Sirena was a coastal submarine, leader of the class of the same name, belonging to the “600” series of the “Bernardis” type (named after the designer, General of the Naval Engineers Curio Bernardis). It had a single hull with double resistant central bottoms (in which all the tanks were hosted: ballast, emergence, rapid emergence and compensation) and an external counter-hulls (having both the function of increasing lateral stability, and to accommodate additional fuel tanks).
Sirena still on the slip
(From “Gli squali dell’Adriatico, Monfalcone e i suoi sommergibili nella storia navale italiana” by Alessandro Turrini)
Second of the five classes of small coastal submarines (Argonauta, Sirena, Perla, Adua, Acciaio) that made up the “600” series (so called because of the surface displacement of the boats that composed it), Sirena class was composed of simple, practical, and resistant submarines, characterized by excellent stability and maneuverability both on the surface and underwater, good robustness and also good habitability, despite its small size.
The launch of the Sirena in Monfalcone
Derived from the Argonauta class, which had opened the “600” series, Sirena were set up before the entry into service of their predecessors, which prevented the experiences that emerged from the utilization of the new class from being fully exploited in their design. Nevertheless, they were judged to be successful units, as were the Argonauts. Between Sirena and the Argonauta there were some slight differences relating to the hull (which on Sirena was slightly shorter and wider: 60.20 meters in length and 6.45 in width compared to 61.50 and 5.65 of the Argonauta) and to the superstructures, resulting from improvements made in the design phase. In particular, the stem, which on the Argonauta was shaped like those of the larger submarines of the Pisani class (from which they were partly derived), on Sirena it was slightly raised, assuming a shape called “shark”.
Sirena with the original fully enclosed conning tower
(Aldo Cavallini Collection)
The displacement was slightly greater than the previous class (679 vs. 666 tons on the surface, and 842 vs. 810 under water). Other differences were the deck gun, consisting of the new 100/47 mm model that replaced the older 102/35 of the Argonauta, and the engines, which were also more modern and powerful (1,350 hp vs. 1,250 hp) and it had a slightly greater range. In general, more modern apparatuses were adopted, to improve the already good qualities of the previous class. In fact, the performance of Sirena was better than the already satisfactory performance of the Argonauta class.
The decision to build Sirena class was taken by the Regia Marina following the London Naval Conference of 1930, in which it was established that there would be no limitation on the number of submarines of standard surface displacement not exceeding 600 tons that the signatory nations could build. Precisely for this reason, the “600” series became the standard model of all small coastal submarines built by the Italian Navy during the thirties.
Sirena displaced 678.95 tons on the surface and 842.20 tons submerged; The displacement varied slightly between the submarines of the class built in different shipyards, and is variously referred to as 681, 691 or 701 tons on the surface and 842, 850 or 860 tons submerged.
The propulsion system for surface navigation consisted of two FIAT diesel engines with a power of 1,350 or 1,444 hp (650 or 675 hp per engine) on two four-bladed propellers, which allowed a maximum speed of 14 knots, while for underwater navigation there were two CRDA electric motors with a power of 800 hp (400 hp per engine). They were powered by a lead-acid battery consisting of 104 elements, which allowed a maximum speed of 7.7 knots. The surface range, with a supply of 80 tons of fuel, was 2,200 miles at 14 knots (for another source, 2,280 miles at 12 knots) and 5,000 (for another source 5,590) miles at eight knots (4,480 miles at 8.5 knots). Submerged, it could make seven to eight miles at 7.5 knots and 72 (84 knots for other sources) at four knots.
The submarines of the class built in Taranto and Rijeka, were instead powered by Franco Tosi diesel engines and Marelli electric motors, with slightly different range and speed performances.
Sirenas were armed with six 533 mm torpedo tubes, 4 at the bow and 2 at the stern, with a reserve of 6 torpedoes (for another source, 12 torpedoes), and with an OTO Mod. 1931 100/47 mm (with a reserve of 144 or 152 rounds) and two Breda Mod. 31 13.2/76 mm guns in single installations (with a reserve of 3,000 rounds; according to some sources the number of these machine guns was later increased to four). The test depth was 80 meters, with a safety coefficient (relative to the maximum stress referred to the elasticity limit of the material) of 3.
