Battle of the Ligurian Sea
The Battle of the Ligurian Sea was a naval surface battle that was fought on 18 March 1945 in the Gulf of Genoa in the Mediterranean Sea. A German Kriegsmarine force, consisting of two torpedo boats and one destroyer, was engaged in an offensive mine laying operation and was intercepted by a British Royal Navy force. In this action, the British destroyers HMS Lookout and Meteor sank two of the German ships and severely damaged the third. This was Germany's last surface naval battle of the Second World War.
On the night of 17 March 1945, the last three operational ships of the German 10th flotilla under command of Korvettenkapitän Franz Burkart conducted an offensive mine laying operation northeast of Corsica. After sailing out of Genoa, TA24 (ex-Italian Arturo) and TA29 (ex-Italian Eridano) successfully laid 56 mines south of Gorgona Island while TA32 (ex-Yugoslavian Dubrovnik, later Italian Premuda) placed 76 mines in another field north of Cap Corse. The flotilla then reunited for the return to Genoa and was about twenty miles north of Cape Corse when Allied shore radar at Livorno detected their presence. Four Allied destroyers of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla were patrolling in the area, the French L'Adroit-class destroyer Basque and Bourrasque-class destroyer Tempête, along with the British L and M-class destroyers HMS Meteor and Lookout. In the early hours of 18 March, all but Meteor had received Livorno’s radar report.
Captain André Léon Jean Marie Morazzani, the senior officer aboard Tempête, ordered the British ships to intercept the intruders while he led the older and slower French destroyers southeast. This was because he believed the Germans might double back to intercept a convoy near Cape Corse. Lookout's commander, Derick Hetherington, advised Meteor via TBS (Talk Between Ships) what was happening and the British ships went on separate courses northeast at flank speed. By the time Captain Morazzani determined that the German ships were no threat to the convoy, he was too far away to join the action.
Lookout established radar contact with the Germans at 03:00 on 18 March. The Germans were sailing at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) just west of north. The British destroyer approached at high speed from ahead and opened fire from about 5,000 yards (4,600 m). Minutes later she swung around, moving parallel to the Germans, and launched torpedoes. The Germans were completely surprised by this attack and Lookout's radar-directed guns quickly scored hits on TA24 and TA29. TA29 dropped out of formation while the other two ships retreated north. Lookout decided to let them go to concentrate on the crippled TA29 and circled the German firing continuously with her six 4.7-inch guns from as close as 2,000 yards (1,800 m). TA29 fought back, her gunners near missing Lookout a number of times, hitting her only with a burst of 20 mm shells, which hit some smoke floats and ignited a small fire that was quickly extinguished.
Lookout continued blasting TA29 until just after 04:00. After being hit more than 40 times, TA29 was burning furiously and quickly sank. She lost only twenty men despite Lookout's intense and accurate salvos.
Meanwhile, Meteor altered course in order to intercept the other German ships and at around the same time that Lookout was battling TA29, Meteor made radar contact from 12,300 yards (11,200 m) on the other two German ships retreating north. Meteor opened fire at 8,000 yards (7,300 m) and hit TA24 almost immediately. Seeing the hit in the dark, she then launched a salvo of torpedoes a few minutes later, one of which struck TA24. Meteor's commander, Richard Pankhurst, saw a "geyser of flame and metal" and TA24 sank at just after 04:00 losing thirty men in just thirteen minutes.
TA32 participated briefly in the action, and although damaged still managed to escape. She was later scuttled by her own crew at Genoa on 25 April 1945. 244 survivors including Franz Burkart, in rafts and boats from TA24 and TA29 were picked up by the British destroyers and held as prisoners. This was the last surface action of the German Kriegsmarine of the war. The British destroyers had ended any possibility of German deep water offensive operations in the Ligurian sea let alone anywhere else in the Mediterranean. The engagement was also the last surface naval battle the British fought in the western theatre and the last major surface action in the Mediterranean Sea.
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