The concept of a submersible manned torpedo for attacking ships and dock installations was pioneered by the Italian navy during the First World War when two divers sank the Austrian cruiser 'Viribus Unitas' in Pola harbour in November 1918. During the 1930s the Italian navy developed improved versions of this weapon they called a 'Siluro a Lenta Corsa' (SLC) or Slow Running Torpedo as a cover name to disguise its true purpose. Most commonly they were called 'Maiale' or 'Pigs' by their operators. Sub-Lieutenants Teseo Tesei and Elios Toschi worked on a prototype at La Spezia in 1936 which was tested successfully. The two operators wearing breathing apparatus rode the electrically-powered torpedo which could submerge to 30 meters. A 300 kg warhead could be detached and secured to the hull of a ship in harbour to destroy it. During World War II, the 10th Light Flotilla operated the SLC along with fast motorboats (MTM) fitted with an explosive charge which were designed to be aimed at a ship by a driver who then jumped backwards from the craft into the water. The SLC was usually launched from modified submarines such as the Gondar and Scire ouside British naval bases such as Alexandria, Suda Bay and Gibraltar. Gondar was sunk by depth charges from the RAN destroyer HMAS Stuart. In December 1941 the battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant were badly damaged in attacks by Italian SLC crews at Alexandria. An attack on Malta using fast motorboats and chariots was a complete failure in July 1941 resulting in the deaths of Tesei and the flotilla commander Moccagatta. Several attacks on Gibraltar sank or damaged around 14 merchant ships, some of these attacks were launched from a disguised Italian oil tanker ship interned at Algeciras in neutral Spain. The10th Light Flotilla claimed a total of 265,352 tons of allied shipping sunk before Italy surrendered in September 1943.

The Royal Navy was impressed with the potential of this weapon and copied the Italian SLC as the Mk.1 Chariot. A captured SLC provided all the technical information required. A detailed drawing was prepared in September 1942. The first operation against the German battleship Tirpitz failed when both Chariots were lost as they were being towed beneath a Norwegian fishing boat. They were then used against Palermo harbour, Sicily in January 1943 damaging the unfinished cruiser Ulpio Traiano and the troopship Viminale. Other operations against Tripoli and Norway were less successful. In June 1944 a joint British-Italian operation against La Spezia was carried out to sink two Italian cruisers captured by the Germans. The Bolzano was sunk in this raid. A Mk. 2 Chariot was developed in which the divers sat back to back. Manned diving craft are still operated by many navies but few details are available.

This model was purchased by the Museum which also holds a copy of a general arrangement drawing for the Mk.1 Chariot dated September 1942 in the reseach file for this obfect.

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