Admiral Carlo Bergamini

Carlo Bergamini was born October 24th, 1988 in the town of San Felice sul Panaro in the province of Modena (Northern Italy). His upbringing was influenced by family traditions; his grandparents were “carbonari[1]” and his father “garibaldino[2]”. His father participated in the battles of Bezzecca and Montana (fought by Garibaldi against the Bourbon’s army), and later earned a degree and became a faithful civil servant for the Treasury Department. His was a family with a strong tradition of moral ,love for the Country and respect for the institutions.

While in Bari, where his father had been transferred for some time to be the bureau chief of the local treasury office, Carlo Bergamini became attracted to life in the Navy.

He entered the Naval Academy in 1905 and left it, as an acting sub-lieutenant, on December 1st, 1908. His intelligence, his predisposition for mathematical sciences, a vast knowledge, advanced planning and organizational skills, his ability to lead while at sea, to quickly make decisions, especially during grave and difficult situations, along with his complete dedication to the navy, allowed him to have a brilliant career.

In addition to his scholarly aptitude and his military skills, what is most apparent is his great humanity and attachment to his men. Both officers and sailors were like sons to him, and they always returned in kind the greatest trust up to the ultimate sacrifice. His scholarly credentials, and his specialization in artillery, enabled him to develop important innovations and inventions in the field of gunnery, thus bringing the Italian Navy to the forefront. His greatest accomplishment, in collaboration with the firm Galileo of Florence, was the creation of a new anti-ship and anti-airplane firing control system, which was particularly fast and accurate.

The Navy trusted his abilities, and on March 3rd, 1931 he was promoted to the command of a destroyer squadron, which included the Nembo, Aquilone, Turbine and Euro and on which he requested the installation of the new control system. Tough training brought about the creation of a group of highly prepared crew. The results were excellent, and these systems, ever more perfected and sophisticated, were installed on many vessels of the Regia Marina. He left the squadron on November 15th, 1932.

Admiral Carlo Bergamini
(Photo U.S.M.M.)
Amongst his most important activities must be cited:

As Acting Sub-Lieutenant, he was assigned to the battleship “Regina Elena” (1909-1911), then to the R.N. Vector Pisani, headquarters of the torpedo boat section, on which he served during the Italo-Turkish war (9/29/1911). Aboard this ship, he participated in the first war actions in support of the landing of Italian troops in Cirenaica, and other activities during the 1911-1912 campaign.

Later, promoted to lieutenant, he served aboard the R.N. Pisa during WW I, first as the second fire control director and the as the first. In collaboration with the captain, he organized the naval defenses of Valona (1916). On October 2nd, 1918 he participated in the bombardment of Durazzo and, for his behaviors during this action, he was awarded the Silver Medal for Valor.

Still as a Lieutenant, he obtained his first command and, from February 1921 to January 1922, he commanded the torpedo boat 28 AS. Later, he was transferred to the battleship Doria as the first director of fire control where he stayed until September 27th, 1924.

From June 1929 to July 1933, mostly due to his noticeable technical expertise in the field of naval artillery, he was assigned to the DGAAN (Direzione Generale Armi ed Armamenti Navali) at the Ministry of the Navy, where he distinguished himself for the level of dedication and for the results obtained in solving numerous problems relative to the weaponry in use by the Regia Marina.

In 1932, he was assigned to the destroyer Leone as commander of the squadron, which also included the Tigre and Pantera.
In 1934, he was promoted to Captain and, from November 1934 to March 1936, he was assigned to the S.M. (Stato Maggiore) of the 2nd Naval Squadron then under the command of Admiral Denti di Piraino of whom he became a close assistant. He was first assigned to the cruiser Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and then the cruiser Duca d’Aosta.

In August 1937, he was once again called to the Ministry of the Navy.

On January 1st, 1938 he was promoted to Rear Admiral and a year later Admiral of Division.

During WWII, excluding a period of seven months spent at the Ministry of the Navy, he was always on ships.

On August 1st, 1939 he assumed the command of the V Naval Division flying his colors first on the battleship Cavour and then on the Giulio Cesare.

