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Italian Assault Craft, 1940-1945: Human Torpedoes and Other Special Attack Weapons

29 Apr 24

232 pages

RAdm R G MELLY

A former senior naval officer, Erminio Bagnasco (1937-2022) was the co-founder and Editor of Storia Militare, Italy’s leading military journal. A prolific author, he was widely regarded as an expert on Italian warships and the foremost authority on battleships, as the co-author of Italian Battleships and The Littorio Class (both published by Seaforth).

In writing this book, the author sheds light on what was one of the more successful activities of the Italian Navy during WW2, not least in the damaging attacks on HMS Valiant and HMS Queen Elizabeth at Alexandria in 1941 and the loss of HMS York. Building on their experience gained during WWI, the Italian Navy conceived of and built a bewildering variety of ‘assault craft’ in an effort to overcome their perceived inferiority against the British and French fleets. Indeed, some of these vessels might be seen to be the forerunners of the maritime drones now being used to considerable effect by the Ukrainian Navy in the Black Sea.

The first section of the book details the origins, development and use of assault craft by the Italians, and it also includes a few paragraphs on the efforts of the British and Japanese navies to produce similar craft. The section finishes with brief but detailed accounts of the many occasions on which these craft were sent on operations. Notwithstanding the few notable successes, the main impact was to compel the British to devote scarce resources to protecting their anchorages. However, these were undoubtedly dangerous and difficult missions, undertaken by some very brave men!

The second section of the book contains detailed descriptions of the various types of craft used by the Italians. Craft were devised which were capable of being transported to their operational areas by air, by submarine and by surface ship, with the subsequent attacks being undertaken either on the surface or underwater. Some of the craft were designed to release torpedoes, others released charges beneath their targets, whilst yet others deployed divers with limpet mines. There was even a ‘jumping’ assault craft designed to crawl over defensive booms.  Initially, the targets were seen to be ships at anchor, but subsequently attempts were made to intercept shipping on the high seas.  There is little doubt that the Italian craft were technically superior to those subsequently designed and deployed by the British, who were keen to emulate the Italians’ prowess in this area.

Erminio Bagnasco will be much missed as an author capable of writing authoritative and well-researched books on the Italian maritime effort in both world wars. This book, detailing what might be seen to be the forerunner of the current practice of maritime asymmetric warfare, is no exception and is a valuable addition to the record. Handsomely produced, it contains numerous photographs, line drawings and informative tables.