R. Smg. Lafolè

The submarine Lafolè was an Adwa-class coastal submarine (698 tons displacement on the surface and 866 tons submerged). The boat completed five war missions (four patrol and a transfer), covering a total of 2,442 miles on the surface and 901 miles submerged, and spent 40 days at sea.

Brief and Partial Chronology

June 30th, 1937

Set-up in the Odero Terni Orlando del Muggiano shipyards (La Spezia).

April 10th, 1938

Launched at the Odero Terni Orlando del Muggiano shipyard (La Spezia).

The launch of the Lafolè

August 13th, 1938

Entry into service.

December 12th, 1938

Deployed in Leros under the command of Maricosom (the command of the Italian submarine fleet) and precisely of the V Submarine Group.

May 1940

Assigned to the LXII Submarine Squadron (VI Submarine Group) and deployed to Tobruk, under the command of Lieutenant Piero Riccomini.

Lafolè at sea
(From “Sommergibili italiani” By Alessandro Turrini andOttorino Ottone Miozzi, U.S.M.M.)

June 10th, 1940

With Italy’s entry into the World War II, Lafolè, which was still part of the LXII Squadron based in Tobruk (along with Topazio, Nereide, Diamante and Galatea), was first sent off Sollum (where it forms a barrage together with Diamante, Topazio and Nereide, positioned with an interval of 20 miles from each other starting from a point 30 miles by 30° from Ras Azzaz),  to protect the ports of Cyrenaica and, if possible, to attack enemy ships sailing between Alexandria and Malta, and then off Tobruk, on an offensive patrol.

June 20th, 1940

The boat returned from the patrol without having spotted any enemy ships.

July 3rd, 1940

Lafolè was sent to lie in wait on the Gavdos-Derna junction (in the middle of the junction itself) along with other submarines.

July 7th and 8th, 1940

The crew detects enemy ships engaged in intense anti-submarine activity (a convoy returning from Malta to Alexandria was in fact at sea) but failed to locate them.

July 14th, 1940

Lafolè returned to base without having made any sightings.

September 21st, 1940

The boat was sent to ambush at night in the Gulf of Taranto. In September it carried out other anti-submarine defensive ambush missions in the Gulf of Taranto.

The Sinking

On October 8 (or 10),1940, Lafolè (Lieutenant Pietro Riccomini) left Taranto to reach the patrol sector assigned to it, bounded to the north by the parallel 35°40′ N and to the south by the stretch of Moroccan coast between Cape Quillates and Cape Agua, east of Gibraltar. When the mission was over, the boat was supposed to pass through the Strait of Bonifacio and then reach Naples: but this would never happen.

On October 15th, the submarine reached the assigned area, southeast of the island of Alborán and north of Cape Tres Forcas (not far from Melilla) and began patrolling it.

Five days later, at about eleven o’clock in the morning of October 20th, Lafolè sighted 12 miles north of Cape Tres Forcas two British destroyers, H.M.S. Gallant, and H.M.S. Griffin, which were swinging in systematic anti-submarine search at low speed, apparently unaware of its presence. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the submarine closed the distance up to 500 meters, in an attempt to attack.

What Commander Riccomini could not have known, however, was that the British were fully aware of the presence of his unit. Two days earlier, in fact, the submarine Durbo (twin of Lafolè), also on a mission not far from Lafolè (the two submarines had been sent together to patrol the waters east of Gibraltar), had been sunk by the destroyers H.M.S. Firedrake and H.M.S. Wrestler,  and a British boarding party, before the boat sank, had managed to get on board and capture ciphers, orders of operation and other documents, in which was indicated, among other things, the position of Lafolè, that is, off Cape Tres Forcas.

Six destroyers (H.M.S. Gallant, H.M.S. Griffin, H.M.S. Hotspur, H.M.S. Forester and two others) had set out from Gibraltar to hunt down the submarine in the area where it was supposed to be. When Lafolè had sighted H.M.S. Gallant and H.M.S. Griffin, they had also detected the presence of the Italian boat but had not gone on the counterattack so as not to arouse suspicion. While Lafolè was approaching to attack them, the third destroyer belonging to the trap device, H.M.S. Hotspur, had moved to 5,000-6,000 meters from Riccomini’s submarine (who had not realized it), with a very narrow beta, in the opposite direction to that where H.M.S. Gallant and H.M.S. Griffin were. The boat was thus surrounded. Listened to for some time, the Italian submarine was allowed to get as close as possible, and then went on the counterattack as soon as it hinted at launching torpedoes.

Having arrived at a suitable distance to attack, Lafolè launched a first torpedo with its stern tubes, and immediately all three destroyers (first H.M.S. Gallant and H.M.S. Griffin, and then also H.M.S. Hotspur which had meanwhile arrived on the point) went on the counterattack, bombarding the Italian unit with depth charges. Already the first discharge of bombs caused serious damage to the submarine, knocking out the electric motors and trim pumps, deforming the shafts of the propellers and opening waterways. The damage suffered (including waterways) prevented Lafolè from maneuvering and maintaining trim and depth, so that the submarine swung sharply at various depths and repeatedly found itself coming onto the surface, but the crew always managed to bring it back to the depths in an attempt to escape the hunt.

