R. Smg. Dentice

Dentice was submarine of the Tritone (or Flutto) class, 1st series with a displacement of 905 tons surfaced and 1.070 tons submerged. Crew was expected to be 49 men including 5 officers.  Laid down on August 23rd,1943 at the Tosi shipyard in Taranto, work was suspended after the Italian armistice of September 8th, 1943. Cernia and Spigola were also under construction in the same shipyard and had the same fate. The boat, no longer necessary to the war effort, was never completed and broken up in 1948.

An image of Flutto to render an idea of the expected final look of Dentice

R. Smg. Cernia

Cernia a submarine of the Tritone (or Flutto) class, 1st series with a displacement of 905 tons surfaced and 1.070 tons submerged. Crew was expected to be 49 men including 5 officers.  Laid down on July 12th,1943 at the Tosi shipyard in Taranto, work was suspended after the Italian armistice of September 8th, 1943. Spigola and Dentice were also under construction in the same shipyard and had the same fate. The boat, no longer necessary to the war effort, was never completed and broken up in 1948.

An image of Flutto to render an idea of the expected final look of Cernia

R. Smg. Spigola

Spigola was a submarine of the Tritone (or Flutto) class, 1st series with a displacement of 905 tons surfaced and 1.070 tons submerged. Crew was expected to be 49 men including 5 officers.  Laid down on June 10th,1943 (Navy Day in Italy) at the Tosi shipyard in Taranto, work was suspended after the Italian armistice of September 8th, 1943. Cernia and Dentice were also under construction in the same shipyard and had the same fate. The boat, no longer necessary to the war effort, was never completed and broken up in 1948.

An image of Flutto to render an idea of the expected final look of Spigola

R. Smg. Jalea

Argonaut Class coastal submarine (650 tons surface displacement and 800 tons submerged displacement). Together with her sister ship Jantina, it differed from the other units of the class because of different engine apparatus (FIAT diesel engines and CRDA electric motors, while Salpa and Serpente had Tosi diesel engines and Marelli electric motors, and Argonauta, Medusa and Fisalia had both diesel and electric engines made by CRDA).

Jalea (left) and Jantina (right) under final fitting in Muggiano, La Spezia
(From “I sommergibili italiani tra le due guerre mondiali” di Alessandro Turrini)

In peacetime the boat carried out intense training activities in the Mediterranean, and in 1936-1937 participated clandestinely in the Spanish Civil War with three patrols. In the initial phase of World War II, it was employed in offensive patrols in the eastern Mediterranean, without encountering enemy units. In March 1941, along with the twin boat Serpente, being the oldest and most worn-out coastal submarines of the Regia Marina (except for the obsolete H of the Great War), the boats were assigned to training tasks at the Submarine School of Pula, where they remained until August 1943.

Jalea and Jantina under final fitting in Muggiano, La Spezia
(From “I sommergibili italiani tra le due guerre mondiali” di Alessandro Turrini)

There, Jalea alternated training activity with anti-submarine patrols in the Upper Adriatic, especially after the tragic sinking of twin boat Medusa by the British submarine Thorn (TN January 30th, 1942). Thereafter, Jalea briefly returned to “front-line” deployment, which was soon interrupted by the armistice. Overall, in the period between June 10th, 1940, and September 8th, 1943, Jalea carried out 22 offensive/exploratory missions and eleven transfer missions, covering 8,437 nautical miles on the surface and 2,822 submerged and spending 114 days at sea, and 147 training sorties for the Submarine School in Pula, covering 8,316 nautical miles.

During the co-belligerence period, Jalea was initially destined, like other submarines, for training use in Bermuda, which it had to give up due to breakdowns that took place during the transfer voyage. The boat was employed in the training of British ships and aircraft in Gibraltar, participating in 48 exercises between January and May 1945. Overall, from September 8th, 1943, to the end of the war, the vessel completed 18 transfer missions, 49 training trips and 7 sea trials covering 13,386.8 nautical miles.

It was the only unit of its class to survive the conflict.  The submarine’s motto was “Aude et vinces” (dare and you will win).

Brief and Partial Chronology

January 20th, 1930

Set-up began at the Odero Terni Orlando del Muggiano shipyards (La Spezia).

June 15th, 1932

The submarine was launched at the Odero Terni Orlando del Muggiano shipyard (La Spezia) and placed under the Command in Chief of the Maritime Military Department of La Spezia for outfitting and testing.

March 16th, 1933

Jalea entered active service and was initially assigned to a “mixed” squadron (i.e., made up of submarines of different classes) based in La Spezia.

1933

The boat completed several cruises in Italian waters.

1934

Departing from La Spezia, the home port, Jalea made a training cruise that took the vessel to Piraeus, Alexandria, Tobruk, Benghazi and Tripoli.

August 28th, 1936

Lieutenant Teseo Tesei, inventor of the Slow Running Torpedo and future Gold Medal for Military Valor, embarked on Jalea as chief engineer. Tesei remained on Jalea until April 16th, 1937, leaving a diary relating to the second “Spanish” mission.

Lieutenant, Naval Engineering, Teseo Tesei

December 9th, 1936

As part of the I Submarine Group of La Spezia, Jalea sailed to La Maddalena (from Cagliari) under the command of Lieutenant Commander Silvio Garino for a clandestine mission in Spanish waters, off the coast of Barcelona, in support of the nationalist forces in the ongoing civil war in the Iberian Peninsula.

For several weeks, some Italian submarines had begun to operate secretly in support of Francisco Franco’s forces, but the turning point in their use came on December 6th, following a meeting held at Palazzo Venezia with the participation of Mussolini, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Galeazzo Ciano, the Undersecretaries of State for War (General Alberto Pariani),  the Navy (Admiral Domenico Cavagnari) and the Air Force (General Giuseppe Valle), the head of the SIM (General Mario Roatta, who is also the commander of the Italian military mission in Spain) and the German Abwehr (Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, who participated in the meeting representing the German armed forces).

Opportunely hinted at by Roatta, who in the previous weeks had written from Spain that even if the Nationalists succeeded in conquering Madrid (where they were encountering difficulties due to the fierce resistance of the Republicans: the capital in fact did not fall until March 1939) the Republican resistance would continue elsewhere, and that the only hope for a quick nationalist victory – unless large Italian-German units were sent to Spain – was to cut off the flow of arms and Soviet supplies to the Republicans by sea.

Mussolini said that “At this moment we must make a real ‘race to the sea’. It is my conviction that the solution to the Spanish situation can be achieved by sea. That is, on the day when we have blockaded the red ports of the Mediterranean, the Government of Valencia will realize that the game is lost. It must be borne in mind that, in both Italy and Germany, it would take two months for the training of large units. In this period, above all, it will be necessary to make any traffic in the Mediterranean in the direction of Spain impossible, using aviation and submarines in the most effective way.” The vision of Roatta and Mussolini was also shared by Admiral Canaris, and moreover Hitler himself believed that rather than starting a dangerous “race” with the Soviet Union for the sending of reinforcements to the opposing factions, which would leave Germany unguarded and increase the risk of an expansion of the conflict (at a time when German rearmament was still far from reaching a satisfactory level),  It was better to stop the flow of Soviet supplies by sea to the Republicans, although he leaned more towards diplomatic action to achieve this.

Francisco Franco, head of the nationalist faction, had also insisted on a naval blockade of Republican ports. It was therefore decided to increase the number of submarines operating in Spanish waters from two to eight, with the aim of torpedoing all ships sailing in Spanish territorial waters to block the shipment of weapons to Republican ports; Ciano has proposed that at least one submarine be sent to lurk in front of every Republican port.

The only objections were those made by Admiral Cavagnari, who pointed out the difficulty of identifying the ships sighted as being in the service of Republican Spain, and the risk of serious international accidents in the event of error. To avoid such incidents, submarine commanders were given strict orders not to carry out attacks outside the limits of the assigned ambush zones, and to torpedo only ships identified with certainty as Republican or Soviet, as well as those sailing with darkened lights in their ambush sectors. Since it was difficult to establish with certainty the nationality of the ships sighted (many Republican ships resort to false flags in an attempt to break the blockade), these rules of engagement would result in very modest outcomes in terms of sinkings.

Also, on board Jalea , there was an officer of the nationalist Spanish Navy, the Lieutenant Gonzalo Diaz, who would pretend to be the commander of the submarine if the submarine were to be forced to surface in the presence of neutral ships, to avoid being recognized as Italian (Italy, in fact, had not declared war on the Spanish republic,  and the use of its submarines against the Republican navy was therefore completely illegal). Diaz was also expected with helping to recognize the coastline and the ships sighted.

December 14th, 1936

Jalea had to return to La Spezia due to a breakdown and rough seas, without having reached the ambush area. The boat spent 78 hours on the surface and 106 hours submerged.

December 20th, 1936

After repairing the damage, Jalea left Cagliari for another “Spanish” mission in front of Barcelona, still under the command of Lieutenant Commander Garino and with Lieutenant Diaz on board.

Lieutenant Commander Silvio Garino

December 22nd, 1936

At 7.13 AM a steamer was sighted, and Jalea dove to a depth of 20 meters, sailing at 3 knots and occasionally climbing to periscope depth to look. In the late afternoon, a large British corvette, sailing towards France, passes by the bow of the submarine, 6-7 km away. At 6 PM, Jalea surfaced to recharge the batteries; course 0°, and Cape Crens was passed. Shortly after 8 PM, the Franco-Spanish border was crossed.

Lieutenant Commander Silvio Garino aboard the Jalea with other officers

During the night, numerous merchant ships were sighted, but it was not possible to attack because it was not possible to establish their nationality with certainty.

December 23rd, 1936

At 6.30 AM, Jalea dove again to a depth of 24 meters; Several fishing boats passed around. When two of them moved to the side of Jalea a few hundred meters away proceeding at low speed, fearing that they were requisitioned units and employed in an anti-submarine rake, Commander Garino decided to descend to a depth of 40 meters. In the early afternoon, Jalea returns to periscope depth, and it was possible to observe Barcelona. At 6:20 PM, the boat resurfaced.

December 24th, 1936

At 6.08 AM, Jalea dove. At 12:15 a destroyer was sighted, and the submarine maneuvered to attack, but the attack had to be abandoned when the destroyer was recognized as British, with the initials H 31 (H.M.S. Griffin). Later, a sailing ship left Barcelona; Fishing boat traffic also continued. At 7 PM Jalea surfaced.

December 25th, 1936

At five o’clock in the morning, Jalea attacked the Republican steamer Ciudad de Barcelona off Cape San Antonio. The ship was entering the harbor with darkened lights and had turned them on at the last moment. At 5:18 AM, two torpedoes were launched, the first 533 mm and the second 450 mm, and two minutes later Jalea submerged. Two explosions were heard, and on board it was believed that the first torpedo had missed its target and exploded on the coast, while the second was a hit. Neither of the two torpedoes hit, and the ship managed to reach Alicante.

At 7.30 AM, periscope observation was performed, but there was fog. Floodlights could be seen intent in research. An hour later, another observation, but visibility dropped drastically. In the afternoon, H.M.S. Griffin left the port. At 7:30 PM, Jalea emerged.

December 26th, 1936

Jalea headed towards Tarragona. At two o’clock in the morning, the diesel propulsion engine was stopped and, continuing the charge, while diesel-electric propulsion proceeds, at four knots. At three o’clock in the morning, in sight of Tarragona, many fishing boats were sighted towards the bow. First Jalea reversed course, then approached up to a mile from the coast, then headed again for Tarragona. About four o’clock in the morning a darkened merchant ship was sighted at anchor outside that port: Jalea went to attack on the surface. However, when it was a thousand meters away, the crew spotted a fishing boat and had to dive. At 7:07 AM, when the hydrophones no longer pick up the noise of the trawler’s engine, Jalea returned to the surface, with the cunning tower just out of the water, and Captain Garino climbed onto the bridge. The ship sets sail and tries to enter the port. At 7:25 AM, two 533 mm torpedoes were launched from tubes 3 and 4, but both weapons missed their targets, and at 7:30 AM Jalea submerged again.

The ship attacked was the liner Villa de Madrid, sailing from Marseille to Alicante (various sources mistakenly place the attack off the coast of Barcelona, at the entrance to the port of that city or off Cullera). One of the torpedoes ended up, unexploded, on the nearby beach of Prat da Llobregat, near the lighthouse. Recovered by the Republicans and examined on board the cruiser Mendez Nuñez, it was shown to the foreign press as unequivocal proof of the Italian involvement in the conflict (it was in fact a Whitehad torpedo, produced in Rijeka and in use by the Italian Navy). This unleashed a wave of indignation in the international press. Italian diplomats abroad were ordered by Palazzo Chigi to react to the accusations by showing “always ignorance or the deepest surprise”, but by now the nationality of the “unknown” submarines operating in Spanish waters has become public knowledge.

In the late afternoon, Jalea unsuccessfully chased a steamer which, alerted by an aircraft as it was entering port, had fled. The submarine experienced air leaks and handling problems.

At 7 PM it resurfaced, and began charging the batteries. At 9.15 PM, Jalea returned to the depths and went south of Cape Salon, half a mile from the shore, hoping that the ship would pass between the moon and the submarine. Realizing that he was being chased by the submarine proceeding at eleven knots, however, the merchant ship turned off all the lights and sailed away at low speed, thus managing to lose its tracks.

At 10:15 PM Jalea left the coast to dive, and at 11 PM it emerged, charged its batteries, and headed for Barcelona.

December 27th, 1936

At 6.30 AM Jalea dives. At eight o’clock, in front of Barcelona, a buoy with a flag is sighted. Around noon, a merchant ship was sighted, and an attack maneuver began, which had to be aborted when the ship’s flag was recognized as Dutch. Once the fog has fallen, Jalea settled on the seabed at a depth of 65 meters, four miles from the coast. At 8:30 PM, the submarine emerged. In the late evening, route to Porto Rosas.

December 28th, 1936

At one o’clock in the morning a turn is made on the starboard side, to get away from the coast. A large warship was sighted at the stern – the displacement was estimated at 800-10,000 tons – which proceeded at high speed, but it did not notice the presence of the Italian boat. At 7.20 AM Jalea submerged, but at 8.40 AM a rudder failure forced it to settle on the seabed, at a depth of 46 meters. At 11.50 AM, after repairing the damage, the submarine returned to periscope depth. At 7.05 PM, surfaced and made way toward Barcelona.

December 29th, 1936

At 6:42 AM, Jalea dove near the southern edge of its ambush sector. For a few hours it proceeded at periscope depth performing hydrophone listening, after which at eleven o’clock it set course for Tarragona. At 12:10 PM it emerged and switched to diesel propulsion. At 1:05 PM, two steamers were sighted, and a rapid dive was ordered. The submarine proceeds at half speed, and at 5 PM it arrived four miles from the coast, surrounded by fishing boats, some of which were no more than 150 yards away. At 6.50 PM, it surfaced to recharge the batteries.

December 30th, 1936

Shortly after midnight, a large black mass was sighted towards the stern with the lights off, and a rapid dive was ordered. In his haste, the electrician on call forgot to close the ventilation ducts, from which water started pouring into the submarine: “full air to all the tanks!” was ordered and the submarine returned to the surface. It was thus ascertained that the black mass belonged to a large sailing ship completely obscured. Water entering the ventilation duct had come into contact with the stern battery, causing chlorine gas to be released, which forced personnel to wear gas masks and work through the night to repair the damage. Initially, Jalea headed towards La Spezia, but after about ten miles the chief engineer Tesei assured Commander Garino that the damage had been repaired, and the submarine reversed course to return to the ambush area.

At 7.05 AM Jalea submerged, but the buoyancy pump failed. Once the submarine was placed on the seabed at 45 meters, the fault was repaired. In the afternoon, another aborted attack maneuver against a suspicious steamer, which did not fly a flag and had to be allowed to pass as it was impossible to identify it with certainty. The boat proceed at a depth of 20 meters until 6.50 PM, when the surface maneuver was ordered.

December 31st, 1936

At 6.30 AM, Jalea returned underwater in front of Barcelona, and then spent the morning sifting through those waters. At 12.20 the submarine went to periscope depth, and sighted portside a large French destroyer, so it returns to the depths. At 1.03 PM, again at periscope depth: on the ascent, however, Jalea crashed – at a depth of 12 meters – against the hull of the destroyer, destroying the exploration periscope. It returns to a depth of 40 meters, then descends to the seabed at 53 meters. A course of 80° was taken for La Spezia and at 7 PM the surfacing maneuver was ordered. At 8 PM the portside engine failed.

January 1st, 1937

In the afternoon, the “stump” of the destroyed periscope was cut out.

The crew of the Jalea in summer uniform
(From “Oltre la divisa”, by Antonio Dosi)

January 2nd, 1937

At 7.30 AM, Jalea ended its mission by arriving in La Spezia, after spending 164 hours on the surface and 127 submerged. It carried out a total of four attack maneuvers, two of which were aborted, against merchant ships passing through the area, without success, and encountered rough seas during the mission.

August 5th, 1937

Still part of the I Grupsom in La Spezia and under the command of the Lieutenant Commander Silvio Garino, Jalea departed from Naples, for another mission to counter the traffic of supplies to the Spanish Republican ports, in the area off Cartagena. On board again there was Lieutenant Commander Diaz; to prevent recognition, Jalea was painted black and the name letters on the hull and cunning tower were removed.

August 12th, 1937

At 9.25 AM Jalea sighted the destroyers Churruca and Almirante Antequera (another source speaks of the Alcalá Galiano), of the Spanish Republican Navy, leaving Cartagena. The two units were to take over the escort of the tanker Campillo, sailing from Alicante to Cartagena. Having correctly identified the two destroyers as Churruca-class units, Jalea maneuvered quickly to get into launch position and then launched two torpedoes, one 533 mm against the first destroyer and one 450 mm against the second (according to another source both torpedoes were 450 mm; for another reason both weapons were launched against the lead destroyer). The first of the weapons hit the Churruca (Lieutenant Manuel Nuñez Rodriguez; on board there is also a Soviet “consultant”, S. D. Solouchin) amidships, at boiler rooms 2 and 3, killing three men and wounding nine (one of whom later died). The second narrowly misses it, passing it aft. After launching, Jalea accidentally surfaced and was thus spotted by the Churruca, whose crew thus had the opportunity to notice that it was a foreign submarine. However, there was no reaction from the Almirante Antequera or other republican units. (According to another source, the attack took place off the coast of Tarragona.)

The damaged Churruca, which was immobilized, was taken in tow by the patrol unit Rafael Arcangel, but the tow cable broke twice. It was eventually towed to Cartagena by the tugboat Gaditano (another source claims that the Churruca was towed to safety by Alcalá Galiano), but the damage suffered – a seven-by-two-meter gash on the left side and three boilers out of order – put it out of action for the rest of the war. For this attack, Commander Garino was awarded the Silver Medal for Military Valor by the Italian authorities (motivation: “Commander of the submarine Jalea, in two war missions on the Spanish coasts he demonstrated on various occasions to possess a very high aggressive spirit and uncommon expertise. After a long and tenacious ambush, he resolutely attacked the red destroyer Churruca with torpedoes in the waters of Cartagena, which was hit and seriously damaged”) and the Spanish Military Medal by the Francoist ones.

Commander Garino receives the Silver Medal for Military Valor from Victor Emmanuel III in Rome (at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier) on the occasion of the Navy Day, June 10th, 1939. On the left, the Chief of Staff of the Navy, Admiral Domenico Cavagnari, reads the motivation (from “La guerra civile spagnola e la Regia Marina italiana”

The Spanish Civil War and the Italian Royal Navy, by Francesco Mattesini)

August 21st, 1937

Jalea concluded the patrol by returning to Cagliari, after a mission during which it spent 222.35 hours on the surface and 127. submerged and encountered good seas, covering 1,781 nautical miles on the surface and 231 submerged.

In addition to the torpedoing of the Churruca, it had initiated four attack maneuvers against suspicious merchant ships transiting in its area, but had always aborted them before launch due to the impossibility of identifying them with certainty.

1938

Jalea was assigned to the Submarine Group of Leros. Both Jalea and the twin  boat Jantina spent most of the period immediately preceding World War II in the Dodecanese.

1939-1940

The commanders of Jalea were first Lieutenant Commander Primo Longobardo and then the Lieutenant Salvatore Todaro, both destined to make a name for themselves in the Atlantic shortly thereafter, and to be decorated – in memoriam – with the Gold Medal for Military Valor.

April 25th, 1940

Lieutenant Sandro Cetti, 32, from Como, took command of Jalea.

May 10th, 1940

Jalea , along with the submarines Ametista, Jantina, Delfino and Zaffiro, left Messina to move to the island of Leros, the main naval base of the Dodecanese. The transfer of the five submarines was arranged to reinforce the underwater forces deployed in the Dodecanese (Tricheco, Squalo and Narvalo), in preparation for the now imminent war. A few days later, the five boats crossed the Aegean and reached their destination. Jalea, Jantina, Ametista, and Zeffito form the LII Submarine Squadron (V Grupsom), based in Leros.

June 9th, 1940

At 7.45 AM Jalea (Lieutenant Sandro Cetti) sailed from Portolago (Leros) for a patrol in position 35°08′ N and 26°58′ E, in the Channel of Caso and south of Caso where it would form a barrage together with its twin boat Jantina and the larger Delfino.

June 10th, 1940

Italy entered World War II.

June 11th, 1940

At 8:10 AM, an anti-submarine vessel attacked Jalea in the Kasos Channel with the launch of three depth charges. The submarine retreats to the southeast, and at 10:30 AM heard the explosion of a fourth depth charge. However, it did not appear that Allied anti-submarine units were present in the area.

June 14th, 1940

Jalea returned to Portolago at 4.15 PM, after covering 579 miles.

June 29th, 1940

Under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti, the boat set sail from Portolago at 9.30 AM for a patrol in the Caso Channel, in position 35°10′ N and 26°40′ E.

July 9th, 1940

Jalea returned to Portolago at 9.55 AM, after having covered 811 miles.

August 5th, 1940

Jalea set sail from Portolago at 7.30 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti, for a patrol in the Karpathos Channel, north of the Channel between Rhodes and Karpathos (according to another source, probably erroneous, north of Crete).

August 17th, 1940

Jalea returned to Portolago at 6.52 AM after having covered 1116.5 miles without any major events.

September 7th, 1940

Jalea left Portolago at 6 PM to move to Taranto, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti.

September 12th, 1940

Jalea arrived in Taranto at 4.25 PM, after having covered 640 miles.

October 22nd, 1940

Departure from Taranto for exercise from 8.40 AM to 6.15 PM, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti. Jalea traveled 61 miles.

Other pictures of the Jalea
(From “Oltre la divisa” by Antonio Dosio)

November 10th, 1940

Jalea sets sail from Taranto at 9.30 PM, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti, to carry out hydrophone surveillance in the Gulf of Taranto.

November 11th, 1940

Jalea returned to Taranto at 9.30 AM, after having covered 181 miles.

November 12th, 1940

Jalea departed Taranto at four o’clock, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti, to carry out hydrophone surveillance in position 39°39′ N and 18°53′ E, fifteen miles by 118° from Torre Scanzano.

November 13th, 1940

Jalea returned to Taranto at 1.30 PM, after having covered 181 miles without detecting anything.

November 14th, 1940

Jalea left Taranto at seven o’clock, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti, for a patrol west of Corfu, within a radius of five miles from point 39°39′ N and 18°53′ E, to protect convoys with supplies sailing towards Albania.

November 22nd, 1940

Jalea returned to Taranto at 3.30 PM, after having covered 519.5 miles.

December 1st, 1940

Jalea left Taranto at nine o’clock, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti, for another patrol south of the Otranto Channel, in position 39°40′ N and 19°10′ E (southwest of Corfu), to protect the convoys to Albania, together with the submarine Giovanni Da Procida.

December 11th, 1940

Jalea returned to Taranto at 2.35 PM, after having covered 638 miles.

December 26th, 1940

Jalea departed Taranto at 11.09 PM, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti, for a new patrol south of the Otranto Channel to protect traffic with Albania, starting from point 38°40′ N and 20°00′ E and going up to ten miles to the east.

January 5th, 1941

Jalea returned to Taranto at 1.30 PM, after having covered 1006.5 miles without major events.

January 19th, 1941

Departure from Taranto for exercise from 14.35 to 15.40, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti. Jalea navigated only three miles.

January 21, 1941

Jalea departed Taranto at 8.05 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti, for a patrol south of the Otranto Channel, in position 38°40′ N and 19°40′ E, again to safeguard the convoys with Albania. It formed a barrage in the Lower Adriatic and northern Ionian Sea together with the submarines Ambra, Turchese, Tito Speri, Filippo Corridoni, Domenico Millelire, Ciro Menotti and Dessiè.

January 31st, 1941

Jalea returned to Taranto at 4:30 PM after having travelled 663 miles without detecting anything except engine noise and explosions in the distance.

February 1st, 1941

Departure from Taranto for exercise from 14.30 to 16.50, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti. Jalea covered only 4 miles.

February 26th, 1941

Exit from Taranto for exercise from 8.30 AM to 4.40 PM, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti and with the escort of the minesweeper RD 16. Jalea traveled 36 miles.

February 27th, 1941

Exit from Taranto for exercise from 9.10 to 10.34, under the command of Lieutenant Sandro Cetti. Jalea travelled two miles.

February 28th, 1941

Lieutenant Cetti left the command of Jalea, which was taken over by the Lieutenant Commander Gustavo Miniero, 34, from Gragnano (Naples).

March 6th, 1941

Exit from Taranto for exercise from 8.40 AM to 5.10 PM, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Gustavo Miniero and with the escort of the minesweeper RD 30. Jalea traveled 44 miles.

Jalea (center), Onice (left) and Ametista (right) docked in Civitavecchia
(From“Oltre la divisa” byAntonio Dosio)

March 10th, 1941

Jalea left Taranto at 9.25 PM, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Gustavo Miniero, for a patrol in the Gulf of Taranto.

March 11th, 1941

Jalea returned to Taranto at 10.45 AM, after having covered 87 miles without sighting anything.

March 15th, 1941

Departure from Taranto for exercise from 3.10 PM to 4.40 PM, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Gustavo Miniero. Jalea covered four miles.

March 16th, 1941

Jalea left Taranto at 9.10 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Gustavo Miniero, to move to Pula, where it was assigned to training: the boat had worn out engines and other equipment, and no longer suitable for “front line” service. On the way, it encounters an Italian convoy.

March 18th, 1941

Jalea arrived in Pula at 10:48 AM, after traveling 534 miles. It then passed under the XII Submarine Group, composed of the units employed in the training of the students of the Submarine School of Pula.

From March 25th to April 1st, 1941

Several trainings patrols.

April 4th, 1941

Jalea sailed from Pula at 16.10, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Gustavo Miniero, for a patrol off Punta Planca and Šibenik, along a northwest-southeast oriented line at 43°24′ N and 15°48′ E (or 41°50′ N and 18°25′ E) to replace the Medusa, which had returned due to damage. The purpose of the mission was to protect traffic with Albania.

April 13, 1941

Jalea returned to Pula at 1:25 PM, after covering 827 miles.

April 15, 1941

Departure from Pula for exercise from 8.50 to 9.15, under the command of Lieutenant Gustavo Miniero.

May 4th, 1941

Jalea enters the shipyard in Pula for a period of work.

May 17th, 1941

Change of command during the works: Lieutenant Miniero was replaced by his peer Vincenzo D’Amato, 31 years old, from Bari.

Lieutenant Vincenzo D’Amato

May 28, 1941

Left the shipyard at the end of the works.

June 14, 1941 – January 28, 1942

A large number of training patrols.

February 1st through 14, 1942

More repair works in Pula. During this period, Commander Riccardo Boris, 35 years old, from Borgo San Martino, was interim commander. At the end of the repair work, on February 14th, the command was assumed by the Lieutenant Commander Giuseppe Roselli Lorenzini, 31 years old, from Rome, except for the transfer trip from Pula to Porto Baross, in which Jalea was commanded by Lieutenant Teucle Meneghini, 34 years old, from Pitelli.

Lieutenant Commander Giuseppe Roselli Lorenzini in a post-war picture

February 25th, 1942

It left Pula at 7.40 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Teucle Meneghini, to move to Porto Baross together with the submarines Velella and Vettor Pisani, the Audace and the submarine support ship Quarnerolo. The small convoy arrived in Porto Baross at 2:50 PM, after a journey of 60 miles.

From March 7th, through May 15th, 1942

Several training patrols from Porto Baross.

Jalea during a test dive in Pula
(From the magazine STORIA militare)

May 16th, 1942

Still under the command of Lieutenant Commander Roselli Lorenzini, Jalea left Porto Baross at 1.30 PM to move to Pula, where it arrived at 7 PM, after having covered 58.9 miles.

May 17th, 1942

Commander Roselli Lorenzini disembarks, replaced by Lieutenant Commander Guido D’Alterio, 33, from Naples.

From May 19th through October 3rd, 1942

Several training patrols from Pula.

Some pictures taken on the Jalea by the second lieutenant Vittorio Villa during an outing in the waters of Rijeka in April 1942
(Graciously provided by his son Alberto Villa)

October 11th, 1942

Lieutenant Commander D’Alterio was alternated at the command of Jalea by his peer Alberto Torri, 35 years old, from Gallarate.

From October 17 through June 14, 1943

Several training patrols from Pula.

Other images taken by Vittorio Villa during the Jalea’s outings in the waters of Rijeka in April 1942: chief gunner Rosselli with Lieutenant Esposito…

 Lieutenant Bernardin, a saboteur of  the Reggimento “San Marco”
(Photo Vittorio Villa).

June 15th, 1943

Lieutenant Commander Torri left command of Jalea replaced by Lieutenant Pasquale Gigli, 30, from Taranto.

From June 16th through July 15th, 1943

Several training patrols from Porto Sauro and Pula.

Sublieutenant, Naval Engineering, Francesco Del Rio aboard Jalea in 1942

July 15th, 1943

Jalea left Pula at 00.13, under the command of Lieutenant Pasquale Gigli, to move to Brindisi, where became part of the IX Submarine Group, based there, together with Squalo, Fratelli Bandiera and Luciano Manara.

July 18th, 1943

Jalea arrived in Brindisi at 7.10 PM, after covering 385 miles.

August 5th, 1943

Departure from Brindisi for sea trials from 2.20 PM to 5.54 PM, under the command of Lieutenant Pasquale Gigli travelling 22.2 miles.

August 9th, 1943

Jalea left Brindisi at 8.40 PM to move to Taranto, under the command of Lieutenant Pasquale Gigli.

August 12th, 1943

Jalea arrived in Taranto at 7.17 AM, after having covered 328 miles.

Jalea with the new mimetic pattern
(From the magazine STORIA militare)

August 15th, 1943

Jalea set sail from Taranto at 5.13 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Pasquale Gigli, for a patrol off Capo Spartivento, between point 37°44′ N and 16°00′ E, point 37°44′ N and 16°36′ E and the coast of Calabria.

August 22nd, 1943

At three o’clock in the morning intense anti-aircraft fire was observed in the direction of Crotone, and almost at the same time news arrived of the sighting of an enemy naval force off Capo Rizzuto, with a 45° course. Commander Gigli decided to try to intercept it.

Lieutenant Pasquale Gigli in a post-war picture
(U.S.M.M.)

At 4:33 AM, in position 38°48′ N and 17°11′ E, two fast units (perhaps motor torpedo boats) were sighted at a distance of 1,000 meters heading at full force towards Jalea , which dove to escape an attack.

At 6.12 AM, in position 38°53′ N and 17°28′ E, three motor torpedo boats were sighted sailing towards Crotone.

August 23rd, 1943

Jalea returned to Taranto at 6.40 AM, after having covered 688.2 miles.

September 7th, 1943

Jalea left Taranto at 1.15 PM (for another source, 2.37 PM), under the command of Lieutenant Pasquale Gigli, for a patrol off the coast of Crotone.

Maricosom (the Submarine Squadron Command), having received news of the sighting of the Anglo-American invasion fleet heading towards the coasts of southern Italy (these are the ships destined for the “Avalanche” operation, the landing in Salerno), gave the go-ahead for the “Zeta” Plan (drawn up since 23 March 1943 for the protection of the coasts of Southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia with the large-scale use of the remaining underwater forces,  modified several times and issued on 2 July): the mass deployment of submarines in those waters, to counter the Allied landings.

As part of the “Zeta” Plan, Jalea was sent to form a barrage in the Ionian Sea (between the eastern coasts of Sicily and Calabria and Cape Santa Maria di Leuca in Puglia) together with seven other submarines (Squalo, Marcantonio Bragadin, Fratelli Bandiera, Zoea, Luigi Settembrini, Onice and Vortice). Onice, Vortice, Settembrini and Zoea had already been deployed there previously.  while Jalea, Squalo, Bandiera and Bragadin extend this pre-existing barrier to the Gulf of Taranto. Eight other boats (Brin, Jaspro, Topaz, Alagi, Marea, Galatea, Velella, Platino and Nichelio) were deployed in the Lower Tyrrhenian Sea to cover the coast between the gulfs of Paola and Gaeta, while two others (Giada and Turquoise) were sent to the west of Sardinia.

While this was happening, the armistice between Italy and the Allies had already been signed four days prior. However, it remained covered by the utmost secrecy, everyone was kept in the dark except for a small circle headed by Pietro Badoglio and Vittorio Emanuele III. The commander of Maricosom participated to the meeting organized by Admiral Raffaele De Courten, Chief of Staff of the Navy, to explain to the senior commanders the provisions of Memo No. 1, sent to him on September 6th by the Supreme Command, and in which orders were given for an imminent reversal of alliances. The deployment of submarines in the waters of Southern Italy was agreed with the Allied commands in order not to arouse the suspicion of the Germans. The crews are obviously not aware of it, and the crew of the submarine Velella paid with their lives for this absurd situation, torpedoed on September 7th by the British submarine Shakespeare.

September 8th, 1943

The announcement of the armistice between Italy and the Allies surprised Jalea in the Ionian Sea.

At 7:50 PM, eight minutes after the EIAR announced the news to the nation (the Allies announced it at 6:30 PM, via Radio Algiers), Maricosom issued the message to all submarines at sea: “On receipt of this order, assume a task exclusively I repeat exclusively exploratory,” followed at 9:10 PM by “Upon receipt of this message, cease all hostilities to the accused received.” At 9:50 PM, Maricosom ordered all submarines: “Dive immediately to a depth of 80 meters STOP At 8 AM on the 9th, emerge remaining on the surface with the national flag on the shore and a black pennant at the bow periscope STOP You will receive further orders STOP Acknowledge receipt.”

September 9th, 1943

At 8.20 AM Jalea met the submarine Ciro Menotti (Lieutenant Giovanni Manunta); the two commanders discussed what to do, after which Menotti decided to head for Syracuse (but along the way it would be intercepted by the submarine HMS Unshaken and diverted to Malta), while Commander Gigli opted to return to Taranto. Later it is diverted to Gallipoli.

September 10th, 1943

Jalea arrived in Gallipoli at 9:35 PM, after covering 297 miles.

September 11th, 1943

Jalea left Gallipoli at 3.55 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Pasquale Gigli, to move to Taranto, where he arrived at 10.03 AM, after having covered 56.6 miles.

September 12th, 1943

Jalea left Taranto at 9.46 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Pasquale Gigli, to move to Malta, together with the submarines Atropo and Fratelli Bandiera and with the escort of the Italian destroyer Augusto Riboty and the British H.M.S. Troubridge (according to another version, the latter would have met the Italian units at 1.20 PM on the 13th, then guiding them to Malta).

September 14th, 1943

Jalea arrived in Malta at 5.40pm, having covered 310.2 miles. Jalea, Atropo, and Fratelli Bandiera were the first Italian submarines to arrive in Malta, with the exception of the Ciro Menotti, which had preceded them on September 12th. Many more will follow in the following days.

