Between World War I and World War II, Benito Mussolini wanted Italy to return to Roman times and recreate the old Empire. However, it would require him to resupply via the Mediterranean Sea. To achieve this, Mussolini would have to go up against the British Navy. The Navy was a powerful force to be reckoned with.
British Navy vs. Italy’s Regia Marina
The Navy not only was superb in the sea, but they could also command the skies, and it did not matter that many of their aircraft were outdated. The British Navy also excelled at planning.
They wanted to be able to defend themselves from any threat that had the potential to go after them, which included their World War I ally, Italy. The Royal Navy could see the writing on the wall in 1935 when Italy began to expand into North Africa. The navy doubled down to gain control of the Mediterranean Sea.
Their desire for control was two-fold. The British had their own troops in North Africa and ones in the Middle East that they needed to provide supplies to, and the Regia Marina was not going to give up the route without a fight.
To keep their boats safe, the Italian Navy kept them in ports. Staying out in the open waters seemed far too risky for them, and they felt the ships could be protected more efficiently this way.
The Regia Marina’s ships sat in Taranto with the perfect quick access to the Mediterranean. However, while this seemed like a safe move, the Royal Navy soon proved otherwise.
The Royal Navy launched an attack on the ships at night on November 11, 1940, with the strike continuing through the 12th. The attack was fought with Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers in a sneak attack on the harbor. Two waves hit the ships on the 11th, 12 planes in one and nine in the other, equipped with torpedos, drop bombs, and marking flares.
The Italian ships did not have any anti-torpedo netting on them, and a storm had destroyed many of their barrage balloons. The first ship sunk was the Littorio, quickly followed by the Conte Di Cavour and the Caio Duilio.
When the Italians finally scrambled a response, the Royal Navy had dealt a great amount of damage, ruining the Italian’s plan of controlling the Mediterranean.