The submarine MICCA (second boat with this name) was the first and only of a class which would not be pursued. It was a large submarine of the oceanic type designed in the early 30ies when the refurbishing and expansion of the Italian submarine fleet had already begun. At the time, this boat was part of an ambitious plan to build a submarine with high performances (speed, range, weaponry, etc) which would be both an attack and mine laying unit.
The submarine MICCA, the day of its launch
The idea was to have a multiuse boat, adaptable to both the “guerre de course” and the laying of mine, but also capable of transporting in secret. The boat was a success and fully matched the initial requirements, but turned out to be very expensive, and due to the limited resources available, the Regia Marina had to forgo the project and turn to less elaborate projects. The MICCA was built by the shipyard Tosi of Taranto. Laid down on October 15th, 1931, it was launched on March 31st, 1935 and delivered to the Navy on October 1st of the same year.
Upon entering service (10/1/1935), the MICAA was assigned to the 4th submarine group based in Taranto. In early 1937, in participated to the Spanish civil was under the command of Lieutenant Commander Ernesto Sforza, completing two missions. The first, from January 23 to February 2, originated from Naples with a patrol in the waters off Valecia, but the boat did not encounter any traffic. The second, started February 13th, along with 5 other boats, was immediately interrupted the following day due to the international situation which was developing: the Italian government had realized that it could no longer conduct a clandestine war in support of Franco. Contrary to what is commonly believed, neither the MICCA, nor any other Italian ship laid any mine.
During the famous naval parade of Naples for in honor of Hitler (May 5th, 1938), the MICCA was the leading unit of the Italian submarine fleet. At the beginning of the war, the boat was assigned to the 16th Squadron of the 1st Submarine Group based in La Spezia. On June 10th, 1940 the boat was under the command of Commander Vittorio Meneghini and already at sea by 7 days in waters off Egypt where, the night of the 12th, it laid a mine field of 40 devices in front of Alexandria.
(Photo courtesy Erminio Bagnasco and Achille Rastelli)
With the command transferred to Commander Alberto Ginocchio, the night of August 12th the boat was again north west of Alexandria to lay another 40 mines. Two days later, while on patrol in the same area, it sighted two enemy destroyers and went on promptly the attack. It launched an aft torpedo against one of the two to then dive deep. After 40 seconds, the sound of an explosion was heard, but British documentation does not confirm the results of this action. Back to Taranto, the boat began a period of refitting and alterations in preparation for the transport of material to overseas bases. During this pause, Commander Ginocchio disembarked passing the command to Lieutenant Commander Guido D’Alterio.
It is during this period that Admiral Doenitz, the commander of the U-boats, become interested in the MICAA for a mission in the Atlantic which can only be carried out by a long range submarine (at the time the Germans did not have any long range boats): mine the waters off Freetown (Sierra Leon), an important port for the British economy. The MICCA would be capable of doing it, but due to logistical difficulties at Bordeaux (where BETASOM, the Italian submarine base is located), where the base is not equipped for the handling of mines, and also for the needs of the Regia Marina to complete urgent transports in the Mediterranean, the German request is not accepted. From BETASOM, the MICCA would be again considered in 1942 in relation to plans for long distance patrols (South Africa and Madagascar), but for the same reasons nothing happens.
At the end of 1941, the boat began transport runs (foodstuff, gasoline, ammunitions) to the Aegean and North Africa. From then on, these mission made up the primary activity of the boat making the MICCA a special and indefatigable protagonist for what for the surface ships was called “the battle of the convoys”. During one of these missions, on March 13th 19411, the boat sighted a group of enemy destroyers, but the torpedo launched did not reach its target. Soon after, in April, during the transport from Taranto to Leros, it sighted a convoy south of the Island of Crete. Having gotten closer, at about 1,500 meters it launched two torpedoes and then dived. After the prescribed time, aboard the boat are heard two explosion, but again there is no record of such attach in the British documentation.
Arriving in Leros, near the mouth of the port the MICCA is victim of a curious incident: a torpedo accidentally exited one of the aft torpedo tubes and exploded, not too far from the boat which was seriously damaged. Towed to port, the boat was somewhat repaired, enough to allow it to return to Taranto where, from June through November 1941, if was returned to full efficiency.
At the end of November, the MICCA restarted the transport missions, this time to North Africa. Just before Christmas, Lieutenant Commander Alberto Galeazzi replaced Captain D’Alterio. In 1942, the boat completed an unsuccessful patrol off Malta, while the transport runs continued unabated. The situation in Africa was ever so difficult and required the maximum effort by the MICCA. Before sinking it would complete 14 missions, transporting a total of 2,163 tons of material. During a mission from Taranto to Benghazi in October 1941, the boat was couth by a violent squall, which caused such damages to force a return to base, and also caused the loss of Giuseppe Canta, a lookout who was ripped away by a wave.
The last mission of the MICCA, by then under the command of Lieutenant Paolo Scobrona since June 15th 1943, began on July 24th with departure from Taranto for Naples. The transfer calls for the circumnavigation of Sicily to avoid the Strait of Messina by then controlled by the enemy air force engaged in opposing the German retreat. However, the night of the 28th, off Cape Spartivento Calabro, the boat had to change course and return to Taranto due to a breakdown. The security routes call for a landing near Cape S. Maria di Leuca where the boat would meet an antisubmarine unit. Instead, it found the British submarine TROOPER, one of the boats that in summer 1943 infested the Italian coastline and that up to September 8th, 1943 caused painful losses to the Italian submarine fleet.
The Allies are particularly interested in the large transport submarines. A few days earlier, along the Calabrese coast were lost, surely ambushed, the submarine REMO (the 15th) and ROMOLO (the 18th). Two brand new boats on their maiden voyage to Naples and specifically designed for the transport over long distances. The reasons behind such interest is the fear that these boats could be used by the Germans to transfer special material to Japan (the so called secret weapons), under construction in Peenemunde and at the time already discovered and bombed.
Thus, at 06:05 of July 29th, in the waters south west of Cape S. Maria di Leuca the TROOPER launched six torpedoes, one of which hit the MICCA midship causing it to quickly sink 270˚ from the lighthouse. Only 18 people service, including the Captain Scobrogna, all rescued by the ship BORMIO in charge of the escort but which had arrived too late.
Up to then, the MICCA had completed 24 sorties:
14 transport missions
2 mine laying missions
4 transfer and drill missions
all for a total of 23,140 miles.
In addition to the list of the deceased available through “Onorcaduti” (the Italian list of the casualties of war) another source, which could not be verified, lists the following names:
2°C° Alfonso PISTARÀ, 2°C° Antonio SCIOPPO, Com. Romolo BALZI, Com. Vincenzo BOFFO, Com. Armando CECCHETTI, Com. Domenico LOZZI, Com. Carlo MARIANI, Com. Mattia SCALZA, Com. Adriano ZARRI, Op. Angelo FIUMI
Translated from Italian by Cristiano D’Adamo