September 21st, 1943

Jalea was temporarily stationed in the berth of San Paolo (Malta), together with ten other submarines (Alagi, Brin, Galatea, H 1, H 2, H 4, Onice, Ciro Menotti, Squalo and Zoea), under the “dependence” of the seaplane support ship Giuseppe Miraglia (this is the “San Paolo Group”, one of the two groups into which the Italian submarines arriving in Malta were divided:  the other, called “Gruppo Marsa Scirocco”, is located in that locality under the command of the battleship Giulio Cesare).

October 5th, 1943

During the internment in Malta, Lieutenant Gigli left command of Jalea, which was temporarily taken over by Ensign Emilio Catalano.

November 21st, 1943

Jalea left Malta at 4:55 PM, under the command of Ensign Emilio Catalano, to return to Italy. (According to another source, probably erroneous, Jalea would left Malta as early as October 13th, together with the submarines Alagi, Atropo, Fratelli Bandiera, Marcantonio Bragadin, Brin, Filippo Corridoni, Galatea, H 1, H 2, H 4, Ciro Menotti, Luigi Settembrini, Squalo and Zoea).

November 22nd, 1943

Jalea arrived in Augusta at 11:20 AM, after traveling 108 miles. On the same day, Ensign Catalano left command, which was assumed, for the period of subsequent works, by the captain of the Naval Engineers Nireo Bassetti, 30 years old, from Sarsina.

November 23rd through January 19th, 1944

Renovation works in Augusta.

January 19th, 1944

At the end of the works, second lieutenant Arturo Spina took command of Jalea for a few days, and on January 23rd handed it over to lieutenant Eugenio Parodi, 27, from La Spezia.

January 27th, 1944

Jalea left Augusta at 7.30 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Eugenio Parodi, to move to Taranto, together with the destroyer Grecale, the torpedo boats Sirio and Cassiopea and the corvettes Urania and Sibilla.

January 29th, 1944

The convoy arrived in Taranto at 8.45 AM, after having covered 263 miles. Jalea then started a period of maintenance work in Taranto.

May 3rd, 1944

The first-class gunner Raffaele Zazzetta, 58 years old, from Grottammare, died in the metropolitan area. He would be the only member of Jalea’s crew to have died during World War II.

May 7th, 1944

Lieutenant Parodi handed over command of Jalea to Giuseppe Ridella, 25, from Ferrara, who held it until August 1945.

From May 8th through May 30, 1944

Several sea trials and short patrols from Taranto.

June 10th, 1944

Jalea left Taranto at 5.11 PM to move to Augusta, together with the submarine Onice and with the escort of the torpedo boats Calliope, Fortunale and Monzambano and the corvettes Folaga and Danaide.

June 12th, 1944

The convoy arrived in Augusta at 11:30 AM, having covered 259 miles.

June 13th, 1944

Jalea (Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella) and Onice left Augusta at 17:52 for Gibraltar.

June 19th, 1944

The two submarines arrived in Gibraltar at 8:32 PM, after having covered 1,084 miles.

June 25th, 1944

Jalea (Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella) made a sortie from Gibraltar from 9.23 to 11.26 for diving tests traveling 14 miles.

June 30th, 1944

Jalea (Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella) and Onice (Lieutenant Ferdinando Boggetti) set sail from Gibraltar at 10.10 AM bound for Bermuda, where they were to be used for the training of Allied anti-submarine units. They are escorted by the U.S. destroyer U.S.S. Fessenden.

July 3rd, 1944

Jalea was forced to reverse course due to engine failures, escorted by the British destroyer H.M.S. Antelope (according to another version it was H.M.S. Fessenden, which would then return to take over the escort of the Onice).

July 4th, 1944

Jalea arrived in Gibraltar at 12.18 PM, having covered 699 miles.

September 10th, 1944

Departure from Gibraltar from 9.10 AM to 5.12 PM for sea trials, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella.

September 15th, 1944

Jalea left Gibraltar at 8.52 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella, to move to Algiers, escorted by the destroyer Legionario.

September 17th, 1944

Jalea arrived in Algiers at 11:51 AM, having covered 452 miles; at 7.15 PM he left for Taranto, still escorted by the destroyer Legionario.

September 21st, 1944

Jalea arrived in Taranto at 9.20 PM, after having covered 884 miles.

October 16th, 1944

Departure from Taranto from 6.51 AM to 2.27 PM for sea trials, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella travelling 63 miles.

October 29, 1944

Jalea sailed from Taranto at 7.30 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella, to move to Augusta, together with the submarine Fratelli Bandiera and with the escort of the torpedo boat Animoso.

October 30th, 1944

Jalea arrived in Augusta at 1:24 PM, having covered 246 miles.

November 3rd, 1944

Jalea left Augusta at 6.24 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella, to move to Valletta, together with the Bandiera and with the escort of the British armed fishing boat Stroma.

November 4th, 1944

Jalea arrived in Valletta at 2.25pm, having covered 218 miles.

November 7th, 1944

Jalea left Valletta at 6:19 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella, to move to Port Said. Together with Jalea, the submarine Fratelli Bandiera also set sail for the same destination but had to turn back due to a breakdown.

November 12th, 1944

Jalea arrived in Port Said at 10:40 AM, having traveled 1,019 miles.

November 14th, 1944

Jalea left Port Said at 6:01 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella, bound for the Great Bitter Lake, where the boat arrived at 12:12 PM on the same day, after traveling 52 miles.

The battleships Italia and Vittorio Veneto have been interned in the lake for months, according to what the Allies decided after the armistice. The chief electrician Ivano Leonardi, who was embarked on the Italia, remembered the arrival of Jalea in his diary: “A submarine looms on the horizon, gradually it got closer and closer and then performed the maneuver and docks under our edge on the left side of the ship. A rumor ran through the corridors that it was the submarine Jalea; I picked up this news too, and then I immediately went on deck to make sure, with my own eyes, if it is really was my old and dear Jalea. In fact, when I get up, I got closer and sow the bow; I immediately recognize it to be a small coastal boat and of Jalea type, but, having noticed the modifications, even if relative, of the superstructures, I was still not well convinced that it really was it, that old hull that had seen me participate in so many battles. I asked someone on board, and they answered me again with the same clarification and then what do I do? My gaze turns towards the stern of the submarine, and I try to catch a glimpse of some letters; from that moment on, I had no more doubts: the two well-known letters were marked on it: JA. While I felt a great emotion, I looked point by point all over the deck of the boat to find in everything the expression of my satisfaction in seeing the JA again after such a long time. And here my mind went back to the past, to those years of my youth when, moored in a quay of the great military port so dear to me (the arsenal of La Spezia), Jalea was part of my life, when, almost every day, we went out to sea in those surroundings known to the whole great family of sailors,  and then to all the vicissitudes passed with the thousand and one dives made in the blue sea of our peninsula. All this reminded me of my dear submarine that kept me with it for over 7 years of my military life, continuously from 1932 to 1940.”

December 1st, 1944

Jalea left the Great Bitter Lake at 7:44 AM, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella, to return to Port Said, where she arrived at 3:12 PM, after traveling 52 miles.

December 3rd, 1944

Jalea left Port Said at 14:12, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella, to move to Valletta.

December 8th, 1944

Jalea arrived in Valletta at 2.22pm, having covered 1021 miles.

December 21st, 1944

Jalea left Valletta at 4.20 PM, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella, to move to Gibraltar, escorted by the British armed fishing boat Pirouette.

December 26th, 1944

Jalea arrived in Gibraltar at 8.10 AM, having covered 1,033 miles. There it began training for British anti-submarine units, also embarking Royal Navy personnel.

From January 3rd through May 7th, 1945

A long list of training patrol with British ships and airplanes.

June 4th, 1945

Jalea left Gibraltar at 2.45 PM, under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Ridella, to return to Italy. It sailed together with the submarine Nichelio and with the escort of the corvette H.M.S. Cormorant.

June 10th, 1945

Jalea arrived in Taranto at 8.45 AM, after having covered 1,325 miles. The war was over for the boat, which was being laid up for decommissioning.

February 1st, 1948

Removed from the roster of the navy according to the provisions of the peace treaty, and later demolished.

Jalea, second from the left, laid up in Taranto along the Onice, Diaspro and H2
(Photo Giorgio Parodi)

Original Italian text by Lorenzo Colombo adapted and translated by Cristiano D’Adamo

Operational Records

TypePatrols (Med.)Patrols (Other)NM SurfaceNM Sub.Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
Submarine – Coastal3384372822114 98.76 4.12

Actions

DateTimeCaptainAreaCoordinatesConvoyWeaponResultShipTypeTonnsFlag
8/22/194304:33 AMT.V. Pasquale GigliMediterranean38°48’N-17°11’ENoneAbandonedMotor torpedo boatsUnknown

Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate
ZazzettaRaffaelefirst-class gunnerCannoniere 1a Classe5/3/1944

R. Smg. Squalo

Squalo was a medium range submarine, leader of the eponymous class (displacement of 937.65 tons on the surface and 1,146.87 tons submerged; other sources speak of 870 or 933 tons on the surface and 1,142.87 submerged, or of standard displacement of 857 tons and in normal load of 920 tons on the surface and 1,125 submerged).

Squalo still on the slip in Monfalcone
(Istituto Luce)

Designed by the general of the Naval Engineers Curio Bernardis, the Squalo class belonged to the single-hulled type with double central bottoms, resistant external hulls (called “Bernardis”, being the main proponent of this type of submarine in Italy) and represented the third stage of the evolution of this type, after the Pisani and Bandiera classes. These three classes had indeed been ordered almost simultaneously, with the Bandiera and Squalo were set even before the completion of the Vettor Pisani, from which they derived, and therefore before being able to fully verify the qualities of the “progenitor” class, which later turned out to be mediocre; the result was that the Bandiera and Squalo had to be modified during construction, to attempt to overcome the drawbacks of the type.

R. Smg. Squalo (Royal Submarine Squalo – (Shark))
Here with the modified bow nicknamed “big nose”
(Photo provided by. Marcello Risolo)

Therefore, having been set up too prematurely (when the construction of the Bandiera had only begun six months earlier), before having tested the actual performance of the previous classes, and despite the modifications necessarily applied during construction, the submarines of Squalo class continued to suffer from the same basic problems that had afflicted the Pisani and Bandiera classes. These problems, immediately highlighted during the sea trials, were a problematic stability issue both on the surface and underwater, which forced the application of external saddle tanks, and seakeeping problems (in particular, tendency to slip into the sea from the bow) that forced the bow to be modified shortly after completion, raising it to insert a self-filling box with the aim of counteracting pitching (giving the class the characteristic “nose” of medium-cruise submarines designed by Bernardis). These modifications (especially the counter-hulls) affected the maximum speed the class, just like on the Pisani and the Bandiera, reducing it by about one and a half knots compared to the design specifications and limiting it to 15 knots on the surface against the 17-18 knots of the more successful later classes.

Squalo with the original bow

All things considered, the Squalo class was basically a repetition of the previous Bandiera class, with some improvements that made it more efficient and reliable, so much so that it is believed that with this class the “experimental” period of submarine design in the Italian Navy had come to an end. The similarity between the two classes was such that the Squalo class is sometimes referred to as a “second series” of the Bandiera class, since the modifications received by Squalo class during construction not being such as to represent a significant difference between the two classes. The main differences were the slightly smaller displacement of the Squalo class (by a few tons), the main size, the shape of the conning tower and the arrangement of the machine guns.

Despite the above-mentioned flaws, the performance of the “Squalos” was rated as good overall; in particular, the submarines of the class showed good characteristics during the deployment in the Red Sea in the period 1936-1938, where despite the difficult conditions of that theater they always remained in excellent conditions of efficiency. The Squalo class benefited from a more accurate set-up and the exploitation of the advantages of mass production, making the most of the design and construction experience of the previous Pisani and Bandiera. They were thus the first “Bernardis” to be judged favorably, and in 1940, despite already having a decade of service behind them, they were considered as still having a fair war value. The historian Giorgio Giorgerini wrote in his “Uomini sul fondo” (“Men on the bottom”) that “at last satisfactory submarines were obtained (…) On the whole, they performed well and demonstrated, in the pre-war period, that they could operate efficiently in the harsh conditions (…) of the Red Sea. In war they could be employed in offensive tasks as well as transport“; on the other hand, Bagnasco and Brescia in “Sommergibili Italiani 1940-1943” (“Italian submarines 1940-1943”) state that the performance of Squalo class was not dissimilar to that of the Bandiera, which in turn was judged, after the aforementioned modifications, “acceptable, even with a maximum speed contained in relation to the installed power”.

The propulsion system for surface navigation consisted of two two-stroke, six-cylinder, reversible diesel engines FIAT Q 426 of 3,000 HP (1,500 per engine; 2,208 kW overall) that allowed a maximum speed of 15.1 knots, with a range of 1,820 nautical miles at this speed and 5,650 miles at 8 knots. The propulsion for underwater navigation consisted of two 1,300 HP CRDA electric motors (650 HP per engine) that made it possible to reach 8.2 knots, with a diving range of seven miles at this speed (autonomy actually lower than that of the previous Pisani and Bandiera: these two classes had in fact a diving range of 8.8 miles at 8.2 knots) and one hundred miles at 3 knots. The batteries were composed of two sections of 56 batteries each, capable of producing 4,270 amperes in one hour, 6,380 in three hours, 8,400 amperes in ten hours and 9,350 in twenty hours (in truth, inferior performance to those of the previous Pisani and Bandiera classes).

Details of the stern section
(Istituto Luce)

The armament consisted of eight 533 mm torpedo tubes (four at the bow and as many at the stern) with a reserve of twelve torpedoes (half at the bow and half at the stern), a 102/35 mm Schneider-Armstrong 1914-1915 gun with a reserve of 150 rounds (initially in a shielded ready-use stowage that formed a continuation of the conning tower, which proved impractical and was soon replaced by a more traditional “in the open” arrangement),  and two single 13.2/76 mm machine guns with a supply of 3,000 rounds. The testing depth was 90 or 100 meters.

While in 1942 Delfino and Narvalo underwent work to reduce the voluminous conning tower, to better adapt it to the conditions of the war in the Mediterranean, Squalo kept its original version – the only modification was the shortening of the periscope jackets – until its decommissioning and demolition.

During World War II, Squalo completed 28 offensive/exploratory patrols and 14 transfers from June 10th, 1940 to April 30th, 1942, covering a total of 18,800 miles on the surface and 2754 submerged, and spending 170 days at sea. From 1 May 1st, 1942 to 1943 it carried out 121 training sorties for the Submarine School in Pula, as well as some anti-submarine patrols in the Upper Adriatic (the latter, unlike the training outings, are part of the aforementioned 42 missions in total). During the co-belligerence between Italy and the Allies (September 1943-1945) the boat carried out training activities for the benefit of Italian anti-submarine units.

Squalo ‘s motto was “Coeco sub gurgite unum sidus Italia” (“From the blind whirlpool I see only one star, Italy”).

Brief and partial chronology

October 10th, 1928

Laid out in Shipyard of Monfalcone (Trieste) (construction number 207).

January 15th, 1930

Launched at the Shipyard in Monfalcone (Trieste).

October 6th, 1930

The boat entered service (other source gives the date of October 10th) and was assigned to the II Submarine Squadron of medium range, based in La Spezia, which it formed together with the simil;ar boats Tricheco, Narvalo and Delfino.

1932

Squalo carried out training cruises along the Italian coasts, in addition to the usual periodic training trips.

Mid-thirties

Sailor Pietro Venuti, future Gold Medal for Military Valor, served aboard the Squalo .

1934

The submarine was transferred to Naples, and it formed the IV Submarine Squadron along with the three boats of the same class.

1935-1936

Squalo alternated periods of deployment in Italian bases with long stays in Tobruk.

December 14th, 1936

Lieutenant Ugo Botti took command.

1936-1938

Squalo was in Massawa (Eritrea), in the Red Sea, until spring 1938. During this two-year period, Squalo was used for training in the waters of Italian East Africa (AOI), in order to ascertain whether the units of the class were suitable for activity in warm seas. The results were judged to be positive. (According to another source, Squalo was sent to Massawa only in 1937, along with the Dolfino, replacing Narvalo and Tricheco who had been stationed there in 1936).

The submarine Squalo (center) together with its twin boat Delfino (right), the submarine Fratelli Bandiera (left),  and the colonial ship Eritrea (left) in Massawa

(Photo Coll. Guido Alfano)

1938

Back in Italy, the boat formed the XXXIII Submarine Squadron (III Grupsom), based in Messina, along with Delfino, Narvalo and Tricheco. The submarines of the Squadron were sent in turn to the Upper Adriatic for work and verifications carried out in the torpedo factory in Rijeka.

May 5th, 1938

Squalo took part in the naval parade “H” organized in the Gulf of Naples for Adolf Hitler’s visit to Italy. Most of the Italian fleet took part in the review: the battleships Giulio Cesare and Conte di Cavour, the seven heavy cruisers of the I and III Divisions, the eleven light cruisers of the II, IV, VII and VIII Divisions, seven “light explorers” of the Navigatori class, eighteen destroyers (the Squadrons VII, VIII, IX and X, plus the Borea and the Zeffiro),  thirty torpedo boats (the Squadrons IX, X, XI and XII, plus the old Audace, Castelfidardo, Curtatone, Francesco Stocco, Nicola Fabrizi and Giuseppe La Masa and the four “escort notices” of the Orsa class), as many as 85 submarines of the Submarine Squadron under the command of Admiral Antonio Legnani, and 24 MAS (Squadrons IV, V, VIII, IX, X and XI), as well as the training ships Cristoforo Colombo and Amerigo Vespucci,  Benito Mussolini’s yacht, the Aurora, the royal ship Savoy and the target ship San Marco.

Squalo during the naval parade “H”
(From“I sommergibili italiani” di Mario Paolo Pollina, USMM)

The Submarine Squad was the protagonist of one of the most spectacular moments of the parade, in which the 85 boats carry out a series of synchronized maneuvers: first, arranged in two columns, at 1.15 PM they pass opposite direction between the two naval squadrons proceeding on parallel routes; Then, at 1:25 PM, all submarines made a simultaneous mass dive, proceeded for a short distance in immersion and then emerged simultaneously and executed a salvo of eleven shots with their respective guns.

March 19th, 1939

Squalo collided with the submarine Santorre Santarosa, which suffered damage to the propeller shaft and the breakage of the horizontal rudder guards. This was followed by a period of work in drydock.

1940

Stationed in Leros, and under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Migeca, Squalo became part of the LI Submarine Squadron (V Grupsom of Leros), again along with Delfino, Narvalo and Tricheco.

June 10th, 1940

Upon Italy’s entry into World War II, Squalo was part of the LI Submarine Squadron based in Leros, with Delfino, Narvalo and Tricheco. Under the command of Lieutenant Giuseppe Migeca, it carried out its first war patrols in the eastern Mediterranean, without encountering enemy units. Subsequently, (1941-1942) it was used for ambush missions in the Strait of Sicily.

June 1940

After the outbreak of war, Squalo was sent to lie in wait in the North Aegean, off the Dardanelles.

September 17th, 1940

The boat was sent to patrol the waters north of Crete, along with the submarines Beilul, Delfino and Narvalo: It did not encounter British ships.

April 1941

In the second half of the month, Squalo was sent to lie in wait off the Egyptian coasts (Gulf of Sollum and Marsa Matruh).

May 20th, 1941

Squalo was sent to the waters between Crete, Sollum and Alexandria (Egyp)t, together with numerous other submarines (Uarsciek, Walrus, Topaz, Fisalia, Adua, Malachite, Dessiè, Sirena and Smeraldo), to support the German assault against Crete (Operation “Merkur”). During this mission, the crew spotted a British naval formation from a great distance but was unable to attack.

July 23rd, 1941

Squalo, under the command of Lieutenant Ludovico Grion, was sent to lie in wait in the waters of Cyrenaica, off Ras Azzaz (about fifty miles east of Tobruk),

July 24th, 1941

In the evening, Squalo sighted from a short distance, north of Ras Azzaz and northeast of Tobruk, a unit that was identified as a British tanker ” type War…” of 10,000-11,600 GRT (probably with a strong overestimation of the tonnage), sailing on a westerly course (it was probably a unit used to supply the garrison of Tobruk, surrounded and besieged by Axis troops for more than three months).

At 11.01 PM, in position 32°20′ N and 24°53′ E, Squalo launched two torpedoes from about 1,000 meters against the enemy ship. On board the submarine two loud explosions are heard after the expected torpedo travel time, and it was therefore believed to have damaged it, but when shortly after Squalo emerges to better ascertain the result of the attack the ship, helped by the darkness and mist, had disappeared. There is no evidence from the British side of this attack; The identity of the attacked ship also remains a mystery.

July 30th, 1941

Sighting two British destroyers south of Crete, Squalo tried unsuccessfully to attack them, after which it is was then subjected to anti-submarine hunting with abundant launch of depth charges, from which, however, it managed to escape without being damaged, thanks to the shrewd evasive maneuvers ordered by Commander Grion.

Squalo and other submarine in a picture probably dating to before the conflict

For the alleged torpedoing of the tanker, Commander Grion would be decorated with the Bronze Medal for Military Valor (“Commander of a submarine, during a war mission, conducted with high fighting spirit and serene daring, torpedoed an enemy armed tanker of 11,000 tons, causing its probable sinking. He then decisively attacked a section of destroyers and, subjected to violent hunting, with skilful maneuvers managed to disengage”). For a similar reason, 24 other members of the crew of Squalo would receive the War Cross for Military Valor (chief engineer, captain of the Naval Engineers Silvano Lupidi; second commander, sub-lieutenant Gennaro Savino; midshipman Aurelio Schiano di Pepe; sub-lieutenant of the Naval Engineers Bruno Miani; aspiring midshipman Antonio De Natale; chief torpedoman first class Pio Albalunga; chief mechanic first class Mario Pieresca; chief of the engineers), second-class mechanic Nazzareno Storani; third class helmsman, Ottorino Marzotto; chief torpedoman third class Adolfo Botti; Chief Mechanic Third Class Mario Guida; second chief radio telegraphist Achille Mariotto; sergeants electrician Angelo Callinella and Carlo Stradella; under-helmsman Giusepep Sanalitro; sub-chief gunner, gunner, Domenico Arena; sub-chief radio telegraphist Luigi Baldessari; second chief torpedoman Rosario Onorato; sailor Giovanni Velotti; torpedoman Vincenzo Iandolo and Armando Scaranari; stokers Antonio Pacor, Ettore Capridossi and Umberto Cassani).

August 24, 1941

Squalo and the submarines Tricheco, Topazio and Fratelli Bandiera formed a barrage in the Strait of Sicily together with 13 MAS, to intercept an alleged British convoy sailing from Gibraltar to Malta, following the sighting of large British naval forces (Force H with the battleship H.M.S. Nelson, the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Ark Royal, the light cruiser H.M.S. Hermione, the destroyers H.M.S. Encounter,  H.M.S. Fury, H.M.S. Forester, H.M.S. Foresight and H.M.S. Nestor) had set sail from Gibraltar (August 21st) and headed east. In reality, there was no convoy: the British have launched Operation “Mincemeat”, which consists of sending the fast minelayer H.M.S. Manxman (which left alone on August 22nd so as not to attract attention) off the coast of Livorno, to lay minefields in those waters, and in air attacks launched by H.M.S. Ark Royal against targets in Sardinia (industrial plants and cork forests in the northern part of the island),  in order to dissuade Francisco Franco’s Spain from entering the war on the side of the Axis, showing the Royal Navy’s ability to strike the enemy even at home.

September 26th, 1941

Squalo patroled the waters north of Capo Ferrat and southwest of Sardinia together with Delfino and Fratelli Bandiera, as part of the fight against the British operation “Halberd”, which began on September 24th. The main purpose of the latter was to send to Malta a convoy of supplies (military tanker Breconshire and cargo ships Ajax, City of Lincoln, City of Calcutta, Clan MacDonald, Clan Ferguson, Rowallan Castle, Imperial Star and Dunedin Star, with a total cargo of 81,000 tons of materials), with the direct escort of Force X (formed by the light cruiser cruisers H.M.S. Kenya,  H.M.S. Edinburgh, H.M.S. Sheffield, H.M.S. Euryalus and H.M.S. Hermione and the destroyers H.M.S. Cossack, H.M.S. Farndale, H.M.S. Foresight, H.M.S. Forester, H.M.S. Heythrop, H.M.S. Laforey, H.M.S. Lightning, H.M.S. Oribi and H.M.S. Zulu) and also the indirect support, in the first part of the voyage, of Gibraltar’s Force H, three battleships (H.M.S. Rodney, H.M.S. Nelson and H.M.S. Prince of Wales), an aircraft carrier (H.M.S. Ark Royal), five) and nine destroyers (the British H.M.S. Duncan, H.M.S. Fury, H.M.S. Gurkha, H.M.S. Lance,  H.M.S. Legion, H.M.S. Lively, Poland’s Garland and Piorun and the Netherlands’ Isaac Sweers).

In addition, secondary operations included the “Halberd” scheme which also include the dispatch of a convoy of three unloaded merchant ships from Malta to Gibraltar (which departed in the night between September 26th and 27th and escorted only by a corvette) and an exit to sea from Alexandria of a portion of the Mediterranean Fleet, for diversionary purposes, all with the protection of eight submarines of the 8th and 10th Flotilla deployed in the areas most likely to pass through the Italian fleet. The main convoy and its escort forces sailed from Gibraltar between September 24th and 25th, regrouping on the morning of the 27th about a hundred miles south of Cagliari.

On the Italian side, however, the real objective of the British was unknown: the Italian commands, given that the reconnaissance had sighted Force H but not the convoy headed for Malta (Supermarina received the first news of the enemy operation at 11.10 am. on September 25th, when it was informed by “Maristat Informazioni” that “N.B. NELSON left yesterday at 6.30 PM for the west with 4 CC. TT. STOP RODNEY raised the ensign admiral alt During the night all Gibraltar naval forces departed with numerous CC escorts. TT. presumably for the Mediterranean STOP The RODNEY would be joined by the NELSON group with the type BELFAST alt Purpose of the mission would be retaliation against the Italian coasts”), thinking that the British intend to launch an air-naval bombardment against the Italian coasts, and at the same time supply Malta with aircraft, while the hypothesis (much more probable) of sending a convoy to Malta was omitted.

In particular, Supermarina assumed that the British wanted to hit population centers in Sardinia in retaliation for the attack conducted a few days earlier (September 20th, 1941) by the X Flotilla MAS against the Gibraltar base, in which the tanker Fiona Shell was sunk and the large motor ship Durham and the military tanker Denbydale were seriously damaged.

And it was precisely with the idea in mind to counter a probable attack against the Italian coasts (“to intervene both in the event that the enemy forces had acted at dawn against Genoa, and in the event that they had acted against Sardinia or in any case were towards the south”) that it was decided to deploy fifteen submarines in various points of the Mediterranean, three of which (Squalo,  Delfino, Fratelli Bandiera) were sent to the southwest of Sardinia.

On the morning of September 27th, Supermarina was finally informed of the presence at sea of a British convoy bound for Malta, but by then the British ships had already passed through the ambush sectors assigned to the various submarines, even before the latter reached them. The Submarine Squadron Command (Maricosom) then ordered all submarines to move further south, trying to intercept the British ships during the return voyage, also communicating on the evening of the 27th: “Enemy naval force already attacked and damaged by ARMERA (TN Air Force) STOP In the search and in the attack act with the utmost commitment and precision to inflict on the enemy further and more serious damage possible STOP I am sure that you will show yourselves worthy of the trust he places in you the Navy.” Squalo, for its part, won’t spot anything. On the other hand, five other submarines would be sighted by the enemy forces, of which two (Dandolo and Aradam) will succumb to attack, two (Diaspro and Serpente) attacked unsuccessfully and the fifth, the Adua, would be sunk with all the crew after an unsuccessful attempt to attack a group of destroyers.

The Italian surface fleet, which went out to sea with two battleships (Littorio and Vittorio Veneto), five cruisers (three heavy, Trento, Trieste, and Gorizia, and two light, Muzio Attendolo and Duca degli Abruzzi) and 14 destroyers, returned to base when aerial reconnaissance indicated that Force H was numerically more powerful. The only damage to the British would be inflicted by the Regia Aeronautica, whose torpedo bombers will manage to seriously damage the battleship Nelson and sink the motor ship Imperial Star. Nevertheless, ‘Halberd’ will end on September 30th with all objectives achieved.

September 29th, 1941

Squalo was unsuccessfully subjected to depth charge hunting by British destroyers off Malta.

October 7th, 1941

The sailor Battista Mazzucchelli (21 years old, from Monte Isola) died on board Squalo in the Central Mediterranean. He was the only one of Squalo’s crew to have fallen during the war.

October 17th, 1941

The boat patrolled the waters of Cape Bon together with the Narvalo, forming a barrier in the Strait of Sicily together with the submarines Ambra, Ametista, Corallo, Diaspro, Alagi, Fratelli Bandiera, Serpente, Turchese, Narvalo, and Delfino. However, this barrier did not succeed in hindering the transfer from Gibraltar to Malta of the newly formed British Force K (light cruisers H.M.S. Aurora and H.M.S Penelope and destroyers H.M.S Lance and H.M.S Lively), in charge of attacking the Axis convoys sailing between Italy and North Africa: the British ships reached Valletta unharmed on October 21th.

November 10th, 1941

The boat was sent to patrol the waters east of Gibraltar together with the submarines Turchese, Fratelli Bandiera, Aradam, Onice and Narvalo (according to “Sommergibili italiani 1940-1943” (“Italian submarines 1940-1943”), however, Squalo was sent east of Malta together with Delfino, Tricheco and Luigi Settembrini).

November 22nd and 23rd, 1941

Squalo (Lieutenant Ludovico Grion) was sent to lie in wait south of Capo Passero and east of Malta, to cover the traffic with Libya, together with the twin boats Delfino and Tricheco and other submarines (Corallo and Luigi Settembrini). Its assignment was to spot and report (and if possible attack) any exits at sea by Force K (light cruisers H.M.S Aurora and H.M.S Penelope and destroyers H.M.S Lance and H.M.S Lively) based on the island, already author, on November 9th, of the destruction of the large convoy “Duisburg”, being in progress a large traffic operation towards North Africa. (According to a source, the German B-Dienst reported the departure from Malta of Force K, which had gone out to sea to attack the Italian convoys). Squalo, however, did not spot enemy ships.

November 27th, 1941

Squalo patrolled the waters of southeastern Sicily together with Delfino.

December 13th, 1941

Squalo was sent to patrol the waters south of Malta, together with the submarines Narvalo, Topazio, Veniero and Santarosa, to counter a possible exit into the sea of Force K (light cruisers H.M.S Aurora, H.M.S Penelope and H.M.S Neptune and some destroyers), to protect the operation “M. 41” (which provided for the dispatch of 3 convoys for a total of 8 merchant ships, with the direct escort of 7 destroyers and a torpedo boat as well as the remote escort of three heavy groups and the support of a total of 4 battleships, 5 cruisers, 18 destroyers and two torpedo boats) for the supply of Libya (later aborted as a result of the intense British underwater attacks and the related damage and losses suffered). At the same time, other submarines (Ascianghi and Dagabur) were sent off to the coast of Alexandria to counter a possible sortie by Force B, which was based there.

Force K, under the command of Commodore William Gladstone Agnew, sailed from Malta in opposition to Operation M. 41, joining Force B (light cruisers H.M.S Euryalus, H.M.S Naiad and H.M.S Galatea and destroyers H.M.S Jervis, H.M.S Kingston, H.M.S Kipling, H.M.S Kimberley, H.M.S Griffin, H.M.S Havock, H.M.S Hotspur, H.M.A.S Napier and H.M.A.S Nizam, the last two Australians) which had left Alexandria to search for Italian convoys in the Ionian Sea. However, the British ships were unable to intercept anything, since the convoys was ordered back, so after hours of fruitless searches they embarked on the return navigation to Malta (Force K) and Alexandria (Force B).

December 17th, 1941

Squalo, together with other submarines (Ascianghi, Topazio, Santarosa, Galatea and Dagabur) was deployed in the central-eastern Mediterranean (east of Malta and south of Crete) with exploratory/offensive tasks, in support of the “M. 42” traffic operation, consisting of sending two convoys to Libya with urgent supplies for the Italian-German troops in North Africa (312 vehicles,  3224 tons of fuel and lubricants, 1,137 tons of ammunition, 10,409 tons of miscellaneous materials) with the escort of substantial shares of the battlefleet.

On the afternoon of December 17th, Squalo , lying in ambush off Malta, sighted two British cruisers leaving Valletta, and at 6.15 PM (or 6.45 PM) launched a signal of discovery with which it communicated its sighting, adding that the enemy ships had assumed a course of 140° and a speed of 28 knots (Squalo’s commander’s appreciation of course and speed proved to be quite accurate,  as well as the estimation of the enemy’s position at the time of sighting). The sighting was promptly communicated to Admiral Angelo Iachino, commander of the Italian naval squadron at sea in support of the “M. 42” operation. The ships sighted by Squalo are actually a cruiser, H.M.S Neptune, and two destroyers, H.M.S Kandahar and H.M.S Jaguar: they are part of the notorious British Force K and set sail from Malta at 3 PM to try to intercept the Italian convoys, with the order to reach point 32°40′ N and 16°06′ E at 11:00 PM and start from that point,  together with the rest of Force K (H.M.S Aurora, H.M.S Penelope, H.M.S Lance, H.M.S Lively) and in cooperation with Vickers Wellington reconnaissance aircraft, the search for the Italian convoy bound for Tripoli.

Operation M. 42, which gave rise to the brief and inconclusive clash that became known as the First Battle of Sirte, ended happily with the arrival of the convoys in Libyan ports. Force K will end up on an Italian minefield off Tripoli, suffering the loss of the H.M.S Neptune and H.M.S Kandahar and the severe damage to the light cruiser H.M.S Aurora.

December 19th, 1941

Squalo was unsuccessfully subjected to depth charge hunting by British destroyers off Malta.

January 22nd through 25th, 1942

The boat was sent between Malta and the Strait of Sicily, along with the submarines Narvalo, Topazio, Santorre Santarosa, Platino and Corallo, to cover the “T. 18” trafficking operation, which sought the sending to Libya of an important convoy with supplies (15,000 tons of materials, 97 tanks, 271 vehicles and 1467 soldiers). An attack by British torpedo planes caused the loss of the troop transport Victoria, which sank with the death of three hundred men, while the other motor ships reached Tripoli unscathed and contributed, with their cargo, to feed the Italian-German counter-offensive that would lead in the following months to the reconquest of Cyrenaica, lost back in December during the British offensive called “Crusader”.

May 1st, 1942

The boat was assigned to the Submarine School in Pula for training duties.

Squalo in Trapani, Sicily. Probably in late January 1924
(From the magazine “Storia Militare”)

May 1942 – July 1943

The boat operated as part of Submarine School of Pula, carrying out a total of 121 training outings as well as some anti-submarine ambushes in the Upper Adriatic.

August 1942

The boat carried out a protective ambush in the Upper Adriatic.

November 1942

Squalo completed another protective ambush in the Upper Adriatic.

July 1943

Faced with the precipitation of events – Sicily invaded by Anglo-American forces, the Italian submarine fleet decimated by increasingly heavy losses – Squalo left the Submarine School in Pula and was “recalled” to “front line” service.

September 3rd, 1943

The boat left Brindisi at 10.10 PM to relocate to Taranto.

September 5th, 1943

Squalo arrived in Taranto at 7.50 AM.

September 7th, 1943

Squalo (Lieutenant Carlo Girola) sets sail from Taranto at 2.37 PM to reach an ambush sector in the Ionian Sea. Maricosom (the Submarine Squadron Command), having received news of the sighting of the Anglo-American invasion fleet heading towards the coasts of southern Italy, gave the go-ahead for the “Zeta” Plan (drawn up since March 23rd, 1943, for the protection of the coasts of Southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia with the large-scale use of the remaining underwater forces, modified several times and issued on July 2nd). It consisted in the mass deployment of submarines in those waters, to counter the Allied landings.

