Swordfish from Illustrious Cripple the Italian Fleet

The First Enabler of Team Engagement: The Power of Your Purpose

There was a smell of gun powder in the air as the young naval officers aimed their Fairey Swordfish Torpedo Bombers at the enemy battleships, the noise was deafening as explosions filled the night. After the chaos……….silence and a moment to reflect. Glasses raised, and a toast is made, to the Men of Taranto.

What you’ve just read didn’t just take place on a battlefield, it takes place at dining halls onboard Royal Navy Ships and Shore Establishments across the country this week.

As we are remembering the sacrifices of servicemen and women on this most solemn and important day, I would like to draw your attention to a particular tradition in the Royal Navy.

On the night of the 11th of November 1940 twenty-one outdated Swordfish biplanes of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm set off into the night, carrying out one of the most brave and audacious naval actions of the Second World War, ‘Operation Judgement’, The Raid on Taranto. Every November, the Royal Navy remembers Taranto, the feats of bravery and the sacrifice made by the aviators that didn’t return to the aircraft carrier that night.

The difference to other acts of remembrance this week is that the Raid on Taranto is honoured in the form of a Mess Dinner. The Mess Dinner is a formal occasion where officers put on their mess uniform, adorn the tables with their finest mess silverware and eat together sharing stories and experiences. The Taranto Dinner features story telling about the raid and often an explosive re-enactment of the battle.

Whilst you could make the accusation that this is just an expensive, elaborate and unnecessary party, you would be missing the point. The Taranto Dinners are much more than just social events, they are where the Fleet Air Arm shares its’ story.

“At Taranto we literally eat, drink and sleep the Fleet Air Arm, its culture and its values. It is where we embrace our Strategic Narrative, our purpose.”

The 2009 report for government: Engaging for Success, by Nita Clarke and David MacLeod, described that one of the four enablers of engagement in the workplace is a strong strategic narrative. “The narrative is a clearly expressed story about what the purpose of an organisation is.”

By gathering our people together, socialising, remembering our forebears and celebrating the courage and values that they represent, we immerse our people into the culture of our organisation. As part of the Taranto Dinner, it is usual for the youngest and most recent additions to the team to narrate a re-enactment of the battle, in the process they learn the events of the battle and feats of bravery undertaken. It is these young naval officers who will go on to become the leaders of our organisation in the future.

This week, as part of my service in the Royal Navy Reserve, I’m honoured to be with the New Entry Officer Cadets on week 9 of their new career in the Royal Navy. We will be spending the week out on Dartmoor, exercising their leadership, teamwork and resilience in their first major assessment in uniform. On completion of the exercise we will be returning to Britannia Royal Naval College and celebrating the Raid on Taranto. Of course, the cadets will be centre stage, recreating the battle, socialising with their new shipmates and meeting Fleet Air Arm Aviators past and present.

By helping our people embrace our Strategic Narrative we help them see the purpose in what they do, it’s what inspires them to reach further, work harder and go the extra mile every day. It’s our story so far and it’s the baton that we hand over for them to take forward into the future.

Take a minute to consider your organisations’ strategic narrative.

  • How do you celebrate your history?
  • How do you share your values?
  • How do you help your people engage with your story?

I’ve included some links below to information about The Raid on Taranto if you want to find out more.

Documentary video featuring historian – Dan Snow@thehistoryguy https://youtu.be/49UJmraQlc0

Description of the battle on the Navy Wings website – The charity which keeps the UK’s Historic Naval Aircraft Flying.


Press release from the 75thAnniversary of Taranto at Britannia Royal Naval College


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