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Operation Abstention

Page Created
October 16th, 2022
Last Updated
October 17th, 2022
British Flag
Special Forces
February 24th, 1941 – February 28th, 1941
Operation Abstention
  • Establish a motor torpedo-boat base on of the Italian island of Kastelorizo (Castellorizo) off the Turkish Aegean coast, to challenge the Italian naval and air supremacy on the Greek Dodecanese islands.
Operational Area

Italian island of Kastelorizo (Castellorizo) off the Turkish Aegean coast.

Unit Force
  • Two-hundred men from No. 50 Commando.
  • Twenty-four-man detachment of Royal Marines.
  • One company of Sherwood Foresters.
  • Destroyers H.M.S. Decoy, H.M.S. Hereward, H.M.S. Nubian, H.M.S. Hasty, H.M.S. Hero and H.M.S. Jaguar.
  • Gunboat H.M.S. Ladybird.
  • Armed yacht H.M.S. Rosaura.
  • Light cruisers H.M.A.S. Perth and H.M.S. Bonaventure.
  • Submarine H.M.S. Parthian.
Opposing Forces
  • Original garrison: Thirty soldiers of the signal corps, ten carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza.
  • Landing force: 240 infantry and eighty-eight marines.
  • Destroyers Francesco Crispi and Quintino Sella.
  • Torpedo boats: Lupo and Lince.
  • Motoscafo Armato Silurante: MAS 541 and MAS-546.

February 24th, 1941. The Commando force, transported by the destroyers H.M.S. Decoy and H.M.S. Hereward and the detachment of Royal Marines, on the gunboat H.M.S. Ladybird, sail from Suda Bay, Crete towards the Kastelorizo (Castellorizo) off the Turkish Aegean coast.

The follow-up force, a company of Sherwood Foresters on board of the armed yacht H.M.S. Rosaura, escorted by the light cruisers H.M.A.S. Perth and H.M.S. Bonaventure, awaits the developments on the Island of Cyprus.

February 25th, 1941. One part of the Commandos lands from ten whaleboats on Nifti Point, south of the settlement, while the Royal Marines occupy the harbour. The Italian garrison on Kastelorizo consists of thirty-five soldiers and agents of the Guardia di Finanza in charge of a wireless station. The commandos ambush an Italian patrol on the truck between Nifti Point and the harbour, killing two soldiers and wounding one. The British then surprise the garrison, seizing the radio outpost and inflicting thirteen casualties, including twelve prisoners. Meanwhile the remaining Commandos lands for further reinforcements. Before being overrun, the Italians manage to send a message to Rhodes, where the main Italian air and naval base in the Dodecanese is based. Ammiraglio di Divisione (Vice Admiral) Luigi Biancheri, commander of the Italian naval forces in the Aegean Sea reacts immediately.

08:00 to 09:30. Aircraft of the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) attack the harbour castle and the main hills of the island, where the commandos have dug themselves in. H.M.S. Ladybird is struck by a bomb and three sailors are wounded. Short of fuel, H.M.S. Ladybird re-embarks the Royal Marines and heads for Haifa, Palestine (Nowadays Israel). This cuts the radio link of the commandos with Alexandria, causing the follow-up force from Cyprus to divert to Alexandria, Egypt.

February 26th, 1941. The Regia Marina (Royal Italian Navy) counterattacks just after sunset. Two torpedo boats Lupo and Lince land about 240 soldiers north of the port after which they use their 99 mm cannons to bombard the British positions at the docks and the Governor’s palace. During this bombardment three Commandos are killed and seven wounded. The Italian ships evacuate several Italian civilians who have gathered at the harbour after learning of their presence in the port.

February 27th, 1941. After being delayed by high seas, the two Italian Torpedo Boats Lupo, Lince, and two Motoscafo Armato Silurante (Torpedo-Armed Motorboat) MAS 546 and MAS 561, land troops during the morning. The fresh Italian forces attack the exhausted and isolated British Commandos, who are equipped only for a 24-hour operation. The Italian forces are supported later that day by the destroyers Francesco Crispi and Quintino Sella who land a total of 258 troops and eighty marines. As the Italians attack, the commandos retreat to their encampment at the landing beach near Nifti point, under fire from the Italian Torpedo Boat Lupo. One company remains in the area of the local cemetery. 

The captain of H.M.S. Hereward is warned by the Commandos and joins the H.M.S. Decoy 65 kilometres off the coast. The Force commander orders the ships to disrupt the Italian landings, but they are unable to locate them. The H.M.S. Hereward reports that the Italian surface action threatens the landing of the main British force onboard of the H.M.S. Rosaura. This force is already compromised by the air attacks on the harbour. The decision is made to postpone and rearrange further British Landings. These are now being carried out by the destroyers H.M.S. Decoy and H.M.S. Hero, after embarking the Sherwood Foresters company from H.M.S. Rosaura. The ships are ordered to Alexandria to reorganise. Meanwhile Admiral Renouf is ill and replaced by Captain Egerton, commander of H.M.S. Bonaventure, complicating matters.

February 28th, 1941. A platoon of the Sherwood Foresters lands at the Commando landing point but finds it abandoned by the commandos. Between the scattered equipment and ammunition, they find a dead Commando and two stragglers. The men tell them of the Italian counterattacks. Major Cooper of the Sherwood Foresters reports back to H.M.S. Decoy and evaluates the situation with the other commanders. They conclude that the lack of naval and air support makes a withdrawal inevitable.

03:00. The bulk of the Commando landing party, isolated on a small plateau in the east end of Kastelorizo, is re-embarked by the British ships. Italian troops surround and eventually capture the remaining commandos who didn’t make it to the re-embarkation zone.

While covering the withdrawal, the H.M.S. Jaguar is attacked by the Italian Crispi, which fires twenty shells on British positions at Nifti Point, steaming from the south. The Italian destroyer fires two torpedoes which miss, and the H.M.S. Jaguar replies with her 120 mm main armament. H.M.S. Jaguar receives a 40 mm hit on her searchlight that made its gunfire ineffective and the British force sailed back to Alexandria. The destroyers H.M.S. Nubian, H.M.S. Hasty and H.M.S. Jaguar make a sweep between Rhodes and Kastelorizo after radar contact and detecting wireless traffic in the area but fail to intercept the Italian warships as they return to base.