24 October 2016

More World War Two for the day: the attack on Taranto UF

War History Online has an article by David Herold about a precursor to Pearl Harbor:

Out of all the battles that took place during World War Two, there are some that had a deep impact on both sides, and the Battle of Taranto is no exception.
During the night of 11 and 12 November 1940, a battle began in the waters of Taranto in Italy. The Royal Navy, under the leadership of Admiral Andrew Cunningham, launched a naval attack on the Italian naval forces fighting under the leadership of Admiral Inigo Campioni. Despite the shallow depth of water, the Regia Marina battle fleet in Taranto was hit using aerial torpedoes.
Taranto, a port city on the south-east coast of Italy, was home to the first squadron of the Regia Marina. The Royal Navy was intent blunting any power in the Mediterranean and plans to capture the port of Taranto were made as early as 1935 when Abyssinia was invaded by Italy.
The North African Campaign of the British Army was facing supply difficulties, owing to the long route the supply ships had to take all the way from Gibraltar to Alexandria following a long, slow route around the Cape of Good Hope. The Italian fleet that was supplying goods to the Italian army’s operation, based in Libya, was in an ideal position to interdict the British reinforcement and supplies.
The Italian navy was not willing to seek a battle with the much larger and stronger Royal Navy on their own because they would not have been able to replace any ship bigger than a destroyer. At Taranto, the Italian fleet was a strong one, made up of seven heavy cruisers, six battleships, eight destroyers, and two light cruisers. The threat of a sortie was a serious problem from this point against British shipping.
In 1938, during the Munich Crisis, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound was concerned about HMS Glorious, the aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy,  because of the strong Italian forces present in the Mediterranean. The staff was asked to re-examine all the possibilities to attack the strategically important location of Taranto. This is when the Admiral was told about the possibility of attacking the Italian fleet at Taranto using the Fairey TSR Swordfish of the HMS Glorious.
The advice was given by the captain of Glorious, Arthur LStG Lyster and was readily accepted by the Admiral. The training began soon afterward and to keep it confidential, there were no written records kept of the training.
A month before the beginning of war, Admiral Pound was replaced by Admiral Cunningham. This is when Pound asked the new Admiral to consider the possibility of this operation and it turned into the famous Operation Judgment to assess the possibility of carrying out the attack.
The loss of the French fleet in the Mediterranean after the Fall of France led to a reaffirmation of the need to carry out the attack on Taranto. Operation Judgment was just a small part of Operation MB8, which was to take place on the Trafalgar Day in 1940 but due to an unforeseen fire in the fuel tank of one of the battleships, it was not materialized. With the inclusion of the brand new HMS Illustrious and its availability in the Mediterranean, the argument for the attack was further strengthened.
With the inclusion of the brand new HMS Illustrious and its availability in the Mediterranean, the argument for the attack was further strengthened.
The Taranto base was defended by two hundred machine guns and a hundred anti-aircraft guns. The various convoys and forces included in Operation MB8 were successful in deceiving the Italians, who thought only a normal convoy was present, which helped a great deal in the British operations.
The fleet and base at Taranto was attacked with a first wave of twelve aircraft and a second of nine. A lot of crossfire was observed with the Italian battleships suffering significant damage. Two aircraft of the Royal Navy were shot down by the Italian Navy.
The Italian Navy suffered the loss of  about half of their main battleships in one night. However, they transferred the undamaged ships to Taranto and did not let them go beyond the control of the harbor. Cunningham was of the belief that the Italian would not risk their remaining battleships, but this was proven wrong when a mission delivering an aircraft to Malta was successfully disrupted by the Italian Navy just five days after the incident at Taranto took place.
The attack on Taranto was avenged a year later when the Italian navy carried out a raid on Alexandria, Egypt, causing heavy damage to HMS Valiant and HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The primary goal of attacking Taranto was not achieved by the Royal Navy and in fact, shipping largely increased during the months following the attack. The balance of power was not affected in the Central Mediterranean, and British Naval Authorities did not succeed in their primary objective.
It is quite likely that the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was influenced by the attack on Taranto. The Japanese made a similar attack, but a considerably larger operation, on Pearl Harbor, after carefully studying the Taranto attack and drawing conclusions from it because both of these attacks had one thing in common; they were both attacks on shallow harbors.
The Battle of Taranto was a major event in the history of both the Italian and the British navies, with both sides facing serious damage. However, the objectives of the battle were not achieved by the Royal Navy, thus making this battle unsuccessful on their part.
Rico says it was an incredible attack, regardless..

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