British Midnight Raid on Taranto Italy, 11-12 November, 1940
By John Dudek @ The Wargamer
The night-time skies over Taranto Italy were criss-crossed with dozens of blindingly brilliant shafts of probing, search light beams interspersed with cracking flak bursts and the staccato sound and sights of thousands of machine gun tracers arching upwards across the black sky like so many thousands of fireflies in search of a still unseen enemy. Air dropped flares suddenly lit up the Italian battleships and cruisers of their Battle Fleet anchored seemingly safe within its well protected harbor. Out of the darkness came a sight more appropriate from the past “Great War” of 1914-18 rather than this current Second World War. Nearly two dozen British Swordfish bi-plane torpedo aircraft approached flying low and slow for their final attack runs upon the capital ships of the Italian Battle Fleet. Within minutes three of the anchored battleships of the Regia Marina were staggered by numerous torpedo hits that sank one battleship and badly damaged two others, while badly damaging a heavy cruiser and two destroyers. Historically speaking the Taranto Raid was the very first successfully carrier launched air attack ever made against an enemy fleet. Following the British torpedo bombing raid only two of the three damaged Italian battleships were ever returned to active service. In one night, the Royal Navy succeeded in cutting down the size of the Italian battleship fleet by half, while tipping the balance of power in the Mediterranean once again back into her favor. For the remaining three years of Italian participation in World War II as a member of the Axis Powers, the Italian Battle Fleet avoided any further fully fledged fleet engagements against the Royal Navy, and no longer seriously sought to prevent British reinforcement from reaching North Africa or its Mediterranean colonies through the massed use of capital ships in a concerted fleet action.