At the beginning of the war, the submarine Luigi Torelli was completing a training and shakedown period and therefore was not immediately assigned to operational duties. Upon completion of this training phase, the boat conducted a short reconnaissance mission in the Gulf of Genoa, after which it was reassigned to Bordeaux. The Torelli left La Spezia, its original base, on August 31st, 1940 as part of the first group of boats assigned to the newly established Atlantic base in Bordeaux. Following a pre-established plan, the boat crossed the Strait of Gibraltar the night of September 8, sailing, mostly submerged, along the African coast.
Between the 11 and the 29, the Torelli was assigned to a patrol area just off the Azores Islands. In this sector, is was assisted by the Tarantini to the north and the Faà di Bruno to the south. As part of this mission were also deployed the Emo (furthest north), the Baracca (south) and the Giuliani (farthest south). During the same period, the Marconi, Finzi and Bagnolin operated off the Northern Iberian Peninsula. During this mission, the Torelli encountered two ships, one neutral and one, which could not be reached and was assumed to be an enemy merchantman. Finally, on October 5th, the Torelli reached Bordeaux. In the following several weeks, the boat left port several times to complete short practice missions.
On December 11th, 1940 the Torelli left for its first Atlantic sortie, but a few days later, on the 21st, it was forced to abandon mission due to serious problems with the primary electric motors. Five days later, on the 26th, it reentered the base where it underwent repairs for over a month. During this period, C.F. Aldo Cocchia left the command of the submarine to become the Chief of Staff of BETASOM, and he was replaced by C.F. Primo Longobardo; one of the most recognized Italian submarine commander of the war.
On the 5th of January 1941, the boat was again at sea, this time for a mission west of the Scottish coast.
The Torelli in Bordeaux while going through the locks leading to the tidal basin.
On the 15th, the boats sighted a small convoy of 6-7 ships, and commander Longobardo conducted a brilliant attack sinking the 5198 t. Greek SS Nemea, the 4.079 t. Norwegian SS Brask and, the following day, the 3.111 t. Greek SS Nicolas Filinis. The Nemea belonged to the “Ger N and Demetrios Denys Stathartos” of Athens and was built by Connel & Co. of Glasgow in 1913. The sinking was given in position 54° N 23° 58′ W and 17 crewmembers were lost, while the remaining 14 were rescued. The Brask belonged to the “Nilssen & Sonner” of Oslo and was originally built by the William Doxford & Co. of Sunderland in 1911. The sinking was given in position 52° 45′ N, 23° 59′ W, and 12 crewmembers were lost, while the remaining 20 rescued. The Nicolaos Filinis belonged to the “Nikes N Filinis” of Athens and was originally built in 1904 by the Richardson, Duck & Co. of Stockton-on-Tee. The sinking was given at 53° N, 24° W and 3 crewmembers lost their lives, while 26 were rescued. A forth vessel was also damaged, but escaped due to the foul weather.
This was one of the few examples of an Italian submarine archiving great results while participating in a Wolf pack attack. Eventually, this isolated episode would not stop B.d.U. from reassigning the Italian Submarines away from the Northern Atlantic into the more temperate waters of the Caribbean and South Atlantic. On the 20th of January, the Torelli conducted an attack against three enemy destroyers, but all three torpedoes launched failed to reach their targets.
On the 28th of January, the boat found and sank the 5.198 t. British SS Urla and then returned to the base, reaching Pauillac (30 KM north of Bordeaux) on the 4th of February. The Urla belonged to the “Bowring Steamship Co.” of Liverpool, and it was built by the “Ardrossan Dockyards” in 1924. The sinking was given at 54° N, 19° 20′ W and all 42 crewmembers were rescued. At the end of this mission, Commander Longobardi was transferred to the Calvi (submarine on which he will perish on the 15th of July, 1942 earning the Gold medal for Valor), and was replaced by T.V. Antonio De Giacomo. Unusual for a submarine, the second in command, T.V. Francesco Pedrotti was also replaced (he assumed the command of the submarine Beilul) by the S.T.V. Girolamo Fantoni.
After the usually period of rest and repairs, the Torelli left port in April as part of the “Da Vinci” group, moving off the coast of Ireland. This was a change of strategy, since Betasom had already began sending boats to the central Atlantic instead than the less hospitable northern Atlantic waters. Having failed to detect enemy shipping, T.V. De Giacomo later moved west of the Scottish coast, but then returned to base without having scored any success. The boat left the area on May 11th.
On June 29th, 1941 the submarine left the base for another mission off Gibraltar. On the 5th of July, it detected a convoy but, due to the prompt reaction of the escort units, could not conduct a successful attack. Two days later, on the 7th of July, the same situation would repeat itself, but this time the boat would have to avoid the violent reaction of the escort units. This attack took place at 35°15’N, 10°25’W.
