R. Smg. Console Genrale Liuzzi

The Liuzzi was an ocean-going submarine of the eponymous class (1,166.47 tons displacement on the surface and 1,484.20 submerged). It completed  a single war patrol, covering 1,695 miles on the surface and 420 miles submerged.

Brief and partial chronology

October 1st, 1938

Setting up was started at the Franco Tosi shipyards in Taranto.

September 17th, 1939

The boat was launched at the Franco Tosi shipyard in Taranto.

The Liuzzi’s launch
(Photo U.S.M.M.)

November 21st, 1939

The Liuzzi entered active service to become, along with the other boats of the same class (Capitano Tarantini, Alpino Bagnolini, Reginaldo Giuliani) the XLI Submarine Squadron, part of the IV Submarine Group of Taranto. 

The submarine after the launch
(from“Gli squali dell’Adriatico. Monfalcone e i suoi sommergibili nella storia navale italiana” di Alessandro Turrini)

In the seven months that separated its entry into service and Italy’s entry into the World War II, the boat was exclusively engaged in training activities.

January 1940

The Liuzzi carried out its final test off the Gulf of Taranto, diving to a depth of 107 meters and remaining there for half an hour. All systems were in optimal operation state.

June 1st, 1940

The command of the Liuzzi was assumed by the Lieutenant Commander Lorenzo Bezzi.

Lieutenant Commander Lorenzo Bezzi, Gold Medal for Valor

MA 3

When Italy entered the war on June 10th, 1940, the Liuzzi was still part of the XLI Squadron of the IV Grupsom based in Taranto, along with the Bagnolini, Tarantini and Giuliani.

On June 16th, 1940, the Liuzzi, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Lorenzo Bezzi, left Taranto to reach the assigned patrol area in the waters off Famagusta (TN east coast of Cyprus), where it was supposed to attack enemy shipping on the routes between Cyprus, Syria and Egypt.

 It was the first war patrol for the Liuzzi. The five days of waiting off Famagusta, however, did not lead to any sighting, and on the evening of June 25th, having received orders to return, the submarine began the navigation back to Taranto.

At that time, however, a vast anti-submarine sweep was underway in the central Mediterranean to protect the British operation “MA 3”, which provided for the dispatch of convoys between Malta, Egypt, and Greece: the destroyers H.M.S. Dainty, H.M.S. Defender, H.M.S. Decoy, H.M.A.S. Voyager and H.M.S. Ilex were thus engaged in a hunt for Italian submarines, grouped into Force ‘C’, as well as numerous anti-submarine seaplanes.  In the days that followed, this deadly deployment of forces would also sink three other Italian submarines, the Argonauta, Uebi Scebeli and Rubino.

The Liuzzi at sea
(Photo Naval History and Heritage Command)

Force C (whose destroyers belonged to the 2nd and 10th Destroyer Flotillas) had left Alexandria at dawn on the 27th, with the aim of providing remote protection to a naval formation (aircraft carriers H.M.S. Eagle, battleships H.M.S. Ramillies and H.M.S. Royal Sovereign, cruisers H.M.S. Orion, H.M.S. Neptune, H.M.S. Liverpool and H.M.S.  Sydney) at sea escorting convoys ‘MF 1’ and ‘MS 1’ from Malta (that consisted of ‘MA 3’).

It was at 6:30 PM on June 27th when the Liuzzi, navigating on the surface, ran into the units of Force C: the sighting of the destroyers by the Italian boat was simultaneous with the detection by the British ships (the time indicated by the British side is 6:28 PM the position about 100 miles southeast of Crete).

The submarine dove rapidly, attempting to attack or evade the chase, but soon H.M.S. Dainty, H.M.S. Defender, H.M.S. Decoy and H.M.S. Ilex were on top of it, and began bombarding it heavily with depth charges, making five attacks in the space of a few minutes (H.M.S. Dainty, H.M.S. Defender and H.M.S. Ilex were equipped with the most modern sonar in use in the British Navy at the time).

The first discharge of ten bombs caught the boat at a depth of 100 meters and blew out all the lights except in the control room, smashed the depth gauges and tore the naphthalene tank (TN, probably the external naphtha tanks) from the bulkhead, the second (ten bombs that exploded when the submarine was at depth of 120 meters) caused further damage, including waterways in the aft compartment,  which damaged the batteries, causing the release of harmful gases.

The other sweeps violently shook the submarine and further aggravated the situation, disabling all instruments and rudders, making it unmanageable and taking the boat down to a depth of 190 meters (where the test depth was 100 m).

