At the beginning of the conflict (June 10th, 1940), the submarine Calvi was assigned to the 11th Squadriglia of the 1st Group based in La Spezia. The boat was under the command of C.C. Giuseppe Caridi since 1939, and the second in command was T.V. Antonio De Giacomo, who would eventually skipper the submarine Tazzoli.
The submarine left the base (in the region of Liguria, in Northern Italy) for the first war patrol on July 3rd, 1940, a day after the smg. Veniero. The boat was assigned an area in the Atlantic off Madera. These two boats were the first to receive orders from MARICOM (The Italian submarine command) to begin unrestricted warfare, thus foregoing the rules dictated by the International Maritime Law during a state of war. The Calvi successfully completed a patrol of the port of Funchal (Portugal) where it detected 12 cargo ships and one destroyer, all from neutral countries.
The Calvi in Bordeaux
During the return trip, the crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar took place on the surface, as it had happen during the initial crossing, but this time the boat was forced, for a brief period, to seek refuge under the ocean after the sighting of patrol units off Punta Almina. The mission wrapped up on August 6th, with the boat’s return to base, but without having achieved any result.
After the return to base, the boat entered the naval arsenal for the work necessary to fit it for missions in the Atlantic from the newly established Italian submarine base of Bordeaux. The Calvi, still under the command of C.C. Caridi, left La Spezia in the early hours of October 6th. Upon reaching the Strait of Gibraltar, in foul weather and light wind, the boat continued on submerged, picking up from the hydrophones sounds from patrol units. During this phase, the submarine encroached unfavorable sea currents which plummeted the vessel 143 meters toward the bottom, but without causing any damage. This depth was far greater than the maximum allowed by the boat’s specifications. Completing the crossing, the boat moved on toward Cape Finesterre where it began its patrol. On the 8th, following receipt of a radio signal from the smg. Glauco, the boat moved full speed toward the point indicated where it remained in ambush until the 10th. Having failed to sight any traffic, the boat continued on to Bordeaux, reaching the Atlantic base for the first time on October 23rd, 1940.
After some maintenance work, the Calvi took again to the sea on December 3rd as part of a group of submarines which included the Veniero, Emo, Bagnolini, Tazzoli and Nani. This operation, organized in concert with B.d.U. (German submarine command), brought the Italian boats off the Irish coast. The Calvi reached the area of operations on the 11th after having encountered a violent winter storm, typical of this part of the Atlantic. The fury of the sea was such that the boat had part of the forward superstructure ripped off, and part of the conning tower deformed. Due to the construction not particularly adapted to these weather conditions, the boat took on several tons of water from the conning tower’s hatch, risking several times to lose buoyancy. On the 12th, the Calvi made its first sighting, a steamship of unknown origins which was proceeding on a zigzag course at about 7 or 8 knots. During daylight, and despite the loss of one of the two thermal engines, the possible target was followed at a distance, but eventually, in the afternoon, the hunt was abandoned following the loss of a great quantity of diesel fuel from one of the double hulls.
On the 17th, the Calvi made a second sighting, but the pursuit was abandoned due to another failure of one of the diesel engines. On the 18th, the Calvi launched two torpedoes following the sighting of a steamship proceeding without lights, but failed to hit the target. Thereafter, the boat opened fire with the aft gun, but the superior speed of the ship brought about the end of the chase. Further attacks followed: all in unfavorable weather conditions.
On the 20th of December, the Calvi was attacked by the British ship CARLTON which opened fire with a large caliber machine gun. The boat, quick to submerge, was brought into launch position and around 14:00 sank the steamship. The Carlston was one of the units lost from convoy OB.260. Displacing 5,162 t., it was built by the shipyards Short Bros. Ltd in Sunderland and belonged to Chapman & Co. So., R. The sinking was given in position 55°18’N, 18°49’W and of the 35 members of the crew only 4 were later rescued.
On the 26th, the Calvi sighted other units, one of which, in position 55° N 19°W, was the object of a torpedo launched. Despite the fact that the crew clearly heard an explosion, there is no confirmation that the torpedo actually hit the target. On the 27th of December, having exhausted all diesel fuel reserves, the boat began the return voyage to base reaching Bordeaux on December 31st, just in time for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. After the return to base, the boat spent three months in the shipyard for repair and maintenance work.