The twelve submarines of the class were christened half with the names of “sea deities” (Sirena, Naiade, Nereide, Anfitrite, Ondina, Galatea) and the other half with names of minerals (Ametista, Diamante, Rubino, Topazio, Smeraldo, Zaffiro). The six submarines of the mythology group were built by the CRDA of Monfalcone, while the remaining six were entrusted, in pairs, to three other shipyards: Ametista and Zaffiro to the OTO shipyards in La Spezia; Diamante and Smeraldo at the Franco Tosi shipyard in Taranto; Rubino and Topazio at the Kvarner Shipyards in Rijeka (the first and only submarines built by this shipyard for the Royal Italian Navy: it was an “experiment”, which was not replicated).
Only one, the Galatea, would survive the war: of the others, nine were lost in action and two scuttled following the armistice of Cassibile. Those that survived until after 1941 were subjected to work to reduce the size of the conning tower, in order to reduce the diving time and make them less visible from a great distance.
From Sirena was then derived, with a few modifications, the Perla class; according to some sources, the “Delfinul”, a submarine built in the Kvarner Shipyards for the Romanian Navy, was a modified version of Sirena class, but this seems rather strange if we consider that it was laid down in 1927, four years before Sirena and even before the Argonauta themselves (which were laid down only in 1929). However, since its construction took a long time, being completed in 1931-1932 (and it was not handed over to the Romanian Navy until 1936), it is possible that it was modified during construction based on Sirena’s design.
Sirena was supposed to be the first submarine of the Regia Marina (except for the old H 3, used for experimentation) to be equipped with the “ML” apparatus, designed in the first half of the twenties by the major of the Naval Engineers Pericle Ferretti. This apparatus, by sucking air from the surface and discharging the exhaust gases produced by the engines to the outside, allowed the submarine that used it to ventilate the rooms and to use the diesel engines even while submerged (as long as it remained at periscope altitude): in essence, it was a precursor of the snorkel, a revolutionary apparatus developed a few years later by technicians of the Dutch Navy and then adopted by the German Navy in the Second World War, and layer utilized by all the navies of the world after the end of the conflict.
The advantages of this apparatus were many, increasing speed (according to its designer’s estimates, by at least three knots) and autonomy while submerged, safety (even if it wanted to use electric motors, the submarine could recharge its batteries without being forced to surface and expose itself to enemy attacks) and attack capacity (thanks to the greater speed when submerged, it would have been possible to increase the useful attack sector by up to 60%) and freedom of movement of the submarine that used it (which without surfacing could keep the batteries always charged), and which was no longer forced to use electric motors and resurface once a day to recharge the batteries.
Habitability was also improved, being able to ventilate the rooms even when submerged. After the success of the tests conducted for four years on the H 3, the top management of the Regia Marina ordered Ferretti to perfect his apparatus and then mass produce it and install it on the submarines of Sirena class (and according to a source, also of the Argonauta class). The final drawings for the mass production of the “ML” apparatus were made by the CRDA of Monfalcone and date back to 1934-1935, but in 1938 the new commander of the Italian submarine fleet, Rear Admiral Antonio Legnani, suspended the production of this equipment and even had those already produced scrapped, for reasons that remained unknown due to the subsequent loss of the relevant documentation. The result was that neither the Sirena class nor any other Italian submarine could use the snorkel until after the Second World War, when the equipment derived from the Dutch ones was also introduced into the Italian Navy.
It is not entirely clear whether or not these devices were installed on Sirena, before Legnani’s decision: according to some sources, including the book “Uomini sul fondo” by Giorgio Giorgerini, Sirena were prepared for installation but the equipment was never installed, while according to what Ferretti himself wrote, the “ML” were installed experimentally in 1934 on some of Sirenas under construction in Monfalcone, only to be removed after the Legnani’s decision (“Some specimens were built which, after testing in a special ground test facility, began to be mounted on Sirena types. Admiral Legnani was appointed to head the submarines, and he [sic] ordered that the equipment already built be demolished and that the others under construction were discontinued»).
