Interview with Gesuino De Montis a crewmember of the R. Smg. Console Generale Liuzzi

These memoirs were collected by Liliana Marconi.

“I was twenty years old on June 10th, 1940, when the war broke out and I found myself already on June 16th on a mission as a torpedo man of a crew of 7 officers and 50 non-commissioned officers and sailors, on the submarine “Console Generale Liuzzi” of the Italian Royal Navy, sunk in combat on June 27th, 1940.

My unit had been assigned to operate in the eastern Mediterranean, in a patrol area off Famagusta, between Alexandria, Egypt, where the British base was located, and Ismailia, with the task of attacking enemy ships sailing between Cyprus, Syria and Egypt.  After 9 days of mission, on June 25th we were ordered to transfer to the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, our submarine was ocean-going and was one of the largest: we had a cannon, a machine gun and 16 torpedoes on board.

Towards dusk, between Cyprus and Heraklion we were sighted by 5 British destroyers. I was in the bow when I heard the alarm siren. We descended with a rapid dive to 100 meters but were charged with ten depth charges. Then we continued to descend to a depth of 120 meters and another charge of ten bombs arrived: 180 kilos of TNT each. It was the end of the world. We continued our descent to 150 meters, but more bombs arrived: we counted a total of 60.

The submarine was by then unmanageable, all the instruments on board were destroyed as well as most of the equipment. Our commander, Lieutenant Commander Lorenzo Bezzi, when we were already at a depth of 190 meters, decided to surface. The situation was very critical: immersed in total darkness, with broken and overturned equipment; A scary thing.

The captain with the chief engineer gave the order to emerge and since we were no longer able to defend ourselves, once we emerged, he ordered us to get out of the submarine through the conning tower because the submarine was now about to sink. We, who were in the bow, came out last. Then the captain ordered us all to jump into the sea because no one wanted to abandon the submarine. With his order “Throw yourselves all into the sea” we were forced to obey and jump into the water. Immediately some destroyers bombarded us with a couple of cannon shots: one hit the bow. The captain, when he saw that we were all at sea, returned to the interior of the submarine and locked himself in it, going to the bottom with it.

He was decorated with the gold medal for military valor and the Non-Commissioned Officers’ School of Taranto, which is the most prestigious in Italy, bears his name in his honor: Lorenzo Bezzi.

Those who were close to the destroyers were taken on board and made prisoners. We, on the other hand, who were in a more distant area, were not spotted immediately and I remained in the water for almost 5 hours. By then it was night: a stormy sea was pushing me up and down and I did nothing but pray to God and Our Lady. I felt that my strength was leaving me, I was exhausted, and I couldn’t take it anymore: when I already thought I was going to die, I saw a large shadow approaching; It felt like a mountain, and I lost consciousness.

Instead, it was a destroyer that rescued me and took me on board: I regained my senses while they revived me. The doctor gave me injections and I realized that only three of us survived. I still remember the words of my companion who said to me: “Come on De Montis, we are safe.”

They disembarked us in Alexandria, Egypt, and from there took us to Ismailia near Suez as prisoners of war; after four months they took us to India, about a hundred kilometers from Bombay, where I spent 5 years of captivity: 5 years behind a fence is very hard! It was not life… It seemed like these years would never end.

During my imprisonment in India, I always asked about a friend who had been on board the Tigre and was in Ethiopia at the time. His name was Novario Mura and I learned that he had also been captured and that he was in the prison camp located in front of mine, at a distance of about sixty meters. I immediately ran and looked for him and found him, but to my great amazement he did not recognize me immediately. I had to remind him who I was, but he remained almost indifferent and told me that he could not believe what I said, because he had learned from the newspapers and from the family that I had died in the sinking of the submarine. It took a while to convince him that it was me, his great friend of all time, and that fortunately I had survived.

The funeral program mentioned in the interview

Novario then told me of the great pain of my family and of the Mass in suffrage that they had celebrated on August 12th, 1940, during which, according to custom, they gave all those present the funeral program with my photograph. When I returned home, after having communicated by letter that I was still alive, no one told me that they had believed me to have died in combat, but I found – kept in a drawer – the program that had been given during the Mass in my suffrage and which bore these words:

“Gesuino Demontis, fallen in an action of war in the sea of Rome. Present in our hearts that do not weep but proud to have offered as a holocaust to the Matherland, so that it may be ever greater, what we held dear. Parents, brothers and sisters render with their funerals expiation the supreme tribute of religion and love.”

The official Commendation awarded to the torpedoman Gesuino De Montis

I thank God for saving me: 9 (TN they were actually 11) of my comrades died and I am now the only survivor still alive and, at 92 years old, I can say that I am still in good health.”

Aldo Fraccaroli: “Naval Photographer”

Aldo Fraccaroli, one of the greatest naval photographers of all time, was born on November 17th, 1919 in Trieste, Italy. For decades naval historians and casual viewers have admired the incredible work of this dedicated man. His father, Arnaldo, was a journalist for the large daily newspaper “Corriere della Sera”, while his mother, Lisetta Camerino, was a housewife originally from Trieste. During their residence in Trieste, Arnaldo was often assigned to foreign countries, amongst them Sweden and Hungary, while his wife received the support of her family. In 1925, six years after Aldo’s birth, the Fraccaroli family returned to Milan where Aldo entered school. He graduated, on schedule, from the “Berchet” lyceum (high school) in 1937.

Aldo Fraccaroli
The photographer retired in Lugano, Switzerland and passed away in March, 2010 at the age of 91

Life in the large Lombard metropolis was as far as it could be from the sea and the only exposure were vacations and trips aboard ships, such as the one on the Conte Grande, in 1933. It is in this period that Aldo Fraccaroli, using a Kodak “Hawk Eye” ,began taking snapshots of ships, including the first picture of a military vessel, the torpedo boat Grado.

After the first tries with the Kodak, Fraccaroli received a German Rolleiflex 6×6 with a Tassar lens. This was a real step toward professional photography. This was also the beginning of a long and illustrious professional life, which resulted in the establishment of a library of 3,700 volumes and the creation of one of the largest collections of naval pictures in the world, amounting to over 77,000 snapshots.

The first foray into international publishing circles took place after the great naval show in the Gulf of Naples (also known as “Rivista H”), which took place on May 5th 1938 with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in attendance. After the parade, the very respected Jane’s Fighting Ships published some of the pictures taken by the young photographer. This was a relationship which would last throughout the years, but which naturally had to be interrupted between 1940 and 1945. After the “Rivista H” Fraccaroli upgraded once again his equipment, acquiring another German camera, a Bentzin Permaflex 6×6 with exchangeable lenses.

Due to poor vision, Fraccaroli knew that he would have never passed the rigorous physical examination required to enter the Naval Academy in Leghorn, but with a new law passed in 1937, he was able to apply as an officer of the naval Reserve. He was admitted to the 1939 courses and he was at the Naval Academy of Leghorn when Germany invaded Poland. He entered service as sub-lieutenant in the commissary (purser) department; he would eventually retire with the rank of Captain.

After his commission, he served in the XII Minesweeping Flotilla based in Venice. In 1941 he was transferred to the XI Antisubmarine Group in Greece. In 1942, in part thanks to his frenetic activity as a photographer, Fraccaroli was transferred to the Ministry of the Navy in Rome. During the war period, Fraccaroli took some unique pictures, including those of the aircraft carrier Acquila, which, up to the present, remain the only testimony of the period. On the day of the armistice, Fraccaroli was in Rome and perhaps this fact explains the very poor photographic collection we have of the event surrounding the transfer of the Italian fleet to Malta and the sinking of the battleship Roma.

During this period of great confusion and civil war, Fraccaroli was able to return to Milan and complete his studies in Jurisprudence in 1944. In April 1945 he was able to return to duty for about one year and he finally retired in 1946. His journalistic activity began with articles and pictures published by the newspapers L’Italia and Il Popolo and magazines, such as Epoca. He also collaborated with the Reader’s Digest and began publishing quite extensively with Jane’s Fighting Ships.

In 1950 he published his first book, “Dalla piroga alla portaerei” and also translated part of A.B. Cunningham’s “Sailor’s Odyssey” into Italian (only the chapters relative to the war in the Mediterranean). In 1953, he was recalled to duty, but not by accident; his desire to return to the sea was immense and he had heavily lobbied for it. This was a small tour of duty, only three months, but yet another opportunity to take marvelous pictures. He would later return aboard Italian ships, but this time as a civilian journalist. His interest in naval affairs and his passion for photography continue to the present.

A few years ago, the renowned naval historian Erminio Bagnasco published under the Albertelli Editor label a book titled “Aldo Fraccaroli, fotografo navale”. Unfortunately for the non-Italian speaker, the book was published only in Italian, but it is strongly recommended not only for the excellent pictures, many of which were previously unpublished, but also for the pleasant narrative.

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 Mario Daneo. I Remember: ‘The War Diary of an Italian Submariner in Bordeaux’

Born in Fiume (this town, now part of Croatia, was at the time integral an part of Italy) on October 2nd, 1909, Mario Daneo entered the Italian Navy as a volunteer in 1929 at the age of 20. After five years in the service, Daneo left the Navy and entered civilian service as an engine officer for various Italian shipping companies. Called back to service during the war, Mr. Daneo served as a non-commissioned officer in the submarine service. After the war, Mr. Daneo returned to Fiume from which he then moved to Venice, living in Mestre until 1975, when he moved to Dolo, a small town not too far from Venice.

Mr. Mario Daneo in Dolo after retirement (Photo Marco Manfrin)

After 1987, Daneo resided at Dolo’s “Casa di Riposo”, a retirement home where he passed away a few years later. This short summary of Mr. Daneo’s life introduces us to a short manuscript he left to posterity and which we are pleased to present in a slightly edited version. In these memoirs written many years after the events, Mr. Daneo introduces us to life aboard an Italian submarine serving in the Atlantic and at the Italian submarine base of Bordeaux. Some of the dates, fogged by time, are not accurate, but the full meaning of the story remains. ——————————————————————————– I remember… We had just arrived in Venice with a load of 10,000 tons of corn, and docked under the silos. As usual, the first aboard was the shipping company’s agent for the customary paperwork, bringing along mail for the crew. In this manner, I received an express letter in which my wife let me know that five or six days earlier a representative of the Port Captaincy had come to my house with a green draft card. My wife told him that I was aboard the M/V Venier of the shipping company Sidarma. Accordingly, the representative held on to my card and began following my moves. It was May 7th or 8th and I was in Trieste where we loaded some goods (trucks, ambulances, ammunitions, food, two 120 mm guns, and two 20 mm machine guns) destined for Tripoli. Soon after, though, everything changed because during the journey the Ministry sent orders (we had been militarized) to continuously change our course. There were orders and counter orders and finally we found ourselves in Taranto. The city was under curfew and everything was dark. A raid by British torpedo bombers, I don’t remember if three or four, flew over our heads dropping torpedoes which hit an Italian battleship. What struck me were signals made by someone ashore with a flashlight to direct the airplane in the right direction for the launch of the torpedoes. People spoke of espionage or treason, but nothing came out of it. On this occasion came Mussolini with the High Command of the Navy to verify how all this could have happened, considering that we were only at the beginning of the war. We received orders from Rome to depart, escorted by two destroyers, but without being given a destination. As it was well known, there were posters both aboard and in the seaport, “Don’t talk! The enemy is listening!!” When we saw Mt. Vesuvius, we understood that we were arriving in Naples; here finally we docked in the military area. The following day, a Navy sub-lieutenant arrived aboard with a sergeant major and delivered a draft card to the captain, “Why do I have to disembark if I am already militarized?” I asked my captain. The lieutenant who had come aboard explained that since the Nostromo, a sailor, and I were former volunteers and N.C.Os with specific skills in the Navy, we had to disembark

Mr. DANEO’s family in 1940. (Photo Marco Manfrin)

Meantime, several weeks had passed since we had arrived around the 12th or 13th of December. I had five days to report to the navy depot in Pula. On December 15th, I arrived home in Fiume and at 8:30 on the 19th, I left for Pula where I arrived in the afternoon at 2 p.m.; six hours of train at the time. I went to the navy depot where I presented myself to the office and delivered the draft card. A sailor escorted me to the second floor where there was a large corridor and I was placed in a large room; there were five more noncommissioned officers dressed in civilian clothes waiting for the medical. We stayed together two days and on the third day we were called up for a medical examination performed by a colonel. The visit consisted of the measurement of height and weight. I was hoping to fare well because of a gastric ulcer, but it was not to be so! After a few days, those of us who had passed the medical went to the tailor to have measurements taken for our uniforms. Due to the confusion that reigned in that room, every Saturday I used to go home by a bus that stopped in every town on the Gulf of Quarnaro: Albona, Moschiena, Laurama (my wife’s town), Abbazia, Volosca and Fiume. Every Monday I would return to Pula at 11:00 a.m. Every day but Saturday and Sunday we had a general assembly at 2:00 p.m. in the building in front of the depot. I was lined up with the other NCO’s when it was time to receive our assignments which were given based on the requirements of the various commands. Three of us were selected because we were more than 1.7 m. tall; then sailors and officers assigned to the San Marco battalion. Those of us selected were later on posted on a bulletin board located in the caretaker’s lodge listing the assignment and departure date.

The Regia Marina’s barracks in La Spezia.

I spent Christmas and New Year’s Day 1940 at home with my wife and 2 ½ year-old son. For me the order to leave came on January 15th; I was assigned to La Spezia aboard the submarine Morosini commanded by C. V. Fraternale (in reality, the commanding officer of the Morosini was C.C. Criscualo chlater replaced by C.C. Fraternale). On February 4th, 1941 I was in La Spezia at the submarine depot. We made the usual introductions with the other members of the crew. I was the second chief mechanic. On February 10th we left but did not know where we were going. After four days of navigation, we caught a glimpse of the coast: it was the Moroccan one. The Strait of Gibraltar was controlled by British corvettes during the day and light projectors at night. I remember that we did about 10 miles underwater, then continued on the surface. We arrived in the Atlantic. At a distance, with the binoculars, we caught a glimpse of the Portuguese coast. After two days, if I remember correctly, we were in sight of the French coast in the Gulf of Biscay. At 5 AM, we entered [the Gironde] with the French pilot escorted in military uniform as they say, on close watch. After three hours, we arrived in Bordeaux in the docks, like in Venice. Each dry dock could host two submarines. After a couple of days of rest, we received orders to get ready for a mission that could last two months.

