The Mission of the M/V Cortellazzo

Chronicle of the journey of an Italian merchant ship, which from November 1941 to January 1942, was the first to complete a non-stop journey between Japan and France, violating the Anglo-American naval blockade.
Just before Italy’s foray into World War II, 212 Italian ships for a total of 1,209,090 tons were docked in ports far away from the motherland. Many of these units, as we shall see, were even docked in enemy ports. A few days before the declaration of war against France and Great Britain, the position of the Italian merchant ships and tankers was as follows:

  • Italian East Africa (Eritrea and Somalia) 33 units.
  • Northern and Eastern Europe 11 units
  • Spain and Spanish possessions 32 units
  • Portugal and Portuguese possessions 3 units
  • United States 26 units
  • Central America 14 units
  • Colombia and Venezuela 8 units
  • Brazil 18 units
  • Uruguay 2 units
  • Argentina 16 units
  • Iran 4 units
  • Thailand 4 units
  • China and Japan 5 units
  • British and Commonwealth ports, 33 units
  • French Atlantic ports, 3 units

The Ministry of the Navy advised all captains to bring their vessels into friendly (or believed friendly) ports, but this order, issued only five days before the declaration of war, was released with too much delay, causing one third of the merchant fleet to be lost. This was to be the first of a succession of serious disasters. Of the 212 units forced into exile or, as it happened to the ones in Great Britain, captured, the vast majority belonged to a class of fairly modern ships of large tonnage. Six of these ships were over 10,000 tons, 64 ranged from 6,000 to 10,000 tons would have been very valuable during the conflict. The loss of 136 ships between 2,000 and 6,000 tons was very serious; these units would have been very useful for the traffic between Libya and Italy. Also important was the loss of 46 tankers, units always in short supply in the Regia Marina. In 1940, at a total of 3,400,000 tons, tankers represented less than 0.4%. Beginning in July 1940, after the commencement of the hostilities, Supermarina devised a plan to attempt to move a certain number of ships located in Spain, the Canary Islands and even Brazil to the German occupied ports of France. This operation was partially successful thanks to the courage demonstrated by the Italian crews. In time, Supermarina, under pressure from high-ranking officers of the Kriegsmarine, who had developed a certain interest after having seen half a dozen Italian ships arriving in Bordeaux, designed a second and more challenging plan. The project was intended for the transfer of some of the better Italian units, some of which had already violated the British blockade, between Bordeaux and Japan with the intent to furnish the Axis powers with much needed, and rare, rough material.

Towards the end of September 1941, Supermarina in concert with the Italian attaché in Tokyo, Admiral Carlo Balsamo, selected a first group of ships adapted to the task. After some scrutiny, the selection fell to the Himalaya, Orseolo, Galitea (ex Ramb II), Fujijama, Cortellazzo and the tanker Carignano (1). These units, which were located in Asian ports under Japanese control, were selected because of their seafaring qualities and favorable technical characteristics, such as endurance, speed and cargo capacity. As part of a secret agreement between the Regia Marina and the German Seekriegsleitung, part of the cargo loaded on Italian ships in the Orient, and destined to violate the British blockade, would be given to Germany in exchange for military equipment.

M/V Fujiama

Between the end of October and the beginning of November 1941, Supermarina gave the Italian Naval attaché in Tokyo orders to send the first ship to Bordeaux. The Cortellazzo would be taking advantage of the shorter daylight in fall, an expedient useful to protect the ship during the approach to the central Atlantic and the Gulf of Biscay. As proof of the great interest that had developed amongst the Germans for the success of the mission, of the over 6,000 tons loaded in Kobe and later in Dairen, 4,309 were destined for Germany. In the large holds of the Cortellazzo, amongst the various goods, the Japanese loaded 496 tons of tires, 159 tons of canvas, 100 tons of tin, 36 tons of copper, 61 tons of nickel, 10 tons of wolfram, 1,400 tons of vegetable oil, 285 tons of cannabis, 1,140 tons of peanuts, 285 tons of tea, and 275 tons of varnish. According to the plan, the Cortellazzo, and the other units which would have followed soon after, the Orseolo and the Fusijiana, would have followed the route of the Cape of Good Hope. Before Japan’s entry into the war, the north-south route across the Pacific, the crossing of Cape Horn, and the transit from south to north along the Atlantic were much safer than a westward route. This route allowed the Italians and the Germans alike to stay away from areas patrolled by British units.

M/V Cortellazzo’s journey

Later on, with the United States’ entry into the war, this strategy was changed and the ships were sent across the Indian Ocean, which at that time was not patrolled by enemy ships as much. Before the departure of the Cortellazzo, nine German ships loaded with rare goods had already left Japan and Korea directed to Bordeaux along the Cape Horn route. Of these ships, five had reached the Atlantic port of Bordeaux. Statistically speaking, the chances of the Cortellazzo were almost fifty-fifty. The possibility of being intercepted was so high that, just before departure, the ship was fitted with a 50 Kg. charge near the propeller shaft and destined to be exploded, thus causing the immediate sinking of the ship.
On November 6th the Cortellazzo under the command of C.L.C. Luigi Mancusi set sail from Kobe and, after a brief and uneventful three-day trip, the ship reached Dairen, in Korea. During this segment, the ship sailed under the false identity of the Japanese merchantman Dai Ichi Choyu Maru. On November 16, 1941, at 9:15 PM the Cortellazzo left the harbor of Dairen, beginning an adventurous and perilous journey. Crossing the Yellow Sea, the ship reached the Island of Quelpart where it entered the Pacific Ocean and assumed a different false identity. Exiting the Strait of Van Diemen, the Cortellazzo assumed the identity of the Japanese ship Kingfa-Maru and Japanese flags were painted along the sides while the funnel changed colors. On November 27th , while the Italian blockade-runner was between the Caroline Islands and the Marshall Islands, Mancusi spotted three Japanese oceanic submarines navigating in line and he altered course to avoid contact. On December 8th, after having left Gilbert Island to starboard and Ellice Island to port, the radio operator of the Cortellazzo intercepted signals from the American base of Pearl Harbor announcing the Japanese attack and the American declaration of war. This new event made the Italian mission even more dangerous.

Fortunately, commander Mancusi, the right man for the job, without waiting for orders from Supermarina immediately changed the ship’s camouflage (keeping the Japanese colors would have meant disaster). The evening of December 8th, Mancusi informed Navitalia-Tokyo, Betasom (the Italian base in Bordeaux), Maricolleg-Berlin and Navitalia-Berlino of the possibility of transforming the Cortellazzo into the neutral Swedish ship Delhi. For two days, Mancusi’s sailors wiped out the Japanese flags and signs and repainted the funnel. On the 10th, the Cortellazzo displayed her new coat and a new false identity. The funnel was painted yellow to represent the shipping company “Svenska Ostasiasche Kampt.Det.” with a large light blue circle with the three crowns of the Swedish Royal house, while the broadsides had two Scandinavian flags and the name Delhi – Sweden.

M/V Himalaya

Thanks to this masquerade, the Italian ship was able to continue on this route past the Samoa Islands and crossing the dangerous waters between the Tuamotu Islands (under the control of French forces in Papeete loyal to De Gaulle). After passing the Tuamotu, the Cortellazzo-Delhi continued on a south-south-west course, reaching the troubled waters of Cape Horn. On December 24th, in the middle of a violent storm, Mancusi confirmed his fame as a talented sailor and, after a titanic fight, was able to cross the perilous cape, reaching the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. After navigating east of the Falkland Island and west of Austral Georgia, the Italian vessel pointed north, keeping itself safely in the middle of the Atlantic. Passing the strait of Natal and Freetown, the narrowest point between the African and American continents, the Cortellazzo navigated along the Brazilian coast near the Island of Fernando de Noronha and the smaller island of San Paolo, reaching on the 10th of January the Atlantic area most patrolled by the Anglo-American naval forces. It was at this point that, following orders received from the Kriegsmarine, Captain Mancusi turned est and reached Spanish territorial waters. This maneuver was fully successful despite the fact that on the 16th the course was changed after the sighting of a large British tanker.

M/V Orseolo

Passing Cape Ortegal, the Corterlazzo moved on a course parallel to the northern Iberian coast to avoid detection by the long-range flying boat Sunderland and the British submarines patrolling the Gulf of Biscay in the hunt for the U-Boots. On the 25th, the Cortellazzo crossed Cape Higuer where it met four German minesweepers which had sailed from Bordeaux and were going to protect the ship and its precious cargo against British attacks. On January 27th, after having navigated 21,163 miles in 1,730 hours at an average speed of 12.23 knots, the Italian merchantmen entered the river Girond and docked at 12:23 at the Le Verdun dock. After the habitual and much deserved celebrations attended by high ranking German Naval officers, representatives of the Regia Marina honored Captain Mancusi and the Chief engineer with a Silver Medal, while all other officers received the Bronze Medal and the crew the “croce di guerra”. The precious cargo transported by the Cortellazzo was immediately sent to Germany and Italy. On the 29th of January, the Cortellazzo, after having received some alterations similar to the other units designated for the traffic with Japan, was transferred to the command of C.L.C. Augusto Paladini with the order to transfer 6,000 tons of goods to Japan. Amongst the cargo was mercury, special steel, minerals, war material (airplane engines, submarine equipment, special weapons) and medicine. The ship would return to Bordeaux with a similar cargo of goods hard to find in Europe and much needed by the Axis war industry. Unfortunately, this time the Italian ship was not so lucky.
In addition to the Italian crew, the ship embarked seven German officers, petty officers and sailors destined to reach Kobe. The ship left the Girond the evening of November 29th and was escorted to Cape Finestrerre by the German torpedo boats Kondar, Falke and T22. Immediately after the departure of the escort, the ship was sighted by a British Suderland which led a destroyer squadron to the easy prey. The morning of December 1st, after only two days of navigation, the Cortellazzo was attacked by the destroyer Reboudt and other light units. Realizing that fighting was out of the question (the ship did not have armament), Captain Paladini ordered the scuttling of the ship by arming the prearranged mine. In a few minutes, at around 8:00 AM in a position 44’ north, 20′ west the Cortellazzo disappeared into the water.

