With the collaboration of Salvatore Romano
We are glad to present copy of a memorandum written by Lieutenant Battersby of the Royal Navy, Liaison Officer aboard the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto from September 12th to September 16th, 1943. This document was located by Prof. George Elder in the archives of NARA (National Archives and Records Administration)
Copy/Orig & 4
2 October 1943
At War Stations.
18th September 1943.
I have the honour [honor] to submit the following report of ay duty as British Naval Liaison Officer in the Italian Battleship Vittorio Veneto from l2th to l6th September 1943.
I arrived on board the Vittorio Veneto at about 1800 on Sunday l2th September. She was lying at Mersa Sarobh moored with two anchors stern to a buoy.
My arrival was evidently unexpected, and I was told that the British Naval Liaison Officer was not expected until the next day. I was shown into a small very hot Reception Room and left to wait. One or two officers came in and looked at me, and one of them an Engineer Officer of equivalent rank to a Midshipman informed me that he was my interpreter. His English I found to be rather limited and very affected with constant repetition of: “It is It possible – Yes?” and similar phrases; he was a thoroughly unctious [unctuous]personality. He had been in Italian Passenger ships before the war, in particular the Conti [Conte] di Savoia.
After about half an hour’s wait the Commander came in and told me I would be shown my cabin. At this stage any efforts I made to see the Captain or the Admiral were ignored by the Italians, who were evidently uncertain what attitude should be adopted toward me. I was left in my cabin for an hour and was then told that supper was ready, I had been asked previously if I would like say meals in ay cabin but had explained, to their evident surprise, that I should like to eat in their mess. This was due, I discovered later, to the fact that a German officer had had my cabin and had behaved in a Teutonic manner.
I made further efforts to see the Captain or the Admiral and was told after some delay that the Admiral would see me. Ha received me in his day cabin and was quite formal in his attitude. Later he was to be extremely friendly.
Arrangements for the passage to Alexandria were discussed during which various staff officers including the Secretary, a Lieutenant Commander, the Flag Lieutenant, a Lieutenant, the Flag Captain, and the Chief of Staff, a Commander, were called upon. Five points of importance were brought out.
1. Oil fuel was still required.
2. Water – stated to be feed water, was also required.
3. The Italian’s draught might not permit her passage through the great pass, as the Italian charts showed this as being 34 feet.
4. Tugs would probably not be required for unberthing.
5. The sailing instructions as contained in the Hand Message from Rear Admiral, Force ‘H’ for the Italian Admiral were understood.
Accordingly, signals T.0.0. 122106, 122107. 122109 and 122254 were sent. I was then taken to the Ward Room Mess for supper. Here I found the officers awaiting me before starting, and I was formally introduced by the Commander.
Many of the officers had a smattering of English and most spoke some kind of French. Reasonable conversation was possible with their little English and my indifferent French. It must then be understood that some of the views I report as being expressed by the Italians may not be strictly accurate. After supper the atmosphere was distinctly more cordial and in many cases friendly. I was taken for a brief tour of inspection of the upper deck and bridge structures.
I was &asked by the Flag Lieutenant to press the matter of fuel and water as they were extremely doubtful if they would be able to sail at the appointed time on the morrow. Accordingly at 0520 in the following morning the 15th, I sent my signal 150554.
At 0650 the oiler Green Ranger arrived and fuelled first the Italia and later the Vittorio Veneto. A second oiler arrived later, the Brown Ranger, but was too late to be of any use.
By now it was apparent that if the water boats did not arrive at once that the squadron would not be able to sail on time. As I did not consider it prudent to leave the ship at that time I sent by Leading Signalman ashore with written instructions to phone up the duty staff officer at Vice Admiral, Malta’s offices to make the situation clear. This I am satisfied he did as subsequent signals were to show – at 1040 instructions were received to the affect that the movement was delayed and that steam should be kept at one hour’s notice. Rear Admiral, Force ‘H’s 131032.
