Culdrose Squadron celebrate Taranto 75

Personnel from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose’s 824 Naval Air Squadron have been celebrating one of the greatest of all Fleet Air Arm actions during World War 2.

This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the Raid on the Italian Fleet at Taranto - Operation Judgment, when on 11 November 1940 twenty one Swordfish Biplanes from 813, 825, 819 and three from 824 NAS, launched a devastating attack that changed the face of Naval Aviation and set a blueprint for the Japanese air strike on 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.

The esprit de corps and tenacity in the face of adversity is as evident now as it was 75 years ago.

Commander Steve Thomas RN

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, the two crew members of the first aircraft were taken prisoner, the other two died in their plane.

By 03:00 the striking force was back on-board HMS Illustrious.

In one night, the Royal Navy succeeded in halving the Italian battleship fleet and gained a strategic advantage in the Mediterranean.

“The heritage of the Fleet Air Arm is something which current Air and Ground crews are fiercely proud, and rightly so," said Commander Steve Thomas, CO of 824 NAS.

“The esprit de corps and tenacity in the face of adversity is as evident now as it was 75 years ago.”

“I am immensely proud to Command, a Squadron whose Battle Honours include Taranto.

“Like other FAA personnel, currently serving and retired, we raised our glasses on the night of the 11th November, in this the 75th year after the Battle, to honour the brave men of Taranto who risked everything but delivered so much.” 

The Men of Taranto were rewarded for their gallantry and a total of 40 medals were awarded including four DSO’s, 18 DSC’s and 18 Mentions in Dispatches.