75th Anniversary of the Battle of Taranto

As the Master was not available, on the 11th November 2015 Past Master Colin Sach attended the 815 Squadron dinner at Yeovil to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Taranto. 

The battle of Taranto took place during the night of 11th/12th November 1940. The Italian fleet based at Taranto was significant, consisting of 6 battleships, 16 heavy cruisers and 13 destroyers and although never putting to sea to engage in battle, it meant that significant and very scarce Royal Naval resources had to be assigned to escort the supply lines to Egypt and middle east, or the convoys had to supply the middle east by the long route round Africa and through the Suez canal. 

A daring and at that time unique plan was compiled, where aircraft would be the only offensive weapon to attack the fleet. This had never been attempted before, and illustrated the huge force enhancement of naval aviation. The attack was originally planned for Trafalgar night, but a fire on HMS Eagle meant transferring men and aircraft to HMS Illustrious, and so on a cloudy night in November with basic navigational equipment 20 Swordfish aircraft (WW1 vintage technology) flew 200 miles through cloud to drop torpedoes and bombs on the Italian Fleet. 

Aircraft from 815 Squadron lead the attack. 

The raid was hugely successful, despite the shore batteries alone firing over 14,000 shells at the aircraft, taking out 5 major Italian ships, killing and wounding over 600 Italians, for the loss of 2 aircraft and sadly 2 Royal Naval officers, it also made the Italians less enthusiastic to leave harbour moving the ships north and so not able to surprise British merchant ships supplying north Africa. 

Sadly the plan was closely copied by the Japanese navy when attacking Pearl harbour, but it established Naval aviation, and the requirement for carriers, as a primary offensive weapon. 

The dinner was therefore something special, attended by about 150 officers from the squadrons involved, and various senior other officers, a special guest being a senior member of the Royal family who spent the evening very much at ease and among friends. 

Junior officers performed a pyrotechnical re-enactment of the battle which at times made us start to realise the enormous courage of the air crew that in open cockpit aircraft pressed home the attack through such vast amounts of thankfully inaccurate flack. 

The display is being repeated at Drapers Hall on 25th November at a fund raising dinner organised by the Royal Naval Heritage Trust, tickets are still available.

Next year a major event in 815’s calendar will be exchanging the Lynx for the Wildcat, a transition taking from April to December 2016. Plans are afoot for the Company to suitably mark the occasion.