The 7th of July a large group of technicians, workers and specialists of the Regia Marina left La Spezia bound for Bordeaux to begin modifying and arming the ships Himalaya, Cortellazzo, Orseolo e Fusijama. This work was ordered by Rome with the intent to provide these ships with adequate protection during their missions to Japan. Unfortunately, due to lack of equipment and time, only the Orseolo was completely adapted to the new use. The armament to be installed on the Italian ships (based on directives from the German command in Bordeaux) would have included a 105mm gun (1) to be used against naval or aerial attacks, two German 20mm antiaircraft machine guns, two French 9mm machine guns, and two smoke-laying apparatuses.

(1) Or an older 75″ mm one captured from the Polish

Translated from Italian by Cristiano D’Adamo

R. Smg. Perla

In March 1941, the submarine Perla left Massaua, Eritrea when this Italian base was going to be reached by the final British offensive. Violating a British naval blockade, and after a long journey, the submarine reached the Atlantic base of Bordeaux.

During the second half of February 1941, the Italian naval supreme command decided to transfer the last four submarines still operational in the Red Sea from the base in Massaua, Eritrea to Bordeaux, France. This decision was fully supported by Duke Amedeo D’Aosta, supreme commander of the Italian forces in East Africa and by the local naval command, and it was made when the military fate of the Italian empire began to worsen without any possibility of recovery. At the end on 1940, after having breached the southern front at Giuba, the stronghold of Galla Sidama, the northern front with Sudan, the Italian defensive ring of Kurmuk, Gallabat, Kassala-Agordat e Karora, the overwhelming British land forces (supported from the air and the sea) from Kenya, the Sudan, and Aden (Yemen) began spreading inside the Italian Empire threatening its vital centers.

The submarine Perla in Massawa, Eritrea while in a dry-dock

Even though the Italian forces had momentarily halted the British offensive in Cheren (an Italian stronghold which resisted over two months, from January 31st to March 27th behind enemy infantry and armored forces), the Italian supreme command in Rome became cognizant of the severity of the situation, and also of the danger in which the Italian naval squadron in Massawa would found itself. If the British forces were going to, as they eventually did, bypass the obstacle of Cheren and reach the nearby town of Asmara (connected to Massawa by a rail line and a paved road) the small but combative Italian squadron of the Red Sea would have had to be scuttled.

Based on these considerations, it was decided to allow the surface and submarine units to attempt to run away and reach friendly or neutral ports. The submarine Perla, under the command of Bruno Napp, an officer from Trieste, and three other units (Archimede, Galilei, Ferraris, and Guglielmotti) were ordered to set sail and reach the German-occupied French coast. Theoretically, the submarine could have utilized ships supporting the German submarines operating in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

The Perla was a submarine of medium displacement belonging to the so-called “600” class. The boat, a successful submarine under an engineering viewpoint, displaced 695 t. on the surface and 855 t submerged. It was substantially smaller that the three Oceanic submarines (the Archimede and Guglielmotti had a displacement of 1,266 t, while the Ferraris had 1,259 t.) which had a much greater range (between 9,000 to 10,300 miles at 7-8 knots). The larger boats were let go one after another after the Perla, but they reached Bordeaux 20 days ahead of the smaller unit. During the long voyage, the Guglielmotti, Archimede and Ferraris navigated without stopping, and refueling at sea only once, while the Perla refueled twice.

Only sixteen days after the beginning of the hostilities, the boat was almost lost when it ran aground on a coral reef near Dancalia, in the Red Sea. The Perla departed from Massaua at 5:30 AM on March 1st, 1941 under strict orders not to engage any enemy unit during the transfer. For the records, this was the first time that a submarine of the “600” class was attempting such an endeavor, considered difficult even for boats with much larger hulls. Nevertheless, due to the quality of the hull and the engines (repaired as best as possible after the unit had run aground) and the extraordinary seamanship of Captain Napp and his crew of 38 well-trained sailors, who had never experienced such a long journey before., the Perla covered 13,100 miles in 81 days establishing a record for the class.

The journey did not start auspiciously; at the first twilight the Perla, still on the surface, was located and attacked by a British bomber Bristol Blenheim from Aden. With a very rapid dive, the Italian boat was able to avoid a couple of 110 Kg bombs, and it proceed at full speed toward the Strait of Perim, reemerging only several hours later (at 13:15) to be once again intercepted by another bomber which failed its target by a very few yards, while inside the boat the crew were cursing their bad luck. Unfortunately for the Perla bad luck had just started. After 45 minutes under water, Napp decided to surface, and for a third time he was attacked by three British aircraft determined to sink the little “nutshell” made in Italy. Incredibly, the Perla once again avoided danger, reacheing the 40-meter bottom of the ocean where it came to rest for safety. Napp decided to surface only after a few hours, leaving the Red Sea behind him for good.

Crossing the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, the Italian boat finally entered the Indian Ocean taking course toward Cape Guardafui (easternmost point of Somalia) which was reached without problems. Thanks to the excellent weather conditions, navigation went on without any problem, and on the 11th the boat passed in front of Mogadishu, to then abandon the Somali coast and direct toward Madagascar, the large island that Commander Napp, contrary to what the other three boats did, decided to navigate along the rough eastern coastline.

The German raider Atlantis

This decision, apparently unintelligent, was made because the Perla was to meet a German raider to bunker(the famous Atlantis which since several months earlier, was devastating British surface ships), and receive water and supplies. On the 12th, after having sighted an American ship of the American Export Line (a sighting which made the Perla prudently choose to dive) the boat entered an area plagued by uncertain weather conditions. On the 17th, Commander Napp and his crew had to face a violent storm with swells of seven to eight meters. Despite being shaken like a twig, the Perla was able to keep its course and continue, even though slowly, on a southerly course.

The combative commander Rogge

On March 20th, the Perla sailed by the southernmost point of eastern Madagascar in foul weather conditions, reaching five days later the prearranged meeting point for the transfer of diesel fuel and supplies from the German raider Atlantis which did not show up. Almost left without fuel, Commander Napp was forced to wait stationary, a situation this quite dangerous in an area of gale-like winds. On the 28th at 17:15 Atlantis finally showed up on the horizon (it was traveling as the Greek ship Tamesis). Moored next to the ship, Napp went aboard to thank the combative commander Rogge, who proposed to the Italian officer to complete some joint operations against British traffic. Napp, who had received very strict orders from Supermarina, (especially forbidding him to engage enemy units during the difficult transfer mission) graciously turned down the offer giving the necessary explanation to the German officer.

At the end of the war, captain Rogge sarcastically commented about Napp’s refusal stupidly assuming the “Italian reluctance to face the enemy”. During the refueling operations, German and Italian sailors fraternized, and in a few hours Atlantis provided the Perla with fuel, drinking water, food, drugs, and comfort goods. All took place very quickly, and at 18:00 the Italian submarine disconnected the mooring and continued its journey taking a westerly course. On April 7th, the Perla was ready to cross Cape Good Hope when it sighted a steamship and dived. On the 8th, after the last storm, the Perla left the Indian Ocean to enter the Atlantic on a northwesterly course.

On the 40th day at sea, April 22nd, Napp’s vessels reached with the usual delay the second German supply ship, this time a tanker (the famous Northmark). The meeting took place a few degrees south of the Tropic of Capricorn, between the islands of Tristan and Cunha and St. Elena. Filled to the gills with diesel fuel, the Perla continued its navigation toward Capo Verde. On April 30th, the submarine crossed the equator and a few days later sailed past the western shores of the Islands of Capo Verde. At this point, two-thirds into the journey, the hull and equipment of the small submarine began showing signs of wear and tear. Nevertheless, Napp’s sailors were able to make the necessary repairs to valves, pipes, and ballast tanks. On the 3rd of May, Napp was forced into a crash dive to avoid being sighted by a British ship which had suddenly appeared on the horizon.

Four days later, mechanical failures started again, this time much more serious ones. At 03:00 the starboard diesel engine stopped after failure on one of the connecting rods of the air compressor, while the other engine also stopped after the jets got clogged. Napp did not get discouraged and put his men immediately to work. After 20 hours of hard work, almost by a miracle, the damages were repaired and the engines were started once again.

The Perla while entering the ‘Bassin à Flot’ of Bordeaux
(Photo courtesy Erminio Bagnasco and Achille Rastelli)

The adventure continued; off the Azores a new alarm and yet another dive, while the crew barely avoided being intercepted by an unidentified armed ship. Tension and fatigue began to weigh on Commander Napp’s men, but this was to be the last encounter. In the late afternoon of the 14th of May, passing Cape Finisterre, the Perla pointed decisively toward the French coast arriving in sight of Bordeaux on the 18th. Escorted by a German vessels, the patched up and smoky (the diesel engines were exhausted) submarine entered the estuary of the Gironde, docking at the submarine docks around 16:00 on May 19th.

Captain Napp and his crew in Bordeaux

Once ashore, Napp and his crew were welcomed by a German and Italian honor guard, and the enthusiasm of the submarine crew present at the base. These were seamen who understood and respected the endeavor just completed by the young men of the Perla. The day after, congratulatory telegrams rained from Rome and Berlin. The first were those of Admiral Riccadi and Supermarina, and also his illustrious colleague Admiral Reader.

