By 1940 the Italian naval threat in the Mediterranean was significant and a British operation was planned to eliminate the Italian Navy’s First Squadron at its base at Taranto. The Royal Navy required freedom of movement in the Mediterranean to supply its North Africa campaign through Egypt, but was hindered by Italian naval activity between Italy and Libya. A group of naval task forces was assembled for Operation MB8, under which Operation Judgement would involve an aerial attack upon the fleet at Taranto using bombs and torpedoes. Initial technical failures led to the postponement of the attack which began later than planned on the night of 11 November, with a total of 21 Swordfish bombers launched in two waves from HMS Illustrious. Facing fierce anti-aircraft bombardment and weakened barrage balloon defences, the bombers managed to severely damage three of the fleet’s six battleships, Caio Duilio, Littorio and Conte di Cavour, losing only two aircraft in the process.
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