Battle of Taranto 1940

Battle of Taranto 1940

Battle of Taranto 1940 Italy’s Regia Marina was established in 1861 upon the formation of the Kingdom of Italy. The Regia Marina was an amalgamation of the formerly independent navies of states in the Italian Peninsula. As a result, the Regia Marina lacked cohesion and was largely disjointed in its early years.

Italian Naval squadrons had originated from different nations and therefore utilized drastically different equipment and standards, and had disparate amounts of resources. 

Regional rivalries also impacted the success of the Regia Marina; leading officers in the former navies harbored significant amounts of distrust and distaste for their newfound compatriots, leading to poor cooperation among naval officers.

After the Regia Marina had a limited role during World War I, the Italian Government aimed to grow and modernize it in order to dominate the Mediterranean Sea. An intensive construction initiative took place in the late 1920s and early 1930s, through which Italy added new classes of cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and battleships to its navy. Many of these ships were built to prepare for a conflict against France, which the Italian government viewed as a likely foe in the future due to rapidly increasing tensions.

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This construction project aimed to build ships with thin armor and long-range guns in an effort to maximize the ships’ speed. Naval officers hoped that speed would provide the Regia Marina with an advantage over the more experienced French and British crews, as Regia Marina crews would be able to disengage and retreat from battles at times of their own choosing.

From the inception of World War II, Italian naval power in the Mediterranean Sea had threatened the United Kingdom. 

The British Empire relied on trade with India and Asia, which relied on secure access to the Suez Canal. When Italy declared war on the United Kingdom on June 10, 1940, British leaders feared that the Italian Navy could deny the British access to their trade routes. Military officers reacted by planning a preemptive attack on the Italian naval base at Taranto. On November 9, 1940, the United Kingdom received intelligence confirming all of Italy’s battleships as well as a multitude of cruisers and destroyers were docked at the Taranto base. 

At 8:35 PM on November 11, twelve Swordfish bombers took off for Taranto from the British military base in Malta. Half of these bombers contained torpedoes, and the other half carried a combination of bombs and flares. Italian soldiers noticed the incoming aircrafts prior to the attack and opened fire. This had the unintended effect of lighting up the sky and leading the bombers to their targets on an otherwise cloudy night with low visibility. Several of the pilots dropped flares on the harbor in order to increase visibility. 

This aided the torpedo bombers in their attempts to swoop low over the water and bomb the Italian ships. Although the other bombs did not cause significant damage, three torpedoes hit two new, expensive Italian battleships. One of the planes was shot down while both members of the crew survived.

An hour later, a second wave of planes took off from Malta. Of the five torpedoes dropped by British aircraft, three hit their targets and damaged Italian ships. One Swordfish was shot down by Italian anti-aircraft soldiers, causing the death of the two-man crew. While the surviving pilots in undamaged aircrafts returned to rearm for further attacks, bad weather prevented a third attack and curtailed the scale of the battle.

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In all, these two attacks heavily damaged the Italian naval fleet. At the cost of merely two planes, the Littorio, Caio Duilio(pictured above), and Conte di Cavour were severely damaged.

The Conte di Cavour (pictured below after the battle) was never fully repaired;repairs for the Caio Duilio took seven months to complete while repairs for the Littorio took four months. These repairs cost the Italian Navy a significant amount of money and prevented offensive attacks for their duration.

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Moreover, the attacks inflicted approximately 700 casualties, although the exact amount remains unknown. More crucially for the Royal Navy, the attack prevented Italy from threatening British naval dominance in the Mediterranean in the short-term. The attack, however, failed to have a significant influence in the long term; Italian shipping to Libya increased throughout the war, and the Italian Navy attacked and significantly damaged the British harbor in Alexandria, Egypt in December 1941.

The success of the attack was widely reported throughout the Western world. Primarily, the United Kingdom propagated information about the attacks in order to increase national morale for the war effort. Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the attacks soon after in the House of Commons, asserting that the battle “affects decisively the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean.”

Image result for battle of taranto newspaper
Image result for battle of taranto newspaper

The battle had long-lasting effects even outside of the Mediterranean naval theater. The Battle of Taranto was an early signal of the naval shift away from the battleship and towards the fleet carrier in naval operations. Moreover, the battle dispelled the claim of torpedo experts that torpedo attacks must be in water at least 75 feet deep. 

As the Taranto harbor had a depth of only 39 feet, the Royal Navy developed a new method with which they prevented torpedoes from diving too deep. 

The Italian battleship CONTE DI CAVOUR after the attack. Only her funnels and super-structure remain above the water.

    

These shifts were made ever clearer on January 7, 1941, when the Japanese took lessons from the attack on Taranto when it attacked Pearl Harbor. Adapting strategies formerly used by the British, six Japanese fleet carriers inflicted the infamous surprise attack with fighters dropping torpedoes at a depth of less than 75 feet. 

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Battle of Taranto 1940 Written By Ben Binday

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