The Perla in Beirut after its capture
(Photo courtesy Erminio Bagnasco and Achille Rastelli)

On July 9th, 1942 The Perla was intercepted off the port of Beirut by the British corvette Hyacinth. Seriously damaged by depth charges, the boat was forced to the surface and fell into enemy hands. Towed to the Lebanese port, the Perla was repaired and renamed P.712. In 1943 it was transferred to the Greek Navy where it served until 1947

Translated from Italian by Cristiano D’Adamo

R. Smg. Medusa

The Medusa was lost at 2:10 P.M. on January 30th, 1942 following an attack conducted by the British submarine H.M.S. Thorn (1) which, since a few days earlier, was on patrol off the Italian naval base of Pola.

The day of its loss, the Italian submarine commanded by Lieutenant Commander Enrico Bertarelli was at sea conducting technical trials. According to the only two survivors of the sinking, the unit, which had aboard seven officers (including the captain), eight non-commissioned officers and 43 ratings, was traveling on the surface at low speed when it was suddenly attacked by the Thorn, which launched four torpedoes.

The Medusa in Monfalcone on December 10th, 1933 the day it was launched
(Photo Turrini)

As Ensign Fei reported (he was rescued by a motorboat, but then died at the Pola hospital due to serious wounds), “the sea was calm and navigation was proceeding without any problem when from the conning tower, on which I was along with Captain Bertarelli and the other five officers, we sighted the trails of four torpedoes. Quickly, the captain maneuvered, avoiding three of them, but the forth one hit us right on”.

According to Fei, H.M.S. Thorn launched its weapons at a distance of about 1,000 meters after having crash-dived. After striking its victim, the British unit dived very rapidly, leaving the area. Also according to this witness, the explosion was extremely violent ripping open a good portion of the side of the boat which, in a short time (less than ten minutes) sank, dragging most of the crew into the abyss. As narrated by Teucle Meneghini’s book “Cento sommergibili non sono tornati” (One hundred boats did not come back), Captain Bertarelli (who earlier had distinguished himself in the Atlantic commanding the submarine Baracca) did not think of himself and despite being wounded in the face and bleeding profusely, attempted to save his men.

This was a heroic action with cost him his life; he disappeared under the gurgling waters along with his ship. The rescue operations attempted by some Italian rescue ships were fruitless, as they arrived on site by the time the Medusa had already sunk. In a desperate attempt to save the crew members trapped inside the hull, divers from a barge arrived from Pola and completed several descends, but unfortunately without any result.

The Medusa was a coastal submarine, and it was quite obsolete (laid down on November 30th, 1929, it entered service on October 8th, 1931). It was 65.5 meters long and 5.65 wide with a displacement of 650 t. on the surface and 810 t. submerged. Powered by two diesel engines and two electric motors (1,500 and 800 HP), the unit was capable of reaching 14 knots on the surface and 8 submerged. With a range of 4,900 miles at 9.5 knots (on the surface), the Medusa was armed with a 102 mm gun, two 13.2 mm machine guns and six torpedo tubes. The standard complement included 4 officers and 40 crewmembers. In 1941, the Medusa, along with the same class units Serpente and Jalea, was assigned to the submarine school of Pola.

(1) A boat of the T Class, built by Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, was lost on August 7th, 1942.

Translated from Italian by Cristiano D’Adamo

Italian Transport Submarines

Towards the end of 1942, Germany and Italy felt the necessity to obtain from the Far East essential and rare goods no longer available in Europe at the time. Amongst these materials figured rubber, nickel, copper, cobalt, tin, wolfram, quinine, vegetal fiber and varnish. Moreover, these contacts would have allowed for the exchange of mail, news, weapons, blueprints of weaponry systems, and agents with Japan. These reasons induced both the Regia Marina and the Kriegsmarine to transform a few dozen attack submarines into transport ones.
After the United States entered the war in December 1941, the dispatching of Italian and German cargo ships to Japan, the so called “blockade runners”, became much more dangerous due to the increased naval and aerial surveillance. It is for this specific reason that, beginning in 1942, both Germans and Italians began planning a well-organized connection with the Far East utilizing much safer underwater vessels.

The modification of these ocean-going vessels, or the construction of new ones, did not represent a novelty; during World War I, the Kaiser’s navy had deployed two large submarines, the Deutschland and the Bremen, to break the entente’s blockade and conduct business with the United States. In 1916, taking advantage of the American neutrality, the Deutchland succeeded in completing the long journey from Kiel to Baltimore. During the long mission, the German unit transported paint, dyes), mail and precious stones, returning with a discrete load of silver, zinc, nickel and copper.

Before deciding to utilize the underwater weapons to maintain contact with Japan and its new Indonesian possessions recently taken from the Dutch between January and March 1942, Italy had already successfully employed various submarine units to supply her troops in North Africa. Due to the dangerous presence between the Italian ports and the Libyan coast of British airplanes and ships based in Malta, Supermarina decided to utilize submarines since very early on in the conflict. Without the necessary time to modify the units, and with the intention of maintaining their original characteristics so that they could be easily redeployed offensively, the Italian Navy simply removed the torpedoes replacing them with tons of urgent material destined for the North African front.

On June 18th, 1940 (only eight days after Italy’s entry into the war), the submarine Zoea (1938, 1,318/1,647 tons) sailed from Naples to Tobruk with an urgent load of 60 tons of ammunitions for the army (mostly 20, 37 and 47mm projectiles). A similar mission was completed on June 24th by the submarine Bragadin (1938 981/1167) which, after having left the Parthenopean port, transported over 30 tons of supplies to Tobruk.
Throughout the conflict, various Italian submarines (Toti, Santarosa, Atropo) were utilized along this and other routes. For example, starting in March 1941, the Micca (minelayer 1935 1567/1967) was frequently utilized to transport fuel, spare parts and ammunitions not only to Libya, but also the Italian islands in the Aegean, especially Rhodes and Leros. It should be noted that although these missions provided some limited relief to the Italian forces in Libya and the Aegean, it also left Supermarina without the assistance of these units against British military and commercial traffic in the Mediterranean.

As it is well known, Italy’s shortage of cargo ships and tankers forced the Regia Marina’s command into even greater sacrifices, such as the utilization of destroyers and cruisers as transport ships. Starting in 1941, various units of this kind with their decks loaded with extremely dangerous barrels of fuel and ammunitions boxes attempted to reach the Libyan ports, often with horrendous losses. (See Capo Bon).

But let us go back to the cargo submarines. Toward the end of 1942, Italy started a plan for the transformation of submarines to be utilized as transport for journeys to the Far East. Initially, 10 submarines based in Bordeaux were selected, but eventually only seven (Tazzoli, Finzi, Torelli, Giuliani, Bagnolin, Barbarigo and Cappellini) began the necessary internal and external transformations. Before the Italian armistice, September 8th 1943, only the Cappellini (1938, 1060/1313), the Torelli (1940, 1191/1489) and the Giuliani (1939 1166/1484) had been able to leave port and, after a long and dangerous journey, reach the distant Indonesian ports were they were captured by the Japaneseh just before their return to Bordeaux.

In the fall of 1942, Supermarina ordered from the Tosi shipyard in Taranto, the C.R.D.A. of Monfalcone, and the O.T.O. of La Spezia a group of 12 large new submarines specifically designed for transport missions and belonging to the class “R”. Of this group, only two, the Romolo and Remo, were eventually completed before the armistice. The Romolo and Remo (built by Tosi) displaced 2,210 tons (2,606 submerged) and measured 86.50 meters in length. These units were decisively innovative for both their dimensions and the allocation of internal space. The hull included two large holds, one aft and one fore, for a total of 610 cubic meters and capable of holding about 600 tons of cargo. The propulsion system included two 2,600 HP Tosi diesel engines, and two900 HP Marelli electric motors. The unit was capable of reaching 13 knots emerged and 9 submerged. The vessels of the R class had a range of 12,000 miles at 9 knots and 110 at 3.5 knots submerged. The Romolo and Remo were armed by three retractable 20 mm antiaircraft guns, and they were also equipped with 4 collapsible cranes installed on the main deck and used to facilitate the loading and unloading of cargo.
For the units following these two, engineers had planned the installation of two 450 mm torpedo tubes fore (smaller torpedoes). The crew of the Romolo and Remo included 7 officers, and 56 petty officers and sailors. Besides these two, the only other unit of the class which was actually completed before the end of the war was the R12 which, despite the fact it was not able to contribute to the war effort, was used until the 70 in the port of Ancona as an oil fuel depot under the denomination of GR.523.

The operational life of the two large Italian transport submarines was sad, and also extremely short. On July 15th 1943, the Remo left Taranto for Naples and was later sunk off Punta Alice by the British submarine United. Most of the crew plunged into the abyss, while only four crewmembers were rescued (1).

The Romolo had a very similar fate; on July 18th, 1943, three days after its departure from Taranto for Naples, the units was intercepted by a British airplane of the 221st Group R.A.F. near Cape Spartivento and subjected to heavy bombardment. Two hours later, seriously damaged, the Romolo, her commander T.V. Alberto Crepas and the whole crew were lost.

(1) Admiral Ranieri has informed us that despite various sources give the captain, T.V. Salvatore Vassal, as one of the fallen sailors, in fact he was one amongst the survivors. The admiral adds: “The other survivors of the Remo were the Navigational Officer and a look-out, who were with him on bridge and sergeant. E. Dario CORTOPASSI, still alive, who had time to climb out of the control room. He confirmed it himself to me, thus I corrected my own note cards in which I affirmed that all the survivors were on bridge during the torpedoing.”

The adventures of an Italian submariner in the Pacific Ocean

The incredible story of Raffaello Sanzio, a sailor from Bari assigned to the submarine Cappellini who, after September 8th, 1943 decided to keep fighting first along with the Germans, and then after May 8th, 1945 along with the Japanese.The story of Raffaello Sanzio, a sailor who from summer 1940 to summer 1943 was assigned to various Italian submarines based in Bordeaux (he served aboard the Bagnolini and Torelli), is incredible. He left Bordeaux in July 1943 aboard the submarine Cappellini for Penang in the Far East. This sailor from Bari – at the time slightly more than 20 years old – surely thought about facing the long and difficult mission (the Cappellini was transferring to Singapore several dozen tons of war material, quinine, and mercury for the Japanese and on the way back – if all had gone right – would have brought back to Bordeaux a certain quantity of rubber, tin, and rare metals for the Italian and German war industries), but he would never have dreamed to end up fighting under a different flag.

July 12th, 1943: The Cappellini in the Strait of Malacca

In September the Cappellini, along with the Giuliani and Torelli (also used in a similar mission), arrived in Singapore and barely had time to unload its cargo. A few days later, the events surrounding the Italian armistice placed the crew in serious hardship, as they were taken prisoners by the Japanese. Nevertheless, after a few weeks of hard imprisonment, disobeying the orders given by the officers, almost the entire crew (along with the men of the Giuliani and Torelli) decided to keep on fighting along with the former German and Japanese allies, thus joining the Italian Social Republic.

Raffaello Sanzio in 1944 wearing the uniform of the Kriegsmarine

For many years, due to political and ideological reasons, the story of these numerous sailors deployed (or better, abandoned) in the Far East who refused to follow the orders of the Badoglio government was placed in the “forget me” box to avoid creating problems. The first and perhaps the only one who spoke about it was the famous Italian journalist Arrigo Petacco who, in 1986, was able to interview the Italian sailor Raffaele Sanzio in Yokohama. Raffaele Sanzio, then 66, recounted the whole story of the sailors like him, who fought aboard the Italian submarines (captured by the German forces in Singapore and Sepang) along with crewmembers of the Kriegsmarine, and later along those of the Japanese Navy. Their efforts were not much appreciated by Italy. He had an opportunity to say that after Japan’s surrender (September 1st, 1945) the few surviving sailors were imprisoned by the Americans and treated like real traitors. On its part, the Navy of the Italian Republic (Marina Militare) issued a decree against these valorous survivors – guilty only of having wanted to defend Italy’s honor – stripping them of their rank and pension; a serious and sad event.

Raffaello Sanzio in 1986 during the interview with Arrigo Petacco

These days, he is still mortified by those events – he is 83 – still lives in Yokohama and cannot return to Italy. He married a Japanese woman and decided to settle in Japan for the rest of his life. “ It is not right to have been treated like that. I, along with my comrades, just did my duty, and well. Think that with the Cappellini (with a mixed Japanese-Italian crew) we fought in the Pacific Ocean against overwhelming forces. For the record, I can confirm that it was the 13.2 mm Breda machine guns of my submarine that, on August 22nd 1945, shot down the last American twin engine bomber. It happened in Kobe, and it was us Italians who shot it down.” When he was asked if he was homesick, Sanzio replied: “Those people condemned me without mercy. They took my rank away. They say I was a traitor, but they did not have the courage to tell me to my face. No, I just did my duty, but I don’t feel Italian any longer. So much that I wanted to change my last name”. Today, the old sailor goes by the name of Raffaello Kobayashi, the last name of his wife.

Translated by Cristiano D’Adamo

Interview with a crewmember of the repair ship “Quarnaro”

The history and vicissitudes, often adventurous, of the men who served in the Regia Marina (Royal Italian Navy) during the last world war are often unnoted. Little has been said of the men who, during the war, served in bases, aboard ships, submarines, or in the air; the researcher, or those interested in military history, are left consulting technical accounts, bureaucratic simple documents full of cold statistics.
With this interview we would like to shed some light and reveal the human and military experience of one of these many Italian sailors who, without glamour, served their country. With the story of the adventures of sailor Luigi De Angels, a crew member of the repair ship QUARNARO we would like, in good substance, to honor the memory of all those young people who have served in the Italian Navy during the World War Two. Case in point, we have succeeded in reconstructing the history of sailor Luigi De Angels thanks to the help of his son Angelo who has kindly provided us with the recollections of his father.

So many years have passed since the end of the war and, unfortunately, the ranks of this generation are more and more thinning, dangerously limiting our ability to conduct historical investigations. We have assumed an irreversible responsibility: hand down to posterity the memories of a generation of regular young man, just like many others, who were crushed by the cataclysm of a sudden and tragic conflict.

The military career of Mr. De Angeli begins one month after Italy foray into World War Two (June 10th 1940). On July 10, to the 20 year-old De Angeli receives his draft notice and he is prepared, like many hundred of thousand of young Italian man, to perform “… the duty of all young people, that is to serve the Country threatened by the war….”. He will serve, uninterruptedly, for over five years and eight months.
This interview has been conducted via electronic mail and therefore we have not been able to develop the questions in a particularly dynamic manner. Nevertheless, thanks to the willingness of Mr. De Angeli the result achieved is, in our opinion, more than satisfactory.

But less us introduce to you our witness:

“After the draft examination with the Navy, I was sent to the engineering department, since in civilian life I was a naval mechanic. I therefore entered as an engineer assigned to the nearby shipyard in the island of La Maddalena, in Sardinia, where I was born and where I lived. I was discharged as stoker i.c. engines

During the military service, I was not promoted, and at the end of my service I was retained due to the war. As I have said, at was first assigned to the shipyard at the naval base of La Maddalena, and subsequently I was a specialist aboard several units in the naval bases of August, Naples, Messina, Palermo, Taranto, Brindisi, and Navarrino (Greece). I was part of a rapid deployment team specialized in quickly repairing war damages.

During this period (end of 1942), the war situation for Italy was becoming more and more serious. The allies had broken through the Axis lines in Northern Africa (El Alamein). The command of my naval squadron was ordered to immediately leave Navarrino, in Greece and return to Italy. Only the support ship QUARNARO, on which I was embarked, delayed departure by one day. At 02:00 AM , the commander Captain Pietro Milella, gave the order to get under way, while on the near mountains the Greek partisan had just lit bonfires to signal our position to the allied aerial reconnaissance. My ship started the maneuvers and succeeded in leaving the gulf of Navarrino while shooting with its guns into the direction of the bonfires. After an eventless navigation, despite the presence in Mediterranean of many Allied submarines, we reached Brindisi and after a little while we moved on to Taranto. We finally reached Palermo, our final destination, where we made base.

Some time later, I was transferred on the destroyer Da Noli to perform some repair work to the hull. During an aerial bombardment, in which the ship was struck, I jumped in air and I was thrown on a small boat, ending up, however, only with a slight wound. I was therefore sent to the hospital in Messina where I was taken care and where a I was granted a convalescence leave of about 35 days which I spent in the island of the La Maddalena.
Once back in service, I took back my usual job, while the ship on which I was embarked, the QUARNARO, had meantime moved to Gaeta. On September 8th 1943, following the armistice, the Germans attacked us and the QUARNARO was sunk.
What are your memories of life aboard? Specifically, could you describe us some details of the hierarchy between the various ranks?
“The first officer, with the rank of Captain, was Pietro Milella. The hierarchy was very rigid. There was an iron discipline and complete separation between officer, noncommissioned officers and sailors. Only in some cases, very rarely, one could establish a less rigid report structure between sailors and officer. The superior officers were from noble families, and some displayed scarce attitudes to collaboration and poor understanding towards the crews. In the Navy life was characterized by very authoritarian relationships. But despite all of this, I always tried to behave myself in the better possible way; I was considered a very disciplined sailor, with the uniform always in order, shiny shoes and hair always to place.”
How was the food aboard and in the bases? Particularly it would be interesting to know more something on the menu, on the wine, the liqueurs, the seasonal foods
“In the naval bases the food was nor particularly good, neither abundant, while on board the kitchen was decidedly better. Each sailor was entitled to about 7 ounces of bread, pasta, risotto, minestrone, meat, fish, meats, cheeses and vegetable, fruit of season; wine, and for the those who like it, coffee. At times, for special occasions, parties or special events we were served a special meal which included dessert.”
What was your technical specialization and was life aboard the repair ship Quarnaro?

“I was specialized in mechanical repairs: electric and gas welding. In combat, I served as an assistant gunner. To the morning the alarm was called at 5.00, then followed breakfast, assembly, row call, jobs assignments, and finally to the shop. The team included militarized civilians; a team leader, a mechanic and two assistants.

Our intervention was always timely and effective and we worked on any type of naval unity, but the job was brutal and demanding, and there was always a sense of urgency.”
Do you remember your various uniforms?

“The uniforms were four: summer, winter, cruise and work.

The summer uniform was all white, the cloth was made out of gaberdine, pure cotton, completed by a collar in blue with two small side stars and two white strips around, a white flex and a black handkerchief. The beret had a white cover.

The winter uniform was instead of dark blue cloth, with a blue beret with a ribbon around it with the name of the unity. The cruise uniform was of white rigid cloth favato, on the collar and on the wrists there were two blue strips, and the beret was of the same shade.