On the 21st, near the end of its mission, the Torelli locates the 8.913 t. Norwegian motor tanker Ida Knudsen, which was navigating alone and which, was sank during a night attack. This ship belonged to the “Dampsk-A/S Jeanette Skinner” and was built in 1925 by the “Nakskov Skibsvaerft” in Denmark. The sinking was given at 34° 34′ N and 13°v 14′ W; 5 crewmembers were lost.
After a brief period in Bordeaux, the Torelli was again at sea west of Gibraltar; by this time, the period of Italian participating to the U-boat war in the North Atlantic had ended. On the 21st at 22:30, and on the 22nd at 00:30, the Torelli attacked a convoy, but the violent reaction of the escort caused considerable damage and the boat was forced to abandon mission. During this mission, the Torelli was part of a spotting network, which also included the Archimede, Cappellini, Morosini, Malaspina, Baracca ed the Da Vinci. Six large convoys crossed the water where the submarines where stationed, but mostly due to bad intelligence, none was attacked. Even U-boots send by B.d.U. participated to this action, and thanks to signals sent by the Da Vinci, U.203, U.124 and U.201 sank a total of nine ships. The 5th of December, the boat was again at sea, this time to participate, between the 7th and the 29th, to the rescue of the crewmembers of the German raider “Atlantis” returning the rescue personnel to Saint-Nazaire instead of Le Verdon, as originally planned. The Torelli, Along with the Tazzoli and Calvi, transferred 254 of the German sailors from U-boats using rubber rafts.
On the 2nd of February, 1942 the Torelli left for its first mission along the American coast, specifically off the French Island of Martinique.
During the crossing of the Atlantic, on February 20th, it located and sank the 7.224 t. British SS Scottish Star with the torpedo and the deck gun. This ship belonged to the “Blue Start Line Ltd” of London and was built in 1917 as the “Millais” by the Harland of Greenock and renamed in 1938. The sinking was given at 13° 24′ N and 49° 36′ W; four crewmembers were lost and 69 rescued. It later reached its destination on the 24th, remaining in the area until March 10th.
The Esso Copenhagen sinking by the bow.
(Photo Elio Andò)
On the 25th it located and sank the 9.245 t. Panamanian motor tanker Esso Copenhagen. This ship under, in service to the United States, belonged to the “Panama Transport”, and was built in 1939 by the “Burmeister & Wain” of Copenhagen. The sinking was given at 10° 32′ N, 53° 20′ W and one crewmember was lost, while the remaining 38 rescued. The 10th of March, it located the British armed M/V Orari (10,350), but due to the superior speed of the target failed to reach a satisfactory position of attack.
On the 26th, it sighted the periscope of a submarine and, not knowing its identity, quickly disengaged. Later, It left the area and returning to Bordeaux on March 31st, where it entered the shipyard for routine maintenance work. During this period, CC. De Giacomo left the command and was replaced by T.V. Augusto Migliorini.
On June 2nd, 1942 the Torelli left for its second mission along the American coast, this time to patrol North East of the Bahamas Islands. Four days into the journey, on the 6th, the submarine was located by an airplane and attacked. This was the first such attack against one of Betasom’s boats. The technique was new: Allied aircraft had started operating at night and, with the aid of a radar, would locate Axis submarines illuminating them with a spot light and following with the launch of a cluster of bombs. In the case of the Torelli, the bombs, probably propelled by the high altitude of the launch, exploded under the hull causing very serious damage, but failing to sink the vessel. Still, an internal fire force the crew to flawed the ammunitions stowage area.
The Torelli with a heavy listing in the Spanish port of Aviles.
(Photo Elio Andò)
Commander Migliori, fearing the complete loss of the boat, directed toward the Spanish coast ending up aground near Cape Penas. This grounding was probably caused by the fact that the boat had lost all navigational aids. Later, the submarine was rescued by Spanish tugs and towed to the port of Aviles.
The submarine was in desperate conditions: unable to submerge, without navigational aids, and taking water. It was brought to rest on a sand bank, and after a few emergencies repairs, the 6th of June the Torelli left Spain attempting to return to Bordeaux. The following day, the boat was again attacked from the air by two Sunderlands; the captain and other officer were wounded and Sergeant Flavio Pallucchini was killed by the vicious and well-aimed strafing or the British planes, one of which appeared to have been hit.
