Many “Armchair Admirals” have considered the Regia Marina as unwilling to fight, but there were many factors why major Italian warships kept confrontation with enemy warships to a minimum. Italian warships in service at the start of the war were modeled for two things only, speed and striking power. They were generally 3-5 knots faster than RN warships and usually had more firepower. But they lost critical armor for this addition. It was common to refer their armor plating as “cardboard”. They also lacked radar which proved to be fatal for the Regia Marina. The Regia Marina’s strategy of confrontation was developed from knowing their shortcomings. They relied heavily on their submarines, torpedo boats and EMB’s as the assault force of the Regia Marina and saved the larger warships for convoy escorts to and from North Africa. These EMB’s and Torpedo Boats were very effective and easily replaced if sunk, unlike their larger, more expensive counterparts.
Explosive Motor Boats were the most famous of Italian assault crafts. These vessels, as well as the Torpedo Boats, were used extensively by the 10th Light Flotilla. They were found as far
east as the Black Sea during World War Two. EMB’s were designed for one way missions against enemy vessels. The “Kamikaze’s of the seas” so to speak. The pilot of the small craft would aim his boat at an enemy vessel, accelerate to full speed, lock his rudder in place and jump overboard before impact against the keel of the enemy ship. As shown below, the navigator is held afloat by the boats backrest, which is designed as a life raft. He would either be picked up by other Italian vessels or attempt to swim to shore.
The crafts proved to be invaluable to the Regia Marina. The screw and rudder could be lifted out of the water to clear harbor nets and their impact against the enemy ships keel caused a devastating chain reaction. A ring of explosives separated the fore and aft section of the hull.
The fore section held a large keg of explosives which sank to a predetermined depth. Once this occurred, the water pressure would cause a detonation. The detonation would form a vacuum and the result would be a huge hole torn through the side of the enemy ship below the water line. Most EMB’s were 19 feet long, held 660 pounds of internal explosives and could reach speeds in excess of 27 knots.