Eighty years ago, on the night of 11-12 November 1940, the Fleet Air Arm carried out an intrepid carrier borne strike on the Italian battlefleet at Taranto that was to turn the established rules of naval warfare on their head.
The attack by Swordfish aircraft from the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious was to be the first time in history than an enemy fleet had been defeated without ever sighting or engaging the opposing ships. It was also the first successful major offensive against the Axis Power in the Second World War.
21 aircraft took off from HMS Illustrious in two waves – twelve launching at around 20.40 and nine an hour later, at 21.30. Heavily laden and flying at the laboriously slow pace of 75 knots, they rumbled through the darkness towards their target over two hours flying time away. One aircraft turned back for technical reasons but 20 pressed on. The four Naval Air Squadrons, 813, 815, 819 and 824 included a mixed Squadron from HMS Eagle. Eleven of the aircraft were armed with torpedoes and the remainder carried flares and bombs.