Lieutenant Commander Athos Fraternale (Photo Elio Andò)

My boat was considered the “Oceanic” type because it was larger than those operating in the Mediterranean. In peacetime, the crew included 60 men, but in wartime it was 90, 30 more. The area assigned to each boat was 40 square miles, a diameter of 65 km. Aboard, water was rationed and was needed for the kitchen. We had one-liter canteens and they had to last 24 hours for drinking, washing, etc. We all had beards and, once a week, for those who wanted to shave, the barber had a little extra water, but it was more salty than fresh. The first days on the mission, we would eat bread loaded ashore; thereafter and for as long as the mission lasted, we ate only hard tack, which required good, strong teeth and a stomach made of concrete. The first mission lasted 55 days; nothing out of the ordinary took place and we returned to base. As established, half the crew received a 15-day license, plus a round trip journey of 4 days. The journey thus began from Paris in the upper Lorena and we would arrive in Meltz, a German city, to then cross the whole of Germany to arrive in Munich. From here, a new train would take us to the Italian border. To arrive in Trieste, we had to go through Bolzano, Trento, Vicenza, and Mestre near Venice. We used local trains with 3rd class cars with wooden seats, as one might still find, but only on secondary lines. It was September 1941. In the early days of October, we left again for a new mission. Once arrived in our area of operations in the middle of the Atlantic, we stopped our main engines and started the auxiliary one to produce light and recharge the batteries in the various compartments. At a given point, from the bridge we received orders to move (smoke at the horizon) and we proceeded. The captain checked the ship’s listing; it was a Dutch ship of about 4,000 tons for civilian use as a tanker.

The submarine Morosini

We moved into position and then submerged to 7 or 8 meters to use the periscope. Two torpedoes forward and two aft were ready for launch. We heard orders from the captain “fire one”, 15 seconds later “fire two”, and after 30 seconds, which felt like an eternity, we heard two large explosions, one after another, muffled at a distance; we had reached the target. We returned to the surface and the ship was listing to one side and stopping. The second torpedo had hit the extreme stern where the propeller was located. We got close enough to see the crew members lowering the life boats into the water and getting away from the ship and closer to us, asking to be taken aboard. The captain replied that this would not be possible because they were enemy shipwrecked. We got even closer and prepared the deck gun at a distance of about 800 meters and then sank the ship. It was February 1942 when we found ourselves again in an area of operations and sighted a merchant ship. We launched two torpedoes at a depth of two meters and they left a trail visible only with the binoculars. The ship, since it was armed, opened fire, forcing us to submerge to a depth of 30 meters. After two hours, we stopped hearing gunfire and returned to the surface. It was already late evening, so the captain gave order to return to the assigned area to continue patrolling. We assumed that the ship we had attacked was British, and that it had sent a signal to base. We were later attacked by a group of destroyers. Assessing the danger, we were given orders to crash dive. We were at least at 30 meters when the bombs began exploding nearby, then we went down to 100 meters. We stayed there, still, without even a whisper. The destroyers passed above us, and then passed again, continuously dropping bombs. I don’t remember how many hours we remained like this. This way, the captain made the British believe that we were hit, so they moved on. After many hours, we slowly returned to the surface. It was night when we could breathe a little bit of fresh air. After reporting the events to the base, we were told to return: By then it had been more than 50 days since our departure. Once on land, it became known that the “Barbarigo” and the “Finzi” were also returning to base. The captain of the “Barbarigo” thought that he had sunk an American battleship off the American coast. The escort destroyers stopped to pick up the survivors.

The submarine base in Bordeaux after the bombardment of June 1943.

The episode narrated refers to the bombardment of Spring 1942..
It was March 1942. At the base in Bordeaux, in addition to officers, N.C.O.s, sailors, carabinieri, and troops of the S. Marco Battalion, there were fifty workers from the Monfalcone shipyard for the maintenance of the submarines. Suddenly, the alarm went off. We all got out and sought refuge in the bunkers built by the Germans. Here, I lost a dear friend of mine whom I had known since 5th grade. We were always together. His name was Zanella and before being called up he was a municipal policeman in Fiume. He was very dear and cared about others to the extreme. He was part of the S. Marco Battalion and was eating when a bomb fell near the kitchen barrack. A fragment wounded a 15-year old French boy who was an assistant cook. Zanella, along with other sailors, picked the wounded up to take him to the other side of the basin [Bassin à Flot]. They had to pass over the locks which were the British main target. When, along with the wounded, they arrived at the second lock, a bomb shrapnel mortally wounded my friend in the back. I will always remember all he had on him: letters, pictures, mementos, wallet, etc. I took them and delivered them to his family who had already been informed of his death. With the locks broken by the British, the “bacin a flot” emptied out and the submarines were left listing with only steel cables holding them to the docks.

The Italian submarine base in Bacalan, Bordeaux (Photo U.S.M.M.)

September 8th, 1943. Fortunately, I was at the base. Everyone was astounded and speechless. The following day we were called in the square and our commanding officer, along with the general commander in charge of the city, gave us a long speech in which he informed us that those of us who felt like it could continue with their assignment as before. My friend Precis Palesano and I (he was a 3rd class Chief) looked at each other and decided to stay. Of the 2,000 personnel from the Navy, the S. Marco Battalion, Carabinieri, workers and specialists, more than 300 stayed. The others had to pack their suitcases and backpacks. At 16:30, five or six Germans came in and began loading all those who did not want to stay, and they were brought to a camp outside Bordeaux; whatever was not needed was taken away. More than one felt guilty and came back.

Mario Daneo in wearing the uniform of the “Reggimento San Marco” (Photo Marco Manfrin)

After the landing in Normandy, we received orders to withdraw. By chance, I was given the command of a truck. I had with me six sailors and the driver, a sergeant from the S. Marco Battalion. We had to follow the caravan of retreating Germans. Once in Poitiers, halfway between Paris and Bordeaux, we stopped. The Italian commander gave me orders to refuel and get two sacks of wood and coal for the boiler. I took advantage of the situation to ask a French merchant if he could procure me some topographical maps of the region. I reversed direction and went back on the same road we had come from. Map in hand, I turned toward a boulevard with trees alongside which led to a small wood, where I was sure we were under cover. Here I met two French, husband and wife, whom I would later take to Bordeaux because they had to continue on to Spain. I instructed the French to go to a nearby village to purchase white sheets and some paint. We wanted to make some French flags and armbands. Meantime, we attempted to get rid of our uniforms and dug a hole to bury everything. We left on the truck a Breda machine gun plus my small Beretta 7.65 mm and returned to Bordeaux. Here I reported to the Italian consulate and let them know where I had hidden the weapons. The following day, they went but did not find anything because local peasants had already taken everything. I told them I would have to present myself to the Consulate in Marseilles. They placed us in a large dorm on straw mattresses. We were fine for a few days. One day, while we were eating in the refectory, we heard a few machinegun shots from upstairs, more precisely from the dorm where I was located. A worker from the Monfalcone shipyard had shot himself in the mouth. I was one of the first to help him out. The same afternoon, the French police came by truck, sequestered the weapons, and took us to a German prison camp, just outside Marseilles. We were placed in barracks with about 40 people each. We had lice and slept on straw. Every morning, the French counted us and after 20 or 25 days the Yugoslavian delegation came asking us where we were from. I answered that I was from Fiume, others were from Gorizia or other Istrian villages. Five or six of us were transferred to another camp with the Yugoslavians. Thanks to them, we were able to make it to Fiume in a freight car. Here, I gave my address and they let me go. This was the end of my war. Mario Daneo

Our special thanks to Mr. Marco Manfrin, grandson of Mr. Marco Daneo who provided us with most of the material published.

Mr. Manfrin with his grandfather, Mario Daneo while visiting the US. (photo Marco Manfrin)

Interview with Commander Romano

Mr. Romano, I would like to thank you for having given us the opportunity to interview you. As we already mentioned, we are interested in the period 1940-1943.

Before answering your question, I must make a preliminary remark. I know that you see, with great diligence and depth, the events of the “Regia Marina” during World War II in the period 1940 to 1943. Allow me to remind you that for the “Regia Marina” the war did not end on September 8th, 1943 but continued on until April 25th, 1945. For some of us, it went on until 1946, when we were no longer “Regia”, but continued our small war clearing the seas of mines of any kind to reopen them to free navigation.

This last war was not one “en masse”, but I assure you that given the dangers of the underwater weapons spread out and the technical characteristics of the equipment used to neutralize them, this was also considered a war and recognized as such to all effects

Do you remember where you were the day war was declared? (June 10th, 1940)

I perfectly remember what happened on June 10th, 1940. I was an ‘avanguardista’ (a rank within the youth movement of the Fascist Party), musketeer, actually I was a cadet. I had the highest rank an “avanguardista” (from vanguard) could reach. My responsibilities were simple, for instance: in case of “general assembly” I would gather the largest possible number of “avanguardisti” and reach, running, Piazza Venezia. I underline on foot. For those who know Rome, running from Piazza Mazzini to Piazza Venezia is not a stroll!

Thus one might ask, “What was a general assembly?” Following a prolonged wailing of the sirens, all activist had to interrupt, wear their uniforms, and run to Piazza Venezia to listen to the Duce’s words. Then, we did not call him by his last name – Mussolini – but Duce, with the capital D. Not many general assemblies took place, as far as I remember three or four; indeed four. One on occasion of the levying of the sanctions against Italy (November 18th, 1935 if I am not mistaken), one for the conquest of Addis Ababa (May 5th, 1936), one for the proclamation of the empire (May 9th, 1936) and one for the declaration of war (June 10th, 1940). I was present at all of four general assemblies and “well” placed almost under the infamous balcony. This was because we made the journey really running, arriving at the place of the assembly before the square would become crowded by the “oceanic wave” of black shirts as seen on photographic documentation of the period.

On June 10th, 1940 it was the last time we heard the sirens in peacetime. Already the night of the 10th they went off for an aerial alarm. French airplanes flooded us with leaflets (which the following morning had disappeared by a miracle), and in the Piazza Mazzini neighborhood, where I used to live, fell an intense rain of shrapnel from our antiaircraft guns. This was my June 10th, 1940.

In an Italian movie recently released in the United States, that day was described as a moment of collective euphoria. Do you think that this description is exaggerated?

I haven’t seen the movie you mentioned, thus I cannot evaluate the level of euphoria described in the motion picture. One thing is sure, collective euphoria did exist in Piazza Venezia the afternoon of June 10th, 1940 and it is abundantly documented, but it does not count. In Piazza Venezia there were, in greater part, just us, very young schoolboys, the young Fascists (18 or older), the university students, the activists from the neighborhoods’ Fascist groups, and a large number of militia and black shirts from a great variety of social backgrounds and all relatively young.

Of course we were excited by the thought of war against the “hated plutocracies”, which would have inevitably concluded with our final victory as in Abyssinia (1935) and Spain (1938). “The word of the day is Victory… and we shall win!” (this is an exert from Mussolini’s speech) But outside Piazza Venezia everyone was shaking their heads with very strong doubts about the future. The most doubtful were those who had lived the affairs of the First World War. Reflections ranged from making sacrifices, to grief and destruction, to the realization that we were not ready to face a war, even though I believe that that day no one – because you are asking me about the collective euphoria of the 10th of June – had any ideas about what would actually happen.

Victories in Abyssinia and in Spain, and those of Hitler’s Germany, exalted to the highest by Fascist propaganda, inebriated and made us feel proud, and the idea of “breaking the enemy’s back” made us particularly euphoric. But, as early as the night of the 10th of June, the presence of enemy airplanes over the skies of Rome dimmed the enthusiasm of many, but not all, and numerous were the requests for voluntary draft or voluntary transfer to a war zone. Numerous draftees for every armed force were forcefully recalled, or kept in service, and the Italians, euphoric or not, answered the call, did their duties, faced great sacrifices than had previously been forecast. Everything considered, they did their best. If things have gone the way they have, we now know whose responsibility it was.

Probably during the first year of war you were still a student; what do you remember of the war bulletins or newsreels by LUCE. Was radio important?

I remained behind a school desk until May 31st, 1941 when with a stroke of pen the final exams were abolished and the school year closed with a regular assignment of term’s marks as if it were a regular class. My memories of the time? Every day at 1:00 PM the war bulletin, called “Official Communiqué”, was radiobroadcast in all classrooms and we listened while standing. Honestly, I must say that listening to “…one of our submarines did not return to the base”, we youths were not conscious of the military tragedy, and most of all the human one which was concealed behind those words. What we knew of the war was what the official communiqué said, and a few comments, always positive, which would appear in the newspapers, and also what was shown in the movie theaters, just before the movie (newsreels by LUCE). These last one, were always referring to events of a few weeks earlier and always covered successes of our armed forces. The radio, in addition to the communiqués of 1:00 PM and the news also at 1:00 PM and at 8:00 PM, broadcast only music of various genres, a few variety shows, a few plays and some operetta. All was rigorously broadcast live and usually from EIAR with offices on Via Asiago in Rome, or some other city (Turin, Milan, Naples, Palermo).

Now and then, taped music “…we broadcast reproduced music…” was also broadcast. At night there was a “short commentary of today’s events; Politicus speaking”. Right now I don’t remember which commentator was hiding behind this pseudonym, perhaps Mario Appelius, but the comments were always positive. There was absolutely no political debate. For the record, the identification signal exchanged by the various stations when they connected to the network was the chirping of a bird, different from station to station, and which inspired a famous song. But let’s return to the war bulletins, news in the papers, in a word diffusion of news about the progress of the war. I will not dwell on comments. Let me show you a clipping from the newspaper “La Stampa” of Turin dated April 1st, 1942, that is to say three days after the tragic night of Cape Matapan. In this clipping is reported bulletin number 297. Also, let me show you the radio program for April 2nd published by the “Corriere della Sera”.

