November 1940 , Mediterranean Theater of War-Taranto Raid and Otronto sortie , "Operation Judgement"

10-11th November 1940, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Attack on Taranto, Operation “Judgement” - Early in the month, a complex series of reinforcement and supply moves mounted from both ends of the Mediterranean led to the classic air attack on the Italian battlefleet at Taranto. From Alexandria, Adm Cunningham, with battleships Malaya , Ramillies, Valiant and Warspite , carrier Illustrious , cruisers and destroyers, sailed to cover west-bound convoys to Crete and Malta. Aircraft carrier Eagle had to be left behind because of defects caused by earlier bombing. From Gibraltar, Force H in a separate operation called “Coat” supported the east-bound passage of battleship Barham , two cruisers and three destroyers to reinforce the Mediterranean Fleet. Troop reinforcements were also carried to Malta at this time from Gibraltar. Still in the eastern half of the Med, Adm Cunningham’s Fleet met its new members and covered the return of an empty ship convoy from Malta.

On the 11th November a cruiser force was detached from Cunningham’s fleet for a successful attack on Italian shipping in the Strait of Otranto at the entrance to the Adriatic Sea. This cruiser force sunk four Italian cargo ships it encountered on Straits of Otronto in two days. “Illustrious” meanwhile, escorted by cruisers and destroyers, headed for a position in the Ionian Sea 170 miles to the southeast of Taranto. All six battleships of the Italian Navy were at anchor there.

That night she launched two waves of Swordfish biplanes, some belonging to “Eagle”. Under the command of Lt-Cdrs K. Williamson and J. W. Hale, the total of no more than 20 aircraft of Numbers 813, 815, 819 and 824 Squadrons hit “CONTE DI CAVOUR” and “CAIO DIULIO” (right - Maritime Quest) with one torpedo each and the brand new “LITTORIA” with three. All three battleships sank at their moorings and “Cavour” was never recommissioned, all for the loss of just two Swordfish. The Japanese Navy carefully studied the attack as Pearl Harbor learnt to its cost just a year later.

27th November, Action off Cape Spartivento, Southern Sardinia - A fast convoy under the codename Operation ‘Collar’ sailed eastward from Gibraltar with ships for Malta and Alexandria. Cover as usual was provided by Force H with battlecruiser Renown, carrier Ark Royal, cruisers Despatch and Sheffield. Meanwhile, units of the Mediterranean Fleet including Ramillies and cruisers Newcastle , Berwick and Coventry headed west for a position south of Sardinia to meet them. Other ships accompanied the two Mediterranean Fleet carriers in separate attacks on Italian targets - Eagle on Tripoli, Libya, and Illustrious on Rhodes off the southwest Turkish coast. These moves took place on the **26th November . Next day, on the 27th November , south of Sardinia, aircraft of Force H’s “Ark Royal” sighted an Italian force with two battleships and seven heavy cruisers. Force H, now joined by the Med Fleet’s “Ramillies”, sailed to meet them. In an hour-long exchange of gunfire “Renown” and the cruisers were in action, during which time “Berwick” was damaged and an Italian destroyer badly hit. The slower “Ramillies” had not come up by the time the Italians turned back for home. Adm Somerville pursued, but as he approached Italian shores had to turn back himself. The convoys arrived safely. Adm Somerville was later subjected to a board of enquiry for not continuing the pursuit of the Italian force, but soon exonerated.