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MT file photo [30506]

MT-class Motor Torpedo Boat

CountryItaly
Ships in Class20
Builder NameBaglietto of Varazze and CABI of Milan
Length18 feet
Beam5 feet
MachineryOne 2,500cc Alfa Romeo outboard motor rated at 95hp
Speed30 knots
Crew1
Armament330kg high explosive warhead
Endurance5 hours

Contributor:

This article refers to the entire MT; it is not about an individual vessel.

ww2dbaseDeveloped for the Italian Navy, the Barchini d' Assalto ("Small Assault Boats") were small motorboats packed with 330 kilograms of explosives in their bows whose purpose would be to penetrate into enemy harbours to attack moored warships. Powered by a 2,500-cubic centimeter Alfa Romeo outboard engine (that could be tilted to clear nets or barriers) the first six boats were ordered by the Navy Department in September 1938 and delivered in early 1939 for trials at La Spezia, Italy. The trials revealed several weaknesses (such as that the tarpaulin deck exposed the hull to leakage from splashing at high speed), and the boats were subsequently returned to the manufacturer to be modified with a solid wooden deck and a larger 0.9-meter (later 1.1-meter) freeboard. The pilot's cockpit was located at the rear, in order to ensure an even distribution of weight with the explosive charge inside the bow.

ww2dbaseIn March 1939, the Navy Department ordered a further twelve explosive boats, bringing the total number to 18 motorboats, and these became operational in November 1940 following a full trial with a reduced warhead against an old warship. They were designated MT (Motoscafo da Turismo, or "Touring Motorboat"). More extensive testing revealed that the boat's operational performance was still limited. So a revised design, designated MTM (Motoscafo da Turismo Modificato, or "Modified Touring Motorboat"), was created in order to improve sea-going capability. This model had a reverse gear, an Isotta-Fraschini Z-drive transmission system, an inboard engine and twin outboard contra-rotating propellers.

ww2dbaseThe one-man boats were specifically designed to be launched from a surface mother-ship outside the target harbour, then proceed through such obstacles as torpedo nets to where the pilot could steer a collision course to his selected target. Before impact, after blocking the rudder, the pilot would bail out of his motorboat with the aid of a crude ejector seat that also acted as a miniature raft to keep him out of the water and immune from the lethal shockwave of the explosive's detonation. Although it was hoped that the boat's pilot might evade capture after the attack most knew beforehand that this was extremely unlikely in the midst of a heavily defended location. The boat could be set to explode in two ways. The first was a simple setting to explode on impact, like a torpedo. The second was a setting for hydrostatic detonation; this setting broke the boat into two halves, which rapidly sank to explode on the bottom with exactly the same effect as a depth-charge.

ww2dbaseOn the night of 25 March 1941, the cruisers HMS York and HMS Coventry plus some destroyers and other ships were anchored behind a line of buoys in Suda bay on Crete's north coast in Greece, which was the only harbour on Crete capable of handling the war materials on the scale needed. Normally when that number of ships were in the bay, local craft patrolled both entrances to the harbour and also gaps in the line of buoys. However, on this night troubles ashore resulted in the patrol craft being withdrawn. Thus the entrance to the harbour was unguarded. York had orders to proceed to sea at 0600 hours on 26 March 1941 in company with other naval vessels but, shortly before reveille was called at 0515 hours, a lookout reported seeing a motor skiff going full speed down the starboard side of the ship. Seconds later there was a tremendous explosion amidships, at the bulkhead between the after boiler room and the forward engine room. The explosion killed two sailors instantly and flooded two of York's four largest compartments.

ww2dbaseIt was discovered later that the York had been hit by one of six boats which had been launched from the Italian destroyers, Crispi and Sella which had sailed from Leros carrying three MTs each. Led by Tenente di Vascello (Lieutenant) Luigi Faggioni, they had crept silently into the harbour at slow speed but once close to the line of buoys, and finding the entrance unguarded, opened up to full speed. At that very moment HMS York sounded the reveille calling her crew to prepare the cruiser to sail. Hearing this sound the Italians mistakenly thought that they must have been detected and prepared to abort their attack. Nonetheless, one boat having come so close, did drive into HMS York while another attempted to attack HMS Coventry which was under way at the time and got clear. This boat then struck the 8,300-ton Norwegian tanker Pericles which, moored close by, was severely damaged and settled on the bottom. The remaining four boats, obeying instructions to avoid revealing their secrets, made for the beach where three exploded on contact. All six Italian pilots having successfully jumped off in good time were soon captured.