Despite everything, Lafolè managed to remain submerged for seven hours, resisting the very hard anti-submarine hunt, but having to proceed at very low speed, it was continuously subjected to the launch of depth charges. At 6.30 PM (5.30 PM for another source), however, the submarine, having lost the ability to control depth abruptly, surfaced once again, and this time its entire conning tower came out of the water (according to another version, the surfacing maneuver was wanted and ordered by Commander Riccomini, who intended to take advantage of it to reduce the excessive internal pressure so that it could then dive again):  this just as H.M.S. Hotspur arrived at full force to carry out a new launch of depth charges (for one version the submarine, surfaced, was also strafed, and was deliberately rammed to prevent that, having reached the surface, it could try to react with the cannon). The collision was inevitable: rammed by H.M.S. Hotspur, Lafolè sank in a few moments at 35°50′ N and 02°53′ W (or 36°00′ N and 03°00′ W), north of Melilla, together with 40 men, including Commander Riccomini and three officers.

The moment in which H.M.S. Hotspur rammed the submarine Lafolè

It could have been the end for everyone, but nine, out of the 49 men who made up the submarine’s crew, surprisingly made it out alive. When Lafolè had come onto the surface, the second-in-command, Lieutenant Giuseppe Accardi, with eight men had tried to open the hatch of the conning tower to reduce the internal pressure: just at that moment the ramming had taken place, and it was precisely the internal pressure that had thrown Accardi and the other eight men (including the sailors Agostino Di Bartolomeo and Antonio Anastasio) outside,  through the gash that the bow of the Hotspur had opened in the hull and conning tower of the submarine (for another version through the hatch itself). Air bubbles escaping from the sinking hull brought them to the surface. It was H.M.S. Hotspur himself who rescued seven of the survivors, while H.M.S. Gallant rescued the other two. H.M.S. Hotspur, whose hull structures had suffered severe damage in the collision, would require repairs that would last until February 20th, 1941. The survivors of Lafolè, by then prisoners of war, were disembarked in Gibraltar.

The motivation for the Silver Medal for Military Valor awarded to the memory of Lieutenant Piero Riccomini, born in Modena on October 2, 1908:

“Commander of a submarine, during a risky war mission he boldly attacked two enemy destroyers escorted by aircraft with torpedoes. Subjected to violent and prolonged hunting, with the engine apparatus unused and serious infiltration of water on board, with shrewd and daring maneuvers, he tried to escape the enemy reaction, facing the adverse fate with serene determination and great skill. In a last-ditch attempt to prolong the resistance and elude the hunt to which he was subjected, with admirable coolness he ordered the rapid emergence of the unit, in order to reduce the high internal pressure by opening a hatch and then resume diving again. In his daring intent he found a glorious end with the unit, which sank, hit by a new enemy offense. An example of exceptional leadership virtues and sublime attack on duty.

(Central Mediterranean, 20 October 1940).”

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

Operational Records

TypePatrols (Med.)Patrols (Other) NM Surface NM Sub. Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
Submarine – Coastal5 2,442 901 4083.573.48



Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate
AncoratoVittorioNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
ArrabbitoGiovanniNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
BaldiniFernandoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
BruceriAlfonsoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
BusoniAldoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
CafaroGiulioChief 3rd ClassCapo di 3a Classe10/20/1940
CastelloGiuseppeChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe10/20/1940
D’ambrogioGinoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
DazzaraRenatoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
De CarliSilvioNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
Del BàAstemioNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
Di GiuseppeFrancescoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
FarnettiArrigoChief 1st ClassCapo di 1a Classe10/20/1940
FedericiMarioSublieutenant G.N.Tenente G.N.10/20/1940
GhiringhelliCelestinoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
MacoriniMarioNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
MartuccelliAntoninoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
MiglioratiFrancescoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
MolinoPietroNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
MolinoVincenzoSublieutenantSottotenente di Vascello10/20/1940
NuzzoVitaleNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
PediciniCarloChief 3rd ClassCapo di 3a Classe10/20/1940
PiazzaCarmeloNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
PiazzaGiuseppeNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
PizziGiovanniNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
PossentiModestoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
RiccominiPieroLieutenantTenente di Vascello10/20/1940
RiettiGiovanniNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
RuggeroAntonioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe10/20/1940
RussoVittorioNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
SalmoiraghiAngelinoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
StroppianaNevioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe10/20/1940
TaniRomeoChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe10/20/1940
TarghiOsvaldoNaval RatingComune10/20/1940
TezzaUgoChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe10/20/1940
TosiniAnielloNaval RatingComune10/20/1940