CULDROSE CELEBRATES TARANTO 76th
Personnel from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose have been commemorating one of the greatest of all Fleet Air Arm actions during World War 2.
This year marks the 76th Anniversary of Operation Judgment, when the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm launched a raid on a much more powerful Italian Naval Fleet at Taranto, in Southern Italy. In all 21 Swordfish Biplanes from 813, 825, 819 and 824 NAS took off on the night of 11 November 1940, from the Aircraft Carrier HMS Illustrious. The devastating attack in turn changed the face of Naval Aviation forever and further operations by the FAA during the War. It also certainly was a blueprint for the Japanese air strike on the US Carriers at Pearl Harbour.
The Swordfish attacked in two waves from HMS Illustrious. Each aircraft was fitted with an extra fuel tank for endurance and armed with either 18 inch torpedoes or 250 lbs armour piercing bombs and flares.
Approaching the harbour from the south west at 22:58 hours, the first wave of 12 Swordfish found six battleships, seven heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and eight destroyers at anchor. As they began their attack, the sky was illuminated by flares and intense anti-aircraft fire.
Around midnight, the second wave of nine Swordfish arrived over the harbour from the North West. Dropping their ordnance, they cleared the harbour and returned to their carrier.
The Fleet Air Arm Raid left the battleship Conte di Cavour sunk and the battleships Littorio and Caio Duilio heavily damaged. They also badly damaged a heavy cruiser. Of the two Swordfish shot down; two crew members from the first aircraft were taken prisoner, the other two died in their plane. By 03:00 the striking force was back onboard HMS Illustrious. In one night, the Royal Navy succeeded in halving the Italian battleship fleet and gained a strategic advantage in the Mediterranean.
The ‘Men of Taranto’ were rewarded for their gallantry with 40 medals including four Distinguished Service Orders, 18 Distinguished Service Crosses and 18 Mentions in Dispatches.
“The raids on the Italian Fleet at Taranto in 1940 are undoubtedly the most well-known battle of the Fleet Air Arm’s long history and we proudly remember the ‘Men of Taranto’ every November,” said Lieutenant Commander Serena Davidson, Operations Officer of 849 Naval Air Squadron. “It is fantastic that naval aviation heritage has such a prominent position within the services and I am extremely proud, that we remember those who have pioneered aviation from the sea and paid the ultimate sacrifice since 1909.”