The Battle of the Campobasso Convoy was a naval engagement between three British Royal Navy destroyers and an Italian Regia Marina torpedo boat which took place off Cape Bon in the Mediterranean sea on the night of 3/4 May 1943. The Italians were escorting the 3,566 long tons transport ship Campobasso to Tunisia.
As the North Africa campaign neared its conclusion, HMS Petard, HMS Paladin and HMS Nubian were patrolling the waters off Cape Bon. On the night of 29/30 April, they made a sweep along the south coast of Sicily and sank a 2,000 ton merchant ship escorted by German E-boats, without damage or casualties to themselves.
A few days later Nubian Petard and Paladin from intelligence signals waited for an Italian convoy to cross their path. The Italian 3,566 ton merchant Campobasso had left Pantelleria island loaded with bombs, land-mines, motor transport and other vital supplies to the beleaguered Axis force in Tunisia; it was one of the last four convoys sent from Italy to Tunisia. The merchant was then escorted by the Italian torpedo boat Perseo soon after departure.
On the night of 3/4 May radar on the British destroyers picked up contacts heading towards the Tunisian coast. The Italian torpedo boat Perseo, using a Metox radar detector, picked up the emissions from the British destroyers and warned Italian high command that the convoy had been found.
All three British destroyers at once attacked targeting the Italian merchantman Campobasso. Hits were scored by 4-inch gun and “pom-pom” fire. Campobasso was hit numerous times, set alight and within half an hour tremendous and continuous explosions took place as the ammunition and bombs were ignited. The merchant sank quickly with the loss of 73 of the 103 men aboard, but Perseo responded and launched torpedoes to little effect; the British destroyers found the range and bombarded Perseo. She was soon set on fire and exploded, sinking within sight of the last Axis stronghold with the loss of 133 of the 216 men aboard, including naval personnel on passage and her commanding officer Lt. Cdr. Saverio Marotta, who refused to abandon his ship after being seriously wounded. The next day the Italian hospital ship Principessa Giovanna picked up 4 survivors from Campobasso (20 more men from the steamer reached the coast in a lifeboat) and 67 from Perseo. On 6 May the hospital ship was bombed and damaged by Allied aircraft, with 54 killed and 52 wounded.
A second convoy led by the Italian torpedo boat Tifone, escorting the transport Belluno to Tunis and loaded herself with aviation spirit for Bizerte, managed to evade the British destroyers after witnessing the destruction of Campobasso. Tifone‘s convoy was the last Axis convoy to reach Africa during World War II.
At dusk on 8 May, as part of Operation Retribution Paladin, with Jervis and Nubian bombarded Kelibia, the most easterly point of the Cape Bon peninsula. This bombardment was repeated at dawn the next day until all Axis forces surrendered in Tunisia.
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