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Taranto – a kick in the balls for Mussolini – 75 years ago tonight

I doubt that many realise that it was on 11th November 1940 that the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy struck a blow at Royal Fascist Italy’s Navy that may well have slowed the march of the Axis powers in the Mediterranean and marked the first check on their advance after the fall of France. The operation, called ‘Operation Judgment‘, involved two waves of Fairey Swordfish biplanes (almost certainly the slowest surprise air attack of WW2 apart perhaps from the springing of Mussolini) attacking the Italian fleet at Taranto harbour on the ‘heel’ of Italy. The outcome was that the Italian surface fleet was severely reduced in capability, and the remnants moved further up the peninsula to Naples, thereby limiting their capability to interfere with British shipping in the Mediterranean and to re-inforce North Africa. British casualties were 2 aircraft lost, 2 men killed, 2 PoWs. The Italians lost one battleship, and had 2 battleships and 2 cruisers heavily damaged.

The raid had been planned for Trafalgar Day, 21st October, but was put back due to a fire, fittingly enough to Armistice Day. A Swordfish also went on to cripple the Bismarck, and later in the War they accounted for 22 U-boats. Not a bad record at all.

It has been speculated that this raid inspired the Japanese to use air power at Pearl Harbor, but perhaps emboldened would be a better term, after all, it is not as if Japan wasn’t gearing up for something by this time. The anniversary of the raid has attracted some comment, a piece here in the American Thinker (an organ of which I know little), but pointing out that it actually makes sense to attack your enemies, not to wait for them to attack you. I particularly liked this part:

Third, fight to win, and winning means destroying the power of those who hate us. Had the Second World War been, instead of a continuous struggle, a series of peace talks and ceasefires and diplomatic pussyfooting, it is certain that Hitler would never have lost. Democracies naturally loathe war and yearn for peace, but evil regimes who control their subject peoples can maintain war fever indefinitely.

You might think that that author had some people from the present-day in mind.

And for those brave men of the Fleet Air Arm, flying in open cockpits at night against a major enemy harbour, I shall raise a glass of prosecco tonight, to sink something Italian.

Public Prosecutions protestations

We noted here earlier the controversial proposed appointment of a new Director of Public Prosecutions. Today’s Telegraph reports that Britain’s Conservative Opposition are continuing to making an issue of this:

The appointment of one of Cherie Blair’s “cronies” as the new Director of Public Prosecutions is a “matter of deepest concern” because of his work on terrorist cases, Michael Howard, the shadow chancellor, said yesterday.

Mr Howard suggested that Ken Macdonald was not fit to serve as the country’s top prosecutor because of his views on the motives of those charged with terrorism.

Mr Howard, a QC, singled out Mr Macdonald’s website at Matrix Chambers, where Mrs Blair works as a public law barrister, and his use of the phrase “political violence”.

A website? Yes, this one.

The website detailing Mr Macdonald’s work as a criminal lawyer says: “He is very well known for his work in cases where serious allegations of political violence are made against Irish republicans, Sikhs, Palestinians and Islamists. He is especially interested in fair trial issues arising out of recent anti-terrorist legislation in Britain and abroad.”

Although Mr Howard stopped short of suggesting that Mr Macdonald was sympathetic to the cause of terrorist groups, he said the concept of “political violence” was not recognised under English law.

This is an argument that will presumably divide White Rose readers along political lines. But it is very White-Rose-relevant, as I’ve been saying of a number of stories here.

Howard admits that if Macdonald hadn’t had that Blair connection he wouldn’t be making so much fuss. Fair enough. Neither would I. As it is, says Howard, the appointment should be closely scrutinised. Here’s what is probably Howard’s most telling punch:

“If you engage in that kind of scrutiny, you discover that this is a man who has no experience of prosecution at all. He’s never prosecuted a single significant case in his career.

If you want to get stuck into Michael Howard, the Telegraph also supplies the link to his website.

“The selection process was completely transparent and accountable”

Who makes the crucial decision about whether to prosecute in the first place? And who picks the person who does this? And who have they picked?

From today’s Independent:

The government was accused of “rampant cronyism” last night after a barrister from Cherie Blair’s law firm was named as the head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Ken Macdonald, a founding member of Matrix Chambers, where the Prime Minister’s wife practises under her maiden name Cherie Booth, will become Director of Public Prosecutions in the autumn.

Doesn’t sound good, put like that, does it?

A spokeswoman for the CPS said Mr Macdonald had been appointed to the £145,000-a-year post by a panel of impartial senior civil servants and legal figures. She said: “The selection process was completely transparent and accountable. It was an open competition. The fact he comes from a distinguished chambers signals that he is a leading barrister, but the chambers he comes from had no other bearing on the appointment.”

I suppose that could be true.

Liberty appoints new Director

From Liberty’s press release:

Shami Chakrabarti is to be the new Director of Liberty. She succeeds John Wadham who has been appointed Deputy Chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Shami Chakrabarti joined Liberty in 2001 as the group’s ‘In-House Counsel’ and is now recognised as one of the UK’s leading authorities on anti-terror laws. She says that the measures adopted by the Government in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks have made her “ashamed to be a lawyer.”

Walking in Orwell’s footsteps

Simon Davies of Privacy International organised an event this evening here in London in order to honour George Orwell and hoist a drink or three to one of England’s greatest writers on the occasion of his birthday.

Now I know a lot of you have read Orwell’s sundry works… 1984… Animal Farm… etc… but how many of you have drunk a ‘Black and Tan’ at Orwell’s favorite pub, the Newman Arms on 23 Rathbone Street…

…followed by walk to the Elysee Restaurant, around the corner at 13 Percy Street, which was one of Orwell’s favorite eating places? The default dish here has to be Moussaka, as Orwell ate it on nearly every occasion that he visited this place.

A splendid evening was had by Gabriel Syme and myself (the wicked and iniquitous Johnathan Pearce was a no-show) amidst an impressive collection of privacy and civil liberties activists from across a .. ahem… wide range of the political spectrum.

Cross-posted from Samizdata.net