R. Smg. Nani

The Nani was one of the 11 boats of the “Marcello” class, one of the best produced by the Italian shipyards. Despite having entered service only in 1938, by 1941 the submarine was already worn out, proof of the intense efforts the Italian oceangoing boats had to endure, and to which corresponded the extreme sacrifices of the crews.

Operational Life

In the brief period between the outbreak of hostilities and its loss in 1941 for unknown reasons, the submarine Nani completed 6 missions under the command of Lieutenant Commander Gioacchino Polizzi, sinking 2 merchant ships for a total of 1,939 t.

The Nani with other boats of the MARCELLO class
(Photo Giuseppe Carotenuto)

At the beginning of the hostilities (June 10th, 1940 for Italy), the Nani was part of the 22nd squadron of the 2nd group based in Naples. In preparation for the conflict, the boat was on patrol off Cape Bengut (Algeria), along with the Barbarigo, positioned 30 miles off the cost. After having failed to sight any vessel, the boat left the area on June 13th.

Soon after, the Nani was assigned to a new patrol area as part of a group, which included the Bandiera, Ascianghi and Santarosa. The Nani assumed its position on June 24th, 15 miles east of Port Mahon (Minorca). As for the many other boats that participated in this action, the Nani failed to make any contact, and eventually the boat returned to base.

The Nani at the shipyard while recharging the batteries
(Photo USMM)

A third, and last patrol in the Mediterranean took place during the second half of July. The Nani, along with the Morosini, Faa di Bruno and Berillo, took position east of Gibraltar between July 15th and July 23rd. The Nani was assigned an area between Gibraltar and Cape Guillates (Morocco) and it was the west most boat in the formation. Between the 18th and the 22nd of July, the crew sighted several light units, but Captain Polizzi did not have any opportunity to conduct an attack. On the 22nd, after having sighted a large destroyer, Captain Polizzi launched two torpedoes, which failed to hit the target. This attack took place at 3:00 AM, 12 miles SE of Point Europa.

The Nani in Venice. The Campanile is visible above the bow
(Photo courtesy Erminio Bagnasco and Achille Rastelli)

In September, the boat was ordered to the Atlantic departing Naples on the 29th of the same month. During the transfer, on October 5th, the submarine intercepted and sank the British armed trawler “Kingstone Shappire” of 356 t. Trawlers were high sea fishing boats built before the war and meant to be rapidly transformed into gunboats. In general, they were designed for harbor defense duties, but newer units were transformed into submarine chasers, while other into minesweepers. In 1939, the Royal Navy established the 5th Group in Mediterranean with 5 units.
Thereafter, following operational orders, the boat patrolled off Madeira where, on the 27th intercepted and sank the small Swedish ship “Maggie” of 1,583 t. in service to the British. Confirmation of this ship’s service for the British is given by its participation in convoy HM 19 from Norway to Scotland in March 1940. Finally, on November 4th the vessel reached its final destination navigating up the Gironde to the new base of Bordeaux.

On December 13th, the Nani left the fluvial port of Bordeaux to begin the dangerous navigation down the river Gironde. Reached the Atlantic, the boat had to endure terrible weather conditions and the second in command and a gunner were seriously injured by a massive weave forcing the captain to return to port, where they arrived on the 17th to disembark the wounded personnel. During the transfer from La Pallice to Bordeaux along the river Gironde, the submarine was attacked by a British aircraft which, after a fierce gun battle, was downed. The pause in Bordeaux was brief; having replaced the wounded personnel, the Nani was again at sea on the 20th to resume its patrol West of Ireland.

Due to the delay in leaving port, the Nani was ordered the shortest route to the operational area. On January 3rd, Betasom received the last radio signal. Despite several attempts to re-establish communication, the boat never replied to the many calls that followed.

Chief 2nd Class Gennaro Gagliano of Praiano, Salerno who perished aboard the Nani
(Photo Michele Esposito)

Chief 2nd Class classe Francesco Mattiuzzi who also perished aboard the Nani
(Photo Gian Ugo Mattiuzzi)

Machinist’s Mate Carlo Cappiello of Marina di Cassano, Piano di Sorrento (Naples) who perished aboard the Nani
(Photo Giuseppe Carotenuto)

After the end of the conflict, British authorities claimed the sinking of the Nani in position 60° 15’ N, 15° 27 W (South East of Ireland) to the corvette Anemone. Italian navel authorities doubted the accuracy of this claim based on several factors. First, the position would have been 330 miles off the originally assigned patrol area, second even if Captain Polizzi had chased a convoy so far north, it would have been unlikely that other boats in the area had not also detected its presence. German war records indicate that four u-boats, U-38, U-95, U-105, and U-124 were just south of the area in question. None intercepted or chased a convoy.

Additional notes

It should be reasonable to assume that the Nani was lost due to unknown circumstances, possibly foul weather, between the date of the last radio signal (January 3rd) and the last possible date for its return to base (February 20th).