As part of the “Zeta” Plan, Squalo was sent to form a barrage in the Ionian Sea (between the eastern coasts of Sicily and Calabria and Cape Santa Maria di Leuca in Puglia) together with seven other submarines (Fratelli Bandiera, Marcantonio Bragadin, Jalea, Zoea, Luigi Settembrini, Onice and Vortece): Onice, Vortice, Settembrini and Zoea had already been deployed there previously, while Squalo, Bandiera, Jalea and Bragadin extend this pre-existing barrier to the Gulf of Taranto. Eight other boats (Brin, Diaspro, Topazio, Alagi, Marea, Galatea, Velella, Platino and Nichelio) were deployed in the Lower Tyrrhenian Sea to cover the coast between the gulfs of Paola and Gaeta, while two others (Giada and Turchese) were sent to the west of Sardinia.

While this was happening, the armistice between Italy and the Allies had already been signed four days prior; but it remains covered by the utmost secrecy, everyone was kept in the dark except for a small inner circle headed by Pietro Badoglio and (TN King) Vittorio Emanuele III. The commander of Maricosom participated to the meeting organized by Admiral Raffaele De Courten, Chief of Staff of the Navy, to explain to the senior commanders the provisions of Memo No. 1, sent to him on September 6th by the Supreme Command, and in which orders were given for an imminent reversal of alliances. The deployment of submarines in the waters of Southern Italy was agreed with the Allied commands in order not to arouse the suspicion of the Germans. The crews were obviously not aware of it, and that of the Velella (commanded by Mario Patanè, the previous commander of the Topazio) would pay with their lives for this absurd situation, torpedoed on September 7th by the British submarine Shakespeare.

September 8th, 1943

The announcement of the armistice between Italy and the Allies surprises Squalo on an offensive mission in the Ionian Sea (other sources, probably erroneous, state that it was in the Lower Tyrrhenian Sea or in the Strait of Sicily).

At 7:50 PM on September 8th, eight minutes after the EIAR (ITN Italian State Radio) announced the news to the nation (the Allies announced it at 6:30 PM, via Radio Algiers), Maricosom issued to all submarines at sea the message “On receipt of this order assume a task exclusively I repeat exclusively exploratory”, followed at 9.10 PM by “Upon receipt of this message cease all hostilities to the accused received”. At 9:50 PM, Maricosom ordered all submarines: “Dive immediately to a depth of 80 meters STOP At 8 AM on the 9th, emerge remaining on the surface with the national flag on the shore and a black pendant at the bow periscope STOP You will receive further orders STOP Acknowledge receipt.”

Commander Girola dello Squalo decided to consult with the commanders of the Bandiera (Lieutenant Commander Scarelli) and the Bragadin (lieutenant Alpinolo Cinti), lurking in contiguous areas. Girola and Cinti decide to reach Augusta, a Sicilian port under British control, while Scarelli sets course for Taranto.

September 10th, 1943

Commander reached the port of Augusta, where he surrendered to the British.

The Italian submarines moored in Lazaretto Creek (Marsa Muscetto), Malta

September 16th, 1943

Squalo left Augusta at sunset, along with five other submarines (Settembrini, Bragadin, Vortice, Onice, Zoea), to reach Malta, where almost all the Italian fleet had converged. Immediately outside the port of Augusta, the submarines dove, to avoid the risk that allied units, spotting them, could accidentally attack them considering enemies. They have been given instructions on approach routes that are supposedly free of mines (but there was no absolute certainty that there are none, as a German minefield was discovered again on September 6th).

September 17th, 1943

After submerging from Augusta to off the Maltese coast, Squalo and the other submarines resurfaced southeast of Malta in the afternoon, and reached the island at 6.35 PM, then moored in the innermost part of the anchorage of Lazaretto Creek (Marsa Muscetto). A total of sixteen Italian submarines gathered here.

The Shark at anchor in St. Paul’s Bay, Malta, September 22nd. 1943
(Imperial War Museum)

September 21st, 1943

Following the division (motivated by logistical reasons) into two groups of the Italian submarines located in Malta, Squalo was transferred to the mooring of San Paolo/Sliema (Malta), together with ten other submarines (Brin, Alagi, Galatea, H 1, H 2, H 4, Onice, Menotti, Jalea and Zoea), “relying” on the support ship Giuseppe Miraglia.

October 13th, 1943

Following Italy’s declaration of war on Germany, Squalo and almost all the Italian submarines in Malta (Brin, Bandiera, Settembrini, Jalea, H 1, H 2, and H 4; some others were sent to Haifa) left the island to return to Italy.

November 20th, 1943

Squalo reaches Augusta.

1944-1945

During the co-belligerence between Italy and the Allies, until the end of the conflict, Squalo (initially under the command of Lieutenant Alfredo Fellner and then of Sub-Lieutenant Fernando Ubaldelli) was intensively used in anti-submarine exercises for the training of both Italian Navy and Allied Marine units, based in Taranto and Augusta.

Squalo in Taranto (probably in 1944) docked next to the Ciro Menotti, at the time already out of commission

At the end of the war, it was laid up for decommissioning.

February 1st, 1948

The submarine was removed from the roles and set to the scrapyard.

Original Italian text by Lorenzo Colombo adapted and translated by Cristiano D’Adamo

Operational Records

TypePatrols (Med.)Patrols (Other)NM SurfaceNM Sub.Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
Submarine – Medium Range42188002754170 126.79 5.28

Actions

DateTimeCaptainAreaCoordinatesConvoyWeaponResultShipTypeTonnsFlag
7/24/194111:01 PMT.V. Ludovico GrionMediterranean32°20’N-24°53’ETorpedoFailedUnknownTankerUnited Kigdom

Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate
MazzucchelliBattistaNaval RatingComune7/31/1941

R. Smg. Sirena

Sirena was a coastal submarine, leader of the class of the same name, belonging to the “600” series of the “Bernardis” type (named after the designer, General of the Naval Engineers Curio Bernardis). It had a single hull with double resistant central bottoms (in which all the tanks were hosted: ballast, emergence, rapid emergence and compensation) and an external counter-hulls (having both the function of increasing lateral stability, and to accommodate additional fuel tanks).

Sirena still on the slip
(From “Gli squali dell’Adriatico, Monfalcone e i suoi sommergibili nella storia navale italiana” by Alessandro Turrini)

Second of the five classes of small coastal submarines (Argonauta, Sirena, Perla, Adua, Acciaio) that made up the “600” series (so called because of the surface displacement of the boats that composed it), Sirena class was composed of simple, practical, and resistant submarines, characterized by excellent stability and maneuverability both on the surface and underwater, good robustness and also good habitability, despite its small size.

The launch of the Sirena in Monfalcone
(Istituto Luce)

Derived from the Argonauta class, which had opened the “600” series, Sirena were set up before the entry into service of their predecessors, which prevented the experiences that emerged from the utilization of the new class from being fully exploited in their design. Nevertheless, they were judged to be successful units, as were the Argonauts. Between Sirena and the Argonauta there were some slight differences relating to the hull (which on Sirena was slightly shorter and wider: 60.20 meters in length and 6.45 in width compared to 61.50 and 5.65 of the Argonauta) and to the superstructures, resulting from improvements made in the design phase. In particular, the stem, which on the Argonauta was shaped like those of the larger submarines of the Pisani class (from which they were partly derived), on Sirena it was slightly raised, assuming a shape called “shark”.

Sirena with the original fully enclosed conning tower
(Aldo Cavallini Collection)

The displacement was slightly greater than the previous class (679 vs. 666 tons on the surface, and 842 vs. 810 under water). Other differences were the deck gun, consisting of the new 100/47 mm model that replaced the older 102/35 of the Argonauta, and the engines, which were also more modern and powerful (1,350 hp vs. 1,250 hp) and it had a slightly greater range. In general, more modern apparatuses were adopted, to improve the already good qualities of the previous class. In fact, the performance of Sirena was better than the already satisfactory performance of the Argonauta class.

The decision to build Sirena class was taken by the Regia Marina following the London Naval Conference of 1930, in which it was established that there would be no limitation on the number of submarines of standard surface displacement not exceeding 600 tons that the signatory nations could build. Precisely for this reason, the “600” series became the standard model of all small coastal submarines built by the Italian Navy during the thirties.

Sirena displaced 678.95 tons on the surface and 842.20 tons submerged; The displacement varied slightly between the submarines of the class built in different shipyards, and is variously referred to as 681, 691 or 701 tons on the surface and 842, 850 or 860 tons submerged.

The propulsion system for surface navigation consisted of two FIAT diesel engines with a power of 1,350 or 1,444 hp (650 or 675 hp per engine) on two four-bladed propellers, which allowed a maximum speed of 14 knots, while for underwater navigation there were two CRDA electric motors with a power of 800 hp (400 hp per engine).  They were powered by a lead-acid battery consisting of 104 elements, which allowed a maximum speed of 7.7 knots. The surface range, with a supply of 80 tons of fuel, was 2,200 miles at 14 knots (for another source, 2,280 miles at 12 knots) and 5,000 (for another source 5,590) miles at eight knots (4,480 miles at 8.5 knots). Submerged, it could make seven to eight miles at 7.5 knots and 72 (84 knots for other sources) at four knots.

The submarines of the class built in Taranto and Rijeka, were instead powered by Franco Tosi diesel engines and Marelli electric motors, with slightly different range and speed performances.

Sirenas were armed with six 533 mm torpedo tubes, 4 at the bow and 2 at the stern, with a reserve of 6 torpedoes (for another source, 12 torpedoes), and with an OTO Mod. 1931 100/47 mm (with a reserve of 144 or 152 rounds) and two Breda Mod. 31 13.2/76 mm guns in single installations (with a reserve of 3,000 rounds; according to some sources the number of these machine guns was later increased to four). The test depth was 80 meters, with a safety coefficient (relative to the maximum stress referred to the elasticity limit of the material) of 3.

The twelve submarines of the class were christened half with the names of “sea deities” (Sirena, Naiade, Nereide, Anfitrite, Ondina, Galatea) and the other half with names of minerals (Ametista, Diamante, Rubino, Topazio, Smeraldo, Zaffiro). The six submarines of the mythology group were built by the CRDA of Monfalcone, while the remaining six were entrusted, in pairs, to three other shipyards: Ametista and Zaffiro to the OTO shipyards in La Spezia; Diamante and Smeraldo at the Franco Tosi shipyard in Taranto; Rubino and Topazio at the Kvarner Shipyards in Rijeka (the first and only submarines built by this shipyard for the Royal Italian Navy: it was an “experiment”, which was not replicated).

Only one, the Galatea, would survive the war: of the others, nine were lost in action and two scuttled following the armistice of Cassibile. Those that survived until after 1941 were subjected to work to reduce the size of the conning tower, in order to reduce the diving time and make them less visible from a great distance.

From Sirena was then derived, with a few modifications, the Perla class; according to some sources, the “Delfinul”, a submarine built in the Kvarner Shipyards for the Romanian Navy, was a modified version of Sirena class, but this seems rather strange if we consider that it was laid down in 1927, four years before Sirena and even before the Argonauta themselves (which were laid down only in 1929). However, since its construction took a long time, being completed in 1931-1932 (and it was not handed over to the Romanian Navy until 1936), it is possible that it was modified during construction based on Sirena’s design.

Sirena was supposed to be the first submarine of the Regia Marina (except for the old H 3, used for experimentation) to be equipped with the “ML” apparatus, designed in the first half of the twenties by the major of the Naval Engineers Pericle Ferretti. This apparatus, by sucking air from the surface and discharging the exhaust gases produced by the engines to the outside, allowed the submarine that used it to ventilate the rooms and to use the diesel engines even while submerged (as long as it remained at periscope altitude): in essence, it was a precursor of the snorkel, a revolutionary apparatus developed a few years later by technicians of the Dutch Navy and then adopted by the German Navy in the Second World War, and layer utilized by all the navies of the world after the end of the conflict.

The advantages of this apparatus were many, increasing speed (according to its designer’s estimates, by at least three knots) and autonomy while submerged, safety (even if it wanted to use electric motors, the submarine could recharge its batteries without being forced to surface and expose itself to enemy attacks) and attack capacity (thanks to the greater speed when submerged,  it would have been possible to increase the useful attack sector by up to 60%) and freedom of movement of the submarine that used it (which without surfacing could keep the batteries always charged), and which was no longer forced to use electric motors and resurface once a day to recharge the batteries.

Habitability was also improved, being able to ventilate the rooms even when submerged. After the success of the tests conducted for four years on the H 3, the top management of the Regia Marina ordered Ferretti to perfect his apparatus and then mass produce it and install it on the submarines of Sirena class (and according to a source, also of the Argonauta class). The final drawings for the mass production of the “ML” apparatus were made by the CRDA of Monfalcone and date back to 1934-1935, but in 1938 the new commander of the Italian submarine fleet, Rear Admiral Antonio Legnani, suspended the production of this equipment and even had those already produced scrapped, for reasons that remained unknown due to the subsequent loss of the relevant documentation. The result was that neither the Sirena class nor any other Italian submarine could use the snorkel until after the Second World War, when the equipment derived from the Dutch ones was also introduced into the Italian Navy.

It is not entirely clear whether or not these devices were installed on Sirena, before Legnani’s decision: according to some sources, including the book “Uomini sul fondo” by Giorgio Giorgerini, Sirena were prepared for installation but the equipment was never installed, while according to what Ferretti himself wrote, the “ML” were installed experimentally in 1934 on some of Sirenas under construction in Monfalcone,  only to be removed after the Legnani’s decision (“Some specimens were built which, after testing in a special ground test facility, began to be mounted on Sirena types. Admiral Legnani was appointed to head the submarines, and he [sic] ordered that the equipment already built be demolished and that the others under construction were discontinued»).

According to a source, the abandonment of the “ML” apparatus was motivated by unsatisfactory performance, and more precisely an increase in the submerged speed, using diesel engines, of “only” 1.7 knots (which in truth would not seem to be a small difference, considering that the maximum speed with the electric motors was less than eight knots).

During World War II, Sirena operated mainly in the eastern Mediterranean, in the Otranto Channel and in the Gulf of Taranto. The boat completed a total of 33 or 34 war missions (19 patrols, one transport and 14 relocations), covering 19,659 nautical miles on the surface and 3,052 submerged and spending 204 days at sea.

The Siren’s motto was “E gurgite dominans” (“from the whirlpools [comes out] dominant”).

Brief and partial chronology

May 1st, 1931

The boat is set up at the Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico (C.R.D.A.) in Monfalcone (construction number 255).

January 26th, 1933

The boat is launched at the C.R.D.A and immediately placed at the disposal of the Pula Marine Command (on the same day of the launch), however it remains in Monfalcone for testing and fitting out.

February 17th, 1933

During the set-up, a fire broke out in the aft launch torpedo room. The flames are extinguished before they can cause any major damage, and there were no injuries.

October 2nd, 1933

Sirena entered active service.

November 23rd, 1933

Placed under the Submarine Inspectorate, Sirena was assigned to the X Submarine Squadron, based in Brindisi and under the Submarine Division Command, which the boat formed along with the twins Naiade, Nereide, Anfitrite, Ondina and Galatea; a squadron called, because of the names of the boats that compose it, of the “marine deities”. The first commander of Sirena was the Lieutenant Commander Primo Longobardo.

Taranto, May 1933: Sirena returns from a training patrol (note the torpedoes on deck)
(From “Navi e bugie” by Nino Bixio Lo Martire)

1934

Sirena made a long training cruise in the eastern Mediterranean, calling at Piraeus, Alexandria, Tobruk, Benghazi and Tripoli.

1934-1936

The boat made other training cruises along the Italian coasts.

January 2nd, 1937

Sirena (Lieutenant Commander Luigi Caneschi), at the time assigned to the IV Submarine Group of Taranto, sailed from Naples for a clandestine mission off Almeria and Capo de Gata, in support of Franco’s forces, during the Spanish Civil War. It was to attack any Spanish Republican warships, as well as merchant ships engaged in transporting supplies to Republican-controlled ports. The rules of engagement, with regard to the latter (whose recognition is rather difficult), were very restrictive, in order to avoid international incidents, and which severely limited the operation of submarines (as written by Francesco Mattesini: «avoid torpedoing outside the assigned limit, and carry out attacks only against warships or merchant ships clearly identified as Republican or Soviet and against those transiting with darkened lights in the areas prescribed for ambush. These impositions caused, as Admirals Canaris and Cavagnari had foreseen, a serious obstacle to the activity of Italian submarines, since it was indeed very difficult to be able to identify with sufficient certainty a merchant ship sailing under a false flag»).

Between the end of January and the beginning of February 1937, seventeen Italian submarines were deployed in ambush off the Spanish coast: their task was to undermine the ports in the hands of the Republican faction and cut off the flow of supplies to them. During the mission, Sirena initiated three attack maneuvers, but would not complete them (according to another source, however, it failed to spot any suspicious ships).

January 19th, 1937

Mission ended; the boat returned to base.

1938

Sirena was stationed in Brindisi, as part of the XLII Submarine Squadron along with Naiade, Nereide, Anfitrite, Ondina and Galatea.

May 5th, 1938

Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Luigi Caneschi, Sirena took part in the naval magazine “H” organized in the Gulf of Naples for Adolf Hitler’s visit to Italy. Most of the Italian fleet took part in the review: the battleships Cesare and Cavour, the 7 heavy cruisers of the I and III Divisions, the 11 light cruisers of the II, IV, VII and VIII Divisions, 7 “light explorers” of the Navigatori class, 18 destroyers (the Squadrons VII, VIII, IX and X, plus the Borea and the Zeffiro), 30 torpedo boats (the Squadriglie IX,  X, XI and XII, plus the old Audace, Castelfidardo, Curtatone, Francesco Stocco, Nicola Fabrizi and Giuseppe La Masa and the four “escort notices” of the Orsa class), as many as 85 submarines of the Submarine Squadron under the command of Admiral Antonio Legnani, and 24 MAS (Squadrons IV, V, VIII, IX, X and XI), as well as the training ships Cristoforo Colombo and Amerigo Vespucci,  Benito Mussolini’s yacht, the Aurora, the royal ship Savoy and the target ship San Marco.

The Submarine Squad was the protagonist of one of the most spectacular moments of the parade, in which the 85 boats carry out a series of synchronised manoeuvres: first, arranged in two columns, at 1.15 PM they pass, opposite direction, between the two naval squadrons proceeding on parallel routes. Then, at 1:25 PM, all the submarines made a simultaneous mass dive, proceeded for a short distance in immersion and then emerged simultaneously and executed a salvo of eleven shots with their respective deck guns.

June 10th, 1940

Upon Italy’s entry into World War II, Sirena was part of the LXI Submarine Squadron, belonging to the VI Grupsom of Tobruk, along with the boats of the same class Argonauta, Smeraldo, Naiade and Fisalia.

June 18th, 1940

Sirena (Lieutenant Raul Galletti) sets sail from Tobruk for the first war patrol, to be carried out off the Gulf of Sollum.

June 20th, 1940

Arriving in the area assigned for the patrol, at 9 PM Sirena sighted a British destroyer about twenty miles north of Ras Uleima (Gulf of Sollum) and maneuvered to move to a favorable position for a torpedo attack, but was located by the unit before being able to launch (according to another source, it  managed to launch a torpedo, but without hitting,  and then was located and subjected to the counterattack).

The attacked unit is part of a formation consisting of two French cruisers (the Suffren, heavy, and the Duguay-Trouin, light) and three British destroyers (H.M.S. Ilex, H.M.S Nubian, and H.M.S Imperial) which had left Alexandria at 5:30 PM the previous day to conduct a search for an Italian cruiser and destroyer, whose presence was reported off Tobruk during he operation “MD. 3” (bombardment of Bardia by an Anglo-French formation consisting of the battleship French Lorraine, the British light cruisers H.M.S Orion and H.M.S Neptune, the Australian light cruiser H.M.A.S Sydney, the British destroyers H.M.S Dainty, H.M.S Hasty and H.M.S Decoy and the Australian destroyer H.M.A.S Stuart).

Localized by the enemy units after failed attack, Sirena was subjected to heavy and precise chase with the launch of numerous depth charges, which cause serious damage including damage to the stuffing boxes of the propeller cases, with consequent abundant infiltration of water, such as to force it to interrupt the mission and return to base (it was no longer able to navigate submerged).

June 22nd, 1940

Arrival in Tobruk. For their conduct during this mission and during the air attacks on the port of Tobruk, Second Lieutenant Giuseppe Di Grande and Ensign Carmelo D’Urso (both from Augusta) would receive the War Cross for Military Valour, with the motivation: “Officer embarked on a submarine, stationed in an advanced base subjected to violent enemy air attacks,  He cooperated with fighting spirit and daring in the anti-aircraft reaction, directing the fire of the machine guns. During a war mission, the unit was subjected to intense and prolonged hunting, which caused damage, and contributed validly to the disengagement of the submarine from enemy action and to the repair of the damage suffered. Commander Galletti will receive the Bronze Medal for Military Valour (“Commander of a submarine, on a war mission, signaled for violent, prolonged hunting, he faced the difficult situation with determination and serene courage, maneuvering with skill to escape the repeated offense of the enemy forces. Despite the submarine’s failures, he was able to skilfully disengage and bring the unit under his command back to base.” (Gulf of Sollum, 19-22 June 1940)’).

June 25th, 1940

After temporary repairs were carried out on site, necessary to be able to put to sea with a certain safety, Sirena (Lieutenant Raul Galletti) left Tobruk at 8.25 PM bound for Taranto, where it was able to receive more in-depth repair work, which could not be carried out with the modest equipment of the Libyan base (it had to enter dry dock). Navigation took place while remaining on the surface.

Lieutenant Raul Galletti
(Photo U.S.M.M.)

June 26th, 1940

At the first light of dawn, with a sea that had remained calm throughout the night, it began to ripple. At 9.36 AM Sirena passes through Ras el Hilal, while the mistral (TN wind from NW) blew with increasing intensity, until it reaches force 7-8 in the afternoon. Worried by the strong pitching of the submarine, which he feared could cause a leak of liquid from the accumulators or even damage to the hull, at 6.30 PM Commander Galletti gave the order to dive.

June 27th, 1940

At 8.20 AM Sirena returned to the surface: the wind had calmed down a lot, while the sea was force 3-4. The boat proceeded on the surface along the Ras el Hilal-Capo Colonna route.

At 5.15 PM an enemy bomber was sighted which, on the route it followed, seemed to be flying from Alexandria to Malta: to avoid being spotted, Sirena dove.

June 28th, 1940

Shortly after noon, Sirena, sailing at periscope depth, sighted two planes approaching flying at a very low altitude; again, Commander Galletti decided to descend to a greater depth so as not to be spotted.

Resurfacing in the late afternoon, at 5:37 PM – a few minutes after returning to the surface – Sirena sighted another bomber towards the stern, similar to the one sighted the day before: once again a crash dive had to be ordered.

June 29th, 1940

At 6.30 AM (or 6.35 AM), while proceeding on the surface in position 37°54′ N and 18°04′ E (off Capo Colonna and 70 miles by 148° from Capo Rizzuto; according to Sirena report, while British sources indicate the position as 38°12′ N and 18°06′ E – (TN 35 nautical miles apart)), Sirena was attacked by a Short Sunderland seaplane of the 228th Squadron of the Royal Air Force (more precisely,  the “Q” aircraft of the 228th Squadron, marked L. 5086 (TN it actually was tail number L. 5806).

R.A.F. operational records
(National Archives, United Kingdom)

The plane was spotted by the lookouts in the conning tower on a polar bearing 315°, when it was still three kilometers away, and flying at an altitude of about 500 meters with a course perpendicular to that of Sirena, directed towards the submarine. Presenting a large vertical white band painted on the vertical plane of the tail, which from a great distance can be mistaken for the white cross painted on the planes of the Regia Aeronautica, the aircraft was initially mistaken for Italian, also because it was carrying out an approach maneuver perfectly compliant with the rules in force in the Regia Marina (Commander Galletti would write in his report:  “At a distance of about 3,000 m, the plane approaches to starboard and is on a course parallel to and opposite to mine. He performed the maneuver similarly to that prescribed by the S.M. 6 S., that is, passing astern and always at the prescribed distance and at an invariable altitude, he moves to my starboard side and against the sun»).

As a result, believing that he was dealing with a friendly plane, Commander Galletti flew the Italian flag; only then the seaplane, having reached 60° forward of the starboard beam, quickly approaches to port and begins to dive, aiming decisively at Sirena. Galletti realizes that it was an enemy plane, but it was too late to be able to escape the attack with the crash dive (the Sunderland would have dropped its bombs just as Sirena was most vulnerable,  during the dive: not yet underwater, and at the same time unable to defend itself with the machine guns), so Galletti orders to open fire with the machine guns, which were ready for use, and he himself  manned the forward machine gun on the starboard side (“I put the target in a sector of about 20° to starboard starting from the bow”). Sirena steered to port, to facilitate the firing of the starboard forward machine gun, but as soon as this maneuver began, the Sunderland also changed its course, to take the submarine from bow to stern. Galletti then steered even more to the port, after which he immediately ordered another change of course, this time to starboard. Shooting started when the distance has dropped to 700 meters.

The Sunderland changed its approach course of attack and flew over Sirena from bow to stern, from an altitude of only 50 meters, dropping four bombs that fell into the sea on the sides of the submarine, forward of the conning tower, at distances between 5 and 15 meters, two on the starboard side and two on the port side (“In the meantime, the plane, having reached a distance of 75-100 meters,  very fast and with a course almost crossing the submarine from bow to stern it launches, from an altitude of just under 50 meters, four bombs that fall two to starboard and two to port of the hull, at a distance of about 5 or 10 meters and about 15 meters forward of the conning tower”), adding new damage to that caused by the depth charges nine days earlier off Sollum. At the same time as the bombs were dropped by the Sunderland, Commander Galletti fired five shots from a machine gun towards the seaplane; then he increased the elevation of the weapon and waited for the plane to approach up to only thirty meters, and then unloaded the entire magazine on it, believing that he had scored several shots (“At the same time as the sighting of the four bombs dropped from the tail of the plane, I fired 5 shots from the machine gun and then increased the elevation waiting for a closer approach of the plane to hit it with certainty. When the plane arrived about 30 meters forward of the conning tower, I opened fire again, discharging all the rounds of the magazine at it and hitting it repeatedly in various parts»).

The seaplane seems to be visibly hit by the fire of Sirena’s machine guns and seems to immediately lose altitude. When it reached the stern of the conning tower, it opened fire with his machine guns, targeting the personnel present in the conning tower, but the burst was very short (no more than three seconds) and inaccurate, hitting only the base of the conning tower without causing damage to anyone, so much so that Commander Galletti believed that this was due to the mortal wounding of the British gunner by the fire of Sirena “The enemy aircraft immediately lost very quickly altitude. When he reached the stern of the conning tower of the submarine, the machine-gunned the personnel on the conning tower. I believe that the enemy gunner was fatally hit because the enemy machine gun burst, which was inaccurate, lasted a maximum of 3 seconds and having been carried out in the fall phase of the plane, it only hit the base of the conning tower»). After this last attempt at attack, according to Galletti’s report, the Sunderland continued to lose altitude, until it seemed to fall into the sea about 200 meters aft of the submarine: “… Quickly losing altitude, as already mentioned, when it reached about 200 meters downwind, it suddenly lowered its tail and tilted about 90° to the left, arranging its wings almost in the vertical plane and falling into the water heavily and in such a way as to consider it lost”.

In reality, Sunderland will be able to return to Malta; According to British sources, in fact, it did not suffer any damage.

At the end of the attack, since during the approach phase of the Sunderland what seemed to be another plane had been sighted on the horizon, and therefore fearing to be attacked again on the surface, without being able to adequately defend itself (as the aft machine gun was jammed by a bullet left in the barrel), Galletti ordered the rapid dive and continues towards Taranto.

At 2.10 PM Sirena resurfaced, but two hours later yet another enemy plane was sighted, flying at very low altitude on the same route as before, and once again the Italian boat was forced to dive.

For their conduct in the duel with Sunderland, the Second Lieutenant Giuseppe Di Grande, the Ensign Carmelo D’Urso, the second chief torpedo pilot Mario Saluzzo and sailor Giannino Loffredo (“Embarked on a submarine on a war mission, on the occasion of an air attack … he lent his work to the defensive manoeuvre with serenity and skill”). Commander Galletti, also because of the mistaken belief that the attacking plane had been shot down, will receive the Silver Medal for Military Valor (“Commander of a submarine in war navigation, he skilfully avoided repeated enemy hunting actions. Being attacked by an enemy four-engine aircraft at low altitude with bomb drop and machine gun fire, he promptly chose and executed the most suitable defensive and counter-offensive maneuver, and with machine gun fire personally shot down the enemy aircraft. An example of quick decision, calmness, contempt for danger. (Eastern Mediterranean, 25 June – 1 July 1940)’).

June 30th, 1940

At 6.30 AM Sirena re-emerged and set course for Crotone, where it arrived at 9.40 AM. Since its departure from Tobruk, it has covered 553 nautical miles, 124 of which were submerged. After mooring the submarine, Commander Galletti telegraphed to Supermarina and Maricosom a first brief report on the incident: “Sirena – Day 29 current at 06.30 at about 70 miles 148° from Capo Rizzuto bombed and machine-gunned at low altitude by seaplane 4 enemy engines alt Enemy repeatedly hit and shot down STOP I repeat destruction not ascertained “.

July 1st, 1940

At 5.18 AM Sirena left Crotone for Taranto, where it arrived a few hours later. After the arrival, Commander Galletti sent another telegram to Maricosom: «Sirena – During the Tobruk-Taranto transfer, daily presence was noted on the Ras el Hilal-Capo Colonne junction within Malta, Corfu and Malta Alexandria sectors, large four-engine British seaplanes that carry a white vertical stripe on the vertical rudders and approach submarines by performing a maneuver similar to that prescribed by S.M. 6/S, page n° 13 alt».

Once it reached Taranto, Sirena was placed in dry dock in the Arsenale for repairs.

Summer 1940

Once the repair work was completed, Sirena was deployed to Leros, in the Dodecanese, operating in the Aegean Sea until April 1941, where it carried out offensive missions in the eastern Mediterranean and some protective patrols in the Gulf of Taranto.

August 31st, 1940

Sirena, lurking south of Crete, did not spot the Mediterranean Fleet (battleships H.M.S. Warspite and H.M.S. Malaya, aircraft carrier H.M.S. Eagle, light cruisers H.M.S. Orion and H.M.A.S. Sydney, destroyers H.M.S. Stuart, H.M.S. Voyager, H.M.S. Vampire, H.M.S. Vendetta, H.M.S. Defender, H.M.S. Decoy, H.M.S. Hereward, H.M.S. Garland and H.M.S. Imperial) which had left Alexandria the previous day for operation “Hats” (consisting of various sub-operations: transfer from Gibraltar to Alexandria, to reinforce the Mediterranean Fleet,  the battleship H.M.S. Valiant, the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Illustrious, and the cruisers H.M.S. Calcutta and H.M.S. Coventry; sending a convoy from Alexandria to Malta and one from Nafplion to Port Said, bombing Italian bases in Sardinia and the Aegean), and passed not far from the patrol area.

September 1940

Sirena was sent on a patrol south of Crete, between Gaudo and Alexandria, Egypt.

November 22nd through December 1st, 1940

The boat was sent on patrol in the Otranto Channel, to protect convoys sailing between Italy and Albania.

The crew of Sirena in 1940

February 9th through 18th, 1941

Sirena and another submarine, the Beilul, were sent for patrols in the Aegean.

April 14th, 1941

Sirena was sent to patrol a stretch of sea 25 miles north of Suda, controlling access from the northeast of the Cerigo Channel. Around 11 PM (Lieutenant Rodolfo Scarelli), sailing on the surface north of Candia, the crew sighted a British destroyer “Afridi class” (i.e. Tribal class) sailing eastwards at high speed in position 36°07′ N and 24°15′ E (north/northwest of Capo Spada). At 11:37 PM, approaching less than 2,000 meters away, Scarelli launched two torpedoes from the bow tubes against the enemy unit, then remained on the surface – taking advantage of the thick darkness – to observe the result of the launch.

The crew of Sirena with Lieutenant Rodolfo Scarelli in the middle

A loud detonation was heard on board after 1 minute and 42 seconds, although no columns of water were sighted. The destroyer appeared to significantly reduce speed and pull towards Sirena, which at this point disengaged by diving. Commander Scarelli believes that he had probably hit the target with one of the weapons, although without sinking it. However, the torpedoes did not hit. (Some Internet sources identify the attacked destroyer with HMS Afridi, but this is impossible, since this unit was sunk as early as May 1940; this is a misunderstanding of Commander Scarelli’s identification of the target as an “Afridi-type” unit, i.e. Tribal class).

April 18th, 1941

Sirena left the ambush zone to return to base.

April 19th and 20th, 1941

Patrol was concluded arriving in Leros.

May 1941

Sirena was sent on patrol in the Aegean Sea, along with her twin boat Galatea.

May 20th, 1941

Sirena was sent to the waters between Crete, Sollum and Alexandria, along with numerous other submarines (Uarsciek, Tricheco, Topazio, Fisalia, Adua, Malachite, Dessiè, Squalo and Smeraldo), to support the German assault on Crete (Operation “Merkur”).

July 1941

Another mission in the Aegean Sea, departing from Leros.

February 10th through 13th, 1942

Sirena was sent off the coast of Cyrenaica to counter the passage from Alexandria to Malta of a British convoy as part of operation “MF 5” and named “MW. 9” which departed Alexandria on February 12th. The convoy consisted of the merchant ships Clan Campbell, Clan Chattan, and Rowallan Castle, escorted by four anti-aircraft cruisers (H.M.S. Naiad, H.M.S. Dido, H.M.S. Euryalus and H.M.S. Carlisle) and 16 destroyers (H.M.S. Lance, H.M.S. Heythrop, H.M.S. Avon Vale, H.M.S. Eridge, H.M.S. Hurworth, H.M.S. Southwold, H.M.S. Dulverton, H.M.S. Beaufort, H.M.S. Arrow, H.M.S. Griffin, H.M.S. Havock, H.M.S. Hasty, H.M.S. Jaguar, H.M.S. Kelvin, H.M.S. Kipling and H.M.S. Jaguar), all under the command of Rear Admiral Philip L. Vian. At the same time as the arrival in Malta of the “MW. 9”, a convoy of unloaded merchant ships (Ajax, Breconshire, City of Calcutta and Clan Ferguson) would leave the island, “ME. 10”, escorted by Commodore William Gladstone Agnew’s Force K (light cruiser H.M.S. Penelope, destroyers H.M.S. Decoy, H.M.S. Fortune, H.M.S. Legion, H.M.S. Lively, H.M.S. Sikh and H.M.S. Zulu).

To attack the British convoy bound for Malta, eleven Italian submarines were deployed in an area of just over 800 square miles: in addition to Sirena, also Topazio, Tricheco, Dandolo, Malachite, Perla, Platino, Ondina and Ciro Menotti.

Sirena did not make contact with the convoy “MW. 9”, which was completely destroyed by the Luftwaffe: Clan Chattan and Rowallan Castle were sunk by German bombers on February 14th, 250 miles east of Malta, while the previous day the Clan Campbell was damaged and forced to give up reaching Malta, entering Tobruk. Convoy “ME. 10”, on the other hand, would reach Port Said unscathed on February 16.

April 1942

Sirena carried out a patrol in the waters of Cyrenaica, in the later part of the month.

June 4th through 16th, 1942

Sirena was sent to patrol the waters off Palestine, along with the submarines Ondina, Beilul and Galatea.

Around the middle of the month (June 12th, according to a source) Sirena, Ondina, Beilul, Galatea and the German submarines U 77, U 81, U 205, U 431, U 453, and U 559 were sent to Libyan waters to attack the British convoy “Vigorous” sailing from Alexandria to Malta, as part of the Battle of Mid-June. However, the Siren was not involved in the battle.