During the forenoon I discovered that the Italians had an injured man whom it was desirable to land and I made the necessary arrangements through Staff Officer Operations, Rear Admiral Force ‘H’ and the Berthing Officer, Mersa Saroch. An RAF launch came to collect him and the Italian officers commented to me on the careful way that the orderlies and doctors had treated the man, in a way that made me suspect that either they did not expect such treatment from the English, or that they were not used to ratings being given such careful treatment. The rating was taken to the 45th General Hospital, Malta. There was something of a scene over this. The Admiral heard about it and “threw a temper”. It seemed that his superior admiral in the Cavour (I understood him to say) should have been consulted first – he said he had no power to land the man without his superior’s permission, and it seemed as if he was somewhat afraid of being reprimanded. I was to notice the Admiral’s “powerlessness” to do anything on his own initiative, many times before my stay was finished.
At about 1100, Staff Officer Operations to Rear Admiral, Force ‘H’ arrived on board and gave further instructions about watering and departure which were in turn cancelled by his 131318.
A water boat, the Arena, with domestic water only eventually arrived at about 1600, and first, watered the Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto. It was 3 hours before any water was pumped owing to delays and lack of organization, for the men were allowed to swarm over the Arena impeding the working of the ship. The Italian officers either did not wish to step their men or were unable to do so. I felt it was a mixture of the two. It was only on this occasion that I noticed any lack of control over the ship’s company of the Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto.
Shortly after this a Captain (E) of the staff of Flag Officer, Commanding Force ‘H’ came and thrashed out the water problem with the Italians. It was evident that their demands had been excessive and he whittled them down to 200 tons of domestic water and none of feed water. The Italia similarly needed only 200 tons of domestic water. Both, ships were supplied with approximately 300 tons.
I went over to the Italia with Captain (E) and saw certain bomb damage to her Forecastle on my way there. The reception in the Italia was distinctly formal but polite. The Captain did not speak English but the Commander spoke moderately well. A first class interpreter was supplied – a young Sub-Lieutenant brought up in China, educated in an English school and decidedly pro-English. The Captain gave a first impression of being short and sharp with his subordinates and of annoyance at the defeat and surrender of Italy.
By nightfall the destroyers Artigliere, Grecale and Velite had arrived.
At 2000 approximately a water lighter was brought into the anchorage by a tug and supplied 20 tons of distilled water to both the Velite and the Grecale and a further 20 tons to the Artigliere who watered when the Arena was alongside the Italia.
To prevent the intolerable delay in commencing pumping as happened at the Vittorio Veneto I arranged for officers from the Italia to come over and inspect the arrangements in the Vittorio Veneto. This undoubtedly saved 2 hour. 6 Destroyers had been expected to arrive at Mersa Saroch by nightfall but as only 5 had arrived by 0400/14 I authorized the water lighter to make a further issue to the 3 destroyers that had arrived and the Artigliere sailed with an extra 90 tons – Grecaler and Velite – 40 tons.
Watering was completed by 0600 – see my 0826. At 0830 the Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto shipped from the buoy and began to shorten in the starboard anchor which was first reported “foul” but later as “clear.”
At 0930 we proceeded outside the boom in the order – Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto, Italia, Destroyers, and at about 1015, station astern of the Italian Cruisers assumed.
During the passage I remained on the Admiral’s bridge the whole time. On the Admiral’s bridge were the Admiral, his Chief of Staff, the Secretary, the Flag Lieutenant, and three other officers and a Sub-Lieutenant, and two midshipmen who kept a navigational plot taking many sights. I saw no attempt at a Tactical plot nor did I see where there could be room for one.
The Captain never visited the Admiral’s bridge, nor the Admiral the Captain’s – Communication between the two were by voice pipe.
The Admiral appeared to do little except read the signals and occasionally make them, through this perhaps might be expected in view of the fact that he had a senior admiral in company. He was interested in my reports to him derived from the British flag hoists and was impressed by our “C pt A”^ or similar signals. I was able to gather that neither he nor his staff were aware of the potentialities of RADAR in ships.