Any reflection is up to you. Keep in mind that the first pages of the newspapers of the time were headlined in large print with the visit to Italy of the Japanese Foreign Minister Mr. Matsuoka. Nothing can be found about Matapan in addition to what I have already shown you. I would also like to remind you that in those days a radio was something that very few owned. The use of an external antenna was indispensable. In some lucky locations one could use, as an alternative, the box spring of a bed. Reception was not always good. Those owning a radio were easily identifiable.

Why am I saying this?

Because, for instance, Jews were not allowed to possess radios. They had them, but could not use them due to the noticeable outside antenna. Anyway, the most fortunate amongst the Italians had “powerful” radios (6 or 7 tubes) and could, even with the box spring, dial in secret into Radio London (the one with an identifying tune very similar to the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth symphony) and receive some news from the other side. This news, naturally, was exaggerated to the opposite.

Why did you decide to enter the Naval Academy? Was this a decision dictated by a family tradition, or a voluntary choice?

My father was an officer (originally a non-commissioned one) from the signal station corps. He took part in World War I, fighting in the trenches with the San Marco battalion, and then had followed a career path with the signal corps. As a senior non-commissioned officer, he was the chief of station of some signaling posts and my mother and I, who were his family, followed him. In particular, at the Anzio station I spent my early years and my adolescence in daily contact with the signalmen group and the operational activities of the signal corps, which were essentially based on surveillance and optical and telegraphic communication. All this had surely left an imprint on me and with the years it transformed into a desire to enter the Navy through the main door, that is to say participate in the national competitive examination to be admitted to the Naval Academy. Therefore, my choice was fully my own and the only “suggestion” I received from my father was “study, study, study!”

Here I would like to remember that my father, after the period in the signal corps, participated as a volunteer in the Abyssinian War for about two years, and in 1939 in the Italian landing in Albania where, already an officer, he organized ex-novo the Albanian signal network. After a brief period in Rome at the Ministry of the Navy, in 1940 at the beginning of the war he returned, again as a volunteer, to Albania where he stayed until March 1943 when he was sent back home due to an illness contracted while in service and of which unfortunately he died.

But let’s go back to the “recommendations” of my father. I followed them to the letter since algebra, geometry, and trigonometry taught in high school were completely insufficient to pass the “killer” examination.

The announcement for the national competitive examination for the Naval Academy.

As soon as the national competitive examination was announced, I signed up. Actually, my parents did (I was 18 and legal age was 21), presenting a request for admission to the “preliminary training”. I passed the first medical in Naples, and a much more severe one in Leghorn. Finally, on July 9th, 1941 I crossed for the first time the gates of the Naval Academy, thus beginning my life in the Navy.

Training lasted about three months during which we conducted the same life as the cadets. We were taught again algebra, geometry, and trigonometry with daily lessons, tests, and oral exams. There was intense sport and sailor-like activity, and at the end, after a series of oral and written exams which were heavily weighted toward the evaluation of the “professional aptitude”, one would arrive at the yearned admission. It should be mentioned that, usually, despite the very large number of candidates, the placements available were not all filled. This is proof of the severity of the selection which did not take into consideration the strong need for young officers to replace the numerous casualties caused by the war.

Admission to the academy, about which I just spoke, was not for sure; one could always be dismissed, especially after the first year of attendance, for good reasons, suddenly, and without possibility of appeal.

During this period, cadets had to pay a monthly boarding fee, and an assessment fee for the equipment which was distributed during the three years of attendance, and a payback for eventual medicines, extracurricular material, and damages (even a broken plate). Furthermore, the cadet could go on short leave (twice a week) and the family had to contribute a small sum of money, which was used for the “purse” about which I will talk later. Age limits to enter the academy were quite restrictive. Nevertheless, there were a very limited number of seats available to non-commissioned officers with the necessary degree and with a maximum age of 25 years. Thus it happened that in my course were admitted two second chiefs, one of whom, the more advanced in age of the whole course, got the nickname “grandpa” (he was 25 and we were 18 or 19!), and “grandpa” he remained to us to the end of his days.

He was an important point of reference for all of us, a rock like those of the Dolomites from which he came. His wisdom, his calmness, were soothing moments to our boyish escapades, Yes, because amongst the austere walls, with the discipline, we were also 18-and-19 year-old boys. Grandpa had always been assigned to submarines. After a year of war he disembarked from, I believe, the Toti to be admitted with us to the academy. Forgive me this interlude not concerning your question, but going back to my past so many windows open and it is difficult to immediately close them all. Please, go on with your questions.

It is said that the academy was quite hard; long hours studying, much physical activity, and the unceasing desire to complete the courses to participate in the war. Are these mythologies or facts?

You asked me a question to which, due to the nature of the interview, I should give a short answer, but here again so many windows open up bringing back, reliving the years at the academy with the same intensity and participation with which I really lived them. Thus, I am afraid my answer will not be short. I shall not speak of the academy, but of “my” academy.

Behind the very elegant dress uniforms, the glowing red daggers with real mother of pearl hilts hid a life thought to be hard by those who had entered the academy with lesser convictions, but which instead was accepted, although with the inevitable whines, by those, like me, who had entered it with a strong desire to enjoy (in full breath) the most beautiful aspects and put up with a bit less enthusiasm, with the more rigid aspects. All is relative! The father of one of my course-mates, at the time a Vice-Admiral 1st Class who had entered the academy 40 years earlier, thought that “our” academy was not much different from a girls’ boarding school for young women from wealthy families.

My son, who entered the academy about 40 years after I did, thinks that my academy was comparable to living in the hard prison of the Cayenne (French Guiana). Throughout the years, the discipline and strictness applied in the academy have been proportioned with objective of transforming youths from a variety of social and scholastic backgrounds into men ready to consciously assume their responsibilities. One thing has never been absent from the academy in its 120 plus years of existence: inflexibility in regards to lack of loyalty and truthfulness. The disciplinary actions which derived and still derive are always the same: immediate termination. But let’s return to “my” academy.

Every day wake call at 0530 excluding Sundays when we were allowed another half hour of sleep. We slept in dorms for 60 cadets each.

0530-0600 Morning routine. Undo your bed, carefully folding sheets, blankets and pajama (making the bed was the “attendant’s” responsibility, characters those about whom I shall speak later on). Shaving was obligatory every day; no postponements allowed, not even for those who had not yet fully developed and had nothing to shave. During the morning routine, the non-commissioned officer on watch patrolled the dorms and he was the one to be asked for a medical check-up, or to call to report. “Mr…. called me to report for …..(in the Navy officers were always called by their last name preceded by “Signor”, or mister). I will give you more details later on.

0600-0630 Physical exercise in the courtyard.

Partial view of one of the “Studies”

0630-0725 study time, essentially dedicated to reviewing subject matters for the day’s lessons. The hardest part though was keeping the eyes open due to the strict watch by officers and non-commissioned officers who did not hesitate to call to report whoever was found “dozing off during study hours”. After all, getting used to fighting sleepiness was a not a subject matter but a hough thing to learn. Aboard, during the interminable sequences of four-and-four, meaning four hours of watch and four resting (so to speak), interrupted by alarms, action stations, cease action station, watch below, etc. one had to be used to keeping the eyes open and take advantage of the first five minutes available to catch up with a bit of sleep. But let’s return to my academy.

0725-0730 Brief break. All of five minutes!

0730 General assembly (in the courtyard) by section and lined up and then running to the mess for breakfast. The ritual into the mess was always the same; we entered running (a light run), we lined up at attention behind our chair (each table with about 10 cadets). “Hats off”, “sit down”. At the end of the meal “stand up”, “Hats on”, and lined up, running, we would leave the mess.

0745-0800 break. The cadets who had requested sick bay lined up and went to the infirmary for a medical check. Whoever had been called to report presented himself to the secretary of his class and waited to be called by the commander of his course to receive a good telling off, but not the disciplinary sanctions. These one would only be known at the general assembly at 1245, and I will describe it later.

During this break we also used the “patcher”, attendants who, with their toolbox, sat in the internal gallery for small patches, sewing (buttons, etc).

0800 Assembly, inspection of the uniform, hair, beard, and every other day physical exercise at the parallel bars the rope, or “battle station” at the brigantine interred in the courtyard, but identical to a real one for both sails and maneuvering.

“Action station” on the brigantine and the “rope”

0830 Beginning of the lessons. Each course was subdivided into sections of about 30 cadets and they carried on their activities, scholastic, athletic, and military, just like a regular high school class (in Italy a class is never separated and all students take the same courses). Class lasted 55 minutes. 5 minutes were needed to move from one classroom to another or from one building of the academy to another, always lined up and running. To us officers (deck officers) during the three years of a regular course were taught subject matters of the first two or three years of the faculty of engineering. In addition, subsidiary subject matters like trigonometry, visual navigation, astronomical navigation, gun ammunitions, naval guns, ballistics, explosive chemistry, underwater weaponry, naval architecture, thermodynamics, naval equipment, telecommunications, engine (machinery), equipment and maneuvering, staffing, naval history, and for now I don’t remember more, but the list is not complete!

Practice was required for all subject matters, exams, assignments and naturally written and oral examinations in February and final exams in June (in most cases both oral and written). Saturday afternoons were dedicated to class assignments; on rotation navigation, both optical and astronomical, quizzes (so called “the Americans”) in all professional subject matters.

General assembly for the reading of the “rewards and punishments”

Having completed morning classes and placed our books back into our school desks, at 1245 we had the “general assembly” for the three courses in the courtyard in the presence of the second in command or the third in command of the academy for the reading of the “rewards and punishments” by the “brigadier” cadet, meaning the head cadet of the third class (the only one wearing the “regular” uniform with a sword instead of a dagger). Here, whoever had been called to report finally knew the disciplinary sanctions he had “gotten”: one, two, or three days of confinement. One, two, three days of simple arrest, or the same or more of close arrest. In this last case, unofficially, the cadet was hinted to resign. At the end of the general assembly, still running, we moved on to the mess while the small group punished with arrests, under the orders of a non-commissioned officer in charge of the prison, moved toward “Villa Miniati”, a pompous nickname for the prison building which for many years had been managed by Chief Miniati.

Then the mess ceremony as in the morning but with two variations:

at 1300 we listened, while standing at attention to the world bulletin. Each table, in a special folder, would have mail addressed to the members of that table. But the mail could not be read. We could read it only after the “dismissed” outside the mess.

And we are at about 1330. Up to 1425: break. During this time, weather permitting, we could go sailing (star, jole, olympic beccaccini, dinghy), go to the reading room, play pool-table, play the hard fought “ugly ball” tournament (forerunner of the 5 man soccer and played with a different ball made out of old socks bundled up), or simply “graze”, that is to say stroll, sun bathe, read the mail, chit-chat with friends. Here were borne the “groups” made up of former schoolmates, people from the same town, new friends. New friendships were created or strengthened, links which were reinforced by common assignments to ships, or by being docked nearby, and which withstood the test of time, decades of ups and downs in life and, after 60 years, still hold up. Actually…

But let’s return to “my” academy. We were grazing: some sailing, some sunbathing, some in the reading room, others playing the “ugly” ball when at

1425 “the blow”. That is to say the trumpet signals which recalled us to the reality of everyday life. Two hours of intense activity as called for by each section: training with the assistant professors in some university-level subject matters, military training, and sports activities.

About sports activities, I should say that there was a requirement for all of us to pass a minimum number of disciplines, while those who had entered the academy with their own competitive experience, after passing the “minimal”, were required to participate in competitive activities between courses in their own disciplines. Swimming was a different issue. Here there was the requirement to pass the “minimum” for swimming, diving (and relative exercise, diving from a 5-meter platform). At that time fins and mask for scuba were not available and were utilized only by the special forces, thus underwater exercises were done in apnoea and without aids. The exercise were generally geared at giving us confidence in the water, thus at the end giving us a chance of survival in case of shipwreck. The swimming pool was considered the worst activity. First of all because we would die of cold (we would literally go in pink and come out purple), second because all, and I mean all without distinction for those who knew how and did not, we had to swim, without time limit, two laps (100 meters each), and dive from a 5-meter platform. For those who did not know how to swim, there was always someone in charge of the “rescue”.

Another athletic activity which did not spark enthusiasm was rowing “in a life boat with oars”. It would not create any envy to real prisoners!

Rowing “in a life boat with oars”.

But there were also some pleasant activities, sailing, kayaking, fencing, soccer, rugby, tennis (these last ones were only for those who had passed the minimal athletic requirements), shooting, scuba, “battle station exercise” on the brigantine. On average, once a month we would go out to sea aboard “old smoke crackers” for full navigational training. Astronomical navigational exercises with point fixing by sextant required a different ceremony; wake up before the others to be ready to make astronomical point fixing at the very first light of day, and wrap up calculations in time to take part regularly in the other morning activities. During the war, equestrian sports and judo were suspended

But let’s go back where we left. At 1645 “blow”. The trumpet called to an end the early afternoon activities. Sports break and then we would line up to receive the “sandwich”.

At 1645 all to the study. The “study” was a large room which could host, in separate tables, all the cadets. Monitoring was very strict. Always, one or two officers would walk between the rows of tables and there were no alternatives; with the mind, one could travel aboard ships, or go strolling with the girlfriend, but two things had to be done: keep the eyes open and the books open under the eyes. After all, there weren’t many alternatives; exams, assignments in class and after class, and the final examination forced the most turbulent not to get distracted. I was going to forget… before being released from study there were, on a rotational basis, drills with light signaling or with the horn, and naturally, with the most strict supervision! Once a week, each section interrupted studying for about 20 minutes to go take a shower (again, lined up and running). Studying continued until 1930 with a very short break at 1730 to use the toilet and smoke a cigarette (in those days we all smoked).

