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Battle of Durazzo 1918 in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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Battle of Durazzo 1918

2nd Oct 1918 Battle of Durazzo 1918  The Second Battle of Durazzo, also known as the Bombardment of Durazzo, was fought on the 2nd October 1918 in the Adriatic Sea. A large Allied fleet led by the Regia Marina attacked the enemy held naval base at Durazzo, Albania. The fleet destroyed the Austro-Hungarian shore defenses and skirmished with a small naval force. Allied forces involved primarily were Italian though British, American and Australian warships also participated. It was the largest naval battle the United States participated in during the war.

Durazzo is located on the coast of Albania, known in Albanian as Durrës From 15–29 September 1918, French General Louis Franchet d'Espèrey in command of a large allied army, campaigned in Macedonia. The offensive was a victory and ended with Bulgaria's surrender. Fearing the remaining enemy would fall back on the Austrian-held port of Durazzo for supplies, Franchet d'Espèrey requested that an allied naval fleet be assembled to attack Durazzo. The aim was to prevent the city from supplying retreating enemy forces. Franchet d'Espèrey's request was approved and the Italian Regia Marina accepted the responsibility of leading the attack. Rear Admiral Osvaldo Paladini aboard the cruiser San Marco was to command the operation. Allied objectives were to bombard Durazzo and attack Austrian ships in the harbour if there were any. The Allies divided their fleet into two forces, one for bombardment and the other to screen the attacking ships from enemy submarines. Allied forces included the Italian battleship Dante Alighieri, which was assigned to the covering force, three Italian armoured cruisers, three Italian light cruisers and eight Italian torpedo boats. The British force included five light cruisers, 14 destroyers and two Australian destroyers. There were also 12 American submarine chasers under Captain Charles P. Nelson and Lieutenant Commander E.H. Bastedo. Allied aircraft were also involved along with several Italian MAS boats. The two Australian destroyers were HMAS Swan and Warrego. Before the battle began, the Austro-Hungarian government decided to withdraw most of their warships from Durazzo. Only two destroyers, one torpedo boat and two U-boats opposed the allied fleet though the Austrian troops on shore manned at least three different shore batteries which duelled with the allied ships. Also in port was a hospital ship. Austrian forces were commanded by Lieutenant Commander Heinrich Pauer.

The Second Battle of Durazzo began on the morning of 2nd of October 1918. British and Italian aircraft attacked first by bombarding enemy troop concentrations and artillery batteries while the fleet was still steaming across the Adriatic. Afterwards, several of the Italian and British cruisers formed a two-echelon line to begin their bombardment from about 8,000 yards off the coast. Meanwhile, the MAS boats and some American and British vessels attacked the three Austro-Hungarian naval ships, SMS Dinara, Scharfschütze and No. 87. The three warships sailed back and forth around Durazzo harbour firing their guns and dodging torpedoes and shell fire. Torpedo boat No. 87 and the two destroyers were chased by the Allied destroyer force as they fled north along the coast, but they managed to escape. Scharfschütze took some minor hits and suffered three dead and five wounded while torpedo boat No. 87 was struck by a torpedo that failed to explode. Dinara managed to escape unscathed. The shelling of the port was carried out by the Italian armored cruisers San Giorgio, San Marco and Template:Pisa-class cruiser. Three merchantmen, Graz, Herzegovina and Stambul, were hit. Stambul sank and the two others were damaged but escaped complete destruction. The Austro-Hungarian hospital ship Baron Call was stopped and searched by British destroyers before being allowed to proceed. Most of the American forces were assigned to the covering force and early in the battle were used to chart a clear path through a mine field off Durazzo. A few of the submarine chasers took fire from shore batteries at this time, but none were damaged. Afterwards they were assigned to screen the other allied ships from submarine attacks. Patrolling to the north and to the south of the battle area, the Americans engaged the two Austro-Hungarian U-boats U-29 and U-31. At 1105, a sailor on the submarine chaser No. 129 spotted U-29, which was then depth-charged for 15 minutes and damaged heavily, but she nevertheless survived the encounter. U-31 was also depth charged and survived as well. At one point, No. 129 was fired on by the enemy shore batteries, the closest shot landed about 50 yards (46 m) from the vessel, but the Americans suffered no casualties in the battle. Later, American forces reported sinking the two submarines but this was not the case. The submarines managed to damage at least one allied light cruiser; HMS Weymouth was struck by a torpedo from U-31 (Lieutenant Rigele), which blew off a large portion of her stern and killed four men. Weymouth was shelling inland facilities along with four other British cruisers when the torpedo struck home. She spent the remainder of the war under repair. The other British light cruisers are known to have been lightly damaged by shore battery fire before they were silenced or disabled. A British destroyer was also hit by a torpedo. The battle ended by 0130 on 2–3 October. From the start of the action civilians fled the city and by 11 October the once busy port was silent. A few days later a Serbian army was landed and took control.

John Doran

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