Off Cape Spada in the Mediterranean Sea on the morning of 19th July 1940, the HMAS Sydney and five British destroyers, Hyperion, Havock, Ilex Hero and Hasty were engaged in battle with the two Italian cruisers, the Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and Bartolomeo Colleoni. The Italians had 16 six inch guns to the Allies’ 8 six inch guns, but it was reported that the aim of the Italians was less than accurate.
The HMAS Sydney disabled the Bartolomeo Colleoni while the Bande Nere continued on a zig zag course in retreat.
The HMAS Sydney and Havock went in pursuit of the Bande Nere. The Hyperion and Ilex torpedoed the Colleoni which had been abandoned by the crew and picked up its survivors from the water. No boats were launched from the Bartolomeo Colleoni, but all crew were fitted with cork lifejackets. The Hyperion and Ilex were later joined by the Havock to rescue survivors. The Havock rescued 218 officers and crew but had to abandon its “humanitarian task” when six Italian Savoia carried out a bombing attack on her.
It was reported that crew numbers were 630 and 525 were picked up by the three British destroyers. Another seven sailors swam for 26 – 42 hours to Crete. In total four officers, 17 non-commissioned officers and 100 sailors died (including those who died after rescue).
19th July 1940. The coup-de-grace. A torpedo striking the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni after she had been shelled to a standstill by HMAS Sydney.
19th July 1940. Willing hands help survivors from the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni aboard a destroyer following the battle off Cape Spada.
19th July 1940 An unidentified group of some of the 550 Italian survivors from the Italian cruiser, Bartolomeo Colleoni, rescued by British destroyers, sitting on the deck of HMAS Sydney II. The Sydney heavily damaged the Italian cruiser during an engagement on 19 July 1940 off Cape Spada, Crete. Dead in the water, the Bartolomeo Colleoni was later sunk by torpedoes launched from British destroyers. Eric Charles Evans
Survivors of the crew of Bartolomeo Colleoni sunk by HMAS Sydney are marched ashore at Alexandria.
Survivors from the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni, sunk in action off Cape Spada in the battle with HMAS Sydney, are being fitted with clothing.
Colleoni Survivors Interned
Alexandria: Monday:-After receiving complete outfits of clothing at the British expense, the survivors of the Bartolomeo Colleoni marched from the military barracks to a suburban station where they entrained for internment for the duration of the war. Some Italian women among the watching crowds of Egyptians and Europeans wept as the marchers passed. The wounded were carried aboard a hospital ship.
The commanders and officers of HMAS Sydney and the British destroyers accorded naval honours to Italian seamen who died from wounds. British and French warships flew their flags half mast during the ceremony.
(1940 ‘Colleoni Survivors Interned’, Warwick Daily News (Qld. : 1919 -1954), 24 July, p. 5. , viewed 13 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article190427693)
Washed, brushed up and reclothed Italian prisoners from the cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni are marched to Alexandria railway station.
22nd July 1940 ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT. ITALIAN POWS FROM THE BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI AT 5TH BRITISH GENERAL HOSPITAL. (NEGATIVE BY PARER)
When the captain of the Bartolomeo Colleoni was carried into his cabin on the hospital ship Maine where he died, he asked what ship had destroyed his. The captain was greatly surprised because he believed that the HMAS Sydney had been among ships which the Italians destroyed some time before.
Captain Umberto Novaro had been seriously wounded and died from his wounds on board the hospital ship Maine at Alexandria on the 23rd July 1940.
Full military honours were bestowed upon Captain Novaro and he was buried at Alexandria on 24th July 1940. He was awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valour. He is now laid to rest at the Ossuary El Alamein.
24.7.1940 ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT. THE FUNERAL FIRING PARTY GOING ASHORE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE BURIAL OF THE CAPTAIN OF THE ITALIAN CRUISER BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI, SUNK BY HMAS SYDNEY (II) SEVERAL DAYS PREVIOUSLY. (NAVAL HISTORICAL COLLECTION). (B Craike)
Action off Cape Spada 19th Luglio 1940 by Cristiano D’Adamo
A seguito della decisione di contrastare il crescente traffico marittimo inglese nell’Egeo, Supermarina decise di trasferire due incrociatori leggeri a Leros al comando dell’Ammiraglio Casardi. Le due unità, parte della 2a Divisione, erano gli incrociatori leggeri Bande Nere e Colleoni della classe di Giussano. Le unità lasciarono Tripoli la sera del 17 luglio. Durante il trasferimento, la mattina del 17 luglio, i due incrociatori incontrarono delle cacciatorpediniere inglesi della 2a Flottiglia . (Hyperion, Ilex, Hero e Hasty) e cominciarono uno inseguimento.
Malgrado il fatto che questi incrociatori erano stati costruiti per la caccia ai cacciatorpediniere e forse a causa del mare burrascoso, l’attacco fallì. I cacciatorpediniere inglesi immediatamente si diressero a nord dove l’incrociatore australiano Sydney e il cacciatorpediniere Havock crearono una trappola mortale.
Un’ora dopo, alle 0730, la squadra italiana entrò in contatto con il Sydney e l’Havock, mentre gli altri cacciatorpediniere invertirono la rotta per portarsi all’attacco. Il mare grosso non permise alle navi italiane di avere un controllo del tiro accurato, e solamente una salva colpì il Sydney su uno dei fumaioli.
Dopo circa un’altra ora di incessanti scambi di salve, alle 0824 gli inglesi colpirono il Colleoni che perse il controllo del timone. Immediatamente dopo, un’altro colpo immobilizzò la nave. Il Colleoni continuò il combattimento con i cannoni da 100mm che potevano essere puntati manualmente. Poco dopo, alle 8:30, due cacciatorpediniere inglesi silurarono ed affondarono il Colleoni. Il Sydney, a corto di munizioni, si ritirò mentre il Bande Nere riuscì a giungere a Bengasi. La Regia Aeronautica, a solo un’ora di volo dal sito dello scontro, arrivò solamente quando gli inglesi stavano cercando di salvare i naufraghi del Colleoni.
Le cacciatorpediniere Hyperion, Ilex e Havock riuscirono a salvare più di 500 naufraghi, mentre 4 ufficiali, 17 sottufficiali e 100 marinai perirono. Il Capitano Umberto Novaro, malgrado fosse stato salvato, morì quatro giorni più a tardi ad Alessandria e fu sepolto con gli onori militari.
Il Bande Nere fu affondato da un sommergibile britannico il 1 aprile 1942, mentre il H.M.A.S. Sydney fu affondato dal corsaro tedesco Kormoran durante un’epica battaglia a largo di Fremantle (Australia).
Click here for the story of Pietro Turi and BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI: