Battle of Taranto

Battle of Taranto

Overview
The naval Battle of Taranto took place on the night of 11–12 November 1940 during the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 launched the first all-aircraft ship-to-ship naval attack in history, flying a small number of obsolescent biplane torpedo bomber
Torpedo bomber
A torpedo bomber is a bomber aircraft designed primarily to attack ships with aerial torpedoes which could also carry out conventional bombings. Torpedo bombers existed almost exclusively prior to and during World War II when they were an important element in many famous battles, notably the...

s from an aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

 in the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

. The attack struck the battle fleet of the Regia Marina
Regia Marina
The Regia Marina dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 after Italian unification...

at anchor in the harbor of Taranto
Taranto
Taranto is a coastal city in Apulia, Southern Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Taranto and is an important commercial port as well as the main Italian naval base....

 utilizing aerial torpedo
Aerial torpedo
The aerial torpedo, airborne torpedo or air-dropped torpedo is a naval weapon, the torpedo, designed to be dropped into water from an aircraft after which it propels itself to the target. First used in World War I, air-dropped torpedoes were used extensively in World War II, and remain in limited...

es despite the shallow depth of the harbor. The devastation wrought by the British carrier-launched aircraft on the large Italian warships was the beginning of the rise of the power of naval aviation
Naval aviation
Naval aviation is the application of manned military air power by navies, including ships that embark fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters. In contrast, maritime aviation is the operation of aircraft in a maritime role under the command of non-naval forces such as the former RAF Coastal Command or a...

, over the big guns of battleships.

Long before the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the Italian Royal Navy's First Squadron was based at Taranto
Taranto
Taranto is a coastal city in Apulia, Southern Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Taranto and is an important commercial port as well as the main Italian naval base....

.
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Encyclopedia
The naval Battle of Taranto took place on the night of 11–12 November 1940 during the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 launched the first all-aircraft ship-to-ship naval attack in history, flying a small number of obsolescent biplane torpedo bomber
Torpedo bomber
A torpedo bomber is a bomber aircraft designed primarily to attack ships with aerial torpedoes which could also carry out conventional bombings. Torpedo bombers existed almost exclusively prior to and during World War II when they were an important element in many famous battles, notably the...

s from an aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

 in the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

. The attack struck the battle fleet of the Regia Marina
Regia Marina
The Regia Marina dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 after Italian unification...

at anchor in the harbor of Taranto
Taranto
Taranto is a coastal city in Apulia, Southern Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Taranto and is an important commercial port as well as the main Italian naval base....

 utilizing aerial torpedo
Aerial torpedo
The aerial torpedo, airborne torpedo or air-dropped torpedo is a naval weapon, the torpedo, designed to be dropped into water from an aircraft after which it propels itself to the target. First used in World War I, air-dropped torpedoes were used extensively in World War II, and remain in limited...

es despite the shallow depth of the harbor. The devastation wrought by the British carrier-launched aircraft on the large Italian warships was the beginning of the rise of the power of naval aviation
Naval aviation
Naval aviation is the application of manned military air power by navies, including ships that embark fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters. In contrast, maritime aviation is the operation of aircraft in a maritime role under the command of non-naval forces such as the former RAF Coastal Command or a...

, over the big guns of battleships.

Origins


Long before the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the Italian Royal Navy's First Squadron was based at Taranto
Taranto
Taranto is a coastal city in Apulia, Southern Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Taranto and is an important commercial port as well as the main Italian naval base....

. In that period, the British Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 developed plans for countering the power of the Regia Marina
Regia Marina
The Regia Marina dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 after Italian unification...

(Italian Navy). Blunting the power of any adversary in the Mediterranean Sea was an ongoing exercise. Plans for the capture of the port at Taranto were considered as early as the Italian invasion of Abyssinia
Ethiopian Empire
The Ethiopian Empire also known as Abyssinia, covered a geographical area that the present-day northern half of Ethiopia and Eritrea covers, and included in its peripheries Zeila, Djibouti, Yemen and Western Saudi Arabia...

 in 1935.

During 1940–41, Italian Army
Italian Army
The Italian Army is the ground defence force of the Italian Armed Forces. It is all-volunteer force of active-duty personnel, numbering 108,355 in 2010. Its best-known combat vehicles are the Dardo infantry fighting vehicle, the Centauro tank destroyer and the Ariete tank, and among its aircraft...

 operations in North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

, based in Libya
Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

, required a supply line from Italy. The British Army's North African Campaign
Western Desert Campaign
The Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War, was the initial stage of the North African Campaign during the Second World War. The campaign was heavily influenced by the availability of supplies and transport. The ability of the Allied forces, operating from besieged Malta, to...

, based in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, suffered from much greater supply difficulties. Supply convoy
Convoy
A convoy is a group of vehicles, typically motor vehicles or ships, traveling together for mutual support and protection. Often, a convoy is organized with armed defensive support, though it may also be used in a non-military sense, for example when driving through remote areas.-Age of Sail:Naval...

s to Egypt had to either cross the Mediterranean via Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 and Malta
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

, and then approach the coast of Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, or steam all the way around the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

, up the whole east coast of Africa, and then through the Suez Canal
Suez Canal
The Suez Canal , also known by the nickname "The Highway to India", is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Opened in November 1869 after 10 years of construction work, it allows water transportation between Europe and Asia without navigation...

, to reach Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

. Since the latter was a very long and slow route, this put the Italian fleet in an excellent position to interdict British supplies and reinforcements.

The British had won a number of actions, considerably upsetting the balance of power
Balance of power in international relations
In international relations, a balance of power exists when there is parity or stability between competing forces. The concept describes a state of affairs in the international system and explains the behavior of states in that system...

 in the Mediterranean. Following the concept of a fleet in being
Fleet in being
In naval warfare, a fleet in being is a naval force that extends a controlling influence without ever leaving port. Were the fleet to leave port and face the enemy, it might lose in battle and no longer influence the enemy's actions, but while it remains safely in port the enemy is forced to...

, the Italians usually kept their warships in harbor. The Italian fleet at Taranto was powerful: six battleship
Battleship
A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

s (five battleworthy), seven heavy cruiser
Heavy cruiser
The heavy cruiser was a type of cruiser, a naval warship designed for long range, high speed and an armament of naval guns roughly 203mm calibre . The heavy cruiser can be seen as a lineage of ship design from 1915 until 1945, although the term 'heavy cruiser' only came into formal use in 1930...

s, two light cruiser
Light cruiser
A light cruiser is a type of small- or medium-sized warship. The term is a shortening of the phrase "light armored cruiser", describing a small ship that carried armor in the same way as an armored cruiser: a protective belt and deck...

s, and eight destroyer
Destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

s, making the threat of a sortie
Sortie
Sortie is a term for deployment or dispatch of one military unit, be it an aircraft, ship, or troops from a strongpoint. The sortie, whether by one or more aircraft or vessels, usually has a specific mission....

 against British shipping a serious problem.

During the Munich Crisis of 1938, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound
Dudley Pound
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Alfred Dudley Pickman Rogers Pound GCB OM GCVO RN was a British naval officer who served as First Sea Lord, professional head of the Royal Navy from June 1939 to September 1943.- Early life :...

, the commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet
Mediterranean Fleet
Several countries have or have had a Mediterranean Fleet in their navy. See:* Mediterranean Fleet * French Mediterranean Fleet* Mediterranean Squadron * United States Sixth Fleet...

, was concerned about the survival of the aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

  in the face of Italian opposition in the Mediterranean. Pound ordered his staff to re-examine all plans for attacking Taranto. He was advised by the captain
Captain (Royal Navy)
Captain is a senior officer rank of the Royal Navy. It ranks above Commander and below Commodore and has a NATO ranking code of OF-5. The rank is equivalent to a Colonel in the British Army or Royal Marines and to a Group Captain in the Royal Air Force. The rank of Group Captain is based on the...

 of Glorious, Arthur L. St.G. Lyster
Lumley Lyster
Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Lumley St George Lyster, KCB, CVO, CBE, DSO was a Royal Navy officer during the Second World War.-Naval career:...

, that her Fairey TSR Swordfish
Fairey Swordfish
The Fairey Swordfish was a torpedo bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company and used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy during the Second World War...

 were capable of a night attack, using aerial torpedo
Aerial torpedo
The aerial torpedo, airborne torpedo or air-dropped torpedo is a naval weapon, the torpedo, designed to be dropped into water from an aircraft after which it propels itself to the target. First used in World War I, air-dropped torpedoes were used extensively in World War II, and remain in limited...

es. Indeed, the Fleet Air Arm
Fleet Air Arm
The Fleet Air Arm is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates the AgustaWestland Merlin, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx helicopters...

 was then the only naval aviation
Naval aviation
Naval aviation is the application of manned military air power by navies, including ships that embark fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters. In contrast, maritime aviation is the operation of aircraft in a maritime role under the command of non-naval forces such as the former RAF Coastal Command or a...

 arm capable of it. Pound took Lyster's advice, and he ordered training to begin. Security was kept so tight there were no written records. Just a month before the war began, Pound knowingly advised his replacement, Admiral Andrew Cunningham
Andrew Cunningham, 1st Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope
Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Browne Cunningham, 1st Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope KT, GCB, OM, DSO and two Bars , was a British admiral of the Second World War. Cunningham was widely known by his nickname, "ABC"....

, to consider the possibility. This came to be known as "Operation Judgement".

The fall of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 and the consequent loss of the French fleet
French Mediterranean Fleet
CECMED is a French Armed Forces regional commander. He commands the zone, the region and the Mediterranean maritime arrondissements. He is usually an admiral of the French Navy, and is under the direct authority of the French Chief of the Defence Staff...

 in the Mediterranean (even before "Operation Catapult") made redress essential. The older carrier, , on Cunningham's strength, was ideal, possessing a very experienced air group composed entirely of Swordfish aircraft. Three Sea Gladiator
Gloster Gladiator
The Gloster Gladiator was a British-built biplane fighter. It was used by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and was exported to a number of other air forces during the late 1930s. It was the RAF's last biplane fighter aircraft and was rendered obsolete by newer monoplane designs even as it...

s were added for the operation. Firm plans were drawn up after the Italian Army halted at Sidi Barrani
Sidi Barrani
Sidi Barrani is a town in Egypt, near the Mediterranean Sea, about east of the border with Libya, and around from Tobruk, Libya.Probably named after Sidi Mohammed el Barrani, a Senussi fighter in the early 1900s, the village is mainly a Bedouin community...

, which freed up the British Mediterranean Fleet.

Operation "Judgement" was just a small part of the over-arching "Operation MB8
Operation MB8
Operation MB8 was a British Royal Navy operation in the Mediterranean Sea during 4-11 November 1940. It was made up of six forces—totalling two aircraft carriers, five battleships, 10 cruisers, and 30 destroyers, including much of Force H—protecting four distinct supply convoys.It consisted of...

". It was originally scheduled to take place on 21 October 1940, Trafalgar Day
Trafalgar Day
Trafalgar Day is the celebration of the victory won by the Royal Navy, commanded by Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson over the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. The formation of the Navy League in 1894 gave added impetus to the movement to recognise...

, but a fire in an auxiliary fuel tank of one Swordfish led to a delay. (The 60 imp gal (72.1 US gal; 272.8 l) auxiliary tanks replaced the usual third crewman to extend the operating range enough to reach Taranto.) This minor fire spread into a more serious fire that destroyed two Swordfish. Then Eagle suffered a breakdown in her fuel system, so she was eliminated.

