R. Smg. Salpa

Salpa was an Argonaut-class coastal submarine (650 tons displacement on the surface and 800 tons submerged). During the war the boat completed 11 offensive and exploratory patrols and 4 transfer missions, covering 9,087 miles on the surface and 1,668 submerged.

Salpa soon after launch in Taranto

Brief and Partial Chronology

April 23rd, 1930

Setting up began at the Franco Tosi shipyards in Taranto.

May 8th, 1932

Salpa was launch at the Franco Tosi shipyard in Taranto.

December 12th, 1932

Salpa entered active service.


Along with the leader of the class Argonauta and the similar boat Fisalia, Salpa made a training cruise in the Dodecanese, making several stopovers in Libya on the way back.


Salpa was deployed in the Red Sea for a few months, together with the similar boat Serpente, to verify the suitability of the Argonauta class to operate in those waters. During this period, the commander of Salpa was Lieutenant Commander Mario Tabucchi. Subsequently, together with the Serpent, it was first deployed in the Aegean Sea and later in Tobruk.

Officers and sailors in colonial attire on the Salpa arriving in Massawa in 1936
(Giovanni Celeste Collection)

December 15th, 1939

Lieutenant Commander Antonio Biondo, 32, from Maglie (Puglie), assumed command of Salpa.

June 6th, 1940

Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Antonio Biondo, Salpa departed Taranto for a patrol 10-15 miles south of the island of Gaudos (near Crete), where it formed a barrage together with the submarines Bagnolini, Tarantini, and Giuliani (positioned about 20 miles from each other). Salpa was the only boat not to spot anything.

June 10th, 1940

Upon Italy’s entry into the World War II, Salpa (Lieutenant Commander Antonio Biondo) belonged to the XLV Submarine Squadron of the IV Grupsom of Taranto, which it formed together with the similar boat Serpente (according to another source, however, at the outbreak of the war the two boats were part of the Tobruk Submarine Group). Salpa was already at sea for the patrol that had begun on June 6th.

June 16th, 1940

The boat completed the patrol by reaching Gallipoli, without encountering any enemy ships. The same day the unit returned from Gallipoli to Taranto, sailing together with the submarines Captain Tarantini and Ruggiero Settimo and with the escort of the destroyer Zeffiro.

June 27th, 1940

Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Antonio Biondo, Salpa departs from Taranto bound for 33°46′ N and 23°10′ E, where it was to be part of a barrage between Gavdos and Derna with the submarines Ondina, Anfitrite and Uebi Scebeli.

June 29th, 1940

While sailing toward the ambush area, Salpa was attacked by the British destroyers H.M.S. Dainty, H.M.S. Defender and H.M.S. Ilex (Force “B”), at sea for an anti-submarine sweep to protect the British operation “MA. 3” (sending convoys between Malta, Egypt, and Greece) and already responsible, in the previous days, for the sinking of the Italian submarines Consul General Liuzzi and Uebi Scebeli (and perhaps also of the Argonauta). The encounter is not accidental: some sailors of H.M.S. Dainty, before the Uebi Scebeli sank, went on board, and captured various documents, one of which reports that Salpa was lurking in position 33°46′ N and 23°10′ E, so Force B consequently headed towards the indicated position.

Salpa was sighted by an anti-submarine aircraft and then subjected to precise and heavy hunting with depth charges (especially by H.M.S. Dainty, which wrongly believes to have sunk it).

July 1st, 1940

In the morning, Salpa was again located and attacked by two destroyers, the British H.M.S. Hostile and the Australian H.M.A.S. Stuart. H.M.S. Hostile located and attacked the submarine at 10:30 AM but could only use the bomb launchers, as the depth charge bomb dumper had jammed. H.M.A.S. Stuart, on the contrary, launches a “package” of depth charges at 10.50 AM and immediately afterwards passes again and launches six more bombs, causing serious damage to Salpa which descends to 60 meters and warned another six explosions of depth charges. The damage sustained forced the submarine to abort the mission and head for Benghazi.

