The Fleet Air Arm attack on Taranto was the Fleet Air Arm's most dramatic achievement of the Second World War. A small force of Swordfish, launched from a single carrier, penetrated the defences of the Italian naval base at Taranto and sank three of the six battleships present in the port. Although only one of the three was a permanent loss, the attack changed the balance of power at sea in the Mediterranean, and had an impact on the confidence of the Italian navy for the rest of the war.
The attack on Taranto was the centre piece of a much more complex series of operations, all gathered together as Operation MB8. This included convoys to Malta and Crete, reinforcements heading for the Mediterranean fleet and a raid on Sardinia. In part these were designed to distract the Italians, so that they wouldn't suspect an attack on Taranto, but they also reflected the vast number of tasks facing Admiral Andrew Cunningham - he couldn't afford to waste this chance to deal with several jobs at once. This book covers all of the mini-operations that were part of MB8, before moving on to provide an aircraft-by-aircraft of the attack on Taranto.
One nice feature are the two-page 3D diagrams showing the progress of the two attack waves. These give a clear picture of the defences, ship locations, the route of each aircraft and the hits on the Italian warships. This is a good use for this format, and in particular a good way of outlining the fixed Italian defences - barrage balloons, torpedo netting and flak positions. The 2D maps are also useful, in particular the map showing the entire course of Operation MB8.
One of the features of the Italian war effort was that unsuccessful commanders were rarely punished for their failings. In this case the man who was directly in charge of the defences of Taranto was actually promoted to the post of chief of staff of the Navy soon afterwards!
This is a good account of the raid on Taranto, providing both an overview of the wider operations and a detailed aircraft-by-aircraft account of the attack itself (an approach that is only possible because of the remarkably small scale of the British attack).
Origins of the Campaign
Author: Angus Konstam