When the brand-new carrier , based at Alexandria, became available in the Mediterranean, she took on board five Swordfish from Eagle, and would launch the strike alone.

The complete naval task force
Task force
A task force is a unit or formation established to work on a single defined task or activity. Originally introduced by the United States Navy, the term has now caught on for general usage and is a standard part of NATO terminology...

, commanded by Rear Admiral Lyster, who had authored the plan of attack on Taranto, consisted of Illustrious, two heavy cruiser
Heavy cruiser
The heavy cruiser was a type of cruiser, a naval warship designed for long range, high speed and an armament of naval guns roughly 203mm calibre . The heavy cruiser can be seen as a lineage of ship design from 1915 until 1945, although the term 'heavy cruiser' only came into formal use in 1930...

s, two light cruiser
Light cruiser
A light cruiser is a type of small- or medium-sized warship. The term is a shortening of the phrase "light armored cruiser", describing a small ship that carried armor in the same way as an armored cruiser: a protective belt and deck...

s, and four destroyer
Destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

s. The 24 attack Swordfish came from 813 Naval Air Squadron
813 Naval Air Squadron
813 Naval Air Squadron was an aircraft squadron of the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm during World War II and again post-war. It initially operated Swordfish Mk Is from the aircraft carrier Illustrious and took part in the successful raid on Taranto in November 1940.In July 1943, the squadron was a...

, 815 Naval Air Squadron
815 Naval Air Squadron
815 Naval Air Squadron is a squadron of the Fleet Air Arm, part of the Royal Navy. The squadron is currently based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, United Kingdom and it is the Navy's front line Lynx Naval Air Squadron. It currently comprises more than 30 Lynx helicopters of various types...

, 819 Naval Air Squadron
819 Naval Air Squadron
819 Naval Air Squadron was a Royal Navy aircraft squadron before and during World War II. Along with No. 815 Squadron, it performed the successful night attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto on 11 November 1940...

, and 824 Naval Air Squadron
824 Naval Air Squadron
824 Naval Air Squadron is a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm squadron first formed on 3 April 1933, disbanding and reforming several times before assuming its current role at RNAS Culdrose as a training squadron....

. The small number of attacking warplanes raised concern Judgement would only alert and enrage the Italian Navy without achieving any significant results. Illustrious also had fighters of 806 Naval Air Squadron
806 Naval Air Squadron
806 Naval Air Squadron was a fighter squadron in the Fleet Air Arm that existed from February 1940 to December 1960 and saw active service in Norway, the Dunkirk evacuation and the Malta Convoys.-Formation:...

 aboard to provide air cover for the task force.
Half of the Swordfish were armed with torpedoes as the primary strike aircraft, with the other half carrying aerial bomb
Aerial bomb
An aerial bomb is a type of explosive weapon intended to travel through the air with predictable trajectories, usually designed to be dropped from an aircraft...

s and flares to carry out diversions. These torpedoes were fitted with Duplex magnetic / contact exploders, which were extremely sensitive to rough seas, as the attacks on the German
Kriegsmarine
The Kriegsmarine was the name of the German Navy during the Nazi regime . It superseded the Kaiserliche Marine of World War I and the post-war Reichsmarine. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany.The Kriegsmarine grew rapidly...

 battleship Bismarck
German battleship Bismarck
Bismarck was the first of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Named after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the primary force behind the German unification in 1871, the ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in July 1936 and launched nearly three years later...

 later showed. There were also worries the torpedoes would bottom out in the harbour after being dropped. The loss rate for the bombers was expected to be fifty percent.

