Operation Bombing of Bargrain

The 'Bombing of Bahrain' was one of a series of Italian undertakings to strike at the British interests wherever possible in the Middle East (19 October 1940).

While the mission caused little damage, it was successful in forcing the diversion of already-limited British resources to an obscure but strategically vital theatre that had been believed to be safe.

On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on France and the UK. There followed the '1st Battle of the Alps' as Italian forces invaded the south-eastern corner of France , but this was a short-lived operation and the French signed an armistice with the Italians on 25 June, three days after France’s armistice with Germany. This left the British and their commonwealth forces for the Italians to fight in the Middle East. In the summer if 1940, the Italian leader and prime minister, Benito Mussolini, was informed of a plan to destroy the oil fields in Bahrain in order to disrupt fuel supplies to the British navy. The plan was suggested by an Italian test pilot, Capitano Paolo Moci, and promoted by Tenente Colonnello Ettore Muti, who was to plan and lead the attack.

The Italian high command approved the concept, which it saw as an ideal example for proving that Italy could use the Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 three-engined medium bomber for a very long-range attack on the British oil facilities at Manama in the Persian Gulf. It was a long and difficult mission involving a flight of some 2,485 miles (4000 km). Muti and his crews spent four days working on a complete revision of the plan and created a complex flight scheme. After filling both the bombers' normal and supplementary tanks with more than 1,300 Imp gal (5900 litres) of fuel and loading three of their four SM.82 machines with 3,307 lb (1500 kg) of 33-, 44- and 110-lb (15-, 20- and 50-kg) incendiary and explosive bombs, at 17.10 on 18 December the initial three bombers took off. In command of the first aeroplane, which gained height only with difficulty from the runway of the Gadurrą airfield on Rhodes in the Italian-occupied Dodecanese islands group, as it was departing an an overload weight of 42,990 lb (19500 kg), was Muti aided by Maggiore Giovanni Raina and Moci, who had previous experience in flying aircraft at an overload weight of 46,297 lb (21000 kg). After gaining height, the SM.82 bombers flew to the east, overflying Cyprus, Lebanon and Syria before turning to the south-east over Jordan and Iraq until they reached the Persian Gulf.

At 02.20, just before reaching the Bahrain islands, Tenente Colonnello Federici’s aeroplane suddenly lost sight of Muti’s machine and instead bombed and damaged Saudi Arabian targets in the area of Dhahran, while the other bombers attacked the designated target, where installations were damaged and some six well were set on fire.

Seeing the glare of the fires, the Italian bombers turned away on their escape path. The aircraft landed at the runway of Zula in the Italian colony of Eritrea. The whole Italian formation had flown some 2,610 miles (4200 km) in 15 hours 30 minutes.

The raid caused the British some concern, forcing them to upgrade their defences. More than the limited amount of damage caused, this further stretched British military resources.