Battle of the Duisburg Convoy

Battle of the Duisburg Convoy
Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of World War II

Italian destroyer Fulmine, sunk in the battle
Date8/9 November 1941
LocationMediterranean Sea, southwest of Calabria
Result British victory
 United Kingdom  Italy
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Captain W. G. Agnew Kingdom of Italy Admiral Bruno Brivonesi
2 light cruisers
2 destroyers
2 heavy cruisers
10 destroyers
7 merchant ships
Casualties and losses
1 destroyer lightly damaged 1 destroyer sunk
2 destroyers heavily damaged
7 merchant ships sunk

The Battle of the Duisburg Convoy, also known in Italy as Battle of the Beta Convoy,[1] was fought on the night of 8/9 November 1941 between an Italian convoy, carrying supplies for the Italian Army and civilian authorities and the Afrika Corps in Libya, and a British Naval squadron, which intercepted the convoy. The convoy was named "Beta" by the Italian naval authorities, but is now often referred to as "Duisburg Convoy" after the German steamer Duisburg, the largest ship in the convoy.

The Royal Navy's Force K annihilated the convoy, sinking all the merchant ships and the destroyer Fulmine with no loss and almost no damage. The next day, the Maestrale class destroyer Libeccio was sunk, while picking up survivors, by British submarine HMS Upholder .


The Axis forces engaged in the war against the British in North Africa were supplied across the Mediterranean. The besieged island of Malta was a key British base in the Mediterranean from where the British were able to attack Axis supply convoys to Libya. In November 1941, the worst month of the convoy war for Italy, Allied aircraft and ships were sinking up to 60 percent of Axis shipping.

Italian forces

The convoy included two German vessels, SS Duisburg (7,889 t) and SS San Marco (3,113 t) and three Italian, the MV Maria (6,339 t), SS Sagitta (5,153 t) and MV Rina Corrado (5,180 t), carrying 389 vehicles, 34,473 long tons (35,026 t) of munitions, fuel in barrels and their associated crew and troops for the Italian and German forces in Libya. Conte di Misurata (7,599 t) and Minatitlan (5,014 t) carried 17,281 long tons (17,558 t) of fuel, including aviation fuel for German aircraft.[2]

The convoy was protected by a close escort and a distant escort,

Close Escort (Captain Ugo Bisciani)[3]
Distant Escort (Vice Admiral Bruno Brivonesi)[3]

British forces

Force K consisted of two light cruisers with six 6-inch guns each and two destroyers with eight 4-inch guns each. Both cruisers and destroyers carried 21-inch torpedoes.

Force K (Captain W.G. Agnew)


The British discovered through "Ultra" intelligence that the Axis were about to send a large convoy to Libya. The presence of the convoy was confirmed by a Martin Maryland on air reconnaissance from Malta (piloted by Adrian Warburton), which camouflaged the use of Ultra, and Force K left Malta to intercept the convoy.[3] At the same time, 12 Bristol Blenheim bombers from Malta were dispatched over Cape Spartivento to attack a smaller convoy of two merchantmen escorted by an Italian destroyer. One of the freighters was set ablaze, but the British lost two bombers to the escorts.[4]

The British had the advantage of radar which the Italians lacked. Having located the main convoy they took up position with the moon silhouetting the convoy. The British gunnery was directed by radar and they fired from no more than 5,500 yards (5,000 m). Grecale was hit by Aurora's first three salvos and was left dead in the water, with a fire aboard. The British destroyers then opened fire on Aurora by mistake, then Maestrale, which had already been hit by Penelope. Once the radio masts had been shot away, Captain Bisciani lost much of his ability to direct the convoy escort. Fulmine attacked the British force, causing splinter damage to Lively, but was hit by Lance and Penelope, capsized and sank.[3]

The distant covering force, despite being just nine nautical miles away, did not interfere constructively due to confusion, only firing some rounds ineffectually in the dark. Although it circled the convoy, it conformed with the British movements so that the convoy remained between the Italian covering force and the British ships. In the course of the battle the British closed with the convoy, which took no evasive action, and was sunk with guns and torpedoes. The convoy escort destroyers attempted to engage the British force while using smoke to cover themselves, but caused no particular damage. The British retired to Malta at high speed with ineffective pursuit by the covering force. All told, Force K sank some 39,800 tons of Axis shipping. The Germans were furious by the outcome of the battle and the Italians relieved two of their commanders from duty.[3]


  1. Baroni, Piero (2007). La guerra dei radar: il suicidio dell'Italia : 1935/1943 (in Italian). Greco & Greco. p. 277. ISBN 8879804316.
  2. USMM pp. 49-50
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 O'Hara, Vincent (2011). Spencer C Tucker, ed. World War II at Sea: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 100–102. ISBN 978-1-59884-457-3. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  4. Shores, Cull and Malizia, p. 325


Coordinates: 37°08′N 18°09′E / 37.133°N 18.150°E / 37.133; 18.150

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