Meetings Catchup

Meeting 11th November 2021 No 1.

Title: Taranto- November 1940 by Nigel Turner.

Nigel’s talk was based on the Fleet Arm action in the Mediterranean on the 11th and 12th of November 1941 to attack the Italian Fleet based at Taranto, Italy. The objective was to attack and sink as many capital Italian ships as possible in a surprise Fleet Air Arm operation, using Fairey Swordfish bi-planes based on aircraft carriers and ships. This operation was the first of its type in World War naval history.

The talk discussed the tactics of such an operation and the months of planning that went into the action prior to “Operation Judgment” part of which was the Swordfish attack code named MB8.

The British Fleet was under the command of Admiral Andrew Cunningham, a very able and meticulous commander, and Admiral Inigo Campioni was the commander for the Italian naval “Regia Marina” forces.

What was at stake for the British was the proof that ship born attack aircraft could play prove to be a devastating element in the capability of the Royal Navy to inflict significant damage to the Axis forces.

The Swordfish force was comprised of half being armed with torpedoes as the primary strike aircraft, with the other half carrying aerial bombs and flares to carry out diversions and illumination of the ships in harbour. These torpedoes were fitted with delayed fuses as they sat on the bottom under the ships. There were also worries the torpedoes would bottom out in the harbour after being dropped short of the targets.

Because of the frailty of the 24 Swordfish, Cunningham the loss rate for the bombers was expected to be around fifty per cent. In the end 18 returned, 2 aircraft were lost including one crew and one was captured.

Having had much luck with a lack of balloon cover, only 29, due to storm damage a few days earlier where 60 had been blown away. This enabled the Swordfish greater elbow room to strike at the fleet in the most direct way.

Several capital ships were sunk and/or damaged. They were re-floated and back in service by the middle of 1942 except for Conti di Cavour which they never completely repaired before the Italian forces capitulated in 1943.

Nigel finished his talk by answering several questions from the floor including the one about the state of the balloon protection.

The vote of thanks was given by Robert Westlake.

David Clapp, Publicity Officer, The Probus Club of Nailsea, 11th November 2021