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Cape Matapan 1941: Cunningham’s Mediterranean Triumph

05 Jan 24

96 pages

Captain Andrew Welch (retd.)

This book is another of Osprey’s 190 strong Campaign series, of which 19 are written by Angus Konstam. I reviewed his Operation Pedestal 1942 book, a couple of months ago. The format is almost identical: Intro, Chronology, Origin of the Campaign, Opposing Commanders, Opposing Forces, Opposing Plans, the actual Operation, Aftermath & Legacy. So, to summarise for those who haven’t seen the earlier review, this book covers the big picture stuff and there are no detailed stories of each ship’s actions – just a good overview of what was happening when and where, and how any one event affected others. Like all ‘modern’ history books, there many facts now available that were not when the first generation of WWII books were written in the 50s/early 60s. Amongst these the interesting insights into the detailed control of the Italian fleet exercised by the Supermarina (Admiralty) in Rome, the lack of trust or coordination between the Italians & their German ‘allies’ and the problems caused by having three guns in a turret – blast from the centre barrel forced the shells from the outer pair outwards, so widening the salvo spread.[1]

Again, the illustrations – both photos and specially commissioned artwork – are good, as are the maps & plans. One oddity in all three of the commissioned action paintings (HMS Warspite, HMS Gloucester & ITS Vittorio Veneto) is that their jackstaffs have not been struck. Whilst I cannot find a definitive ruling on this, it seems very odd that in WWII ships would go into action with their jack staffs in place. A WWII veteran of HMS Royalist on Arctic Convoys, who I consulted, is certain that the jackstaff was always struck at sea.

As with the Operation PEDESTAL volume in this series, I would recommend this book to any member who wanted an up-to-date account of Matapan. Not much comment or assessment, but a good factual account of all the actions that day & night with much supporting background detail.

[1] Did HMS Belfast & her sisters have the same problem?