Mid-September 1942

Sent on a mission east off the Island of Rhodes.

November 1942

Sirena carried out another mission in the Eastern Mediterranean, departing from Leros.

December 1942-January 1943

Sirena underwent a round of modification works, lasting about two months, at the CRDA of Monfalcone. The conning tower was radically downsized, with a strong reduction in its volume and the shortening of the periscope jackets, which, after the modifications did not exceed the height of the parapet of the parapet.

March 1943

Sirena carried out a mission in the Gulf of Sirte.

Sirena in Monfalcone after refitting with the modified conning tower
(From the magazine “Storia Militare”)

April 10th, 1943

Sirena was in La Maddalena when, starting at 2.37 PM, the Sardinian base was subjected to a heavy bombardment by 84 Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers of the USAAF.

Among the injured was the commander of the submarine Sirena, Lieutenant Luciano Garofani. He was found in the rubble of the Faravelli Barracks, in a state of semi-consciousness and with a serious hemorrhage in his right leg, by sub-chief radio telegraphist Dario Leli, 19 years old, from Castelfranco Emilia. Unharmed, Leli did his utmost to rescue his wounded comrades trapped in the rubble of the barracks. When he found Commander Garofani, he tried in vain to stop the bleeding in his leg, after which he carried him on his shoulders with the intention of taking him to the military hospital, half a kilometer away. However, realizing the impossibility of carrying such a weight for such a long journey, Leli loaded the half-unconscious officer onto a wheelbarrow found in the middle of the rubble, and thus ran and pushed the wheelbarrow with the wounded man, the distance that separates the barracks from the hospital. Arriving at the hospital, where confusion reigned due to the arrival of the large number of wounded caused by the bombing, Leli pointed out that the wounded man risked bleeding to death if he was not rescued immediately but was told to wait in line.

Then, secluding himself with the unconscious commander, he took off the officer’s uniform and puts it on in his place, and then presents himself again to the hospital staff pretending to be an officer, and ordering, this time successfully, that Garofani – whom Leli says was one of his sailors, in danger of life – be immediately taken to the operating room. (Garofani survived, and from this episode a lasting friendship was born: thirty-five years later, in 1978, it was the former commander of Sirena who had to say his last goodbye to his sailor, who had died prematurely from a serious illness).

A total of four men of Sirena lost their lives in the bombing: the chief torpedoman first class Arturo Brandani, 39, from Bondeno; the motorist Tommaso Ferragina, 20 years old, from Catanzaro, who will be missing; sailor Giuseppe Poggi, 21 years old, from Savona; electrician Giuseppe Tesoriero, 21 years old, from Lipari.

Two more dead and four injured were recorded among the crews of Topazio, Mocenigo and Aradam, while the personnel of the Submarine Station (Maristasom) complained of three dead, one missing and two wounded. At 9.15 PM the VII Submarine Group informs Maricosom of the dramatic situation in La Maddalena: «At 2.50 PM immediately air attack of which an objective east was the submarine base STOP Accommodation both for officers and personnel practically temporarily unusable STOP  Submarine workshop and torpedo workshop hit in full by unused bombs STOP  Units present only submarine Mocenigo drilled double bottom number 2 starboard oil case et tubing external compensation et double bottom air vent pipe number 2 starboard STOP  Arranged unless counter-ordered submarine Aradam immediately displaces Bonifacio STOP  Arranged appropriate thinning out of other units STOP  On submarine Mocenigo et submarine Topazio it is not possible to use semialt works I propose transfer other headquarters STOP  Units present from 08.00 current will all perform listening r t continuous STOP  Lieutenant Vascello Garofani Luciano Lieutenant G. N. Vigiari Carlo Maggiore G.N. Sini Mauro Sub-Lieutenant Vascello Sella Gregorio wounded STOP  I reserve the right to communicate the number of casualties and wounded STOP  Submarine Sirena not currently in condition given number of personnel wounded to carry out mission alt».

June 1943

Last ambush mission in the Eastern Mediterranean.

June 7th, 1943

Sirena transported a load of spare parts for engines and various materials from Taranto to Leros. Also in June (it is not clear whether as part of the same mission in which it went from Taranto to Leros) Sirena would appear to have transported a cargo of supplies to the island of Lampedusa, subjected to a naval blockade by the Anglo-American forces, who would conquer it a few days later (June 12th, 1943). Together with the one carried out at the same time by the large minelayer submarine Atropo, also destined for Lampedusa (in total, the two submarines landed 49.6 tons of supplies on the island), this is the last transport mission carried out by an Italian submarine before the Armistice.

August 3rd, 1943

Serena left Leros for Naples, with orders to carry out a patrol of the waters between Ras el Tin and the Gulf of Sollum during the transfer navigation.

August 20th, 1943

After a mission tormented by breakdowns, the boat reached Naples.

August 21st, 1943

Sirena left Naples for La Spezia, where it had to undergo repair work.

August 25th, 1943

The submarine arrived in La Spezia, after making an intermediate stop in Portoferraio.

The end

On the date of the announcement of the armistice between Italy and the Allies, on September 8th, 1943, Sirena (Lieutenant Vittorio Savarese) was part of the V Submarine Group of Leros (commander Virgilio Spigai), along with the similar boat Ametista (sub-lieutenant Luigi Ginocchio), Beilul (lieutenant Pasquale Beltrame) and Onice (lieutenant Ferdinando Boggetti). Like the other units of the Group, however, it was not in the Aegean at that time: it was in fact undergoing work in the shipyard of La Spezia.

At the beginning of August 1943, Supermarina had recalled Sirena to Italy, like the other submarines of the V Grupsom, the boat had left Leros on August 3rd bound for Naples, with orders to carry out, along the way, a patrol in the waters of Cyrenaica. The mission had been tormented by a long series of mechanical failures, which, however, had not prevented Sirena from carrying out the planned patrol of the Cyrenaic waters. On August 20th, the submarine had reached Naples (according to a source of uncertain reliability, in the final part of the navigation it had crossed the Italian minefields until it emerged a few hundred meters from Punta Carena, on the island of Capri, making itself recognized by a battery with optical means as the radio was also broken). Since the damage suffered could not be repaired with the means available in Naples, the following day Sirena left for La Spezia, where it arrived on August 25th, after a stop in Portoferraio. It entered the shipyard to repair the damage but was surprised there a few days after the news of the armistice.

There were several units under maintenance or repair in the large La Spezia Arsenal in September 1943: among them, in addition to Sirena, the old light cruiser Taranto, three destroyers, five torpedo boats, two corvettes, three submarines and two minelayers, as well as numerous smaller and auxiliary ships.

The manoeuvres for the scuttling of Sirena were carried out by a small group of officers and sailors who had remained on board for this purpose, including the commander Savarese and the sailor helmsman Giuseppe Costanzo.

The wreck of Sirena was recovered in 1946. Formally removed from the roster of the no longer Royal Italian Navy on October 18th of that same year; it was scrapped in La Spezia.

Note: A member of the crew of Sirena, the 24-year-old stoker Alberto Morbin, from Cervignano del Friuli, appears to have died in Italy on November 24, 1946; it is included in the registers of the fallen and missing of the Navy of World War II. Based on this, it seems possible that his death was caused by after-effects of injuries sustained on duty on Sirena, but no information could be traced on the matter.

Original Italian text by Lorenzo Colombo adapted and translated by Cristiano D’Adamo

Operational Records

TypePatrols (Med.)Patrols (Other)NM SurfaceNM Sub.Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
Submarine – Coastal33196593052204 111.33 4.64

Actions

DateTimeCaptainAreaCoordinatesConvoyWeaponResultShipTypeTonnsFlag
6/30/1940T.V. Galletti Mediterranean37°54’N-18°04’E Machine GunFailedSunderland “Q” 228th Squadron, L.5806Aircraft18Great Britain

Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate

R. Smg. Uarsciek

Uarsciek was an Adua-class coastal submarine (TN 600 series, Bernardis type) with a displacement of 698 tons on the surface, 866 tons submerged. Together with the twin boats Dagabur, Dessiè and Uebi Scebeli, it was powered by Tosi diesel engines, instead of FIAT or CRDA like the other submarines of the class. The electric motors were Marelli, as for most of the other “Adua” (except for the group built by CRDA).

Uarsciek a few moments before its launch, on September 19th, 1937; in the background you can see a Mameli-class submarine. Note the name still written on the hull in the original version of “Uarsheich”
(from “Sommergibili Italiani” by Alessandro Turrini and Ottorino Ottone Miozzi, USMM, Rome 1999)

During the conflict she carried out 28 war missions (19 patrols, 1 transport and 8 transfers), operating from the bases of Taranto, Leros, Augusta and Messina, covering a total of 19,685 miles on the surface and 3,926 submerged. Initially intended (1940-1941) for offensive patrols along the main British shipping lines in the central and eastern Mediterranean, in 1942 it was instead used in the western Mediterranean, to contrast British air and naval operations.

The launch of the submarine Uarsciek in Taranto on September 19th, 1937

Brief and partial chronology

December 2nd, 1936

Uarsciek was laid out in the Franco Tosi shipyards in Taranto.

September 19th, 1937

Uarsciek (construction number 68) was launched at the Franco Tosi shipyard in Taranto, and the Archbishop of Taranto (TN Monsignor Ferdinando Bernardi) blesses the new unit before the launch.

Uarsciek a few moments before its launch, on September 19, 1937; in the background you can see a Mameli-class submarine. Note the name still written on the hull in the original version of “Uarsheich” (from “Italian Submarines” by Alessandro Turrini and Ottorino Ottone Miozzi, USMM, Rome 1999, via www.betasom.it and via Marcello Risolo)

December 4th, 1937

The boat entered service as ‘Uarsheich’, the seventh unit of the Adua class to be completed. Initially assigned to Taranto as part of the IV Submarine Group.

March 15th, 1938

The name was changed to Uarsciek, a version considered more faithful to the original name of the Somali village after which the submarine was named (provision made official by royal decree no. 393 of March 31st, 1938).

June 1938

The boat made a cruise in the Aegean Sea and was stationed in Leros.

1939

Stationed in Tobruk, Uarsciek made a cruise along the coast of Libya.

June 9th, 1940

On the eve of Italy’s entry into the war, Uarsciek was sent to lie in wait off the Greek-Albanian coast, along with the submarines Anfitrite, Antonio Sciesa and Balilla, forming a barrage of submarines along the coasts of Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia. Uarsciek, in particular, was sent to lie in wait south of Kefalonia, in order to keep under surveillance the accesses to the roadstead of Argostoli and the Gulf of Patras. At the end of the mission, the boat reached Taranto without having made any noteworthy sightings.

June 10th, 1940

Upon Italy’s entry into the World War II, Uarsciek (Lieutenant Carlo Zanchi) was part of the XLVI Submarine Squadron (IV Grupsom of Taranto), along with the twin boats Dagabur, Dessiè and Uebi Scebeli.

September 6th, 1940

Uarsciek left Taranto under the command of Lieutenant Carlo Zanchi, to carry out a patrol off the coast of Egypt. Along with Uarsciek, a second submarine, the Ondina, also took to the sea. The two boats, which set sail within four minutes of each other, and were both bound for North African waters, travelled together.

September 7th, 1940

Uarsciek was accidentally attacked with depth charges by the destroyer Granatiere, who had mistaken it for an enemy submarine. The attack did not cause damages, but it caused the boat to lag slightly behind schedule.

September 12th, 1940

At three o’clock in the morning (according to another source 3.27) the British submarine H.M.S. Proteus (Lieutenant Commander Randall Thomas Gordon-Duff) sighted “suspicious lights” in position 32°21′ N and 24°39′ E, on a 150° bearing, and approached to see what it was. After a while he sighted an Italian submarine surfaced and began an attack maneuver, but the latter dived before H.M.S. Proteus could launch. The H.M.S. Proteus then dove in turn and descended to 30 meters, attempting to conduct a submerged attack with the help of the sonar, but the Italian submarine passes on its vertical, which thwarted this intention.

At 4:16 AM, the British boat sighted another Italian submarine (40 miles east-northeast of Tobruk), pulled over toward it and immediately launched a torpedo from 1,370 meters, submerging immediately after. The torpedo missed its target, probably passing aft (it was heard exploding at the end of its run ten minutes later). It is probable that the target of this attack was Uarsciek (more likely, since due to the delay it had probably remained further behind the Ondina), or another Italian submarine sailing from Taranto to North African waters. The Ondina (which had departed from Taranto with an interval of only four minutes with respect to Uarsciek, and with the order to conduct an ambush in North African waters).  None of the boats appeared to have noticed the attacks.

Uarsciek then reaches the area assigned for the patrol and began its mission regularly.

September 19th, 1940

On this date, according to a source of uncertain reliability, Uarsciek unsuccessfully attacked two British destroyers off the coast of Tobruk, along with the submarines Ruggiero Settimo and Ondina, but no confirmation of this events has been found.

September 21st, 1940

Following mercury vapor poisoning of several crewmen, caused by an accident that occurred on board, Commander Zanchi aborted mission and the return to Taranto and decided instead to reach the nearest port Benghazi, where the entire crew disembarks and were hospitalized (including Zanchi himself, later decorated with the Silver Medal for Military Valor:  “Commander of a submarine, during a war mission, due to an accident that occurred to the unit, he was struck by serious intoxication. For more than five days, he overcame the sufferings caused by the disease with great fortitude, and by his example he encouraged the crew, who were also seriously intoxicated, and succeeded in carrying out his mission. As soon as he arrived in port, he had to be hospitalized. An example of dedication to duty, a high spirit of sacrifice“).

One of the intoxicated, nineteen-year-old Ermanno Tironi from Bergamo, died on October 5th in the Benghazi hospital. A Bronze Medal for Military Valor would be awarded in his memory, with the motivation “Embarked on a submarine, during a war mission, due to an accident that occurred to the unit he was struck by serious intoxication. Despite the suffering caused by the disease, he continued to carry out his service serenely with a high sense of duty for over five days, succeeding in setting an example to the other soldiers who were also seriously intoxicated. As soon as he arrived in port, he had to be hospitalized, where he died of aggravated intoxication. (Central Mediterranean, 7-22 September 1940)“.

The news of Ermanno Tironi’s death on the “Rivista di Bergamo”
(From Rinaldo Monella)

Other members of the intoxicated crew would have serious health problems for the rest of their lives, such as the sailor Luigi Bolognesi, who will not even be able to obtain compensation for what happened to him.

Uarsciek was then summarily put back into service with the means available on site and transferred to Italy under the command of Lieutenant Commander Mario Resio, assisted by Lieutenant Marcello Bertini, Lieutenant Lorenzo Coniglione, chief electrician first class Angelo Pilon and chief mechanic first class Catello Primo Gargiulo.  They were in turn intoxicated by mercury during this transfer, and decorated for their work with the War Cross of Military Valor (for Resio, the motivation was: “He organized and directed at a naval base the reclamation and re-efficiency works of a submarine polluted by mercury vapors, overcoming with serene firmness continuous and harsh difficulties of a technical nature worsened by frequent enemy aerial bombardments. Once this task was completed, he managed to transfer the unit to his Command in a national base, although he was struck during the mission by mercurial gas poisoning”; for the others, “He participated with enthusiasm and a keen sense of duty at the naval base of the A. .ai reclamation and rehabilitation of a submarine polluted by mercury vapour, despite technical difficulties and continuous enemy bombing; embarked on the unit, contributed to its transfer to a national base, during which he was struck by mercurial gas poisoning”).

November 11th through 12th, 1940

Uarsciek was in Taranto, moored at the submarine quay in Mar Piccolo (along with numerous other boats of the IV Submarine Group: Pietro Micca, Ambra, Anfitrite, Malachite, Naiade, Nereide, Ondina, Sirena, Atropo and Zoea, as well as at Dagabur, Serpente and Smeraldo of the X Grupsom, Giovanni Da Procida of III Grupsom and Ciro Menotti of VIII Grupsom), when the base was attacked by British torpedo bombers that sank the battleship Conte di Cavour and seriously damaged two others, Littorio and Duilio (the famous “night of Taranto”). The submarines are not affected by the attack.

Uarsciek in1940
(Erminio Bagnasco)

January 1st, 1941

Lieutenant Alberto Campanella took command of Uarsciek and held it for the next six months.

January 31st through -February 12th, 1941

Uarsciek carried out a patrol in the Otranto Channel to protect the traffic between Italy and Albania, without sighting enemy ships.

March 6th through 18th, 1941

Another patrol south of the Otranto Channel, off the Ionian Islands, to protect convoys sailing between Italy and Albania.

April 21st thought 30th, 1941

Third and final protective patrol near the Otranto Channel to defend convoys between Italy and Albania.

May 19th through June 2nd, 1941

The boat was part of a group of submarines (the others were Fisalia, Topazio, Malachite, Adua, Tricheco, Squalo, Smeraldo, Dessiè and Sirena) deployed in the waters between Crete, Alexandria and Sollum, in support of the German invasion of Crete. Uarsciek, in particular, patroled the Cyrenaic-Egyptian waters (according to Aldo Cocchia’s memoirs, in this mission Uarsciek attacked a British cruiser south of Crete, believing it to have torpedoed it).

June 17th, 1941

Lieutenant Alberto Campanella leaves the command of Uarsciek, passing to the minelayer submarine Zoea. He was replaced by Lieutenant Raffaello Allegri, who would command Uarsciek for a year.

June 1941

Patrol between Tobruk and Alexandria.

July 19th through 31st, 1941

Uarsciek was sent on patrol off Alexandria, Egypt, along with the submarines Squalo and Axum.

July 29th, 1941

At 4:30 PM, Uarsciek (Lieutenant Raffaello Allegri), on a mission in the eastern Mediterranean off the Egyptian coast, was attacked north of Ras Haleima (in position 31°38′ N and 25°54′ E) by a Bristol Blenheim bomber of the 203rd Squadron of the Royal Air Force,  aircraft “Y”/Z6445 piloted by Lieutenant Coates, which dropped four bombs which fell into the sea about 150 meters aft of the submarine. Uarsciek reacted with machine-gun fire. At 5:45 PM, the submarine suffered a second attack by another Blenheim IV of the 203rd Squadron, aircraft “N”/Z6431 piloted by Sergeant E. Langston, which dropped six bombs that fell into the sea about 200 meters forward of Uarsciek. Once again, the submarine responds with machine gun fire. Langston’s plane, on its return to its base near Marsa Matruh, would be irreparably damaged following the failure of the landing gear, although the crew emerged unscathed. According to British sources, however, the damage was not caused by Uarsciek’s gunfire, which did not hit the plane (except for the book “The Bristol Blenheim” by Graham Warner, which instead states that the plane was damaged by the submarine’s fire).

August 11th, 1941

At 18.25 Uarsciek, while returning from Bardia, was strafed by an unidentified aircraft in position 34°05′ N and 22°20′ E. The under-helmsman Salvatore Bortone, from Diso, was seriously wounded (he was later decorated with the War Cross for Military Valor, with the motivation: “Embarked on a submarine subjected to violent air attack, although wounded he continued to carry out his task as a machine gun supplier with serene firmness, demonstrating a high sense of duty”). At some point, however, the attacking aircraft makes the German Air Corps recognition signal and left. It was, therefore, a “friendly fire” incident: a Luftwaffe plane had mistaken Uarsciek for an enemy submarine.

October 15th, 1941

The boat was sent to lie in wait off the coast of Cyrenaica.

1941

Uarsciek underwent a period of maintenance work in the Pula shipyards, after which it was deployed to Messina and then to Cagliari, from where it operated against the British ships that tried to supply Malta from Gibraltar.

Uarsciek moored in Taranto in December 1941
(from “Sommergibili in guerra” by Achille Rastelli and Erminio Bagnasco)

March 1942

Sent east of Malta along with other submarines (Corallo, Admiral Millo, Onice and Veniero), to protect operation “V. 5” (March 7th thought 9th). The latter provides for the dispatch to Tripoli of three convoys from Brindisi, Messina and Naples, with a total of four modern motor ships (Nino Bixio, Gino Allegri, Reginaldo Giuliani and Monreale) escorted by the destroyers Bersagliere, Fuciliere, Ugolino Vivaldi, Antonio Pigafetta and Antonio Da Noli and by the torpedo boats Castore and Arethusa, as well as the indirect escort of the VII Cruiser Division (light cruisers Eugenio di Savoia,  Raimondo Montecuccoli and Giuseppe Garibaldi) and the destroyers Alfredo Oriani, Ascari, Aviere, Geniere and Scirocco. Another convoy of modern motor ships (Unione, Lerici, Ravello and the tanker Giulio Giordani, escorted by the torpedo boats Cigno and Procione and the destroyer Strale which will then be joined by Pigafetta and Scirocco) returning from Libya to Italy, will also be at sea for the same operation, which also benefited from the indirect escort of the VII Division.

The intervention of submarines would not be necessary; the operation ended without losses, despite repeated air attacks (while a British light formation, which had gone out to sea to attack the convoy, suffered the loss of the light cruiser Naiad, sunk by the German submarine U 565).

April 1942

At the end of the the month, Uarsciek patrolled the waters off Cyrenaica.

May 1942

Patrol in the waters of the Strait of Sicily and Tunisia.

Mid-June 1942

Uarsciek (Lieutenant Commander Raffaello Allegri) was sent to lie in wait in the Gulf of Philippeville during the air-naval battle of Mid-June, to counter the British operation “Harpoon”, consisting of sending a heavily escorted convoy from Gibraltar to Malta.

After an earlier supply operation in Malta in March 1942 (which resulted in the inconclusive naval clash of the Second Battle of Sirte) ended with the loss of 24,000 of the 25,000 tons of supplies sent by air, Malta’s situation became very critical: food rationing had to be introduced in May  and the calories supplied daily to the garrison were halved (from 4,000 to 2,000) while for the civilian population the reduction was even more marked (1,500 calories).

The British commands, therefore, planned for mid-June a double resupply operation, divided into two sub-operations: “Harpoon”, with a convoy departing from Gibraltar, and “Vigorous”, departing from Alexandria. The latter consists of sending a convoy of eleven merchant ships, escorted by seven light cruisers, an anti-aircraft cruiser, 26 destroyers, 4 corvettes, 2 minesweepers, 4 motor torpedo boats and 2 rescue ships, in addition to the old target ship Centurion, a former battleship disguised again, for the occasion, as a battleship in an attempt – failed – to make Italian reconnaissance believe that the escort also includes a battleship. The bulk of the Italian battle fleet, under the command of Admiral Angelo Iachino, took to the sea against “Vigorous”.

The convoy of Operation “Harpoon”, which departed from Gibraltar on June 12th, consisted of 6 merchant ships: the British steamers Burdwan, Orari and Troilus, the Dutch motor ship Tanimbar, the US motor ship Chant and the brand new US tanker Kentucky, which carry a total of 43,000 tons of supplies. The direct escort of the convoy, designated Force X, consists of the anti-aircraft cruiser H.M.S. Cairo (Captain Cecil Campbell Hardy, commander of Force X), the destroyers H.M.S. Bedouin, H.M.S. Marne, H.M.S. Matchless, H.M.S. Ithuriel and H.M.S. Partridge (belonging to the 11th Destroyer Flotilla), the escort destroyers (Hunt class) H.M.S. Blankney, H.M.S. Badsworth, H.M.S.  Middleton and Kujawiak (belonging to the 19th Destroyer Flotilla), the minesweepers H.M.S. Hebe,  H.M.S. Speedy, H.M.S. Hythe and H.M.S. Rye and 6 “motor launches” used for dredging (ML-121, ML-134, ML-135, ML-168, ML-459, ML-462). All the units of the escort were British with the exception of the Kujawiak, which was Polish.

In addition to the direct escort, in the first leg of the navigation (from Gibraltar to just before the entrance to the Strait of Sicily) the convoy was also accompanied by a powerful covering force, Force W of Vice Admiral Alban Curteis: it was composed of the battleship H.M.S. Malaya, the aircraft carriers H.M.S. Eagle and H.M.S. Argus, the light cruisers H.M.S. Kenya (Curteis’ flagship),  H.M.S. Charybdis and H.M.S. Liverpool and the destroyers H.M.S. Onslow, H.M.S. Icarus, H.M.S. Escapade, H.M.S. Wishart, H.M.S. Antelope, H.M.S. Westcott, H.M.S. Wrestler and H.M.S. Vidette.

According to an article by Enrico Cernuschi, Supermarina was alerted by the Navy’s Information Department as early as the morning of June 11th, following decryptions of British communications and direction finding from which it emerges that a British convoy bound for Malta was preparing to enter the Mediterranean from the Strait of Gibraltar. These were followed by reports from Italian observers stationed in Algeciras (near Gibraltar) and from Italian spies operating on Spanish fishing boats sailing in those waters. Finally, at one o’clock in the afternoon of June 12th, aerial reconnaissance dispelled all doubts.

According to the official history of the U.S.M.M., however, Supermarina received the first news of “Harpoon” at 7.55 AM on June 12th, when informants based in the Gibraltar area reported the departure from Gibraltar of a powerful naval squadron composed of H.M.S. Malaya, H.M.S. Eagle, H.M.S. Argus, at least three cruisers and several destroyers (Force W), heading east, as well as the passage through the strait,  with the lights off, of numerous ships coming from the Atlantic.

The Italian Navy Command has correctly assumed that a large convoy from the Atlantic was therefore sailing from Gibraltar to Malta, an impression confirmed by the subsequent sightings of aerial reconnaissance (although the possibility that it was instead an operation directed against North Africa, Corsica, Sardinia or the Gulf of Genoa was not completely excluded, eventualities, however, considered unlikely). To counter this convoy, Supermarina developed a plan that included sending a large deployment of submarines to the western Mediterranean, the deployment of torpedo boats and MAS lurking in the Strait of Sicily, cooperation with the Regia Aeronautica so that the convoy would be heavily attacked by aircraft south of Sardinia, weakening its escort, and the dispatch of a light naval formation (the VII Division of Admiral Alberto Da Zara, with the cruisers Eugenio di Savoia and Raimondo Montecuccoli and two squadrons of destroyers), particularly suitable for combat in circumscribed and treacherous waters, to attack the convoy by surprise at dawn on the 15th.

A total of 16 boats were deployed in the central and central-western Mediterranean to counter “Harpoon”. The doctrine of the use of submarines has changed compared to the past. Now it was planned to use them en masse against ships or groups of ships sighted and reported by aircraft. Uarsciek, along with the submarines Giada, Acciaio and Otaria, formed a barrier north of the Algerian coast, in the waters between Cape Bougaroni and Cape Ferrat. Uarsciek and Giada were located at the western end of the weir. While in mid-August, two months later, this tactic was very successful, in mid-June the submarines did not reap any results.

June 13th, 1942

In the late evening, 90 miles north of Bougie and east of Algiers (in position 38°02′ N and 05°06′ E), Uarsciek sighted a British naval formation composed of numerous units proceeding eastwards in several columns: these are the forces engaged in Operation “Harpoon” (according to a source it would have been, more precisely, Force X,  but this seems unlikely, since Force X did not include any aircraft carriers; Francesco Mattesini, on the other hand, speaks more generically of Force T, i.e. the complex of Forces W and X – not yet separated, at the time of the attack – which also included the aircraft carriers Eagle and Argus). Remaining on the surface, the Italian submarine approached to attack, and at 23:52 launched three torpedoes against the two largest silhouettes it could see. Not distinguishing superstructures, Commander Allegri believes that these are aircraft carriers.

Immediately after the launch, some escort units pull in the direction of Uarsciek, which is thus forced to disengage from diving without being able to verify the outcome of the launches. After 135 seconds from the launch, a loud explosion is heard on Uarsciek (according to other sources two or three would have been heard), which leads to believe that a torpedo was certainly landed, but in reality the torpedoes exploded prematurely; On the British side, in fact, the aircraft carrier Eagle felt two loud underwater explosions at 2.55 AM (for another source, the official British report states only that “at 1.42 AM the naval force was probably sighted and reported by a submarine”, and the explosions heard on board Uarsciek could be due to depth charges). After about twenty minutes, Uarsciek noticed that two British destroyers were stationed in its vicinity, one stationary and one moving slowly.

Italian informants in Gibraltar will later report that in this action Uarsciek probably damaged the fast minelayer Welshman (and Commander Allegri will be decorated with the Silver Medal for Military Valor, with the motivation “Commander of a submarine, on a war mission, he sighted an enemy naval formation at night, attacked it with a decisive aggressive spirit and high skill and, having passed the protection escort,  It hit her with two torpedoes, inflicting severe damage. Subjected to violent hunting, with prompt maneuvering he managed to elude it, demonstrating during the mission serene daring and conspicuous military skills”), but this is incorrect information: neither the Welshman, nor any other British ship was hit by torpedoes.

June 14th, 1942

At 1:40 AM, when the attack was over, Uarsciek sent the enemy formation discover signal the. (Giorgio Giorgerini, in his book “Uomini sul fondo”, gives different times for this attack: the sighting of the British forces by Uarsciek took place at 1.40 AM on June 14th, and the launch of the torpedoes at 1.52 AM In addition, Giorgerini claims that the launch took place against two units of the escort. Francesco Mattesini, in one of his essays on the “Pedestal” operation, indicates 1.20 AM as the time of the torpedo launch).

The unsuccessful attack by Uarsciek is the first ever launched against the “Harpoon” convoy during the Battle of Mid-June. All attacks by Italian submarines in the course of the battle were equally unsuccessful. The convoy, on the other hand, suffered serious losses due to the joint action of the Italian-German planes and the VII Naval Division of Admiral Alberto Da Zara, to which were later added those caused by minefields. A total of four merchant ships and two destroyers sank, while several other units suffered serious damage. Of the 43,000 tons of supplies carried by the ships of “Harpoon”, only 15,000 reached Malta (while the convoy “Vigorous”, with its 50,000 tons of supply, would be forced to give up its mission and return to Alexandria).

June 15th, 1942

Around nine o’clock in the morning, northwest of Cape Bougaroni, Uarsciek sighted the British W Force (aircraft carriers H.M.S. Eagle and H.M.S. Argus, battleship H.M.S. Malaya, cruisers H.M.S. Kenya and H.M.S. Charybdis – a third cruiser, H.M.S. Liverpool, left the formation after being hit by Italian torpedo bombers –, destroyers H.M.S. Antelope, H.M.S. Icarus, H.M.S. Escapade, H.M.S. Onslow, H.M.S. Westcott, H.M.S. Wishart, H.M.S. Wrestler, and H.M.S. Vidette) sailing towards Gibraltar. This formation, in charge of covering the convoy in the first phase of the navigation, reversed course at the entrance to the Strait of Sicily, at 8.30 PM the previous evening, allowing the convoy to continue towards Malta with the direct escort of Force X (anti-aircraft cruiser H.M.S. Cairo, 9 destroyers, 4 destroyers and some smaller units), and was then returning to Gibraltar at 16 knots. Force W arrived without suffering further losses, despite unsuccessful attacks by the submarine Alagi and the Italian-German air force.

June 17th, 1942

At 2.45 PM, during the return navigation to Cagliari, Uarsciek was sighted in position 38°27′ N and 08°21′ E by the British submarine P 211 (later Safari, Commander Benjamin Bryant). The latter tried to approach and attack, but Uarsciek, continuing its course without realizing it, continued moving away and was soon too far away to hope for a hit it.

June 21st, 1942

Lieutenant Gaetano Arezzo della Targia took command of Uarsciek, alternating with Commander Allegri; he would be his last commander. Under his command, Uarsciek carried out seven missions in the central Mediterranean between June and December 1942.

Picture of Lieutenant Gaetano Arezzo della Targia
(TN Barons Arezzo della Targia where a noble family from Catania, Sicily)

End of June 1942

Uarsciek carries out a new mission in the Western Mediterranean.

August 4th, 1942

Uarsciek (under the command of Lieutenant Gaetano Arezzo della Targia, and with the captain of the Naval Engineers Arturo Cristini as chief engineer), was part of the VII Grupsom of Cagliari. It sailed from La Maddalena bound for a patrol sector located halfway between Menorca – Formentera and the coast of Algeria.

August 7th, 1942

Uarsciek reaches its field of operations.

August 10th, 1942

The boat received a telegram from the Submarine Squadron Command (Maricosom) alerting to the passage of the “Pedestal” convoy, which had already been announced by faint and indistinct noises picked up by Uarsciek hydrophones.

The Battle of Mid-August was about to begin: the largest air-naval clash ever fought in the Mediterranean would see the air and naval forces of the Axis – bombers, torpedo bombers, submarines, motor torpedo boats, with even an ephemeral offensive bet by two cruiser divisions – fiercely oppose the transfer of a large British convoy sailing from Gibraltar to Malta,  with a supply shipment vital to prolonging the resistance of the besieged island.

The Italian and German submarines would play a leading role in this: their task was twofold: to attack the convoy directly and – since experience has shown that too often reconnaissance aircraft are intercepted and shot down by fighters embarked on aircraft carriers before they can carry out their task – to allow the commanders to have reliable information about the composition enemy formation, course and speed, which were essential for coordinating the action of the air and naval forces destined to attack the convoy, especially the air forces.

In fact, on August 10th, Supermarina ordered Uarsciek and the other submarines lurking in its area (Brin, Giada, Dagabur, Volframio, U 73 and U 331) to consider the reconnaissance and signalling of the enemy forces sighted as their primary task, and only an attack secondary.

The Battle of Mid-August was the consequence of the Royal Navy’s new attempt to supply Malta, besieged by Axis air and naval forces and exhausted after months of bombing and the partial or total failure of the refueling operations attempted in March (convoy “M.W. 10”, culminating in the second battle of Sirte) and June (operations “Harpoon” and “Vigorous”, culminating in the Battle of Mid-June). The new operation, called “Pedestal”, involves a single large convoy which, assembled in the United Kingdom (from where it departed on August 3rd, 1942), crossed the Strait of Gibraltar between August 9th and 10th, and then headed for Malta.

The convoy consisted of the cargo ships Almeria Lykes, Melbourne Star, Brisbane Star, Clan Ferguson, Dorset, Deucalion, Wairangi, Waimarama, Glenorchy, Port Chalmers, Empire Hope, Rochester Castle and Santa Elisa and a large tanker, the American Ohio; the direct escort (Force X, Rear Admiral Harold Burrough) counted on four light cruisers (H.M.S. Nigeria, H.M.S. Kenya, H.M.S. Cairo and H.M.S. Manchester) and twelve destroyers (H.M.S. Ashanti, H.M.S. Intrepid, H.M.S. Icarus, H.M.S. Foresight, H.M.S. Derwent, H.M.S. Fury, H.M.S. Bramham, H.M.S. Bicester, H.M.S. Wilton, H.M.S. Ledbury, H.M.S. Penn and H.M.S. Pathfinder, of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla), and also in the first half of the voyage, up to the entrance of the Strait of Sicily, the convoy was accompanied by a powerful heavy force (Force Z,  Vice-Admiral Neville Syfret) consisting of four aircraft carriers (H.M.S. Eagle, H.M.S. Furious, H.M.S. Indomitable and H.M.S. Victorious), two battleships (H.M.S. Rodney and H.M.S. Nelson), three light cruisers (H.M.S. Sirius, H.M.S. Phoebe and H.M.S. Charybdis) and twelve destroyers (H.M.S. Laforey, H.M.S. Lightning, H.M.S. Lookout, H.M.S. Tartar, H.M.S. Quentin, H.M.S. Somali, H.M.S. Eskimo, H.M.S. Wishart, H.M.S. Zetland, H.M.S.  Ithuriel, H.M.S. Antelope and H.M.S. Vantsittart, of the 19th Destroyer Flotilla).

