- Bogart, Charles H.
- Naval Aviation, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1980 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
‘The nearest bombs were two hundred yards away and the furthest about a thousand yards. Some of them somersaulted in the controller’s effort to turn them in to us, other stalled and dived sideways into the sea.
‘Suddenly it was over. The plane had gone, except for the spotter overhead, the guns ceased fire and we wiped our foreheads’.
The result of the battle was Egret blown up and sunk and Athabaskan badly damaged. But of greater significance was that the Admiralty ordered the blocking escort groups farther out to sea until counter measures could be developed against these new missiles. However, not only had the Royal Navy been bloodied during the period 23-28 August but Coastal Command lost 17 aircraft over the Bay to German fighters. The U-boats were to be given a breathing spell from British air and naval attacks in the Bay of Biscay.
Next to go into battle was III KG 100 armed with the FX1400. On 9 September 1943 the Italian Navy set forth from La Spezia to attack the allied invasion fleet off Salerno. Under the command of Admiral Carlos Bergamini the fleet consisted of battleships Roma, Italia and Vittoria Veneto, six cruisers and eight destroyers. Once at the sea the fleet revealed its real intentions, which were not to attack but to surrender. Unfortunately for the Italian Fleet its true purpose in sailing was soon known to the Germans. The Luftwaffe was thus ordered to attack and sink the fleeing ships. This mission was assigned to III KG 100.
First off was a flight of six 207s, which sighted the fleet in the Straits of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia at 1550. The Italians now compounded their misfortune by identifying the aircraft as part of a promised British aerial escort. The mistake was realized only after III KG 100 had started to launch their attack. Free from the fear of fighter attack and radar controlled gunfire each German plane attacked its target as if on manoeuvres. A near miss was first scored on Italia which jammed her rudder.
Then Roma took a direct hit on her starboard side abeam of her funnel. The missile passed through the ship’s hull to explode in the water beneath Roma. The resulting explosion severely punished the ship and caused her speed to fall off to 16 knots. Shortly thereafter Roma took a second hit in front of her bridge. This FX1400 penetrated deep inside before exploding and starting a fire in the magazine area. This fire soon blazed out of control. Shortly thereafter a violent explosion occurred which cut Roma in half. As the smoke cleared Roma had vanished taking down 1,300 of her crew of 2,000. III KG 100 however was not through, another strike put a FX1400 into Italia’s bow blowing out a large hole that allowed in 800 tons of water. Italia, though wounded, was able to proceed to Malta under her own power as III KG 100 had to break off the attack due to a lack of missiles.
Two days later on September 11 1943 the FX1400 was presented with what theoretically should have been a perfect target, the invasion anchorage off Salerno. Here was massed a large number of anchored or slow moving ships with little manoeuvering room, a collection of perfect targets for III KG 100. The first strikes were launched that morning and at 1000 III KG 100 scored their first hits, striking the US cruisers Philadelphia and Savannah. Heavily hit was Savannah, which had a FX1400 pierce her forward turret and explode in the lower handling room killing the turret crew and a damage control party. The explosion tore a large hole in the ship’s bottom, opened a seam in her side, and put out the fires in her boilers leaving her dead in the water. With her forecastle nearly awash only prompt shifting of her fuel oil and feed water by the surviving damage control party kept Savannah on an even keel. At 1800 Savannah was at last able to light off her boilers and make for Malta. Here she received temporary repairs before returning Stateside.
III KG 100 returned to action on 13 September, this time hitting the light cruiser HMS Uganda at 1440. The missile passed completely through the ship before exploding underneath her. The blast killed 16 men and caused extensive damage to the ship, resulting in 1,300 tons of water being taken on board and the boiler room fires extinguished. The next morning, still with a cold plant, Uganda was taken under tow for Malta by the tug USS Narragansett. Also suffering near misses in this attack were the cruiser Philadelphia and the British destroyers Nubian and Loyal.