At 2330 the night was suddenly rent with dull shattering booms and the sky was brightened by starshell and the flashes of gunfire spread like sheet lightning in an unholy death dealing glare. Our battle fleet had opened fire at 5000 yards range by R.D.F and practically blown three eight inch cruisers and two destroyers to atoms. Destroyers were then sent in to finish them off and pick up survivors if any. C in C told us and the boats to make ourselves scarce and burn fighting lights. “All shapes are the same to me in the dark” he made signal. The destroyers picked up so many out of the water that it is thought that half the crew jumped overboard before the ships were actually sunk. One skipper of a destroyer made to C in C. “Have picked up as many survivors as I can carry; fired all of my torpedos and now have a battleship to deal with. Will I sink her with depth charges or board her?” It’s not known what reply the Admiral made.
During the night or early morning it came over misty and the enemy scattered and were lost. We lost contact and saw no more of them. Dawn found us some distance from the Battle Fleet so C in C made to us “Come in under the umbrella and enjoy a quiet breakfast after last nights frolic”. Very gratefully we crept under the all embracing and powerful protection to have a few hours peace and quietness. The forenoon passed quietly – at 1030 we passed over the area where the nights battle had been fought – the sea was a mass of oil and a couple of Carley floats were picked up with more survivors on.
Last night’s bag is thought to include Littorio, 15-in 32 knot battleship Italy’s latest, Pola – 8 in cruiser, Finne and Zara, also 8-in cruisers, and two large destroyers of the Maestrale class. With the sinking of these three cruisers Italy has now lost half her total force of these vessels – which consisted of 7 10,000 ton cruisers at the outbreak of the war. Our losses for the entire action, nil.
After dinner we had several air raid alarms and at 1600 a force of about a dozen Junkers 88 dive bombers carried out an attack upon the fleet. Fighters went up from the Formidable but the Stukas came on inexorably despite the most terrific umbrella barrage. The sky was a mass of bursting shell, pom pom tracers and every other A.A. weapon. It is incredible to watch and wonder how anything can live in it – it succeeded in breaking the attack however and the bombs that were dropped did no damage at all – two Junkers were observed to crash and half a dozen bailed out. Two of our planes were lost. It was a terrific attack while it lasted but the reception was also warm and I don’t think the Huns liked it at all They concentrated on the Formidable and all the bombs that were dropped, dropped in her vicinity – one near one entirely obliterated her behind an immense column of water. It is a terrifying and amazing spectacle. One of our Bredas nearly scored a hit – it was a beautiful shot – you could follow the red tracer flashing after the Stuka, which was flying away from our port quarter, and only just skidded around a cloud in time – another second if he’d kept to his course it would have got him.