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Taranto - first all-aircraft ship-to-ship naval attack in history, Major Patch RM DSC

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Unit/ Formation: RM Airmen

Location: Taranto

Period/ Conflict: World War II

Year: 1940

Date/s: 11 November 1940

The Battle of Taranto took place on the night of 11–12 November 1940 during the Second World War between British naval forces, under Admiral Andrew Cunningham, and Italian naval forces, under Admiral Inigo Campioni.

Image from RN:

The Royal Navy launched the first all-aircraft ship-to-ship naval attack in history, employing 21 obsolete Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers from the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious in the Mediterranean Sea.

The attack struck the battle fleet of the Regia Marina at anchor in the harbour of Taranto, using aerial torpedoes despite the shallowness of the water.

Fairey Swordfish

Through a barrage of anti-aircraft fire and balloons, the Royal Navy's Swordfish devastated the Italian fleet. Two Swordfish were shot down. Two crew lost their lives and two were captured and taken prisoners by the Italians.

The bomber section of the 1st wave was led by Captain Oliver Patch RM

Major O PATCH RM was awarded the DSC in December 1940 “for outstanding courage and skill in a brilliant and wholly successful night attack by the Fleet Air Arm on the Italian Fleet at Taranto.”

Image: Conte di Cavour sinks in shallow water following the Battle of Taranto.

The success of this attack augured the ascendancy of naval aviation over the big guns of battleships.

"Taranto, and the night of 11–12 November 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" Admiral Cunningham

Within a further month he received the DSO for “courage, skill and enterprise in an attack on Italian warships.” On this last named occasion Major PATCH led a sub-flight of Swordfish in an attack on the Italian warships in Bomba Bay on the Libyan coast.

He himself torpedoed a submarine and two other aircraft accounted for another submarine, a destroyer and a depot ship.

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