On May 7th, 1940 he was assigned the command of the IX Naval Division and became the Chief of Staff of the Naval Squadron and was able to bring the unit to a very high level of readiness.

Later, he raised his colors on the Battleship Vittorio Veneto on which he participated in the Battle of Cape Teulada (November 27th, 1940) demonstrating great military virtues and earning the Cavaliere dell’Ordine Militare di Savoia medal.

On July 24th, 1941 he was promoted to Admiral of Squad and was once again aboard the Vittorio Veneto where he assumed the command of the IX Naval Division and of the II Naval Squadron.

On December 8th, 1941 while keeping the command of the II Naval Squadron, he also assumed the command of the V Naval Division transferring to the Duilio on which he participated to several escort missions in the central Mediterranean. The convoys escorted by his group reached their destination without a single loss.

On December 1st, 1942 still on the Duilio, he was promoted to the command of the II Naval Squadron, VI Naval Division and second in command of the I Naval Squadron.

On January 1st, 1943 he moved aboard the Vittorio Veneto assuming the command of the I Naval Squadron and of the II Naval Division.

Finally, on April 5th, 1943 he was promoted to Commander in Chief of the Italian Battle Fleet where he flew his colors on the battleships Littorio, Vittorio Veneto and finally the Roma.

He brought this naval group to a high level of training and, on September 8th, his ships were ready to leave port to oppose the Allied landing, which was expected in the Gulf of Salerno. Even though Supermarina had already sent marching orders since 8:00 AM, Comando Supremo[3] later suspended them. At the end of a tormented and painful day, which ended with the announcement of the Italian armistice, he obeyed the bitter orders conscious that he was not just honoring the allegiance sworn to the government, but was also maintaining his honor and working toward the redemption and reconstruction of his much loved country.

The fleet left La Spezia at 3:40 AM of September 9th for a brief stop in La Maddalena (Sardinia) where he was to find, as indicated by Supermarina, the details of the armistice agreement and the final destination to be reached in a zone controlled by the Allied. At 2:37 PM, near the Bocce di Bonifacio, he received a phonogram in which Supermarina informed him that La Maddalena had been occupied by the Germans and ordered him to continue on to Bona (North Africa).

At 2:41 PM, Admiral Bergamini changed route to 284 degree, which was the one recommended to leave the Gulf of Asinara and continue on to Bona. At 3:20 PM, German airplanes, following orders previously received, detected that the fleet was no longer going to La Maddalena and several bombers took off from Istres in France to attack the ships with a new type of guided rocket bomb launched from high altitude. Two of these bombs, despite the heavy antiaircraft fire, hit the battleship Roma which, along with the rest of the fleet, did not have aerial screening. The second bomb was fatal and, at 4:11 PM, the ship disappeared into the sea along with 1,253 crewmembers, including Admiral Bergamini and the whole general staff.

During these events, Admiral Bergamini sent to Supermarina precise messages in which, each time, he assured compliance with the orders received, including the last one in which he was ordered to direct to Bona.

(See the sinking of the battleship Roma)

For his service he received the following awards:

  • Ordine di Savoia
  • Silver Medal (WW I)
  • Silver Medal (WW II)
  • Croce di Guerra (3 of them)
  • Iron Cross of II Class (German)
  • Gold Medal (posthumously with proportion to the rank of Admiral of Army)

In his memory, the Italian Navy named the frigate “Bergamini”, currently not operational, and also in his memory and in memory of the battleship Roma numerous monuments were dedicated in many Italian cities. In addition, there are several streets, squares, Nautical Institutes, and rooms in the Military Academy named after him, and various other commemorative plaques in several institutions and cities, including the one posted on his natal house in San Felice sul Panaro on September 9th, 1953 on the 10th anniversary of his death.

[1] Members of a secret society dedicated to the cause of Italian unity during the second part of the 19th century in a period known as the Risorgimento.
[2] Members of the revolutionary forces led by Giuseppe Garibaldi which landed in Sicily and reunited the southern Kingdom with the rest of the country.
[3] The Italian equivalent of the Joint Chief of staff which, traditionally, was under the control of the Army.
Translated by Cristiano D’Adamo