Weapons of World War Two
Motoscafo da Turismo explosive boat
In January 1936, while the diplomatic relations between Italy and Britain were increasingly uptight due to the war started by the first one in Abisinia, in the Italian high military quarters started to be taken into consideration a possible confrontation with the old Albion. Clearly, there was a necessity of acquiring new means that allowed to effectively attack the most important weapon of the enemy: the Royal Navy. So a certain day Duke Aimone di Savoia Aosta, prestigious officer of the Regia Marina, presented to the Committee of Naval Projects a plan to build small and very fast speedboats able to carry a strong explosive charge, which could be used in surface assaults.
These "tourism speedboats" (MT or "Motoscafo da Turismo"), as they were called due to reasons of secrecy, should be transported to the attack area by seaplanes S 55 which would deposit them in the water. To ease the transport had been projected speedboats of only 45 centimeters in height; even lesser than a torpedo. Then the speedboats, once in the water, should approach the intended target by using silenced engines, to then launch themselves at full speed towards it. Finally the pilots would jump to the water along with the guidance davit which, floating, would allow them to be outside the water to avoid the deadly effect of the expansive wave.
This project was entrusted to the engineer Guido Cattaneo, then a complementary captain of Naval Weapons, who would become the architect of the "barchini" on their full diversity: MT 1st and 2nd class, modified MT, reduced MT, torpedo MT, modified torpedo MT, SMA (anagram from the MAS speedboats, MTTM of enlarged size), slow MT and antisubmarine MT. But the victorious end of the campaign in Abisinia and the successive period of distension cooled the willing of building new weapons. The projects were abandoned, and the first units of specialists, which were becoming used to the few prototypes of assault speedboats built, were dissolved.
So, when Italy entered the Second World War, the project had to be revised and modernized, and organized again the instruction of personnel to operate the MT. But, besides the replacement of the hulls made of wood coated with fabric by hulls all in wood, and the utilization of surface units instead of seaplanes in the approximation, the construction plans and the utilization methods of these devices would not be very different from those provided by their first designer.
The MT, or "barchini" as their crews called them, were nothing else than excellent single-seat speedboats of flat keel. The hull, of 5.20 meters in length, was made entirely of wood and its draught was minimal, important factor to easily overcome possible network barriers. This maneuver was eased as well by the fact that the ensemble propeller-rudder, externally placed astern like in an outboard, was movable upwards. The engine, an excellent Alfa Romeo 2500, allowed a maximum speed of 33 knots, with an operational range of about 150 kilometers. In the prow was placed the explosive charge, of 330 kilograms, fitted with two detonation mechanisms.
The "barchino", which had a total weight of 1100 kilograms, could be used in two ways: the first one, perhaps less effective, consisted of using her like a torpedo, causing the explosion when impacting against the hull of the target. But the impact occurred above the waterline so it was not necessarily fatal for the target ship. But in the second method, on impact, a crown of explosive cartridges broke in two parts the "barchino", causing the sinking of the prow. As soon as this one reached a provided depth, a hydrostatic fuze exploded the charge. The hole was therefore opened directly in the submerged part of the hull, where the damage was almost always irreparable. The pilot of the "barchino", once assured that the speedboat was directly aimed towards the target, removed the safety pin of the charge and threw himself to the water, trying to quickly get onboard the floater because the distance of abandon of the speedboat was generally only 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 speedboats during the war. In few minutes, six men onboard six "barchini" sank, in Suda Bay, a cruiser of 10000 tonnes, an oil tanker and another two ships with a total of another 32000 tonnes. The British, who with reason had boasted so much about their audacious and "economical" venture in Tarento, where risking few men and aircraft they had caused so much damage, could do nothing else than to acknowledge that they had had very diligent "apprentices". The "night of the Sworfish" had been avenged.
Length: 5.20 meters
Weight: 1100 kilograms
Explosive charge: 330 kilograms
Maximum speed: 33 knots
Operational range: 150 kilometers
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