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. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (24) entries in the Timeline of Operation Judgement: Attack on Taranto (November 11th - 12th, 1940). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.