July 3rd, 1940

Salpa arrived in Benghazi, where some temporary repairs were carried out.

July 16th, 1940

The boat left Benghazi for Taranto.

July 19th, 1940

Salpa arrived in Taranto.

July 22nd, 1940

The boat left Taranto for Pula, where he would undergo more extensive repair work.

July 24th, 1940

Salpa arrived in Pula, where it remained for repairs until September 20th.

September 21, 1940

Salpa departed Pula for exercises, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Antonio Biondo.

September 25th, 1940

Another exit from Pula for exercise.

September 29th, 1940

Another exit from Pula for exercise.

October 8th, 1940

Salpa left Pula for Taranto, under the command of the Lieutenant Commander Antonio Biondo bound for Taranto.

October 10th, 1940

The boat arrived in Taranto.

October 12th, 1940

The boat departed from Taranto for exercise.

October 18th, 1940

Another exit from Taranto for exercise.

October 20th, 1940

Further exit from Taranto for exercise.

October 22nd, 1940

Another outing from Taranto for exercise.

October 24th, 1940

Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Antonio Biondo, Salpa departed from Taranto for a patrol in the waters of Cyrenaica. However, it had to abort the mission and head for Brindisi due to damage caused by adverse weather conditions and battery problems.

October 26th, 1940

At noon, Salpa sighted off the coast of Santa Maria di Leuca a battleship, 7 km away, identified as of the Andrea Doria class. It was the Andrea Doria itself, sailing from Pula to Taranto without a destroyer escort as bad weather forced them to return to base, unable to maintain a speed of 15 knots. Andrea Doria made the recognition signal, but since Salpa was too slow to respond, the battleship fired two salvos in its direction. A cease fire was called when the submarine finally managed to execute the correct signal. Salpa reached Brindisi the same evening and remained there until the beginning of December.

November 25th, 1940

While Salpa was under construction, Lieutenant Commander Biondo handed over command to sub-lieutenant Filiberto Sturlese, 35, from Campiglia Marittima (Livorno).

December 3rd, 1940

The boat left Brindisi for exercise, under the command of Second Lieutenant Filiberto Sturlese.

December 14th, 1940

Sub-lieutenant Sturlese was replaced by Lieutenant Commander Emilio Berengan, 36, from Venice.

December 20th, 1940

Salpa left Brindisi for exercise.

December 21st, 1940

Salpa set sail from Brindisi for a patrol in the Otranto Channel, to defend the traffic between Italy and Albania, and still under the command of Lieutenant Commander Emilio Berengan.

December 30th, 1940

The boat reached Augusta after an uneventful mission, it had only picked up the sound of engines and distant explosions.

January 3rd, 1941

Lieutenant Commander Berengan left the command of Salpa, which the following day was taken over by Lieutenant Commander Guido Coscia, 32 years old, from Forenza (Potenza).

January 26th and 27th, 1941

Salpa carried out a hydrophone patrol off the coast of Augusta, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Guido Coscia, without any noteworthy events.

January 31st, 1941

The boat set sail from Augusta for a patrol in the waters of Cyrenaica, still under the command of Lieutenant Commander Guido Coscia.

February 3rd, 1941

At two o’clock in the morning, while proceeding from Augusta towards Derna during the approach navigation to its patrol sector (located in the waters of Marsa Matruh), the crew sighted three British destroyers engaged in systematic anti-submarine search, which spotted the boat and bombarded it heavily with depth charges until 4 p.m. Salpa was later damaged by an anti-submarine aircraft and then forced to abandon the mission following damage to the batteries.

February 5th, 1941

Salpa returned to Augusta, leaving immediately afterwards for Messina.

February 6th, 1941

The boat arrived in Messina.

February 10th, 1941

Salpa left Messina for Taranto, for the third long period of maintenance work in the space of a few months.