According to a source, the abandonment of the “ML” apparatus was motivated by unsatisfactory performance, and more precisely an increase in the submerged speed, using diesel engines, of “only” 1.7 knots (which in truth would not seem to be a small difference, considering that the maximum speed with the electric motors was less than eight knots).
During World War II, Sirena operated mainly in the eastern Mediterranean, in the Otranto Channel and in the Gulf of Taranto. The boat completed a total of 33 or 34 war missions (19 patrols, one transport and 14 relocations), covering 19,659 nautical miles on the surface and 3,052 submerged and spending 204 days at sea.
The Siren’s motto was “E gurgite dominans” (“from the whirlpools [comes out] dominant”).
Brief and partial chronology
May 1st, 1931
The boat is set up at the Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico (C.R.D.A.) in Monfalcone (construction number 255).
January 26th, 1933
The boat is launched at the C.R.D.A and immediately placed at the disposal of the Pula Marine Command (on the same day of the launch), however it remains in Monfalcone for testing and fitting out.
February 17th, 1933
During the set-up, a fire broke out in the aft launch torpedo room. The flames are extinguished before they can cause any major damage, and there were no injuries.
October 2nd, 1933
Sirena entered active service.
November 23rd, 1933
Placed under the Submarine Inspectorate, Sirena was assigned to the X Submarine Squadron, based in Brindisi and under the Submarine Division Command, which the boat formed along with the twins Naiade, Nereide, Anfitrite, Ondina and Galatea; a squadron called, because of the names of the boats that compose it, of the “marine deities”. The first commander of Sirena was the Lieutenant Commander Primo Longobardo.
Taranto, May 1933: Sirena returns from a training patrol (note the torpedoes on deck)
(From “Navi e bugie” by Nino Bixio Lo Martire)
Sirena made a long training cruise in the eastern Mediterranean, calling at Piraeus, Alexandria, Tobruk, Benghazi and Tripoli.
The boat made other training cruises along the Italian coasts.
January 2nd, 1937
Sirena (Lieutenant Commander Luigi Caneschi), at the time assigned to the IV Submarine Group of Taranto, sailed from Naples for a clandestine mission off Almeria and Capo de Gata, in support of Franco’s forces, during the Spanish Civil War. It was to attack any Spanish Republican warships, as well as merchant ships engaged in transporting supplies to Republican-controlled ports. The rules of engagement, with regard to the latter (whose recognition is rather difficult), were very restrictive, in order to avoid international incidents, and which severely limited the operation of submarines (as written by Francesco Mattesini: «avoid torpedoing outside the assigned limit, and carry out attacks only against warships or merchant ships clearly identified as Republican or Soviet and against those transiting with darkened lights in the areas prescribed for ambush. These impositions caused, as Admirals Canaris and Cavagnari had foreseen, a serious obstacle to the activity of Italian submarines, since it was indeed very difficult to be able to identify with sufficient certainty a merchant ship sailing under a false flag»).
Between the end of January and the beginning of February 1937, seventeen Italian submarines were deployed in ambush off the Spanish coast: their task was to undermine the ports in the hands of the Republican faction and cut off the flow of supplies to them. During the mission, Sirena initiated three attack maneuvers, but would not complete them (according to another source, however, it failed to spot any suspicious ships).
January 19th, 1937
Mission ended; the boat returned to base.
Sirena was stationed in Brindisi, as part of the XLII Submarine Squadron along with Naiade, Nereide, Anfitrite, Ondina and Galatea.
