Throughout its long history, the Italian Navy has built and operated many types of small warships ranging from ships such as sloops and gunboats to small Motor Torpedo Boats. One such class of small boats that were used by the Italian Regia Marina (Royal Navy) was the explosive motorboat Motoscafo da Turismo (MT) and its later variants, such as the Motoscafo da Turismo Modificato (MTM). The MT/MTM, also known as barchino (Italian for "Small Boat"), was part of a series of small explosive motorboats developed by the Regia Marina as a follow-up to its predecessors, the prototype MA (Motoscafo d'Assalto) and the MAT (Motoscafo Avio Trasportato), which was an air-dropped small boat. The Italian Navy used the MT and MTM boats from 1940 until 1949. They partook in several major operations during the Second World War and achieved limited success in those operations. These small boats were designed on the principle of being able to make silent approaches to moored warships and other targets such as port infrastructure or bridges. The idea was that the pilot of the motorboat would set a collision course and run into full gear until the last 200 or 100 yards to the target. Upon reaching this stage, the pilot would eject after blocking the rudder. And upon impact with an enemy ship or other target, it was hoped that the explosive within the bow of the boat would fuse and go off, causing severe damage to infrastructure and vessels alike if not outright sinking the ships. Today at least two "Barchino" explosive motor torpedo boats are preserved, one on display in Israel and the other at the Museo Tecnico Navale in La Spezia, Italy.
The MT and MTM are perhaps best known for their use in two major Italian operations, one of which resulted in a significant Italian victory. The first of these operations was the Raid on Souda bay which resulted in the crippling and later scuttling of the Royal Navy York-class Heavy Cruiser HMS York, as well as severely damaging the Norwegian tanker Pericles which later sank under tow to Alexandria. The second major operation was the Battle of Grand Harbour or Operation MALTA-2. During this operation, the Italian MT squadron suffered severe losses while inflicting none on the British forces within Malta. The only significant damage of note was to the St Elmo Bridge, which was rammed by an MT and destroyed. The St Elmo bridge itself was never replaced or repaired until 2011 when a new bridge was finally designed and built over the remains of the original. The destruction, however, blocked the Italian force's retreat, and they were finished off by RAF close air support. Aside from these two actions, there were various other operations with less than successful results. As such, the MT and MTM boats would not gain another victory until 16 April 1945, when an MTM in service to the Italian Social Republic rammed and severely damaged the French Destroyer Trombe, which was towed to Toulon and declared a total loss.
Little is known about the service life of the MTM on display at the Museo Tecnico Navale in La Spezia; however, it is quite an interesting example of one of the aforementioned explosive motorboats in that it is one of the MTM variants which were modified MTs that included among many things a reverse gear, something the original lacked. Aside from this, the boat is kept in excellent condition and is displayed with most of its hatches open, allowing the visitor to see the internal components of the boat, including the engine and the shell of the explosive charge. Furthermore, one can also see the pilot's cabin granted it is missing the aft end of the cabin, which in operations was jettisoned before the pilot ejected from the boat. The MTM on display is painted in the traditional Italian MTM colors with a black hull and grey upperworks. Overall, the boat represents a unique survivor of this equally interesting and unique class of small explosive Motorboats. It is also a rare surviving example of a Regia Marina warship of which very few are preserved.
Write up and picture courtesy of Jonathan Manuel.
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