To avoid sure sinking, the Torelli was, once again, brought back into Spanish territorial waters and place to rest on the sandy bottom of the harbor of the small port of Santander. Between the 8th of June and the 14th of July the crew proceeded with some emergency repairs. Having exceeded the maximum stay allowed in the territorial waters of a neutral country, the submarine was scheduled to be interned by the Spanish authorities, but on the 14th it escape the loose surveillance and reached Bordeaux in the evening of the 15th at the end of an incredible ordeal: this boat was a real survivor.
Once at the base, the damage was so massive that it required about 6 months of repair work. T.V. Migliorini left the command and was transferred to the corvette Cicogna. The command was assigned to C.C. Antonio de Giacomo who was ordered to leave Le Verdon on the 21st of February, 1943 for a mission off the Brazilian coast. The 11th of March, the Torelli received 25 tons of diesel fuel from the Barbarigo. On the 16th, it was attacked by airplanes and due to a failure of the main shutoff valve (engine intake), it could not dive forcing a battle. One of the planes was damaged or shot down, and the others left but only after having caused serious damage and wounded the captain who was forced to transfer command to his second. Amongst the wounded were the chief engineer, C.G.N. Giuseppe Sguerra, and G.M. Alfio Petralia, while Sc.R.T. Radioman Francesco Lubrano was killed. Once again, the serious damages forced the boat to turn around and return to the base, which was eventually reached on the 3rd of April 1943; the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic had definitely turned.
Following negations with the Germans, the Torelli was one of the seven submarines designated to be transformed into transports. Supposedly, the idea of transforming these boats originated with C.V. Enzo Grossi, then commander of the base, who had realized that these submarines were no longer fitted for offensive operations. Grossi made a proposal to Adm. Donitz: in exchange for the 7 Italian submarines, the German would transfer 7 newly constructed U-boat to the Italian Navy. Although it could appear that the proposal was preposterous, it was actually warmly welcomed especially because the Germans were producing a boat a day, but did not have enough personnel to man them.
As part of the final agreement reached between the two navies, the Krisgmarine transferred seven U-boats of the class VII-c (designated by the Italians as class s) in exchange of an equivalent number of Italian boats which, due to their dimensions, were better suited for the long voyage to Japan. Of the seven boats, only five began the journey with the Torelli leaving on June 14th. This operation was completely under German control, and the boats were assigned a German name, but retained their Italian crew. Of the five boats, the Tazzoli was lost son after its departure, while the Barbarigo was lost probably soon after. Both losses were never documented and remain a mystery to these days. The two remaining transport submarines, the Bagnolin and the Finzi were trapped by the events surrounding the Italian surrender while still in Bordeaux and never left.
These missions were a desperate attempt to acquire precious and rare material, but even after extensive modifications, each submarine could, at the very most, carry only 150 t. of goods, a fraction of what a small cargo ship would usually load. As part of these alterations, the boats were stripped of their offensive weapons, both deck gun and torpedo launchers (turned into fuel depots), and left to defend themselves with only the 13.2 mm AA guns. In regards to these guns, it should be noted that they were not very effective against the new American four-engine bomber. Part of the batteries was removed, thus greatly reducing underwater range, and also the officer and crew quarters were reduced to a minimum. Life aboard was harsh: of the three toilettes, only one was left operational. Personal storage, showers, and most of the already Spartan amenities simply disappeared.
The Torelli had a special experience since, in addition to a cargo of special metals and rare merchandizes (mercury, steel, ammunitions, 20mm guns, a 500 Kg. Bomb, etc), was to transport Colonel Kinze Sateke, a Japanese officer specialized in telecommunications returning to Japan after extensive training with the Germans, and a German engineer. Also aboard were two militarized civilian mechanics. The journey was n
ot unknown to the British: the boat under the special attentions of the various surface ships, Catalinas and Sunderlands from Gibraltar to Freetown. Despite the excellent preparation, the Torelli run out of fuel and, only thanks to some precious diesel fuel transferred from a German U-Boat on August 12th, it was eventually able to reach Sabang (Malaysia) on August 26th, 1943 and then Singapore on August 31st.
A few days later, after the 8th of September, the Torelli was surprised in the events of the Italian armistice. The boat, already under German control, was manned by German personnel, and the command transferred to Captain Werner Striegler, while the Italian crew were sent to POW camps. Eventually, part of the crew opted to continue fighting along the old allies, and the Torelli, now renamed UIT-25 continue serving until May 10th, 1945 (two days after the official German surrender). During this period the boat was assigned to the 12th and later the 33rd U-boot flotilla. Herbert Schrein, who then relinquished the command to Alfred Meier in February 1945, replaced Captain Striegler in September 1944. Taken over by the Japanese and renamed I-504, the Torelli continue fighting with a mixed crew until Japan’s surrendered. Captured in the port of Kobe, the submarine was scuttled by the Americans the following years in deep waters off the port of Kobe.