May 5th, 1938
Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Luigi Caneschi, Sirena took part in the naval magazine “H” organized in the Gulf of Naples for Adolf Hitler’s visit to Italy. Most of the Italian fleet took part in the review: the battleships Cesare and Cavour, the 7 heavy cruisers of the I and III Divisions, the 11 light cruisers of the II, IV, VII and VIII Divisions, 7 “light explorers” of the Navigatori class, 18 destroyers (the Squadrons VII, VIII, IX and X, plus the Borea and the Zeffiro), 30 torpedo boats (the Squadriglie IX, X, XI and XII, plus the old Audace, Castelfidardo, Curtatone, Francesco Stocco, Nicola Fabrizi and Giuseppe La Masa and the four “escort notices” of the Orsa class), as many as 85 submarines of the Submarine Squadron under the command of Admiral Antonio Legnani, and 24 MAS (Squadrons IV, V, VIII, IX, X and XI), as well as the training ships Cristoforo Colombo and Amerigo Vespucci, Benito Mussolini’s yacht, the Aurora, the royal ship Savoy and the target ship San Marco.
The Submarine Squad was the protagonist of one of the most spectacular moments of the parade, in which the 85 boats carry out a series of synchronised manoeuvres: first, arranged in two columns, at 1.15 PM they pass, opposite direction, between the two naval squadrons proceeding on parallel routes. Then, at 1:25 PM, all the submarines made a simultaneous mass dive, proceeded for a short distance in immersion and then emerged simultaneously and executed a salvo of eleven shots with their respective deck guns.
June 10th, 1940
Upon Italy’s entry into World War II, Sirena was part of the LXI Submarine Squadron, belonging to the VI Grupsom of Tobruk, along with the boats of the same class Argonauta, Smeraldo, Naiade and Fisalia.
June 18th, 1940
Sirena (Lieutenant Raul Galletti) sets sail from Tobruk for the first war patrol, to be carried out off the Gulf of Sollum.
June 20th, 1940
Arriving in the area assigned for the patrol, at 9 PM Sirena sighted a British destroyer about twenty miles north of Ras Uleima (Gulf of Sollum) and maneuvered to move to a favorable position for a torpedo attack, but was located by the unit before being able to launch (according to another source, it managed to launch a torpedo, but without hitting, and then was located and subjected to the counterattack).
The attacked unit is part of a formation consisting of two French cruisers (the Suffren, heavy, and the Duguay-Trouin, light) and three British destroyers (H.M.S. Ilex, H.M.S Nubian, and H.M.S Imperial) which had left Alexandria at 5:30 PM the previous day to conduct a search for an Italian cruiser and destroyer, whose presence was reported off Tobruk during he operation “MD. 3” (bombardment of Bardia by an Anglo-French formation consisting of the battleship French Lorraine, the British light cruisers H.M.S Orion and H.M.S Neptune, the Australian light cruiser H.M.A.S Sydney, the British destroyers H.M.S Dainty, H.M.S Hasty and H.M.S Decoy and the Australian destroyer H.M.A.S Stuart).
Localized by the enemy units after failed attack, Sirena was subjected to heavy and precise chase with the launch of numerous depth charges, which cause serious damage including damage to the stuffing boxes of the propeller cases, with consequent abundant infiltration of water, such as to force it to interrupt the mission and return to base (it was no longer able to navigate submerged).
June 22nd, 1940
Arrival in Tobruk. For their conduct during this mission and during the air attacks on the port of Tobruk, Second Lieutenant Giuseppe Di Grande and Ensign Carmelo D’Urso (both from Augusta) would receive the War Cross for Military Valour, with the motivation: “Officer embarked on a submarine, stationed in an advanced base subjected to violent enemy air attacks, He cooperated with fighting spirit and daring in the anti-aircraft reaction, directing the fire of the machine guns. During a war mission, the unit was subjected to intense and prolonged hunting, which caused damage, and contributed validly to the disengagement of the submarine from enemy action and to the repair of the damage suffered. Commander Galletti will receive the Bronze Medal for Military Valour (“Commander of a submarine, on a war mission, signaled for violent, prolonged hunting, he faced the difficult situation with determination and serene courage, maneuvering with skill to escape the repeated offense of the enemy forces. Despite the submarine’s failures, he was able to skilfully disengage and bring the unit under his command back to base.” (Gulf of Sollum, 19-22 June 1940)’).