On March 31, 1941 the boat took again to the sea for a mission in the central Atlantic along with the submarines Marconi, Finzi and Tazzoli. The Calvi was assigned to an area between the Canary Islands and the Azores Islands where it operated with the Finzi. On the 22nd of April, the boat launched two torpedoes against an armed ship off Freetown, and on the 28th against the steamship Caperby; in both cases the weapons missed the target. During the first incident, after having failed the target, the boat attempted to chase it on the surface, but lost it in heavy rain. During the second incident, this time off the Bijousa Islands, the chase had to be abandoned due to the incoming fog.
On the 5th of May, after having begun the return trip to base, the Calvi intercepted a ship of large displacement with three funnels and escorted by light units. Due to the high speed of the target, the Calvi failed to reach a good launching position and therefore ceased the attack. Eventually, the boat reached Bordeaux on May 13th. During the R.R. period, C.C. Caridi left the command of the boat to C.C. Emilio Olivieri to be promoted to C.F. and assume the role of Chief of Staff from October 1st, 1941 until the end of the conflict (September 8th, 1943).
The Calvi left base again on August 1st, 1941 for an ambush mission off the Canaries and Azores Islands. This mission did not produce any result, and on the 10th that submarine was again back to base. During this mission, the boat was initially used west of the Canary islands, and after the 21st it was moved off Gibraltar where it operated in concert with other German and Italian submarines.
The Calvi during the transfer of the crew of Atlantis from U-68
(Photo courtesy Erminio Bagnasco and Achille Rastelli)
On December 7th, the Calvi was again in action, this time to participate, between the 7th and the 29th, in the rescue of the crewmembers of the German raider “Atlantis”. Due to special circumstances, the Italian boat brought the rescued sailors back to Saint-Nazaire instead of Le Verdon. The Torelli, Finzi, Tazzoli and Calvi transferred from the U-Boot 254 sailors utilizing rubber dinghy with which the German boats were equipped.
In early March 1942, the Calvi was once again ready for action, but Betasom did not have enough boats to send along the American coast. Of the 11 submarines assigned to this sector, one was in Germany (Giuliani), five were at sea (Group Da Vinci) and the remaining were not in condition to take to the sea. Since the Germans were only interested in conducting group actions, the departure of the Calvi was assured after strong pressure from Betasom. The boat left Le Verdon on March 7th with destination Cape Orange, off the Brazilian coast. On the 28th, the Calvi discovered a convoy at about 700 miles from the Brazilian Coast, but one of the aircraft from the aircraft carrier in the convoy sighted the submarines, forcing its immediate submersion. On the 29th, the Calvi intercepted a steamship of the type “Huntington”, which was attacked with torpedoes e then seen to sink bow first. This sinking is not confirmed; the Huntington (ex Munsterland 20) had already been sunk by the U-96 on February 2nd. The other ships belonging to the same shipping company and similar to the Huntington (Schffbau & Maschinefabrik Bremen Vulkan di Vegesack, Germany) were lost in 1940 and the last one, the Hertford, in 1942.
On March 25th (according to some sources the 29th), the Calvi intercepted and sank the British cargo ship TREDINNICK of 4,589 T.S.L. This ship was built in 1921 by the shipyard “J Readhead & Son Ltd” of South Shields and belonged to the “J Readhead & Son Ltd” with offices in London and Cardiff. The sinking took place in position 27°15’N 49°15’W and none of the 46 crewmembers were rescued. On the 31st of March, the boat intercepted the American tanker T.C. MCCOBB which was sunk in the early hours of April 1st with 5 torpedoes and numerous 120 mm shells. This was the first American ship sunk by an Italian submarine.
T.C. MCCOBB which was sunk in the early hours of April 1st with 5 torpedoes and numerous 120 mm shells
This 7,452 T. tanker was built in 1936 by the Federal Shipbuilding, in New Jersey and belonged to the gigantic Standard Oil Company of New York. Of the crewmembers, 24 lost their lives, while the remaining 15 were later rescued. The position of the sinking was given at 7°10’N, 45°20’W. The crewmembers reported that the attack began at 16:25 when the Calvi, at a certain distance, opened fire with the deck gun. The tanker stopped zigzagging and proceeded in a straight course until dusk. The top speed of the McCobb was only 12.7 knots, and at 17 knots (probably quite less) the boat was able to catch up and open fire, once again hitting the target with most of the shells. After 20 minutes, the captain of the ship, Robert W. Overbeck, ordered the engines stopped and the “abandon ship”. Three life boats were lowered into the sea and seen to move away from the hull; the survivors were later rescued while en route to the Brazilian coast.