ww2dbaseThe fourth boat ran up the beach where a Royal Marine gun's crew was on standby. The sergeant in charge seeing the boat appear on the beach went down to it and finding a convenient hand hold or rail in the bows, got hold of it and pulled the craft further up the beach. When the torpedo and bomb disposal experts arrived they discovered that this was the firing mechanism. If he had pushed it instead of pulling it the craft would have exploded and the sergeant would have been killed. The captured boat was found to contain numerous booby traps. York's torpedo officer, Lieutenant Robin Buckley, who performed the autopsy, circumventing the traps as he proceeded, was injured by the last one of all. It caused the loss of his sight when two tiny splinters lodged in each eye. The dismantled craft was eventually returned to England where it still exists in a war museum. The disabled York was towed into shallower water by a Greek salvage tug where, finally, the crew wrecked the main guns with demolition charges when Crete was evacuated. A refloated Pericles ultimately sank too whilst being towed to Alexandria, Egypt for repairs.

ww2dbaseThe MTM model superseded the earlier MT model in the autumn of 1941, becoming operational with limited success from March 1942 to May 1943 in the Black Sea in support of Operation Barbarossa and along the North African coastline. On 26 July 1941, six boats were part of an unsuccessful attack on the British naval base at Valletta, Malta. This force was detected by a British Radar facility. One boat hit a pile of the Fort Saint Elmo Bridge causing it to collapse and block the entrance to the harbour. The other five boats were destroyed at close range by the coastal batteries. On 29 June 1942 a number of MTMs supported a diversionary German landing on the Crimean peninsula. One of the explosive boats was intentionally run aground and set off on a beach occupied by Soviet troops in order to create confusion about the main landing point. These small motorboats could have been a serious threat to Allied shipping in the Mediterranean, but by the time of the Axis collapse in Tunisia the Allied supremacy at sea was far too complete to be much affected by them.

ww2dbaseLater in the war, the Italian Navy developed a third type of explosive motorboat, the MTR (Motoscafo da Turismo Ridotto, or "Reduced Touring Motorboat"), a smaller version of the MTM intended for transportation by submarine. An attempt against Allied naval forces in the Messina Strait was aborted when the submarine carrying the MTRs, was depth-charged by Allied aircraft and the containers carrying the boats became damaged.

ww2dbaseFollowing the Italian armistice, Benito Mussolini's fascist state in northern Italy continued to build and use MTMs. On 16 April 1945, one of these would damage the French destroyer Trombe off Liguria. At least four MTMs survived World War II to be used by Israeli commandos during the 1947-49 conflict. In October 1948 three of them sank the Egyptian sloop, Emir Farouk, and severely damaged a minesweeper in the Mediterranean. Another, was briefly deployed to the Red Sea and tasked with infiltrating Israeli agents into Jordan.

ww2dbaseApproximately 20 MT, MTM, and MTR boats were built by Baglietto of Varazze and CABI of Milan.

ww2dbaseSources:
Wikipedia-MT explosive motorboat
Bernard Fitzsimmons (editor): Warships of the Second World War (BPC Publishing Ltd, 1973)
Gregory Haines & Cdr. B.R. Coward RN: Battleship, Cruiser, Destroyer (The Promotional Reprint Company Ltd., 1994)

Last Major Revision: Sep 2020

MT-class Motor Torpedo Boat Interactive Map

MT-class Motor Torpedo Boat Operational Timeline

25 Mar 1941 Italian destroyers Crispi and Sella departed Leros, Dodecanese Islands in Greece, each carrying three 2-ton motor assault boats loaded with 300-kilogram explosives. At 2330 hours, the destroyers released the motor boats 10 miles off Suda Bay, Crete, Greece to attack British warships.
26 Mar 1941 British cruiser HMS York was heavily damaged by an Italian explosive boat raid at Suda Bay, Crete, Greece at about 0445 hours. Two men were killed. All six Italian boat drivers survived the attack, but all were captured.
26 Jul 1941 Six Italian explosive motorboats escorted by MC.200 fighters attempted to attack shipping in Valletta's Grand Harbour at Malta. The Hurricane fighters of Nos. 126 and 185 Squadrons were scrambled and set about the boats, sinking four and causing the other two to surrender.
16 Apr 1945 Italian MTM explosive motorboats heavily damaged French destroyer Trombe off Liguria, Italy in the Mediterranean Sea.

Photographs

MTM explosive motorboat, 1940s




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