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Daughter of ‘Man of Taranto’ Visits Navy Wings

Annie Roberts with Navy Wings’ Chief Operating Officer, Frank Hopps

Daughter of one of the ‘Men of Taranto’ flies in Swordfish

Navy Wings was honoured this week to fly the daughter of one of the Men of Taranto in the Swordfish. Annie Roberts, from Dorset, whose father Lt Norman J ‘Blood’ Scarlett RN flew in the first wave of six torpedo armed Swordfish in the raid on Taranto on the night of 11-12 November 1940, was deeply moved by the experience.

“My father was the Observer in Lt Cdr Ken Williamson’s aircraft. They attacked the battleship Conte di Cavour, scoring a direct hit, but were shot down by the Italian battleship’s anti-aircraft guns and taken prisoner,” said Annie.

It was a rare privilege for everyone at Navy Wings to have the opportunity to meet a direct descendant of the Battle of Taranto. A moonlight torpedo attack on battleships in a heavily defended harbour had never been tried before. It required not only nerves of steel but great audacity and exceptional judgement. Only two Swordfish were lost which was a remarkably low casualty rate for such a dangerous operation. “My sister has a scrap book of the newspaper headlines at the time,” said Annie. “The achievement of the Swordfish and the Fleet Air Arm was a huge boost to morale and changed the course of the war.”

Annie Roberts with Swordfish W5856

Annie’s uncle and grandfather were also distinguished aviators. Her uncle, Air Vice James Scarlett-Streatfeild CBE, served in the RAF during WW2 and tragically died on active service in Norway in 1945, and her grandfather, Air Vice Marshal Francis Rowland Scarlett served in the RNAS during WW1.

Annie visited with her daughter, award winning British travel writer, Sophy Roberts who also took to the skies in the Chipmunk, flying in formation alongside her mother in the Swordfish. “After being shot down, my grandfather spent five years in a Prisoner of War camp” said Sophy.  “Flying both in, and alongside the Swordfish took us back to that night in the inferno of Taranto harbour, in the most meaningful of ways. We truly touched history. The bravery of those incredible young men lives on in the Swordfish. My mother and I found it a deeply emotional experience and we cannot thank everyone at Navy Wings enough for the dedicated work keeping the Swordfish flying.”