he submarine CAGNI, as it was more commonly knows, was part of the class called “Ammiragli” (Admirals), which included four boats named after famous personalities in the history of the Italian Navy: Saint Bon, Millo, Caracciolo, and Cagni. Of the four, only the last one survived the conflict. These boats were designed for the ‘guerre de course’ on distant oceans, and met very high operational requirements – range (up to six continuous months, or about 20,000 miles), armament, reliability – hardly obtainable in a conventional submarine, even today. The ‘Ammiragli’ were, overall, the best Italian submarines produced up to that period.
The CAGNI was built by the C.R.D.A. shipyard of Monfalcone, near Gorizia. It was laid down on September 16th, 1939, launched on July 20th, 1940 and delivered to the Regia Marina on April 1st, 1941 well into the war.
The CAGNI in the early days
From the beginning of it operational life to February 1942, the CAGNI was under the command of Lieutenant Commander Carlo Liannazza and, because of its large carrying capacity, was mostly used in transport missions to North Africa were fuel and ammunitions were in much need. Thereafter, it was decided to take advantage of it exceptional range by sending it in far away seas. Thus, after a long period of repairs in Taranto to fit the boat for war in the Atlantic Ocean, on October 6th, 1942 it departed from La Maddalena to reach the South-African coast and possibly the Indian Ocean to intercept traffic between the two bodies of water.
Crossed without any difficulty the Strait of Gibraltar, on November 3rd, the CAGNI sank the British motor vessel DAGOMA of 3,845 t. off Freetown. A few days later, on the 29th, it sank the Greek ship ARGO of 1,995 t., off Cape of Good Hope. Then, having failed to locate any traffic, in the meantime rerouted by the enemy on further away routes, and also having reached the furthers most point allowing it to return to base (despite a scheduled transfer of fuel from a German submarine), on the 8th of December the CAGNI left the patrol area to return to BETASOM, the Italian submarine base in Bordeaux.
The CAGNI with a smaller conning tower, also know as ‘German style’
On February 15th, 1943, while in navigation in the Gulf of Biscay, the CAGNI was attacked by a Sunderland against which it defended itself quite efficiently with machine guns. It eluded the attack, but Sergeant Michelangelo Canistraro was killed. After 136 days at sea, on February 20th, 1943 the CAGNI reached Bordeaux. This was the longest continuous mission conducted by any Italian vessel in WW II.
In Bordeaux, the CAGNI underwent alterations to be fitted, with other submarines, for the secret transport of rare goods to Japan. With the command of the boat already transferred to Lieutenant Commander Giuseppe Roselli Lorenzini, the CAGNI left le Verdon on June 29th, 1943 for its second patrol, destined to Singapore from which it should have returned with a load of rubber and tin.
During this mission, the night of July 25 while off Freetown, the CAGNI attacked the British auxiliary cruiser ASTRURIAS of 22,048 t, which did not sink, but was left inoperable for the remainder of the war. On September 8th, 1943, date of the Italian armistice, the CAGNI was in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Between the contrasting orders from BETASOM (reach Singapore as soon as possible), and those of SUPERMARINA (reach the South –African port of Durban), Captain Roselli Lorenzini decided to follow the later, obeying the will of His Majesty the King.
The CAGNI in Taranto (1944), moored next to a corvette of the APE class
(Photo courtesy Erminio Bagnasco and Achille Rastelli)
Thus, on September 20th 1943, after 85 days at sea, the CAGNI entered Durban flying the Italian colors and with the crew manning the railing while the enemy presented them with military honors. Back in Taranto on January 1944, the boat was deployed to Palermo to perform training duty in support of the Allies.
The CAGNI was removed from service on February 1st, 1948 and scrapped soon after in accordance with the terms of the peace treaty, but the conning tower was spared to become a monument in perennial memory of the over 3,000 Italian submariners killed on duty aboard 87 boats between 1940 and 1945.
Notes: The DAGOMA was sunk in position 02 29N, 19W with the loss of 10 crewmembers. The remaining 23 were rescued. The ship was built in 1928 by McMillan & Sons of Dumbarton.
L’ARGO, built in 1920 as the San Jose, was sunk in position 34 53S, 17 54E with 18 crewmembers lost and 18 saved.
Translated from Italian by Cristiano D’Adamo