Interview with a crewmember of the repair ship “Quarnaro”

The history and vicissitudes, often adventurous, of the men who served in the Regia Marina (Royal Italian Navy) during the last world war are often unnoted. Little has been said of the men who, during the war, served in bases, aboard ships, submarines, or in the air; the researcher, or those interested in military history, are left consulting technical accounts, bureaucratic simple documents full of cold statistics.
With this interview we would like to shed some light and reveal the human and military experience of one of these many Italian sailors who, without glamour, served their country. With the story of the adventures of sailor Luigi De Angels, a crew member of the repair ship QUARNARO we would like, in good substance, to honor the memory of all those young people who have served in the Italian Navy during the World War Two. Case in point, we have succeeded in reconstructing the history of sailor Luigi De Angels thanks to the help of his son Angelo who has kindly provided us with the recollections of his father.

So many years have passed since the end of the war and, unfortunately, the ranks of this generation are more and more thinning, dangerously limiting our ability to conduct historical investigations. We have assumed an irreversible responsibility: hand down to posterity the memories of a generation of regular young man, just like many others, who were crushed by the cataclysm of a sudden and tragic conflict.

The military career of Mr. De Angeli begins one month after Italy foray into World War Two (June 10th 1940). On July 10, to the 20 year-old De Angeli receives his draft notice and he is prepared, like many hundred of thousand of young Italian man, to perform “… the duty of all young people, that is to serve the Country threatened by the war….”. He will serve, uninterruptedly, for over five years and eight months.
This interview has been conducted via electronic mail and therefore we have not been able to develop the questions in a particularly dynamic manner. Nevertheless, thanks to the willingness of Mr. De Angeli the result achieved is, in our opinion, more than satisfactory.

But less us introduce to you our witness:

“After the draft examination with the Navy, I was sent to the engineering department, since in civilian life I was a naval mechanic. I therefore entered as an engineer assigned to the nearby shipyard in the island of La Maddalena, in Sardinia, where I was born and where I lived. I was discharged as stoker i.c. engines

During the military service, I was not promoted, and at the end of my service I was retained due to the war. As I have said, at was first assigned to the shipyard at the naval base of La Maddalena, and subsequently I was a specialist aboard several units in the naval bases of August, Naples, Messina, Palermo, Taranto, Brindisi, and Navarrino (Greece). I was part of a rapid deployment team specialized in quickly repairing war damages.

During this period (end of 1942), the war situation for Italy was becoming more and more serious. The allies had broken through the Axis lines in Northern Africa (El Alamein). The command of my naval squadron was ordered to immediately leave Navarrino, in Greece and return to Italy. Only the support ship QUARNARO, on which I was embarked, delayed departure by one day. At 02:00 AM , the commander Captain Pietro Milella, gave the order to get under way, while on the near mountains the Greek partisan had just lit bonfires to signal our position to the allied aerial reconnaissance. My ship started the maneuvers and succeeded in leaving the gulf of Navarrino while shooting with its guns into the direction of the bonfires. After an eventless navigation, despite the presence in Mediterranean of many Allied submarines, we reached Brindisi and after a little while we moved on to Taranto. We finally reached Palermo, our final destination, where we made base.

Some time later, I was transferred on the destroyer Da Noli to perform some repair work to the hull. During an aerial bombardment, in which the ship was struck, I jumped in air and I was thrown on a small boat, ending up, however, only with a slight wound. I was therefore sent to the hospital in Messina where I was taken care and where a I was granted a convalescence leave of about 35 days which I spent in the island of the La Maddalena.
Once back in service, I took back my usual job, while the ship on which I was embarked, the QUARNARO, had meantime moved to Gaeta. On September 8th 1943, following the armistice, the Germans attacked us and the QUARNARO was sunk.
What are your memories of life aboard? Specifically, could you describe us some details of the hierarchy between the various ranks?
“The first officer, with the rank of Captain, was Pietro Milella. The hierarchy was very rigid. There was an iron discipline and complete separation between officer, noncommissioned officers and sailors. Only in some cases, very rarely, one could establish a less rigid report structure between sailors and officer. The superior officers were from noble families, and some displayed scarce attitudes to collaboration and poor understanding towards the crews. In the Navy life was characterized by very authoritarian relationships. But despite all of this, I always tried to behave myself in the better possible way; I was considered a very disciplined sailor, with the uniform always in order, shiny shoes and hair always to place.”
How was the food aboard and in the bases? Particularly it would be interesting to know more something on the menu, on the wine, the liqueurs, the seasonal foods
“In the naval bases the food was nor particularly good, neither abundant, while on board the kitchen was decidedly better. Each sailor was entitled to about 7 ounces of bread, pasta, risotto, minestrone, meat, fish, meats, cheeses and vegetable, fruit of season; wine, and for the those who like it, coffee. At times, for special occasions, parties or special events we were served a special meal which included dessert.”
What was your technical specialization and was life aboard the repair ship Quarnaro?