However, he at no time would act on any of the executive orders for signals that I gave him (derived from the British hoists) – ha always waited for the executive from the Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia to come through first. (There was one exception to this and he obtained permission beforehand from the Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia). The executive was somewhat 5 or 4 minutes late in arriving. Nor did it always arrive correctly. On one occasion 2 knots speed was received instead of 20 knots – On this occasion I informed the Admiral that he speed was to be 20 knots hut he insisted on obeying the Italian version. As we were a mile astearn of H.M.S. KING GEORGE V. this did not matter.
Signalling [signaling] was controlled from the Admiral’s bridge, R/T definitely being used at tines. The Italia V/S equipment was vary poor – they having no light equal to our battery aldis. There did not seem to be much difficulty in understanding our maneuvers, though zig-zag caused a little worry. I was much impressed by the Vittorio Veneto’s zig-zagging. That of the Italia was not as good.
The Chief of Staff work seemed to be confined to looking at signals and keeping a watch on the bridge from time to time. There were periods when there were no Italian officer on the bridge. The Secretary seemed to do little but eat, smoke, sleep and occasionally indulge in an English lesson with me. The Flag Lieutenant seamed to be maid of all work. He kept an eye on the signaling [signaling], received all signals, took sights (but had a midshipman to work them out for him) helped keep the navigational plot and kept watch on the bridge.
15th. During the early hours of the 15th at about 0250 I was called by the signalman on watch to say that the Italia was dropping astern. She dropped back to about 3 miles before recovering her position making large amount of white smoke all the while. The Admiral informed me there was water in the Italia’s fuel. She appeared to regain position at about 26 – 28 knots.
During the morning the weather had freshened and at about 0700 the starboard wing destroyer, the Velite (wrongly stated to be the Artigliere in my 150748) dropped right astern to an estimated distance of 8 miles. She however regained, position at 1300.
At 0800, on, l6th the O.F. [oil fuel] percentages remaining were:
Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto 80%
I subsequently made a signal to the British Naval Liaison Officer in the Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia – my 151215. “IS RAH AWARE THAT ITALIA HAS ONLY 26 HOURS ENDURANCE REMAINING.” to which I received a reply, B.N.L.O. Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia’s 151224 “YES. I HAVE TOLD HIM.” When the signal was made to prepare to stream Paravanes I discovered that both Battleships were so fitted, but that neither would be able to stream them.
At about 1400 a party of electricians from GREBE arrived on board to demobilize the Re 2001 on the quarterdeck of the Vittoria [Vittorio] Veneto. They were followed shortly afterwards by a party of W/T officers and two RADAR officers from shore bases.
I had no orders about such matters but knew one of the RADAR officers personally and was shown by one of the aircraft party a copy of the orders for Operation Stoneage – my first intimation of anything of the kind.
At about 1730 anti-sabotage guard arrived and I relinquished my duties as British Naval Liaison Officer to Lieutenant Herbert-Smith, R.N.V.R. I was struck by the (as I considered) bad impression that the armed guard made on the Italians who had shown to me what I believe to be a friendly attitude. Many faces that had had a friendly, cheerful aspect previously, went dour. I could not help feeling that a part of their good-will towards us, to say the least, had temporarily waned. This was particularly noticeable with regard to the ratings.
At about 2045 I left the Vittorio to return to H.M.S. H O W E.
I have the honour [honor] to be,
Your obedient servant.
COMMANDER IN CHIEF
STAMP: 19 SEP 1943 /s/ F.R.G. BATTERSBY
LEVANT STATION Lieutenant, Royal Navy.
THE REAR ADMIRAL, COMMANDING FORCE ‘H’
(Through The Commanding Officer, H.M.S. H O W E.)
1. The Vittorio Veneto
(a) Cleanliness. The ship’s living space were clean, the officer’s quarters scrupulously so. The messdecks were dull. The heads were well fit-feed out, but choked easily. Washing conditions for the crew would have been very good if it was not for the lack of water at sea.
