The Attack on the Italian Fleet at Taranto

A Statement to THE HOUSE OF COMMONS November 13, 1940

Winston S. Churchill

THE UNRELENTING STRUGGLE: War Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill, pp. 7-8.

[November 13, 1940

I HAVE some news for the House. It is good news. The Royal Navy has struck a crippling blow at the Italian Fleet. The total strength of the Italian battle fleet was six battleships, two of them of the "Littorio" class, which have just been put into service and are, of course, among the most powerful vessels in the world, and four of the recently reconstructed "Cavour" class. This fleet was, to be sure, considerably more powerful on paper than our Mediterranean Fleet, but it had consistently refused to accept battle. On the night of the 11th-12th November, when the main units of the Italian Fleet were lying behind their shore defences in their naval base at Taranto, our aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm attacked them in their stronghold. Reports of our airmen have been confirmed by photographic reconnaissance. It is now established that one battleship of the "Littorio" class was badly down by the bows and that her forecastle is under water and she has a heavy list to starboard. One battleship of the "Cavour" class has been beached, and her stern, up to and including the after-turret, is under water. This ship is also heavily listed to starboard. It has not yet been possible to establish the fact with certainty, but it appears that a second battleship of the "Cavour" class has also been severely damaged and beached. In the inner harbour

of Taranto two Italian cruisers are listed to starboard and are surrounded with oil fuel, and two fleet auxiliaries are lying with their sterns under water. The Italian communique of 12th November, in admitting that one warship had been severely damaged, claimed that six of our aircraft had been shot down and three more probably. In fact, only two of our aircraft are missing, and it is noted that the enemy claimed that part of the crews had been taken prisoner.

I felt it my duty to bring this glorious episode to the immediate notice of the House. As the result of a determined and highly successful attack, which reflects the greatest honour on the Fleet Air Arm, only three Italian battleships now remain effective. This result, while it affects decisively the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean, also carries with it reactions upon the naval situation in every quarter of the globe. The spirit of the Royal Navy, as shown in this daring attack, is also exemplified in the forlorn and heroic action which has been fought by the captain, officers and ship's company of theJervis Bay in giving battle against overwhelming odds in order to protect the merchant convoy which they were escorting, and thus securing the escape of by far the greater part of that convoy.

The Mediterranean Fleet has also continued to harass the Italian communications with their armies in Libya. On the night of 9th-10th November a bombardment was carried out at Sidi Barrani, and, though the fire was returned by shore batteries, our ships sustained no damage and no casualties. Moreover, one of our submarines attacked a convoy of two Italian supply ships escorted by destroyers, with the result that one heavily-laden ship of 3,000 tons sank and a second ship was certainly damaged and probably sunk. I feel sure that the House will regard these results as highly satisfactory, and as reflecting the greatest credit upon the Admiralty and upon Admiral Cunningham, Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, and, above all, on our pilots of the Fleet Air Arm, who, like their brothers in the Royal Air Force, continue to render the country services of the highestorder.