For their part, the Italian commanders received the first news about a major operation being prepared by the British, which was to take place in the Western Mediterranean, in the early days of August. At 5 AM on August 9th, Supermarina was informed that a group of at least eight ships had passed north of Ceuta, heading east (it was British Force B). In the early hours of the morning of the following day, news came that between 00:30 and 2:00 AM on the 10th, a total of 39 ships crossed the Strait of Gibraltar bound for the Mediterranean, and that a few hours later a dozen British ships set sail from Gibraltar, including the anti-aircraft cruiser H.M.S. Cairo. On the morning of August 10th, therefore, on the basis of the information received thus far, Supermarina estimated that at least 57 British ships from Gibraltar were heading east. As these ships include a number of large steamers in convoy, it was rightly assumed that the object of the operation was to supply Malta. The convoy would be protected by a powerful heavy naval force, and the convoy will probably try to cross the Pantelleria area under cover of darkness. The convoy was expected to arrive at Cape Bon (Tunisia) in the afternoon of August 12th. There did not appear to be any signs of a second convoy sailing in the Eastern Mediterranean, unlike what happened in June. On the morning of the 12th, a German U-boat reported in those waters a formation of four light cruisers and 10 destroyers apparently heading towards Malta at 20 knots, but it was rightly judged that this was a diversionary action (and in fact it was so: the “M.G.3” operation, a secondary operation of “Pedestal”, in fact provided for the dispatch from Haifa and Port Said of a small convoy that had to pretend to be headed towards Malta in the attempt to divert Italian forces from the actual convoy).

The Italian and German commands therefore organized the fight against the British operation: aerial reconnaissance throughout the western Mediterranean basin; warning of submarines already lurking south of the Balearic Islands, dispatch of a second group of submarines south of Sardinia (where they had to arrive no later than dawn on the 12th), laying of new offensive minefields in the Strait of Sicily, dispatch of MAS and motor torpedo boats lurking south of Marettimo, off Cape Bon and if necessary also below Pantelleria.

While sailing in the western and central-western Mediterranean, the British convoy would be subjected to a series of submarine attacks. Once in the Strait of Sicily, it would be the turn of MAS and Italian and German motor torpedo boats (fifteen units in all, which will attack under cover of darkness). Throughout the crossing, moreover, the enemy ships will be continuously targeted by incessant attacks by bombers and torpedo bombers (in all, as many as 784 aircraft), both of the Regia Aeronautica and of the Luftwaffe. It is also planned the intervention (later aborted) of two cruiser divisions (the III and the VII) to finish what should remain of the convoy decimated by the previous air, underwater and insidious attacks.

Altogether, as many as 16 Italian submarines and 2 German U-boats contribute to the formation of a powerful submarine barrage in the western Mediterranean: seven of them, including Uarsciek (which was the westernmost of all; the others are the Italian Brin, Giada, Dagabur and Volframio and the German U 73 and U 205), were located in the waters between Algeria and the Balearic Islands.  forming a sixty-mile-long barrier between the meridians 01°40′ E and 02°40′ E (i.e., north of Algiers and south of the channel between Mallorca and Ibiza), while the other eleven form a second group much further east, north of Tunisia.

At 11:20 PM, Uarsciek headed towards the center of the assigned ambush area, assuming a 160° course, which coincidentally happened to be perpendicular to the hydrophone survey carried out at 9:56 PM

August 11th, 1942

At 3.40 AM, Uarsciek, having entered the indicated area, dove to make a new hydrophonic listening; as predicted by Commander Arezzo, the hydrophones detect noises of turbines approaching in a large sector on 267° detection, force 4. At four o’clock the submarine emerged and after a few minutes began to move westwards, but without advancing at full strength: the captain intends to avoid generating a wake that would be too visible. Visibility was rather mediocre, which suggested that the sighting of enemy ships would take place at close range.

At 4.38 AM the aspiring midshipman Francesco Florio, on the lookout forward portside, announced the sighting of a dark silhouette for 340°-350°, at 3,200 meters. Upon observing it, the commander Arezzo della Targia immediately recognized it as an aircraft carrier, later identified as a U.S. unit of the Saratoga type.

It was the British H.M.S. Furious, headed south of the Balearic Islands to launch 39 Supermarine Spitfire fighters that would reinforce the decimated squadrons of Malta during “Pedestal”. This sub-operation was named ‘Bellows’. The inclusion of the old Furious in the operation was decided in the final stages of planning for “Pedestal”, after the commands of the Maltese Air Force asked to replenish their fighter squadrons, which have suffered serious losses in recent times (quantified at an average of 17 aircraft per week). The Chief of Staff of the Royal Air Force, Air Marshal Charles F. A. Portal therefore asked his Royal Navy colleague to provide another aircraft carrier to send 71 Spitfire fighters to Malta. In response to this need, Operations “Bellows” and “Baritone” were decided: it was planned that the Furious would first embark a first group of 39 Spitfires before leaving Great Britain and will be attached to convoy W.S.21S (i.e. that of “Pedestal”) to Algiers, where it would launch the Spitfires at 1 PM on August 11th (and this is “Bellows”). Then, it would return to Gibraltar, load another 32 Spitfires (sent from England on the steamship Empire Clive) and go out to sea again to launch them as well (Operation “Baritone”). The Spitfires would fly to Malta, where they would land at three different air bases. Eight destroyers based in Gibraltar, part of the reserve escort group, were made available to escort the Furious during her return voyage to Gibraltar: H.M.S. Keppel (Commander John Egerton Broome), H.M.S. Malcolm, H.M.S. Amazon, H.M.S. Venomous, H.M.S. Wolverine, H.M.S. Wrestler, H.M.S. Westcott, and H.M.S. Vidette. The latter, having set sail from Gibraltar, would join the H.M.S. Furious after escorting Force R to a predetermined point south of Mallorca, consisting of two tankers (Brown Ranger and Dingledale, which departed Gibraltar on August 9th) in charge of refueling the cruisers and destroyers escorting the convoy at sea.

H.M.S. Furious loaded the 39 Spitfires onto the Clyde, UK, from where she departed on August 4th along with the light cruiser H.M.S. Manchester and the destroyers H.M.S. Sardonyx (which left the group on the night of August 5th-6th) and Blyskawica (the latter Polish). On August 7th, H.M.S. Furious and H.M.S. Manchester joined convoy WS.21S, with which they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar on August 10th (H.M.S. Furious was to accompany the convoy only for the distance necessary to reach “flight” range from Malta). The following day, H.M.S. Furious, escorted by the destroyers H.M.S. Lookout and H.M.S. Lightning, separated from the main group and moved to a predetermined point south of the Balearic Islands, about 584 (or 550, or 635) miles west of Malta, where she launched her spitfires in the early afternoon of August 11th. It was precisely as the Furious was heading towards this point south of the Balearic Islands that it was spotted by Uarsciek.

Estimating the beta (which was 30°, portside, with alpha of 330°), Arezzo estimated the course of the British ship as 90°, opposite to that of Uarsciek, which was 270°. Considering the relative approach speed of 25-27 knots (the speed of Uarsciek was 9 knots, that of the aircraft carrier was estimated at 18), it made the decision to enter the launch circle with an attack course, remaining on the surface, to launch its torpedoes immediately.

In the meantime, other ships were sighted: a battleship, on alpha about 0° and beta 0°, and a smaller unit a little further to starboard. The sighting of the battleship allowed the crew to better appreciate the route of the enemy formation, which appeared to be sailing in the detection line. Deciding to attack the aircraft carrier, commander Arezzo della Targia had to find himself across the battleship. Preparing to attack, he ordered the helmsman to come 190°, and provided the launch chamber with torpedo angle data.

At 4:42 AM, in position 37°52′ N and 01°48′ E (approximately in the northwestern corner of the patrol sector south of Ibiza and Mallorca), from a distance of about 1,000 meters, Uarsciek launched two torpedoes at the Furious (another version mistakenly speaks of three torpedoes), from tubes 3 and 4, with alpha 5°, beta 80° to the left,  20° range to the left, angle of impact calculated as 105°, aiming angle of 25° and correction for parallax of 50 meters. There was a light east-southeast wind with force 2, the sea was calm (force 1-2), visibility poor.

The wake of the torpedoes was immediately very visible: from aboard Uarsciek a light signal was seen on the aircraft carrier, which it was believed to have sounded the alarm after having sighted the torpedoes. Another torpedo, 450 mm, was ready on board Uarsciek, but the commander decided to dive without launching it since the enemy battleship was at almost 800-900 meters away and considering it more important – as ordered by Supermarina – to launch the detection signal to allow the other submarines to attack. He orders the crash dive and as soon as he descended into the control room, he heard two muffled explosions, at very short intervals from each other, about 50 seconds after the launches.

At 4:47 AM the first discharge of depth charges was heard, extremely violent (probably a very large cluster). Uarsciek remained at a depth of 80 meters, following the action of the destroyers on the hydrophones. The bulk of the British line-up, meanwhile, appeared to have come to a standstill. At 4:55 AM, a second discharge of depth charges was heard, also extremely violent; two minutes later another one followed, very close, which causes some minor damage and causes Uarsciek to descend to a depth of 96 meters. At 5:04 AM, more violent explosions were heard; At 5:10 AM a new, violent discharge of depth charges, which, however, seems to be farther away than those that preceded it.

From the hydrophone measurements, the aircraft carrier seems to be stationary, while the destroyers feel moving. At 5:33 AM the aircraft carrier was heard starting again, and at 5:58 AM it was detected moving away for 53° (its bearing gradually widened, passing from 53° to 58°, 62°, 67°, 76° and 81°). At 6:56 AM, the hydrophones no longer perceived any sound of the aircraft carrier, which had now moved away, while the destroyers were clearly perceived from within hull. They continued to cross on the vertical of Uarsciek, passing over it, stopping and then starting again. But the launch of depth charges appeared to have stopped. During the whole hunt, the characteristic noises of the asdic was not heard.

Commander Arezzo got the impression that the research was being conducted with hydrophones. Finally, the destroyers also left and at 9:37 AM all sound sources were moving away in different directions, and at 9:39 AM Uarsciek was finally able to surface, about sixty miles south of Ibiza, and launch the discovery and torpedoing signal, communicating the composition, course and speed of the enemy formation.

At 10:55 AM, Admiral Syfret, on board the battleship H.M.S. Nelson, would be informed by the British intelligence service, via Malta, of the interception of an enemy detection signal relating to Force F (i.e. the set of naval forces at sea for “Pedestal”), sent a few hours earlier (6:20 AM according to a source, but the time zone is not very clear): it was the one sent by Uarsciek.

Uarsciek, the westernmost boat of the entire Italian-German submarine line-up, was the first Axis submarine to come into contact with British forces during the Battle of Mid-August. Its attack was unsuccessful, but its action was of great importance on a strategic level, because thanks to its signal of discovery, received by Rome at 10.25 AM, Supermarina had for the first time reliable information on the position and speed of the British naval forces after their entry into the Mediterranean, which had taken place almost twenty-four hours earlier.

On the Italian side, based on the explosions heard by Uarsciek after the launches, it would be mistakenly believed that the torpedoes launched by the submarine had hit H.M.S. Furious, damaging it and forcing it to return to Gibraltar. This claim was in fact announced in bulletin no. 806 of the Supreme Command, issued on August 12 (“In the western Mediterranean one of our submarines attacked, at dawn yesterday, a large warship of an unspecified type heavily escorted, hitting it with two torpedoes“) and then further clarified in bulletin no. 809 of 14 August (“The aircraft carrier ship hit on the 11th by the submarine Uarsciek and returned damaged to Gibraltar,  it’s the Furious“).

According to British sources, Uarsciek attack was not noticed by British ships. The first submarine activity detected by them was noticed only at 8.15 AM that day, when the corvette H.M.S. Coltsfoot (Lieutenant K. W. Rous), part of the escort of Force R, sighted and reported two “dolphining” torpedoes, i.e. surfacing on the water, which passed quite far away, in position 37°56′ N and 01°40′ E. This is indeed rather strange, considering that Uarsciek report shows that the submarine was hunted with depth charges after the torpedoes were launched, which would assume that the enemy ships were at least aware of the attack. On the other hand, the essay “Operation Pedestal” by the historian Francesco Mattesini shows that at about five o’clock in the morning the British corvette H.M.S. Jonquil (Lieutenant Commander Robert Edward Heap Partington), also part of the escort of Force R but at that moment intent on maneuvering independently, heard the explosions of what were believed to be four depth charges.

However, the alarm was not raised. As for the sighting of two torpedoes by H.M.S. Coltsfoot, in a position very close to that of Uarsciek attack but four hours apart (at a place and time when there is no record of any attack by Italian or German submarines), the official history of the U.S.M.M. comments: “They could have been two of those launched by the submarine [Uarsciek] and that,  due to the irregular operation of the self-sinking device, had remained afloat: this consideration is ours and can only have the value of a more or less reliable hypothesis”.

A little less than an hour after surfacing, Uarsciek sighted in position 38°01′ N and 01°38′ E an aircraft flying at medium altitude with a course of 45°, which led Uarsciek to return to the depths at 10.32 AM. Commander Arezzo believed that he has not been sighted, but in application of the circular A1/SRP of Maricosom (containing the general rules for submarines on war missions) he nevertheless decides to temporarily leave the area and go to Formentera, where he hoped to be able to intercept some returning enemy ships en route to Cape Palos.

At 12:18 PM, Uarsciek emerged and continued in the direction of Formentera, sailing on the surface, and at 2:05 PM sighted portside, in position 38°08′ N and 01°32′ E, a Fairey Swordfish biplane (in the report it is referred to as “a biplane of the Swordfish or Farei type for aircraft carriers“) approaching with an attack course. Although he did not consider him a very dangerous adversary, commander Arezzo della Targia decided to dive anyway because at 10.25 PM he received a signal of discovery relating to an aircraft carrier off the Balearic Islands. Immediately after diving, the crew of Uarsciek heard the explosion of two small-caliber bombs. Submerged navigation continued until 8.59 PM, when the submarine resurfaced and began to cross off the coast of Formentera.

August 12th, 1942

At 1.50 AM Uarsciek dove briefly to perform hydrophonic listening. The hydrophones detected a rather uncertain source for 312°, and considering the direction of the sound, Commander Arezzo deduces that they must be neutral merchant ships. Back on the surface, the submarine dove again at 6:05 AM to begin approaching the assigned area. Depth charges and explosions of aircraft bombs were heard several times, at varying distances; on board they were interpreted as a sign of the attacks in progress against the British convoy by Italian-German submarines and aircraft.

At 1:32 PM, Uarsciek’s hydrophones detected a turbine noise of 188°. The bearing then changes to 198°, 218° and 240°, after which it gradually decreases, while the intensity (1-2) remains constant. The submarine followed the source of this noise for a long time, at the same time exploring the horizon with its periscope. Then, at 3:20 PM, it emerged approaching the noise on the surface. Twenty minutes later a column of water four- or five-meters high was sighted, approximately two-quarters aft of the starboard beam, but no sound of an explosion was heard. Commander Arezzo also got the impression that it was a bomb dropped from a plane very high on the horizon, or the explosion of an electric torpedo, so he decides to dive to continue the hunt underwater. The hydrophones continued to signal a source with constant force (2-3) and variable direction between 180° and 240°. Believing that it was a destroyer or a submarine destroyer that sweeping on patrol ahead of some larger ship, Arezzo ordered to assume a course of 210°, equal to the average bearing. Uarsciek continued on this course throughout the afternoon, continuing to hear the source on the hydrophones, but without being able to spot anything.

At 8.13 Pm the boat was ordered by Maricosom to move to a new sector, so Arezzo decided to interrupt once and for all the fruitless chase of the ship that was producing the noise. At 7 PM, in fact, the Command of the Submarine Squadron issued orders for Uarsciek, Dagabur, Brin and Volframio to move westwards, at the same time informing them that a part of the British ships (the heavy support force, which was to accompany the convoy only to the entrance of the Strait of Sicily, and then return to Gibraltar) had reversed course.

At 10:00 PM Uarsciek emerged, and the crew noticed a strong smell of naphtha, which was attributed by the captain to some significant loss of fuel, but in the darkness, nothing can be seen. The submarine therefore continues to sail on the surface towards the newly assigned sector.

August 13th, 1942

At 2:50 AM, a new order arrived, moving the area assigned to Uarsciek even further west. At four o’clock in the morning, the odor of naphtha was again smelled, but the leak could not be detected. Commander Arezzo summons Chief Engineer Cristini and questions him about it, but after an inspection he claimed to rule out any leaks.

At 6.05 AM, Uarsciek dove and began occult navigation. Throughout the rest of the day, and especially around the hours of listening to the SITI (TN messages from base), very frequent discharges of aircraft bombs were heard, sometimes very close, and planes passing near the boat were heard continuously, sometimes clearly perceptible through the hull. At 5:19 PM a telegram was received from Maricosom reporting the presence of a battleship and three destroyers, with a course of 270° and a speed of 24 knots, sighted at 1:30 PM in square 0462. Commander Arezzo, having made some calculations, judges that if the reported formation, once it reaches the south of Formentera, would movein the direction of Alboran (as he considers probable), Uarsciek could succeed in intercepting it at the northern end of the new area assigned to it, around midnight. The submarine then continued to cruise towards the assigned area.

At 9:25 PM, Uarsciek emerged, and this time the loss of naphtha was unmistakable and abundant: it was a damaged naphtha tank. On the water there are very visible patches of oil, and it became evident that the insistent hunting by the planes suffered during the day was caused precisely by this tangible, conspicuous sign of the presence of the submerged submarine. Captain Arezzo listened to the opinions offered by Chief Engineer Cristini, who stated that he considered it impossible to eliminate the leak with the means available on board> Therefore the captain decided to abandon the ambush, informing Maricosom of it by radio – as provided for by circular A1/SRP – even though he believes that by doing so (breaking the radio silence) Uarsciek was exposing itself to the risk of being radio localized.

At 11.45 PM, in position 37°02′ N and 00°09′ W, a white light was sighted for 350° over the water; Uarsciek immediately heads towards it, but after a few minutes the light begins to expire rapidly at the stern, until it went out. Commander Arezzo, believing that it was a Short Sunderland anti-submarine seaplane that has landed on the surface of the sea to listen, orders a crash dive. Once submerged, the submarine detects aircraft noise on the hydrophones that covers the entire area, and which was indeed clearly perceptible through the hull. At midnight the hunt began with frequent discharges of bombs presumably from several planes (given the number of bombs dropped) whose noise could be heard in the hull. Some of the discharges explode quite close. The systematic nature of the hunt leads Arezzo della Targia to believe that Uarsciek must certainly have been sighted and he speculates that the Sunderland located him by direction finding – as he feared – and that they had been lurking for some time, waiting for his arrival.

August 14th, 1942

At 1:37 AM, the hydrophones detected noises of approaching force 2 turbines, on 80° detection. Commander Arezzo believes that this was the formation reported by Maricosom a few hours earlier, which arrived on the scene at the time estimated by the calculations previously made. However, the approach of the noise of the turbines was accompanied by an intensification in the dropping of bombs by the planes. Evidently, they were trying to preclude Uarsciek from any attempt of attacking the approaching ships. At 2.50 AM the sound source detected by the hydrophones reached maximum intensity, on detection bearing 183°. The turbines could be felt through the hull of the boat. Uarsciek seemed to be clearly tending to steer to starboard against the will of the captain, who had to order a strong rudder angle to bring it back on course. At first Arezzo thought that the rudder indicator may be out of calibration, but then it turned out to be perfectly working, which lead the commander to believe that Uarsciek was in a vortex of current, perhaps generated by the explosions of the bombs.

Uarsciek crew members pose for a photo after the Battle of Mid-August, August 14, 1942.
Bottom right, Commander Arezzo della Targia; clinging to the pole waving the “Jolly Roger”, sailor helmsman Franco Calia
(Coll. Davide Calia)

On the other hand, he believed it is unlikely that the magnetic compass could have gone out of order by the presence of the magnetic masses of British ships, since the hydrophone bearing widens very regularly. At 3:04 AM, the sound source reached its maximum intensity, then began to move away. At 4:14 AM it was detected with force 1 for bearing 249°. At 4.30 AM Uarsciek emerged in position 37°08′ N and 00°15′ W, but spotted seaplanes resting on the sea again, and thus it dove again. As soon as they spotted the submarine emerging, the planes took off. Their noise was heard again both on the hydrophones and through the hull, and again the bomb drops began, several times, with some explosions quite violent and close, but not enough to cause damage.

At 6.10 AM the crew heard a sound on the hydrophones again for bearing 120°, intensity 1; very far away, since the hydrophones picked it up at a minimum. At 6.30 AM the source was intensity 2 on bearing 110°-120°; Half an hour later, another turbine was detected for bearing 98°, force 1, but this ship also passed a great distance. The maximum intensity was 2. At 7:50 AM, nothing could be heard. For the rest of the day, the explosions continued, becoming more and more sporadic.

At 6.40 PM, after a tour of exploration at the periscope to be sure of being under the Spanish coast, Uarsciek emerged and began the return navigation.

August 15th, 1942

At 6.30 AM, Uarsciek, having reached the traverse of Cape de la Nao, in an area of hidden navigation, dove. It resurfaced at 2 PM and continued on the surface, passing during the day outside the Balearic occult navigation zone.

August 17th, 1942

At 2.40 AM, Uarsciek landed on the conventional point “B” of Asinara, and at 8.20 AM it moored at La Maddalena.

For the action of Mid-August, which on the Italian side mistakenly believed to have led to the torpedoing of enemy ships, commander Arezzo della Targia was decorated with the Silver Medal for Military Valor, with the motivation “Commander of a submarine of high professional ability, he participated with serene courage and indomitable aggressive spirit in the Mediterranean battle of mid-August, decisively attacking a large enemy convoy powerfully escorted by naval forces and Aerial. With the timely and effective launch of torpedoes, it inflicted certain losses on the enemy formation, causing the sinking and torpedoing of warships and merchant vessels. He demonstrated in his arduous brilliant action chosen military virtues and a tenacious will to victory.”

Also decorated with the Bronze Medal for Military Valor will be the commander in second lieutenant Remigio Dapiran, who was injured during the depth charges bombardment (motivation: “Officer in 2nd submarine, he participated in the Mediterranean battle of mid-August against a large enemy convoy strongly escorted by naval and air forces, assisting the commander with boldness and skill in the daring actions against the adversary. Although wounded during the hunting action, to which the unit was subjected, he continued to bravely hold his combat post, demonstrating high military qualities”).

The chief engineer, Lieutenant of the Naval Engineers Armano Cristini, the aspiring midshipman Francesco Florio, the chief electrician third class Ilario Mazzotti, and the second chief engine engineer Pietro Battilana were also decorated. For Arezzo della Targia, Dapiran, Mazzotti and Battilana, however, the decoration came posthumously: the royal decree sanctioning the awarding of their medals, in fact, was dated December 18th, 1942, three days after the sinking of Uarsciek and their death.

September-December 1942

Uarsciek makes several training runs.

Uarsciek navigating toward La Maddalena
(From the magazine “Storia Militare”)

October 31st, 1942

In the middle of the battle of El Alamein, Uarsciek sailed from Messina to Tobruk at 6.45 PM, on a transport mission: it had 19-20 tons of ammunition on board.

November 4th, 1942

The boat arrived in Tobruk at 1:15 PM, disembarked the ammunition and left again at 6:15 PM, with orders to carry out a patrol off the Egyptian coast. On the same day, the British attacks on El Alamein succeeded, and the long retreat of the Axis troops began.

November 7th, 1942

In the morning, Maricosom, in anticipation of the possible passage of an enemy convoy in the Strait of Sicily, orders Uarsciek and other submarines (Ascianghi, Granito and Dessiè) to reach patrol areas in the Strait of Sicily.

The convoy sighted is part of the Anglo-American invasion fleet at sea for the operation “Torch”. The ships that were part of it did not cross the Strait of Sicily, but instead participate in the landing on the coasts of Morocco and Algeria, which was considered a more likely target even by Supermarina which in fact had deployed twenty-one submarines in the western Mediterranean:  the dispatch of Uarsciek, Ascianghi, Granito and Dessiè to the Strait of Sicily was merely a precautionary measure for the hypothesis, which cannot be excluded a priori although considered unlikely, of sending a convoy heading east.

November 9th, 1942

Due to damage suffered during the patrol, Uarsciek had to set course for Tripoli, where it arrived at 1.30 AM, stopping there for five days to receive some temporary repairs.

November 14th, 1942

The boat left Tripoli at 1:00 PM to return to Italy.

November 16th, 1942

Uarsciek arrived in Messina at 2.25 PM and underwent other work to get it back into working order.

Another picture of the ’Uarsciek
(ANMI Montebelluna)

The Sinking

At 5:25 PM on December 11th, 1942, Uarsciek, under the command of Lieutenant Gaetano Arezzo della Targia, sailed south of Augusta for a patrol south of Malta.

This was to be one of her last missions before a period of major maintenance work scheduled for February 1943, although the Special Commission of Inquiry set up in early 1947 to review her sinking described the vessel as “in good working order” at the time of the loss. Not long before, Uarsciek had already undergone work to solve problems with the diesel engines, which had come to light during the Battle of Mid-August. Work had also been carried out to resize the conning tower to reduce diving times, as well as work on the machinery to make it quieter.

Sailor Domenico Di Serio, embarked on Uarsciek in Naples, met on board an old acquaintance of his, the chief electrician Ilario Mazzotti (in the past embarked with him on another submarine, the Malachite), who had announced that the submarine would soon have to go to Pula for a period of major works. Leaving Naples, in fact, Uarsciek had moved to Messina, where the crew had waited for the order to continue to Pula, instead, it was time to reach Augusta, and then to put to sea for a mission off Malta.

Of the 47 crewmen on board that outing, only 30 % had already served on Uarsciek in previous missions; 15 % were conscripts on their first embarkation, 55 % submariners had transferred to Uarsciek from other vessels. Commander Arezzo della Targia was feverish, in poor health. Chief engineer, Lieutenant of the Naval Engineers Lorenzo Coniglione, embarked a couple of months earlier, had previously been disembarked from Uarsciek due to a serious nervous breakdown.

On the other hand, the sub-chief electrician Brunetto Montagnani, who had already “played” death for before (TN was reported as a casualty), had arrived just before this mission. Assigned to the crew of the submarine Medusa, he was at home on leave when it was sunk with the death of 58 of the 60 men on board, in January 1942. After the loss of the Medusa he was transferred to Uarsciek, where he had the surprise of meeting as commander lieutenant Arezzo della Targia, who was embarked on the Medusa (he had been one of the only two survivors): “At embarkation time, when he reads Montagnani, he looks up and recognizes me. He greets me joyfully, happy to be together again after the tragic events.” However, Montagnani had been ordered to transfer to Taormina for a period of “oxygenation”, which the submariners had to undergo after accumulating a certain number of hours underwater. Montagnani remained on the ground while Uarsciek left for its last mission. He would escape by chance on a third occasion, remaining on land – because he had not been warned, returning from a leave – while the steamer that was taking his unit to Corsica was sunk.

The orders received by commander Arezzo from the X Grupsom of Augusta indicated that Uarsciek, along with the submarine Topazio, would reach a patrol sector south of Malta to operate with total offensive-exploratory tasks, and to provide for indirect protection of the motor ship Foscolo, navigating from Naples to Tripoli, which had left on December 12th with a load of fuel and ammunition. Uarsciek and Topazio were to position themselves in sectors close to each other, about fifty miles south of Malta, and prevent attacks by enemy ships, and especially by Force K, which was expected to exit to attack the convoy.  Force K would have fallen into the ambush set by the two submarines.

The situation in North Africa looked dark: a month earlier the Italian-German forces had suffered the decisive defeat at El Alamein, and on the same days in which Uarsciek mission took place they were fighting at El Agheila, on the western edge of Cyrenaica, to try to stop or at least slow down the British advance. Casualties on the route to Libya had soared in the face of intensified Allied air and naval warfare.

Foscolo’s voyage would also end at the bottom of the sea, on December 13th, off Cape Lilybaeum. Uarsciek would follow her two days later. (According to an article by Aldo De Florio in the February 2014 issue of UNUCI magazine, indeed, Uarsciek was supposed to meet with the Foscolo in the south-east of Sicily, after the crossing of the Strait of Messina by the motor ship; the meeting, however, could not take place due to a variation of the order of operations following which the Foscolo changed its course,  coasting along western Sicily and being sunk by torpedo bombers. Uarsciek ran into enemy destroyers while waiting in vain for the Foscolo). Within a month and a half, all of Libya would be lost.

Uarsciek reached the sector assigned for the ambush at five o’clock in the morning of December 13th, 1942, Sunday. For nearly 24 hours nothing happened, then, in the early hours of December 14th, two light units were sighted at a great distance, too far away to attempt an attack (they were perhaps part of a formation – estimated to be composed of three cruisers and two destroyers – already sighted and attacked, a few hours earlier, by the Topazio, which at 1.40 AM had launched three torpedoes without success).

Uarsciek continued its patrol. The sub-chief torpedoman Michele Caggiano, from Taranto, would later recount that on the evening of December 14th, around ten o’clock, commander Arezzo della Targia had called him to the bridge, since he was the food delivery person, to have a pizza prepared for midnight for the whole crew, to celebrate Saint Lucia, patron saint of his Syracuse, whose celebration occurred that day.

Even the Istrian sailor Domenico Di Serio, a veteran submariner but on his first patrol on Uarsciek (he had disembarked from the Malachite the previous December 5th, in Naples, and had immediately received orders to pass on Uarsciek, which had immediately left for Messina), later recalled the special lunch for the whole crew organized in honor of Santa Lucia, to whom the commander was particularly devoted:  “We had a wonderful two hours. Then we were ordered: the party is over, everyone back at their post.”

Nothing else happened until about 3:00 AM on December 15th, when Uarsciek, while on the surface, sighted at close range, about 45-50 miles south/southeast of Malta, a group of units that were identified as a cruiser and three destroyers. There were only two destroyers, the British H.M.S. Petard (Lieutenant Commander Mark Thornton) and the Greek Vasilissa Olga (Lieutenant Commander Georgios Blessas), sailing from Benghazi – from where they had departed on December 14th for Malta.

According to the narration of the torpedoman Michele Caggiano, it was the stern lookout, just as they were preparing for the changing of the guard, that sighted at a short distance a ship that seemed to be following the submarine emitting three green light signals, evidently signals of recognition. Domenico Di Serio was in the control room at the time. When the dismounting lookouts came down from the bridge for the changing of the guard, Di Serio asked one of them what the weather was like, and he replied: “It’s cold, it’s foggy and you can’t see it an inch from your nose”. Before the lookout had even finished speaking, the alarm was sounded. From the conning tower they were asked for the signs of recognition, which Di Serio himself prepared daily with lamps of various colors. Uarshiek broadcast the prescribed signals but received no response.

When it became clear that the ship sighted was an enemy ship, heading towards Malta, and finding Uarsciek in a favorable position for an attack, commander Arezzo della Targia immediately ordered two torpedoes to be launched against the enemy ships from the stern tubes (tubes 5 and 6), after which he ordered a crash dive to disengage, assuming a course of exit. As the submarine descended into the depths, two loud explosions were heard on board, which led the crew to mistakenly believe that they had hit one of the enemy ships. No explosions of depth charges were heard (but since the torpedoes had not hit, it is possible that the two loud explosions heard on board were depth charged), while the sound of the sonar of the enemy ships intent on the search could be heard through the hull.

According to the British version, Uarsciek was surprised on the surface at 3.05 AM (Italian time; 4.05 AM according to the time followed by the British units) on December 15th, in position 35°08′ N and 14°28′ E (or 35°08′ N and 14°22′ E), by the H.M.S. Petard’s lookouts, who sighted it on portside forward, in conditions of calm sea. At first, British lookouts thought it was a surface ship. When they realized that it was instead a submarine that had surfaced, Commander Thornton initially believed that it could be the British submarine H.M.S. Umbra (other sources mistakenly speak of the H.M.S. Ultimatum, but the latter was at that time under construction in the United Kingdom), returning to Malta after a mission in the Gulf of Hammamet. H.M.S. Petard then made the reconnaissance signal, and it was at that point that the Italian submarine dove and launched its torpedoes. Considering the two versions, the sighting was probably reciprocal and simultaneously.

H.M.S. Petard alerted Vasilissa Olga with two loud siren whistles and avoided the torpedoes – spotted despite the darkness thanks to their phosphorescent wakes – with the maneuver, veering in their direction and passing between their wakes (Greek sources claim that the two torpedoes would have passed forward of the Vasilissa Olga, at a short distance), after which both exploded.  At 3:10 AM, they unleashed a heavy hunt with depth charges. H.M.S. Petard, which had almost immediately obtained ASDIC contact, made a first attack at that time with the launch of a single depth charge and ordered the Vasilissa Olga to circle around that position, describing circles with a width of two miles. At a certain point, Uarsciek came to the surface unexpectedly, and then immediately returned to the depths, and the Petard attacked it with ten depth charges, and then ordered the Vasilissa Olga to attack in turn. The Greek destroyer launched six depth charges, set to explode at a depth between 45 and 90 meters; this third and final attack caused serious damage to the essential equipment of Uarsciek, especially in the aft compartment, to the point of forcing it to maneuver the boat for a rapid surfacing about 180 meters from H.M.S. Petard.

On the Italian side (both according to the official version and according to the memory of the survivor Michele Caggiano) it appeared that, during the rapid dive maneuver following the launch of the torpedoes, the submarine sank excessively, falling rapidly to a depth of 160 meters (twice the test depth) heavily down by the bow. This problem, due to the failure to empty the rapid tank, made the commander give air to the double bottoms, to stop the dangerous descent and climb back to a more adequate depth. This maneuver, however, had an excessive result. Perhaps because too much air had entered the double tanks, Uarsciek climbed too quickly and ended up surfacing involuntarily with the entire conning tower, making it easier for destroyers to spot it. Immediately afterwards, the submarine returned to the depths, this time with a control maneuver, but by now the enemy ships knew where it was and immediately subjected it to heavy bombardment with depth charges, seriously damaging it and forcing it to surface once and for all.

Domenico Di Serio later recalled that Uarsciek, once it had descended to a depth of 80 meters, had remained motionless trying not to make noise, but in vain: it had been located and hit by the explosion of a cluster of depth charges – eight, according to his memory – which turned off the lights and even detached the paint from the bulkheads of the submarine,  causing the fragments to fall on the floor “like a snowfall”.

Maneuvering with a single engine, Uarsciek descended again – to 100 meters, according to Di Serio – again trying to minimize the noise, but shortly afterwards four more depth charges exploded very close together, all around the hull. Uarsciek skidded under the violence of the detonations, the light went out again, many lamps broke, water began to seep into the bilges from the propeller shaft cases. Lighting was restored, but this time the damage was very serious; Commander Arezzo della Targia gathered all the officers in the control room, and Chief Engineer Coniglione explained that the hull was badly damaged, there were dangerous waterways: “Commander, we can remain in these conditions only for a short time. Either we emerge, or it’s the end for everyone, because the water keeps coming in and weighs down the boat even more.” Arezzo remained thoughtful for some time, then called all the personnel to the control room and announced his decision: “Let’s face the enemy.” His intention was to try to escape to the surface using the diesel engines, but it was a hopeless attempt. The personnel assigned to the weapons took their places in the conning tower, then the order was given to emerge.

Sub-chief Michele Caggiano would later recall that when they emerged, Commander Arezzo gave the order to arm the cannon to face the enemy units in a fight on the surface: “Let’s take them out like this!“, he urged his men. Caggiano himself, being part of the armament of the cannon, reached the hatch of the forward hatch, which it was his task to open; Grabbing the hatch handwheel to release it, he realized with some astonishment that it appeared to open much more easily than usual, without requiring much effort. This was due to the pressure inside the submarine, which had increased a lot during the bombardment: to the point of making the hatch open abruptly and Caggiano himself being thrown out; he landed on the left side of the deck, between the hatch and the conning tower, with his feet in the air. The deck was still half-submerged, and Caggiano realized that he was falling towards the stern. With his left hand he grabbed a cockerel from the lid of the left ready-use stowage, thus avoiding being dragged into the sea. Before the main deck had even fully surfaced, a beam of light from four o’clock lit up the conning tower in full, immediately followed by a storm of machine-gun fire, tracers that left behind green light trails.

Domenico Di Serio, staying below deck, could hear the bursts of machine-gun fire hitting the hull of the Uarsciek. The machine guns were outside their quarters, one pointed towards the sky and the other towards the enemy, but they could not be reached, like the cannon: anyone who tried to approach was immediately hit. Shrapnel even fell into the control room. Commander Arezzo, on the bridge, gave the order for everyone to go on deck.

Uarsciek illuminated by the floodlights of H.M.S. Petard and Vasilissa Olga
(“Ultra versus U-Boats” by Roy Convers Nesbit)

Commander Thorton of H.M.S. Petard had previously missed an opportunity to capture an enemy submarine (the German U 559, sunk on the previous October 30th: surfaced after being seriously damaged by depth charges, and immediately abandoned by the crew, the U-boat had been boarded by a squad of H.M.S. Petard who had seized ciphers that later proved to be fundamental for the decryption of the “Enigma code“,  but the submarine had sunk shortly afterwards taking with it a British officer and a sailor trapped on board), and he was determined, this time, to capture his opponent intact, to take possession of the ciphers and secret documents on board.

As soon as the Italian boat emerged, therefore, he had it illuminated with searchlights – according to a source, the Vasilissa Olga also pointed its searchlights at Uarsciek – and ordered the servants of all his 20 and 40 mm machine guns to open fire on it, with the intention of preventing any attempt at reaction or self-sinking by the Italians,  without causing too much damage to the submarine (historian and submariner Clay Blair writes that the British Admiralty’s policy was to force the crews of submarines to stay below deck with machine gun fire to prevent them from attempting to scuttle, and that Thornton complied with these provisions).

The firing of the 20 mm Oerlikon machine guns and the deadly 40 mm quad “pom-poms” had a devastating effect on the crew of Uarsciek, mowing down almost everyone who tried to climb the deck or conning tower. Twice the gunners of H.M.S. Petard, deeming it excessive to continue strafing, stopped firing, and twice Thornton ordered them to open fire again; according to the book “The Enigma Code” by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, H.M.S. Petard’s commander himself personally took up a machine gun and opened fire on the men visible on the bridge of Uarsciek. The circumstances and nature of this last action remain rather controversial: while some British sources justify it as a normal act of war aimed at crushing any attempt at reaction or self-sinking by the Italian crew (“the submarine, badly damaged, showed no sign of being abandoned by the crew and, as was logical, H.M.S. Petard continued to fire, not to kill the shipwrecked, but to kill the shipwrecked,  but to force them to hasten the abandonment of their ship“), other authors believe that Thornton committed a grave excess, killing men who were attempting to surrender.

Thornton’s orders to his gunners, repeated twice, to reopen fire should also be placed in this perspective: the latter would have hesitated to carry it out because, unlike their commander, they believed that the survivors were now surrendering and that it was not necessary to kill them. The opinion that Thornton’s behavior would have represented an “excess” seems to be shared by several members of the crew of H.M.S. Petard, starting with the ship’s doctor William Prendergast and the radio operator Reg Crang, as well as by various survivors of Uarsciek.

On the other hand, another sailor of the H.M.S. Petard, Trevor Tipping, appears to be of a different opinion. In an interview given after the war, he stated instead that he considered the fire action of H.M.S. Petard completely justified, given that the men who came out on deck on Uarsciek were running towards the gun: “The question was, either us or them. Better them than us.” Answering a specific question, Tipping also added that Prendergast had been impressed by what he had seen because he was a doctor who had recently joined the Navy, and that “A doctor’s opinion of war is different from that of a combatant“. According to Tipping, the rest of the crew had not been particularly impressed by the carnage, it had been a legitimate act of defense on the part of H.M.S. Petard and in any case those sailors were now accustomed to similar scenes (although Tipping himself mentioned in the interview that “some people” did not “like” the order to fire on the men running on the deck of the submarine,  but that Commander Thornton had said they were trying to arm the gun, so “it’s either us or them.“)

In an essay on the loss of Uarsciek published in 2006 by the historian Franco Prosperini, he speaks of two distinct fire actions that hit the submarine, sweeping the deck with bursts of machine guns: the first occurred immediately after the surfacing and caused the death of the commander Arezzo della Targia, the second in command Dapiran and the boatswain Mazzotti. At this point the navigation officer gave the order to abandon ship, and as the crew began to go on deck the Petard opened fire again, shooting mainly against the forward area around the gun (this version would therefore seem consistent with the position according to which even the second firing action was simply aimed at preventing a reaction from Uarsciek. In fact Prosperini did not speak, on his part, of “exaggerated” or criminal conduct by Commander Thornton.

Clay Blair, on the other hand, believes that Thornton had simply complied with the Admiralty’s directives, trying to keep the Italian crew below deck to prevent the submarine from sinking, and seems rather critical of the landing of the captain of H.M.S. Petard caused, apparently, by this episode and by Prendergast’s denunciation.

In the confusion H.M.S. Petard, trying to board Uarsciek without realizing that it was still moving and now out of control, also collided with the submarine, hitting it with the bow and “climbing” its hull, suffering some damage to the bow (a “recess” of about one meter and twenty centimeters, and damage to the hull such as to require repairs in dock – then carried out in Alexandria in January 1943 -,  although overall the ship’s buoyancy was not threatened, and H.M.S. Petard remained able to sail at least 20 knots).

Reg Crang, a radio operator on board H.M.S. Petard, gave a very vivid description of those moments in his diary: “As naked men emerged from the conning tower to jump on deck, both ships opened a killer volley of fire. No one on the bridge could escape the massacre. After a long pause with no more shots, the Petard approached. A few other naked men came out [of the submarine], we thought about surrendering, but a machine gun on the bridge opened fire and started mowing them down. Our crew was horrified by what was thought to be an act of personal revenge by the commander [Thornton]. Fortunately, she soon stopped, but at this point H.M.S. Petard was so close to the submarine that she could not avoid a collision. With a terrible crack H.M.S. Petard rammed and climbed on the hull of the submarine. Then, with the engines all the way back, the ship backed away; The battle was over. Now we could think about saving the survivors, instead of killing them.”

In a few minutes commander Arezzo della Targia, the second lieutenant commander Remigio Dapiran, the boatswain Ilario Mazzotti and six other non-commissioned officers and sailors were killed by the gunfire of the enemy ships; Many other men were injured. The survivors surrendered; The navigation officer ordered the hatches to be opened, the scuttling maneuvers to begin and the ship to be abandoned.

Michele Caggiano, confused and frightened, had saved himself because he was sheltered by the conning tower: he heard the voice of commander Arezzo, already wounded, repeating “Don’t abandon the boat – Sink the boat”. Other voices came from the stern: shouts, the men down there were hit by enemy fire. Caggiano distinctly recognized the voice of the second chief engineer Pietro Battilana, a thirty-one-year-old native of Treviso, who shouted to his comrades to surrender: “They’re going to kill us all!” Caggiano could not have known it, but these were probably the last words of Battilana, who shortly afterwards was shot and killed. Even Caggiano, despite his sheltered position, was slightly injured by numerous small metal splinters.

Very similar are the scenes recounted by the twenty-two-year-old torpedoman Catello Iovino, from Castellammare di Stabia. A worker at the Castellammare shipyard, called up for military service in 1941, Iovino was part of the 15% of the crew that was on its first assignment: he had in fact recently been sent to Augusta to await assignment, after completing his training at the Submarine School in Pula, and had been assigned to Uarsciek for that mission, replacing a torpedoman who had disembarked shortly before departure because he had been suddenly seized by fever.

At the time of the attack, Iovino was in the aft launch torpedo room of the Uarsciek. When the submarine surfaced, it climbed onto the deck, swept by machine-gun fire. He saw the commander and the gunners dead on the conning tower, and the gunners all fallen in their places; The survivors had raised their hands, but machine-gun fire continued. Iovino slipped down the hull of the submarine, injuring himself on the barnacles, and ended up in the sea.

Below deck, the chief engineer Coniglione, together with three sailors including Domenico Di Serio, carried out the maneuvers to scuttle the submarine (maneuvers which, however, was ineffective), after which the personnel gathered at the foot of the ladder leading to the conning tower, to get out. The machine-gun fire had ceased, but as soon as Di Serio – who was the first – put his head out, fire was reopened; a volley hit the hatch, slightly wounding Di Serio with his shrapnel, and he stopped where he was and blocked all the men who were behind him, and who were insisting that he get out. The volleys stopped again, then resumed again when Di Serio and his companions came out. Di Serio saw the multicolored tracers coming out of the barrels of the machine guns, and then widening. He sought shelter behind the conning tower.

The strafing was as devastating as it was short: after a short time, the shooting stopped, the beam of light changed direction, the bridge fell back into the semi-darkness. When H.M.S. Petard hit Uarsciek with her starboard side, the submarine heeled 90 degrees to port, and Michele Caggiano fell into the sea; fortunately for him, the railing held him back, and as soon as Uarsciek returned to its trim he found himself on deck again. The submarine still seemed to be moving; Caggiano heard the voice of his dying commander, fainter, and fainter, as if he were leaving; he believed that Arezzo had fallen into the sea when Uarsciek had skidded as a result of the collision.

In fact, this is exactly what had happened: Domenico Di Serio, who had taken shelter behind the conning tower to escape the strafing, had seen the commander Arezzo lying on deck towards the stern; Together with a Sicilian sailor, he had reached him and grabbed him by the arms, trying to drag him towards the conning tower, but a wave had dragged the officer into the water. (Guido Morassutti, submarine commander and friend of Arezzo della Targia, tells a different version: Arezzo was killed by a shot that almost decapitated him, immediately after giving the order to scuttle. But Morassutti was not physically present on Uarsciek). Di Serio also ended up into the sea a little later: after the searchlights had gone out and the fire had ceased, realizing that Uarsciek, despite the maneuvers put in place, was not sinking, he tried to reach a hatch to return to the control room, but he tripped over a corpse and then was thrown into the sea by a wave.

Uarsciek about to be taken in tow by H.M.S. Petard, in the early morning of December 15th, 1942
(from the magazine “STORIA militare”)

At a certain moment Michele Caggiano heard and then saw sailor Francesco Paniscotti holding on to the rear of the port saddle-tank, towards the stern; he said something, but Caggiano didn’t understand. The enemy ship seemed to be moving away in the opposite direction to that in which Uarsciek was. Recovering from his stupor, Caggiano crawled along the deck to the hatch, so as not to be seen, went inside with his head forward and reached the control room, determined to carry out the last order of his commander. Below deck, however, there was no one left. Thus, the sub-chief decided to go it alone and headed for the aft launch chamber. On the way, as he passed through the engine room, he realized that the left-hand electric motor, whose telegraph had remained in the forward position slowly, and was still running. He did not feel that Uarsciek was still moving. The rudder was locked at 15 degrees to starboard. First, Caggiano thought of scuttling: although wounded in the hands, he opened the caps of the torpedo tubes and opened the air vents. After seeing the seawater enter the hull, he went to detach the power supply switch at the helm, stopped the electric motor still running, and locked the watertight doors by inserting screws between the gears. Returning to the bow, he found no anomalies or signs of failure. There was only water covering the floor of the officers’ quarters. Finding a decipher on the floor, he picked it up and went to the commander’s bunk; Here he found the flag in its place, above the bunk, so he took it, wrapped it around the decipherer, and carried the bundle thus made on deck, where he then pushed it into the sea.

It would also appear that the chief engineer Coniglione, the midshipman Francesco Florio and sailor Allocca remained on board Uarsciek to try to scuttle the submarine.

Once it was clear that Uarsciek had ceased all resistance, a boat was immediately launched from H.M.S. Petard with a boarding party on board, led by Lieutenant David Nasmith (second in command of H.M.S. Petard) and Sergeant (petty officer) Randell Chapman. The boat reached the submarine and took on board the Italian survivors, who were taken aboard H.M.S. Petard. Several of the Italian sailors, however, had jumped into the sea before H.M.S. Petard had even lowered her launch, and immediately began to swim towards the destroyer, and some, especially among those who were wounded, drowned or disappeared in the darkness under the eyes of their enemy-rescuers. Six other Uarsciek men died in this way. Reg Crang describes the scene: “The first light of dawn began to rise, and the Italian sailors began to jump into the sea and swim towards us. Many were shouting something that sounded to me like “Aiota” [evidently “help”], presumably “help.” Some, perhaps injured or perhaps inexperienced in swimming, drifted out of reach, too far away to be rescued. It was a pitiful sight.”

When Michele Caggiano went on deck, a British officer who had boarded Uarsciek shot him in the right knee with a firearm, and then kicked him in the back of the head. Caggiano cursed the officer and tried to cling to him to make both of them fall into the sea, but he realized that right below them was the motor launch of the Petard, not to mention that the railing would have prevented his attempt anyway. He was thus taken prisoner; the British officer ordered the motorboat to move from the point where it was to the horizontal rudder on the left, which was in a downed position, and had Caggiano, the engine engineer Pio Mario Leonardelli and the sub-chief electrician Sergio Tarraboiro, both mortally wounded, transship there. Before the motor launch moved away from the submarine, it was also joined by a helmsman, Gabrielli, who had swum and was taken on board.

The torpedoman Catello Iovino would recount, many years later, that H.M.S. Petard did not stop to pick up the survivors fearing the presence of another Italian submarine, and [Iovino] clearly heard that English sailors address shipwrecked people with the term ‘fascists’. Some of them, wounded, let themselves go to the bottom shouting “Long live Italy” and some “Long live the Duce”. Iovino, after spending what seemed like six hours in the icy water, was rescued by a boat of the Vasilissa Olga and taken on board the Hellenic destroyer. Here he received food from a Greek sailor who spoke Italian, who asked him, “Why do we have to fight among ourselves?” Domenico Di Serio, after spending what seemed like an eternity in the water, was rescued by a boat from H.M.S. Petard.

While the 32 Italian survivors were hoisted on board H.M.S. Petard and the Vasilissa Olga, the members of Lieutenant Nasmith’s squad penetrated inside the submarine to stop its self-sinking (some Italian sources instead attribute the failure to self-sink to a supervening failure: “Lost military ships” of the USMM speaks of “unforeseeable failure” that stopped the process of self-sinking,  as well as Alberto Santoni who in his “The real traitor” states that Uarsciek “failed to sink due to failure of its apparatus”, and Giorgio Giorgerini who in “Men on the bottom” writes that “the self-scuttling maneuver failed due to a failure of its apparatus”; Another source specifies that the flood valves did not open because of the damage suffered), inspect him for ciphers or other secret documents.

Their search was successful: on their return they brought back to the destroyer a large number of ciphers, code books and signals and other secret documents found on Uarsciek, including maps with the location of Italian and German minefields. (The latter were then exploited in April 1943, when H.M.S. Petard and another destroyer, H.M.S. Paladin, bombed the Tunisian port of Susa – in the hands of the Axis forces – avoiding the minefields and submarines lurking thanks to those maps; according to the book “Fighting Destroyer – The story of H.M.S. Petard” by G. G. Connell,  indeed, it would be the maps of the minefields captured on Uarsciek that would allow British cruisers and destroyers, in the following months, to conduct their offensive bets in the Strait of Sicily without suffering losses due to mines).

A sack containing various secret documents, already ballasted and ready to be thrown into the sea, was found next to the lifeless body of commander Arezzo della Targia: according to Reg Crang, he “had been killed while trying to get out of the conning tower to throw the sack into the sea” (which, however, is in contrast with Domenico Di Serio’s version,  according to which the captain’s body had ended up in the sea).

(It is possible that among the documents captured on board Uarsciek there was also a copy of Circular A/1-SRP of 25 August 1941, “Regulations for the Use of Submarines in War”, issued by Maricosom under secret protocol No. 08400. Copy number 85 of this circular, with the appendix “Conduct of the War on Traffic” dated December 26th, 1941, is now preserved in the archives of the Public Record Office in London. However, since it does not have any cover letters, it is not clear on which submarine it was captured, although from a series of notes relating to it, dating from April-May 1943, it is possible to deduce that its capture dated back to the end of 1942 or the beginning of 1943. In that period only two Italian submarines were boarded before the self-sinking, with the capture of documents: Uarsciek and the Avorio, the latter lost on February 9th, 1943).

Crang then described the arrival of Uarsciek survivors on H.M.S. Petard in these words: “The towing began, and we commenced taking care of the survivors. They were very friendly and happy to be safe, quite different from the Germans we had picked up [on the occasion of the sinking of U 559, a month and a half earlier]. To be honest, they were just like us! We had a few in our cafeteria and soon they started showing us photographs from their wallets, which they had managed to save. One was very proud of his girlfriend at home, a girl so pretty that she seemed to smile just for him.” The wounded were treated by H.M.S. Petard’s ship’s doctor, William Finbar Prendergast; One of them had an arm so badly injured that it had to be amputated. After the operation, Prendergast asked a British sailor to throw the limb overboard.

Among Prendergast’s patients was the second chief torpedoman Michele Caggiano, who later recalled being welcomed on H.M.S. Petard “with unexpected human warmth”. He was taken to the infirmary, where he was carefully cared for. His injured knee was dressed, small metal splinters were extracted from his upper and lower limbs, face and back (the bullet that had hit him in the leg was not extracted: he would remain there for the rest of his life). In the meantime, he was asked for his personal data. From the infirmary, located on the stern deck of H.M.S. Petard, Caggiano could see Uarsciek still afloat.

H.M.S. small motorboat returning to the ship after having boarded Uarsciek
 (From “The Real Enigma Heroes”, di Phil Shanahan)

With the help – it is not clear whether voluntary or obligatory – of an Italian engineer officer, Sergeant Chapman, a signal specialist, and former submariner, initially managed to keep afloat the battered Uarsciek, which was taken in tow by H.M.S. Petard. As a sign of victory, the British sailors hoisted the White Ensign onto the bow net cutter; then the navigation began. H.M.S. Petard towed Uarsciek, while the Vasilissa Olga circled them to protect against possible attacks by other submarines. Thornton hoped to take the captured submarine to Malta as a trophy, but this project did not last long: the tow cable, in fact, broke, and when the Italian engineer officer went to the stern to manually operate the rudder, to put it to center, the opening of the watertight doors ended up compromising the buoyancy of Uarsciek.  that began to sink. (One wonders if the Italian officer’s decision to go aft to manually operate the rudder was not rather a pretext to scuttle the submarine.) According to another version, however, the tow line was deliberately cut by H.M.S. Petard because Uarsciek had begun to sink. Finally, an article from Greek sources (apparently based on the accounts of veterans of the Vasilissa Olga), attributes the sinking of Uarsciek to Commander Thornton’s decision to increase the towing speed, which would have caused the watertight door of the aft compartment to collapse, causing the submarine to flood and sink.

At 10:30 AM, the destroyers H.M.S. Kelvin and H.M.S. Paladin sailed from Malta to assist in towing the captured submarine, but at 11:33 AM Uarsciek, with both engines still running, reared her bow to the sky and sank aft at position 35°40′ N and 14°32′ E. The crew and the Italian engineer officer managed to save themselves by taking a seat in a small boat.

Michele Caggiano witnessed the end of his submarine from the Petard infirmary: “… Numerous times I saw the boat in tow in normal trim, but which nevertheless tried to pull over on the right, resisting the tow. The last time I saw Uarsciek was around noon. It had its bow to the sky with the English flag on the net-cutter. It was a moment of sadness but also of my inner joy because I had not allowed the boat to fall into the hands of the enemy, as ordered by the Commander. Then, shortly after, I felt a jolt, probably due to the release of the tow cable. Thus, the valiant Submarine was lost.”

Uarsciek was the last of the twenty Italian submarines lost during 1942. His loss was announced in Italy only on March 12th, 1943, without mentioning the name, with a laconic announcement in war bulletin no. 1021: “One of our submarines has not returned to base. Almost all the crew are safe.”

The last few moment of the Uarsciek
(From “Sommergibili in guerra” di Achille Rastelli ed Erminio Bagnasco)

Once the prey was sunk, Thornton and H.M.S. Petard’s men were left with Uarsciek combat flag as a trophy (evidently there were more flags on board, considering Michele Caggiano’s account). When H.M.S. Petard and the Vasilissa Olga reached Malta, at 4.15 PM on December 15th, they found a large crowd of Maltese civilians waiting for them, apparently aware, who knows how, of the action that had taken them as protagonists; Reg Crang writes in his diary: “When the commander ordered the Italian flag to be waved, [the crowd] erupted in loud cheers. But many of us couldn’t feel complacent about our success. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the cries of ‘Aiota’ [help] from drowning men.” In the war diary of the Mediterranean Fleet, it was noted that “the destruction of the Italian U-Boat [sic] Uarsciek by Petard and Queen Olga on December 15 southeast of Malta is particularly encouraging. It [Uarsciek] had been the first [Axis submarine] to appear in the eastern Mediterranean for some time now.” Commander Thornton then sent the ceremonial flag of Uarsciek to Walker’s Yard in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the shipyard that built H.M.S. Petard, as a tribute (a flag of Uarsciek, it is not clear if it is the same one sent to the Newcastle shipyard, is now preserved in the Imperial War Museum).

For this success shared by H.M.S. Petard and Vasilissa Olga there was a sort of “exchange” of decorations between the United Kingdom and Greece; In addition to decorating H.M.S. Petard’s men for the destruction of Uarsciek, King George VI of the United Kingdom also awarded a medal to Commander Blessas of Vasilissa Olga, and King George II of Greece (in exile in London) did the same with Commander Thornton of H.M.S. Petard, who received the War Cross III Class from the Greek authorities. The crew of H.M.S. Petard were awarded by the British authorities, for the sinking of Uarsciek, two Distinguished Service Orders (one of them to Commander Thornton), a Distinguished Service Cross (to Lieutenant David Arthur Dunbar-Nasmith), two Distinguished Service Medals (to Sergeant Randell Chapman and Sub-Chief Trevor Tipping, foreman of one of the “pom-pom” quad machine guns), as well as two “Mentions in Dispatches”  for aspiring Ensign Peter Thomas Alleyne Goddard and signalman Kenneth Hannay. For all of them, the motivation was “For skill and enterprise while serving in H.M.S. Petard in a successful attack on an enemy submarine”.

After the celebrations for H.M.S. Petard’s second victory in less than two months in the anti-submarine fight – and moreover with the capture, for the second time in a row, of important codes and ciphers, a more unique than rare case – the question of the strafing of the Italian survivors ordered by Thornton also came to light. The ship’s physician Prendergast, on his return to port, immediately reported the incident to his superiors, stating that the captain of H.M.S. Petard had gone too far, and that he believed that Thornton needed a medical examination and a period of rest. Apparently his superiors agreed with this judgment, because, on one hand, on January 12th, 1943, the Lieutenant Commander Thornton was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order for the sinking of Uarsciek, on the other hand already on January 9th he was “suddenly” replaced in command of H.M.S. Petard, leaving “without the usual farewell ceremonies”, and did not regain command of a naval unit for over a year and a half.

It was not until September 1944 that he was given command of another destroyer, H.M.S. Verulam, which he left after just over two months. He had no further command duties at sea for the remainder of the war. Some British sources claim that Thornton would have left the command of H.M.S. Petard at his personal request, due to the consequences of the “attrition of command”, but the fact that this occurred a few weeks after the sinking of Uarsciek, together with the report of doctor Prendergast and the fact that a highly decorated commander like Thornton, with two notable successes to his credit (including that of the U 559 with the capture of the ciphers,  A key contribution to the Code War), was left without a command for the remainder of the war, except for a couple of months, remains somewhat suspect.

Above, Commander Mark Thornton of the Petard
(from “The Enigma Code”, by Hugh Sebang-Montefiore)

Ship’s physician William Prendergast
(from “The Enigma Code”, by Hugh Sebang-Montefiore)

The book “The Enigma Code” by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore describes the story in these terms: “William Prendergast, H.M.S. Petard’s ship’s doctor, was increasingly concerned about how Thornton treated his men. He was also disturbed by the behavior in December 1942, when another submarine, the Italian Uarscieck, was captured by the Petard. Thornton had seized a machine gun and mowed down a line of Italian submariners standing on the deck of the submarine, although the rest of H.M.S. Petard’s crew was convinced that the men were surrendering. A fine line had to be drawn between the act of ruthlessly but appropriately opening fire on submariners to prevent them from throwing priceless secret ciphers overboard and murdering in cold blood unarmed men who are trying to surrender. Although there was always a risk that the men would rush to grab the submarine’s gun, Prendergast thought Thornton had gone too far. So, he told the authorities that Thornton needed rest. This is one possible reason for Thornton’s sudden departure from H.M.S. Petard. One rumor that circulated among the crew was that Thornton had collapsed after believing he saw rats running around on the floor of his cabin. Whatever the real reason, Thornton himself, when he thanked his men for their help, attributed his forced premature abandonment of the ship to a loss of eyesight.

The same author, based on interviews with H.M.S. Petard veterans (Reg Crang, Douglas Freer, Jeff Richards, Jack Hall, Eric Shove, Charlie Sewell, Ken Lacroix) and the book “Fighting Destroyer HMS Petard” by G. G. Connell, draws this description of Thornton’s personality: “Like all destroyer commanders, he was eager to attack the enemy, but he seemed to have an extra obsession. He wanted to capture a U-boat, and its codes. (…) He believed that the only way to survive the war was to terrorize the crew so that they would become super-efficient. (…) Thornton was famous among his crew for insisting that his men always remain on the lookout for any submarines, whether they were on guard or not. He climbed the crow’s nest and tied himself to the tree to set an example.

May heaven help anyone who did not meet its exacting standards; he would be hit with rocks, chalk, and even teacups if Thornton felt, from his vantage point, that he was wasting his time. On one occasion Thornton set off a firecracker in the middle of the night, and then opened a fire hydrant on his men as they ran to the fighting posts. On another occasion he ordered his officers to jump into the sea and swim around the ship, even though a gale was raging. His men were spared this ordeal only when a superior officer persuaded Thornton that they could all die if he did not give up this exercise. Such behavior led some of the crew to suspect that Thornton was going mad.

He was certainly very eccentric. When he was seen shooting at a flock of gannets with a machine gun, he shouted to his men that he could not stand the sight of the killer birds as they were robbing the sea of his fish. Whether Thornton was a little crazy or not, his regime certainly kept his men on their toes.”

Trevor Tipping stated that Commander Thornton’s landing was indeed due to the action of doctor Prendergast, who was concerned about his mental stability, but does not link it to the Uarsciek affair; Tipping simply states that the weight of command, loneliness, and long war service had negatively affected Thornton’s nerves, and he began to give wrong orders and become increasingly grumpy, until he became “a dangerous man to the crew.

H.M.S. Petard, with another commander (Lieutenant Commander Rupert Cyril Egan, who in command of the destroyer H.M.S. Croome had already sunk an Italian submarine in the Atlantic – Maggiore Baracca – and a German submarine in the Mediterranean – the U 372 –), achieved a third and final success against submarines on February 12th, 1944, when she sank the Japanese submarine I 27:  This gives H.M.S. Petard the distinction of being the only warship to have sunk a submarine from each of the three major Axis navies. She survived the war and continued her service with the Royal Navy until 1967, when she was scrapped.

Commander Georgios Blessas of Vasilissa Olga, who shared with H.M.S. Petard the merit of the destruction of Uarsciek, was decorated by both King George II of Greece and George VI of the United Kingdom: the former awarded him, on March 12th, 1943, the War Cross III class; the second awarded him the Distinguished Service Order (Blessas was the first Greek officer to receive such a decoration). In addition to Blessas, two other men from the Vasilissa Olga were decorated for the sinking of Uarsciek: Lieutenant E. Danil and sonar operator E. Amourgi, who received the “Medal for Exceptional Acts”. (The King of Greece, in a sort of “exchange” of decorations for this joint action between the two navies, also conferred a medal on Commander Thornton, as George VI had done on Blessas.) The Vasilissa Olga would be sunk, with the death of Commander Blessas and most of the crew, less than a year later, by German planes during the battle of Leros: fighting – not without friction, to tell the truth – alongside the Italians, no longer enemies after the armistice.

A chronometer taken from aboard Uarsciek from H.M.S. Petard’s raiding party, now on display at the Bletchley Park Museum.
Note the incorrect date shown on the explanatory plate (June 1943).
( Anthony Robertson).

Of the 32 survivors of Uarsciek rescued by destroyers, two died in Malta from their wounds: the 21-year-old sailor Pio Mario Leonardelli died on December 21st, 1942. Today he is buried in his native Turin. The 20-year-old sub-chief electrician Sergio Tarraboiro, a Piedmontese like Leonardelli, died in Malta on  January 8th, 1943.

The final toll for the crew of Uarsciek was thus 17 dead and 30 survivors: two officers, six non-commissioned officers and nine sub-chiefs and sailors had lost their lives, while four officers (including the chief engineer and the course officer), four non-commissioned officers and 22 sub-chiefs and sailors had survived.

The fallen:

  • Gaetano Arezzo della Targia, lieutenant (commander), from Syracuse (deceased)
  • Pietro Battilana, second chief engineman, from Riese Pio X (deceased)
  • Bruno Bressan, second chief mechanic, from Abano Terme (deceased)
  • Pietro Brigantini, second chief torpedo pilot, from Desenzano del Garda (deceased)
  • Carlo Ceriani, sailor stoker, from Origgio (missing)
  • Remigio Dapiran, Second Lieutenant, from Rovinj (missing)
  • Corrado Di Lorenzo, sailor, from Santa Croce Camerina (deceased)
  • Ugo Fotia, sailor, from Lamezia Terme (missing)
  • Angelo Galeandro, sub-chief torpedo pilot, from Laterza (missing)
  • Antonio Garufi, sergeant furiere, from Santa Teresa di Riva (missing)
  • Pio Mario Leonardelli, sailor motorist, from Turin (died in Malta on 21/12/1942)
  • Alberto Leporini, sub-chief engineman, from Spoltore (missing)
  • Ilario Mazzotti, Chief Electrician Third Class, from Ravenna (deceased)
  • Giovanni Romano, sailor gunner, from Naples (missing)
  • Giovanni Rossi, helmsman sergeant, from Iglesias (deceased)
  • Sergio Tarraboiro, sub-chief electrician, from Carmagnola (died in Malta on 8/1/1943)
  • Sebastiano Zelo, sub-chief motorist, from San Nicola La Strada (deceased)

The survivors, after spending a short time in a prison camp in Malta (the seriously wounded were admitted to the island’s hospital), were transferred to a prison camp in Palestine, where they remained for the rest of the war. The camp was divided into two zones, one for prisoners who accepted collaboration with the British, the other for the “diehards”; the former could choose to work for the British, as did the torpedoman Catello Iovino, who was assigned to agricultural work in the surrounding area.

The “diehards”, on the other hand, refused any form of collaboration; Iovino then recounted that he looked with admiration at the prisoners of the other half of the camp who “despite a thousand difficulties, continued to maintain a military behavior and carried out the raising and lowering of the flag every day.” On the other hand, he was surprised when one day, while working on an agricultural estate outside the camp, he heard a female voice singing “Funiculì funiculà”, a song from his land; He never knew who the woman who sang it was. Returning to Italy in 1948 (which seems a bit strange indeed, since most of the Italian prisoners, even those held in territories as far away as India, were repatriated by 1947), Iovino returned to his job as a worker in the Castellammare shipyard. He then moved to the post office job  in Naples, where he died in 2005 at the age of 85.

Twenty-five-year-old midshipman Antonio Rizzo, from Taranto, also ended up a prisoner in Palestine, after a brief hospitalization at the General Hospital of Valletta: to his family, after the failure of Uarsciek, the Ministry of the Navy had communicated that he had to “consider himself missing during a war action”. He was able to return home after two years of captivity in Palestine, landing directly in his native Taranto.

The disembarkation in Malta of the survivors of the sinking of the submarine Uarsciek
(from “The Real Enigma Heroes”, di Phil Shanahan)

In 1947, when the survivors of Uarsciek returned to Taranto from captivity, the Italian Navy – no longer a royal – started the investigation into the loss of Uarsciek. Particular attention was paid to the submarine’s failure to sink, and to the capture of ciphers and secret documents on board. Major responsible for the slowness of the sinking, which had allowed the British to get on board and capture Uarsciek, was considered the chief engineer Coniglione, “for not having put in place all the preparations for a rapid flooding of the boat”; It was also established that technical deficiencies had also contributed to this outcome. The destruction of ciphers and secret documents was the responsibility of the navigation officer, who was the custodian; the latter, “unable to take action to combat boarding”, had delegated the recovery of those documents to the chief engineer and to a midshipman, who had been unable to recover the container of documents, which had remained on the deck of Uarsciek, because it had been thrown into the sea by the collision with the Petard. Also in this case, Lieutenant Coniglione was held responsible, “for not having adequately urged the midshipman to throw the container into the sea”.

In the 1990s, retired Admiral Vittorio Patrelli Campagnano, a former submariner during the World War II (he had commanded the submarine Platino) and now the “dean” of Italian submariners, had the opportunity to read the statement of the former sub-chief Michele Caggiano relating to his attempt, at the time of the loss of Uarsciek, to scuttle the submarine. Interested in this unprecedented version of the facts, Patrelli Campagnano attempted to reconstruct the incident with the help, for the technical aspect, of captain Attilio Ranieri, director of the Submarine School of Taranto; he went so far as to propose to the Ministry of the Navy and the Historical Office a reopening and revision of the 1947 investigation, but nothing came of it because too much time had passed, and it was now not possible to find confirmation of Caggiano’s account, which was not confirmed by the interrogations of the survivors, including Caggiano himself (who claimed to have been superficial, in answering the interrogation of 1947, because he was “offended at not having been questioned by the persons in charge of the investigation, but by a junior officer“).

The motivation for the Silver Medal for Military Valor awarded to the memory of Lieutenant Gaetano Arezzo della Targia, born in Syracuse on July 31, 1911:

“A valiant submarine commander during an arduous war mission, sighted an enemy naval formation at night, and moved boldly to the surface to attack. Although the submarine had been discovered, it managed to torpedo an enemy cruiser with skillful maneuvers. Subjected to violent hunting by three enemy torpedo boats, unable to resist longer in the dive due to the considerable damage sustained, it emerged with the intention of facing the overwhelming enemy forces on the surface.

In the daring attempt, as he reached his fighting post in the conning tower, he fell mortally wounded by the enemy’s volley.

(Mediterranean Sea, December 15th, 1942).”

The motivation for the Bronze Medal for Military Valor awarded to the memory of Lieutenant Gaetano Arezzo della Targia:

“Commanding Officer who, in impaired health and fever, demonstrated a high sense of duty and aggressive spirit, attacking an enemy naval force and launching two torpedoes against enemy units with probable positive results and falling in his place of duty, confirmed the qualities of impetus and dedication demonstrated in the previous circumstance by the loss of the submarine Medusa.”

Original Italian text by Lorenzo Colombo adapted and translated by Cristiano D’Adamo

Operational Records

TypePatrols (Med.)Patrols (Other)NM SurfaceNM Sub.Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
Submarine – Coastal27196853926200 118.06 4.92

Actions

DateTimeCaptainAreaCoordinatesConvoyWeaponResultShipTypeTonnsFlag
8/11/19424.42T.V. Gaetano Arezzo della TargiaMediterranean37°52’N-01°48’EWS21STorpedoFailedFuriousAircraft Carrier19826Great Britain

Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate
Arezzo della TargiaGaetanoLieutenantTenente di Vascello12/15/1943
BattilanaPietroChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe12/15/1942
BressanBrunoChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe12/15/1942
BrigantiniPietroJunior ChiefSottocapo12/15/1942
CerianiCarloNaval RatingComune12/15/1942
DapiranRemigioSublieutenantSottotenente di Vascello12/15/1942
Di LorenzoCorradoNaval RatingComune12/15/1942
FotiaUgoNaval RatingComune12/15/1942
GaleandroAngeloJunior ChiefSottocapo12/15/1942
GarufiAntonioSergeantSergente12/15/1942
LaporiniAlbertoJunior ChiefSottocapo12/15/1942
LeonardelliPioNaval RatingComune12/21/1942
MazzottiIlarioChief 3rd ClassCapo di 3a Classe12/15/1942
RomanoGiovanniNaval RatingComune12/15/1942
RossiGiovanniSergeantSergente12/15/1942
TarraboiroSergioJunior ChiefSottocapo1/8/1943
TironiErmannoNaval RatingComune10/5/1940
ZeloSebastianoJunior ChiefSottocapo12/15/1942

R. Smg. Axum

The Axum was an Adua-class (600 series, Bernardis type) coastal submarine (698 tons displacement on the surface and 866 tons submerged).

