Italian Assault Craft, 1940-1945

Human Torpedoes and other Special Attack Weapons

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In stark contrast to the modest performance of its large surface fleet in World War II, the Italian Navy’s smallest units achieved its most spectacular successes. It made a specialty of unconventional methods of attack—explosive motorboats, human torpedoes, and miniature submarines—that were employed with ingenuity and daring to surprise, discomfort and baffle the enemy. In December 1941, the whole balance of the naval war in the Mediterranean was altered by six divers riding three of the SLC craft they called maiale (‘pigs’) who penetrated Alexandria harbor to cripple the battleships Valiant and Queen Elizabeth, surely one of the most impressive ratios of results to resources in naval history.

This book is the first complete history of these craft, both the details of the technology and the history of their deployment. Beginning in the Great War with the extraordinary ‘jumping’ boats designed to scale harbor boom defenses, the story takes in the inter-war development of both lightweight surface craft and underwater systems from small submarines to ‘Gamma’ assault divers. By way of comparison, equivalent developments in other navies are analyzed, including the British ‘chariots’ which were little more than copies of the Italian SLCs.

Every operation by these craft is described, cataloguing the forces involved and the results, from high-profile successes like the sinking of the cruiser York by explosive motorboat to lesser-known incidents – the use of such craft by the Israelis as late as 1948 for example. Many were carried out by the famous Decima MAS, a unit as legendary in Italy as the SAS in Britain, and this book provides a comprehensive chronicle of their activities.

Originally commissioned by CABI Cattaneo that designed and built most of these craft, Italian Assault Craft benefited from unrestricted access to the company’s archives, technical drawings, and photo collection so it is replete with rarely seen illustrations. Many secret weapons in their day are revealed here in full detail for the first time.

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Editorial Reviews

This book provides an excellent discussion of the development and employment of Italian assault craft and the major role they played in Italian naval operations. --Australian Naval Institute