1945 Assembly for dinner. After dinner, a break until 2045 at the reading room, pool table, or singing (there was always someone who sang and we had a piano). Grazing was always indoor because in Leghorn, between the southwest and the north wind it was always cold at night.

2045 Assembly and running even up the stairways we would go to the dorms.

2100- 2130 Night routine and at 2130 all to sleep while the “silence” was being played. Since it was prohibited to own a watch (in those days objects of a certain value), the only sense of time at night was given by the inevitable striking of the hour from the bell tower. When, accidentally, one would go to the restroom at night and the clock was striking 0500 brrrr….only another half hour of sleep!

This was the usual day.

Variations: Wednesdays (Thursdays according to the course) and Sundays, after the break in the afternoon, we would go to the study until 1545 with the choice, alternatively, to write our families. During this time the “purser” non-commissioned officer distributed to those on short leave a small purse with 25 liras. During this period of study discipline was never relented. A classic case was the inspection officer saying, “You two down there who were talking. Stand up!” (An innocuous whisper between two desks). The two “under incrimination” would stand up. “Are you on short leave?” , “Yes, sir!” , “You were!”. Good-bye, short leave, until next week, if nothing else happened along the journey in the meantime.

At 1545 “short leave; change up!” We would go to the dorms where on our small beds the one on leave and only those on leave would find all the necessary wardrobe. Everything, and I mean everything, shined shoes, socks, shirt, starched collar, tie, etc.

1600 “Those on leave: line up!”, and then a very rigorous inspection. All it took was for the hair not to be super short and, good-bye leave. After the inspection, finally, we were free to swarm into Leghorn until 1945. Once back, we checked in and returned the purse with whatever was left of the 25 liras we had received before going on short leave. Without changing we would go to the evening assembly for dinner, and the cycle started again.

I must open a parenthesis about the financial management. Each family, as I have already mentioned, was required to send to the academy every three months a certain amount of money which included tuition, co-payment for uniforms, funds for the “purse”, money for drugs, books, refunds for damages caused (broken plates or glasses, altered hats, etc). Tuition and only tuition was reduced for particular family circumstances or for merit. The “purse” was managed independently by non-commissioned officers “pursers” and if by bad luck due to problems with the postal system the check from home was late in arriving and the balance for the purse was below 25 liras, the “purse” was not delivered and automatically one was confined.

In reference to “my” academy, I must include another topic which cannot be overseen: disciplinary sanctions, both individual and collective. Let’s start with the individual ones. The simplest were the “runaround” and the “go around”. They consisted of running loops like the bersaglieri light infantry around the courtyard (about 400 meters), or going up the mast of the brigantine from the right side, past the crow’s nest, continuing up to the bar just under the trunk, and then coming down the opposite side across the deck of the brigantine in time to go up again from the right side if the “go arounds” were more than one. These punishments were given verbally, meaning without going to report, and in number ranging from one to five, sometimes even ten, and had to be completed during the breaks. Thereafter, one would present himself to the officer who had assigned the penalty, of course standing at attention, saying “I completed …go arounds” to which followed the inevitable scolding. There were no controls but I believe that “reductions” (cheating) never took place. Self-discipline and fairness were an integral part of our professional formation, thus it was not conceivable to declare completed a punishment, which had not been fully done. More severe punishments consisted of confinement, arrest, and close arrest. These disciplinary sanctions were inflicted after having been called to report, as I’ve already narrated, and were read during the general assembly with the three courses lined up in the courtyard before going to lunch. The third in command, who was usually in charge of the general assembly, would say, “Attention to the reading of the compensations and punishments.” Compensations, in reality very rare, consisted of permission to extend short leave until 2100, dining out instead of returning at

1930. Thus they had most of all a moral value and were given generally when one had obtained the highest score during an exam or by winning an athletic competition. Arrests, like the confinements, were generally given out for reasons that today would really make us laugh. More than everything else, they were aimed at reciditivity in poor performances in studying and some minor disciplinary infractions. Close arrests, as already said, were a very different affair and were rarely inflicted due to the heavy weight they had. Confinements consisted of spending free time in the study. Arrest or close arrest were paid for in prison, “Villa Miniati”. The guests of this little villa had at their disposal a small room which included a small desk for study, and a fairly hard folding bed, but where, due to the power of the organization, the attendants would place the pajama for the night, blankets, and toiletries for each guest. No linen, though! In prison one spent the hours usually dedicated to meals, to free study and recreation. One did not miss lessons, nor training, nor class assignments. The difference between arrest and close arrest was practically none. It was the bearing on the scoring card which mattered. It did matter!

Collective disciplinary sanctions generally involved an entire section and consisted of a certain number of “go arounds” to be completed lined up, or even worse in 15 minutes or more on guard. What it meant was that the whole section had to stand still in the courtyard, “on guard” for the duration of the punishment. A real torture! I’ll skip what would cause disciplinary sanctions so harsh… Before wrapping up my answer, I must talk about some of the typical characters at the academy. First of all the non-commissioned officers; some served as instructors in professional activities and also athletic ones, others were simply in charge of the classes in regards to maintaining the discipline. I don’t know how they were selected, but all, and I repeat all of them, I remember with the greatest affection. Despite the fact that they had an ungrateful assignment (being in charge of discipline and prison), they always behaved toward us with extreme distinction and toughness. I shall say that they always considered us their sons, without considering that in a little time we could have met them again aboard but in reversed roles.

Another character typical of the academy were the “attendants”. The ones with whom we had the greatest contacts were the ones in charge of uniforms and those who served at the tables. To them, we were the “masters” and even if some parents were former cadets and had become admirals, for the attendants who had known them as cadets, they were “the master your father”. The attendant barbers? Inflexible. They did not let themselves be softened by any begging (girlfriend or parent visiting Leghorn) into being more indulgent with the cutting. Maximum length of the hair: 2 centimeters; freedom of choice for shorter lengths.

A special discussion should be dedicated to the officers. The hierarchy was quite extensive. The commanding admiral (nicknamed “the old bag”), the second in command and the third in command had very precise assignments and were unapproachable. With the commander of the class (one for each of the three courses), Commander or Captain (nicknamed the principal) and his assistants, Lieutenants or Sublieutenants, contacts were very numerous. They followed us in every activity; they were instructors for professional training. They watched us when we were in the study, but what to say about them? They came from one or more sinkings, a few days in a lifeboat, or recovering from wounds received in battle. Therefore, with wrecked nerves, impatient to return aboard, even if they had received multiple war decorations for military valor, none of them ever talked about their war actions.

I dwelled over so many details of the daily life, punishments included, to underline that although outside war, as we well know, ravaged, in the academy life continued in the most normal way. Thus arises the question; why?

The answer is simple: there could not be disruptions from what was the primary objective of our professional formation: discipline and honesty. Questionable educational methodologies, and today’s psychologists would have much to argue about it, but life test demonstrated that these methods were not completely erroneous. Much has been said about the strategic abilities of our military leadership. I don’t want to touch this topic, but keeping my comments restricted to the Navy, I can, without doubts, assert that never, and I repeat never, did officers, non-commissioned officers, or sailors tremble facing orders received and which often called for their, or their ships’ ultimate sacrifice.

This is the result of the constant hammering, education, discipline, and honesty taught to the future officers, and in the required proportions to non-commissioned officers and sailors.

In the academy we were not fed special speeches or doctrines. They “got us to work” studying and with discipline. We complainted but the mark which was imposed upon us demonstrated itself valid not only during the war, but also after, in our private lives. Distractions aside, back to “my academy”.

I told you, perhaps with too many details but in general terms, about my memories, my emotions, and part of my life as a cadet. Three topics are still missing: examinations, summer naval campaign, and the affairs of September 8th, 1943. Let’s begin with the examinations. As already mentioned, two rounds of exams for each academic year. Phase one in February, named the “chat”, but exams nevertheless. They covered the first half of each subject matter. Another round in June, but this differed from the previous one because the scope of each exam included what had been studied since the beginning of the year. Each session included ten to thirteen exams, some of which were both oral and written. The gap between each exam was at the most three days, thus the whole session lasted about a month. During the examinations some of the daily routine changed, but disciplinary rules did not change at all.

As everywhere, there were professors (for university level subject matters) and instructors (for professional subject matters); some very demanding, others more lenient. Failures rained frequently. I will not dwell on the misfortunes of those who were failed; anyway they were not the best. Failure meant passing a “catch up” exam; final failure meant repetition of the school year, just like in high school, or resignations to then continue the 5-year draft as a simple sailor.

At the end of each examining session, we left for the longed for vacation. Base program: sleep. Unfortunately, this was also time to come to grips with the reality of war. Cities bombed, homes destroyed, relatives or acquaintances missing, homeless families, shortage of food. We were 20 and wounds healed quickly.

Before talking about the summer naval campaign (the cruise), I must say that the war had caused a change to the three-year program. At the end of the second course, the summer cruise of three months aboard the training ships Vespucci or Colombo was no longer conducted. Instead, the cadets were sent for 20 days up to the mountains and at the beginning of August we would come back to Leghorn to begin classes for the third year. Therefore, we spared the time for the summer cruise and completed the third year in February, ready to be embarked.

Before covering the misfortunes of my course, which remain unique in the 120 years of history of the Naval Academy, I’ll tell you something about our training cruises aboard training ships. The cruise, we are in July-September 1942, for obvious security reasons took place in the Upper Adriatic; Fiume, the Dalmatian Islands, Zara, Pola. Navigation, was usually short and characterized by continuous turning in narrow waters, thus for us in charge of the sails it was very stressing. Aboard, life was quite Spartan and was made even worse by the very limited space assigned to each of us. A sailors’ life, a simple one, even if we were still served at the table in white gloves.

Spartan life I was saying. We slept on amacha which were strung at night above the tables on which we ate and studied, and did our calculations. We only studied professional subject matters, and we calculated over and over again astronomical coordinates based upon the early morning or evening’s twilight readings. That is 0400, 0500 and 1900 and 2000 at night. At that time, calculators did not exist and we did not have navigational systems. For rough calculations we used the slide rule, but perhaps you had never seen one. For astronomical calculations we used paper, pencil, and logarithmic tables which allowed us to simplify some of the calculations. In short, calculations of a navigational point required 45 minutes, and only when everything went right! “Action station” for the sail did not represent a great novelty to us.

The numerous exercises and the many “go up and around” on the brigantine interred at the academy made us relatively experienced and nonchalant about going up, lining up along the yard spar, and rolling out or wrapping up the sails. The difference was that the masts at the training ship were about 60 meters above the water, while those of the brigantine at the academy did not reach 30 meters. Also, while the deck of the brigantine was solidly anchored to the ground, those of the training ships swayed quite a bit according to sea conditions. A 15-story building moving about against a solid 7-story one. More dangerous? I should say no, even though at that time we did not have safety systems. But we never had serious accidents.

The only inconvenience was that the “go up and around” which had to be paid off at sea were longer and more annoying, and the “calls to station” were more frequent because the Dalmatian coast required frequent turning and we faced violent wind gusts. These were very insidious because they were canalized between the islands. They were so typical that our course was given the nickname “wind gusts”.

Of “my” academy in Leghorn and the time aboard the Vespucci (I was forgetting, between us of the Vespucci and “them” of the Colombo there was great rivalry), I believe I said the very least to answer your question. Buy for the “wind gusts” (in Italian the same word could mean a burst of machine gun fire), the academy was not only Leghorn the Vespucci and the Colombo.

At the end of March 1942 (I was attending the second course), the Allies began bombing Leghorn. Initially, targets were only strategic: shipyards, torpedo factories, refineries, the port. The academy in the beginning was not touched, but the cadets represented “goods” too valuable. Aboard ships they needed us to replace war losses. War events had created great vacuums amongst crew and we were still inexperienced, we represented oxygen for the ships. Thus, we could not be exposed to the danger of aerial bombardments. At the end of the school year, the first course went ahead of schedule aboard the training ships, and we of the second course, also ahead of schedule, were transferred to the mountains to take the final exams. At the end of the exams, after a small period of rest still in the mountains, we were transferred to Venice where in the meantime the academy had been transferred to begin the third course. Here were also summoned the attendees to the first course. We were lodged at the Hotel Excelsior and studied at the Casino where rooms had been transformed into classrooms. It was the normal life of the academy, even though there had not been enough time to organize a mini-academy. Lessons, training, exams, assignments, and punishments… everything just like in Leghorn, but it did not last long. The armistice of September 8th caught us by surprise.

We did not have much time to reflect on the enormity of the tragedy which had fallen upon Italy. We did not realize the level of collapse to which our armed forces had fallen. The morning of the 9th, at the general assembly “Go to your room, pick up some blankets, and leave all your belongings at the foot of your bed. The attendants will pick them up for you”. In Venice, there was a hospital ship that had been laid up, the Saturnia. It had been altered to repatriate Italian civilians and their families from our former colonies in East Africa. These were people who, at the beginning of the hostilities, used to live in those areas later occupied by the British and who had been interned in concentration camps. Along with the twin ship Vulcania, the Saturnia circumnavigated the African continent and after having disembarked its load of refugees in some Italian ports, had been laid up in Venice.

I don’t know how they were able to commission it so quickly, but in the first hours of September 9th we boarded the Saturnia. Not everything went well, but I’ll skip these details. At night the Saturnia left the dock and moved to leave Venice. Near the semaphore of the Lido, we received signal via flashes of lights (we all knew how to read them) that German motor torpedo boats were patrolling just outside. We turned around and returned to Venice. After 24 hours, that is the night of the 10th, the Saturnia sailed again and went out to sea. This time we did not encounter anything. We did not know where we were going; may be Taranto. We navigated the 11th and the 12th, zigzagging as it used to be done as a countermeasure to possible submarine attacks. The zigzagging had to be done following prescribed rules, but the Saturnia did not follow those rules at all. This zigzagging was decisive; at 1530 on the 12th the Saturnia ended up on a sandbank just off Brindisi.