June 25th, 1940
After temporary repairs were carried out on site, necessary to be able to put to sea with a certain safety, Sirena (Lieutenant Raul Galletti) left Tobruk at 8.25 PM bound for Taranto, where it was able to receive more in-depth repair work, which could not be carried out with the modest equipment of the Libyan base (it had to enter dry dock). Navigation took place while remaining on the surface.
Lieutenant Raul Galletti
June 26th, 1940
At the first light of dawn, with a sea that had remained calm throughout the night, it began to ripple. At 9.36 AM Sirena passes through Ras el Hilal, while the mistral (TN wind from NW) blew with increasing intensity, until it reaches force 7-8 in the afternoon. Worried by the strong pitching of the submarine, which he feared could cause a leak of liquid from the accumulators or even damage to the hull, at 6.30 PM Commander Galletti gave the order to dive.
June 27th, 1940
At 8.20 AM Sirena returned to the surface: the wind had calmed down a lot, while the sea was force 3-4. The boat proceeded on the surface along the Ras el Hilal-Capo Colonna route.
At 5.15 PM an enemy bomber was sighted which, on the route it followed, seemed to be flying from Alexandria to Malta: to avoid being spotted, Sirena dove.
June 28th, 1940
Shortly after noon, Sirena, sailing at periscope depth, sighted two planes approaching flying at a very low altitude; again, Commander Galletti decided to descend to a greater depth so as not to be spotted.
Resurfacing in the late afternoon, at 5:37 PM – a few minutes after returning to the surface – Sirena sighted another bomber towards the stern, similar to the one sighted the day before: once again a crash dive had to be ordered.
June 29th, 1940
At 6.30 AM (or 6.35 AM), while proceeding on the surface in position 37°54′ N and 18°04′ E (off Capo Colonna and 70 miles by 148° from Capo Rizzuto; according to Sirena report, while British sources indicate the position as 38°12′ N and 18°06′ E – (TN 35 nautical miles apart)), Sirena was attacked by a Short Sunderland seaplane of the 228th Squadron of the Royal Air Force (more precisely, the “Q” aircraft of the 228th Squadron, marked L. 5086 (TN it actually was tail number L. 5806).
R.A.F. operational records
(National Archives, United Kingdom)
The plane was spotted by the lookouts in the conning tower on a polar bearing 315°, when it was still three kilometers away, and flying at an altitude of about 500 meters with a course perpendicular to that of Sirena, directed towards the submarine. Presenting a large vertical white band painted on the vertical plane of the tail, which from a great distance can be mistaken for the white cross painted on the planes of the Regia Aeronautica, the aircraft was initially mistaken for Italian, also because it was carrying out an approach maneuver perfectly compliant with the rules in force in the Regia Marina (Commander Galletti would write in his report: “At a distance of about 3,000 m, the plane approaches to starboard and is on a course parallel to and opposite to mine. He performed the maneuver similarly to that prescribed by the S.M. 6 S., that is, passing astern and always at the prescribed distance and at an invariable altitude, he moves to my starboard side and against the sun»).
As a result, believing that he was dealing with a friendly plane, Commander Galletti flew the Italian flag; only then the seaplane, having reached 60° forward of the starboard beam, quickly approaches to port and begins to dive, aiming decisively at Sirena. Galletti realizes that it was an enemy plane, but it was too late to be able to escape the attack with the crash dive (the Sunderland would have dropped its bombs just as Sirena was most vulnerable, during the dive: not yet underwater, and at the same time unable to defend itself with the machine guns), so Galletti orders to open fire with the machine guns, which were ready for use, and he himself manned the forward machine gun on the starboard side (“I put the target in a sector of about 20° to starboard starting from the bow”). Sirena steered to port, to facilitate the firing of the starboard forward machine gun, but as soon as this maneuver began, the Sunderland also changed its course, to take the submarine from bow to stern. Galletti then steered even more to the port, after which he immediately ordered another change of course, this time to starboard. Shooting started when the distance has dropped to 700 meters.
