27-28 Mar 1941. RAN at the Battle of Cape Matapan

On this day Perth, Stuart and Vendetta were all engaged in the Royal Navy’s night battle when they engaged the Italian Battle fleet. In one action the RN and RAN exploded Mussolinni’s boast that the Mediterranean was the Italian Navy’s Mare Nostrum meaning “our sea”. Three Italian heavy cruisers and two destroyers were sunk and a battleship seriously damaged.

We now know that Admiral Cunningham’s location of the Italian battlefleet south of Greece was an early product of ‘Ultra’ the breaking of the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park.

Strategically RN and RAN victory at Matapan meant that the still powerful Italian fleet did not attempt to intervene in the evacuation of troops from Greece and later from Crete. Had the Italian destroyer flotillas engaged the RN cruisers and destroyers carrying troops south to Alexandria these costly evacuations might have been impossible.

Captain Hec Waller’s handling of Stuart at Matapan confirmed Cunningham’s very high estimation of him as a fighting sailor.

He introduced Waller to PM Menzies as “ one of the finest destroyer captains ever to sail.” Cunningham also called the men of the RAN’s Scrap Iron flotilla “the most lively and undefeated sailors I ever met.”

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