In Brindisi there were no Germans, but the Allies had not yet arrived, while the royal family was there, along with the head of government Marshal Badoglio and the whole entourage. In Brindisi there used to be one of the two naval schools of the GIL (Italian Youth of the Littorio), which prepared teenagers both scholastically (high school) and under a seafaring viewpoint as if it were a pre-academy. The naval school, due to summer recess and the fall of fascism, was completely empty and it almost looked like it was there waiting for us. Even if uninhabited, it had classrooms, dorms, and kitchens. It even had a brigantine just like Leghorn.

After some attempts to free the Saturnia with the makeshift boats from Brindisi, we were disembarked and placed at the naval school. From Venice had come with us military and civilian instructors, and also the “attendants”. Thus, although with some differences from Leghorn, on September 14th, 1943 we restarted our third year with a tempo just like Leghorn. Lessons, exams, assignments, wake up calls at 0530, “patches” for the inevitable mending jobs. However, there were some differences.

First of all, hunger. Foodstuff was scarce and we were in our 20. Second difference, absolute absence of books and teaching material. This deficiency was remedied by the goodness of some instructors and some of us in taking notes and distributing them (as an example, I will show you my notes about underwater weapons). Third difference, we asked and obtained permission to participate in the first operational activities of our Navy alongside the Allies. Here war came close to home; in an evacuation of Italian personnel from Greece fell the first classmates of our course.

But let’s return for a short while to Brindisi. Lessons, as I told you, started again on a regular basis. Some subject matters were eliminated from engineering (but we were allowed to catch up in the 1948-49 upper course) and in January 1944, after the usual examinations, we found ourselves with the rank of ensign aboard ships which meantime had begun operating alongside the Allies.

Before leaving “my” academy, I must mention how, despite the events which we lived through in those months, there was no letting down of the strictness to which we were accustomed. Same rules, same discipline, same examinations, same final exams. Some of us were failed in one or more subject matters and those who did not make it continued on as non-commissioned officers. Here ends my answer to your question. I could have said “yes, life at the academy was hard, we studied much, and all wanted to go aboard to participate in the war”. I preferred describing and reliving with my memories life at the academy. Find yourself amongst these words the answer to your question. In essence, I did not find myself at the academy by accident. Actually, I entered the academy of my own free will when war had already begun by a few years, and when our Navy had already suffered a few blows. We knew that a tough life of sacrifice was awaiting us. We knew that once aboard our lives would have been even tougher and that we would have been asked, if necessary, to make even the extreme sacrifice. We accepted all of this with clear mind and much lack of patience. Events not wanted by us impeded our course to suffer the bloodshed which the previous courses had suffered. Nevertheless, we did our duties, trying to do the best of what was asked of us. In a small part, we also contributed to rebuilding our beloved navy.

So, one question arises. One which you did not ask me and that I shall ask myself: “Would you do it again? Would you make the same sacrifices?” The answer gives no room to interpretation: I would. Oh yes I surely would!”

Could you describe to us your activities after you left the academy?

My activity after I left the academy?

The whole course, deck officers, engineers, and weapon specialists were distributed aboard various units, and some volunteered in the San Marco and Bafile battalion fighting (unfortunately with wounded and dead) on land. Whoever was not assigned to a ship, most of us, received various other assignments. Some were sent aboard the battleships interned in the Bitter Lakes to replace young officers called to other assignments. There were those who were assigned to the cruisers operating in the Atlantic with base in Freetown. There were some who were assigned to destroyers conducting shuttle service with the ships of which I just spoke. There were others assigned to torpedo boats and corvettes. Some were sent to the submarines (unfortunately, one of our course mates died aboard the Settembrini). I was assigned to the corvette “Scimitarra”; initially as a subordinate to the navigation officer, and after having attended training course “A”, as a gunnery officer.

Which kind of activity did we do?

Mostly escort service for Allied convoys coming from Gibraltar or Malta that provided supplies for the frontline as this moved on. The dangers, even if lesser than those faced by our convoys to re-supply the Libyan or Tunisian front in the preceding years, were there and required much attention and seafaring skills. The convoys were many and the ships available for escort service few. Thus at sea, at sea, at sea; under all weather conditions, and at very low speed, still without radar, and with exhausting watches (the infamous four-and-four). We always attempted to keep the convoys in line, as if they were a flock of sheep. It should be considered that at the time the captains of merchant ships were less than good sailors. There was a bit of everything; lawyers, teachers, administrators, architects. After a short period of training of just a few months, they were made captains and off to sea, and the poor devils who were in charge of their escort had the task of keeping them in line, making them zigzag according to schedule, avoid hitting mine fields…and so on. All this, I repeat, without radar, in total radio silence, with ships completely darkened and with only the use of light signals. When we would arrive in ports such as Leghorn, where due to the ships sunk by the Germans the cargo ships could only enter with very calm sea, very slowly, and one at a time, the escort would be left off shore going back and forth to protect the convoy from frogmen attacks.

Recapping: these contributions made by our navy, onerous under a human and seafaring viewpoint, allowed the Allies to remove some of their ships from this activity, concentrating them in the Atlantic, but especially in the Pacific where the ever increasing amphibious operations required an ever increasing number of escort units.

This is what I did after I left the academy until the end of the hostilities when, if you will, the need for convoy escort ended. But… as I mentioned in my opening statement, for the Regia Marina the war did not end. With the end of the need for convoy escort was born the need to clean up the sea of numerous mines disseminated everywhere by Italians, Germans, and the Allies. The corvettes, affectionately nicknamed by me “the little maids of the sea”, were transformed into minesweepers and called to perform minesweeping duties. To fully answer your question, I tell you that, still on the Scimitarra, I participated in two long campaigns of mine clearing, the first in the area south of Salerno all the way down to Cape Palinuro, and the second, much longer, off Fiumicino (Rome) up to the Argentario Mountain (Tuscany). And then? Then for me this appendix to the world war ended in September 1946. I was called to other operational activities which are beyond the scope of your question. We were by then in full “post-war” period.

The history of the Italian Navy in World War Two has been characterized by extraordinary events such as the attack against Alexandria, as well as very controversial ones, such as the false sinking of Commander Grossi: in 100 years what do you think will be the historical interpretation that will be part of textbooks?

It is not easy to give an answer to your question because even if over 60 years has passed since those events, we cannot yet consider concluded both the research and the discovery of documents which would complete the knowledge of important events. Also, some new light may be shed on events about which we thought we knew everything. Research activity continues incessantly and the word “end” will be written, if ever, in many years from now.

The recanting of these events has gone from the protagonists to the journalists, from the memories of some of the protagonists to end up in the hands of the historians who, even though they are always very serious and objective, cannot avoid influencing their studies and researches with their own personality. What will end up in the textbooks? I would like to begin by describing what is now in the textbooks. I should in turn conduct a research since historians for scholastic material are few, of the most disparate political connotations, and influenced by the prevailing political wind in the country. Thus, even if not openly direct, some specific ministerial directives cannot be eluded. You know perfectly that one may say, and not say at the same time, thus putting together all the variables I just mentioned, you will understand that making an assumption of what the textbooks will look like in 100 years is a real mystery. Just to give you an example, I ask you “what is left in the textbooks of the war of independence and of the First World War?” Certainly the actions of our insidious weapons will still be spoken about, just like today we still talk about those of Luigi Rizzo, while the Mussolinian farce around the actions of Commander Grossi will be completely ignored. Luckily enough, it has been quite some time since this farce has completely disappeared.

I repeat and conclude by saying that those are just my conjectures and anyone could confirm or deny them. The appointment is in 100 years!

A special note:

Due to distance – I live in California and Commander Romano lives in Rome – the interview took place over the Internet via email. Commander Romano contacted our site back in March 2000 offering some suggestions, and since he has been a personal mentor, a source of inspiration, and certainly a reason for persevering. For those of you who might be interested, Commander Romano entered the Academy in 1941 and completed his course in 1944. After a long period of active service, he left the Italian navy in 1960, but he never severed his links with the navy.

Interview with Emilio Bianchi

Walking into Emilio Bianchi’s home I was excited by the thought of this man, one of the greatest heroes of Italian naval history. I was impressed by his modesty; several times during the interview he spoke of drills and dives as if anyone could do it. I was also touched by his dedication to country and navy.

Mr. Bianchi, how was your training structures?

Training was quite hard, actually very hard. One needs only to consider that in the middle of winter we would dive at 9:00 PM and spend the whole night drilling and diving with our “pigs”. Training was very challenging and exhausting, and only our enthusiasm allowed us to carry on.

Initial training was conducted at Bocca del Serchio (the secret base of the Xa MAS) where we would learn how to govern the assault vehicle, get familiar with it and learn attack techniques. After Italy’s entry into the war, when the date for an attack was becoming closer, we would attack the Italian naval base in La Spezia. We could not alert the sentries of our operation, so the attack was carried out in complete secret and with the risk of getting shot by our own soldiers.

We would leave from the Island of Tino. We had to overcome the double defense lines near Punta Santa Maria, near the entrance to the military port, and then pass two more defense lines near the ship we were attacking. The most difficult aspect was the fact that we had to operate at a depth of 45 feet in a very dark night, and therefore we were practically blind and had to be in perfect sync with our teammate.

To bypass the defenses, we had special tools which would allow us to break the net without too much effort (this was required by the gas combination used by the divers, which did not allow for strenuous activities). We used something like Jaws of Life and pneumatic jacks. Once the charge was attached to the keel of the “friendly” ship, the drill was not quite over. Due to the secrecy of our activities, we had to go back simulating and escape from the base.

So, during your drill you endured the same risks you had in Alexandria?
I would say that the risks during training were greater, mostly because during these drills we simulated circumstances which did not happen once in Alexandria. In Alexandria, thanks to our secret service and scouts, we knew perfectly where the battleships were and how to operate. We just had to repeat what we had done during our drills.
What is the greatest danger you have been in?

The greatest danger took place during the second mission against Gibraltar. After some delays, we were able to reach the military port where some British boats were dropping depth charges all around, but without giving us too much trouble. Suddenly, an internal explosion (probably due to gases formed inside the battery compartment) in the “Maiale” just under my bottom (while saying this, Mr Bianchi started laughing…) caused the motor to seize up and immediately drop down.

I should remind you that our breathing apparatuses did not allow us to descend more than 45 feet, while reaching 90 feet was absolutely forbidden. My vehicle kept going down and, in checking the depth gauge, I noticed that it was stuck at about 90 feet. At this point, the vehicle touched the bottom and stopped. (Durand De La Penne, not being able to govern the “pig”, had abandoned it right away).

At this point, if the depth of the sea had been any greater I would have surely kicked the bucket. After having realized that Durand was not there, I attempted to repair the maiale operating the fast blow valve, but to no avail. I then felt the initial symptoms of dizziness and gave up. Once back to the surface, I found my commander, De la Penne. At that point, a British patrol boat was fast approaching, but fortunately we were not seen and we swam back to the Spanish coast (2 and ½ hours at night, in the cold waters infested by enemy ships is, in Mr. Bianchi’s words, the easiest thing on earth…). Once in Spain, our agents took us back to Italy. Oh yes; that time I was really in a hole…

During your dives wasn’t it cold?
We wore heavy wool clothing, somewhat similar to long johns, from feet to torso, and sweaters on top. We then wore a waterproof diver suit. Well, actually it was waterproof only in theory since often water came pouring in because the suit was very delicate and anything sharp would tear it up. It was made out of rubberized canvas and it had the unpleasant feature of wrinkling up at a depth of 30 feet or more. This action created a pliers-like motion, which would grab your skin and whip it. Once out of the water at the end of a drill, it looked like we had been flagellated. On the head we wore a hood lined in wool, but water seeped in, causing terrible cramps, but then the water inside the hood would warm up and the pain would go away.

After the attack (Alexandria) you were captured. How did the British treat you?

The first British sailors who saw us made fun of us, thinking that we had failed, but as soon as the senior officer realized the situation, they made us remove our clothes and we were brought to shore. Here two officers who spoke Italian (even better than us!) interrogated us one by one. The British offices threatened us and pointed at a pistol lying on the table, but we knew that it was only a trick to scare us and make us talk, but we did not. At this point, we were brought back aboard the Valiant and locked up in a storage room below the water line, in the hope that we would reveal where the bomb was. We knew that very soon the charge would explode and we were awaiting the explosion with some anxiety. When it came, it shook the whole ship and left us in the dark. They came to pick us up and took us ashore; here I noticed, with great pleasure, that the ship was starting to lean over.

I would like to point out that the battleships were not sunk, but just placed out of commission due to the shallow waters. (He is saying it as if he wanted to diminish the accomplishment…) After the attack we were taken to Palestine in an area called Latrum for about 8 months. Then, after Al-Alamein with the fear that the Germans would reach the Suez Canal, the three officers were taken to India, while we were sent to South Africa in the Transvaal. (I would like to note that Bianchi attempted to escape twice. I only found out after having read his memoirs, but during the interview he did not mentioned it, probably for modesty). The three officers and Marino returned to Italy immediately after the armistice; while using some health-related excuses, I decided to stay at the prisoner of war camp until the end of the war. I did not want to go back to Italy because I did not know what to do; we would have had to fight one against the other (he is referring to the civil war).

If you had gone back to Italy, what would you have done?

I think that knowing Borghese and those people, I would have ended up joining the “Repubblica di Salò”, also because one cannot start a war and then at a given point tell the former ally (Germany) that now they are the enemy. It is a matter of ethics, conscience. If I had gone back, I could not have seen the British as my friends and the Germans as my enemy. I would like to mention something Tesei said: “It is not important if a war is won or lost, what matters is fighting well.” The high command did all it could to fight it poorly. After our action in Alexandria, the Navy did not take advantage of her overwhelming supremacy; evidently we did not have good strategists!