The ship’s company kept themselves clean, all of them paying particular attention to their feet.
(b) Bombs. There were two large circular plates about 15’ to 20′ across either side of the forecastle where 3 bombs had hit; 2 port together and 1 starboard. They had been dropped by Liberators about June last. The repairs appeared to have been well executed. The bombs exploded on the Middle deck.
(c) Gunnery Readiness
In harbour – at Merca Sarooh, A.D.P. and about half close range continually closed up.
In harbour – at Alexandria. By day A.D.P. and (half a day experience only). quarter 7 close range closed up.
By night, none.
At sea – All close range apparently at second degree.
90mm (3.9”) and 152m (6”) in two watches, but watch off stays in vicinity of guns.
The Low Angle armament was not manned.
(d) Damage Control at Sea.
Skeleton D.C. parties kept closed up, but many doors through closed to, were in no way clipped.
(e) Handling the Ship.
On the whole, the ship was well handled, though one or two turns in succession were badly executed, and officers of the watch were apt to swing past their course when zig-zagging.
For some reason there seemed to be distinct reluctance to go astern on the engines.
A very extensive telephone system has been installed. However, I did not see it being put to much use. The exchange was an automatic dialing one. There were direct phones as well. After speaking for a few minutes, speech was apt to become blurred.
One of the commissioned gunners remarked that “there was far too much reliance place on Electrical Equipment, and that if it failed they would be finished”. “
(f) German Origins.
Much or the equipment was of German origin, or built under license to German firms
Admiral’s Name: Ammiraglio di Divisione, Enrico Accorretti.
Captain’s Name: Capitano di Vascello, Corso Pecori Giraldi.
There was a general lack of knowledge of the potentialities of Radar. Many of the more junior officers knowing nothing about it. The Admiral was well impressed by K.G.V’s (Kin George V) shots fired blind by Radar at one of our own planes during the night of the 15th.
The only Radar set in the ship would not work – it was a L.A. Range Finder.
3. Gunnery Barrage.
The ship’s gunnery officer said that he normally fired barrages as follow:-
He told me in fast French, and although I made notes later, I cannot be certain that the ranges are accurate).
Angle of sight – For low level attack 50°
For other attacks 50°
Ranges – 152™ gun 8,000 metres [meters]
90mm gun 2,500 metres [meters]
He said that his close range ammunitions was self distinctive (destructive) at 1,500 metres.
Mussolini was unpopular, also the fascist party. The Admiral’s Secretary said to me “I hope England wil realize that Fascism and Italy are not one”. He added, “In Germany it is different, Nazism and Germany are one”. The Secretary had just spent two years in Germany. The King appeared to be popular, Badoglio, slightly lees so. I was definitely wanted to believe that Fascism has been expunged. I am not certain that it is so. On two occasions in the Officer’s mess, I was greeted with the Fascist salute.
Some had been in three wars, Spain, Abyssinia and world war No. 2; and blamed Mussolini and Fascism for their plight. They did not seam interested in politics, except as far as it concerned themselves or their families.
Officers and men seemed cheerfully resigned to their fate, and the man pleased that war was over for Them; all were eager for news of their families.
Many officers were keen to help fight the Germans out of Italy, and proudly showed me, in the Italian news sheet they produced each day, the paragraphs showing that Italians were fighting the Germans in the North of Italy.
The ratings seem to be afraid of air attacks, particularly “Dive Bombing’. The sinking of the ROMA had undoubtedly made a big impression on all.
The men were keen to show the places where signs still remained of the bombs hits scored by the Liberators, and seemed almost proud of them.
Grew on average, very young and seemed to be mostly conscript. One stated reason ships did not often put to sea, was the inability of Italians to provide air cover and the unwillingness of the Germans to provide it, except when German ships present. Greatly impressed with air escort provided on the trip. Not particular about smoking and lights on the upper deck at night.
