One area of the naval conflict where civilian ships were heavily employed was that of the so-called “minor” shipping: hundreds of tugs, trawlers, and coastal transports were requisitioned for a variety of tasks. A total number of 2,207 civilian vessels were requisitioned, classified according to their missions, as:
- Coastal Patrol Boats (designation V): 260 ships whose official mission was to provide advance warning of any aircraft approaching the coasts from the sea. In fact, in addition to this mission, they were also called to carry out many others, such as harbor piloting, escorting, and connecting the mainland with the islands or smaller bases.
- ASW mission (designation A5): 66 units, mostly trawlers or small steam ships, whose duty was to patrol coastal areas and fight off the ever more aggressive activities of British submarines, which approached Italy’s coasts to attack small convoys or even fishermen at work. Although their activity was intensive, their results were very poor, because the searching means they were allocated were highly primitive and their attack weapons were not very powerful.
A group of Italian auxiliary minesweepers
Minesweeping (designations F-B-G-R-DM): as many as 983 ships operated in this area, which thus had the highest number of requisitioned vessels. The F designation indicated coastal sweeping, but these ships were very often used for other tasks, not least to connect the islands and smaller bases; the B designation indicated close-in sweeping, G deepwater sweeping; R a specific kind of deepwater sweeping, and DM magnetic sweeping. Work on these ships was relentless and tiresome; the crews, almost entirely made up of drafted merchant seamen, had to spend long stretches far from home, under constant risk of sudden attacks by fighter-bombers or submarines.
Many other small vessels were requisitioned for piloting (136, with the designation P), guarding obstructions (118 units with the designation O) and harbor services (94 units with the designation Z).
However, these numbers are totals referred to the whole duration of the war; over the years, many of these ships, nearly all trawlers, were de-requisitioned or requisitioned anew under a different designation. Many were sunk during the war, but many were also raised afterwards: having sunk near the coast or in the harbors, their recovery did not entail excessive difficulties, although the costs and losses, especially in terms of human lives, were considerable.
Translated from Italian by Sebastian De Angelis