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Operation Judgment - the Attack on Taranto Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 10/25/2014

The Italian Navy was delivered a vital blow by the exploits of the British Royal Navy during its attack on Taranto.

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Within the boot heel of Italy lay the important Italian naval harbor of Taranto with clear access to the Mediterranean Sea. On the night of November 11-12, 1940, Royal Navy warplanes were unleashed on Italian ships berthed there to begin Operation Judgment - the Battle of Taranto. The move sparked the first notable naval strike sortie in the war and ended as a decisive British victory, removing much of Italian naval power in the region for the duration of the war.


By this point in the conflict, Britain and its Commonwealth stood alone in its fight against the Axis for the fall of France meant that the French fleet was largely taken out of action in Mediterranean waters, giving nearly free reign to the Italians which, in turn, now endangered passing British convoys to and from North Africa, the Middle East, and parts elsewhere. The Royal Navy would play as critical a role as the Army and Royal Air Force, utilizing not only surface warships and attack submarines in its march on Rome and Berlin, but also carrier-based attack and fighter aircraft to bring the fight to the enemy wherever it lay.


Following a period of reconnaissance flights of Taranto harbor, Royal Navy plans were being finalized for the attack. The Italian naval strength in the harbor was, in the meantime, building in number and FlaK protection was strong while being aided by barrage balloons being kept aloft. Rather than wait for the definitive Italian response to the nearby British naval presence, the Royal Navy arranged for its obsolescent Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers to get airborne and head towards Taranto in a surprise attack - a precursor of sorts to the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor set for December 1941. Two waves were launched on November 11th numbering twelve aircraft and nine aircraft respectively and, beyond their torpedo loads, conventional drop bombs and marking flares were also carried.


Luckily for the British aviators, much of the barrage balloons of the Italian defense had been neutralized by storms passing through the night. The Italians also decided against deploying anti-torpedo netting to keep their warships at-the-ready. The Italian battleship Littorio was the first enemy vessel to be targeted and sunk where she berthed and damage quickly followed the Conte di Cavour and the Caio Duilio as well as several other lesser warships.


By the time the Italian defensive network had formulated a concerted response and began to down some of the British warplanes, the damage was all but done - Italian fleet strength concentrated at Taranto was reduced by as much as 50%, laying a decisive blow on future Italian actions in the Mediterranean.


The attack on Taranto was a turning point for the Italians in World War 2 - particularly the navy service. It never recovered from the losses there and rarely sought direct confrontation with the battle-hardened British Royal Navy again, Italian warplanners now more keen to protect their few remaining capital ships as a result. This meant that the Italian warship arm of its once-vaunted military was effectively neutered and bought the British and its Allies time to adjust to the changing tactics and strength allocation of the Germans. The route through the critical Suez Canal was made relatively safe for the moment.


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There are a total of 24 Operation Judgment Timeline Events. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

1940
Monday
October 21st

Operation Judgement - the Allied attack on the Italian naval base at Taranto - is postponed due to mechanical issues aboard the carrier HMS Eagle and a fire aboard the carrier HMS Illustrious.

1940
Saturday
November 9th

The HMS Illustrious moves on Taranto.

1940
Saturday
November 9th

A Swordfish biplane torpedo bomber is lost to engine failure.

1940
Sunday
November 10th

Another Swordfish torpedo bomber is lost to mechnical failure.

1940
Sunday
November 10th

The British naval force moving against Taranto comes under attack from Italian aircraft near Malta.

1940
Monday
November 11th

A third Royal Navy Swordfish aircraft is lost to engine malfunction. A bad batch of gasoline is centered on as the source of the Swordfish issues.

1940
Sunday
November 10th

An Italian bomber is downed in the fighting near Malta.

1940
Monday
November 11th

At 10:00 PM, the first wave of Swordfish bombers is launched from HMS Illustrious, now stationed off of Cephalonia.

1940
Monday
November 11th

At 10:58 PM, signal aircraft lead the first wave over Taranto, marking torpedo targets as they pass.

1940
Monday
November 11th

At 11:14 PM, the Italian battleship Cavour is struck by a Royal Navy torpedo delivered via Swordfish L4A. L4A is later downed by anti-aircraft fire, though both crewmembers survive.

1940
Monday
November 11th

At 11:15 PM, the Italian vessel Doria is struck twice by torpedoes in her forward section.

1940
Monday
November 11th

The Italian ship Littorio is struck by a torpedo along her starboard side. Swordfish L4M follows with another strike to the same side.

1940
Monday
November 11th

A Swordfish torpedo meant for the Vittorio Veneto fails to reach its mark, exploding harmlessly on the sea floor.

1940
Monday
November 11th

The Libeccio is hit by a Royal Navy torpedo but the munition fails to explode.

1940
Monday
November 11th

At 11:35 PM, the second wave of Royal Navy torpedo-laden aircraft moves into position.

1940
Monday
November 11th

Once again, the bombing wave is led by signal aircraft marking targets with flares.

1940
Monday
November 11th

Two signal aircraft attack the oil depot at Taranto but fail to produce much damage.

1940
Monday
November 11th

The Italian battleship Caio Duilio is struck at her bow by a Royal Navy torpedo.

1940
Tuesday
November 12th

At 1:01 AM, The sinking Littorio is struck by another torpedo.

1940
Tuesday
November 12th

Swordfish E4H is downed by enemy anti-aircraft fire, killing her co-pilot.

1940
Tuesday
November 12th

Swordfish E5H misses her mark against the Vittorio Veneto.

1940
Tuesday
November 12th

Swordfish L5F scored a direct hit via bomb on the Trento.

1940
Tuesday
November 12th

By 1:22 AM, the attack on Taranto harbor is officially over.

1940
Tuesday
November 12th

By 3:30 AM, all but two Swordfish aircraft are accounted for.