Attack on Taranto
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
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
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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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945