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‘OPERATION JUDGMENT’ A SUCCESS
Reconnaissance from Malta has played a key role in a long-awaited major offensive on the Italian port of Taranto. Aircraft of 431 Flight have been monitoring enemy shipping movements in the Mediterranean for several weeks, looking for convoys supplying the Axis armies in North Africa which could be targeted for attack. Photographs in the past few days showed five battleships, fourteen cruisers and twenty-seven destroyers lying at anchor in the port of Taranto.
Royal Navy Commander in Chief Mediterranean Admiral Cunningham decided that the time was right for an attack under ‘Operation Judgment’ which had been originally planned for last month. Ships involved in recent convoy manoeuvres through the Mediterranean were given orders to head for Taranto. The frequency of such Allied shipping movements in recent days helped to disguise from the Italians the fact that a major attack was developing.
Earlier today Pilot Officer A Warburton took off for a final reconnaissance of Taranto prior to the attack. He circled the harbour several times but then his cameras failed. He dived down, making a tour of the moored Italian fleet low enough for his observer to identify the ships by name, before returning to Malta. A further reconnaissance of the area was made by a Sunderland flying boat after dark and the operation was confirmed.
The reconnaissance images and information were rushed to the aircraft carrier Illustrious, which was to lead the attack. The remaining task force included heavy cruisers HMS Berwick and York, light cruisers HMS Gloucester and Glasgow, and destroyers HMS Hyperion, Ilex, Hasty and Havelock.
Shortly before 9pm, the first wave of twelve Swordfish took off from the aircraft carrier: six carried torpedoes, and six were loaded with 250lb bombs; two carried flares. A second wave followed an hour later. Despite heavy anti-aircraft fire the attack was pressed home. Italian battleships Cavour, Littorio and Duilio were successfully torpedoed and put out of action, a heavy cruiser and a destroyer were damaged and an aircraft hangar set on fire.
By 3am all the Swordfish had returned to Illustrious, except two. Pilot Lieutenant Bayley, Fleet Air Arm, was in the second wave of attackers when he came under fire. His aircraft crashed near the cruiser Gorizia; his body was found the next day, but that of his Observer Lieutenant Slaughter was never recovered. The two crew members of the second Swordfish are believed to have been taken prisoner.
While the attack on Taranto was proceeding, another force was attacking an Italian convoy in the Mediterranean. At just past midnight, cruisers HMS Ajax, Orion and HMAS Sydney, and two destroyers, HMS Nubian and Mohawk, engaged and damaged four Italian merchant ships and a torpedo boat; their accompanying cruiser fled the scene.
Early reports suggest that the Italian fleet has lost half of its capital ships in a single night, altering the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean. Reviewing the operation, Admiral Cunningham said:
“Taranto, and the night of November 11–12, 1940, should be remembered for ever as having shown once and for all that in the Fleet Air Arm the Navy has its most devastating weapon.”
AIR RAIDS DAWN 11 NOVEMBER TO DAWN 12 NOVEMBER 1940
Weather Warm; clear and fine.
0808-0835 hrs Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.
OPERATIONS REPORTS MONDAY 11 NOVEMBER 1940
KALAFRANA Sunderland on special moonlight patrol for naval co-operation in Taranto area.
4th Bn THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT) Day spent organising the camp. Battalion medical examinations.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS The following reported for duty: Major H D Tanner, Captain W Arthur posted to CRE (S); Captain S Oliver posted to CRE(N), 2/Lt G H Lee posted to 24 Fortress Company, RE, 2/Lt E E Talbot posted to HQ Fortress Royal Engineers for duty as Bomb Disposal Officer.
ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS Unloading of ammunition from convoy begun. Contact anti-tank mines received in Malta for the first time. Bomb Disposal UXB 250lb bomb in reservoir Luqa.
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