Key Point: The plan succeeded, at the expense of the British Navy.
Mussolini’s effort to seize control of the Mediterranean had, by late 1941, largely ended in failure.
The success of the Royal Navy in the raid on Taranto and at the Battle of Cape Matapan had given the British a decisive advantage. Low morale and fuel shortages further limited the effectiveness of the Regia Marina. Yet the Italians still had several modern battleships, along with a few older, modernized vessels. And on the upside, the Royal Navy had lost one of its battleships, HMS Barham, to U-boat attack in late November. In anticipation of war with Japan, additional Royal navy warships were headed to the Far East.
That’s when the Italians decided to get creative. In order to further redress the imbalance, the Italians conceived a daring operation to attack British ships directly. They borrowed a page from their own history in World War I, and managed to knock two British battleships out of the war.