The Battles of Cape Matapan and Actium (Greece)

May 28, 2010 in Blogs, Crusing

The Battle of Cape Matapan (Greece)

 In March of 1941, Admiral Cunningham in HMS Warspite was attempting to draw the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto, flagship of the Italian fleet, into battle between the NW coast of Crete and Cape Matapan. Not having radar, he lost track of it, but not until after it was damaged by aircraft he had dispatched from the carrier, HMS Formidable.  However, in the process of trying to engage it, Warspite destroyed the Italian heavy cruiser Zara, and the British battleship HMS Valiant sunk the Italian heavy cruiser Fiume and two destroyers. The Italian cruiser Pola was crippled by torpedoes from aircraft flying off HMS Formidable, and after Pola’s crew were removed by the destroyer HMS Jervis, the Jervis sank Pola with her torpedoes. This victory, sinking three heavy cruisers and two destroyers with a loss of only one aircraft and its two-man crew was a much needed success for the beleaguered Royal Navy, tasked with supplying forces in Greece, and preventing supplies getting over to Rommel in North Africa.


The Battle of Actium (Greece)

In late September while en route down the Ionian Sea from Paxos to Levkas we passed by Preveza, just north of Levkas, where the naval Battle of Actium took place in 31 BC.

Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC and a great power struggle ensued. Octavius had been declared the heir to Julius Caesar, and by 42 BC teamed up with Marc Antony, who later married Octavius’ sister, to defeat the forces of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in Macedonia. However building up a powerful position from Egypt and the eastern provinces, Antony was in conflict with Octavius off and on from 40 BC until finally routed at Actium in 31, and finally defeated in Egypt in 30 BC. *”Hearing a rumour that Cleopatra was dead, Antony stabbed himself but survived long enough to die in her arms.”  Cleopatra subsequently killed herself with the bite of an asp, believed by the Egyptians to deify the victim. However, she did not do it out of remorse for Antony, but because when as a prisoner *”she found out she could not retain her kingdom for her children…”

*(I have used one of the other few resource books we have on board, “From The Gracchi To Nero, A History Of Rome From 133 BC to 68 AD” by H.H. Scullard, a Praeger Paperback, New York, 1961. If any of you know tidbits to amplify or correct my fractured histories, please let me know.)

In this historic Battle of Actium, the forces of Marc Antony, backed up by the fleet of Cleopatra came out to oppose the fleet of Octavius led by Agrippa.  Antony’s fleet was arranged in three squadrons in line abreast, facing west with Cleopatra’s squadron astern inshore. Octavian’s fleet waited for the afternoon NW winds to have the windward advantage before attacking. The centre and left flank squadrons of Antony’s fleet caved in, and Cleopatra and her squadron fled with the war chest of valuables, followed by Antony, leaving the rest of his fleet to be captured or destroyed.