Action of 27 February 1941

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Action of 27 February 1941
Part of World War II
Maldives (orthographic projection).svg
Maldive Islands (orthographic projection)
Date27 February 1941
Location
1°0′N68°30′E / 1.000°N 68.500°E / 1.000; 68.500 Coordinates: 1°0′N68°30′E / 1.000°N 68.500°E / 1.000; 68.500
Result New Zealand victory
Belligerents
Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg  Italy
Commanders and leaders
Robert Bevan Alfredo Bonezzi
Strength
1 cruiser 1 auxiliary cruiser
Casualties and losses
1 cruiser slightly damaged 1 auxiliary cruiser sunk
1 killed
113 captured
1 died of wounds
4 wounded

The Action of 27 February 1941 was a single ship action between a New Zealand cruiser and an Italian auxiliary cruiser. It began when HMNZS Leander ordered a flagless freighter to stop for an inspection. Instead of complying, the freighter, Ramb I, raised the Italian colours and engaged the cruiser, Leander sinking Ramb I shortly after. Most of the Italian crew were rescued and taken to Addu Atoll, then Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Leander patrolled southwards, to investigate more reports of commerce raiders.

Cruiser Type of large warships

A cruiser is a type of warship. Modern cruisers are generally the largest ships in a fleet after aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, and can usually perform several roles.

HMNZS <i>Leander</i> ship

HMNZS Leander was a light cruiser which served with the Royal New Zealand Navy during World War II. She was the lead ship of a class of eight ships, the Leander-class light cruiser and was initially named HMS Leander.

Addu Atoll atoll of the Maldives

Addu Atoll, also known as Seenu Atoll, is the southernmost atoll of the Maldives. Addu Atoll, together with Fuvahmulah, located 40 km north of Addu Atoll, extend the Maldives into the Southern Hemisphere. Addu Atoll is located 540 km south of Malé, the country's capital. Administratively, Addu Atoll is the location of Addu City, one of the two cities of the Maldives. Addu City consists of the inhabited areas of Addu Atoll, namely the natural islands of Hulhudhoo, Meedhoo, Maradhoo, Feydhoo, and Hithadhoo.. In addition to the areas that are included as a part of Addu City, Addu Atoll has a number of other inhabited and uninhabited islands, including the island of Gan, where Gan International Airport is located.

Contents

Background

East African Campaign

In January 1941, British forces simultaneously advanced from Sudan and Kenya into Eritrea, Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland, as the navy blockaded and bombarded Italian harbours. The port of Kismayu in Italian Somaliland was occupied on 14 February and sixteen Italian and German ships there were sunk or captured, except for one vessel. Merka and Mogadishu were occupied on 25 February and several hundred Allied merchant sailors were liberated. As Allied forces closed on Massawa, the Italian Red Sea Flotilla was ordered to break out and run for friendly ports. A group of Italian vessels consisting of the colonial ship Eritrea and the auxiliary cruisers Ramb I and Ramb II attempted to operate as commerce raiders while en route to Japan. [1] The Italian squadron managed to evade the British blockade on 20 February and scattered into the Indian Ocean, Ramb I heading for the Dutch East Indies. [2]

Massawa City in Northern Red Sea, Eritrea

Massawa is a city on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea located at the northern end of the Gulf of Zula beside the Dahlak Archipelago. As a historical and important port for many centuries, it was ruled by a succession of polities, including the Axumite Empire, Medri Bahri Kingdom, the Umayyad Caliphate, various Beja sultanates, the Ottoman Empire, the Khedivate of Egypt, Italy, Britain, and Ethiopia, until Eritrea's independence in 1991. Massawa was the capital of the Italian Colony of Eritrea until it was moved to Asmara in 1897.

Red Sea Flotilla

The Red Sea Flotilla was part of the Regia Marina Italia based at Massawa in the colony of Italian Eritrea, part of Italian East Africa. In World War II, the Red Sea Flotilla was active against the British Royal Navy East Indies Station from the Italian declaration of war on 10 June 1940 until the fall of Massawa on 8 April 1941.

Dutch East Indies Dutch possession in Southeast Asia between 1810-1945

The Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony consisting of what is now Indonesia. It was formed from the nationalised colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Dutch government in 1800.

HMNZS Leander

HMNZS Leander was the leader of the Leanderclass of cruisers, armed with eight 6 in (150 mm) guns, ten 4 in (100 mm) guns, twelve .50 in (12.7 mm) Vickers machine guns in quadruple mounts and eight 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes. Leander also had armour plating over her turrets, deck and magazines and a top speed of 32.5  kn (60.2 km/h; 37.4 mph). [3] [4]

<i>Leander</i>-class cruiser (1931) UK class of light cruisers

The Leander class was a class of eight light cruisers built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s that saw service in World War II. They were named after mythological figures, and all ships were commissioned between 1933 and 1936. The three ships of the second group were sold to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) before World War II and renamed after Australian cities.

Vickers .50 machine gun 12.7 mm heavy machine gun

The Vickers .50 machine gun, also known as the 'Vickers .50' was similar to the .303 inches (7.70 mm) Vickers machine gun but enlarged to use a larger-calibre 0.5-inch (12.7 mm) round. It saw some use in tanks and other fighting vehicles but was more commonly used as a close-in anti-aircraft weapon on Royal Navy and Allied ships, typically in a four-gun mounting. The Vickers fired British .50 Vickers (12.7×81mm) ammunition, not the better known American .50 BMG (12.7×99mm).

Machine gun fully automatic mounted or portable firearm

A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm designed to fire rifle cartridges in rapid succession from an ammunition belt or magazine for the purpose of suppressive fire. Not all fully automatic firearms are machine guns. Submachine guns, rifles, assault rifles, battle rifles, shotguns, pistols or cannons may be capable of fully automatic fire, but are not designed for sustained fire. As a class of military rapid-fire guns, machine guns are fully automatic weapons designed to be used as support weapons and generally used when attached to a mount- or fired from the ground on a bipod or tripod. Many machine guns also use belt feeding and open bolt operation, features not normally found on rifles.

Ramb I

Ramb I was an auxiliary cruiser, not a purpose-built warship and lacked armour protection. It was armed with two 120 mm (4.7 in) guns and eight 13.2 mm (0.52 in) anti-aircraft machine guns. [5] Ramb I was slower than Leander, with a top speed of only 18.5 kn (34.3 km/h; 21.3 mph). The ship had departed Suez on 10 June 1940 for Massawa on the Red Sea coast, from where the ship made short cruises along the coast of Eritrea but was mainly used for anti-aircraft defence of the port. As the port was menaced by British and Allied troops, on 20 February 1941, Ramb I sailed and passed into the Gulf of Aden during the night. One ship was sighted near the island of Socotra off the Horn of Africa but it was considered too dangerous a location to attack. [6]

Anti-aircraft warfare combat operations and doctrine aimed at defeating enemy aerial forces; all measures designed to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action

Anti-aircraft warfare or counter-air defence is defined by NATO as "all measures designed to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action". They include surface based, subsurface, and air-based weapon systems, associated sensor systems, command and control arrangements and passive measures. It may be used to protect naval, ground, and air forces in any location. However, for most countries the main effort has tended to be 'homeland defence'. NATO refers to airborne air defence as counter-air and naval air defence as anti-aircraft warfare. Missile defence is an extension of air defence as are initiatives to adapt air defence to the task of intercepting any projectile in flight.

Gulf of Aden A gulf between Somalia and Djibouti in Africa and Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula

The Gulf of Aden, formerly known as the Gulf of Berbera, is a gulf amidst Yemen to the north, the Arabian Sea and Guardafui Channel to the east, Somalia to the south, and Djibouti to the west. In the northwest, it connects with the Red Sea through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, and in the southeast, it connects with the Indian Ocean through the Guardafui Channel.

Socotra The largest of four islands of the Socotra archipelago

Socotra, also called Soqotra, located between the Guardafui Channel and the Arabian Sea, is the largest of four islands of the Socotra archipelago. The territory is located near major shipping routes and is officially part of Yemen, and had long been a subdivision of the Aden Governorate. In 2004, it became attached to the Hadhramaut Governorate, which is much closer to the island than Aden. In 2013, the archipelago became its own governorate, the Socotra Governorate.

Prelude

HMNZS Leander British light cruiser HMS Leander (75) underway at sea in 1945.jpg
HMNZS Leander

Acting on reports of commerce raiders in the area, Leander sailed from Bombay on 22 February, passing west of the Laccadive and Maldive islands, to a patrol area west of One and a Half Degree Channel. At 7:00 a.m. on 27 February, Leander was steaming east, about 28 nmi (52 km; 32 mi) north of the Equator and 320 nmi (590 km; 370 mi) west of the Maldives. The captain, Robert Bevan altered course to the north to head for One and a Half Degree Channel, because news of the capture of Mogadishu had been received by radio on the previous day. Italian ships in the port might have sailed along that route for the Far East. [2]

Commerce raiding

Commerce raiding is a form of naval warfare used to destroy or disrupt logistics of the enemy on the open sea by attacking its merchant shipping, rather than engaging its combatants or enforcing a blockade against them. It is also known, in French, as guerre de course and, in German, Handelskrieg, from the nations most heavily committed to it historically as a strategy.

Lakshadweep Southwest Union Territory of India

Lakshadweep, formerly known as the Laccadive, Minicoy, and Aminidivi Islands, is a group of islands in the Laccadive Sea, 200 to 440 km off the southwestern coast of India. The archipelago is a Union Territory and is governed by the Union Government of India. They were also known as Laccadive Islands, although geographically this is only the name of the central subgroup of the group. Lakshadweep means "one hundred thousand islands" in Sanskrit. The islands form the smallest Union Territory of India and their total surface area is just 32 km2 (12 sq mi). The lagoon area covers about 4,200 km2 (1,600 sq mi), the territorial waters area 20,000 km2 (7,700 sq mi) and the exclusive economic zone area 400,000 km2 (150,000 sq mi). The region forms a single Indian district with 10 subdivisions. Kavaratti serves as the capital of the Union Territory and the region comes under the jurisdiction of Kerala High Court. The islands are the northernmost of the Lakshadweep-Maldives-Chagos group of islands, which are the tops of a vast undersea mountain range, the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge.

Maldives South Asian country in the Indian Ocean

The Maldives, officially the Republic of Maldives, is an Asian country, located in the Indian Ocean, situated in the Arabian Sea. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India, about 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) from the Asian continent. The chain of 26 atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to the Addu City in the south. Comprising a territory spanning roughly 298 square kilometres (115 sq mi), the Maldives is one of the world's most geographically dispersed sovereign states as well as the smallest Asian country by land area and population, with around 427,756 inhabitants. Malé is the capital and a populated city, traditionally called the "King's Island" for its central location.

Action

At 10:37 a.m., a ship was sighted ahead and Leander increased speed to 23 kn (43 km/h; 26 mph), gradually overhauling the vessel. As Leander closed, a gun was seen on the ship's forecastle and the silhouette of the ship resembled an Italian Ramb-class fruit carrier. Leander went to action stations at 11:15 a.m. and when ordered to identify itself ten minutes later, the vessel hoisted a British merchant flag. When ordered to give its signal letters, the ship hoisted four letters which were not listed in British signal books. Leander made the secret challenge but received no reply and the ship maintained its course and speed. A boarding party was standing by and at 11:45 a.m., the ship was ordered to stop instantly but no reply was received. A few minutes later, the ship hoisted the Italian merchant flag and trained its guns on Leander. The cruiser was broad on the beam of the Italian ship and at 3,000 yd (2,700 m) was an easy target for its guns and torpedoes. At 11:53 a.m., the Italian ship opened fire and thirty seconds later, Leander replied. The Italian fire was inaccurate and it was estimated that only about three shells were fired from each gun. [7]

Ramb I sinking, February 1941 Ramb1.jpg
Ramb I sinking, February 1941

A few shell splinters hit Leander, which fired five salvoes in a minute, then ceased fire to observe results. Leander made the flag signal "Do you surrender?", the Merchant flag was seen to be lowered and the crew began to abandon ship. Leander had hit the ship several times in the forepart and a fire burned, visible through a large hole in the side. A boat was lowered from Leander with a boarding party to try to save the ship and two lifeboats were seen leaving the vessel as men jumped overboard or scrambled down the side. An Italian officer in the water called out that the boarding party should not approach the ship, as it was burning and laden with ammunition. The boarding party laid off and as the fire spread, a big explosion before the bridge shot flames and smoke high into the sky, the ship settling bows first. As the fire burned, there was another explosion and five minutes later the ship sank under a cloud of black smoke. Leander recovered the boarding party and the Italian lifeboats, while edging away. [7]

Aftermath

The Italian captain, ten officers and 92 sailors were rescued, one was seriously wounded, four were slightly injured and one Italian sailor had been killed by shellfire. The seriously wounded man died in surgery during the afternoon and was buried at sunset. The prisoners said that Ramb I had been badly damaged by the shell hits and as Leander closed, the order to abandon ship had been given. Leander sailed eastward and arrived at Addu Atoll next morning. The Italian prisoners were transferred to the oiler Pearleaf with an armed guard of nineteen ratings and an officer; the ship made for Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Leander was sent to investigate wireless direction-finding indications that Axis ships were in the vicinity of the Saya de Malha Bank, several hundred miles south-east of the Seychelles Islands and north-east of Madagascar. [6]

Footnotes

  1. Jackson 2006, p. 281.
  2. 1 2 Waters 1956, p. 96.
  3. Campbell 1985, p. 34.
  4. Lenton & Colledge 1968, p. 39.
  5. Roskill 1957, p. 605.
  6. 1 2 Waters 1956, p. 98.
  7. 1 2 Waters 1956, p. 97.

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References

Further reading