MAS were widely employed by Règia Marina during World War I in 1915-1918. Models used were directly derived from compact civilian motorboats, provided with petrol engines which were compact and reliable (characteristics which were not common at the time) . They were used not only in the anti-submarine patrol role, but also for daring attacks against major units of the Austro-Hungarian Navy.
The greatest success of Italian MAS was the sinking of the Austro-Hungarian battleship SMS Szent István off Pula on June 10, 1918 by a boat commanded by Luigi Rizzo. MAS boats later engaged in the Second Battle of Durazzo in October 1918.
* * *Italian MAS continued to be improved after the end of World War I, thanks to the availability of Isotta Fraschini engines. The MAS of World War II had a maximum speed of 45 knots, two 450 mm torpedoes and one machine gun for anti-aircraft fire. In 1940 there were 48 MAS500-class units available.
Notable war actions performed by MAS include the torpedoing of the Royal Navy C-class cruiser HMS Capetown by MAS 213 of the 21st MAS Squadron working within the Red Sea Flotilla off Massawa, Eritrea; and the failed attack on the harbour of Malta in January 1941, which caused the loss of two motorboats, one of them recovered by the British.
Five MAS were scuttled in Massawa in the first week of April 1941 as a part of the Italian plan for the wrecking of Massawa harbor in the face of British advance. MAS 204, 206, 210, 213, and 216 were sunk in the harbor; four of the boats were in need of mechanical repairs and couldn't be evacuated. On 24 July 1941, MAS 532 torpedoed and crippled the transport Sydney Star, which managed to limp to Malta assisted by the destroyer HMAS Nestor. MAS 554, 554 and 557 also sank three allied freighters on 13 August 1942, in the course of Operation Pedestal, for a total tonnage of 28,500 tn. On 29 August 1942, a smaller type of MAS boat, the MTSM, torpedoed and disabled for the rest of the war the British destroyer HMS Eridge off El Daba, Egypt.
Artwork: Joe Hinds