The Calvi’s journal recorded:
March 31st, 1942
15:00 – Latitude 06°29’N, longitude 44°58’W I sight a tanker sailing in due course 340 on 120 polar.
15:12 – I start the other engine (diesel), and maneuver to acquire on the Beta. The tanker proceeds at a zigzag changing course from 270 to 20. Speed 12 knots. I do not believe that we were sighted. To gain over the tanker I increase speed up to 300 r.p.m. on the right axel and 280-290 on the left one. I cannot push too much because I have a fracture on cylinder N. 3 of the starboard engine. At high speed, we leave behind a noticeable oil streak.
15:14 – Dive. I assume course 140 opposite to the direction of the target. I must conduct the attack with the sight scope because the attack one is out of service. Due to the conditions at sea (force 5), it is very difficult to keep the submarine leveled.
18:45 I sight on alpha 10, beta 20, to the left of the enemy. I approach to a distance of 3,000 meters to the left to then go on the attack and I come out of the water with the conning tower and the bow. I quick dive down to 20 meters, giving up the attack while submerged. The hydrophones pick up something on the right.
20:52 – The hydrophones are losing signal to the stern.
21:05 Surface – I order the deck guns manned. I start firing on the tanker which is running away at full speed in direction 290. Sea conditions do not allow me to continue firing with the aft gun. Due to the high pitch, the fire with the forward gun is not very accurate.
21:16 – I cease fire and continue the chase, bringing the engines to the maximum r.p.m.. We gain little.
22:52 at a distance of 6,800 meters I open fire with the forward gun on the tanker. I cannot wait any longer because it is past sunset and the beginning of the twilight. The tanker has sent the S.O.S.. From the radio it appears that I have attacked the American T.C. McCobb of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, New York. The calling name is WOGU.
23:15 – I slow down the rate of fire because the tanker, hit by 10 shells and with the engine stopped, proceeds at a very slow speed on course 350 and lowers 4 life boats. A few people have taken seats aboard the boats.
23:33 – I launch a torpedo from the forward tubes and after a “cold run” it hits the tanker under the bridge.
23:47 I launch a torpedo from the aft tubes and hit the tanker under the funnel. The ship does not sink.
23:59 I launch a torpedo from the aft tubes and hit the tanker between the deck and the funnel. The ship does not sink. The sea is in good conditions with wind from NE.
00:07 I launch I torpedo from the forward tubes, hitting the tanker between the deck and the funnel. The ship, despite the side completely ripped open and the stern lower on the water does not sink.
00:16 – I launch from the aft tubes a torpedo, which hits the ships between the bridge and the funnel. The ship does not sink.
00:28 I launch a torpedo from the forward tubes, but it does not explode.
01:00 I move away in direction 120 while the tanker goes down by the stern.
01:15 The tanker is seen sinking with the bow point upward.
( 07°19’N, 45°44’W)
On the 5th, the boat reaches the Brazilian coast and, in the following days, it makes contact with two ships, but loses them in foul weather.
After the failed chases of the previous days, on the 9th the Calvi catches up with the American tanker EUGENE V.R. THAYER of 7,138 t. sailing by itself. The tanker was sunk with the torpedo and over 120 120 mm shells. This tanker belonged to Sinclair Navigation of New York and was built in 1920 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding .The position of the attack was given at 02° 35’S, 39° 58’W, off the Gulf of Patos, but the ship sank in position 02°36’S, 39°43’W; there is no information regarding the fate of the crewmembers, but the U.S. Merchant Marine cites 11 casualties.
Later on, the Calvi intercepted and sank the Norwegian ship BALKIS of 2,161 t., followed soon after by the Panamanian tanker BEN BRUSH of 7,691 t. The Balkis was built by the shipyard Akers Mekaniske of Oslo and belonged to the shipping company Den Norske Middelhavslinje. The motor tanker Ben Brush, previously known as the Caroline Mærsk (Danish) was built in 1928 by the shipyard Odense Staalskibsærft of Odense, Denmark and was in the service of the USMC (U.S. Maritime Commission). The sinking is in position 04°32’S, 35°03’W; one member of the crew was lost and the remaining 34 were rescued.
Having exhausted all torpedoes, the boat began the return voyage from Cape San Rocco, reaching Le Verdon on April 29th. Considering the brevity of the mission, the results obtained were excellent and would have been better if the boat had had a larger number of torpedoes. This mission had some peculiar aspects: the total tonnage sunk was undoubtedly remarkable, and furthermore it validated Betasom’s decision, despite the opposition of the Germans, to send a submarine by itself. Moreover, this mission had a particular importance because by operating in various areas, the Axis submarines were able to disperse the concentration of the Allied antisubmarine operations. With the return of the Calvi ended the first phase of the Italian presence in American waters and the results were encouraging, but as we shall see, misled Betasom’s future expectations.
After the return to the base, the Calvi entered the shipyard for the usual maintenance work. During this period, commander Olivieri left the submarine and was replaced by C.F. Primo Longobardo; he would be the highest-ranking Italian officer lost aboard a submarine. At the end of the conflict, C.C. Olivieri was the Italian officer with the 5th best record. C.F. Longobardi had already distinguished himself aboard the Torelli, and he had already experienced four sinkings for a total of 17,489 t.
C.F. Primo Longobardo, ‘Medaglia d’Oro al Valor Militare’ – Gold Medal for Bravery
Despite his advanced age (for a submariner), C.F. Longobardi was able to secure this command, leaving Bordeaux on July 2nd, 1942 for a mission off the Antilles. On July 13th, the Calvi received orders to seek a ship proceeding by itself and of the type “Andalusia Start”; the ship was not found. The day after, the boat received orders to attack, if conditions were favorable, convoy S.4. 115 from Freetown to Great Britain escorted by H.M.S. Londonderry, H.M.S. Lulworth, H.M.S. Bideford and H.M.S. Hastings. This convoy had been sighted by U.130 which, later on, had made visual contact with the Calvi.
At 22:30 the Calvi sighted one of the escort vessels, probably the Lulworth, and Captain Longobardo ordered a crash dive. Immediately after, in position 30° 07’N, 26° 07W the Calvi was targeted with the launch of depth charges which did not cause serious damage. After a pinpointing maneuver, the Lulworth dropped a cluster of bombs, this time hitting the submarine. It should be noted that according to American war documents, depth charges were only effective if they exploded at least 5 meters from the hull. The boat began taking water in the forward compartment and the captain was forced to accept the inevitable duel with the surface units. Once surfaced, the Calvi received concentrated fire which it tried to avoid by running away at full speed. The Lulworth continued keeping the Calvi under fire, mowing down all the personnel on deck.
(Photo Imperial War Museum)
The last desperate act of the boat, a couple of torpedoes, was easily avoided while the British machine guns kept hitting the deck. Captain Longobardo, realizing the unevenness of the fight, ordered the crew to abandon ship and scuttle the vessel. Meantime, various officers and sailors, including Captain Longobardo, were killed by the enemy bullets and at the end the burden of sinking the boat rested with Captain E. Aristede Russo.
Meantime, a boat from the Lulworth had approached the boat and a member of the British crew, T.V. North, came aboard and would be lost with the submarine. The U.130 arrived on the scene launching a torpedo at the Lulworth, but failing its target. Meantime, the Calvi went down and was followed, soon after, by a violent explosion. It is not believed that the German torpedoes caused this explosion; perhaps it was one of the depth charges, which had been trapped on some part of the superstructure. Eventually, after about 4 hours, the British came back to the site of the sinking and picked up three officers and 32 sailors.
The Lulworth was one of the units of the U.S. Coast Guard transferred by the United States to Great Britain. The crew included personnel from the battleship Resolution that was under repair in Philadelphia. The unit was classified as a “sloop” similar to the Italian Eritrea; 1,700 t., 16 knots, 5.5” guns. Originally, the Lulworth was the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Chelan (CGC-45).
Edited by Laura K. Yost