“I was specialized in mechanical repairs: electric and gas welding. In combat, I served as an assistant gunner. To the morning the alarm was called at 5.00, then followed breakfast, assembly, row call, jobs assignments, and finally to the shop. The team included militarized civilians; a team leader, a mechanic and two assistants.

Our intervention was always timely and effective and we worked on any type of naval unity, but the job was brutal and demanding, and there was always a sense of urgency.”
Do you remember your various uniforms?

“The uniforms were four: summer, winter, cruise and work.

The summer uniform was all white, the cloth was made out of gaberdine, pure cotton, completed by a collar in blue with two small side stars and two white strips around, a white flex and a black handkerchief. The beret had a white cover.

The winter uniform was instead of dark blue cloth, with a blue beret with a ribbon around it with the name of the unity. The cruise uniform was of white rigid cloth favato, on the collar and on the wrists there were two blue strips, and the beret was of the same shade.

The job uniform was in colonial style, with beret of the same color. This uniform was of poor quality, while the first three uniforms were manufactured with cloths of good quality. The whole attire was given in endowment during the dressing and included: 4 sailor jackets (summer, winter, cruise, work), 4 pairs of pants plus one pair of shorts, 2 bodices in white cotton, 2 dark blue wool sweaters for winter, 2 pairs of underpants; four pairs of stockings (2 black pairs and 2 white pairs all in cotton), two pairs of black tall shoes, a pair of job sandals, a jacket of black cloth, a raincoat of black waxed cloth. Naturally every deteriorated item was replaced by one new.

Every uniform was adequate to its use. For instance: in the engine room we used the colonial overall, while for the free exit, according to the season, we wore the summer of winter cloths. The cruise uniform was only worn while at sea.
Do you still have your uniforms?
“Unfortunately my uniforms don’t exist anymore, since it has been many years since the end of the conflict. But I feel nostalgia for them, also because they would remind me of my youth.”
Do you remembered if some of your fellow sailors had altered their uniforms to make them more practical?
“It happened quite often. If the uniform were too large, one would have it fir.
Do you remember the relationships between the world of politics and the Navy. Is it true that the Marina was the less fascist of the armed forces?
“In a certain sense the Marina was the less politicized.”
Do you believe that the Navy was really faithful to the monarchy?
“Aboad, one could feel something to this effect, but personally I have never taken any interest of these matters.”
Is there a particular story or event that has been left engraved in your memory of the time you spent in the Navy?

“Certainly. I immediately remember the sinking of the ship ” QUARNARO ” in Gaeta and the period following. On September 8th 1943, general Badoglio signed the armistice with the allies. It is in that of that fatidic day that, in the late afternoon, German troops showed up near the base and they immediately tried to take possession of the QUARNARO. Our commander, Captain P. Milella, ordered the crew to get ready, go to station and get ready to reject the German attack. We fought from late afternoon until the following morning (10:00 AM). We suffered losses; the Germans struck with their antitank guns power generator producing a leak to port side. The ship started taking water and heeling over to the side. Then we were forced to the surrender. The whole crew was made forced ashore. The moorings were cut and once freed from the dosk, the ship sank in the inner-harbor of the port of Gaeta. Meanwhile the allied troops had occupied Naples and a good part of the Thyrrhenian coast..
After a brief period of disbandment, I wanted to continue my military duties in the service of cobelligerent Italy and I enlisted with the 1st Naval Detachment of the Regia Marina, enlisting with the landing troops of the Navy, the San Marco Battalion, Regiment Bafile. Soon after, we were attached to 8th British Army, which was deployed in southern Italy.

I was sent to the British weapons school were I became a sharp shooter. My first assignment was to the Adriatic front, where I was assigned to routine patrols. Following the occupation of the Adige region by the Folgore Division, I was assigned to the Val Sarentino. The uniform we wore in that period was completely British, gift of the British Command to the whole Division. I moved then to Puglia where, abandoned all weapons, I was assigned in the service of Military Police to Trani and Taranto, up to my discharged which I obtained in the beginning of March 1946.”

What did you do after you were discharged?

“First, I reached my sister, the only member of my family still alive. I found her in Casale Monferrato, in Piedmont.

I immediately enlisted with the “Veterans and Partisan Office”, and for a brief period of time, they succeeded in finding me a job. Later on, a large establishment hired me with the qualification of mechanic, and I remained with them up to my retirement.
For a long time as was a member of the local veterans group, but then a was assigned to a different job location, I lost contact, end eventually all these offices closed.
Is it still in contact with old fellow sailors?
“No. By now too many years have passed, but I would like to find some of my friends and together remember those moments!!!

Our special thanks to Mr. Angelo De Angeli.