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Weapons of World War Two

The Raid on Souda Bay (Mar 1941)

Motoscafo da Turismo

Motoscafo da Turismo

In January 1936, while the diplomatic relations between Italy and Britain were getting tense because of the war started by the former in Abisinia, in the military high echelons a possible confrontation with the old Albion began to be taken into consideration. Naturally, there was a necessity for acquiring new means which allowed to attack in an effective way the most important weapon of the enemy: the Royal Navy. Thus a certain day Duke Aimone di Savoia Aosta, a prestigious officer of the Italian Regia Marina, presented to the Committee of Naval Projects a plan for building small and very fast motorboats capable of carrying a strong explosive charge, which could be used in surface attacks. These MT (Motoscafo da Turismo or Tourism Motorboat, as they were denominated due to reasons of secrecy) would have to be transported to the attack site by S 55 seaplanes - like those led by Italo Balbo in the Atlantic crossing - which would release them in the water. To ease the transportation motorboats of only 45 centimeters in height - little lower than a torpedo - had been designed. Once in the water, the MT should approach the intended target by using silenced engines, to finally charge at full speed. The pilots would save themselves by jumping to the water along with the guidance davit which, floating, would allow them to remain outside the water and be safe from the deadly effect of the expansive wave. This project was entrusted to Engineer Guido Cattaneo, a reserve captain of Naval Weapons, who would become the father of the "barchini" in all of their diversity: 1st and 2nd series MT, modified MT (MTM), reduced MT (MTR), torpedo MT (MTS), modified torpedo MT (MTSM), SMA (MTSM of enlarged size), slow MT and anti-submarine MT. But returning to the MT, the victorious end of the campaign in Abisinia and the subsequent period of distension made that no necessity of building new weapons were felt. The projects were abandoned, and the first units of specialists, which were becoming used to the prototypes of attack motorboats, were disbanded. Thus, when Italy entered the war the project had to be revised to modernize it, and the instruction of the personnel for operating the MT had to be organized again. But, besides the replacement of hulls made of wood coated with fabric by hulls entirely made of wood, and the utilization of surface units instead of seaplanes in the approximation, the construction plans and the utilization methods of these means would not be very different from those intended by their first designer.

The MT, or "barchini" as their crews called them, were nothing else than excellent single-seat motorboats of flat keel. The hull was entirely made of wood and had a minimal draught, an important factor because it allowed to easily overcome possible net barriers. This maneuver was eased also by the fact that the ensemble propeller-rudder, installed externally in the stern like an outboard engine, could be turned upward. The engine, an excellent Alfa Romeo 2500, allowed a maximum speed of 33 knots and an operational range of about 150 kilometers. In the prow it was placed the explosive charge of 330 kilograms, fitted with two detonation mechanisms. The "barchino" could be used in two ways: the first one, perhaps less effective, consisted of using it like a torpedo, causing it to explode when hitting the hull of the target. This way the impact would take place above the waterline and thus it would not be necessarily fatal. But in the second method, when making impact, a crown of explosive cartridges would break the "barchino" into two parts, causing the sinking of the prow. As soon as this one reached an intended depth, an hydrostatic fuze would explode the charge. This way the hole would be opened directly in the submerged part of the hull, where the damage was almost always irreparable. The pilot of the "barchino", once sure that the motorboat was aimed directly toward the target, would lock the rudder, remove the safety pin of the charge and jump to the water, trying to quickly get on the floater because the distance of abandon of the motorboat was generally of just a few dozens of meters from the target. With these "barchini" the men from the 10th Flotilla MAS achieved, the morning of the 26th March 1941, the first of the series of victories of Italian motorboats during the war. In just a few minutes, six men onboard six "barchini" sank, in Suda Bay, a cruiser of 10000 tonnes, an oil tanker and another two ships for a total of another 32000 tonnes. The British, who with reason had boasted so much about their audacious and "economical" venture in Tarento, where they had caused so much damage by risking just a few men and aircraft, could do nothing else than to acknowledge that they had had very diligent apprentices. The "night of the Swordfish" had been avenged.

Year: 1941

Length: 5.20 meters

Weight: 1100 kilograms

Explosive charge: 330 kilograms

Maximum speed: 33 knots

Operational range: 150 kilometers

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