Several reconnaissance
Reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

 flights by Martin Maryland
A-22 Maryland
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Bishop, Chris. The Encyclopedia Of 20th Century Air Warfare. London: Amber Books Ltd, 2004. ISBN 1-90468-726-1....

 bombers (of the RAF's No. 431 General Reconnaissance Flight) flying from Malta
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

 confirmed the location of the Italian fleet. These flights produced photos on which the intelligence
Military intelligence
Military intelligence is a military discipline that exploits a number of information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions....

 officer of Illustrious spotted previously unexpected barrage balloon
Barrage balloon
A barrage balloon is a large balloon tethered with metal cables, used to defend against low-level aircraft attack by damaging the aircraft on collision with the cables, or at least making the attacker's approach more difficult. Some versions carried small explosive charges that would be pulled up...

s, and the attack plan was changed accordingly. To make sure the Italian warships had not sortied, the British also sent over a Short Sunderland
Short Sunderland
The Short S.25 Sunderland was a British flying boat patrol bomber developed for the Royal Air Force by Short Brothers. It took its service name from the town and port of Sunderland in northeast England....

 flying boat
Flying boat
A flying boat is a fixed-winged seaplane with a hull, allowing it to land on water. It differs from a float plane as it uses a purpose-designed fuselage which can float, granting the aircraft buoyancy. Flying boats may be stabilized by under-wing floats or by wing-like projections from the fuselage...

 on the night of 11 November, just as the carrier task force was forming up about 170 nmi (195.6 mi; 314.8 km) from Taranto harbor, off the Greek island of Cephalonia. This reconnaissance flight alerted the Italian forces in southern Italy, but since they were without any radar
Radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

s, they could do little but wait for whatever came along. The Regia Marina could conceivably have gone to sea in search of any British naval force, but this was distinctly against the naval philosophy of the Italians between January 1940 and September 1943.

The complexity of "Operation MB8", with its various forces and convoys, succeeded in deceiving the Italians into thinking only normal convoying was underway. This contributed to the success of Judgement.

The attack


The first wave of 12 A/C led by Lt.-Cdr. M. W. Williamson, 815 Sqn. left Illustrious just before 21:00 hours on 11 November 1940, followed by a second wave of nine about 90 minutes later. Of the second wave, one turned back with a problem with its auxiliary fuel tank, and one aircraft launched 20 minutes late, after requiring emergency repairs to damage from a minor taxiing accident.

The first wave, which consisted of a mixture of six Swordfish armed with aerial torpedo
Aerial torpedo
The aerial torpedo, airborne torpedo or air-dropped torpedo is a naval weapon, the torpedo, designed to be dropped into water from an aircraft after which it propels itself to the target. First used in World War I, air-dropped torpedoes were used extensively in World War II, and remain in limited...

es and six with aerial bomb
Aerial bomb
An aerial bomb is a type of explosive weapon intended to travel through the air with predictable trajectories, usually designed to be dropped from an aircraft...

s, was split into two sections when three of the bombers and one torpedo bomber strayed from the main force while flying through thin clouds. The smaller group continued to Taranto independently. The main group approached the harbor at 22:58. A flare was dropped east of the harbor and the flare dropper and another aircraft made a dive bombing attack to set fire to oil tanks. The next three aircraft, led by Lt Cdr K. Williamson RN of 815 Squadron, attacked over San Pietro Island, and struck the battleship with a torpedo that blasted a 27 ft (8.2 m) hole in her side below her waterline. Williamson's plane was immediately shot down by the anti-aircraft gun
Anti-aircraft warfare
NATO defines air defence as "all measures designed to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action." They include ground and air based weapon systems, associated sensor systems, command and control arrangements and passive measures. It may be to protect naval, ground and air forces...

s of the Italian battleship. The two remaining aircraft in this sub-flight continued, dodging barrage balloons and receiving heavy anti-aircraft fire from the Italian warships and shore batteries, to press home an unsuccessful attack on the battleship . The next sub-flight of three attacked from a more northerly direction, attacking the battleship , hitting it with two torpedoes and launching one torpedo at the flagship—the battleship —which failed to hit its target. The bomber force led by Capt O. Patch RN next attacked. They found the targets difficult to identify but attacked two cruisers from 1500 ft (457.2 m) followed by another aircraft which straddled four destroyer
Destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

s.

