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Battle of Taranto

From Academic Kids

Template:Battlebox The Battle of Taranto was a naval battle that occurred on the night of 11November 12 1940 during World War II. The Royal Navy launched the first all-aircraft naval battle in history, flying a small number of aircraft from a single aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean and attacking the Italian fleet at Taranto. The battle was won by Britain in what was seen around the world as the end of the "big gun" ship and the rise of naval air power.

In 1939 Italians operations in North Africa, centered on Libya, required resupply from the Italian mainland. British operations, centered in Egypt, were considerably harder to supply, having to cross the entire Mediterranean Sea from depots in Gibraltar. This meant the Italian fleet was in an excellent position to cut off supplies to the British forces.

This balance of power was considerably upset by the fact that in repeated actions the Royal Navy had always come out on top. So instead of direct action, the Italians left their ships safely in harbor, the threat of a sortie being enough to cause the British serious problems. This became known as the theory of Fleet in Being. At the time this "fleet-in-being" was fairly powerful, the harbor at Taranto contained six battleships (although one was not battle-worthy), seven heavy cruisers and two light cruisers, and eight destroyers.

The British, upset with the potential for an attack on their lifelines, had long ago drawn up Operation Judgement, the surprise attack on Taranto. For this mission they sent the new HMS Illustrious to join HMS Eagle in Admiral Andrew Cunningham's fleet. They had originally intended to launch it on 21 October 1940, Trafalgar Day, but damage to both carriers prevented this, and Illustrious took on planes from Eagle and launched the attack alone. The task force consisted of Illustrious, two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and four destroyers.

Several reconnaissance flights by Martin bombers operating from Malta had confirmed the existence of the Italian fleet, but to be sure a Short Sunderland was also sent in on the night of November 11, just as the task force was forming up about 170 miles away from the harbor, just off the Greek island of Cephalonia. This let the Italian forces know that something was happening, although without radar there was little they could do but wait.

The first wave of 12 Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers left the Illustrious just before 21:00, followed by a second wave of 9 aircraft about an hour later. The first wave approached the harbor at 22:58 and split into two groups, one attacking the ships in the outer harbor (Mar Grande) and a smaller group flying over the town to the inner harbor (Mar Piccolo). The second wave attacked from the northwest over the town about an hour later. During the attacks the battleship Littorio was hit by three torpedoes, while the battleships Conte di Cavour and Caio Duilio were both hit by one each, while a cruiser in the inner harbor had been damaged by bombs. The planes had dropped flares in order to see their targets at night, and although this also gave gunners on the ground better visibility, only two of the Swordfish were shot down.

The Italian fleet was mortally wounded, and the next day their undamaged ships were transferred to naval bases farther north to protect them from similar attacks in the future. Littorio was repaired in about four months and Caio Duilio in six, but Conte di Cavour required extensive salvage work and was still being worked on when Italy left the war in 1943. The Italian fleet lost half its strength in one night, the "fleet-in-being" no longer existed, and the Royal Navy took uncontested control of the Mediterranean.

Even with this serious blow, the Italian fleet was able to take part in the battle of Cape Spartivento later that month with good results. However their remaining fleet was then decisively beaten a few months later during the battle of Cape Matapan.

It had been previously thought that torpedo attacks against ships required deep water, at least 100 ft (30 m). Taranto had a water depth of only 40 ft (12 m). However the Royal Navy used modified torpedoes, and also dropped them from a very low height. This aspect of the raid, and others, served as the major inspiration for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and it was heavily studied during their planning.

External links

pt:Batalha de Taranto

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