Battle of Pantelleria and Pelagie Islands
Contributor: Alan Chanter
ww2dbaseWith the surrender of the Axis armies in Tunisia, the Allied powers set about planning for their next objective: Sicily. Firstly however, four islands in the Mediterranean Sea would have to be captured. These were the islands of Pantelleria, Lampedusa, Linosa and Lampione. On the 8th June 1943 HMS Nubian (See Note 1) and her sister Tribal Class Destroyer HMS Tartar assisted cruisers and other destroyers to soften up the defences on the first island, the claimed "impregnable fortress" of Pantelleria. Whilst Air Force bombers kept the enemy gunners in deep shelters the Navy shelled targets from a mere mile offshore. During the day enemy air attacks against the fleet by a force of Focke-Wulf FW.190 fighter-bombers forced a withdrawal during which Nubian was straffed by the enemy aircraft. That evening HMS Nubian returned to Malta to replenish whilst Tartar arrived safely at Bone (in North Africa).
ww2dbaseBy 11th June, both HMS Nubian and Tartar were back off Pantelleria (which had been nicknamed "The Italian Malta" by the Aliies). The Fleet's Cruisers and Destroyers pounded the island's harbour works, buildings and emplacements, while bombers again blasted them from above. Occasionally some Allied bombs fell short near the warships, and occasionally enemy shells would come from the shore. The Enemy's fire however proved quite ineffectual and it was often impossible to tell which ships were the targets. One bold machine gunner fired three bursts in Nubian's direction. At 1000, the assault went in and soon afterwards the "impregnable" fortress surrendered for lack of water. Nubian continued to patrol the coast in case any members of the garrison had not heard of the surrender, or had decided to escape to Sicily. Two small landing craft ashore in a small cove were shelled destroying MZ708 and setting the other alight. An empty Red Cross boat, RAMR563, was investigated as well as several suspicious MTBs but these turned out to be friendly and by evening, most of the cruisers and destroyers departed for Lampedusa. HMS Tartar stayed off Pantelleria with Rear-Admiral McGrigor on board.
ww2dbaseArriving at Lampedusa the Fleet commenced bombarding the island just before midnight and continued to do so throughout the 12th of June (See Note 2). HMS Nubian's six (see Note 3) 4.7 inch guns sent their 50-lb projectiles crashing into some shore batteries in the morning near to the harbour. These returned fire with some accuracy but without causing any damage to the destroyer. Finally the bombardment achieved its desired effect and the defenders surrendered.
ww2dbaseSeeing that the capture of these islands was being achieved with less effort than had been envisaged, a small force was despatched to deal with Lampione. Commander Holland-Martin aboard Nubian however received a seperate mission. The signal read "Deal with Linosa tommorrow. Defences unknown".
ww2dbaseAt 0530hrs on the next morning HMS Nubian cautiously approached the steep, rocky island. All seemed remarkably quiet. The landing party made ready to board the ship's whaler (Her Motor Boat being under repair in Malta). Nothing happened until Nubian sounded her siren, and then suddenly white sheets and towels began waving furiously from all sorts of vantage points. The garrison almost to a man deserted their posts and rowed out to the destroyer, many in leaky, old fishing-boats. Nubian steamed slowly round the island, picking up the members of the garrison.
ww2dbaseMeanwhile the landing party, some using donkey transport, had set off. Initially the Garrison Commandant cound not be found for he was sleeping out. When he was eventually located he refused to surrender because it was beneath his dignity as a Commandant and a Gentleman. The British Officer commanding the landing party replied that this was rather a futile gesture as all of the 168 troops from the garrison had surrendered and were already going aboard Nubian. This quashed the Italian Commandant's pride and at 0615hrs he signed the surrender document. On the pier there was something of a farewell party for him before Nubian sailed away having destroyed some Italian guns and communications equipment.
ww2dbaseHMS Nubian was awarded the battle honour: Mediterranaen 1943
ww2dbaseNote 1: HMS Nubian had already become famous throughout the Fleet for her daring evacuation of Allied troops from Namsos in Norway (April 1940) under the noses of the Invading Germans.
ww2dbaseNote 2: King George VI arrived in Morocco to inspect Allied forces on the same day.
ww2dbaseNote 3: HMS Nubian had had the 4.7 inch guns in X turret replaced by two 4 inch AA during a refit at Bombay in September 1942.
THE TRIBALS-Biography of a Destroyer Class; by Martin H Brice (Ian Allen Ltd 1971...pp.209-210)
Janes Fighting Ships of World War II
WAR DIARY-A 60th Anniversary chronology of the Second World War; (Lincolnshire Echo special supplement November 1 2005)
NARVIK; by Donald Macintyre (Pan Books 1971)
Last Major Update: Aug 2007
Battle of Pantelleria and Pelagie Islands Timeline
|3 May 1943||Royal Navy began bombarding Pantelleria Island near Sicily, Italy.|
|13 May 1943||British Royal Navy warships bombarded Pantelleria Island, Italy.|
|6 Jun 1943||The USAAF made its first operational sortie with the North American A-36 Invader (also known as Apache) when the 27th Fighter Bomber Group based at Rasel Ma in French Morocco participated in the mass fighter-bomber assault on the Italian Pantelleria Island. The island was later captured and became the base for two A-36 groups during the invasion of Sicily, Italy. One of the pilots of the 27th Fighter Bomber Group, Lieutenant Michael T. Russo, would later become the only ace in the Allison-engined Mustang fighter.|
|10 Jun 1943||Doolittle Raiders Jack Sims and James Doolittle piloted a B-26 Marauder bomber of 442nd Bombardment Squadron of US 320th Bombardment Group on a mission to attack Pantelleria, Italy.|
|11 Jun 1943||The invasion of Italian Pantelleria island, Operation Corkscrew, was deemed successful.|
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Visitor Submitted Comments
20 Feb 2012 07:25:32 AM
My father operated a landing barge during the liberation od Lampedusa, Sicily and the toe of Italy. He has in his posession the keys to the store room used by the allies while in Lampedusa. I would like to know if there is anyone with whom I could communicate if these keys were to be returned.
8 May 2020 05:45:41 AM
The soldier on the right of the picture attached to this article is my Grandad. Henry Maw. Thank you for this article! Regards, Richard Maw.
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25 Apr 2011 05:30:38 PM
My grandfather was on the island during the invasion.
Do you know how many Italian troops were killed and how many civilians ? Thanks