After the downfall and arrest of Benito Mussolini in July 1943, the Italian government surrendered to the Western Allies on September 3rd, although the armistice was kept secret until the 8th. The Italian Navy was instructed to surrender it’s fleet the following day. These extracts come from reports in ‘The Sphere’ on September 25th and October 2nd.
By the early morning of September 11, the best part of the warships of the Italian Navy had entered Valetta Harbour [Malta] to surrender, in response to Admiral Cunningham’s appeal to seek shelter in British waters. One force came from Spezia: another from Taranto. In all, by the 11th, there were four battleships, seven cruisers, and ten destroyers safe in harbour: other vessels followed later.
It was after dawn that the British Navy came up with the Italian battlefleet from Taranto. It was steaming in line ahead with the battleship Andrea Doria in front and the battleship Giulio [Cesare] behind it: other ships were following. All were flying the Italian flag and a black flag to denote they were surrendering in accordance with Admiral Cunningham‘s instructions. They looked spick and span and were a really fine sight, with the crews of each ship standing to attention along the decks. [Oct 2]
[Later that day], a motor-launch pulled up alongside the landing-stage in Malta Harbour and, as a guard of honour formed by British sailors sprang smartly to attention, the Italian Admiral de Zara [sic] (Acting Commander-in-Chief) and other senior officers of the Italian Navy stepped ashore, to be greeted by Commodore Royar Dick, Chief of Staff to Admiral Cunningham, and Captain Rodderick Edwards, Chief of Staff, Malta.
After shaking hands with the Commodore, the Italian Admiral was then invited to inspect the guard of honour: [here] he is seen passing through the two lines of British bluejackets with his hand raised in salute. Admiral de Zara then entered a motor-car with Commodore Dick and was driven to Admiral Cunningham’s office at Malta Naval Headquarters. The Italian Navy had surrendered exactly in accordance with the terms of the Armistice, and it was therefore decided that the Italian Admiral should be received ashore with the same ceremonial as if he were a foriegn Admiral paying an official visit in peacetime. [25 Sept]
In reality, of course, the logistics and loyalties involved in such a momentous event meant it didn’t unfold as neatly as this. An article published in the Times of Malta in 2014 gives a fascinating and more detailed account, and you can watch a contemporary British Pathé newsreel (3 m. 30 sec.) on Youtube.