“Since Italy’s entrance to the war, Italy and Germany conducted parallel wars, each aiming at her own interests. When Italy’s hopes for a short war had been defeated, it became apparent that she would be increasingly be in need of her ally for her supplies with indispensable raw materials and war materials and supplies. On the other hand the Germans preferred to intervene with their own forces in the war effort undertaken by Italy, instead of satisfying the Italian requests.
The Italian Navy in particular had avoided coming into close contact with the German Navy. With the prospect of the German invasion of Greece and the Germans reaching the Mediterranean coasts, the cooperation of the two Navies became indispensable. The Italians went after this cooperation hoping that they would thus solve their serious problem of re-fueling. The Chiefs of the two General Staff of the Navies met in February 1941, to address the details of such cooperation.
In that meeting the Italians mentioned that in the span of 8 months their Navy had consumed 1 million tons of fuel and that at that rate of consumption their existing stock would only last to the end of the summer of 1941. The Germans promised to undertake the re-fueling of the Italian Navy, only after the Italians had promised that their monthly consumption would be limited to 100 thousand tons – i.e. about half their needs- to ensure freedom of action in operations. The Germans didn’t respect their promise and the monthly supplies reached on average 50 thousand tons only. In the summer 1941, 103 thousand tons had arrived from Germany and the Italian stocks had almost depleted. Since then, the Italian Navy could undertake new operations only subject to satisfactory fuel arrivals.
During that same meeting the Germans suggested that the Italian Navy should undertake a more aggressive stand, giving as an example the action of their own in the North Sea. The Italian representatives – also having in mind Mussolini’s general guidelines that the Italian battleships shouldn’t run into pointless risks- advanced the relative arguments to explain the stand of their Navy.
However the Germans especially insisted that the Italian Navy should undertake offensive actions against the British transports from Egypt to Greece, and the Supreme Italian Command ordered the Navy to comply with this request.
In execution of this order, the number of submarines patrolling in the Cretan Sea was increased, the assault units were ordered to attack the ships anchored in Suda bay [see the attack against the British cruiser HMS YORK: “The mission to Libya of the Afrika Korps” ] and an assault action was decided to be carried out by surface forces. This last decision led to the battle of Tainaron”.