I Was There! - I Saw Shells Pumped into Valona
The British battleships which shelled Valona by moonlight on the night of December 18, 1940 took the sleeping Italians completely by surprise, as is shown in this eye-witness story by an Associated Press correspondent who was aboard one of the attacking battleships.
When Valona, Mussolini's chief supply base in Albania, was shelled by British naval units I watched the bombardment through narrow slits in the after control tower of a British battleship. The ship's commander had posted bulletins before the attack saying: "Objective – to discomfort the Italians."
Mussolini's shore batteries remained silent during the bombardment, leaving no doubt that the enemy had been so taken by surprise that he was unable to fire his guns in the direction of the flashes, even though he could not immediately determine the warships' exact positions.
Scores of shells hurtled through the air from the warships, each carrying more than 2,000 lb. of destruction. For 12 minutes shells were pumped into Valona, the sound of the guns reverberating miles along the Albanian coast.
Shells exploded with tremendous force in the naval yards, amid ships, warehouses and military establishments. A reddish glow, which soon lit the peaks of the 2,000-ft. mountains surrounding Valona, showed that great fires had been started.
The warships then moved slowly southward, and the Italian batteries fired star shells, vainly trying to light up the attacking forces, but not a single enemy bomber attempted to attack us as we retired. As the light of fires crept over the mountains, a youthful midshipman in th top control tower sang "One Night of Love."
This was the first time that the Battle Fleet had ventured so far north in the Adriatic. It fought its way through heavy seas, strong winds and blinding rain for two days before turning into the Straits of Otranto.
There a break in the weather came, and at Valona the warships went close enough inshore to see the lone light of the harbour before firing their terrific broadsides.