The Conclusions of the Naval War in the Mediterranean Sea 1939-1945


“From the various publications on the last naval war in the Mediterranean Sea, the memoirs of the British Admiral Andrew Cunningham who served as Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet for most of the war period till the fall of Italy, offer without doubt the best account of the operations that took place. Written in an unembellished language they are characterized by a justified pride for the action of the Fleet that operated under his command and present with sincerity the shortcomings that had arisen as well as the errors committed. At the same time with tact, but with apparent discomfort, they refer to some specific cases of inappropriate intervention and lack of understanding by the Center.

The Admiral made every effort to also appraise with objectivity the activity of the enemy Italian Navy. He does not hesitate to elate some of its operations, especially some specific actions that caused his respect. On the other hand he is strict in his evaluation of the Supreme Command of the Italian Navy, sometimes even sarcastic for the Chiefs of the Italian naval forces for whose failures he can find no excuse.

It was natural for us Greeks to agree with these judgments, as we had our own experience about the strange inactivity of the Italian Fleet during the Greek – Italian war of 1940 -1941.

However, coming to a really impartial and fair opinion is quite difficult if we don’t take a look at the other side of the coin. We are offered this opportunity thanks to the book of the Italian Commander Bragadin The Italian Navy in World War II”, a book he wrote under the supervision of the Italian Navy Admiral Fioravanzo and published by the American Naval Institute of Annapolis. The fact that the book is prefaced by Rear-Admiral R.Carney, ex commander of the American naval operations, gives an additional importance to the book. R.Carney when referring to the action of the Italian Navy during the last war goes beyond formal courtesy –which can be considered natural for an ex-foe and now friend and ally – and willingly supports the opinions presented in the book by which every effort is made to justify the misadventures of the Italian Navy and several of its actions that are so severely criticized by Admiral Andrew Cunningham. At the same time Admiral R.Carney is referring with enthusiasm to the various individual exploits described in the book.

Of course, any narration of war action of a Navy by its Historical Service inevitably tends to underline actions that honor it and to justify –as best as possible- any black points. In this case Commander Bragadin, being aware of the negative appraisals expressed by various sides and especially by Admiral Andrew Cunningham [to whose judgment fairly gives more importance], makes every effort to overturn them.  Commander Bragadin succeeds thus to persuade –up to a certain point at least- an impartial researcher. However the impression remains that the action of the Italian Navy and especially the battle Fleet could have been more successful, especially if the direction of operations from above was different.

Although the establishment of the historical truth concerning the action of the two Navies is mainly the responsibility of the two parties, it is also of interest to Greek Navy who fought against the one and operated as ally to the other. What I consider more important is to extract conclusions from opposite views that will be useful in the future. This is the main objective of the present study.

Some military researchers have expressed the view that the radical evolution of the kind and destructive power of the present day weapons and the methods of their utilization have rendered useless the conclusions of past wars. I don’t agree with this approach. Even if the means of conducting a war change, the general principles remain intact. Those who have ignored the teachings of history were not late to regret it.”

Gregory Mezeviris

December 1960