Matapan: these numbers don't match up!

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Matapan: these numbers don't match up!

Post by mfy4444 » 06 Feb 2020 23:18

Hello all. Can anyone help me better understand the Italian personnel loss figures at the Battle of Matapan? Sometimes I think these sets of commonly-cited figures get repeated throughout the literature without anyone doing a deeper dive, or really, even the basic math behind them.

Look almost anywhere and you'll find the Italian losses from the destruction of Cattaneo's 1st Division at Matapan as being a bit over 2,300 men. Look at the details for the ships involved and it breaks down like this:

Fiume: 812 men lost
Zara: 783 lost
Pola: 328 lost
Alfieri: 211 lost
Carducci: 169 lost

Total 2,303 men. The number we're most likely to see. So far so good, right?

But then the figure given for sailors of 1st Division rescued after the fight is something over 1,400 (I usually see 1,471 as the exact number).

This includes 905 men rescued the following morning by British destroyers; 258 taken off Pola by Jervis before sinking (sometimes given as 257, maybe one of the wounded in that number died?); about 100 by Greek destroyers; and 160 total by Italian hospital ship Gradisca. Okay, a little shy of 1,471, but maybe there were also Pola crew picked up out of the water by British destroyers before the ship was sunk.

Here's where I have a problem: normal crew of Zara-class heavy cruisers is usually given as 841 officers and men. Oriani-class destroyers given in most online sources I saw as maximum 206 or 207 (interesting, since Alfieri is claimed to have lost 211). If we use 841 as the complement of the three Zara-class ships, and say take 211 as crew for the two Oriani-class destroyers, those five ships would have on board a total of 2,945 men. Yet 2,300 or more lost plus more than 1,400 saved comes to over 3,700 men: which is to say, about 600 more than the sunken ships should have had aboard. Now, I would allow that, as was apparently the case with Alfieri, it is quite possible that the overall crew size for these ships might have grown from the original "official" number: the tendency to upgrade and increase antiaircraft armament over the years, for instance, probably resulted in a few extra billets. But 600 or more extra men on those five ships? That would have meant a much bigger crew on all the heavy cruisers in particular (there are only so many bodies you can usefully stuff into a ship the size of a destroyer, if they are not passengers but actually have a job onboard).

The thought occurred to me that "lost" meant not "dead or missing" but rather "dead, missing, captured." In that case, all those picked up in the water, except for the 160 rescued by Gradisca later, would count as "lost." But that doesn't work either, it would seriously underestimate the total number of men (2,303) in those three ships, as the three heavy cruisers alone should have had 2,500 aboard, in addition to the destroyer crews, over 200 each. Gradisca didn't pick up 600 men, as would be needed to make the numbers work if the more than 1,300 picked up by the Allies were counted within the total 2,303 "lost."

Anyone out there have any idea of how to reconcile this discrepancy? Can't make the numbers work, what accounts for those apparent extra 400-500 Italian sailors?
Number "lost"= 2,300+
Number rescued = 1,400+
Number as per official crew size of the five ships sunk = 2,900+
It does not compute.

Please help!! :D What, if anything, am I missing?

Now, interestingly, I did find one online site-- which deals with wreck sites, and seems primarily oriented toward divers-- gives the crew for Zara and Fiume (but oddly not Pola, stated as 841) as "841 ~ 1,098." If you use those numbers exactly as posted on the site, with 1,098 as the crews for Zara and Fiume but 841 for Pola (and ignore the "approximately" sign), you do come up with 541 more men, so that would seem to get things back into the ballpark where it all works. And if you use 1,098 as the crew for all three of the Zara-class ships at Matapan, now, bingo, it all works out! So did the people at this site just "reverse engineer" that 1,098 number (maybe they looked at the numbers the same way I did)? I don't know, since they don't cite sources other than Wikipedia, which shows 841 as crew for Zara-class ships. And is it plausible that ships of that size evolved from a crew of 841 as built and added another 250+ men to their "standard" complements over the course of a decade. This question is not rhetorical or sarcastic, I really don't know if that's a realistic possibility.

I know that pinning down each ship's crew to the man is probably an impossible task, but a close ballpark approximation would be fine. The last paragraph above is the only one that gives me numbers that work, but it's one lone specialist source, and the specialty isn't even military history. I wonder if there are Italian sources I haven't seen that could clear this up?

Regards and thanks

Mike Yaklich

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Re: Matapan: these numbers don't match up!

