Insignia of the Italian Submariners

In researching the insignia of the Italian submarine force during the Second World War, I was not able to find many references. Under relatively fortuitous circumstances, I was able to procure a copy of a book written by Lieutenant-Commander W. M. Thornton in 1997 and published by Leo Cooper of London and later published in the United States by the Naval Institute Press. The bibliography cited by the author is very limited, and none of the references is known to contain details about the Italian submarine forces. Thus, the information provided is probably the result of assistance provided to the author by Captain Franco D’Agostino, Italian Naval Attaché to Germany in 1988, Captain G. Rondonotti, Italian Naval Attaché to London in 1987, Captain Francesco Ricci, U. Cuzzola, also Naval Attaché to London in 1989, and Captain A. Severi, the Director of the Naval Historical Branch on the Italian Navy in Rome. Also sited in the author’s acknowledgments is Mr. Franco Scadaluzzi of Milan. There is a second reference book targeting collectors of submarine paraphernalia. The book in question is “Submarine Badges and Insignia of the World: An Illustrated Reference for Collectors” by Pete Prichard. Both books are limited, but sufficient in giving a general idea of the badges used by the Italian submarine service

The first official submarine insignia worn by Italian Navy personnel appeared in 1915 and remained in use until 1918; its use was limited to junior rating. It was considered a trade badge, known as a ‘category, or ‘specialization’, similar to the one used by gunners, electricians, torpedo men, etc. The badge was made of white metal and depicted a dolphin leaping from right to left and enclosed in a round band with the word ‘SOMMERGIBILI’ (submarines) all in uppercase etched on top of the band and surmounted by the royal crown. The badge measured 45 mm (1 ¾”) in diameter, and the crown extended another 20 mm above it. It appears that there were several manufacturers, thus the measurements varied slightly. The badge was worn on the left sleeve above the rank and was held in place by two fasteners.

The very first badge used by Italian submariners.
On July 18th, 1918 the insignia was changed; the dolphin was reversed, leaping from left to right, and the royal crown was removed. On September 24th, 1924 officers and non-commissioned officers were authorized to wear the Submarine Duty Badge, a small insignia worn on the left breast 1 cm above or in place of the medals ribbon. This badge, gold in color, was very similar to the one originally worn during World War One and could only be used while serving aboard a submarine.

On November 11th, 1941 the badge was replaced by a new and larger one with a more ornate design. The new badge was 25 mm (1”) in diameter, and the band was made in the shape of a laurel wreath. It could only be worn after three war patrols, or for at least five years of service in the submarine service. Upon its inception, the Regia Marina gave personnel retroactive credit for service provided during the previous war and during the Spanish Civil War.

During the war, ratings were allowed to wear a special cloth insignia depicting the same dolphin of the metal badge but without the band around it. The patch was about 65 mm (2 ½”) in diameter and the dolphin was bright yellow. The patch was worn on the left breast of the working uniform, usually dark-gray green in color.

Personnel assigned to Bordeaux had a special badge, similar to the regular one, but with a large capital letter “A” superimposing the bottom of the band and the dolphin. The A was painted bright red with a white contour. Junior ratings assigned to Bordeaux wore the standard silver badge with the leaping dolphin and the print “SOMMERGIBILI”, but, as for the officers, there was a capital letter A overlapping the dolphin and blue in color with a white border.

After the armistice, on December 11th, 1943 the Navy instituted nine special service badges, one of them for the submarine service. The ‘Distintivo d’onore per lunga navigazione in guerra’ looked like a squashed rhomboid with a small crown on top, an anchor vertically positioned in the middle and a torpedo across it with a shark on top of it from left to right.

As with many surface ships, submarine crews created their own badges and commemorative medallions and kept them even after the end of the conflict. In regards to uniforms, it should be noted that ratings would wear a cap with the name of the submarine printed across the band. The name was preceded by the abbreviation SMG, short for “sommergibile”.

During the war, all caps’ bands were replaced with one simply saying ‘sommergibili’ with a five-point start before and after. It should be noted that the navy of the Italian Social Republic created its own badges.