Taranto file photo [3312]

Attack on Taranto

11 Nov 1940 - 12 Nov 1940


ww2dbaseAs a precursor to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the British dealt a blow to the Italian navy at Taranto in late 1940. This attack would serve as a precedence that gave Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto the confidence for planning the attack against the shallow Hawaiian harbor.

ww2dbaseUnder the command of Rear Admiral Lyster, the carrier Illustrious launched his 21 Swordfish aircraft in two waves against the Italian port. The British aircraft caught six Italian battleships, nine cruisers, and eight destroyers completely off guard. The battleship Conte di Cavour was sunk in harbor, the battleship Littorio suffered three torpedo hits, and the battleship Caio Diulio suffered one torpedo hit. The heavy cruiser Trento received heavy damage, along with several destroyers badly hurt. Shore facilities were damaged as well.

ww2dbaseThe successful Operation Judgement, the first British all-aircraft attack, tipped the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean in the favor of the Allies by disabling half of the Italian fleet. The Italians had actually detected Allied reconnaissance flights near Taranto and should had been warned, but the combination of being lax in vigilance and the lack of radar sealed the Italian fleet's doom. The British only suffered two casualties when two Swordfish aircraft were struck down by anti-aircraft fire.

ww2dbaseSources: the Second World War, Wikipedia.

Last Major Update: Jul 2005


Conte di Cavour sinking in Taranto harbor, 12 Nov 1940

Attack on Taranto Timeline

10 Nov 1940 In appalling weather, Flying Officer Adrian Warburton RAF flying a Maryland photographic reconnaissance aircraft from Malta made two low-level sweeps over the Italian port of Taranto, noting the names of five battleships, 14 Cruisers and 27 destroyers along with their precise locations. He flew so low that his Maryland returned to Malta with a ships radio aerial dangling from its tailwheel. On the following day, he would fly the same mission again. The information his photographs revealed was passed on to the waiting torpedo-bomber crews on board HMS Illustrious.
11 Nov 1940 At 2300 hours, 21 Swordfish aircraft of British carrier HMS Illustrious flew over Taranto Italy, where the Italian fleet was harbored. 11 aircraft attacked with torpedoes, sinking battleship Conte di Cavour was sunk, and damaging battleships Littorio and Caio Duilio. 10 aircraft attacked the inner harbor, causing minor damage on shore facilities. 2 aircraft were shot down (2 killed, 2 captured).
12 Nov 1940 The 19 surviving Swordfish aircraft of the 21 sent to attack Taranto, Italy at 2300 hours on the previous day returned to the British carrier HMS Illustrious. Italian battleships Vittorio Veneto, Andrea Doria, and Giulio Cesare, having survived the attack, departed the harbor with cruisers in escort for Naples, Italy, to avoid being caught by a second attack by the British, which was indeed planned but failed to launch due to bad weather.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
19 Jan 2008 09:25:06 AM

A few days before the mission the carrier HMS Eagle suffered problems with her fuel systems. Several Swordfish were transferred to HMS Illustrious before it sailed from Alexandria. Ther first wave of 12 aircraft (six with Torpedoes, four with bombs and two with mixed flares and bombs)were launched at 20.00 hrs on the evening of the 11th November. Most of the rear gunners were left behind since their position was taken up by an additional fuel tank. The second wave (five with torpedoes, two with bombs and two with flares and bombs)was launched thirty minutes later. One aircraft aborted for technical reasons and two were lost to flak. All the remainder were safely recovered by 03.00 hrs.
2. Chris O'Connor says:
13 Jan 2014 09:27:16 PM

The attack came after a week of complex ship movements by the RN. Warships and convoys left Alexandria and Gibraltar, converged on Malta, and then retreated. Italian recon planes found these ships, but Illustrious radar identified the Italians many miles out, and Fairey Fulmars flown from Illustrious flight deck chased off or shot down these recon planes ten times over four days. So, the Italians knew something was afoot, but never got a confirmed sighting of all the British ships. The base defenses at Taranto were ready and waiting; guns manned and ready ammo distributed. Both shore and ship-board guns threw up huge quantities of AA fire; British pilots were strongly impressed with it, and resisted the idea of a second attack the next day. The Swordfish aircraft flew so low and so slow - it was incapable of flying very high or very fast - that Italian gunners could not sight them.
Little known is that an American naval officer was aboard Illustrious. He wrote detailed and frequent intelligence reports back to ONI. He asked to go out to Hawaii and share with "the boys out there" the "lessons learned." But it never happened.
My book tells the whole story: Taranto: The Raid, The Observer, The Aftermath. Check it out at tarantobook.com.
3. Bruno Franceschi says:
5 Nov 2015 12:08:38 PM

My Father was a survivor from the Battleship Count De Cavour. He told me that the Italian Generals were conspiring with the British to sink the Italian Navy.

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More on Attack on Taranto
» Campioni, Inigo

» Italy

Ship Participants:
» Conte di Cavour
» Illustrious
» Littorio
» Vittorio Veneto

Notable Aircraft:
» Swordfish

Attack on Taranto Photo Gallery
Conte di Cavour sinking in Taranto harbor, 12 Nov 1940

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