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Taranto's Night

by Cristiano D'Adamo

Following the Battle of Punta Stilo (Encounter off Calabria), the Regia Marina had decisively implemented the policy of "Fleet in Being". The theory behind this doctrine assumed that the threat of a powerful navy would be enough to deter the enemy from conducting an active campaign. Perhaps this approach reflected the general expectations of the Italian armed forces, which saw this war as a short prelude to a very bountiful armistice. To be fair, the various armed forces, perhaps partially excluding the Regia Aeronautica, were very well aware of the limitations of the Italian war machine. It is surprising to see that the Regia Marina, which knew that a prolonged confrontation would bring about her demise, did not actively pursued a decisive confrontation against the British Navy. Perhaps, the memories of Lissa had not yet faded.

Different sources attribute Italian inactivity to the fact that the two Littorio Class battleships, which had just completed training, were not fully prepared for action. Undoubtedly, during early July these ships had experienced serious technical problems, including the failure of one of the main turrets due to water infiltration, but by early November these ships should have been considered fully readied.

Perhaps referential fear toward the Royal Navy kept Supermarina from acting with more resolution, or perhaps it was a more complex collection of reasons. Nevertheless, Italian inactivity prompted British action and so evolved the operation, which led to the deadly aerial attack against the naval base of Taranto.

The war in the Mediterranean, after a period of relative inactivity, suddenly surged after the October 28 ultimatum Italy imposed on Greece. The Italian request for the use of Greek bases was unacceptable and a Greek refusal was expected. Great Britain was immediately asked to step up assistance, while Italian troops poured into Greece from the Albanian front. The Greek campaign had not been coordinated with the German Ally and not only did it created friction between the two dictators, it also led to an embarrassing Italian debacle on land.

During the Ethiopian crisis, when Great Britain and Italy appeared to be on the verge of an armed conflict, the Royal Navy conducted studies regarding the possibility of attacking the Italian naval base of Taranto. The plan, due to the resolution of the international political situation, was filed away, but not for long. Towards the end of the year 1940, Rear-Admiral Lyster began, once again, to plan an aerial attack on the large naval base.

The attack against the Italian naval base of Taranto, codenamed "Operation Judgment", as we have already mentioned, was part of a greater plan of action which saw British naval vessels crisscross the Mediterranean. Operation M.B. 8, and along with it the Taranto's raid, were scheduled around the 21st of October, Trafalgar day. Several technical problems, including a fire aboard the Illustrious and the withdrawal of the aircraft carrier Eagle(1), caused a postponement. Some of the air complements from the Eagle were transferred aboard the Illustrious
It is now known that the damages to the Eagle dated back to the battle of Punta Stilo when several near misses caused serious structural damage to the ship, including the fuel system.

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