The second wave of 9 A/C led by Lt.-Cdr. J. W. Hale, 819 Sqn.was now approaching, two of the four bombers also carrying flares, the remaining five carrying torpedoes. Flares were dropped shortly before midnight. Two aircraft aimed their torpedoes at Littorio, one of which hit home. One aircraft, despite having been hit twice by anti-aircraft fire, aimed a torpedo at Vittorio Veneto but that torpedo missed its target. One aircraft hit the battleship with a torpedo blowing a large hole in her hull and flooding both of her forward magazines. The aircraft flown by Lt G. W. L. A. Bayly RN was shot down by antiaircraft fire from the heavy cruiser while following the attack on Littorio, this being the only aircraft lost from the second wave. The final aircraft to arrive on the scene 15 minutes behind the others made a dive bombing attack on an Italian cruiser despite heavy anti-aircraft fire, and then made a safe getaway, returning to Illustrious at 02:39.

Of the two aircraft shot down, the two crew members of the first plane were taken prisoner. The other two fliers died in their plane.

The Italian battleships received very heavy damage:
  • Conte di Cavour had a 12 by 8 m (39.4 by 26.2 ft) hole in the hull, and in the six hours following the attack all the attempts to save her failed (later, she was raised and partially repaired, but never regained service in the Navy, so she was in effect lost that night);
  • Andrea Doria had only a slightly smaller hole (11 by 7 m (36.1 by 23 ft)) and was saved by running her aground;
  • Littorio had considerable flooding caused by three torpedo strikes. Despite the underwater protection (Pugliese system, standard in all the Italian battleships), the damage was extensive. She suffered 32 crewmen lost and many wounded, and the ship was totally disabled. She was holed in three places, once on the port side (7 metre), and twice on the starboard side (15 by 10 m (49.2 by 32.8 ft) and 12 by 9 m (39.4 by 29.5 ft)). She too was saved by running her aground. Despite this, in the morning the ship's bows were totally submerged.


Italian defences fired roughly 13,489 shells from the land batteries, while several thousand were fired from the ships. The anti-aircraft barrage was, at least on paper, extremely powerful, having 101 guns and 193 machine-guns. There were also 87 balloons, but strong wind caused the loss of 60 of these. Additionally, only 4.2 km (2.3 nmi; 2.6 mi) of anti-torpedo nets were actually fielded around the ships, up to 10 m (32.8 ft) in depth, while the need was for 12.8 km (6.9 nmi; 8 mi). Finally, there were also 13 aerophonic stations and 22 searchlights (ships had two searchlights each).

Later, Littorio was repaired with all available resources, while repairs to the older battleships proceeded at a much slower pace (seven months for Doria, never completed for Cavour). In all, the Swordfish attack was made with just 21 aircraft. Two Italian aircraft were destroyed by the bombing, and two unexploded ordnance hit cruiser Trento and destroyer Libeccio. Near misses damaged destroyer Pessagno.

In the meanwhile, X-Force cruisers attacked an Italian convoy
Battle of the Strait of Otranto (1940)
The Battle of the Strait of Otranto was a minor naval action during the Battle of the Mediterranean in World War II. It took place in the Strait of Otranto in the Adriatic Sea, between Italy and Albania.-Background:...

. This force had three cruisers and two Tribal-class
Tribal class destroyer (1936)
The Tribal class, or Afridi class, were a class of destroyers built for the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Australian Navy that saw service in World War II...

 destroyers ( and ). Just past midnight, they met and destroyed four Italian merchantmen (Capo Vado, Catalani, Locatelli and Premuda), damaging the torpedo-boat Fabrizi, while the auxiliary cruiser RAMB III fled.

Cunningham and Lyster wanted to strike Taranto again the next night with Swordfish (six torpedo-bombers, seven bombers, and two flare-dispensers), but bad weather prevented the action.