The Sunderland changed its approach course of attack and flew over Sirena from bow to stern, from an altitude of only 50 meters, dropping four bombs that fell into the sea on the sides of the submarine, forward of the conning tower, at distances between 5 and 15 meters, two on the starboard side and two on the port side (“In the meantime, the plane, having reached a distance of 75-100 meters, very fast and with a course almost crossing the submarine from bow to stern it launches, from an altitude of just under 50 meters, four bombs that fall two to starboard and two to port of the hull, at a distance of about 5 or 10 meters and about 15 meters forward of the conning tower”), adding new damage to that caused by the depth charges nine days earlier off Sollum. At the same time as the bombs were dropped by the Sunderland, Commander Galletti fired five shots from a machine gun towards the seaplane; then he increased the elevation of the weapon and waited for the plane to approach up to only thirty meters, and then unloaded the entire magazine on it, believing that he had scored several shots (“At the same time as the sighting of the four bombs dropped from the tail of the plane, I fired 5 shots from the machine gun and then increased the elevation waiting for a closer approach of the plane to hit it with certainty. When the plane arrived about 30 meters forward of the conning tower, I opened fire again, discharging all the rounds of the magazine at it and hitting it repeatedly in various parts»).
The seaplane seems to be visibly hit by the fire of Sirena’s machine guns and seems to immediately lose altitude. When it reached the stern of the conning tower, it opened fire with his machine guns, targeting the personnel present in the conning tower, but the burst was very short (no more than three seconds) and inaccurate, hitting only the base of the conning tower without causing damage to anyone, so much so that Commander Galletti believed that this was due to the mortal wounding of the British gunner by the fire of Sirena “The enemy aircraft immediately lost very quickly altitude. When he reached the stern of the conning tower of the submarine, the machine-gunned the personnel on the conning tower. I believe that the enemy gunner was fatally hit because the enemy machine gun burst, which was inaccurate, lasted a maximum of 3 seconds and having been carried out in the fall phase of the plane, it only hit the base of the conning tower»). After this last attempt at attack, according to Galletti’s report, the Sunderland continued to lose altitude, until it seemed to fall into the sea about 200 meters aft of the submarine: “… Quickly losing altitude, as already mentioned, when it reached about 200 meters downwind, it suddenly lowered its tail and tilted about 90° to the left, arranging its wings almost in the vertical plane and falling into the water heavily and in such a way as to consider it lost”.
In reality, Sunderland will be able to return to Malta; According to British sources, in fact, it did not suffer any damage.
At the end of the attack, since during the approach phase of the Sunderland what seemed to be another plane had been sighted on the horizon, and therefore fearing to be attacked again on the surface, without being able to adequately defend itself (as the aft machine gun was jammed by a bullet left in the barrel), Galletti ordered the rapid dive and continues towards Taranto.
At 2.10 PM Sirena resurfaced, but two hours later yet another enemy plane was sighted, flying at very low altitude on the same route as before, and once again the Italian boat was forced to dive.
For their conduct in the duel with Sunderland, the Second Lieutenant Giuseppe Di Grande, the Ensign Carmelo D’Urso, the second chief torpedo pilot Mario Saluzzo and sailor Giannino Loffredo (“Embarked on a submarine on a war mission, on the occasion of an air attack … he lent his work to the defensive manoeuvre with serenity and skill”). Commander Galletti, also because of the mistaken belief that the attacking plane had been shot down, will receive the Silver Medal for Military Valor (“Commander of a submarine in war navigation, he skilfully avoided repeated enemy hunting actions. Being attacked by an enemy four-engine aircraft at low altitude with bomb drop and machine gun fire, he promptly chose and executed the most suitable defensive and counter-offensive maneuver, and with machine gun fire personally shot down the enemy aircraft. An example of quick decision, calmness, contempt for danger. (Eastern Mediterranean, 25 June – 1 July 1940)’).
June 30th, 1940
At 6.30 AM Sirena re-emerged and set course for Crotone, where it arrived at 9.40 AM. Since its departure from Tobruk, it has covered 553 nautical miles, 124 of which were submerged. After mooring the submarine, Commander Galletti telegraphed to Supermarina and Maricosom a first brief report on the incident: “Sirena – Day 29 current at 06.30 at about 70 miles 148° from Capo Rizzuto bombed and machine-gunned at low altitude by seaplane 4 enemy engines alt Enemy repeatedly hit and shot down STOP I repeat destruction not ascertained “.