The job uniform was in colonial style, with beret of the same color. This uniform was of poor quality, while the first three uniforms were manufactured with cloths of good quality. The whole attire was given in endowment during the dressing and included: 4 sailor jackets (summer, winter, cruise, work), 4 pairs of pants plus one pair of shorts, 2 bodices in white cotton, 2 dark blue wool sweaters for winter, 2 pairs of underpants; four pairs of stockings (2 black pairs and 2 white pairs all in cotton), two pairs of black tall shoes, a pair of job sandals, a jacket of black cloth, a raincoat of black waxed cloth. Naturally every deteriorated item was replaced by one new.

Every uniform was adequate to its use. For instance: in the engine room we used the colonial overall, while for the free exit, according to the season, we wore the summer of winter cloths. The cruise uniform was only worn while at sea.
Do you still have your uniforms?
“Unfortunately my uniforms don’t exist anymore, since it has been many years since the end of the conflict. But I feel nostalgia for them, also because they would remind me of my youth.”
Do you remembered if some of your fellow sailors had altered their uniforms to make them more practical?
“It happened quite often. If the uniform were too large, one would have it fir.
Do you remember the relationships between the world of politics and the Navy. Is it true that the Marina was the less fascist of the armed forces?
“In a certain sense the Marina was the less politicized.”
Do you believe that the Navy was really faithful to the monarchy?
“Aboad, one could feel something to this effect, but personally I have never taken any interest of these matters.”
Is there a particular story or event that has been left engraved in your memory of the time you spent in the Navy?

“Certainly. I immediately remember the sinking of the ship ” QUARNARO ” in Gaeta and the period following. On September 8th 1943, general Badoglio signed the armistice with the allies. It is in that of that fatidic day that, in the late afternoon, German troops showed up near the base and they immediately tried to take possession of the QUARNARO. Our commander, Captain P. Milella, ordered the crew to get ready, go to station and get ready to reject the German attack. We fought from late afternoon until the following morning (10:00 AM). We suffered losses; the Germans struck with their antitank guns power generator producing a leak to port side. The ship started taking water and heeling over to the side. Then we were forced to the surrender. The whole crew was made forced ashore. The moorings were cut and once freed from the dosk, the ship sank in the inner-harbor of the port of Gaeta. Meanwhile the allied troops had occupied Naples and a good part of the Thyrrhenian coast..
After a brief period of disbandment, I wanted to continue my military duties in the service of cobelligerent Italy and I enlisted with the 1st Naval Detachment of the Regia Marina, enlisting with the landing troops of the Navy, the San Marco Battalion, Regiment Bafile. Soon after, we were attached to 8th British Army, which was deployed in southern Italy.

I was sent to the British weapons school were I became a sharp shooter. My first assignment was to the Adriatic front, where I was assigned to routine patrols. Following the occupation of the Adige region by the Folgore Division, I was assigned to the Val Sarentino. The uniform we wore in that period was completely British, gift of the British Command to the whole Division. I moved then to Puglia where, abandoned all weapons, I was assigned in the service of Military Police to Trani and Taranto, up to my discharged which I obtained in the beginning of March 1946.”

What did you do after you were discharged?

“First, I reached my sister, the only member of my family still alive. I found her in Casale Monferrato, in Piedmont.

I immediately enlisted with the “Veterans and Partisan Office”, and for a brief period of time, they succeeded in finding me a job. Later on, a large establishment hired me with the qualification of mechanic, and I remained with them up to my retirement.
For a long time as was a member of the local veterans group, but then a was assigned to a different job location, I lost contact, end eventually all these offices closed.
Is it still in contact with old fellow sailors?
“No. By now too many years have passed, but I would like to find some of my friends and together remember those moments!!!

Our special thanks to Mr. Angelo De Angeli.

Activities of the Italian MAS and pocket submarines in the Black Sea: 1942 – 1943

At the end of March 1942, at the time of the German offensive in Crimea and the imminent attack against the well-defended naval base of Sebastopol, the German high command realized the need to have sufficient numbers of fast smaller units, and a substantial number of pocket submarines, to provide for the defense of naval traffic along the southern cost of the Crimean peninsula and within the Sea of Azov. Since the Germans were unable to provide for the necessary means to complete this task (at the beginning of spring 1942, the Germans sent to the Black Sea utilizing the Danube a small number of shneellboats and coastal submarines), Admiral Reader requested assistance from the Italian naval command, in this far away sector, (but also on Lake Ladoga) with a mixed flotilla of MAS, pocket submarines, and explosive motorboats.

These were means tailored to oppose the frightening Soviet fleet of the Black Sea, which included a battleship (Pariskaja Kommuna), four heavy cruisers (including the Molotov, built before the war by Italian designers), ten destroyers (including some larger ones, like the Kharkov Class), the Tasken, 29 small and medium submarines, and numerous patrol and transport units. Favorably impressed by the numerous successed obtained by these kind of vessels in the Mediterranean, Reader had good reasons to consider the Italian contribution more than positively (it should be considered that the first official request for Italian participation in the Black Sea was made by the German admiral on January 14th, 1942 in expectation of the great German offensive in southern Ukraine). For the record, it should be noted that during the period of German-Italian collaboration (1940-1943), this was the only time in which Germany made a specific request for intervention because of “the superiority of the light surface and underwater torpedo crafts of the Regia Marina in comparison to what we had” (Reader). In order to compensate for the prolific activity of the German U-Boats in the Mediterranean (sent starting in 1941) against the British forces, The Italians did not want to let their ally down, and Admiral Riccardi gave immediate orders to send 4 MAS (with a displacement of 24 t.), 6 submarines class CD (35 t.), 5 torpedo-motor boats, and 5 explosive motorboats.

The three units were grouped into the 101st squadron and incorporated for the transfer into the Moccagatta convoy. The assault fleet was placed under the command of C.F. Francesco Mimbelli. It was immediately realized that the greatest problem was the transfer of the equipment to the Black Sea. In fact, the only possible solution was to transport the vessels over land since, as it is known, the Dardanelles were interdicted by international convention to all military traffic. In attempting to solve this difficult problem, the Navy gave proof of great abilities and creativity by creating a special convoy of 28 vehicles, 3 tractors, and 9 trucks.

After having successfully mastered numerous obstacles and difficulties (the drivers and the soldiers had to, in some cases, demolish and rebuild constructions along the way thus allowing for the transit of the large vehicles), the convoy reached Vienna where the vessels were slipped into the Danube, eventually reaching the Rumanian port of Costanza on May 2nd. From this point, with a fast and uneventful transfer, the Italian units finally reached the Russian port of Yalta which became their first operational base.
A few days after their arrival in this port located on the southern shores of the Crimean peninsula, the Italian units were ready to intervene against the numerous Soviet military and transport ships present in the sector between the fortress of Sebastopol, the Strait of Kerch, and the bases of Novorossijsk and Tuapse.

From May 1942 to May 1943, the Italian units performed intense and brilliant activities, scoring several sinkings and earning the respect of the German ally and the Russian enemies alike. On the 11th and 13th of June, 1942 the MAS torpedoed a 5,000 t. steamship (and sank it) and a troop transport of about 10,000 t., later finished off by Junker 87s (Stukas) of the German Air Force. Divided for security and tactical reasons between the bases of Yalta and Feodosia, the Italian units had to deal with the ferocious Russian aerial offensive which had more that 700 fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance planes in that area. Since the Italian forces could not count on an adequate defense (the Germans were fiercely engaged against the fortified bastion of Sebastapol and Balaklava first, and the Mariupol, Rostov, Krasnodar frontline later), the MAS and the pocket submarines experienced many losses.

At sunset on the 13th of June, a group of Soviet fighter-bombers Yak e Ilijushin, assisted by six motor torpedo boats, caused the loss of the submarine commanded by S.T.V. Farolfi. The loss was almost immediately compensated by two brilliant victories by the Italian forces: on the 15th and the 18th , during a night action, CB 3 and 2 (pocket submarines) torpedoed and sank, while they were traveling on the surface, the Soviet submarines S32 (1,070 t.) and SHCH 306 (705 t.).

On the 18th, the MAS had a day of glory, but also of bloodshed; two Italian units attacked a large column of motor barges directed to Sebastopol loaded with enemy soldiers and escorted by six gun boats. During the fight, which caused the sure sinking of a Soviet transport, S.T.V. Bisagno was mortally wounded aboard MAS 571. Between the end of June and the beginning of July, the Italian units participated, along with the Germans and the Rumanians, in the capture of Sebastopol and Balaklava. During these operations C.C. Salvatore Todaro distinguished himself by repeatedly attacking the numerous surface and submarine enemy units engaged in the evacuation of specialized personnel, political commissaries, and high-ranking officers of the Soviet army. During the gigantic battle which lasted from May to July, the four MAS completed 65 missions, while the motor boats and the pocket submarines completed respectively 56 and 24.

As proof of the daring and excellent performances of the Italian equipment and crews, on June 29th Admiral Schuster (Commander in Chief Group South of the Kriegsmarine) transmitted to Admiral Riccardi his personal congratulations, citing in an official radio broadcast “ the fighting spirit of the Italian crews under the command of C.F. Mimbelli”.
With the shifting east of the southern German armies, the Italian flotilla in the Black Sea also transferred its support bases to the east, consolidating its logistical positions in Feodosia and Iwan Baba. In the month of August, in concert with the activities of the Kriegsmarine’s motor barges and barges employed in the transport of men, weapons and supplies from the Crimean Peninsula to the western shores of the Sea of Azov (in support of the German offensive), the Italian MAS were asked to attack the enemy’s torpedo boats and gun boats on the lookout for easy prey.

