The submarine CORALLO was one of the 10 boats of the “PERLA” series, part of the class “600” of coastal submarines. This successful series, just like the whole class “600”, was build by the C.R.D.A. shipyard (6 units) of Monfalcone (Gorizia) and O.T.O. (4 units) of Muggiano (La Spezia) between 1935 and 1936. The submarine CORALLO (code CO), was part of the first six and was laid down on October 1st, 1935. Launched on August 2nd, 1936 and delivered to the Regia Marina on September 26th of the same year.
At the outbreak of war, the CORALLO was assigned to the 7th Submarine Group, 72nd Squadron based in Cagliari (Sardinia), and operated from this base for the whole war. However, when Italy entered the war (June 10th, 1940), the boat was in Monfalcone, the shipyard where it had been built, and therefore could not immediately enter service.
The CORALLO before delivery to the Navy at the C.R.D.A. shipyard in 1936.
(Photo courtesy Erminio Bagnasco and Achille Rastelli)
Work was completed around the end of August 1940, and before returning to base, the CORALLO under the command of Lieutenant Commander Loris Albanese completed from the 3rd to the 18th of September its first patrol in the eastern Mediterranean. In the late afternoon of the 17th, while on patrol 60 miles south of Crete, the CORALLO intercepted a large enemy naval formation en route to Alexandria and immediately commenced a decisive attack. Avoiding the screen, the submarine launched two torpedoes against an aircraft carrier from a very close distance (about 1,500 meters)and immediately after disengaging by diving to avoid the enemy forces’ reaction. Even if after a minute everyone aboard heard two loud explosions, different from the ones caused by depth charges, the result of the attack was never established because there is no confirmation in any of the British documentation.
The CORALLO still on the slip
The intense enemy reaction forced the boat to dive past the 80 meters (max operational depth) and assume “silent operations”, a system which used air to move water between trim tanks instead of pumps, and which caused the progressive increase of the air pressure within the boat. After three hours, eluding the hunt, the boat reached surface and the second in command, Lieutenant Alfredo Gatti, opened the conning tower’s hatch and, probably due to the excitement of the moment, failed to gradually release the over-pressured internal air; the porthole opened all at once and the officer was violently ejected. Despite the long search, he was never found.
Another man, the Chief Torpedoman Angelo Bianchi, was found dead in the forward torpedo room, perhaps victim of a fatal fall while the boat, under attack from depth charges, had repeatedly lost control. Because the damage sustained was not reparable on board, the boat went on to Tobruk where it arrived on September 18th.
After this unlucky event, in the two subsequent years the CORALLO operated almost continuously, completing patrols all over the Mediterranean, but without many results, just like the great majority of the Italian submarines operating in this area where the enemy traffic was not as present and in the Atlantic.
After March 17th, 1941, the CORALLO was under the command of Lieutenant Gino Andreani, who sank with the deck gun the following ships (after having rescued the crew):
April 28th, 1943, near Cape Bon, the Tunisian Goleta DAR EL SALAM of 138 t. and the fishing boat Tunis of 41t.
On June 7th, 1942, east of Galite, the Tunisian motorized sailing ship HADY M’HAMED of 26t.
Up to the date of its loss, the CORALLO completed 48 patrols, remaining at sea over 180 days for a total of 23,718 miles.
On December 10th, 1942, under the command of Lieutenant Guido Guidi who had replaced Captain Andreani in mid June 1942, the boat left Cagliari for a patrol off the African cost between Bona and Bizerta. The operational orders contemplated an offensive patrol in the Bay of Bougie for the night of the 13th. After departure, all communication with the boat was lost despite radio signals sent up to the 23rd of December.
Just before December 10th, Salvatore Fanale, one of the crewmembers, disimbarked due to an illness, thus he was the only surviving member of the unforunate crew.
(Photo Piergabriele Pirolo)
The loss of this boat was only confirmed after the war by British official sources. The night of the 12th of December, at about 14 miles off Bogie, the CORALLO was discovered by British antisubmarine units and underwent an intense bombardment. Forced to the surface, the boat was rammed by the gunboat ENCHARTRESS (which was seriously damaged) and immediately sank in position 36°58’N – 05°07’E. There were no survivors.
Translated from Italian by Cristiano D’Adamo