Post by LColombo » 07 Feb 2020 01:55

An understandable question. The answer is simple and is the following one: the "official" crew numbers of Italian warships are severely inferior to their actual wartime complement, by a factor of up to 20-25 %. I have learned this from experience; there's one way to find out what the real size of the crews was - adding together the number of victims and survivors, in the case of their sinking, when known from official sources (USMM books, USMM documents...).

Some examples. Di Giussano-class light cruisers had a complement of 507 men. But: when Bartolomeo Colleoni was sunk, she had 643 men aboard (121 killed, 522 survivors); when Giovanni delle Bande Nere was sunk, she had 772 men aboard (381 killed, 391 survivors); when Alberico Da Barbiano was sunk, she had 784 men aboard (534 killed, 250 survivors); when Alberto Di Giussano was sunk, she had 720 men aboard (283 killed, 437 survivors). Da Barbiano and Di Giussano carried 135 men on passage, whom have to be subtracted, but the total doesn't change much the result: the cruisers of this class had a wartime complement of 650 to 750 men, compared to a "theoric" complement of 507 men.

Another example: Navigatori-class destroyers. Theoric complement, 173 men; but: when Giovanni Da Verrazzano was sunk, she had 275 men aboard (20 killed, 255 survivors); Ugolino Vivaldi, 298 men (58 killed, 240 survivors); Antonio Da Noli, 257 men (218 killed, 39 survivors); Alvise Da Mosto, 263 men (138 killed, 125 survivors); Antoniotto Usodimare, 276 men (actually 306 – 141 killed, 165 survivors – but thirty of them were on passage, not part of the crew); Luca Tarigo, 238 men (202 killed, 36 survivors), and so on.

Folgore-class destroyers: in theory, a crew of 185; in practice, Baleno had 205 men aboard when sunk (69 killed, 146 survivors), Folgore at least 224 (124 killed, at least 100 survivors), Fulmine about 230 (plus another 41 on passage; final toll was 177 killed and ca. 90 survivors), Lampo 205 at her first sinking (141 killed, 64 survivors), 213 at her second, final sinking (60 killed, 153 survivors).

Trento-class heavy cruisers: in theory, a complement of 723-781 men; but when Trento was sunk, she had a staggering 1,151 men aboard.

I could go on, but I think you got the idea. I do not know the reason for such huge differences between "official" and real crew numbers, but they are a fact. As it happens, despite their “theoric” complements, Zara-class heavy cruisers had an actual wartime crew of 1,000-1,100 men, and Oriani-class destroyers had wartime crews of 200-250 men. Therefore, to answer your question: it is entirely plausibile that there were 3,700 men aboard the five ships that sank.

Sadly, the 2,300 “lost” were dead, or missing at sea i.e. “no grave but the sea”. Their names are in the USMM lists of (over 31,000) Italian naval personnel killed during World War II, compiled after the war. They died, none of them ever came back. They weren’t the “captured” sort of missing.

Regarding the number of prisoners, I think that the 1,150-ish figure, usually referred to those rescued by the British, is actually about the total number of survivors rescued by enemy vessels and thus captured; that is, the 139 survivors rescued by Greek destroyers (more precisely, one Greek destroyer: Hydra) have to be included in that number, and not added to it.

The numbers I have put together over the years are:

Zara: crew of 1,086; killed or missing at sea: 799; taken prisoner: 279 (267 by the British, 12 by the Greeks); rescued by Gradisca: 8.

Fiume: crew of 1,083; killed or missing at sea: 814; taken prisoner: 164 (60 by the British, 104 by the Greeks); rescued by Gradisca: 105.

Pola: crew of 1,024; killed or missing at sea: 336; taken prisoner: 688 (all by the British); rescued by Gradisca: none.

Vittorio Alfieri: crew of 245; killed or missing at sea: 210; taken prisoner: 23 (all by the Greeks); rescued by Gradisca: 12.

Giosuè Carducci: crew of 206; killed or missing at sea: 171; taken prisoner: none; rescued by Gradisca: 35.

There are some discrepancies, but this is the best I can came up with.

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Joined: 29 Aug 2012 21:43

Re: Matapan: these numbers don't match up!

Post by mfy4444 » 07 Feb 2020 15:36

LColombo: Thanks a lot, that's a tremendous help! Also on a few of the destroyer sinkings you used as examples, I had the wrong numbers for a few of those, too. And a sound methodology suggested for when I have questions like this in the future (so I won't bother this forum with them!). Once more, many thanks for both the information and the perspective.


Mike Yaklich

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