What do you think of the occupation of Malta; was it Italy’s greatest mistake?
Let me just say that on June 10th, 1940, just after having listened to the announcement over the radio, Tesei said, “Now the Italian Navy must immediately eliminate Malta at any cost!” I say, is it possible that an officer of naval constructions could have understood the importance of Malta when the great admirals could not care less? Malta had undoubtedly had a very high price; one must only think of our poor solders in Africa who did not even have ammunitions. At a certain point, the island was exhausted, we could have taken it with little risk, but we never got there… What could we have done? It wasn’t our duty (he says it with clear bitterness in his words).

50th anniversary – Cerimony of June 9th, 1991in La Spezia (Birindelli, Barberi, Beccati, de La Penne, Marceglia, Bianchi, Manisco, Arillo, Ferraro, Marcolini, all Gold Medal for Valor)
One last question, Mr. Bianchi. Why do you think that of the six men in Alexandria, your team is the most famous?
Mr. Bianchi does not answer. I don’t understand if it is a matter of modesty, or it is because he does not want to reiterate the accusations of excessive protagonist which have always followed De la Penne)

My infinite thanks to Mr. Emilio Bianchi for his availability and the honor extended to me. I would also like to thank Mr. Enzo Casciani and Mr. Lorenzo Salvestrini who have made this meeting possible.

Translated from Italian by Cristiano D’Adamo

Interview with a stoker of the light cruiser “Bande Nere”

Leghorn, January 18th, 2002

What were your duties aboard ship?

I was called to arms in the early months of 1941 and I was assigned to the naval base of Messina where I completed a relatively short period of training. After two months in charge of a warehouse, I was ordered to Palermo to take service aboard the cruiser “Giovanni dalle Bande Nere”. It was, if I am not mistaken, around June 1941 and I was a stoker. It was not a bad assignment, as one might otherwise think. Differently from my comrades, I had the opportunity to rest quite often since in the proximity of each boiler there was a small room where, during periods of calm, we could take turns resting. Naturally, it was not allowed, but fortunately this rule was never enforced too rigidly.

A stoker is inside the ship and does not know what is happening, right?

Well, rumors were rampant, but of course we could not know everything. We had to simply follow orders, but more than once I went up to the upper deck to see what was taking place.

How was the crew-officer relation?

Well, relation, there was no relation with them. They were a separate caste by themselves, which refused to talk to a simple sailor unless to give orders. Once, while I was smoking a cigarette on deck, an officer walked by and I attempted to engage in a conversation but this person did not reply and stood, in silence, close to me. When I finished my cigarette, I was ready to throw it overboard but the wind tossed it back onto the deck and this officer gave me a “note of demerit” for having soiled the deck!

In the Navy, was food good in those days?

I’m sorry to let you down, but food was really bad and it was one of the main reasons for our complaining. When we were fed up eating that disgusting stuff, two or three representatives would go to the captain to protest. Most of the time, nothing would happen, but twice the protest was more energetic and for two or three days they fed us pasta with tomato sauce or a good soup to then go back to the usual meals. Sleeping was better. Everyone had his own hammock which was attached to two posts with hooks at various heights, specifically installed in various rooms where we could rest. The annoying thing was that each time we got up we had to disassemble the hammock, fold it, and place it in special lockers on the side of the room. The same had to be done in case of alarm because during battle station all the compartments had to be perfectly unobstructed.

Which kind of missions did you do?

The most common missions were mine laying. We would leave at night and the mission would last two days. The scary thing was that we would see six or seven ships of various types navigating next to each other and, every so often, dropping a mine into the sea. Another kind of mission, which in reality we did not complete too often, was the escort to a convoy. These missions were very tiring and we were under constant aerial attack and our anti-aircraft guns (the 100 mm guns) were always in use. The projectiles were brought up from the storage area by hand, and after awhile the people assigned to this task were exhausted, so we stokers had to help them. It was not a pleasant job, especially after four hours in the boiler room. The turns were 4 hours of work and 4 hours of rest, but in reality during the rest periods there was always something to do. Anyway, our missions were short and we spent more time in port than at sea. Fortunately, we never completed transport missions as the “da Giussano” and “da Barbiano” did. If I think about all the friends I lost… Also, we participated in the Second Battle of Sirte.

What do you remember about it?

A bad experience because we lost a destroyer, “Scirocco”, (in reality two were lost), due to the heavy sea; I had many friends aboard. Reckon that the sea was so bad that at a certain point we could no longer fire our guns and withdrew. At that point I was on deck and saw flares from the Littorio’s guns and I realized that there was a battleship with us, but I could not see it, I could only see the flares from the big guns. During the return trip, we experienced many serious breakdowns, thus as soon as we reached Taranto we were ordered to La Spezia for repairs. We were all happy because it would have meant a shore leave. When the ship was in dry-dock, we were housed in nearby buildings and would all go on leave. The only negative aspect of dry-dock works was that all the little extra things on board, meaning what we had set up to improve our lives on board, were taken away and each time we had to readapt the ship to our needs. Unfortunately, we never made it to La Spezia.

Could you tell us about the torpedoing?

It was a tragic experience. It was April 1st and I was on duty in my boiler area when, around 9 AM, we were shocked by a large explosion and the boiler room filled with smoke (note: evidently, he was in the aft boiler room as the forward one was ripped apart by the torpedo). Thus, I told a friend of mine that we had to leave right away and rushed to a ladder to go up on deck. The ladder usually was straight up but I immediately realized that it wasn’t, so I rushed even more, and in the confusion this friend of mine below me took my shoes off! Fortunately, our ship did not have modern watertight bulkheads typical of modern ships, so we could make it to the upper deck (this explains why 5 out of 6 ships of this kind were lost due to torpedoing). I immediately realized that the situation was dramatic and I started looking for a life vest, but then I decided to jump without wearing one because I was afraid of not wearing it properly and making things even worse. While I was jumping, I heard the captain scream, “ viva il duce, viva il re, viva l’Italia “ Long live Mussolini, the King and Italy” and I almost started laughing. Once in the water, I began swimming to get away from the ship which by then, with the stern out of the water, had started sinking: it was a terrible moment. It had been my home for nine months and by then I was attached to it.

I was in the water for a long time until the destroyers in escort, after having thrown some depth charges against the submarine which had torpedoed us, came to pick us up. The Aviere picked me up and immediately, due to the intense cold, I went down to the boiler room and hugged a steam pipe. Someone tried to get me off there, but I resisted and that was probably what saved me. Thereafter, I was taken to the infirmary where they tried to their best to clean off the fuel oil I had all over me and especially in my eyes where it hurt very much.

We were disembarked in Messina, while the other survivors were taken to Palermo. Up to this day, I don’t know who survived, excluding the few with me on the Aviere. After the sinking, I was sent to La Spezia where I served at an artillery station near the Varignano jetty. I tried several times to get back aboard a ship because, after all, life was better than on shore, but it did not work out. The strange thing is that our pay was higher on shore: 180 lira on the “Bande Nere” and 200 lira in La Spezia.

What do you remember of this period?

I remember an event. One day, while I was on watch an enemy airplane dropped many boxes containing flyers. One of these boxes did not open and fell off the jetty, thus the officer in command gave me the assignment, along with another sailor, to go get the box. We got closer using a dingy, but were very fearful it might be a bomb, but the incitement from shore gave us courage and I picked up the box and brought it back to the battery commander. On the flyers it was written, “Tomorrow we are going to bomb the jetty and the port, go away”. The other sailor and I had already read the flyer, despite orders received, thus very soon the news spread across the port. The port commander told us that it was just propaganda. The day after, more than 200 airplanes began bombing La Spezia. It was an unforgettable experience. At our post we were just waiting for our time to come; fortunately, not a single bomb hit our battery, but the shipyard was destroyed, along with the nearby houses, and the (battleship) Littorio was seriously hit by a bomb (it is almost surely the bombing of April 19th).

After September 8th, 1943 what did you do?

I was still in La Spezia and at the news of the armistice our joy lasted very briefly because we all knew that the Germans would now be our enemies. The morning of the 9th, after the fleet had left, we got aboard a mail ship to Leghorn. On this ship there were a few German soldiers who took control of the boat and almost had it run aground on a reef, just before getting there. At night, along with other folks from my town, we attempted to get back to the Island of Elba. Thus, on a dingy eight of us made it toward the island and arrived in the morning, landing despite threats from a few Italian soldiers who did not want any more trouble. A few days later, while we were at the Navy headquarters to find out what to do, there was a German bombing raid which hit several towns and killed many innocent people, especially because around there of “blameworthy” ones there were very few. Then, the Germans arrived and, along with the others, I was forced to hide in the hillside. It was not an easy time. Then the war ended and I began living again, even though hunger went away much later…


I greatly thank this gentleman who, in honor of those who have fallen aboard the “Bande Nere”, has requested not to be named. I also would like to thank my friend Ameris who has made this interview possible.

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.

Interview with an Italian WWII Veteran: Admiral Giuseppe Pighini

Following my graduation from the Naval Postgraduate School, in December of 1995, I had the opportunity to take some leave and visit my mother in Italy. It was there that, through a set of serendipitous circumstances, I found out that Giuseppe Pighini, (pronounced Pea-gee-nee) a retired Italian Admiral who saw considerable action during WWII, lived only a few blocks from my mother’s house, in the northern section of Rome.

I was already somewhat familiar with the name because Admiral Da Zara, perhaps the most successful of the Italian Admirals during the war, mentions him several times in his biography. An episode in which the destroyer escort Calliope, under Pighini’s command, shoots down a British reconnaissance plane is also recounted in a collection of war chronicles by the Italian journalist and author Vero Roberti.

Driven by my strong interest in WWII naval operations, I couldn’t resist contacting the Admiral. He graciously agreed to receive me on the following day for a brief interview at his residence. As one would expect, his tastefully furnished house had quite a number of nautical mementos on display. The most striking feature in the living room, however, was an oil painting of a lovely and exquisitely dressed lady, his wife and companion of thirty-seven years, prematurely deceased in 1983.

Even before the formal introductions were complete I realized that, in spite of his age, the Admiral is very much “in gamba”, an Italian expression which stands for capable and energetic. He is also quite personable. Not only was he curious of the specific reason of my visit, but he took meticulous notes when I outlined my background at his request. He cautioned me that his memory was not as good as it used to be, yet he never skipped a beat throughout the two-hour interview that ensued.

Born in 1911 in Parma, Pighini’s wanderlust drove him to enter the Italian Royal Naval Academy in Leghorn, from which he graduated in 1931. Highlights of his long and fulfilling career include a tour in China during the mid-thirties, his war time experiences, a tour as Naval Attache in Paris, his assignment to the Naval War College in Newport, RI in the late fifties, and finally a tour as ComNavSouth. Between 1936 and the end of the war he worked, in several capacities, for Admiral Da Zara, who held him in very high esteem.

Admiral Pighini’s personal awards include two “medaglie d’argento”, roughly equivalent to our Navy Cross, and a long list of lesser awards and campaign ribbons. He earned his first “medaglia d’argento” when the destroyer escort Calliope, which he commanded, shot down three of the six planes which were attacking the convoy in Pighini’s charge. The second was bestowed upon him following a successful cooperative engagement of the torpedo boat flotilla he commanded, which resulted in the sinking of an enemy destroyer.

What follows is a brief summary of the Admiral’s replies to my questions. Although I faithfully reported the substance of his answers, I did take the liberty to paraphrase his statements and translate them somewhat loosely from Italian.

Q. It is commonly said that the Italian Navy, and the officers in particular, were lukewarm toward fascism. Is this statement correct?

A. Yes, very much so. There had been a time, in Italian history, when only a dictatorship could provide the expediency in government needed to extricate the country from the deep crisis it found itself in following WWI. By the mid-thirties, however, the fascist system was a type of government whose time had come and gone. That is why many officers, myself included, refused to become members of the party in spite of strong encouragement to do so.

Q. What was the prevailing reaction, among Navy officers, to the Duce’s declaration of war in June of 1940?

A. Surprise, perplexity. Although Mussolini had a quick wit, he was fundamentally an ignorant man who had rarely been outside his country. When he visited Germany, in the mid-thirties, he was so impressed by the industrial and military might of that country, that he became convinced that the Germans were unstoppable. As a result, when France started to give obvious signs of collapse in 1940, the Duce declared war anticipating to be sitting at the peace table within a few months.

As Navy officers, our immediate concern was, of course, the Royal Navy, then the most powerful in the world. We also realized that Mussolini did not have a clear understanding of the disproportion in industrial and raw material resources that existed between the Axis and the British Empire, especially when the weight of a sympathetic United States were taken into account. Finally, Mussolini had lost touch with the desires of the country: the heart of the common man was not in the war.

Q. What assignments did you have during the war?

A. When the war started, I was a Lieutenant, assigned to the light cruiser Di Giussano. This unit was part of the IV Cruiser Division, commanded by Admiral Da Zara. On the Di Giussano I participated in the Battle of Punta Stilo in which our Air Force failed to recognize our ships and attacked us.

I was subsequently assigned as executive officer on the destroyer Granatiere for six months, during which the ship performed several convoy escort missions. Following my promotion to Lieutenant Commander, I took command of the destroyer escort Calliope, one of the many Italian small combatants that distinguished herself in the thankless task of escorting our convoys to and from North Africa.

I left Calliope in July of 1942 and was assigned to Da Zara’s VII Cruiser Division staff at the Admiral’s request. Unfortunately it was too late to participate in the battle of Pantelleria.

Early in 1943, I assumed command of a Corvette Flotilla based in Sicily. Following Italy’s surrender, in September of 1943, the Navy was the first Service to assume a cobelligerent status. I did my share by escorting some Allied convoys with the ships under my command.

At the end of 1943, I returned on Da Zara’s staff, who by then had a shore command in Southern Italy and had embarked in a very innovative and successful project. It consisted in reorganizing our personnel and transform the Navy’s property into farmland in order to alleviate the food shortage of our troops.

Q. What is your opinion of the Italian ships of the war era?

A. Since it was felt that Italy’s prestige was reflected in her ships, performance and appearance were strongly emphasized. Unfortunately, this resulted in ships whose hulls were too light in relationship to the caliber of their guns. In order to save weight and gain speed, compartmentation, armor and range were all sacrificed. There were, however, two exceptions. The Littorio class of battleships and the Pola class of heavy cruisers. In these ships a much better balance between armament, speed and armor was achieved.

Q. What is your assessment of the level of training of the Italian Navy’s officer corps?

A. It was, and continues to be, excellent. Following their graduation from the Naval Academy, the officers’ seamanship was honed through a fairly long series of sea tours. Later in their careers, as senior Lieutenants, they were typically assigned to a training squadron of small combatants, where they would further improve their ship-handling ability and qualify for command.

The staff corps, i.e. engineering, supply etc., would receive comparable training in their specialties. During my entire career, I never had any complaints about the professional capabilities of my subordinates, be they seaman officers or staff. In fact I would say that our Academy still produces the best officers in our Military and that the Navy is our best service from the readiness standpoint.

Q. Indeed, the number of mid-grade officers who distinguished themselves during the war, especially on small combatants, supports this thesis. How do you explain, then, the fact that none of the Italian Admirals achieved a similar recognition?

A. What you are saying is slightly incorrect. It is true that the officers typically chosen to be our “Comandanti Superiori in Mare”, although professionally accomplished, were not brilliant or charismatic leaders. Iachino, for example, made some of his decisions based on statistics and mathematical formulas. These methods may be appropriate under certain circumstances, but frequently, and especially in war time, intuition can lead to the right decisions quicker than analytical ability.

We did, however, have a man who possessed intuition and imagination, as well as courage and a superior intelligence: his name was Alberto Da Zara and he was the best and brightest of our Admirals. He executed successfully all the tasks he was assigned, yet he was not given command of a battleship task force until late in the war, when there was very little he could do. Had he been put in that position earlier, he would have been the type of inspirational leader that the mid-grade officers you are referring to richly deserved.

Q. What do you suppose are the reasons for choosing other officers over Da Zara for the most senior leadership positions?

A. There are several reasons. Da Zara had many original ideas, and most of them clashed with those of our CNO, Admiral Cavagnari. Also, whereas most of the officers who achieved flag rank had had one or several tours at the Navy Ministry, Da Zara shunned those assignments, preferring sea duty and overseas tours. But, perhaps more importantly, he was seen too much as a socialite. He did, of course, enjoy sparkling conversation and he certainly had a penchant for horses and attractive women. Among his many conquests, the most famous is perhaps Mrs. Wallis Simpson, who, several years later, was to become the Duchess of Windsor.

Q. It is often said that, during the war, the Italian Navy Central Command exercised too much control over the on-scene Commanders. What is your opinion on the subject?

A. Our Central Command, referred to as Supermarina, was a pretty remarkable organization in that it was capable of receiving and processing all the available information relevant to our maritime operations. Unfortunately, this sometimes resulted in orders which were either too late or did not take into account the exact position of the ships that were supposed to carry them out. For these reasons it became incumbent on the man on the spot to make the final decision on whether or not to obey.

On three different occasions, while on convoy escort duty, I took the liberty of trusting my own judgment rather than blindly following orders. Although I had some explaining to do upon completing my missions, in the end I was praised for correctly interpreting the spirit of the orders issued to me, meant at maintaining my convoy safe from enemy attacks.

Q. What was the most memorable of these situations?

A. It was while I was escorting a convoy en route for North Africa. We were attacked by a British submarine but were able to maneuver in time to avoid the torpedoes. I dropped some depth charges in the location where I estimated the submarine to be on the basis of the torpedo wakes, then returned to the convoy. I was worried because the submarine had had enough time to transmit our position to the Royal Navy units based in Malta. For this reason I had the convoy alter course and proceeded toward Pantelleria at best speed.

Supermarina contacted us shortly afterwards by radio, to warn me that we had been spotted and to order a different course from the one I had chosen. Instead of answering, I maintained radio silence to avoid giving the enemy any further information concerning our position and intention, then decided to proceed along my original plan.

When I arrived at Pantelleria, the Admiral in charge on the island told me that he had already written me off after I failed to respond to Supermarina’s many calls. He then asked me why I had failed to execute my orders. I replied that, had I obeyed Supermarina, the British would have had an opportunity to intercept the convoy, so in the end I was actually praised for “correctly interpreting my orders”.

At this point in the interview, I felt I had taken enough of the Admiral’s time. Before I took my leave, he made some sobering remarks concerning the deep effects of the current budget restrictions and political situation on the Italian Navy, a topic I could certainly sympathize with. As a parting shot, he showed me portions of his hand written war diary, which is extremely interesting and would have significant documentary value.

He told me to visit him again should I come to Rome in the future. As Admiral Pighini had made the two most instructive hours of my Italian vacation a genuine pleasure, I’m looking forward to take him up on his most courteous offer.

Four Days on the Vittorio Veneto

With the collaboration of Salvatore Romano

We are glad to present copy of a memorandum written by Lieutenant Battersby of the Royal Navy, Liaison Officer aboard the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto from September 12th to September 16th, 1943. This document was located by Prof. George Elder in the archives of NARA (National Archives and Records Administration)


Copy/Orig & 4

2 October 1943
At War Stations.
18th September 1943.


I have the honour [honor] to submit the following report of ay duty as British Naval Liaison Officer in the Italian Battleship Vittorio Veneto from l2th to l6th September 1943.

I arrived on board the Vittorio Veneto at about 1800 on Sunday l2th September. She was lying at Mersa Sarobh moored with two anchors stern to a buoy.

My arrival was evidently unexpected, and I was told that the British Naval Liaison Officer was not expected until the next day. I was shown into a small very hot Reception Room and left to wait. One or two officers came in and looked at me, and one of them an Engineer Officer of equivalent rank to a Midshipman informed me that he was my interpreter. His English I found to be rather limited and very affected with constant repetition of: “It is It possible – Yes?” and similar phrases; he was a thoroughly unctious [unctuous]personality. He had been in Italian Passenger ships before the war, in particular the Conti [Conte] di Savoia.

After about half an hour’s wait the Commander came in and told me I would be shown my cabin. At this stage any efforts I made to see the Captain or the Admiral were ignored by the Italians, who were evidently uncertain what attitude should be adopted toward me. I was left in my cabin for an hour and was then told that supper was ready, I had been asked previously if I would like say meals in ay cabin but had explained, to their evident surprise, that I should like to eat in their mess. This was due, I discovered later, to the fact that a German officer had had my cabin and had behaved in a Teutonic manner.

I made further efforts to see the Captain or the Admiral and was told after some delay that the Admiral would see me. Ha received me in his day cabin and was quite formal in his attitude. Later he was to be extremely friendly.

Arrangements for the passage to Alexandria were discussed during which various staff officers including the Secretary, a Lieutenant Commander, the Flag Lieutenant, a Lieutenant, the Flag Captain, and the Chief of Staff, a Commander, were called upon. Five points of importance were brought out.

1. Oil fuel was still required.
2. Water – stated to be feed water, was also required.
3. The Italian’s draught might not permit her passage through the great pass, as the Italian charts showed this as being 34 feet.
4. Tugs would probably not be required for unberthing.
5. The sailing instructions as contained in the Hand Message from Rear Admiral, Force ‘H’ for the Italian Admiral were understood.

Accordingly, signals T.0.0. 122106, 122107. 122109 and 122254 were sent. I was then taken to the Ward Room Mess for supper. Here I found the officers awaiting me before starting, and I was formally introduced by the Commander.

Many of the officers had a smattering of English and most spoke some kind of French. Reasonable conversation was possible with their little English and my indifferent French. It must then be understood that some of the views I report as being expressed by the Italians may not be strictly accurate. After supper the atmosphere was distinctly more cordial and in many cases friendly. I was taken for a brief tour of inspection of the upper deck and bridge structures.

I was &asked by the Flag Lieutenant to press the matter of fuel and water as they were extremely doubtful if they would be able to sail at the appointed time on the morrow. Accordingly at 0520 in the following morning the 15th, I sent my signal 150554.


At 0650 the oiler Green Ranger arrived and fuelled first the Italia and later the Vittorio Veneto. A second oiler arrived later, the Brown Ranger, but was too late to be of any use.


By now it was apparent that if the water boats did not arrive at once that the squadron would not be able to sail on time. As I did not consider it prudent to leave the ship at that time I sent by Leading Signalman ashore with written instructions to phone up the duty staff officer at Vice Admiral, Malta’s offices to make the situation clear. This I am satisfied he did as subsequent signals were to show – at 1040 instructions were received to the affect that the movement was delayed and that steam should be kept at one hour’s notice. Rear Admiral, Force ‘H’s 131032.

During the forenoon I discovered that the Italians had an injured man whom it was desirable to land and I made the necessary arrangements through Staff Officer Operations, Rear Admiral Force ‘H’ and the Berthing Officer, Mersa Saroch. An RAF launch came to collect him and the Italian officers commented to me on the careful way that the orderlies and doctors had treated the man, in a way that made me suspect that either they did not expect such treatment from the English, or that they were not used to ratings being given such careful treatment. The rating was taken to the 45th General Hospital, Malta. There was something of a scene over this. The Admiral heard about it and “threw a temper”. It seemed that his superior admiral in the Cavour (I understood him to say) should have been consulted first – he said he had no power to land the man without his superior’s permission, and it seemed as if he was somewhat afraid of being reprimanded. I was to notice the Admiral’s “powerlessness” to do anything on his own initiative, many times before my stay was finished.

At about 1100, Staff Officer Operations to Rear Admiral, Force ‘H’ arrived on board and gave further instructions about watering and departure which were in turn cancelled by his 131318.

A water boat, the Arena, with domestic water only eventually arrived at about 1600, and first, watered the Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto. It was 3 hours before any water was pumped owing to delays and lack of organization, for the men were allowed to swarm over the Arena impeding the working of the ship. The Italian officers either did not wish to step their men or were unable to do so. I felt it was a mixture of the two. It was only on this occasion that I noticed any lack of control over the ship’s company of the Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto.


Shortly after this a Captain (E) of the staff of Flag Officer, Commanding Force ‘H’ came and thrashed out the water problem with the Italians. It was evident that their demands had been excessive and he whittled them down to 200 tons of domestic water and none of feed water. The Italia similarly needed only 200 tons of domestic water. Both, ships were supplied with approximately 300 tons.

I went over to the Italia with Captain (E) and saw certain bomb damage to her Forecastle on my way there. The reception in the Italia was distinctly formal but polite. The Captain did not speak English but the Commander spoke moderately well. A first class interpreter was supplied – a young Sub-Lieutenant brought up in China, educated in an English school and decidedly pro-English. The Captain gave a first impression of being short and sharp with his subordinates and of annoyance at the defeat and surrender of Italy.

By nightfall the destroyers Artigliere, Grecale and Velite had arrived.

At 2000 approximately a water lighter was brought into the anchorage by a tug and supplied 20 tons of distilled water to both the Velite and the Grecale and a further 20 tons to the Artigliere who watered when the Arena was alongside the Italia.

To prevent the intolerable delay in commencing pumping as happened at the Vittorio Veneto I arranged for officers from the Italia to come over and inspect the arrangements in the Vittorio Veneto. This undoubtedly saved 2 hour. 6 Destroyers had been expected to arrive at Mersa Saroch by nightfall but as only 5 had arrived by 0400/14 I authorized the water lighter to make a further issue to the 3 destroyers that had arrived and the Artigliere sailed with an extra 90 tons – Grecaler and Velite – 40 tons.


Watering was completed by 0600 – see my 0826. At 0830 the Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto shipped from the buoy and began to shorten in the starboard anchor which was first reported “foul” but later as “clear.”

At 0930 we proceeded outside the boom in the order – Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto, Italia, Destroyers, and at about 1015, station astern of the Italian Cruisers assumed.

During the passage I remained on the Admiral’s bridge the whole time. On the Admiral’s bridge were the Admiral, his Chief of Staff, the Secretary, the Flag Lieutenant, and three other officers and a Sub-Lieutenant, and two midshipmen who kept a navigational plot taking many sights. I saw no attempt at a Tactical plot nor did I see where there could be room for one.

The Captain never visited the Admiral’s bridge, nor the Admiral the Captain’s – Communication between the two were by voice pipe.

The Admiral appeared to do little except read the signals and occasionally make them, through this perhaps might be expected in view of the fact that he had a senior admiral in company. He was interested in my reports to him derived from the British flag hoists and was impressed by our “C pt A”^ or similar signals. I was able to gather that neither he nor his staff were aware of the potentialities of RADAR in ships.

However, he at no time would act on any of the executive orders for signals that I gave him (derived from the British hoists) – ha always waited for the executive from the Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia to come through first. (There was one exception to this and he obtained permission beforehand from the Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia). The executive was somewhat 5 or 4 minutes late in arriving. Nor did it always arrive correctly. On one occasion 2 knots speed was received instead of 20 knots – On this occasion I informed the Admiral that he speed was to be 20 knots hut he insisted on obeying the Italian version. As we were a mile astearn of H.M.S. KING GEORGE V. this did not matter.

Signalling [signaling] was controlled from the Admiral’s bridge, R/T definitely being used at tines. The Italia V/S equipment was vary poor – they having no light equal to our battery aldis. There did not seem to be much difficulty in understanding our maneuvers, though zig-zag caused a little worry. I was much impressed by the Vittorio Veneto’s zig-zagging. That of the Italia was not as good.

The Chief of Staff work seemed to be confined to looking at signals and keeping a watch on the bridge from time to time. There were periods when there were no Italian officer on the bridge. The Secretary seemed to do little but eat, smoke, sleep and occasionally indulge in an English lesson with me. The Flag Lieutenant seamed to be maid of all work. He kept an eye on the signaling [signaling], received all signals, took sights (but had a midshipman to work them out for him) helped keep the navigational plot and kept watch on the bridge.

15th. During the early hours of the 15th at about 0250 I was called by the signalman on watch to say that the Italia was dropping astern. She dropped back to about 3 miles before recovering her position making large amount of white smoke all the while. The Admiral informed me there was water in the Italia’s fuel. She appeared to regain position at about 26 – 28 knots.

During the morning the weather had freshened and at about 0700 the starboard wing destroyer, the Velite (wrongly stated to be the Artigliere in my 150748) dropped right astern to an estimated distance of 8 miles. She however regained, position at 1300.

At 0800, on, l6th the O.F. [oil fuel] percentages remaining were:
Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto 80%
Italia. 56%

I subsequently made a signal to the British Naval Liaison Officer in the Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia – my 151215. “IS RAH AWARE THAT ITALIA HAS ONLY 26 HOURS ENDURANCE REMAINING.” to which I received a reply, B.N.L.O. Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia’s 151224 “YES. I HAVE TOLD HIM.” When the signal was made to prepare to stream Paravanes I discovered that both Battleships were so fitted, but that neither would be able to stream them.

At about 1400 a party of electricians from GREBE arrived on board to demobilize the Re 2001 on the quarterdeck of the Vittoria [Vittorio] Veneto. They were followed shortly afterwards by a party of W/T officers and two RADAR officers from shore bases.

I had no orders about such matters but knew one of the RADAR officers personally and was shown by one of the aircraft party a copy of the orders for Operation Stoneage – my first intimation of anything of the kind.

At about 1730 anti-sabotage guard arrived and I relinquished my duties as British Naval Liaison Officer to Lieutenant Herbert-Smith, R.N.V.R. I was struck by the (as I considered) bad impression that the armed guard made on the Italians who had shown to me what I believe to be a friendly attitude. Many faces that had had a friendly, cheerful aspect previously, went dour. I could not help feeling that a part of their good-will towards us, to say the least, had temporarily waned. This was particularly noticeable with regard to the ratings.

At about 2045 I left the Vittorio to return to H.M.S. H O W E.

I have the honour [honor] to be,
Your obedient servant.

LEVANT STATION Lieutenant, Royal Navy.

(Through The Commanding Officer, H.M.S. H O W E.)

Appendix I


1. The Vittorio Veneto

(a) Cleanliness. The ship’s living space were clean, the officer’s quarters scrupulously so. The messdecks were dull. The heads were well fit-feed out, but choked easily. Washing conditions for the crew would have been very good if it was not for the lack of water at sea.
The ship’s company kept themselves clean, all of them paying particular attention to their feet.

(b) Bombs. There were two large circular plates about 15’ to 20′ across either side of the forecastle where 3 bombs had hit; 2 port together and 1 starboard. They had been dropped by Liberators about June last. The repairs appeared to have been well executed. The bombs exploded on the Middle deck.

(c) Gunnery Readiness
In harbour – at Merca Sarooh, A.D.P. and about half close range continually closed up.

In harbour – at Alexandria. By day A.D.P. and (half a day experience only). quarter 7 close range closed up.

By night, none.

At sea – All close range apparently at second degree.
90mm (3.9”) and 152m (6”) in two watches, but watch off stays in vicinity of guns.

The Low Angle armament was not manned.

(d) Damage Control at Sea.
Skeleton D.C. parties kept closed up, but many doors through closed to, were in no way clipped.

(e) Handling the Ship.
On the whole, the ship was well handled, though one or two turns in succession were badly executed, and officers of the watch were apt to swing past their course when zig-zagging.
For some reason there seemed to be distinct reluctance to go astern on the engines.

(e) Telephones
A very extensive telephone system has been installed. However, I did not see it being put to much use. The exchange was an automatic dialing one. There were direct phones as well. After speaking for a few minutes, speech was apt to become blurred.
One of the commissioned gunners remarked that “there was far too much reliance place on Electrical Equipment, and that if it failed they would be finished”. “

(f) German Origins.
Much or the equipment was of German origin, or built under license to German firms

Admiral’s Name: Ammiraglio di Divisione, Enrico Accorretti.

Captain’s Name: Capitano di Vascello, Corso Pecori Giraldi.

2. Radar

There was a general lack of knowledge of the potentialities of Radar. Many of the more junior officers knowing nothing about it. The Admiral was well impressed by K.G.V’s (Kin George V) shots fired blind by Radar at one of our own planes during the night of the 15th.
The only Radar set in the ship would not work – it was a L.A. Range Finder.

3. Gunnery Barrage.

The ship’s gunnery officer said that he normally fired barrages as follow:-

He told me in fast French, and although I made notes later, I cannot be certain that the ranges are accurate).

Angle of sight – For low level attack 50°
For other attacks 50°

Ranges – 152™ gun 8,000 metres [meters]
90mm gun 2,500 metres [meters]

He said that his close range ammunitions was self distinctive (destructive) at 1,500 metres.

4. Politics

a) Officers.
Mussolini was unpopular, also the fascist party. The Admiral’s Secretary said to me “I hope England wil realize that Fascism and Italy are not one”. He added, “In Germany it is different, Nazism and Germany are one”. The Secretary had just spent two years in Germany. The King appeared to be popular, Badoglio, slightly lees so. I was definitely wanted to believe that Fascism has been expunged. I am not certain that it is so. On two occasions in the Officer’s mess, I was greeted with the Fascist salute.

(b) Men.
Some had been in three wars, Spain, Abyssinia and world war No. 2; and blamed Mussolini and Fascism for their plight. They did not seam interested in politics, except as far as it concerned themselves or their families.

5. Morale.

Officers and men seemed cheerfully resigned to their fate, and the man pleased that war was over for Them; all were eager for news of their families.
Many officers were keen to help fight the Germans out of Italy, and proudly showed me, in the Italian news sheet they produced each day, the paragraphs showing that Italians were fighting the Germans in the North of Italy.
The ratings seem to be afraid of air attacks, particularly “Dive Bombing’. The sinking of the ROMA had undoubtedly made a big impression on all.
The men were keen to show the places where signs still remained of the bombs hits scored by the Liberators, and seemed almost proud of them.
Grew on average, very young and seemed to be mostly conscript. One stated reason ships did not often put to sea, was the inability of Italians to provide air cover and the unwillingness of the Germans to provide it, except when German ships present. Greatly impressed with air escort provided on the trip. Not particular about smoking and lights on the upper deck at night.

6. The Italia.

This ship was first named the LITTORIO, but was renamed on July the 29th of this year. She was not so well handled at sea as the VITTORIO VENETO, but this may have been due to bomb damage, and her greater draught forward.
THE ITALIA was hit by (?) 2 bombs off Corsica on her way to Malta: I could see the damage caused by one; on the starboard side of the forecastle. A temporary repair had been affected by means of a large plug. The bomb landed near the ship’s aide, and came out again through the flare.

7. Personalities

The Admiral was very friendly, but did not strike me as been forceful, or domineering. He has an unfortunate twitch (St Vitus’ Dance ) which does not seem to worry him very much. I saw him loose his temper twice. On one occasion when he had not been informed of the landing of a wounded rating, and another time when, during the night, one of the cruisers started to flash with a very bright light. In one occasion he really let fly in the best continental manner, and it was quite half an hour before he calmed down. At all other times he was quit, but inclined to be crotchety. His staff treated him as rather a joke from time to time, and had a good laugh at his expense.
The Admiral’s initiative was either lacking, or it was severely cramped by his seniors. This was most noticeable. He was pro-English, liked English books, particularly letters of Lord Collingwood whom he admired. He said that his wife was even more pro-British. Before his present employment as second-in-command of the Spezia Battle Squadron, he was at the Admiralty at Rome, and before that, Had the Cruiser Squadron, wearing his flag in the LUIGI DI SAVOIA DUCA DEGLI ABRUZZI.
The Admiral said he was certain that much in the near future depended on the King and Marshall Badoglio. He was convinced that it would be a calamity if either of them were to fall into German hands. He speaks moderate English. Age 55. Apt to be untidy.

The Captain
A quit man, with a strong personality, very brief and to the point, dealt firmly with the Admiral. He spoke good English, though did not always wish to understand what was being said to him. Of smart appearance. He was apt to tret me very formally; in complete contrast to the Admiral, and managed to convey the impression of being somewhat stand-offish. I felt he was stunned by the surrender of his fleet.

The Commander
Appeared to be rather a nonentity. Quite and reserved, spoke poor English, and moderate French. Friendly, and pleasant, but like nearly all his compatriots that I met, capable of the gross procrastination.

The Assistant Commander
A dominant personality, with Prussian appearance. Evidently told the Commander what to do, and the latter used to agree quite meekly. Spoke no English, and little French.

The Gunnery Officer
Spoke no English, but good French. Seemed efficient. Quite, and pleasant character. Did not appear to know much of Radar.

The Medical Officer
The Senior Medical Officer in the ship was a Surgeon Lieutenant Commander. He was captured by us in our Abyssinian campaign in 1941 and repatriated by us two years later, so that he had been out of our hands 4 months when he surrendered with the rest of the Fleet.
He did not like the conditions of the Prisoner of War Camp in the Sudan, complaining chiefly of boredom. He is very fed up with life, but does not appear to bear us any ill will. He speaks quite good English and French.

The Junior Officers
Many of these spoke English to varying extent, and nearly all of them French. The age of some of the Midshipmen was noticeable, they must have been a full 30 years. There seemed to be no distinction between hostilities only and continuous service

The Warrant Officers.
Seamed on the whole friendly. They asked my Leading Signalman to give them a short address in English, which he was not able to do.
Many of the officers had served in the Merchant Navy, or had traveled in peace time, and there was a wide understanding of the British point of view.

8. Engineering.

There appears to have been trouble since the ship commissioned, with the condensers. The principle would seem to have been that enough water was carried to last out the few days that the ship was at sea.
Movements seem to have been restricted, owing to a lack of oil fuel, and such fuel as did come was from Germany, but of poor quality.

9. Paravanes.

Both Battleships were fitted, but the Admiral stated that they were rarely streamed, and doubted if enough sailors knew the drill for streaming, to get them out in reasonable time. However, the Vittorio Veneto’s were not working, as one of the towing wires had parted while the ship was at Spezia, and apparently there were no spares, and the Italia’s were damaged by bombs.
The Admiral said, that when, they were at Spezia and came out for practices, they dare not slow down for Paravanes, (apparently the Italian ships must nearly stop to recover or stream Paravanes) as there were always two submarines waiting outside. On one occasion they had slowed down, and all that saved his ship – so he said – was a destroyer stopping the torpedoes and getting sunk instead. He seemed to have little faith or patience in Paravanes.

10. Food.

This seemed quite adequate, was well served; action messing at sea seemed very successful. Galleys were claen; shortage of meat did not prevent steaks being served in the Admiral’s mess. Sailors food, plain and without such variety, mainly Maccaroni, Spaghetti, Rice and brown bread.

11. Air Raids.

Apparently Air Said Shelters at Leghorn and Genoa were or are inadequate; those at Milan and Turin are said to be good.
Some of the crew volunteered the information that they thought English bombing was better (more accurate) than the American, especially at Pisa and Genoa.
Generally they stated, large casualties had been caused by air raids on Italy, but they conceded that English bombing had been obviously directed against Military targets.
The flag Lieutenant had been wounded in the leg in an air raid ashore, and declared, but for that he would have been appointed the command of a Torpedo Boat.

12. Shortages.

Shortages that were mentioned most, or were most evident, included

Soap – as a result of this, the rig for officers of complete white has been abolished in favor of blue trousers and white jacket.

Tea – The substitute was terrible.

Coffee – The substitute was poor, the coffee served at sea was supposed to be the genuine product.

Rubber – There appeared to be plenty of substitutes and of good quality.

Tobacco – The stronger tobacco supplied was not liked. Apparently the Navy gets preference in supply.

Clothing – Uniforms seemed to be scarce.

Leather – Nearly all the sailors wore clogs.

13. The sinking of the Roma

This was caused by a Rocket Propelled Bomb. The occurrence had shaken the Italians, and imbued a hate against the Germans more than anything else seem to have done.

14. Position of the Admiral in the Line

If there are two Admirals present in a line of ships, the senior takes guide and the junior takes the stern position in the line. But for this Admiral Accorretti commented that he would not be alive.

15. Photographs.

I was able to take 24 photographs during the last few hours of may stay; these I handed over to Lieutenant Coote R.N.V.R., attached to force “H”, on the l7th September.

16. Attitude to the Germans.

One of the Warrant Officers said that “The Germans ware strong enough to last out 6 months for they had taken everything from the conquered countries they wanted and destroyed the rest. People in those countries were starving”. He stated that “He had visited France, , the Balkans and Germany – the latter had shortages, but the people were fairly content.” He said that “The Germans had no respect for anything but themselves and their property, they cared nothing for civilians”.

17. Listening to the News.

There was not much faith placed in the B.B.C, News, because, from time to time obvious mistakes had been made which had made then distrust the B.B.O. However, they did not trust the Rome news much either.

18. Entertainments.

I saw one Italian film of very inferior quality on the Quarter Deck. It appeared to be largely glorifying Italian Youth Movements, and the audience often booed and hissed. The officers seemed to tolerate it, some occasionally laughing. At the and large number of the crew booed and hissed in spite of the presence of the Admiral and Captain. There were two performances, and a very large number attended. I gathered that normally, 3 or so different films were shown each week and that a stock of 5 3 was carried on board. Officers and men attended the same performance.

19. The Artigliere.

This destroyer was originally named the “Black Shirt” or the Italian version of the word. It had had its named changed to its present form on the 29th July of this year.

20. The comments of the senior signal rating of the Liasion Party.
V/S equipment very poor, particularly lamps which were crude in type and of very low brilliance.
Skill of staff fairly high as regards practical work, but handicapped by the equipment and its arrangement.
The system of controlling signals was almost the same as our; signals being reported simultaneously to the Admiral and Captain.
There were a large number of Warrant officers and Senior rating who carried out all the practical work.
Signals were decoded by officers only, apparently a cumbersome system causing delays. Some R/T used, and it is apparently [missing text].