Bombing of La Maddalena

April 10th, 1943

Starting at 2:37 PM the Sardinian base was subjected to heavy bombing by 84 Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers of the USAAF.

The Heavy Cruiser Trieste in a picture from one of the B-17 bombers. The location is mistakenly identified as “La Maddelina”
(National Archives)

Since the sighting system in Piazza della Maddalena had neither aerophones nor radar, the bombers arrived practically unannounced. The alarm was sounded one or two minutes before the bombs began to fall. The aircraft were divided into three groups, each of which had a specific task: their targets were the submarine base and the heavy cruisers Trieste and Gorizia of the III Division, transferred from Messina to La Maddalena a few months earlier. 36 bombers (of the 97th Bomb Group) attack the Gorizia, 24 (of the 99th Bomb Group) the Trieste, 24 installations on land and the submarine base, where there were five boats moored (all belonging to the VII Submarine Group: the Aradam, the Sirena, the Topazio, the Dandolo and the Mocenigo).

The bombs, including 1000-pound (450 kg) ordnance, were dropped from an altitude of between 5,000 and 6,000 meters, i.e. outside the range of the anti-aircraft batteries defending the base. The raid was precise and devastating. The heavy Cruiser Trieste, hit bullseye, sank, and capsized after a couple of hours. The Gorizia, heavily damaged, remained afloat, but would never be repaired. The 24 “Flying Fortresses” of the 301st Bomb Group (32nd Bomb Squadron), tasked with hitting land installations and the submarine base, dropped more than two-hundred 500-pound bombs against docks and workshops: in all, over 45 tons of explosives.

The naval base of La Maddalena was reduced to a pile of rubble: the power plant, the submarine workshop, the torpedo workshop, the artillery workshop, the auto repairs workshop, part of the carpentry workshop, the winch room, the slipway, the shipping and accounting offices were almost destroyed; the officers’ and non-commissioned officers’ quarters, the barracks for the troops, the MAS barracks, the carabinieri barracks and the lighthouse warehouse are seriously damaged. Many docks were devastated by bombs and collapsed.

The whole base, or what was left of it, was without electricity; Telephone and telegraph communications were largely interrupted. Two seaplanes of the III Division, MAS 501 and 503 (which were under construction), six boats and all the vehicles under repair, were shattered under the bombs. The requisitioned motor sailers V 266 Eliana, O 88 Maria Pia and V 143 Carmen Adele (the first and last used for breakwater surveillance, the second to guard obstructions) also sank in the harbor. The accommodation and office of the submarine group leader and the “Faravelli” barracks, where the submarine crews were housed, are also rendered unusable.

In the midst of so much debacle, the submarines, finding themselves moored in the roadstead, remained miraculously unscathed; only one, the Mocenigo, was hit, but was not seriously damaged. Paradoxically, however, the submarines recorded several casualties and injuries among the personnel on land, involved in the bombing of the Faravelli Barracks and the naval base: the Aradam thus complained of two wounded. One of them probably died of his wounds a few hours later, as the twenty-one-year-old sailor electrician Emilio Poletti dell’Aradam, from Genoa, died on April 10, 1943.

Another thirteen injured, and five dead and missing, were recorded among the crews of Topazio, Mocenigo and Sirena, while the personnel of the Submarine Station (Maristasom) complained of three dead, one missing and two wounded.

At 9.15 PM, the VII Submarine Group informs Maricosom of the dramatic situation of its base in La Maddalena: «At 2.50 PM immediately air attack of which an objective east was the submarine base STOP Accommodation for both officers and personnel practically temporarily unusable STOP Submarine workshop and torpedo workshop hit in full by unused bombs STOP Units present only submarine Mocenigo drilled double bottom number 2 starboard oil box et tubing compensation external and double bottom air vent pipe number 2 starboard STOP Arranged except for counter-order submarine Aradam displaces immediately Bonifacio STOP Arranged appropriate thinning out of other units STOP On submarine Mocenigo et submarine Topazio it is not possible to use STOP works I propose transfer other headquarters alt Units present from 08.00 current will all perform continuous radiotelegraphy listening STOP Lieutenant Vascello Garofani Luciano Lieutenant G. N. Vigiari Carlo Maggiore G.N. Sini Mauro Second Lieutenant Vessel Sella Gregorio wounded STOP Reserve to communicate number of victims and wounded STOP Submarine Sirena not currently in condition given number of wounded personnel perform mission alt».

Overall, the bombing of La Maddalena caused over 160 deaths and 250 wounded among the personnel of the Regia Marina, mostly among the crews of Trieste and Gorizia. Four carabinieri in charge of guarding the base and four militarized workers also died. On the other hand, the village of La Maddalena, where there were no victims among the civilian population, had been spared; However, fearing other and less precise bombings in the future, after this attack the inhabitants of the town would flee “en masse”.