In the late afternoon, during the transfer navigation, Salpa was sighted from 7,300 meters away by the British submarine H.M.S. Rover (Lieutenant Commander Hubert Anthony Lucius Marsham, who identified his target as a Perla-class unit), which at 5.52 PM launched five torpedoes (a sixth did not start because it was defective) from 1,370 meters away,  5.5 miles by 278° from Punta Stilo. Salpa sighted two torpedo trails on the starboard side (at 6.15 PM, according to her commander’s report) and avoided them by putting a full rudder to port. He then continued sailing and at 11 PM meeting a convoy (German steamers Arta, Maritza, and Heraklea escorted by the destroyer Baleno) sailing from Bari to Messina, warned them of the danger.

February 11th, 1941

Salpa arrived in Taranto, where it remains under repair until March 20th.

February 14th, 1941

The boat left Taranto for sea trials, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Guido Coscia.

March 24th, 1941

Exit from Taranto for exercise.

March 31st, 1941

Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Guido Coscia, Salpa sailed from Taranto for another patrol in the Otranto Channel, off Capo Krio on the Albanian coast, to defend the traffic between Italy and Albania. It did spot anything except a few MAS.

April 14th, 1941

The boat returned to Taranto.

April 25th and 26th, 1941

Hydrophone patrol in the Gulf of Taranto, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Guido Coscia. No major events reported.

April 27th and 28th, 1941

Another hydrophone patrol in the Gulf of Taranto. No events worth mentioning. Upon returning from the patrol, Commander Coscia disembarked and was replaced by the Florentine Lieutenant Renato Guagni, 30 years old, who would be the last commander of Salpa.

May 5th and 6th,1941

Salpa left Taranto for exercise under the command of Lieutenant Renato Guagni, together with the old submarine H 8 and with the escort of the auxiliary escort ship F 46 Limbara.

May 9th, 1941

Salpa set sail from Taranto under the command of Lieutenant Renato Guagni for a patrol southwest of Crete.

May 14th, 1941

Salpa was relocated off the coast of Egypt for two days, then returned to the waters of Crete.

May 25th, 1941

Salpa concludes the mission by reaching Messina. No noteworthy events occurred, it only picked up on engine noises.

June 12th, 1941

Salpa left Messina for exercise, under the command of Lieutenant Renato Guagni, with the escort of the Arcioni patrol boat of the Guardia di Finanza.

Duel Between Submarines

At 9:55 PM on June 18th, 1941, Salpa, under the command of Lieutenant Renato Guagni, departed Messina for a mission in Cyrenaic-Egyptian waters. Its patrol sector was located between Ras Uleima (Gulf of Sollum) and Marsa Matruh, with the task of attacking enemy traffic in the coastal waters of Cyrenaica. More precisely, the assigned area was delimited by the meridians 26°20′ E and 26°40′ E, and by the parallel 31°55′ N and by the Egyptian coast (according to German sources, however, the area was between the meridians 25°00′ E and 25°20′ E and the parallels 32°27′ N and 32°40′ N). It was planned that the submarine would arrive in its operational sector on the night of June 21st, and then remain there until the evening of June 30th, after which it was to reach Leros.

Like too many other boats, however, Salpa did not respond to radio calls after its departure. In the end, the submarine command had to resign itself to it: the submarine and its 48 crew were swallowed up by the Mediterranean. On July 20th, 1941, the men of Salpa, five officers and 43 non-commissioned officers and sailors, were reported missing.

The truth, as was often the case in such cases, was learned from the British archives after the war.

At 7:57 AM on June 27th, 1941, the British submarine H.M.S. Triumph (Lieutenant Wilfrid John Wentworth Woods), while submerged off Marsa Matruh, had sighted what at first appeared to be the masts of a small ship: five minutes later, however, the British commander realized that what he was observing was a submarine which had probably just surfaced, about 1,800 meters away. Woods had identified his opponent as an Italian unit of the Perla class, estimating its course as 003° and its speed at 10 knots.

H.M.S. Triumph fate was as tragic as the one of Salpa. It was probably lost due to Italian mines off Cape Sounion between December 26th, 1941, and January 9th, 1942. In June 2023 Greek researchers led by Kostas Thoktaridis discovered the lost submarine at a depth of 203 meters. Lowered periscopes, sealed hatches, and extended diving planes would indicate that the submarine was submerged when it hit a mine.