6. The Italia.
This ship was first named the LITTORIO, but was renamed on July the 29th of this year. She was not so well handled at sea as the VITTORIO VENETO, but this may have been due to bomb damage, and her greater draught forward.
THE ITALIA was hit by (?) 2 bombs off Corsica on her way to Malta: I could see the damage caused by one; on the starboard side of the forecastle. A temporary repair had been affected by means of a large plug. The bomb landed near the ship’s aide, and came out again through the flare.
The Admiral was very friendly, but did not strike me as been forceful, or domineering. He has an unfortunate twitch (St Vitus’ Dance ) which does not seem to worry him very much. I saw him loose his temper twice. On one occasion when he had not been informed of the landing of a wounded rating, and another time when, during the night, one of the cruisers started to flash with a very bright light. In one occasion he really let fly in the best continental manner, and it was quite half an hour before he calmed down. At all other times he was quit, but inclined to be crotchety. His staff treated him as rather a joke from time to time, and had a good laugh at his expense.
The Admiral’s initiative was either lacking, or it was severely cramped by his seniors. This was most noticeable. He was pro-English, liked English books, particularly letters of Lord Collingwood whom he admired. He said that his wife was even more pro-British. Before his present employment as second-in-command of the Spezia Battle Squadron, he was at the Admiralty at Rome, and before that, Had the Cruiser Squadron, wearing his flag in the LUIGI DI SAVOIA DUCA DEGLI ABRUZZI.
The Admiral said he was certain that much in the near future depended on the King and Marshall Badoglio. He was convinced that it would be a calamity if either of them were to fall into German hands. He speaks moderate English. Age 55. Apt to be untidy.
A quit man, with a strong personality, very brief and to the point, dealt firmly with the Admiral. He spoke good English, though did not always wish to understand what was being said to him. Of smart appearance. He was apt to tret me very formally; in complete contrast to the Admiral, and managed to convey the impression of being somewhat stand-offish. I felt he was stunned by the surrender of his fleet.
Appeared to be rather a nonentity. Quite and reserved, spoke poor English, and moderate French. Friendly, and pleasant, but like nearly all his compatriots that I met, capable of the gross procrastination.
The Assistant Commander
A dominant personality, with Prussian appearance. Evidently told the Commander what to do, and the latter used to agree quite meekly. Spoke no English, and little French.
The Gunnery Officer
Spoke no English, but good French. Seemed efficient. Quite, and pleasant character. Did not appear to know much of Radar.
The Medical Officer
The Senior Medical Officer in the ship was a Surgeon Lieutenant Commander. He was captured by us in our Abyssinian campaign in 1941 and repatriated by us two years later, so that he had been out of our hands 4 months when he surrendered with the rest of the Fleet.
He did not like the conditions of the Prisoner of War Camp in the Sudan, complaining chiefly of boredom. He is very fed up with life, but does not appear to bear us any ill will. He speaks quite good English and French.
The Junior Officers
Many of these spoke English to varying extent, and nearly all of them French. The age of some of the Midshipmen was noticeable, they must have been a full 30 years. There seemed to be no distinction between hostilities only and continuous service
The Warrant Officers.
Seamed on the whole friendly. They asked my Leading Signalman to give them a short address in English, which he was not able to do.
Many of the officers had served in the Merchant Navy, or had traveled in peace time, and there was a wide understanding of the British point of view.
There appears to have been trouble since the ship commissioned, with the condensers. The principle would seem to have been that enough water was carried to last out the few days that the ship was at sea.
Movements seem to have been restricted, owing to a lack of oil fuel, and such fuel as did come was from Germany, but of poor quality.
Both Battleships were fitted, but the Admiral stated that they were rarely streamed, and doubted if enough sailors knew the drill for streaming, to get them out in reasonable time. However, the Vittorio Veneto’s were not working, as one of the towing wires had parted while the ship was at Spezia, and apparently there were no spares, and the Italia’s were damaged by bombs.
