Battle of Convoys, Mediterranean Sea, 1940-43 ULTRA F&F, part II


The ULTRA organization, also known as BP,  from its headquarter in Bletchey Park and its influence on the war was one of the best and long kept secret British achievement in WWII.

While it would redundant to sommarize the history of the ULTRA organization (you can read about it here),  it is important to notice that info on ULTRA started to surface in the ’70s,  while the official story of the British intelligence was published in five volumes between 1979 and 1988 (Harry Hinsley, Michael Howard); all the naval history analysis available at the time had to be rechecked against the new info.

The ULTRA documentation is available  for consultation at London’s Public Record Office. Professor Alberto Santoni carefully checked the documentation in London and in the archives in Rome; the result of his work is the book “Il vero traditore – Il ruolo documentato di ULTRA nella guerra del Mediterraneo”, Mursia, 1981 (The true traitor – ULTRA’s documented role in the Mediterranean war at sea).

Data below show the role of ULTRA in the convoy war in the Med. ULTRA analysis of Italian and German communications in the Med started in June, 1941, and quickly focused on the most important convoys. Special care was put , as in any ULTRA driven operation, in hiding the source of the info always providing an apparent good reason for the encounter at sea, usually a recognition airplane. On the Axis side, stricter and stricter care was put in secrecy efforts nonetheless never considering cyphered communications as its Achille’s heel, even if convoys whose orders were given via phone or cable and convoys changing the planned routes when already at sea often arrived unscratched.

This table summarizes the contribute of ULTRA to the Italian Navy losses (16 German ships lost in convoys due to ULTRA acton are included, for a total of 50574 t.):

Battle of Convoys Med

A total of 185 merchant ships, plus nine Regia Marina warships, were sunk at sea following a direct ULTRA action, for a total of 356.698 tons (46.5% of the the ships and 49,4% of the total tonnage).

British ULTRA can be truly regarded as one of the most clever and decisive efforts taken by one of the fighting nations, even considering the other successes in the intelligence battlefield, and as a important contributor to the Allies’ victory in Africa.

With reference to the total of shipped goods to Africa reported in Part I, it must be considered that a large amount of losses were caused by aerial incursions on African harbors, as in the following table:

Bombardamenti sui porti (# of incursions)
Bengasi 287
Tripoli 238
Tobruch 200
Altri, Libia 98
Biserta 36
Sfax 25
Tunisi 22
Susa 21
Altri, Tunisia 6

For a total of 339 merchant ship of any tonnage lost.

The total losses of the Merchant Italian Navy during the war were severe:

Unità > 500 t. ton.
June 190 (1) 800 3300000
September 1943 320 1250000
May 1945 95 330000

(1) 1.216.637 t (212 Italian merchant ships > 550t) were lost the very first day of war, as out of the Mediterranean, due the sudden decision of Mussolini to enter war.

with a correspondingly high toll of merchant sailors life:

In mare/at sea in prigionia/as Pow
25,000 a inizio guerra/at WWII start 6350 540

While the Italian Navy managed to keep the shipping routes opened even under the most adverse conditions, this does not mean that enough supplies reached the battlefront. Logistic both on the Axis side (shipping planning from the producers in Germany and Italy, harbors and convoys optimization) and much more in African harbors was poor, as well it was the ability to move the good to the battle line via the long coastal road in Libya and Egypt or the coastal convoys.



A. Santoni, “Il vero traditore – Il ruolo documentato di ULTRA nella guerra del Mediterraneo”, Mursia, 1981;

G. Giorgerini, “La guerra italiana sul mare”, Mondadori 2001;

USMM, “La battaglia dei convogli”, 1994


Addendum (Italian): final considerations by Professor Santoni:


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