The maneuvers of the Italian submarine prevented the British submarine from attacking with the torpedo while submerged, so, at 8.11 AM, H.M.S. Triumph had surfaced and opened fire with the deck gun and the Lewis machine guns from 1,370 meters away. On Salpa, too, the gunners had prepared the gun, but after firing five shots, all of which had fallen long, they had abandoned the gun and descended below deck. H.M.S. Triumph had fired 33 rounds with the 101 mm gun (as well as 330 rounds with the Lewis machine guns), scoring five hits and almost immobilizing Salpa, which had begun to sink aft. By 8:18 AM, the British unit had launched two torpedoes from just 550 meters away. The first of the two weapons had proved defective and had deviated course by turning left, but the second had hit the target, and Salpa had disappeared in a huge column of smoke and splashing water, after which debris had rained down on the entire surrounding area. When everything had thinned out, only a large patch of naphtha had appeared on the surface: no survivors were in sight. Salpa had sunk in position 32°05′ N and 26°47′ E (or 28°47′ E), taking all the crew with it.

For this action, Commander Woods of Triumph received the Distinguished Service Order, while his second Richard Gatehouse was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

The sinking of Salpa in the logbook of the Triumph (from Uboat.net):

“08:00 hours – A surfaced submarine was sighted about 2,000 yards away. As the enemy maneuvering made it impossible to make a submerged torpedo attack Triumph surfaced at 08:11 hours and opened fire with the deck and Lewis guns from 1,500 yards.

The enemy also manned his deck gun. After firing 33 rounds (with 5 hits) the enemy was almost stopped and appeared to be sinking by the stern. The enemy’s gun crew, after firing five rounds that all went over, abandoned their gun, and went below.

08:18 hours – Fired two torpedoes from 600 yards. The second torpedo hit the enemy submarine. An enormous column of smoke and water shot into the air and debris showered all round. A large pool of oil appeared but no survivors were seen in the water.”

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

Operational Records

TypePatrols (Med.)Patrols (Other)NM SurfaceNM Sub.Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
Submarine – Coastal159087166882 131.16 5.46



Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate
AlessiRomeoJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
AnderbeganiGiordanoChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe6/27/1941
BenecchiNandoJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
BergotesDomenicoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
BertaniLionelloNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
CaimiFeliceNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
CammisaAnielloJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
CastellanoCatelloNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
CicconeAntonioNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
CitiCitoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
CrispoldiCrispoldoChief 1st ClassCapo di 1a Classe6/27/1941
Di FilatoAlbertoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
EliaCosimoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
FannioGiovanniJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
FederighiCletoChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe6/27/1941
FilippiAlessandroChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe6/27/1941
FintarAntonioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe6/27/1941
GaldiAngeloChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe6/27/1941
GattiMarioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe6/27/1941
GuagniRenatoLieutenantTenente di Vascello6/27/1941
La ForgiaCorradoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
LagiArmandoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
LiguoroGiuseppeNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
MagarelliMauroNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
MerliGuidoJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
MocilioPieroJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
MorelloSalvatoreNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
NeriAlfredoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
PaganelliRenzoJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
PaladiniDerisChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe6/27/1941
PalazzoRaffaeleJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
PetacciniLeoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
PiazzollaAntonioJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
PremudaGiovanniSublieutenantSottotenente di Vascello6/27/1941
PrendinRinoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
RidiDuilioNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
ScognamiglioUmbertoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
ScorsoliniManlioJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
TanganelliIdilioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe6/27/1941
TrainaLuigiSublieutenant G.N.Tenente G.N.6/27/1941
VassalloUgoJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
VecciaLorenzoNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
VillaCarloNaval RatingComune6/27/1941
ViscogliesiGiuseppeJunior ChiefSottocapo6/27/1941
VittoriManlioSublieutenantSottotenente di Vascello6/27/1941