“The Italians had decided to reinforce their forces of the island of Leros of the Dodecanese with two light cruisers the Giovani della BANDE NERE and the Bartolomeo COLLEONIin the objective of executing from there attacks against the British convoys crossing the Greek seas.

Giovani della BANDE ΝERE

Bartolomeo COLLEONI

At about the same time the British had sent the protected Australian 7.000 tons cruiser HMAS SYDNEY and 5 destroyers to attack the Italian transports between Italy and the Dodecanese.  Four British destroyers would execute antisubmarine sweeps North of Crete, while the cruiser with one destroyer would be heading to the Saronic Golf.

On the dawn of July 19, 1940, near Cape Spade of Crete the 4 British destroyers encountered the 2 Italian cruisers and the later opened fire.

The destroyers escaped east at full speed and simultaneously asked the SYDNEY, which was sailing some 45 miles north, to rush to meet them.  The Italian cruisers came suddenly upon the Australian and a battle was engaged.  The COLLEONI received a hit in the engine room, was immobilized and then was sunk by torpedoes launched from the destroyers.  The BANDE NERE continued alone the fight for about one hour and succeeded a hit on SYDNEY, which was not badly damaged.

The battle ended when the ammunitions of the SYDNEY were exhausted and had to leave, while the Italian cruiser arrived safely at Benghazi.

The Italian Air force was one more time absent.  The bombers that the Dodecanese had requested, although they were at one hour flight distance, arrived after 5 hours when the battle was over long ago.  Their only action was to attack the British destroyers that were saving the shipwrecked of the COLLEONI, obliging them to abandon them.  On the other hand, if the air reconnaissance had detected the British force, the Italian cruisers would have avoided the encounter.

The consequence of this battle was that the Italians have not tried again to reinforce with cruisers their forces of Leros.  This was helpful for us Greeks too, because their presence during the Greek-Italian war would have been a very big nuisance for our convoys in the Aegean, given that we didn’t dispose a similar type of ship to protect them.”