Axum in Monfalcone – 1936
(From the magazine “Rivista Marittima” n. 2 February, 1995)

During the war, It completed 27 patrols and 22 transfers, covering a total of 22,889 miles on the surface and 3,413 submerged, sinking a light cruiser of 4,190 tons and damaging a light cruiser of 8,530 tons and a tanker of 9,514 GRT.

Brief and partial chronology

March 8th, 1936

Setting up of the boat begun in the Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico (C.R.D.A.) in Monfalcone (construction number 1178).

September 27th, 1936

The boat was launched at the C.R.D.A. in Monfalcone.

December 2nd, 1936

Axum officially entered active service.

March 20th, 1937

Placed under Maricosom (the command of the Italian submarine fleet), it was assigned to the XXXII Submarine Squadron based in Naples.

August 2nd through September 5th, 1937

The submarine carried out a secret mission in the Strait of Sicily as part of the Spanish Civil War but did not spot any suspicious ships.

1937-1940

It carried out intense training activities while based in Naples.

May 5th, 1938

Axum took part in the naval magazine “H” in the Gulf of Naples and in the simultaneous surfacing maneuver in formation of one hundred submarines, which then executed an artillery salvo.

June 10th, 1940

Italy entered the World War II. The Axum was formally part of the LXXI Submarine Squadron of the VII Grupsom homebased in Cagliari, with the twin boats Adua, Alagi and Aradam, but it was based in Naples. In the first months of the war, it was mainly deployed in the western Mediterranean.

June 1940

Sent to form a barrage south of Sardinia.

July 4th through 5th, 1940

Sent to lie in wait to the north of Algeria.

July 9th through 11th, 1940

Patrolling the island of La Galite, then transferred to the southwest of the island of Sant’Antioco (Sardinia).

November 9th, 1940

Axum sailed from Cagliari in the late afternoon bound for the waters off the island La Galite, where it had to form a barrage (along with the Aradam, Alagi, Medusa and Diaspro) to counter the British operation “Coat”, consisting of sending to Malta a convoy (of warships: the battleship H.M.S. Barham, the heavy cruiser H.M.S. Berwick, the light cruiser H.M.S. Glasgow and three destroyers, with a covering force consisting of the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Ark Royal – which will also launch a diversionary air attack on Cagliari – the light cruiser H.M.S. Sheffield and three destroyers) with troops and anti-aircraft weapons, as part of the complex operation “MB.8” (which also includes other secondary operations: the transfer of war units from Gibraltar to Alexandria, the dispatch of convoys to Greece, the attack of torpedo bombers against Taranto on 11th-12th November and an offensive against Italian convoys in the Otranto Channel). The five boats were positioned at 315° bearing from La Galite, 30 miles apart, with the task of carrying out night search by parallel routes without going more than 120 miles west of the line of formation.

Shortly after 7 PM on November 9th, Axum heard distant noises of turbines on the hydrophone, to the southeast, but at such a distance as to make any approach maneuver impracticable.

November 12th, 1940

It detected faint noises on the hydrophones.

November 27th, 1940

I was sent south of Sardinia, at 9.35 PM the crew sighted three destroyers and disengaged by diving.

January 1941

Sent to patrol in the waters off Algeria and Tunisia.

June 16, 1941

The Axum (Lieutenant Commander Emilio Gariazzo) was sent between Ras Uleima and Marsa Matruh, to counter, with other boats, the coastal bombardment operations by British naval units, in support of the retreat of British ground troops.

June 20th, 1941

Axum was ordered to move closer to Benghazi.

June 23rd, 1941

At 10:26 PM the crew sighted a ship heading west and launched a torpedo from 800 meters. It was defective (irregular run) and missed the target. The Axum launches a second torpedo, but this too misses the ship, passing a few meters aft. Spotted by the enemy unit, the submarine was forced to dive and subjected to a short but precise bombardment with depth charges, from which, however, it arises unscathed (the bombs explode very close, but the engines were stopped, all noisy activity ceased, and it dove almost to the bottom, finally managing to escape).

July 19th through 28th, 1941

The boat is sent on patrol off the coast of Tobruk, where it detects intense air and naval (surface) activity.

Axum at sea
(U.S.M.M.)

Summer 1941

Axum is sent to Leros (Greece), arriving nearby, it came to the surface near the island, sighted from land but mistakenly believed to be enemy, and therefore attacked by a MAS that opened fire with machine guns and launched a torpedo. Fortunately, the Axum was missed, there were no injuries, and the misunderstanding was clarified. Later, it transferred to Messina, then (September) to Cagliari.

September 1941

Sent east of the Balearic Islands and south of Menorca, for defensive purposes and along with three other submarines (Aradam, Diaspro and Serpente), during the British operation “Halberd” (consisting of sending a convoy to Malta, but which the Italian commanders believe could instead be a naval bombardment against targets on the coasts of the peninsula); However, the British squadron will not pass through the area.

October 24th, 1941

Sent on patrol in the waters off Malta.

December 1941

Sent on patrol in the waters of Cap Bougaroûn.

January 4th, 1942

Sent to lie in wait south of Malta (the ambush began at noon on January 4th), in the area between the meridians 14°00′ E and 14°40′ E and the parallels 34°40′ N and 35°00′ N, with the task of spotting and attacking any British naval forces that might be put to sea to oppose Operation “M. 43”,  consisting of sending a large convoy of supplies to Libya. Such a threat did not materialize.

February 1942

Sent to lie in wait in Algerian waters.

Mid-June 1942

Axum is sent to lie in wait in the Ionian Sea during the Battle of Mid-June, to which it did not take part. Later it was sent to lie in wait northwest of Algiers.

June 22nd, 1942

Transferred to the waters off the Island Linosa.

July 15th, 1942

The Axum (Lieutenant Renato Ferrini) was sent to lie in wait between the Isle of Dogs and La Galite, and in the late afternoon, six miles east of the Isle of Dogs, it sights the British fast minelayer H.M.S. Welshman proceeding at high speed towards Malta (where it is headed with supplies). At 8 PM the Axum launched three electric torpedoes, under cover of darkness (but with the difficulty of rough seas, which prevented it from maintaining periscope depth), without being able to hit, due to bad weather that diverted the course of the torpedoes.

Mid-August

The Axum reached the brightest point of its “career” in August 1942, during the great air-naval battle of Mid-August.

After the substantial failure of the “Harpoon” and “Vigorous” refueling operations in the air-naval battle of Mid-June, two months earlier, the British commanders had in fact planned a new attempt to supply the exhausted garrison and population of Malta: “Operation Pedestal”. This was consisting of sending a convoy of 14 merchant ships (the cargo ships Almeria Lykes, Melbourne Star,  Brisbane Star, Clan Ferguson, Dorset, Deucalion, Wairangi, Waimarama, Glenorchy, Port Chalmers, Empire Hope, Rochester Castle and Santa Elisa and the tanker Ohio) with heavy escort: four light cruisers (H.M.S. Nigeria, H.M.S. Kenya, H.M.S. Cairo and H.M.S. Manchester) and twelve destroyers (H.M.S. Ashanti, H.M.S. Intrepid, H.M.S. Icarus, H.M.S. Foresight, H.M.S. Derwent, H.M.S. Fury, H.M.S. Bramham, H.M.S. Bicester, H.M.S. Wilton, H.M.S. Ledbury, H.M.S. Penn and H.M.S. Pathfinder) to escort all the way,  and four aircraft carriers (H.M.S. Eagle, H.M.S. Furious, H.M.S. Indomitable and H.M.S. Victorious), two battleships (H.M.S. Rodney and H.M.S. Nelson), three light cruisers (H.M.S. Sirius, H.M.S. Phoebe and H.M.S. Charybdis) and twelve destroyers (H.M.S. Laforey, H.M.S. Lightning, H.M.S. Lookout, H.M.S. Tartar, H.M.S. Quentin, H.M.S. Somali, H.M.S. Eskimo, H.M.S. Wishart, H.M.S.  Zetland, H.M.S. Ithuriel, H.M.S. Antelope and H.M.S. Vantsittart) as additional escorts in the first half of the voyage (up to the entrance of the Strait of Sicily).

For their part, the Italian commanders had concerted adequate countermeasures: in the western and central-western Mediterranean, the convoy would have been subjected to a series of attacks by submarines, then, having arrived in the Strait of Sicily (under cover of night), by MAS and Italian and German motor torpedo boats (fifteen units in all), as well as incessant attacks by bombers and torpedo planes (in all, 784 aircraft) of both of the Regia Aeronautica (TN Italian Air Force) and the Luftwaffe, until their arrival in Malta. Also, it was planned the intervention (later aborted) of two cruiser divisions (the III and the VII) to finish what was left of the convoy decimated by the previous air, underwater and insidious attacks.

A total of 15 Italian submarines and two German U-boats contributed to forming a powerful submarine barrage in the western Mediterranean; the Axum was to form a barrier line of the western entrance to the Strait of Sicily, north of the La Galite- Skerki Banks junction (TN also known as the Skerki Channel), along with Alagi, Ascianghi, Avorio, Bronzo, Cobalto, Dessiè, Dandolo, Emo and Otaria. The orders, for all, were to act with great offensive determination, launching as many torpedoes as possible against any target, merchant, or military, larger than a destroyer.

On August 11th, 1942, the submarine, under the command of Lieutenant Renato Ferrini, left Cagliari for an area 25 miles northwest of Cape Blanc, where it arrived the following day. The boat thus became part of a barrage of eleven submarines, sent north of Tunisia (between Scoglio Fratelli and Skerki Banks) to attack the British convoy. In particular, the Axum positioned itself in the channel of Skerki Banks, together with Alagi, Bronzo, Dessiè and Granito (belonging to a different barrage): all, except the last, would achieve successes against the convoy.

At six o’clock in the morning of August 12th, the Axum arrived at the assigned spot and submerged. At 2 PM Commander Ferrini – considering, based on the signals of discovery, that the convoy would pass far close to the coast, keeping the naval formation assigned to its protection to the north – ordered to sail for Cape Blanc, with a 230° course, remaining submerged.

At 6:21 PM, the boat sighted in position 37°37′ N and 10°21′ E, on a 229° bearing (on the starboard side, very far away) and with an alpha angle of 11°, a dark mass that Ferrini, after studying it thoroughly, concluded to be a large merchant ship or an aircraft carrier. While approaching submerged to better understand what it was, at 6.40 PM the Axum sighted two smoke trails on the starboard side (295° bearing), and then the smoke produced by anti-aircraft fire against two aircraft, which were moving away to the east. Realizing that the British squadron must be there, at 6:41 PM Commander Ferrini steered to the north, to get closer, and at 6:50 PM, seeing that the smoke was now at a 300° bearing, he leveled off to 20 meters and headed at maximum speed for 30° bearing.

Returning to periscope depth at 7:27 PM, he sighted eight kilometers away portside, on a 110° angle (with an alpha angle of 290° and beta 10°), an enemy formation in position 37°37′ N and 10°19′ E. A minute later Axum approached starboard and assumed a course like that of the opposing formation, in order to better observe it.  The captain found out that it was the convoy, about fifteen merchant ships, escorted by two cruisers and several destroyers. They proceeded in wedge-shaped formation in three lines of merchant ships, with the cruisers in the center and the destroyers all around in outer rows. There was also another ship, half-hidden from the others, which appeared to have two tall masts, like those of American battleships (TN hyperboloid lattice shell structures known within the service as cage masts), although there were no such units in Mid-August. At 7:33 PM, Ferrini noted that the British squadron had turned 30° to starboard, so he himself steered to starboard, but 180°. At 7:37 PM a new check showed that the distance had dropped to 4000 meters, the enemy formation had a course of 140° and a speed of 13 knots.

At this point, the Axum approached starboard (for 220° bearing) to assume a suitable position for launching torpedoes. At 7:42 PM, after a quick check at periscope depth, Ferrini brought his boat to 15 meters and ordered half speed forward to approach.

Returning to periscope depth at 7:48 PM, the commander noticed that he now had a 28° angle of sight for the second-row cruiser, which was preceded by a destroyer and followed by a large merchant ship.

At 7:55 PM, from an estimated distance of 1,300 meters from the first line of the convoy and 1,800 meters from the target cruiser (the position is variously reported as 37°26′ N and 10°22′ E, or 37°40′ N and 10°06′ E, 75 miles north of Cape Bon), Axum launched all four torpedoes from the forward tubes:  First the number 1, straight, then the 4, angled 5° to starboard, then the 3, angled 5° to the left, and finally the 2, straight. Soon after, the boat disengaged.

After 63 seconds from the launch, a bang was heard; After another 27 seconds, two more, very close.

Ferrini thought he had hit a ship in the first row and then one in the second, but the reality was even better: not two, but three ships had been hit (all on the port side) with that single salvo of four torpedoes, the most brilliant result achieved by an Italian submarine in the Mediterranean.

A torpedo, the first to hit, had hit under the bridge the modern light cruiser H.M.S. Nigeria (Captain Stuart Henry Paton), displacement of 8,530 tons, flag ship of Admiral Harold Borrough (commander of Force X, assigned to the direct escort of the convoy), while advancing at 14 knots. The explosion opened a gaping hole thirteen meters wide. The forward boiler rooms were flooded, the pumps stopped operating, power went out to the entire ship, the rudder got stuck making the ship turn in circles, some contained fires broke out and 52 crew members lost their lives. To prevent sinking or capsizing, several bulkheads had to be shored up, the flooded compartments had to be insulated, and some others on the opposite side had to be flooded to reduce heeling.

H.M.S. Nigeria heeled port side
(U.S.M.M.)

At 8:10 AM the cruiser, considerably heeled port side (the ship immediately listed 13°, becoming 17° after three minutes; later reduced to 5°), had to transfer Admiral Borrough to the destroyer H.M.S. Ashanti and then return to Gibraltar at 14 knots, escorted and assisted by the destroyers H.M.S. Derwent, H.M.S. Bicester and H.M.S. Wilton. Repairs took over a year and were not completed until September 1943.

Damage caused by the Axum’s torpedo
9U.S.M.M.)

Two torpedoes had then hit the old anti-aircraft cruiser H.M.S. Cairo (of 4,190 tons, under the command of Captain Cecil Campbell Hardy) on the stern, portside, which at that moment was proceeding at 8 knots, removing the stern (including the port propeller) and causing the entire ship to lose electricity, as well as killing 24 members of its crew. After the evacuation of the crew, the Cairo (376 survivors), laid, ablaze and immobilized, and was finished off with cannon fire by the escort destroyer H.M.S. Derwent (another, H.M.S. Pathfinder, had already missed it with four torpedoes and launched some depth charges in vain to accelerate the sinking).

Finally, the fourth torpedo had hit the tanker Ohio (Captain Dudley William Mason), the most important merchant ship of the convoy (being the only tanker, with a vital cargo of fuel), amidships, causing heavy damage: a gash of seven by eight meters in the port side of the pump room (the explosion had also opened a leak on the starboard side,  completely flooding the room, and the gash extended to the main deck), disabling the compasses and rudder transmissions (forcing the construction of an improvised emergency steering station at the stern), and the turning off the boilers (leaving it temporarily immobilized) and a violent fire on board. Within twenty minutes, the crew of the tanker managed to contain the fire and continue at 13 knots despite the damage. The ship was hit again by several air attacks (by bombs and even by a German Junker Ju 87 bomber which, shot down by machine guns, crashed on its bulwark), but the superhuman determination of its crew,  towing by the minesweeper H.M.S. Rye and destroyer H.M.S. Bramham and support from destroyers H.M.S. Ledbury and H.M.S. Penn, which flanked her on each side, would eventually enable her to reach Malta on August 15th. Here it would eventually sink, breaking in two, after unloading the precious fuel.

The hit on the Ohio

The Axum attack would have had further negative implications on the convoy as H.M.S. Cairo and H.M.S. Nigeria were the only units of Force X equipped with personnel and equipment for coordination with the fighters of the air escort, and their disabling greatly weakened the effectiveness of the air escort, which could no longer coordinate with the convoy (thus facilitating the subsequent Italian-German air attacks, which claimed many victims). Moreover, the attack had occurred during the maneuver to go from a formation of four columns to one of two (to maneuver in narrower waters), which were to have H.M.S. Cairo and H.M.S. Nigeria at the head of each column: without guidance, without orders (during the time necessary for the transfer of Admiral Burrough from H.M.S.  Nigeria to H.M.S. Ashanti, which in turn had to temporarily absent himself from its role as flotilla leader of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla) and almost half of the escort (since five destroyers had to be detached to assist the damaged cruisers), the convoy was temporarily plunged into chaos.

Four and a half minutes had passed since the launch when the reaction of the escort began. The Axum was 65 meters away when the first discharge of depth charges was thrown, which was centered. Ferrini brought his unit to 100 meters, then stopped every machine so as not to produce noises detectable by the hydrophones.

This was followed by two hours of anti-submarine hunting, very slow, with discharges whose accuracy varied from time to time. Whenever the Axum rose to 80-90 meters, the sonar beats could be clearly heard, always followed by the immediate launch of a barrage of depth charges. As a result, Ferrini decided to keep the submarine at depths between 100 and 120 meters, especially after that, at 9:35 PM, a destroyer was heard starting and moving from bow to stern, producing, in addition to the noise of the propellers, what seemed to be the noise produced by a darting cable, which made one think of the use of a towing torpedo.

After 10:15 PM it was noticed that there was another ship, further away, but even the one engaged in the hunt seemed to be finally moving away. In total, about 60 depth charges were dropped.

At 10:50 PM, the Axum emerged with a 330° bearing and sighted, three kilometers aft, a large ship on fire; another ship on fire, shrouded in copious smoke, at 45° on the starboard side; and a third already consumed by the flames, 70° from the stern (to port), from which a dense and grayish smoke was rising. The fire of the first ship lit the Axum all too well, and Ferrini saw not far away two destroyers in motion, which were beginning to make signals, he dived to avoid enduring a new hunt and thus was able to move away from the area to change air and recharge the batteries.

At 1:30 AM on August 14th, Axum emerged and moved away to the north, continuing to see a large fire in the distance, from which high flames rose from time to time in the sky.

Returning to dive at 6.10 AM, Ferrini found that the damage suffered in the hunt consisted of a loss of over 400 liters per hour, at a depth of 40 meters, from the trim box, a loss (at the same depth) of 700 liters per hour from the rapid dive tank, and minor losses from other cases. The leak from the AV tank prevented the submarine from diving more than 40 meters.

Ferrini decided to stay in the area. At 10.25 AM, having received an order from Maricosom to patrol a stretch of sea, he surfaced and set course for the assigned area, but at 10.50 AM a new order from the same Command made him submerge again, since it was likely that a British formation heading west would soon pass through the area (the remains of the convoy’s escort, which were now returning).

Between 11:45 AM and 1:30 PM, explosions were heard in the distance, without seeing anything, and at 3:50 PM the order was received to search for an aircraft carrier, so the Axum surfaced and proceeded on the surface for a 230° bearing, towards the indicated area. At 4.33 PM a further order led the boat to dive again, but the loss of the AV trim tank worsened; this did not induce Ferrini to leave the area, wanting to be able to attack any isolated and damaged enemy ships. At 8 PM order came to attack an isolated and damaged unit, so Axum resurfaced and set out in search of it.  At 11:45 PM, while proceeding with on a 270° course, the crew saw in the distance, on a 110° bearing, the launch of two illuminating flares, and ten minutes later the launch of three more rockets, this time very close, aft. Immediately stopping the engines, Ferrini saw two more rockets landing lower, right on his vertical; He made a quick dive, clearly hearing the engine of an airplane, and when he was twenty meters deep he heard a bomb explode in the distance.

The loss of the forward trim tank prevented descending to more than 40 meters, so the Axum kept at this depth and moved away submerged in a northerly direction. Between 00:17 AM and 00:40 AM on August 14th, the crew detected suspicious noises on the hydrophones, which did not diminish even after the boat approached.

Resurfacing at 1:30 AM., the Axum lurked around again until 5:45 AM, when it dove again for the rest of the day, during which time it heard, at intervals, bomb discharges in the distance. Emerging at 9 PM, in consideration of the damage sustained two days earlier, Ferrini finally decided to return. Arriving at point “T 3” in Trapani at 7.30 AM on 15 August 15th, he followed the safety routes and moored at the submarine quay at 10.05 AM, thus concluding his victorious patrol.

The Battle of Mid-August, the largest air-naval battle ever fought in the Mediterranean, ended with very heavy losses on the Allied side. In the face of the loss, by the Axis, of the submarines Dagabur and Cobalt and about sixty aircraft, and the serious damage to the cruisers Muzio Attendolo and Bolzano, the British lost the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Eagle, the light cruisers H.M.S. Manchester and H.M.S. Cairo, the destroyer H.M.S. Foresight and nine of the merchant ships – all except Ohio, Rochester Castle, Port Chalmers, Brisbane Star and Melbourne Star – and complained of severe damage to the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Indomitable, the light cruisers H.M.S. Kenya and H.M.S. Nigeria and three of the surviving merchant ships (Ohio, Rochester Castle and Brisbane Star). However, the arrival in Malta of five merchant ships with 29,000 tons of supplies brought partial relief to the exhausted island, which was gradually able to regain its offensive capabilities.

October 1942

Sent to lie in wait in the waters off the Balearic Islands.

November 1942

Patrol off the Balearic Islands again.

November 7th, 1942

Axum sighted enemy units in position 37°14′ N and 02°23′ E, but was subjected to anti-submarine hunting and damaged, and the attack was thus prevented.

November 9th, 1942

Leave the assigned patrol sector in the evening and return to base.

February 1943

Patrol in the Gulf of Sirte to attack any enemy traffic.

April 1943

Sent to lie in wait northwest and then southeast of Cape Fer.

April 11th, 1943

While in the waters off Sardinia along with the submarines Argo, Velella and Acciaio, and navigating during a violent mistral wind, Axum took on a lot of water due to a sea gust and suffered the disabling of both periscopes, thus being forced to return to base.

June 21st, 1943

The Axum, while sailing from La Spezia to La Maddalena, was sighted at 1.20 PM, in position 42°35′ N and 08°38′ E (five miles northwest of Calvi, Corsica, while the Axum was proceeding on a 210° course) and from 3,660 meters away, by the British submarine H.M.S. Templar (Lieutenant Denis John Beckley). At 1.30 PM H.M.S Templar launched a torpedo from 1,370 meters, missing the target, and three minutes later (after regaining suitable depth, which had been briefly lost) launched four more, from the same distance. Avoiding the weapons from the Axum, the British boat launched two more at 1.40 PM, from a distance that had now risen to 2,750 meters, again without result. The Axum briefly spotted the attacker’s periscope but limited itself to evasive maneuvers without counterattacking with torpedoes from the stern tubes, because the distance was so short, and the weapons would not have had time to activate.

September 8th, 1943

When the armistice was announced, the Axum (Lieutenant Vittorio Barra) was in Gaeta, where it had arrived the same day from Pozzuoli (considered too close to the front) to carry out some repair work on the diesel engines (the original ones, now worn, had in fact been replaced with new German-made engines, but one of them failed during sea trials in the Gulf of Naples).

The announcement of the armistice was given to the crew, gathered in assembly, by Commander Barra. Many sailors, especially conscripts, rejoice for what they believe to be the end of the war and the imminent return home, while the career officers and non-commissioned officers, sensing what was really going to happen, were worried. Captain Barra brought the crew back to order, and for a few hours the activities on board continued as normally as every day.

September 9th, 1943

In the early hours of the 9th, German troops attacked the quay and overwhelmed the sentries, attempting to capture the moored ships (in addition to the Axum, some corvettes). At 2:15 AM, the men on the Axum saw more men running towards them in the dark, gesticulating and shouting to run quickly, because the Germans were occupying the harbor and capturing the ships at the mooring. Without wasting time in moving the gangway (which remains on the pier) and untying the moorings (which will be torn by the departing submarine), the only working diesel engine was immediately set in motion and brought to full force. In the haste to leave, the Axum slightly bumps into the corvette Pellicano, which was also fleeing.

Having escaped capture by the German forces, the submarine set course northwards, and at dawn, in the waters off Civitavecchia, it passed close to German patrol boats which, however, did not pay attention to its presence.

To buy time and understand what was happening, Commander Barra took the Axum to the island of Monte Cristo, where he spent the night in a cove.

September 10th, 1943

Axum reached Portoferraio (Tuscany), where numerous torpedo boats, corvettes and submarines from the ports of the Upper Tyrrhenian Sea had gathered. Admiral Amedeo Nomis di Pollone assumed command of these forces.

September 12th, 1943

Axum left Portoferraio bound for Palermo, still propelled by a single engine. According to the provisions of the armistice, black rims were painted at the bow and a black pendant was hoisted on the periscope. Due to its slow speed, the Axum remains alone on its journey, but it still managed to reach Palermo.

September 19th thought 20th, 1943

Axum departed from Palermo along with five other submarines (Filippo Corridoni, Nichelio, H 1, H 2 and H 4) and several surface ships (the torpedo boats Aliseo, Animoso, Ardimentoso, Ariete, Calliope, Fortunale, Indomito and Antonio Mosto, the corvettes Ape, Cormorano, Danaide, Gabbiano, Minerva and Pellicano, the auxiliary submarine destroyer AS 121 Regina Elena, the motor torpedo boats MS 35,  MS 55 and MS 64, the submarine destroyers VAS 201, VAS 204, VAS 224, VAS 233, VAS 237, VAS 240, VAS 241, VAS 246 and VAS 248) and moved to Malta, where the boat moored next to the light cruiser Luigi di Savoia Duca degli Abruzzi (on board which the crew of the Axum went for meals, and on which men of the Axum would mount guard). The following day it was moored, along with the submarines Atropo, Fratelli Bandiera, Marcantonio Bragadin, Filippo Corridoni, Giada, Marea, Nichelio, Vortice and Luigi Settembrini in Marsa Scirocco, under the command of the battleship Giulio Cesare.

During the stay in Malta, there was no shortage of tensions; some career non-commissioned officers, not agreeing with the surrender to the Allies, exploited the discontent created among the crew for the theft of cigarettes from the rations on board and proposed seizing the small arms on board, with the intent, in fact, of seizing the submarine, but it did not happen.

October 9th, 1943

Axum left Malta (alone and four days earlier than the other submarines, given his lower speed) and returned to Taranto, still at low speed and with only one engine.

During the co-belligerence, once the engines were finally repaired, it was used in infiltration missions by spies and saboteurs, who landed on the Greek and Italian coasts occupied by German troops.

November 30th, 1943

Axum (Lieutenant Giovanni Sorrentino) departed from Brindisi at 4.20 PM for its first infiltration mission, with 15 agents of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA) on board, some of whom were members of the “Vittorio” mission (in charge of setting up an information network in Rome).

Axum in Malta in a rare color picture of the time

December 4th, 1943

The agents in charge of the missions “Iris” (head of mission Captain Enrico Sorrentino, who will reach Rome) and “Syria” (led by the second lieutenant of artillery Arrigo Paladini, in charge of establishing radio contacts between the partisan groups operating in central Italy and the US forces; it was the first joint mission of the OSS and the ORI, the Organization for the Italian Resistance, disembarking in Pesaro;  a sort of “secret service” of the Resistance). On the same day, the second chief signaler, Antonio Maddalozzo, who had joined the OSS, landed at Gabicce Mare (Cattolica) and reached Friuli to arrange for the delivery of supplies to the partisans operating in the area of Cismon del Grappa, as well as to collect information on concentrations and movements of German troops and on lines of communication.

December 8th, 1943

The “Pescia 2” mission of the OSS-ORI (radio telegraphist Giovanni Alberto Fabbri) was disembarked in Gabicce, then the return navigation began, during which, due to an engine failure, reached Taranto instead of Brindisi.

December 19th, 1943

Still under the command of Lieutenant Sorrentino, Axum sailed from Brindisi for the second special mission, consisting of the disembarkation of Greek agents of Force 133 of the SOE (Special Operations Executive), but was immediately forced to return by a failure of a diesel engine.

December 21st, 1943

Back in port.

The end

After surviving three years of hard war against the Anglo-American forces, without ever being seriously damaged and indeed reporting a remarkable success in mid-August, Axum was one of the few Italian submarines that were lost during the co-belligerence.

On December 25th, 1943 – after repairs to the engine failure were completed – the boat, under the command of Lieutenant Giovanni Sorrentino, left Taranto for a mission to recover informants in the Gulf of Arcadia (now Kyparissia), south of Cape Katacolon and the channel between Zakynthos and Morea.

After two days’ sailing, Axum arrived at the point indicated for the recovery of informers (west coast of the Morea) at eight o’clock in the evening of December 27th. When the pre-arranged signals arrived from land, the crew put to sea a dinghy under the command of a British officer. While waiting for the dinghy to return with the informants, the Axum began to move back and forth in front of the point, a short distance from the shore, but this led it to run aground on a rocky shoal not indicated in the mediocre nautical charts available (they were on a small scale, and a detailed hydrographic chart was missing), near the beach of Kaifas (TN Loutra Kaiafa) , in position 37°31′ N and 21°35′ E.

No maneuver was able to free it. The crew finally had to resign themselves and go ashore. All the removable material, weapons and ammunition on the submarine were removed and handed over to the Greek partisans. On the afternoon of December 28th, Commander Sorrentino placed the explosive charges intended to destroy his boat. In the early hours of December 29th, having obtained the consent of the British captain Peter (in charge of the mission), Commander Sorrentino, with a few other men remaining on board, lit the fuses and blew up the Axum.

Aware of the danger of the sea in that area, Sorrentino decided not to request the sending of a ship to recover its crew, but to move to a safer place for the rescue ship, even at the cost of having to spend time in territory occupied by German forces.

The Italian crew and Allied informants therefore had to take refuge in the Morea mountains, under the protection of Greek partisans, and spent a month there. On January 22nd, a Royal Air Force plane dropped winter shoes and clothing for them to enable them to cross the mountains. Finally, towards the end of January 1944, Italian sailors and British agents made a five-day march through the Morea Mountains, to reach Marathopolis, near the island of Proti. Here they were finally rescued by the escort torpedo boat Ardimentoso on January 29th, 1944, and brought back to Taranto the following day.

On January 22nd, German soldiers found the devastated and half-submerged wreck of the Axum on a beach 20 km southeast of Pyrgos. German divers had dived into it to finding it stripped of everything.

Relict of the Axum. Only the resistant hull is left.
(Phono N. Klimi)

It was left where it was. It remained there for several years, with the conning tower emerging from the surface, subject of visits by locals. What was left of the Axum was finally demolished in the 1950s (TN The actual date was 1971 and the boat was resurfaced and taken to Perama, near Piraeus, from scrapping).

Recovery of the Axum destined for ship-breaking

Giuseppe Bocci, second chief electrician, died in the metropolitan area on December 12th, 1942

Original Italian text by Lorenzo Colombo adapted and translated by Cristiano D’Adamo

Operational Records

TypePatrols (Med.)Patrols (Other)NM SurfaceNM Sub.Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
Submarine – Coastal49228893413233 112.88 4.70

Actions

DateTimeCaptainAreaCoordinatesConvoyWeaponResultShipTypeTonnsFlag
8/12/194219.55C.C. Renato FerriniMediterranean37°26’N-10°22’EWS21STorpedoSankHMS CairoLight Cruiser4200Great Britain
8/12/194219.55C.C. Renato FerriniMediterranean37°26’N-10°22’EWS21STorpedoDamagedHMS NigeriaLight Cruiser8670Great Britain
8/12/194219.55C.C. Renato FerriniMediterranean37°26’N-10°22’EWS21STorpedoDamagedOhioTanker9625United States

Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate
BocciGiuseppeChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe6/28/1941
PolettiEmilioNaval RatingComune4/6/1942

R. Smg. Avorio

The Avorio was a coastal submarine of the Platino class small (TN 600 series, type Bernardis), 712 tons displacement on the surface and 865 tons submerged. The boat completed 15 war missions (7 patrols and 8 relocations), covering a total of 5,676 nautical miles on the surface and 685 submerged.

Avorio at sea
(U.S.M.M.)

Brief and partial chronology

November 9th, 1940

The Avorio was laid out at the Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico in Monfalcone (construction number 1266).

September 6th, 1941

The boat was launched at the Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico in Monfalcone. From November 1941, the fitting out was overseen by Lieutenant Marco Revedin.

The Avorio still on the slip
From “Gli squali dell’Adriatico” di Alessandro Turrini

March 25th, 1942

The Avorio entered active service.

March-August 1942

Period of intensive training so that the boat could become operational as soon as possible.

At the beginning of August, after completing training, the unit was deployed to Cagliari and assigned to the VII Submarine Group.

May 20th,1942

Lieutenant Mario Priggione (28 years old, from Genoa) took command of the Avorio.

August 11th, 1942

The Avorio (Lieutenant Mario Priggione) departed Cagliari for its first war patrol during the air-naval battle of Mid-August. Along with nine other submarines (Alagi, Ascianghi, Axum, Bronzo, Cobalto, Otaria, Dandolo, Dessiè and Emo), it was deployed north of the Tunisian coast ( the assigned sector was located 20 miles from the coast of Tunisia), between Scoglio Fratelli (TN Sicily)  and Skerki Banks (east of La Galite to the approaches of the Strait of Sicily, forming a barrier line of the western entrance to the Strait of Sicily, north of the La Galite- Skerki Banks junction), to attack the British convoy bound for Malta as part of Operation “Pedestal” (consisting of 14 merchant ships with the direct escort of 4 light cruisers and 11 destroyers, plus a support force composed of 2 battleships,  3 aircraft carriers, 3 light cruisers and 15 destroyers). The orders were to act with great offensive determination, launching as many torpedoes as possible against any target, merchant or military, larger than a destroyer.

 Avorio, along with Dandolo, Cobalto, Granite, Emo and Otaria, formed a group operating west of La Galite.

August 12th, 1942

The Avorio arrived in the assigned sector, about fifteen miles north of Bizerte. During the day the crew heard bomb explosions but did spot anything. Based on the news received by radio regarding the movements of the convoy, it moved into the area and at 5.08 PM an enemy formation was finally spotted with the periscope proceeding on a course 90° (with Alfa 300°). It included numerous merchant ships and destroyers and there were three battleships behind which, from what look like masts in a lattice. Commander Priggione mistakenly believed they are Americans.

The periscope sighting was followed by detection from the hydrophones, which indicated a source covering a sector of about 40°. At the time of the sighting, merchant ships were about 8 miles away (with beta 80° on the starboard side), destroyers 6.5 miles away (with beta 70°-80° on the starboard side), and battleships less than 10 miles away (with beta 50° on the starboard side); wind and sea were completely calm, although there was a strong vibration.

The Avorio took a true course of 30° to attack the battleships, but at 5.16 PM two of the destroyers escorting the merchant ships (which preceded the battleships), approached on a beta 0°, leading commander Priggione (who excluded having been sighted, being still too far away) to believe that the whole convoy was approaching. The submarine continued its attack, checking with the periscope from time to time, and at 5:25 PM the two destroyers (one was H.M.S. Lookout, which having sighted the periscope of the Avorio, attacked it and then rejoined the convoy at 5:40 PM; the other was perhaps H.M.S. Tartar) were 3,000 meters away, again with beta 0°, while the convoy remained on the previous course (90°).

At this point Priggione concluded that he had certainly been sighted, therefore he ordered a slow dive to the depth of 40 meters, without disengaging. At 5.30 PM, the first four depth charges exploded nearby, and a systematic hunt began. The sources detected by the hydrophones remained in the aft sectors, with the boat stopping from time to time to listen. The Avorio then descended deeper, up to 100 meters, while the enemy ships continued to hunt it. In all, 180 depth charges were launched, while the ping of the sonar was distinctively heard.