Aftermath


The Italian fleet lost about half its strength in one night, and the next day the Regia Marina transferred its undamaged ships from Taranto to Naples to protect them from similar attacks. Repairs to Littorio took about five months, and to Caio Duilio six months; Conte di Cavour required extensive salvage work and her repairs were incomplete when Italy simultaneously surrendered in 1943 and declared war against Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

. The Italian "fleet-in-being
Fleet in being
In naval warfare, a fleet in being is a naval force that extends a controlling influence without ever leaving port. Were the fleet to leave port and face the enemy, it might lose in battle and no longer influence the enemy's actions, but while it remains safely in port the enemy is forced to...

" diminished in importance, and the Royal Navy attained improved control of most of the Mediterranean. This control of the sea, with the help of the U.S. Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 and the Royal Canadian Navy
Royal Canadian Navy
The history of the Royal Canadian Navy goes back to 1910, when the naval force was created as the Naval Service of Canada and renamed a year later by King George V. The Royal Canadian Navy is one of the three environmental commands of the Canadian Forces...

 during 1943–44, was to become complete, for all practical purposes (excepting only the Turks
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

, who were neutral).

Despite this serious setback, the Regia Marina had adequate resources to fight the Battle of Cape Spartivento
Battle of Cape Spartivento
The Battle of Cape Spartivento, known as the Battle of Cape Teulada in Italy, was a naval battle during the Battle of the Mediterranean in the Second World War...

 on 27 November 1940. However, the British decisively defeated the Italian fleet a few months later in the Battle of Cape Matapan
Battle of Cape Matapan
The Battle of Cape Matapan was a Second World War naval battle fought from 27–29 March 1941. The cape is on the southwest coast of Greece's Peloponnesian peninsula...

, near Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, in March 1941.

Aerial torpedo
Aerial torpedo
The aerial torpedo, airborne torpedo or air-dropped torpedo is a naval weapon, the torpedo, designed to be dropped into water from an aircraft after which it propels itself to the target. First used in World War I, air-dropped torpedoes were used extensively in World War II, and remain in limited...

 experts in all modern navies had previously thought that torpedo attacks against ships must be in deep waters, of at least 30 m (98.4 ft) deep. The Taranto harbor had a water depth of only about 12 m (39.4 ft). However, the Royal Navy developed a new method of preventing torpedoes from diving too deep. A drum was attached beneath the nose of the aircraft, from which a roll of wire led to the nose of the torpedo. As the torpedo dropped, the tension from the wire pulled up the nose of the torpedo, producing a belly-flop rather than a nose dive. The Italians used wooden fins to break the dive of the torpedo, and it is likely that the Japanese took this idea from the Italians.
The Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

's planning staff carefully studied the Taranto attack when planning their aerial torpedo attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 over a year later. The air attack on Pearl Harbor was a considerably larger operation than Taranto, with six fleet carriers, each one carrying an air wing that was more than double the planes that a British carrier had. It resulted in far more devastation, sinking or disabling seven American battleships, and seriously damaging other warships. However, it can be argued that this air attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet
United States Pacific Fleet
The United States Pacific Fleet is a Pacific Ocean theater-level component command of the United States Navy that provides naval resources under the operational control of the United States Pacific Command. Its home port is at Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hawaii. It is commanded by Admiral Patrick M...

 did not alter the balance of power in the Pacific in the same way that the attack on Taranto did in the Mediterranean Sea, as much of the repair facilities and logistical material remained relatively untouched by Japanese aircraft.

Citations



Further reading

  • Lamb, Charles War in a Stringbag. Cassell and Collier Macmillan (1977) ISBN 030429778X
  • Lowry, Thomas P & Wellham, John W.G. The Attack on Taranto: Blueprint for Pearl Harbor. Stackpole Books (1995) ISBN 0-8117-1726-7

External links