,000 yd (1 nmi; 1 mi; 2 km). TA29 fought back, her gunners almost hitting Lookout several times. One burst of 20 mm shells hit some smoke floats and started a small fire that was quickly extinguished.
Lookout continued to fire at TA29 until just after 04:00; after more than 40 hits, TA29 caught fire and sank. She lost only 20 men despite Lookout's intense and accurate salvos. Meteor altered course to intercept the other German ships and at around the same time that Lookout was engaging TA29, Meteor made radar contact from 12,300 yd (6 nmi; 7 mi; 11 km) with the two German ships retreating north. Meteor opened fire at 8,000 yd (4 nmi; 5 mi; 7 km) and hit TA24 almost immediately. Seeing the hit in the dark, she launched a salvo of torpedoes a few minutes later, one of which struck TA24. Meteor's commander, Richard Pankhurst, saw a "geyser of flame and metal" and TA24 sank at just after 04:00, losing 30 men in 13 minutes.
This was 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 else in the Mediterranean. The engagement was also the last surface naval battle the British fought in the western theatre and the last big surface action in the Mediterranean Sea. TA32 had participated briefly in the action and was damaged but managed to escape; she was scuttled by her crew at Genoa on 25 April 1945. The British destroyers rescued 244 survivors, including Franz Burkart, in rafts and boats from TA24 and TA29 and took them prisoner. In 2011, Spencer Tucker wrote "the British destroyers achieved decisive results against a German unit... and their victory effectively ended the Kriegsmarine ability to undertake deep water offensive operations".
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