In 1941, it was necessary to disable the Italian navy to ensure Britain’s naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. In November 1940, the British had successfully taken out three Italian battleships at Taranto, Italy. In March 1941, there were signs of increased Italian naval activity around Cape Matapan, southern Greece; intelligence soon suggested they were plotting to attack a British convoy. On 25 March, Commander in Chief Admiral Cunningham’s battleship fleet joined Admiral Pridham-Wippell’s cruiser force, undetected by Italian intelligence. The Vittorio Veneto opened fire on the cruisers but they managed to escape; the Vittorio Veneto then evaded a RAF attack. Three days later, aided by radar, the British battleships surprised the Italians and destroyed the Fiume and the Zara, while torpedoes sank the Pola. The Royal Navy also took out the escorting destroyers, Alfieri and Carducci. With the Italian navy crippled, the British navy dominated the Mediterranean and, crucially, German supplies to North Africa were impeded.
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