Book Review-‘Taranto and Naval Air Warfare in the Mediterranean, 1940–1945’ by D. Hobbs

By David Bowen, published May 2021


During the Second World War the Mediterranean remained a strategic lifeline between Britain and the Suez Canal, and thence the oil fields of the Middle East and the resources and manpower of the British Empire. Yet in 1940 it presented a formidable obstacle; from the British base at Gibraltar to its base in Malta was over a thousand miles, and then from Malta to the only other base at Alexandria was also a thousand miles. Added to this was the fact that between them lay hardly an inch of friendly coast, hostile armies rampaged through Greece and North Africa, the presence of the combined navies and airforces of Germany, Italy and Vichy France, and the Royal Navy was both under-resourced and overstretched. One thus has some sense of what Britain was up against. In September 1940 the Navy’s worldwide front-line air strength amounted to 272 biplanes and 63 monoplanes and not all of those could be spared for the war in the Mediterranean. Having already lost the carriers Courageous and Glorious, the Royal Navy could only deploy in the Mediterranean three fleet carriers, Ark Royal, Furious and Illustrious, two small fleet carriers, Hermes and Eagle, and the obsolete training carrier Argus. This was woefully inadequate. It is hard to contemplate any more than a plucky but ultimately doomed defence, let alone a meaningful offensive. But then came Taranto…

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Filed under: WW2 | Mediterranean
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics | Naval Aviation

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