After these attacks, the British the units observed a trail of fuel on the surface, and H.M.S. Dainty followed the trail as darkness fell. Seriously damaged by the explosions, after a chase of 90 minutes (during which the crew counted the explosions of about sixty depth charges) the Liuzzi had to emerge. On the orders of Commander Bezzi (who had ordered air to all tanks after consulting with the chief engineer), not to lose the entire crew, and to try to react on the surface with its deck cannon, the boat surfaced. Following the fuel trail, the British units spotted the submarine 2,290 meters away, and H.M.S. Dainty and H.M.S. Defender immediately opened fire, hitting it forward and in other places.

The damage caused by the depth charges had immobilized the Liuzzi, which found itself on the surface without sufficient energy left in the batteries to start the engines (TN electrical power was used to compress air which was then used to start the engines), and without any more naphthalene (TN naphthalene is the word used in the official Australian documentation, but it was indeed naphtha). In addition, the sea was rough, and this further worsened the already limited characteristics of stability that made the submarines a bad platforms for artillery, the gunners of  the Liuzzi were unable to aim, while for their part the destroyers, which had no similar problems, were able to repeatedly hit the Italian boat with their guns (according to another source the submarine’s weapons had been rendered useless by the bombardment).

Some of Liuzzi’s crewmembers were killed, and the submarine was put out of action. After a brief clash with a predictable outcome, a white light was shown from the Liuzzi to ask for a ceasefire. Whilst the destroyers ceased fire, Commander Bezzi ordered the submarine to be scuttled and abandoned.

The crew members gathered in the conning tower; H.M.S. Dainty approached to take them on board and retrieve those who had jumped into the sea. Other destroyers put their boats to sea: the dingy of H.M.A.S. Voyager rescued thirteen shipwrecked people.  H.M.S. Dainty almost put her bow practically on the Liuzzi before the last two members of the crew could be persuaded to jump into the sea.

It took a total of three and a quarter hour for the most reluctant to abandon the submarine, then H.M.S. Dainty gave the coup de grace, sinking it with more cannon fire and depth charges. When the last man had abandoned the unit, Commander Bezzi decided to follow the fate of his boat. He returned inside and locked himself in, sinking with the Liuzzi when, shortly before eight o’clock in the evening. The Liuzzi sank southeast of Crete, in position 33°46′ N and 27°27′ E, at a point where the sea is 2,500 meters deep. Posthumous, he was awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valor, and, on May 17th 1957, the Non-Commissioned Officers’ School of Taranto (Mariscuola) was named after him .

The ANMI (Associazione Nazionale Marinai d’Italia – Navy Veterans Association) section of his town, Tortona (Alessandria , Piedmont), was also named in his memory, as well as streets and squares in several cities in the province of Alessandria. The medal was received by Commander Bezzi’s wife: the daughter, one and a half years old at the time, and would never see her father.

The chief engineer of the Liuzzi, Lieutenant Commander (engineering) Gaetano Tosti-Croce (who had assumed his post only on May 20th, replacing Lieutenant (Engineering) Umberto Bardelli, who had been chief engineer of the Liuzzi since it had entered service, taking care of its fitting), before abandoning the submarine gave his life jacket to the sailor torpedo man Aldo Carnevalini.  He was one of the last to go on deck when the boat was already half-submerged. He did not have a life jacket (he had not found it in its place, perhaps taken by someone else) and he did not know how to swim (and was moreover intoxicated by the sulfuric acid vapors that he had inhaled in the aft rooms).

Tosti-Croce had returned on board to open the Kingstone valves for scuttling (with him, the warranty worker (civilian) Alessandro Bonaca, who later disappeared at sea, also returned below deck for this purpose) and to try, in vain, to convince Commander Bezzi to save himself. As soon as Carnevalini had put on his life jacket (which Tosti-Croce wanted to make sure of, since Carnevalini was semi-conscious due to the vapors he had inhaled), both were thrown into the water by a splash from the sea, and Tosti-Croce hit his leg, injuring himself. Both were saved; Tosti-Croce’s gesture of self-sacrifice was rewarded with a Silver Medal for Military Valor.

Carnevalini was rescued after some time in the water along with a boatswain from Taranto, who told him to “play dead” and not uselessly consume energy to fight against the rough seas; at the right moment, helped by a wave from the sea, Carnevalini jumped aboard one of  H.M.A.S. Voyager rescue boats.

The Florentine midshipman Everardo Facibene, a swimming champion, tried to take some of his men (a dozen or so) to safety, but they all died, including him.

Aldo Carnevalini, now ninety-three years old, attended the commemoration of the 73rd anniversary of the sinking, celebrated in the Lorenzo Bezzi Non-Commissioned Officers’ School, and remembered the heroic act of Major Tosti-Croce.

Non-Commissioned Officers’ School in Taranto

Gesuino De Montis, a twenty-year-old sailor, recalled that the men went on deck through the conning tower. The last to come out were those who were forward, including himself. No one wanted to jump into the water, but Commander Bezzi ordered everyone to jump into the sea. He did the same, but with others he found himself farther away than the bulk of the shipwrecked and was not immediately sighted.

He remained in rough seas for what seemed like hours, praying as his strength failed him, then, just as he was on the verge of losing consciousness and drowning, he was reached by one of the British units, waking up aboard the destroyer. He was naked; It was the unit’s British doctor who gave him clothes to wear.

All the survivors of the Liuzzi (eleven men were missing) were rescued by British destroyers and disembarked in Alexandria on the evening of June 30th. Interned in the prison camp of Geneifa, in Egypt, they were subsequently sent to imprisonment in India, where they remained for five years.

At home, Gesuino De Montis had been reported missing (Interview in full) He returned there safe and sound after five years, finding there a funeral program held for the Mass in his suffrage celebrated in 1940, and is now alive and well at the age of 95. He has often attended many commemorations of the sinking of the Liuzzi, such as the inauguration of a statue of Commander Bezzi in Taranto in 2010, and the 72nd commemoration of the sinking of the submarine in Taranto, when he read the Sailor’s Prayer, dedicating it to the memory of its commander.

They never returned:

  • Lorenzo Bezzi, corvette captain (commander), 33 years old, from Tortona
  • Alessando Bonaca, militarized guarantee worker, 45 years old, from Trevi
  • Ideo Cassatella, radio telegraph sergeant, 24 years old, from Bari
  • Stelio Degli Innocenti, sailor gunner, 21 years old, from Poggibonsi
  • Everardo Facibene, midshipman, 24 years old, from Florence
  • Alberto Furlan, 19-year-old sailor from San Vendemiano
  • Giuseppe Luppino, sailor stoker, 21 years old, from Trapani
  • Francesco Monopoli, sailor electrician, 19 years old, from Trani
  • Luigi Nobili, sailor electrician, 20 years old, from Monza
  • Bartolomeo Sabatini, torpedo sailor, 21 years old, from Arezzo
  • Rodolfo Scrobogna, sailor stoker, 20 years old, from Rijeka (Fiume)

The motivation for the Gold Medal for Military Valor awarded in memory of Lieutenant Commander Lorenzo Bezzi, born in Tortona (AL) on 22 October 1906:

“The commander of a submarine on a war mission in waters intensively guarded by the adversary was sighted and subjected to violent prolonged hunting. Unable to maintain the dive due to serious damage suffered by the unit, he emerged with the intent of engaging the enemy on the surface. Surrounded at a short distance and subjected to fire from five destroyers seeing that every attempt at defense was useless due to the rough sea that prevented the use of the cannon, he decided to scuttle the submarine.

Having rescued the crew after having ordered the voice salute, he voluntarily shared the extreme fate of the unit under his command by returning to the hull and closing, with a cold and conscious act, the hatch of the conning tower on himself. In this way he confirmed high military and leadership virtues and made the noble tradition of heroism of seafarers shine forth by his gesture.

Eastern Mediterranean, June 27, 1940.”

Original Italian text by Lorenzo Colombo adapted and translated by Cristiano D’Adamo

Operational Records

TypePatrols (Med.)Patrols (Other)NM SurfaceNM Sub.Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
Submarine – Oceanic1169542011 192.27 8.01

Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate
BezziLorenzoLieutenant CommanderCapitano di Corvetta6/27/1940
Degli InnocentiStelioNaval RatingComune6/27/1940
FurlanAlbertoNaval RatingComune6/27/1940
LuppinoGiuseppeNaval RatingComune6/27/1940
MonopoliFrancescoNaval RatingComune6/27/1940
NobiliLuigiNaval RatingComune6/27/1940
SabatiniBartolomeoNaval RatingComune6/27/1940
ScrabognaRodolfoNaval RatingComune6/27/1940
BonacaAlessandroMilitarized Civilian Warranty WorkerOperaio militarizzato di garanzia6/27/1940