On the night of August 2nd, southeast of Kerch, MAS 573 (C.C. Castagnacci), MAS 568 (S.T.V. Legnani), and MAS 569 (S.T. Ferrari) attacked the heavy cruiser Molotov (Kirov Class) and the destroyers Kharkov (Leningrad Class) out on a mission against German transports. The two large Soviet units, under the command of Adm. N.E. Basisty, suddenly came close to the coast opening fire with their 181, 122 and 100 mm guns against land-base targets between Iwan Baba and Fedosia. Having realized the imminent danger – an attack by an 11,500-ton cruiser armed with nine 181 mm guns against a flotilla of German barges in that sector would have meant disaster – the commanders of MAS 573 and MAS 568 decided to immediately attack the large units one after the other. While the first torpedoes failed, one of the two launched at a very short distance by Captain Legnani’s MAS 568 of hit the stern of Molotov which meantime had open an infernal barrage of fire with the 100 and 45 mm guns against the Italian vessels.

After hitting the ship, MAS 568 attempted to elude the enemy, but was followed at full speed by the destroyer Kharkov which had come to the aid of the Molotov. With quick thinking and nerves of steel, Captain Legnani ordered the ten small depth charges installed astern of the boat dropped just ahead of the Kharkov’s bow, damaging it to such an extent that the Russian destroyer had to give up the chase. Both the Molotov and the Karkow withdrew from the combat area returning east to their bases. MAS 568, which in less than 15 minutes had been able to disable both units, was also able to return to base (Yalta) despite being attacked by Soviet airplanes called to the scene by the glares of the explosions.

On the morning of August 3rd, MAS 573 and MAS 569 also returned to Feodonia. After this brilliant action, which caused serious damage to the Molotov, the ship, towed to the port of Bathumi was placed in dry-dock where it underwent two years of repair work and the complete replacement of about 20 meters of the aft hull which was obtained by the Russian engineers by cannibalizing the twin ship Frunze, at that time still under construction, and less serious damage to the Kharkov, the destroyer spent a few weeks in dry-dock. The Italian MAS completed 6 more missions, sinking a small steamship of about 3,000 tons. On the 9th of September 1942 after an official visit by Admiral Reader to the Italian base in Yalta, this was violently attacked by a group of Soviet bombers, which hit and sank MAS 571 and 573, a barge, and also seriously damaged MAS 567, 569 and 572. Between October 1942 and January 1943 (during the massive Russian offensive which brought about the German surrender at Stalingrad and the withdrawal from the Caucasus and the Don), the activity of the Italian vessels (including the submarines) was negatively effected by the events, and especially by a shortage of fuel. At this point, the Italian command decided to repatriate the crew, leaving to German sailors (previously trained in Pola and at the Isotta Fraschini factory) the vessels which were still utilizable. Nevertheless, between January and May 1943 the Italian forces kept fighting and on the 17th of April, during a German landing operation for the retaking of Novorossiysk, seven MAS (the units lost had in the meantime been replaced), along with German “shneellboats”, transferred to Anapa to lay a trap for Russian coastal traffic. On April 25th, after a few unfruitful fights, all operations in the area were suspended.

After abandoning the bases of Feodosia and Iwan Baba, too exposed to the growing Russian aerial offensive, the Italian MAS completed their last mission off Yalta. Thereafter, on the 20th, during an official ceremony, the Italians transferred their vessels to the Kriegsmarine. The last Italian-manned vessels left in the Black Sea were the CB in the new base of Sebastopol. Between June and August 1943, the CB completed 21 missions only one of which had a positive outcome (August 25-26). During this mission, the CB under the command of T.V. Armando Sibille was able to torpedo an unidentified Russian submarine. Thereafter, all submarines were withdrawn and moved to the Rumanian port of Costanza where, in August 1944, the Russians captured them in very bad condition.


Translated from Italian by Cristiano D’Adamo and Edited by Laura K. Yost

Italian Surface Raiders

History of the Italian plans to transform motorships into military units for war in the oceans from 1940 to 1943

After Italy’s foray into WW II (June 10th, 1940), Supermarina began a series of studies with the purpose of transforming a certain number of motor vessels of medium displacement, but with large range, into units modified to intercept and destroy British maritime traffic in the oceans.

These studies, which were considered part of a single project, did not produce any practical result since during the favorable first year of war, Italy failed, as we know, to seize the British bases of Suez and Gibraltar, which precluded the existence of Axis surface ships from the Mediterranean into the oceans.
However, since Italy had a certain number of hulls fit for this use and already placed outside the Mare Nostrum (the Italian and German merchant ships docked in neutral or friendly ports, such as the Japanese ones, were quite a few), the supreme command of the Italian Navy, even though with a great delay, decided in the summer of 1940 to begin a study. This study attempted to emulate the orders given by the Kriegsmarine relative to the creation and utilization of the so-called “auxiliary cruisers.” It should be noted that since 1939 Germany had created the first “raiders”, introducing them, since early 1940, into the oceanic trade routes.

On the 6th of September, 1940, the Project Office of the “Stato Maggiore” of the Navy generated a first list of three modern cargo ships, all belonging to the “Monginevro” class, (at the time, near completion at the “Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico” shipyard) and all fit for radical transformations. The three ships belonged to the Società di Navigazione Alta Italia and were in an advanced phase of completion (the first one was 99% complete, the second one 96% and the third one 92%). These ships had all the required characteristics for long missions (obviously after a few alterations), and, due to their structural characteristics, could easily receive the installation of the necessary guns, torpedo launchers, antiaircraft guns, and the equipment and the extra storage indispensable to a raider of the oceans.

The units of the Moginevro class were 124 meters long, 18 meters wide and had a drought of 7.40 meters loaded. The total displacement was around 5,500 tons with a capacity of 8,600 tons. The three ships could reach a maximum speed of 16.5 knots (and maintain 15), and had a range, at a speed of 15 knots, of 12,000 miles.

The engineers of the Regia Marina in charge of compiling a report on the characteristics of the hull under construction reported: “the deck is wide, quite unobstructed and it is quite suited for the installation of guns and mines… the silhouette of the “Monginevro” make us believe they will be seaworthy. The deck is wide and well-equipped, the quarters and stowage comfortable and in large quantity…” So, after a first analysis, Supermarina took positive, though incomplete, estimates and made assumptions (since the ships were not ready, they could not be actually tested) on the potentiality of these ships, moving on to an actual implementation plan to make them ready for combat.

It was thought to arm the ships in a manner similar to the one implemented by the German navy for the raiders. The naval engineers of Supermarina introduced the idea of installing six 152/40 guns (one near the bow, one near the stern, and four to the sides), two antiaircraft and anti-ship 37mm guns (on the boat deck, past the funnel), two 20mm AA guns (on the boat deck, or on top of the deck, near the compass), two 450 mm torpedo launchers (one on each side, installed in the hull about 5.5 m below the water line), and a smoke screen apparatus.
The selection of the 152 mm guns (weapons with a maximum range of 16,000 meters) was dictated by the need for a weapon of assured destructive capabilities against the hulls of merchantmen, and also for the need to respond to the guns of British light cruisers equipped with similar weapons. The 120 mm guns with which were equipped some Italian destroyers, at the time, and some auxiliary vessels (including the auxiliary ship Eritrea which operated in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean), were not selected, at least initially, because they were thought insufficient in facing large enemy cargo ships often equipped with 114mm, 120mm and even 152mm guns, or the British light cruiser of the Leander class often utilized to patrol oceanic routes.

To allow the Monginevro to locate their prey over the horizon with greater speed and ease, it was thought to install a hydroplane with folding wings, but this idea was later abandoned due to technical problems (boarding a plane would have required the creation of a gasoline bunker and other accessories which were expensive and voluminous). Regarding the offensive weaponry aboard, it was decided to equip the ships with 200 rounds and 5 star-shells for each 152 mm barrel, 300 shells for each 37mm guns and 6,000 cartridges for each 20 machine gun. In addition, over 600 explosive charges were to be placed inside the hull and the quick-work (the upper part of the ship extending from the hull) to provide for self-destruction in case of capture or severe damage.

The engineers of the Regia Marina in charge of the conversion of the “Monginevro” did not forget to plan for the installation of about 100 to 150 mines, of the Elia type, stowed in the stern hold. These mines would be lifted by cranes and transferred on specially constructed rails. The radio and signaling equipment would have consisted of the already existing radio equipment (a D/F fix, a 0.5 Kw transmitter, and a short and medium wave receiver). In addition, it was planned to install two additional receivers and a small radio.

Above the fore-bridge there was enough space for a model 60 or a model 90 discovery searchlight, possibly retractable, a signaling light projector, and an echo-sounding gear. The Monginevro’s fuel consumption was excellent (with a normal load of 770 t. they could cover over 12,000 miles at fast speed), but was not good enough for the Italian Navy engineers who wanted to increase the already excellent range by almost four fold, striving for a maximum range of 40,000 miles, or the equivalent of 5 months without calls. The plan called for the installation of an additional bunker for an additional 1,730 t. of oil fuel (for marine diesel engines).

The new bunker would have been installed on the hold’s dunnage, and in the forward and aft peak. Also, the Monginevros would have received large storage areas for flour and foodstuff, a refrigerated area, two ovens for the baking of bread, plus a large infirmary with a large selection of medicines. Also, to guarantee the good health of the personnel, one of the forward holds would have hosted a stable for a dozen milk cows and a large cage for about 50 chickens. Finally, the equipment for the new Italian “pirates” would have included a repair shop and spare parts depot.

The crews of the Monginevros would have included 12 officers, 10 petty officers, 14 sailors and mechanics, 42 sailors to man the guns, plus, if needed, 18 additional officers and sailors as crew for captured ships. Technical difficulties, politics, and financial issues did not allow Supermarina to go beyond a simple but highly detailed study for the transformation of the Monginevro, the Monviso and the Monreale. As it is known, the Italian Navy, since the very beginning of the war, had to concentrate all efforts on resolving multiple high-priority emergencies, since it had to face the toughness of the British Navy and Air Force.