July 1st, 1940
At 5.18 AM Sirena left Crotone for Taranto, where it arrived a few hours later. After the arrival, Commander Galletti sent another telegram to Maricosom: «Sirena – During the Tobruk-Taranto transfer, daily presence was noted on the Ras el Hilal-Capo Colonne junction within Malta, Corfu and Malta Alexandria sectors, large four-engine British seaplanes that carry a white vertical stripe on the vertical rudders and approach submarines by performing a maneuver similar to that prescribed by S.M. 6/S, page n° 13 alt».
Once it reached Taranto, Sirena was placed in dry dock in the Arsenale for repairs.
Once the repair work was completed, Sirena was deployed to Leros, in the Dodecanese, operating in the Aegean Sea until April 1941, where it carried out offensive missions in the eastern Mediterranean and some protective patrols in the Gulf of Taranto.
August 31st, 1940
Sirena, lurking south of Crete, did not spot the Mediterranean Fleet (battleships H.M.S. Warspite and H.M.S. Malaya, aircraft carrier H.M.S. Eagle, light cruisers H.M.S. Orion and H.M.A.S. Sydney, destroyers H.M.S. Stuart, H.M.S. Voyager, H.M.S. Vampire, H.M.S. Vendetta, H.M.S. Defender, H.M.S. Decoy, H.M.S. Hereward, H.M.S. Garland and H.M.S. Imperial) which had left Alexandria the previous day for operation “Hats” (consisting of various sub-operations: transfer from Gibraltar to Alexandria, to reinforce the Mediterranean Fleet, the battleship H.M.S. Valiant, the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Illustrious, and the cruisers H.M.S. Calcutta and H.M.S. Coventry; sending a convoy from Alexandria to Malta and one from Nafplion to Port Said, bombing Italian bases in Sardinia and the Aegean), and passed not far from the patrol area.
Sirena was sent on a patrol south of Crete, between Gaudo and Alexandria, Egypt.
November 22nd through December 1st, 1940
The boat was sent on patrol in the Otranto Channel, to protect convoys sailing between Italy and Albania.
The crew of Sirena in 1940
February 9th through 18th, 1941
Sirena and another submarine, the Beilul, were sent for patrols in the Aegean.
April 14th, 1941
Sirena was sent to patrol a stretch of sea 25 miles north of Suda, controlling access from the northeast of the Cerigo Channel. Around 11 PM (Lieutenant Rodolfo Scarelli), sailing on the surface north of Candia, the crew sighted a British destroyer “Afridi class” (i.e. Tribal class) sailing eastwards at high speed in position 36°07′ N and 24°15′ E (north/northwest of Capo Spada). At 11:37 PM, approaching less than 2,000 meters away, Scarelli launched two torpedoes from the bow tubes against the enemy unit, then remained on the surface – taking advantage of the thick darkness – to observe the result of the launch.
The crew of Sirena with Lieutenant Rodolfo Scarelli in the middle
A loud detonation was heard on board after 1 minute and 42 seconds, although no columns of water were sighted. The destroyer appeared to significantly reduce speed and pull towards Sirena, which at this point disengaged by diving. Commander Scarelli believes that he had probably hit the target with one of the weapons, although without sinking it. However, the torpedoes did not hit. (Some Internet sources identify the attacked destroyer with HMS Afridi, but this is impossible, since this unit was sunk as early as May 1940; this is a misunderstanding of Commander Scarelli’s identification of the target as an “Afridi-type” unit, i.e. Tribal class).
April 18th, 1941
Sirena left the ambush zone to return to base.
April 19th and 20th, 1941
Patrol was concluded arriving in Leros.
Sirena was sent on patrol in the Aegean Sea, along with her twin boat Galatea.
May 20th, 1941
Sirena was sent to the waters between Crete, Sollum and Alexandria, along with numerous other submarines (Uarsciek, