Wings over the Sea: The Interaction of Air and Sea Power in the Mediterranean, 1940–42
On the eve of Italy’s entry into the war, Sir Dudley Pound told Cunningham, the C-in-C, Mediterranean, ‘The one lesson we have learned here is that it is essential to have fighter protection over the Fleet’.1 Norway and Dunkirk demonstrated the devastating effect of bombing on ships and sailors’ morale and the ineffectiveness of AA fire. Cunningham and Somerville (Force H) were determined to exercise sea power in the historic manner. ‘Our position in the Middle East’, declared Cunningham, ‘depends almost entirely on the fleet and I want to keep it active and able to go anywhere with moderate security’2 However, the Regia Aeronautica was numerous and highly trained and Cunningham complained that ‘the Italians ... send planes over Alexandria every day and no force in the last three weeks has been at sea without being discovered and bombed’.3 The enemy quickly learned to keep below a radar beam and thus ‘enjoy a fair degree of immunity from fighter interception’.4 Waves of up to 40 bombers attacked the fleet, dropping 400 bombs in 4 days. Though ‘more alarming than dangerous’, Cunningham observed ‘the sailors, especially those in the destroyers, look a bit askance at going to sea knowing they will be bombed for two or three days running’.5 Low-level torpedo-bombers, attacking in the moonlight were ‘rather a menace — very difficult to meet’.6 Force H was also beset by shadowers and bombers on its frequent ‘club runs’ to Malta.
KeywordsMiddle East Radar Beam Aerial Mining Wide Open Space Naval Operation
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