Following various bearings to the south, looking for shallow waters, the Avorio finally manages to disengage after hours of chasing. At 10:25 PM, the hydrophones continued to report sound in the area, but Commander Priggione orders the boat to the surface to scan the horizon with binoculars. The observation reveals that there were no more enemy ships nearby. In conditions of absolute calm wind and sea, the Avorio headed north, starting to recharge the batteries and change the air.

August 13th, 1942

The Avorio moved several times according to orders given by the Submarine Squadron Command (Maricosom), looking for a burned aircraft carrier. At 4:21 PM, a cloud of black smoke was sighted. Believing it to be the reported aircraft carrier, the submarine reported to Maricosom. During the day, the Avorio sighted, and was sighted by, numerous aircraft.

At 7:38 PM, the boat was attacked by an aircraft and subjected to a short chase, with bombs being dropped.

August 13th through 15th, 1942

The nights of August 13, 14th, and 15th the Avorio continued to make various movements according to the orders it had received from Maricosom.

August 14th, 1942

At 5.16 PM the Avorio, and the  other submarines of his group (in the meantime reduced by three units, following the sinking  of the Cobalto, the damaging of the Dandolo and the  return of the Granito,  which had spent all its torpedoes), were ordered to emerge and move immediately to sub quadrant 5 of quadrant 0434, where the presence of an immobilized and damaged enemy cruiser had been reported,  to sink it. Subsequently, since this information turned out to be erroneous, another message was sent ordering the submarines, once they arrived at the point indicated in the previous order, to assume began patrolling in the same manner as before, in an area located 140 miles west of the one in which they were previously located.

In the evening, the Avorio and the other boats of the group were ordered to move 30 miles further west, to attack any British units sailing back after the surviving merchant ships of “Pedestal” had arrived in Malta.

August 16th, 1942

In the afternoon, the Avorio attempted an attack on the surface based on a hydrophone pickup, but did not spot any ships.

August 17th, 1942

The submarine was back in Cagliari.

August 18th, 1942

At 00.27 the Avorio (Lieutenant Mario Priggione) left the moorings and headed out of the port of Cagliari.

The Battle of Mid-August had just ended, but at 6.50 AM on the 17th, a group of British ships (the aircraft carrier Furious, a cruiser and seven destroyers) was sighted off Algiers, and it was also reported that on 16th other British ships were preparing to leave Gibraltar. This information determined a state of alarm and the order to put to sea all submarines in readiness, Avorio included.

At 00.37 AM, once the port obstructions were cleared, the Avorio headed towards the conventional point “Z”, and at 2.55 AM, when it was close to this point (in the waters between Sardinia and Tunisia), and on the surface recharging the batteries (proceeding at 8 knots on a true 164° course), it sighted only 500 meters away,  on alfa 90°, an unknown submarine with beta 30° to starboard and 50° course. It was the British P 211 (later Safari, Commander Benjamin Bryant).

The Avorio at sea
(From the magazine Storia Militare)

The enemy submarine was approaching and aiming at the Avorio, which in turn approached full rudder to port and – since torpedoes 5 and 6, the aft ones, were ready to launch and the order of operations prohibits attacking other submarines – it turned its stern to P 211. Despite the order not to attack other submarines, motivated by the fear of possible incidents of “friendly fire” due to the many Italian boats at sea in the Central Mediterranean, Commander Priggione correctly judges that the newcomer could not be an Italian submarine, both because he has not been informed of the arrival of a Italian submarine bound for Cagliari,  and because Priggione knew that Italian submarines, as a rule, made landings at other points. As soon as the Avorio had its stern to the enemy, however, he dove, disappearing before an attack was possible.

At 3.30 AM the Avorio returned to take a 164° course, and at 3.18 AM it launched the signal of discovery, to warn of the presence of the enemy unit in the area. Then, it continued the navigation to the assigned sector.

At six o’clock in the morning, the Avorio sighted about 5.5 miles away the steamship Perseo (Captain Giorgio Blok), bound for Cagliari following a rerouting order issued by Supermarina – due to an erroneous sighting of enemy warships by the destroyer Maestrale – while it was sailing from Bagnoli (Naples) to Bona (Tunisia). At first, Commander Priggione, given that  the Perseo had a funnel at the stern (unusual at the time for cargo ships, but common for tankers), believed he has encountering a large oil tanker, which presented itself at the crossbeam (the two units were sailing on the opposite direction). Priggione had been informed  of the transit of the Perseus  rerouted from Tunisia to Cagliari, and, although confused by the appearance of the ship (which “from the estimate must have been a steamer”, while from the appearance it looks like a tanker), on the basis of the course he was following (350°) assumed that the ship encountered was indeed the Perseus (which, however, he still assumed to be an oil tanker), so he turned around to recognize it. At the same time, given that in the three hours that had elapsed since the launch of the detection signal no message has been received or intercepted that referred to the presence on the landing point of the submarine sighted at 2.55 AM, Priggione correctly assumes that  the Perseus had not been informed, so he tried to get as close as possible to warn the ship of the danger.

However, this is how a misunderstanding with fatal consequences began. Having spotted the Avorio, the Perseus mistakenly believed that it was an enemy submarine, and it  soon as it spotted it approaching towards it, accelerated to move away. Commander Prigione tried to call the Perseus with  a flashing light, receiving no answer. He then tried to catch their attention with the searchlight, but again to no avail. The Avorio accelerated to its maximum speed and reduced the distance to 4500 meters, but in the meantime, under the light of dawn, it was noticed that the stern gun of the steamer was pointed at the submarine. Moreover, the Perseus had in turn increased speed further, as the distance between the two units remained constant. From 6.05 to 6.40 AM the Avorio continued unabated and by any means possible to call the Perseus but, despite the fact that at that distance the signals made with the searchlight should be perfectly visible, no response came from the merchant ship, which instead continued its escape.

In reality, on the Perseo it was noted that the unknown submarine made “some brief optical signals”, but it was only possible to understand the segment “ENEMY ?”; an attempt was made to answer with a flashing light, but these signals were not seen by the Avorio, as it was already too bright. The Perseus then tried to respond with the masthead light, but as soon as the switch was activated, a fuse burned, making the light unusable. The ever-increasing distance between the steamer and the submarine had become too great to allow effective communication.

At 6.40 AM, the Avorio transmitted the message “Sighted enemy submarine in lat. 38°51’40” – and lon. 9°29’40”. Be careful”, but this time the Perseus did not answer either; at 6.47 AM, finally, Priggione gives up any further attempt, and the Avorio returned to its original course.

The Perseus, which could not be informed of the danger, ended up right in the jaws of P 211: at 9.25 AM it is torpedoed by the British submarine, and then sank at 11.50 AM.

The Avorio, meanwhile, continued its course, navigating on the surface. At 10.31 AM, having arrived in the assigned area, it dove, then waited in ambush at periscope depth.

At 7:36 PM, the submarine resurfaced and, on Maricosom’s orders, began to sail back.

Having clarified the situation, in fact ( the Furious group  was at sea to launch planes bound for Malta to replenish its air forces – it had become known that in Gibraltar, before leaving, the aircraft carrier had embarked 35 Hawker Hurricane fighters – while the ships departing from Gibraltar on the 16th were headed to the Atlantic and England, not to the Mediterranean),  The alarm has concluded, and all submarines were recalled to port.

August 19th, 1942

According to a new order, the Avorio reaches Trapani instead of Cagliari.

November 5th through 7th,1942

The Avorio (Lieutenant Mario Priggione) was sent to the waters off Algeria along with numerous other Italian submarines (twenty: Axum, Argo, Argento, Asteria, Acciaio, Aradam, Alagi, Bronzo, Brin, Corallo, Dandolo,  Diaspro, Emo, Mocenigo, Nichelio, Platino, Porfido, Topazio, Turchese and Velella), to counter the “Operation Torch”, the Anglo-American landing in French North Africa. Avorio, in specifically, was located north of Bizerte along with the Bronzo, Alagi, Corallo, Diaspro and Turchese.

The landings began on November 8th: 500 Anglo-American transport ships, escorted by 350 warships of all kinds, disembarked a total of 107,000 soldiers on the coasts of Algeria and Morocco.

November 6th, 1942

The Avorio was sighted at one o’clock in the afternoon by the British submarine P 46 (later Unruffled, Lieutenant John Samuel Stevens), which, however, given the excessive distance, did not even attempt to attack it,

November 9th, 1942

At 7:09 PM the command of the Italian submarine fleet, Maricosom, reported to all the boats at sea that enemy steamers were moving eastwards, and that landings were taking place in Bona and Philippeville. Therefore, it gave the order to attack any merchant or military ship leaving those ports but avoid (in order not to risk incidents of “friendly fire” with other units sent to the area) attacking submarines, MAS and motor torpedo boats.

November 11th, 1942

At 5:56 PM Maricosom informed the submarines that enemy troops were landing in the waterfront of Bougie, and ordered the Avorio and other submarines (Argento, Ascianghi, Argo, Diaspro , Emo) to move immediately to this area to attack “without any limitation with energy and determination”, and then return the following day to the assigned ambush sectors.

The Avorio then headed full speed towards Bougie but was spotted by enemy ships and subjected to a systematic anti-submarine chase from dawn to dusk on the 11th, without however suffering any damage.

November 24th, 1942

During the morning, the Avorio, sailing towards Bougie (Algeria) for an offensive reconnaissance, sighted off Cape Carbon a darkened ship proceeding at low speed. Due to continuous rainfall, it was difficult to recognize the ship, which turned out to be a thin enemy unit, probably a destroyer. The Avorio reduces the distance to less than 800 meters, then attacked the ship by launching a salvo of three torpedoes, after which it disengaged by diving deep to escape any reaction. After 40 seconds (the time allowed for the torpedoes to reach their target) some detonations were heard, leading to the belief that the enemy ship was sunk, but in reality, the torpedoes missed the target.

The Avorio then penetrates the bay of Bougie and carried out the planned reconnaissance but did find enemy ships.

January 9th, 1943

At 11:47 PM, the Avorio, while sailing towards its patrol area located off the coast of Tunisia, was suddenly attacked by an aircraft. The submarine immediately began the rapid dive maneuver, but the late closure of the diesel engines’ intakes caused an abundant amount of water to enter the boat, forcing it to return to the surface;  the Avorio opend fire with its machine guns on the attacking aircraft, damaging it. Hit several times, the aircraft retreatd, leaving a trail of smoke in its wake.

Due to the damage caused by the water taken aboard in the rapid immersion maneuver, however, the Avorio had to return to port.

January 24th, 1943

At 1:16 AM, the Avorio, navigating towards the bay of Bougie, sighted an enemy ship off Cape Carbon and attacked it with torpedoes, but failed to score a hit. (According to one source, the Avorio sunk the armed trawler Stronsay, but in fact this ship was sunk on 5th February, several days later, and by a collision with a mine).

February 3rd,1943

Lieutenant Priggione handed over command of the Avorio to Leone Fiorentini (27 years old, from Livorno).

February 5th, 1943

According to some sources, the Avorio torpedoed and sank the British armed trawler Stronsay, weighing 545 tons, off the coast of Philippeville. In reality, as shown by archival research by historian Francesco Mattesini, the Stronsay almost certainly sank due to collision with mines laid by German motor torpedo boats of the 3. S-Boote Flotille, and in any case twenty-four hours before the Avorio (which never fired torpedoes during its last mission) had arrived in the area.

The Sinking

On February 6th, 1943, the Avorio, under the command of Lieutenant Leone Fiorentini, sailed from Cagliari for a new mission in Algerian waters. The boat had been assigned an operational sector along the coast between Bona and Philippeville, where it was to operate in liaison with other submarine units.

On the evening of February 8th, the submarine, after having remained submerged during the day, emerged in the dark to recharge its batteries, proceeding to the surface at 7 knots with all the hatches open, performing hydrophone listening to detect any approaching units (but the noise of the engines disturbed the use of the hydrophone, greatly reducing its effectiveness). At midnight the Avorio, while sailing on the surface east of Algiers, intended on recharging the batteries, sighted at a short distance the Canadian corvette H.M.C.S. Regina (under the command of the Lieutenant Commander – or more precisely, “acting lieutenant commander”, Harry Freeland), apparently alone, engaged in a antisubmarine patrol.

H.M.C.S. Regina was escorting the steamer Brikburn, sailing from Algiers to Bona with 1,500 tons of gasoline in barrels; along with a second merchant ship, the Brikburn had lagged behind the rest of the KMS 8 convoy (which had departed Londonderry on January 21st, with 53 merchant ships, escorted by 9 Canadian corvettes and 6 British units).  It was now a small group of two stragglers escorted by H.M.C.S. Regina and the British minesweeper H.M.S. Rhyl. The Avorio, however, only sighted H.M.C.S. Regina without noticing the presence of the other ships. Judging the position of his boat unsuitable for an immediate attack, which moreover would have involved more risks than benefits (a corvette was a rather modest target in terms of tonnage, while teasing it could have triggered a deadly reaction, being a ship specifically designed for anti-submarine warfare), Commander Fiorentini gave the order to dive deep, in order to avoid a possible chase by the enemy ship. H.M.C.S. Regina, being 3,660 meters forward to the left of the small convoy, had already located the Avorio with her radar at 11.10 PM, while this was still on the surface. (According to Canadian sources, the Avorio would spot H.M.C.S. Regina at the last moment, while she was already attacking, and did a rapid dive while changing his course.)

It was the radar operator Joseph Saulnier who had made the first generic radar contact three and a half miles away. He had gone to the officer of the watch to report it, but the latter, despite resorting to night vision instruments, had been unable to see anything. Saulnier, confident that he had seen something on the radar, then woke up Commander Freeland, who had ordered him to turn back.

H.M.C.S. Regina approached the contact to find out what it was, increasing speed to 12 knots, and the radar contact was soon lost, as the Avorio had dived. At the same time, however, the corvette gained asdic (sonar) contact at 915 meters and went on the attack.

The first discharge of ten depth charges caught the Avorio while it was at a depth of about 60 meters (according to another source, however, the ten bombs launched by  H.M.C.S. Regina were  adjusted to explode at depth between 15 and 42 meters), immediately causing very serious damage: the rudder was put out of action, the torpedo tubes were deformed,  and the hull had cracked; It became impossible to maintain buoyancy while submerged, and there were several leaks

Commander Fiorentini had no choice but to order to emerge, giving full air to the tanks, and attempting to give battle on the surface, and, if possible, escape the corvette by pushing its engines to the maximum (since the maximum speed achievable on the surface was much greater than submerged). H.M.C.S. Regina, meanwhile, after launching the first volley of ten depth charges, had moved 915 meters away from the point of attack, and then reversed course to attack again on a course parallel and opposite to that of the previous attack.

When the Avorio surfaced (five minutes after the launch of the first depth charges), it was discovered that the damage caused by the depth charges had also disabled the cannon: between this and the deformation of the forward torpedo tubes, the only weapon that the submarine could still oppose to the enemy ship was a 13.2 mm Breda twin machine gun. As if that was not enough, the jamming of the rudder, caused by the bursts of the depth charges, prevented the boat from keeping on course, forcing it to describe a series of “S” turns.

Nevertheless, the Avorio still attempted to engage in combat and on the surface. With the only machine gun remaining effective, the submarine attempted to hit H.M.C.S. Regina’s bridge, which in the meantime zigzagged to disturb the boat’s fire and opened fire in turn. On H.M.C.S. Regina ‘s bridge, Second Lieutenant Doug Clarance, standing next to a machine gun, saw the trail of a tracer heading towards the submarine, and then seemed to come back: he then realized that the Avorio was returning fire, and “suddenly I found myself six feet taller than I wanted to be.”

Sailor Gib Todd, chief of the 40 mm “pom-pom” quad machine gun located on the aft deck of the corvette, landed a few hits on the submarine, whose lone machine gun for its part “splashed with abundantly water ” its quad, with a shot that was “unpleasantly close” but which caused no damage or injuries. It all happened so quickly that Todd didn’t even have time to be afraid; He was more afraid when things were done, when he thought about what could have happened.

The fire of the Avorio’s machine gun did not cause damage to the corvette, while H.M.C.S. Regina’s shot s were precise and devastating: from the outset, several gun shots and machine gun volleys had repeatedly hit the Italian boat, causing further and serious damage and decimating the crew. The firing of the 20 mm Oerlikon machine guns on the bridge, the first to fire, silenced the Avorio machine gun, while the deck gun and the pom-pom quad swept the deck of the submarine, killing or wounding all who were there.

A 101 mm projectile hit the conning tower at its base and killed commander Fiorentini, the second in command, second lieutenant Silvio Grandesso Silvestro, and the navigational officer, along with other men. In the brief but bloody battle, more than half of the Avorio’s crew was killed or wounded.

The survivors began the scuttling maneuvers and then began to abandon the unit. H.M.C.S. Regin, seeing that the submarine was now out of action, ceased fire and interrupted a ramming maneuver she had just begun, pulling over. The corvette had fired a total of eight rounds from the 101 mm gun, 20 rounds from the 40 mm “pom-pom” and 635 rounds with the 20 mm Oerlikon machine guns.

La news of the sinking of the Ivory on the front page of Toronto’s “Evening Telegram”. The tone of the article follows the line dictated by the directives of British propaganda, always contemptuous of Italians

Commander Freeland of H.M.C.S. Regin ordered the surviving Italians to keep the submarine afloat, “or worse for them”. The corvette inspected the surrounding area for a quarter of an hour to make sure there was no other submarine, then sent a boarding squad on a launch, with orders to check the severity of the damage and assess whether it was possible to tow it to port. Nine men took their places in the boat; sailors Vic Martin and Byron Nodding rowed to the submarine, after which the boat boarded the dying Avorio, which was sinking very slowly, with the intent of capturing it. The stern of the Avorio was already low on the water; survivors who had not already jumped into the water were standing on the bow.

Six men boarded the submarine and began to round up the survivors of the Italian crew, who were then transferred to H.M.C.S. Regin on several voyages. As the corvette kept moving in order not to become a fixed target in the event of an attack, it sometimes struggled to track the dingy in the darkness.

Among the six members of the boarding party was Sergeant Raymond Alexander, who noticed that the bow of the Avorio had been “opened” by depth charges. A couple of his comrades were armed with pistols, and they handed him a machine gun, saying that if there was any trouble, he would have to do nothing but pull the trigger. One of the six men on the boarding party spoke Italian, which greatly facilitated communication with the prisoners.

All the surviving Italians were transferred to the Regina with the exception of the chief engineer and a non-commissioned officer, who were kept on board to force them to try to restart the engines and bring the submarine to run aground on the coast. Raymond Alexander received a pistol and orders to take the Italian non-commissioned officer below deck and go to the engine room, to see if anything could be done. So, he did, but the two found themselves knee-deep in water; Unable to speak to the petty officer due to differences in language, Alexander motioned for him to come back, and they both went back on deck, while the Avorio continued to lower itself to the water. The Canadian also took out a pair of binoculars, which he kept for himself.

Survivors of the Avorio aboard H.M.C.S. Regina
 (Jim Peters – from  www.thememoryproject.com)

Another member of the boarding party, John W. Potter, was ordered to go down to the submarine and retrieve all the documents he could find. Once inside the narrow half-flooded room, alone, he was seized by claustrophobia, quickly grabbed what he found and then hurried back on deck, and then deposited in the H.M.C.S. Regina life boat  what he had recovered on the Avorio.

The scuttling maneuver attempted by the crew had not been very effective, also because the damage caused by the depth charges had caused the flooding of the depot in which the explosive charges for self-destruction were placed. However, reconnaissance by the boarding team (which inspected all the rooms still accessible) showed that the submarine was unable to move by its own means. Commander Freeland of H.M.C.S. Regin decided not to attempt towing her ship, because the explosions of the depth charges had knocked out her radar, and he feared being attacked by another submarine while slowed by the heavy burden of towing the Avorio. Nevertheless, not wanting to give up appetible prey, Freeland requested a tugboat, and at 3:45 AM the military tugboat Jaunty arrived on the scene.

It was possible to secure the submarine to a tow cable, but the damage suffered by the Avorio was too severe: by five o’clock in the morning the water on board was too much to hope to keep it afloat, and the crew of the Jaunty cut the tow cable. Raymond Alexander later recalled that he and the other members of the boarding party asked the tugboat to take them on board, since the submarine was sinking, but from the Jaunty they replied that there was no talk of it, and then left. H.M.C.S. Regin then sent a boat to recover the six men of the squadron and the two Italians who had been detained on board with them.

On the Avorio the eight men, standing on the deck, found themselves with water up to their knees. Alexander told the others that he was going to jump, and he did, followed by the others. Once in the water (he still had the binoculars he had taken on board the boat around his neck, which he would take home with him), he looked around and saw the bow of the Avorio rise into the sky and then sink rapidly.

February 9th, 1943, at 5:15 AM, the Avorio sank in position 37°10′ N and 06°42′ E, off Philippeville and Cape Bougaroni.

H.M.C.S. Regina lifeboat fished out of the sea, one after the other, the six men of the boarding party and the two Italians. On the Queen, the survivors of the Avorio were astonished to find someone in the Canadian crew who spoke their language. They were cleaned and fed, and then disembarked in Bona, interrogated, and sent to captivity.

Eight of H.M.C.S. Regina’s crew were decorated for sinking the Avorio; Commander Freeland received the Distinguished Service Order, while radar operator Joseph Saulnier, who had gained first contact, was mentioned in the dispatches.

Of the 46 men who made up the crew of the Avorio, 27, including seven wounded (two of them seriously), were rescued by H.M.C.S. Regina and  taken prisoner, while another 19 lost their lives: three officers (including Commander Fiorentini), three non-commissioned officers and 13 sub-chiefs and sailors.

Their names:

  • Giovanni Campus, sub-chief radiotelegraphist, missing
  • Dante Cappellini, sailor electrician, missing
  • Domenico Cascella, sailor furiere, missing
  • Francesco De Angelis, sailor and motorcyclist, missing
  • Guido De Bortoli, radio telegraph sergeant, missing
  • Antonio De Francisci, midshipman, missing
  • Giocondo De Longhi, sailor, missing
  • Carletto Fabro, sub-chief gunner, missing
  • Leone Fiorentini, lieutenant (commander), missing
  • Antonino Galati, sailor, missing
  • Sergio Grandesso Silvestri, second lieutenant (second in command), missing
  • Edmondo Peretti, gunnery sergeant, missing
  • Paolo Pittalis, torpedo sailor, missing
  • Adolfo Querzola, sub-chief radiotelegraphist, missing
  • Luigi Romano, sailor and motorcyclist, missing
  • Umberto Servillo, torpedo sailor, missing
  • Gino Soave, sub-chief electrician, missing
  • Mario Stucchi, sub-chief radiotelegraphist, deceased
  • Benedetto Zappa, sailor helmsman, missing

A twentieth member of the crew, electrician sergeant Giuseppe Ferrara, died in captivity on 27 March 1945 at Melcombe Regis, UK. He is buried in the military cemetery of Brookwood, Surrey, along with three hundred other Italians of all branches who died in captivity on British soil.

Giuseppe Ferrara’s grave in Brookwood Cemetery (Surrey, England)
(from www.findagrave.com)

At least two of the Avorio men had not been able to participate in the last mission, for different reasons, and had thus been saved.

Sergeant electrician Enrico Casagrande, from Frascati, had to disembark on February 2nd, six days before departure, due to a wound sustained during the previous mission, which had become infected. He learned of the loss of the Avorio while he was hospitalized at the military hospital of La Maddalena. Sixty-two years later, Casagrande, who had become president of the ANMI (Navy veterans) group in Frascati, would succeed in having a monument built in Cagliari in memory of the men of the VII Submarine Group who disappeared at sea with their boats, which left the Sardinian base and never returned: in addition to the Avorio, Adua, Acciaio, Asteria, Alabastro, Aegento,  Cobalto, Corallo, Dagabur, Emo, Gorgo, Malachite, Pordido, Tritone, Topazio, Veniero, e Zaffiro.

The monument to the men of the VII Grupsom who disappeared at sea during the war
(Photo ANMI)

A happy ending, in a certain sense, is the story of Giuseppe (Joseph) Costanzo, sailor and helmsman of the Avorio. Costanzo was the son of an Italian-Canadian father (an Italian who emigrated to Canada and became a railroad worker in Schreiber, Ontario) and an Italian mother; he had his father, uncle and several cousins in Canada, but he was born in Italy, and at the time of the entry into the war he was in Italy, which had become an enemy of Canada. In his family, siblings and cousins had found themselves fighting on opposite sides. Forced to remain in Italy, in December 1941 Costanzo, twenty years old, was conscripted by the Regia Marina and subsequently embarked on the Avorio; with his companions in the submarine’s crew he had forged indelible bonds of friendship, almost fraternal.

In early February 1943, while drinking in a bar in La Spezia, Costanzo was insulted by another sailor, who called him “Canadian shit” and insulted his father. Constantius, who had drunk a lot and could not tolerate his father being offended, responded with one punch, the other reacted in the same way, and soon knives were drawn as well. Their comrades intervened to stop them. Since the sailor he had punched was of higher rank, Constantius was arrested, demoted, and sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and a month’s suspension of pay. Eight days after his arrest, the Avorio had set sail without him on what was his last mission.

When he was released from prison, Constantius learned that the Avorio had not returned from its patrol. For a month, he went to the radio station in La Spezia every day to ask if there was any news, but each time the answer was the same: “Avorio doesn’t answer.” After some time, the submarine was declared lost at sea with all its crew. Due to a bureaucratic error, Constantius himself was declared missing at sea, and a small funeral ceremony was even celebrated in his country, before the misunderstanding was cleared up.

Costanzo was assigned to another submarine, the Sirena, on which he served until the armistice of September 8th, 1943. After sinking the boat, which was under construction, and fortunately escaping capture by German soldiers, Costanzo managed to cross the lines and reach his hometown, in southern Italy, where he returned to the ranks of the Navy and was again embarked on submarines, now used for the training of Allied anti-submarine vehicles. In 1947 he was finally able to reunite with his father and the rest of the family in Schreiber, Canada, where he settled, started a family, and lived for the rest of his life.

For sixty years, Costanzo believed that the Avorio had sunk with all the crew, including many of his great friends, whose memory drove him to tears even after so many years. Marchi, the musician who swore that he would marry the prostitute he loved; Battaglia, the officer whose sister Costanzo courted in Venice; Soles, the prankster with whom he spent his free time; the commander, whom he adored.

When in 1994 his son Robert, studying Canadian military history, discovered that the Avorio had been sunk by HMCS Regina, the thoughts that a Canadian ship had caused the death of his friends only aggravated the pain of Costanzo, who had now become a full-fledged Canadian. In 2003 Robert Costanzo discovered almost by chance from his lawyer, a naval history enthusiast, the complete story of the sinking of the Avorio. Joseph Costanzo was thus able to learn, at the age of 82, that his companions in the Avorio had not all died at sea; more than half, including some of his best friends, had actually survived.

In the years that followed, Costanzo, who had never wanted to talk about the war so as not to bring back the memory of his friends who he believed dead, managed to contact several veterans of H.M.C.S. Regina, former enemies who had now become compatriots, with whom he shared images and stories of that distant era, although he was unable to track down his old companions in the Avorio.

Original Italian text by Lorenzo Colombo adapted and translated by Cristiano D’Adamo

Operational Records

TypePatrols (Med.)Patrols (Other)NM SurfaceNM Sub.Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
Submarine – Coastal15567668545 141.36 5.89

Actions

DateTimeCaptainAreaCoordinatesConvoyWeaponResultShipTypeTonnsFlag
2/5/1943T.V. Leone FiorentiniMediterraneanPhilippivilleTorpedoFailedUknownUknownUnknown

Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate
CampusGiovanniSub-chief radiotelegraphistSottocapo radiotelegrafista2/9/1943
CappelliniDanteSailor electricianMarinaio elettricista2/9/1943
CascellaDomenicoSailorMarinaio2/9/1943
De AngelisFrancescoSailorMarinaio2/9/1943
De BortoliGuidoSergeant radio telegraphSottocapo radiotelegrafista2/9/1943
De FrancisciAntonioMidshipmanGuardiamarina2/9/1943
De LonghiGiocondoSailorMarinaio2/9/1943
FabroCarlettoSub-chief gunnerSottocapo cannoniere2/9/1943
FiorentiniLeoneLieutenantTenente di vascello2/9/1943
GalatiAntoninoSailorMarinaio2/9/1943
GrandessoSergioLieutenantTenente di vascello2/9/1943
PerettiEdmondoSailor torpedomanMarinaio silurista2/9/1943
QuerzolaAdolfoSub-chief radiotelegraphistSottocapo radiotelegrafista2/9/1943
RomanoLuigiSailorMarinaio2/9/1943
ServilloUmbertoSailor torpedomanMarinaio silurista2/9/1943
SoaveGinoSub-chief electricianSottocapo elettricista2/9/1943
StucchiMarioSub-chief radiotelegraphistSottocapo radiotelegrafista2/9/1943
ZappaBenedettoSailor helmsmanMarinaio nocchiere2/9/1943

R. Smg. Macallè

The Macallé was an Adua-class, 600 series, Bernardis type submarine. Laid down on March 1st, 1936, in the OTO shipyard in La Spezia, it was launched on October 29th, 1936, and delivered to the Regia Marina on March 1st, 1937.

The beautiful shape of hull of the 600 series. Here the Macallè still on the slip in La Spezia.

On April 20th, 1937, the Macallé was assigned to the 23rd Submarine Squadron based in Naples. After undergoing a brief training, from August 27th through September 3rd, 1937, the submarine carried a special secret mission in connection with the operations of the Spanish Civil War.

The Macallè leaving Mar Piccolo, Tranto
(Risolio Collection)

In 1938, the Macallè was reassigned to La Spezia first under the command of Lieutenant Commander Giuseppe Aicardi and then Lieutenant Commander Salvatore Todaro. Transferred to the submarine base of Mar Piccolo in Taranto, on November 14th, 1938 left for Leros (Italian Dodecanese) arriving on the 16th, and then staying there for a few months. The boat eventually left Leros on March 28th, 1939, and returned to Taranto on March 30th, 1939.

In early 1940, it was reassigned to Massawa, Italian Eritrea, to became part of the 82nd Squadron (VIII Submarine Group) of the Red Sea Flotilla. On June 10th, 1940, in the afternoon, she left Massawa under command of Lieutenant Commander Dante Morone to begin her first war patrol and operate in an area about eight miles east of the British Port Sudan.

During the patrol, the boat ran into many problems. First, due to an overcast sky, the crew couldn’t establish positioning based on celestial navigation. Second, it was difficult to clearly identify landmarks which made navigation in an area known for the many islets, outcropping rocks, shoals, and reefs quite perilous. The more serious problem started manifesting on the 12th when the crew began experiencing symptoms common to food poisoning without understanding that the real cause was methyl chloride leaking from the air conditioning system.

The itinerary
(U.S.M.M.)

The primary target of methyl chloride (also known as chloromethane) is the central nervous system, with behavioral symptoms and neurologic effects. Overexposures can result in loss of equilibrium, dizziness, semiconsciousness, and delayed death; all the officers and almost all the crew were intoxicated, and there were some cases of madness and delirium.  Although discovered and commercialized since 1928, Freon was not used on Italian submarines until 1940 when boats, such as the Archimede, were refitted replacing chloromethane with freon,

On 14th June, at dawn, a lighthouse was sighted believed to be the Sanganeb Shallows (Sanganeb Reef Light), but it was indeed the Hindi Gider lighthouse, which was about 30 miles away from the assumed position.  This lighthouse is halfway between Port Sudan and Sawakin, about 35 nautical miles off the mainland coast. This mistake caused the loss of the Macallè because the navigation officer believed that the submarine had reached deeper waters, when in fact the unit was still in a danger zone. Quite off course, the Macallè ran aground on the rocks of the island Bar Mùsa Kebir (19°12′ N, 38°11′ E) in the early hours of June 15th. The boat ended up listed nearly 90° on one side, with the bow completely out of the water and the stern submerged.

The heavily intoxicated and non-essential personnel were disembarked on the nearby islet, Barra Musa Kebir, along with supplies and other items, while Captain Morone and some of the others tried to disentangle the submarine. It was not possible. At that point, the secret cyphers were destroyed, and scuttling maneuvers started to avoid the capture of the unit (which was close to territories controlled by the British). The Macallè, weighed down by the water taken aboard, dislodged itself and sank sliding on a seabed of 400 meters. According to other sources, however, the submarine did not sink intentionally, but was lost accidentally during the maneuvers to free it.

Captain Morone, however, forgot (probably due to the numbness produced by the intoxication), to send a distress signal to base (according to other sources the order was given before the sinking, but the radio room was already flooded). The crew of the submarine thus found themselves isolated on a minis ule desert island, with scarce supplies of food and without the base having any idea not only of where they were, but not even knowing that the Macallè had been lost.

Preparations were therefore made for a long stay. Shelters were prepared to avoid standing under the scorching sun and provisions were rationed. Since surviving on the islet for a long time would have been impossible, and the best prospect was capture by the British, it was decided that some volunteers would try to reach an Italian outpost on the coast of Eritrea to set rescue efforts in motion.

On the June 15th, in the evening, three men – Ensign Elio Sandroni, Helmsman Sergeant Reginaldo Torchia, and sailor Paolo Costagliola – boarded a small sailing boat equipped with two oars, with three bottles of water and small quantities of ham and crackers. On the 17th, they landed on the coast of Sudan, but, as it was British territory, they had to move on. On June 20th, they finally arrived at the Italian lighthouse at Taclai, Eritrea, and were able to alert the Navy command in Massawa.

A book (in Italia) dedicated to Elio Sandroni who continued in the Italian Navy to retire as a Rear-Admiral. He passed away in 2012. After saving the crew of the Macallè with a daring feat, he joined the crew of the submarine Perla. On the eve of the Italian defeat in East Africa, the Perla departed on March 1st arriving in Bordeaux on May 20th, 1941, after having circumnavigated the African continent.

An aircraft sent from Massawa parachuted on the islet food supplies and at the same time the submarine Guglielmotti set sail from that base. On June 22nd, the Guglielmotti rescued the crew of the Macallè. The survivors of the Macallè are in very poor conditions, especially as a result of methyl chloride poisoning. Many, as soon as they spotted the Guglielmotti approaching and putting a boat in the water, jumped into the sea and swam to it, not being able to wait any longer. With two or three trips of the boat, the Guglielmotti was able to recover all the survivors. It then moved away and dove (later it would resurface), just as two British planes had returned circling over the island (another aircraft had already done so before). Some of the survivors, mad or delirious from the combined effect of methyl chloride, sunstroke, and thirst, were tied up for the entire journey back to Massawa.

Sub-Chief Torpedoman Carlo Acefalo

One of the crew members, the sub-chief Carlo Acefalo, already heavily intoxicated by the methyl chloride, and debilitated by the trying experience, died on the islet on June 17th and was buried there: he was the only victim among 45 crewmen of the submarine. Ensign Sandroni received the Silver Medal for Military Valor for is valiant effort in seeking help. In 2014 a team was set up to find and recognize the remains of the fallen sailor. The remains of Carlo Acefalo returned to Rome on October 8th, 2018, and on November 23rd, to Savona. The same afternoon the box was transferred to the Town Hall of Castiglione Falletto, in the hall of the City Council. On Saturday, November 24th, in the morning, prayers and the blessing of the remains preceded the burial in the local cemetery, next to his mother Francesca. Carlo Acefalo had returned home after more than 78 years.

In that first and last was patrol the Macallè had traveled 450 miles, all on the surface.

Operational Records

TypePatrols (Med.)Patrols (Other)NM SurfaceNM Sub.Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
Submarine – Coastal0145005 90.00 3.75

Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate
AcefaloCarloJunior Chief TorpedomanSottocapo6/?/1940