During 1942, also considering the United States’ entry into the war, the project for the conversion of the Monginevros into raiders was definitively abandoned, leaving to the surviving German “Handels-Stor-Kreuzer” (cruisers for the disturbance of maritime traffic) the task of spreading panic along the oceanic routes.


Between 1940 and 1943, the Kriegsmarine successfully deploy several raiders on all oceans: Orion (10 ships sunk, including 2 in collaboration with Komet), Atlantis (22 ships sunk), Widder (10 ships sunk), Thor (22 ships sunk), Pinguin (32 ships sunk), Stier (4 ships sunk), Komet (6 ships sunk), Kormoran (11 ships sunk plus the Australian cruiser Sydney), Michel (17 ships sunk).

Atlantis was sunk by the British cruiser Devonshire in the Southern Atlantic Ocean (11/22/1941). Thor exploded following a fire in Yokohama (11/30/1942). Pinguin was sunk near the Seychelles by the British cruiser Cornwall. Stier sunk after a fight with the American armed ship Stephen Hopkins (9/27/1942). Komet was sunk near Cap the Hague by the British VAS N 236 (10/14/1942). Kormoran sunk after a fight with the Australian cruiser Sydney west of Sharksbay (11/19/41). Michal was sunk by the US submarine Tarpon near Yokohama (10/17/1943)

Military harbors, anti-ship and anti-aircraft coastal defenses

In 1936, after the conclusion of the victorious military operations against the Ethiopia of Haile Selassie, the Supreme Command of the Italian Navy, which during the 1935-1936 war had contributed to the success of Rome’s armies, faced the complex but inevitable problem of creating along the coastline of the new Italian Empire of East Africa a series of harbor structures and infrastructures capable of consolidating and protecting the vast new conquests.

According to the experts of the Regia Marina, Italy could guarantee a complete pacification and regular economic growth of this area only through the strengthening of the defenses of the main harbors in Eritrea and Somalia (Massaua, Assad, Dante, Mogadishu, and Chisimayu). Furthermore, it could also station two naval squadrons, including large surface ships, in both the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

Already from the time of the Ethiopian War, the engineering branches of the Navy and the Army had, in part, restructured the old harbor of Massaua and Mogadishu, but this work, which included amongst many other things hospitals, barracks and shops, a submarine battery charging station, twenty fuel tanks (distributed between Massaua, Assab, Dante, Mogadishu, and Kismaayo), two coal depots, six ammunition depots, two torpedo depots, two goods and water depots, and the transfer to Massaua of two dry-docks (one for 7,500 t. ships, and the other, smaller, for 1,600 t. ones), resulted insufficiently due to the evolution of diplomatic relations between France and Great Britain (considered, from an Italian viewpoint, quite negative). As known, these countries did not welcome the expansion of Italian interests into the Indian Ocean.

Toward the end of 1936, an emergency program was started to provide for armed defenses for the most important harbors (Massaua, Assab, Mogadishu, Kimaayo), but unfortunately, the plan was never completed due to lack of full funding at the time. However, between the period 1936 and the beginning of the hostilities (June 10th, 1940) the Italian Command of Massaua was able to set up a relatively complex network of defenses linked to a system of anti-ship and anti-aircraft guns, which was better than other fortified harbors (lookout posts, signaling stations, radio stations, identification and airplane sighting stations). In this case, the small and medium guns (76/30 AA, 74/40 AA, 76/50, 102/35, 120/45 e 152/45) were installed in the harbor area and on some of the islands that make up the archipelago facing the harbor (Dahlak Islands).

The guns were paired with nine 120 cm and 150 cm photoelectric cells. Passive defenses relied on minefields of “Bollo” and old Austrian mines (the weapons were laid on the bottom of the Dahlak Archipelago by the minelayer Ostia and the Colonial sloop Eritrea). One of the three gun batteries in Assab (Ras Garibale, Ras Gombo, Om and Baker) was also based on an island, Fatma, while the harbor was defended by two minefields laid by the destroyer Pantera. To protect the harbor (during the war, due to its proximity to Aden, the port was the object of numerous attacks by the British air force) there were some 13.2 mm machine guns. In Assab, it appears that there also were three 120 cm photoelectric cells. In total, on June 9th 1940 the Italian harbors in Eritrea were defended by 30 gun batteries (11 of medium and 19 of small caliber).

At the same time In Kisimaayo there was a very small number of guns: two 120/45, four 76/40, a 120/25 army field gun, and about ten 13.2 mm Breda machine guns (a large number of the guns was positioned on the ‘Snake’ and ‘Shark’ islands). Soon after the beginning of the hostilities, the base commander, Captain Fucci, made a proposal to the Italian Command in Addis Ababa to reinforce the site with 152 mm guns, relocating the existing 120 mm ones to Dante and Burgao; none of this was ever completed.

At the beginning of the war, the base in Mogadishu, and also in Dante, were far less protected (Dante did not even have a single gun). Mogadishu, despite being the largest city in Somalia, was protected by a single 120/45 battery of four guns manned by personnel of the Milmart (backshirt), and half a dozen 13.2 mm machine guns, while the city’s land defenses did not have a single gun. Over all, the Italian naval bases in Eritrea and Somalia could rely on 4,500 officers, non-commissioned officers, and rating in grand part deployed in Massaua.

After the fall of the large defensive bastion of Cheren (where for a long period, between January 31st and March 27th the Italian Army of East Africa had been able to repulse the advance of the powerful British army of the Sudan at a price of very heavy losses), the British armed divisions spread, with the support of the air force, into the entire region occupying Asmara (March 31st) and threatening the harbor of Massaua. This base was protected by forces completely lacking anti-tank weapons.

Expecting these dramatic events since the middle of January 1941, the base commander had opted to hurry the construction of new defenses (anti-tank ditches, gun batteries, etc) facing both the ocean and land in an attempt to resist as much as possible and expecting the imminent and inevitable collapse of the front in Cheren. The Italian command, aware that no aid could come from other sectors or from the motherland (it should be remembered that Italian East Africa was practically isolated from Italy since the outbreak of the hostilities), sought, before all, to rescue all the materiel and the weapons which could be located around the site.

In Massaua, Vice-Admiral Mario Bonetti (the base commander) improvised, creating some gun batteries utilizing four of the seven 120/35 guns of the torpedo boat Acerbi which had been seriously damaged during a British aerial attack, and also the twin-mounted 120 mm guns of the destroyer Leone which had run aground on a sandbank off the Dahlak islands.

Some very old Skoda guns (dating back to the end of the 19th century) were also placed into service. These guns were discovered in a warehouse and, by sheer luck, were also located, in the holds of a German ship in port, twelve 75/22 Krupp guns originally destined for the Emir of Afghanistan. Meantime, the base commander in Kismaayo was able to have some 25 mm home-made small anti-tank guns constructed out of inserts usually employed for firing smaller caliber shells in larger guns.

For antiaircraft defenses, officer and rating alike made themselves very busy constructing small batteries in which they placed gun mountings built on site utilizing few means and much imagination and equipped with 7.7 and 12.7 mm Breda Safar machine guns removed from seriously damaged and unsalvageable airplanes. At the beginning of the British attack against Massaua (conducted with heavy Matilda tanks armed with 88 and 122 mm guns, and troops of the 7th Anglo-Indian Brigade, 10th British Brigade, and troops of Free France) the Italian and Eritrean forces under Vice-Admiral Bonetti, and Generals Tessitore, Bergonzi and Carmineo (the hero of Cheren) had in total 6,500 soldiers and sailors, 80 artillery guns, 100 machine guns (including some 40/39 from the torpedo boats Acerbi and Orsini), plus the guns of the ships still in the harbor.

On Land

Quota 21 (4 76/40) from the tanker Niobe
Moncullo (4 76/40)
Otumlo (4 76/30)
Amateri (4 76/40)
M.Nadi (4 76/40)

I.Sceik-Said (4 76/40) multipurpose
Ma.173 (4 76/40) multipurpose
Ma.370 (3 102/35)
Maffei di Baglio (4 120/50)

On the Islands

Capo Grabau (3 120/45)
Isolotto Assarca (2 76/30)
I. Shumma Quarto (4 120/45)
Dahlach Chebir (4 102/35)
Isolotto Dur Gaam (3 120/45) 2 from the destroyer Nullo
I.Dehel (3 152/45 + 4 120/45)
I. Sceik-al-Abù (2 76/50)
I.Hamil (4 120/45)

On April 8th, after an initial assault was repulsed by Italian grenadiers and guards of the Fiscal Police (Guardia di Finanza) and a large number of British tanks, supported by artillery, broke through the defensive ring of Mount Massaua entering the urban area. Meantime, British air forces based in Perim and Aden hammered the last resisting bastions. Despite all this, some Italian troops attempted a desperate defense, but eventually they were overwhelmed, in large part because some of the guns with which the base was equipped could not be used because specifically positioned for anti-ship use.

On April 7th and 8th, when the city was already in British hands, the torpedo boat Orsini, even though it did not have all of its guns, bombarded up to the last shell the British motorized columns near Embereni at about 20 kilometers north of Massaua. After the fall of the base, some contingents of sailors, gunners, and machine gunners went on resisting, moving to the islands thanks to a cache of foodstuff and water accumulated beforehand. At sunrise on April 8th, a few hours after the British breakthrough, Vice-Admiral Bonetti, after having given orders to sink all ships at the opening of the harbor to close it, let a small flotilla of tug boats and barges loaded with provisions move to the Dahlak Islands.

