Flypast commemorates Fleet Air Arm’s greatest raid

A Fairey Swordfish bomber flow over Dartmouth, 19 November, as Britannia Royal Naval College marked the 75th anniversary of the Raid on Taranto in World War 2.

The 74-year-old aircraft was accompanied on its flight by a current Sea King helicopter from 771 Naval Air Squadron, based at the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton.

Staff and Cadets gathered on the College parade ground to give the aircraft three cheers as it flew past.

The raid on the Italian harbour of Taranto is considered the Fleet Air Arm’s greatest success.  It took place overnight on 11 November 1940.  

Days like this help to remind us of what we’re going to be doing when we join the Fleet.

Midshipman Ieuen Roden

In two waves 21 Royal Navy Fairey Swordfish airplanes, launched from HMS Illustrious in the Mediterranean, attacked the Italian Fleet in harbour. 

The operation effectively halved the Italian Fleet and gave the Royal Navy a tremendous advantage in the Mediterranean.

As part of the commemorations a number of Fleet Air Arm helicopters landed at the College after providing realism to the Cadets’ training exercise on Dartmoor, transporting them back to the BRNC.  

This gave the Cadets a chance to take a close-up look at the aircraft and speak to the aircrew.

Midshipman Ieuen Roden, a budding Royal Navy pilot, said:  “Sometimes flying seems like such a distant prospect when you’re marching across Dartmoor on exercise but days like this help to remind us of what we’re going to be doing when we join the Fleet.”   

The 75th anniversary of the raid comes at a time when the Royal Navy is re-equipping with the state-of-the-art F35 lightning II stealth fighter and brand new Merlin and Wildcat Helicopters which will fly from the new super carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales.

To become aircrew, Cadets undergo a demanding training course which starts with the 30 week initial naval training course at College, where they work alongside those destined for careers as engineers, logisticians and seaman officers.  

On completion of this initial stage they undertake an advanced aptitude test called grading.  Here they are assessed during an accelerated flying course where they will go from zero experience to flying aerobatics in just 12 hours. 

Once successfully through grading they learn to fly in a small propeller aircraft before moving onto larger and more advanced aircraft and helicopters, including the Hawks. 

A number of the pilots will be selected for fast jet training which will see them travel to the USA to train and serve alongside US Navy Top Guns on the Nimitz class aircraft carriers before returning to the UK, bringing with them valuable experience.

To complete the 75th anniversary commemorations a charity dinner was held at the College.  As well as the Cadets, current aviators and engineering officers of the Fleet Air Arm were in attendance.  

The guest of honour was Vice Admiral Walter E ‘Ted’ Carter, the Superintendent of the US Naval Academy.

He graduated from the US Navy Fighter Weapons School Top Gun in 1985. The event raised money for the Fly Navy Heritage Trust, the charity that keeps the Royal Navy’s historic flight of vintage aircraft flying, maintaining Britain’s Naval Aviation Heritage.