The Admiral said, that when, they were at Spezia and came out for practices, they dare not slow down for Paravanes, (apparently the Italian ships must nearly stop to recover or stream Paravanes) as there were always two submarines waiting outside. On one occasion they had slowed down, and all that saved his ship – so he said – was a destroyer stopping the torpedoes and getting sunk instead. He seemed to have little faith or patience in Paravanes.
This seemed quite adequate, was well served; action messing at sea seemed very successful. Galleys were claen; shortage of meat did not prevent steaks being served in the Admiral’s mess. Sailors food, plain and without such variety, mainly Maccaroni, Spaghetti, Rice and brown bread.
11. Air Raids.
Apparently Air Said Shelters at Leghorn and Genoa were or are inadequate; those at Milan and Turin are said to be good.
Some of the crew volunteered the information that they thought English bombing was better (more accurate) than the American, especially at Pisa and Genoa.
Generally they stated, large casualties had been caused by air raids on Italy, but they conceded that English bombing had been obviously directed against Military targets.
The flag Lieutenant had been wounded in the leg in an air raid ashore, and declared, but for that he would have been appointed the command of a Torpedo Boat.
Shortages that were mentioned most, or were most evident, included
Soap – as a result of this, the rig for officers of complete white has been abolished in favor of blue trousers and white jacket.
Tea – The substitute was terrible.
Coffee – The substitute was poor, the coffee served at sea was supposed to be the genuine product.
Rubber – There appeared to be plenty of substitutes and of good quality.
Tobacco – The stronger tobacco supplied was not liked. Apparently the Navy gets preference in supply.
Clothing – Uniforms seemed to be scarce.
Leather – Nearly all the sailors wore clogs.
13. The sinking of the Roma
This was caused by a Rocket Propelled Bomb. The occurrence had shaken the Italians, and imbued a hate against the Germans more than anything else seem to have done.
14. Position of the Admiral in the Line
If there are two Admirals present in a line of ships, the senior takes guide and the junior takes the stern position in the line. But for this Admiral Accorretti commented that he would not be alive.
I was able to take 24 photographs during the last few hours of may stay; these I handed over to Lieutenant Coote R.N.V.R., attached to force “H”, on the l7th September.
16. Attitude to the Germans.
One of the Warrant Officers said that “The Germans ware strong enough to last out 6 months for they had taken everything from the conquered countries they wanted and destroyed the rest. People in those countries were starving”. He stated that “He had visited France, , the Balkans and Germany – the latter had shortages, but the people were fairly content.” He said that “The Germans had no respect for anything but themselves and their property, they cared nothing for civilians”.
17. Listening to the News.
There was not much faith placed in the B.B.C, News, because, from time to time obvious mistakes had been made which had made then distrust the B.B.O. However, they did not trust the Rome news much either.
I saw one Italian film of very inferior quality on the Quarter Deck. It appeared to be largely glorifying Italian Youth Movements, and the audience often booed and hissed. The officers seemed to tolerate it, some occasionally laughing. At the and large number of the crew booed and hissed in spite of the presence of the Admiral and Captain. There were two performances, and a very large number attended. I gathered that normally, 3 or so different films were shown each week and that a stock of 5 3 was carried on board. Officers and men attended the same performance.
19. The Artigliere.
This destroyer was originally named the “Black Shirt” or the Italian version of the word. It had had its named changed to its present form on the 29th July of this year.
20. The comments of the senior signal rating of the Liasion Party.
V/S equipment very poor, particularly lamps which were crude in type and of very low brilliance.
Skill of staff fairly high as regards practical work, but handicapped by the equipment and its arrangement.
The system of controlling signals was almost the same as our; signals being reported simultaneously to the Admiral and Captain.
There were a large number of Warrant officers and Senior rating who carried out all the practical work.
Signals were decoded by officers only, apparently a cumbersome system causing delays. Some R/T used, and it is apparently [missing text].