On April 16th, Commander Pierantoni , the commanding officer in charge of the last troops resisting on the islands, opted for surrender, but not after having had all guns and weapons destroyed, and then ordered the cease-fire. About 60 soldiers decided to keep on fighting and, rescued by a small flotilla of dhows sent from Assab, went on to that base where they served under Commander Bolla. For the record, Assab (still defended by five 76/40, 120 and 152 mm guns, and about a dozen 13.2 mm machine guns, in addition to a few 65 and 77 mm field guns) was the last Italian naval base to surrender. This would not happen until June 11th, 1941 when, after a series of violent British aerial bombardments, the garrison was forced to surrender, but not before having shot down with the last 13.2 mm Breda machine gun still serviceable, a British light bomber Bristol Blenheim: the twenty-seventh shot down during the span of a wretched war.

Translated from Italian by Cristiano D’Adamo
Edited by Laura K. Yost

Far East

Italian submarines and surface vessels in the Far East

In the course of World War II, although with a very limited force, the Regia Marina Italiana was present in the remote waters of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. This presence, dating back to the Boxer Revolution of 1901, consisted of two gun boats located in Tiensin, the Lepanto and the Carlotto (1), along with some detachments of troops assigned to the defense of the small Italian commercial interests.

After Italy’s entry into the war, Supermarina (the Navy High Command) ordered some units based in Massawa, Eritrea transferred to the Far East. This move was the result of well-founded fear that the A.O.I. (Italian East African Empire) would soon fall, thus allowing the British to capture the Italian vessels. In February 1941, just two months before the fall of Massawa, the colonial sloop Eritrea (armed with four 120mm guns, two 40mm and two 13.2 mm machine guns) and the armed ships Ramb I and Ramb II left for Kobe, Japan or, as an alternate, Shanghai or Tientsin. The two Rambs, built as banana ships, were modern and fast and had been transformed into auxiliary cruisers with the installation of four 120 mm guns and some 13.2 mm anti-aircraft machine guns.

While the Eritrea and the Ramb II reached their destination eluding British patrols, the Ramb I was less fortunate and was sunk by the British cruiser Leander near the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean. Despite the partial failure of the relocation mission, the Italian diplomats and military attachés in Tokyo discussed with the Japanese authorities the possibility of utilizing the Ramb II as a pirate ship (like the German Kormoran).


The utilization of this modern and efficient vessel, which would have received some necessary alterations from the Kobe shipyard, was to be the interdiction of British traffic in the Indian Ocean. The ship, already since Massawa, was scheduled to receive several antiaircraft machine guns and a larger naval gun, such as a 120 mm or a 152 mm. Nevertheless, because of the strong opposition presented by the Japanese Navy, both the Ramb II and the Eritrea were left at their docks. Japan, at least until December 7th, 1941, the day of the sudden attack against Pearl Harbor, always wanted to avoid any confrontation with the USA and Great Britain. Only after the official declaration of war did the Japanese government allow the ship Eritrea to provide assistance to the oceanic submarines, which were arriving in Penang and Singapore from the very distant base in Bordeaux carrying rare goods (2).

Some Italian Merchant Marine ships, like the Conte Verde, which were in Japanese or Chinese waters at the time of the declaration of war, were not utilized or were employed by the Japanese, while others attempted to reach Bordeaux. This base (known as Betasom) was used by the 27 Italian submarines which operated in the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans from September 1940 through September 1943 against the Allied blockade.

Some of these merchant ships, similar to the Himalaya, succeeded in the very difficult endeavor of transporting to Europe a discrete quantity of rare goods, such as rubber, tin, and quinine, while others were forced to seek refuge in neutral ports. As we will see, the Italian Navy during the war, similarly to the German one, attempted to utilize submarines to exchange goods with Japan despite the high losses and small advantages.

On September 8th, 1943 at 2:00 AM (local time), the ship Eritrea was transferring from Singapore to Sabang in support of the submarine Cappellini , which had just arrived after a long and difficult journey to transport strategically important material to Tokyo. Having received a Reuter communiqué of the Italian surrender, the ship changed course for Colombo (Ceylon) through the strait of Sumatra avoiding the immediate and tenacious hunt by Japanese naval and aerial forces (3).

The other units deployed in the sector were:

Submarine Giuliani, C.C. Mario Tei and Submarine Torelli, T.V. Enrico Gropalli 4a were in Singapore already loaded and ready to set sail for Bordeaux. Submarine Cappellini, C.C. Walter Auconi, in Sabang ready to return to Europe. Submarine Cagni, C.C. Giuseppe Roselli-Lorenzini, coming from Bordeaux and in transit in the Indian Ocean bound for Singapore 4b. .

Gunboat Lepanto, C.C. Morante, and gunboat Carlotto, T.V. De Leonardis, were both in Shanghai, while the auxiliary cruiser Calitea II and Ramb II, C.C. C. Mazzella, were in Kobe for repair work. These last two units were scuttled on the 9th so not to fall into Japanese hands. The submarine Cappellini decided to fight along the Germans and the Japanese as part of the newly created “Repubblica Sociale Italiana”, but once escorted to Singapore it was captured. Despite the pledge of allegiance of the captain, Commander Auconi, Admiral Hiroaka interned the ship and captured the crew serving them inhuman treatments. The Giuliani and the Torelli followed the same fate, even if the crew, but not the officers, wanted to keep fighting along with the old allies. The only unit saved was the Cagni, which, made aware of the armistice, reached Durban in South Africa and surrendered.

Despite the awful Japanese behavior, many Italian submariners in the Indian Ocean kept fighting for several months. The Italian boats were transferred to the German U-Boat command in Penang and continued operating with a mixed Italian-German crew. After the German surrender, on May 8th 1945, about 20 sailors kept fighting along the Japanese (5).. For the record, the Torelli operated in Japanese waters until August 30th, 1945 and was even able to shoot down an American B-25 Mitchell, the last success of a “Japanese” naval vessel in War World Two.

1- The minelayer Lepanto was built in 1927. It had a displacement of 1,040 tons, a speed of 15 knots and was armed with two 120mm guns, 2 40mm machineguns and 80 depth charges. The gunboat Ermanno Carlotto was built in 1923. It had a displacement of 318 tons, speed of 13.5 knots and was armed with two 76 mm guns and 4 machineguns.

2- The first German ship able to break through the Allied blockade was the Weserland (6,500 tons), under commander Krage who on December 28th, 1940 sailed from Kobe with a load of rubber, wolfram, felt, vegetable oil, tea, coffee and pharmaceutical products. The Waserland crossed the Pacific, Cape Horn, the Atlantic and arrived in Bordeaux on April 4th, 1941 after 98 days at sea. At the outbreak of war, 14 German and 2 Italian ships were locked in the Japanese ports of Yokohama, Osaka and Sasebo and in the Manchurian port of Dairen.

3- Between 1942 and 1943 the shipyard Tosi designed and built two large transport submarines, the Romolo and the Remo, originally developed to reach the Far East. These two submarines (from 2,210 to 2,606 tons) were able to transport 610 tons of goods and had a range of 12,000 km. The Romolo and Remo were the only two of 12 units planned and were lost upon their first cruise, one sunk by airplanes and the second one by an enemy submarine.

4- During the second half of May 1943, just after the end of some structural work, the first Italian transport submarine left Bordeaux followed by a few others. The fate of these vessels was a sad one; Two, the Tazzoli and the Barbarigo, disappeared at sea after their departure, probably sunk by Allied planes. The Giuliani and the Torelli, caught on September 8th in Penang, Malaya were captured by German forces. The apparent disaster which had stricken the Italian forces did not impede the Japanese from capturing in Penang 355 tons of war material coming from Germany, equivalent to 55% of the total load of the 6 Italian vessels. On the other hand, the Germans never received the 377 tons of rubber and the 184 tons of felt already loaded on the Italian submarines. As a matter of fact, the Germans did not want to sail these worn down vessels back to Bordeaux.

4a – 4b- The Italian submarines based at Betasom which underwent transformations were actually seven.
Cappellini, Tazzoli, Finzi, Giuliani and Bagnolin, Barbarigo, and Torelli. The Tazzoli and the Barbarigo were sunk. The Cappellini, which had arrived in Penang on September 10th, 1943, was captured by the Germans and renamed U.IT.24. After May 8th, 1945 this unit was transferred to the Japanese who named it I.503. The Giuliani, which had arrived in Singapore in late summer 1943, was captured by the Germans and renamed U.IT.23. This vessel with a mixed Italian and German crew was sunk in the Malacca Strait in 1944 by the British submarine Tallyho. The Finzi, which in September 1943 was still in Bordeaux waiting for the completion of some repair work, was incorporated into the German Navy with the name U.IT.21. The vessel was never utilized as a transport and was sunk by the German in Bordeaux on August 25th, 1944 just before the arrival of Allied forces.

5- For the record, after May 8th, 1945 the Japanese captured and renamed the following Italian vessels, already in German hands: U181 (I.501), U-862 (I.502) U-219 (I.505) e U-195 (I.506). Similarly, the Japanese captured the Cappellini (U.IT.24) renamed I.503 and the Torelli (U.IT.25) renamed I.504


“German Warships 1815-1945″, vol. 2 ” U-boats and mine warfare vessels”

“Betasom: I sommergibili italiani negli oceani”

“The last year of the Kriegsmarine. May 1944-May 1945”

Maurice ROLE
HISTORIA, September 1990, n. 525, pagg. 6-17
“Les puissances de l’Axe et le Japon”

“Sommergibili della Seconda Guerra Mondiale”

Robert G. STERN
“U-Boot, Classe VII”

“Guida alle Navi d’Italia”, 1982