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Taranto's Night



In a report sent by Supermarina to "Comando Supremo" immediately following the British attack, the defenses of the military stronghold were described as follows:

Antiaircraft defenses fully active and including:

21 batteries armed with 101 mm guns
68 machine-gun installations for a total of 84 barrels both on fixed and floating positions
109 light machine-guns both in fixed and floating positions.
Antiaircraft obstructions consisting of 27 round balloons, 16 moored west and north of the ships on the Tarantola jetty. 11 moored along the eastern part of the same jetty.
The balloons should have been 90, but bad weather in the days before the attack had caused about 60 balloons to be lost. Due to a shortage in the local production of hydrogen, spare barrage balloons could not be deployed. Reportedly, the actual number of balloon in the air the night of the attack was 27. The original balloons were spherical and therefore not really aerodynamic, while later pictures show that the Italians implemented a design similar to the one already in use in Great Britain with the balloon looking like a rugby ball with fins.

Network of aerial detection
Included 13 stations equipped with listening devices, two of which were directly connected to projectors. Of the 22 projectors available, mostly of recent construction, some were installed on land and others on floating pontoons. Projectors installed aboard most ships could provide further assistance

Anti-torpedo netting
Of the 12,800 meters of nets originally intended for the defense of ships moored in Mar Grande (the outer lagoon), only 4,200 were installed. An additional 2,900 meters had recently arrived but had not been deployed. Domestic manufacturing of this netting amounted to about 3,600 meters per month and therefore the completion of the protective barriers was not expected before sometime in 1941. These nets were only 10 meters deep, thus leaving a space of about 5 meters between the end of the net and the bottom of the lagoon.

All naval military units belonging to the various squadrons were ready to get under way in less than three hours. Also, all units had their weapons manned and ammunitions were already loaded. In case of alarm, all ships were to stay at their existing mooring which, according to the authorities, had been studied to provide for the highest degree of defense. Guns aboard ships were not to open fire along with the local defense to avoid providing the enemy with easily identifiable targets. Projectors installed aboard ships were to be used to blind the incoming planes and, during nights of full moon, could be kept lit at will. Naturally, allowing these projectors to operate when the night was already fluorescent provided for any significant decrement to their defenses.

The port had already experienced innumerable air raid alarms, mostly triggered by reconnaissance planes. All ships were lying at single anchor, meaning that only one of the two extremities of the ship, in this case the bow, was secured, thus allowing the ship to rotate 360 degrees. All these defensive measures were based on some fundamentally flawed assumptions. First, the Italian did not know that the British had overcome a problem known as the "deep", meaning the sudden diving of a torpedo, launched from an airplane, into the water before re-emerging. Second, they grossly underestimated the minimal distance from the target required for a launch .

It is interesting to note that in his lesser-known book "Aerial Warfare", published in 1943, Hal Goodwin does not cite any Italian torpedo bomber. This was not an accident. Despite the notoriety gained by the famous Savoia Marchetti s.79, the Italian air force entered the war without a single torpedo plane. This lack of vision not only caused the Italians to fall behind in this, soon-to-become, crucial warfare, but also slowed down the process of creating counter measures. Simply, the Italian Navy did not know that a torpedo plane flying level with the water at a slower speed and in a straight path could drop a torpedo without having the weapon dip more than 15 meters into the water. Also unknown to the Italians, a torpedo could now be triggered not only by contact, but also by proximity using a device called duplex (dual action). Even if fully deployed, Italian netting was only 10 meters deep and, therefore, British torpedoes could easily steer under it. If they actually did is an open question. By looking at the position of the nets and at the trajectory of the torpedoes, it does not look like netting was an issue.

It is known that, following the attack, some of the British torpedoes were recovered and it would be safe to assume that the Italian industry was immediately made aware of these new technological advantages. Most of the defense measures implemented in Taranto were outlined in a dispatch numbered 35901, which was issued following the attacks on Tobruk and Augusta. The commander of Taranto, Adm. Antonio Pasetti, asserted that a full rectangular fence to be constructed around each ship would have provided the only effective defenses. This measure, judged by the chief of the 1st Squadron to be too radical, was not implemented due to assumed difficulties in letting ships in and out of this defensive perimeter. Nevertheless, this polemic was purely rhetorical because there was not enough net available.

Le azioni navali in Mediterraneo, Adm. Giuseppe Fioravanzo, page 226.

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