I enjoyed reading this book and I learned a lot from it, but even if it is a very honest thing, it has some weaknesses which prevent me from giving it five stars.
To begin with the good things, let's say that author described quite comprehensively the events which led to the battle of Matapan and then the fight itself. The Italian point of view, which I never really heard before, is very much present and it is an asset. The writing is good, the story is well structured and events can be easily followed. The size of the book is just about right for the topic and it is never boring.
Illustrations are quite honest, even if two pictures of obsolete Armstrong guns on island on Malta were maybe not the best of choices - still, all other pictures were very useful. On another hand the maps are rather basic and oversimplified, but still acceptable - and having myself some experience with maps in historical publications I will certainly not be the one to cast the first stone here...
I think author very well seized the main point of the whole battle, showing clearly how badly Italians lagged in intelligence gathering, communications, co-ordination of their navy with air force and finally the night fighting equipement. That doesn't take away any merit from the British, who made much earlier the necessary efforts in those fields and at Matapan reaped the fruits of all this work.
My remarks are ultimately rather limited. The first concerns the title - comparing Matapan to Trafalgar is a HUGE exaggeration. Of course, the damage suffered by "Vittorio Venetto" and the loss of three powerful and precious heavy cruisers "Zara", "Fiume" and "Pola" and of two destroyers were a very serious blow for Italian Navy and certainly took away much of the pressure the British were feeling at that time - especially considering that Royal Navy suffered almost no damage... But unlike at Trafalgar the Royal Navy DIDN'T erase in one blow the whole enemy force out of existence and WASN'T left completely dominant in the concerned naval area (in this case Mediterranean) for years. In fact, as actually author describes himself, the darkest hours for Mediterranean force of Royal Navy were still ahead and both Italians and Germans were going soon to challenge very, very seriously British control of this sea...
Also, siding with those critics of admiral Cunningham who accused him of not knowing how to use aircraft carriers is really, REALLY not fair! In fact he was the FIRST admiral to really exploit their amazing potential, because before the Taranto raid they were still not fully recognized by naval hierarchies around the world. At Matapan admiral Cunningham again used his only carrier in optimal way and achieved a great victory as result - the exploits of great carrier commanders such as Nagumo, Ozawa, Halsey, Fletcher and Spruance came only significantly later, once ABC showed them the way... Of course, two out of four carriers he received in 1940 and 1941 ended crippled by enemy action, but let's not forget that in those years admiral Cunningham was waging war against heavy odds - and where wood is being chopped, splinters fly...
Although it is a minor thing, it must be also said, that when author says that Italy started war without torpedo carrying planes, well, that is NOT entirely true. Certainly, the first unit using the very efficient Savoia-Marchetti SM-79 Sparviero torpedo-bomber became operational only in last days of July 1940 (so one month after Italy entered war) but in the meantime Italy had also 97 CANT Z.506 Airone torpedo carrying seaplanes - and they were very much operational and ready in June 1940...
Finally, there are some annoying typos here and there - for some reason the poor Fulmars, embarked fighters of Royal Navy, are particularly afflicted and in most cases they are called "Fulmers"... But this is a very minor point.
Still, all those points notwithstanding, I liked his book and I learned quite a lot from it. I will keep it and I recommend it to all those interested by the history of naval warfare.
on 24 June 2011
This is the first book by Mr Simmons i have read,if he is going to write others to this standard i for one look forward to reading them,this book is detailed, and very fair to both sides including a very good insight into the Italian naval forces,the final chapter is one of the most cogent i have read in any book,giving credible, sympathetic reasons for the failure of the Italian fleet to live up to expectations,demolishing wartime propaganda without rewriting history as some Historians particularly in the United States are doing, this failure never had anything to do with a lack of courage,who in there right mind would want the post of Admiral in Mussolinis Navy or Hitlers.The story behind the cover painting is fascinating,a flowing read with a very good set of photographs,a first class update of this battle and much more besides.
on 21 June 2016
This is a very good book detailing the run-up to the Battle of Matapan (starting all the way from Italy's declaration of War in June 1940) as well as its aftermath (to the end of 1941, even including the dramatic action by Durand de la Penne in Alexandria). This extensive treatment of run-up and aftermath is certainly welcome since the battle itself was a rather one-sided affair lasting only a few minutes.
In a nutshell, the Italians attempted an offensive sweep, using a battleship and a good number of cruisers, against English convoys to/fro Greece in early 1941. Unfortunately for them, ULTRA intelligence (using intercepts of German ENIGMA traffic) provided advance warning so that the Italians found no convoys (they were all suspended) but instead ran into the Mediterranean fleet with 3 battleships, and lost 3 cruisers in a dramatic night action in which the battleships blasted the cruisers out of the water from pointblank range. It was thanks to radar that the English were able to sneak up on the Italians (who were also busy trying to tow one of their cruisers damaged by an aircraft bomb hit). While the English enjoyed air support from nearby Greek bases as well as from HMS Formidable (providing fairly adequate reconnaissance as well as hitting the Italian battleship and a cruiser), Italian air support was mostly ineffective. All in all, it seems the Italians were probably lucky that their battleship Vittorio Veneto was able to limp back to Taranto although damaged by an aircraft torpedo hit - it could easily have been found and finished off by the 3 English battleships.
This is an excellent book providing insight, background and a very good description of the action itself, highly recommended.
This is a highly readable account of the travails and successes of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, before Pearl Harbour. Mark Simmons writes with clarity, pace and precision and after reading his account I understood the gains and losses as ground out by the Royal Navy in this vital theatre of war. I read an account once, which held that the Japanese had studied RN tactics in Taranto and Matapan for their assault on Pearl Harbour and this would not be surprising.
Not for the first time, do we see the courageous and determined fighting by the RN to secure advantage over the Italian fleet and of course the supply lines to North Africa, and this book nicely depicts the balance of power at that time. The book also gives a well-balanced account of the strengths and limitations of the Italian and German forces.
I was intrigued to discover that this was not the first battle which turned on the advantage wrought by a crew flying an obsolete Swordfish into a hail of enemy bullets, in order to press home their attack and disable a capital ship with a single torpedo. The cruisers that then wandered into the British 15 inch guns of the British battleships were directly as a result of the chain of events set off by this single event. The author also describes successes of the Italian "Sea Chariots", the damage wrought by both sides with submarines and dive bombers and I wonder if what was being demonstrated at that time was the vulnerability and eclipse of the "big gun" ship by more nimble and less costly weapons of war. This point effectively being underlined by Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbour and on Force "Z". So, in conclusion, an interesting and well-presented read of an eventful time for the Royal Navy.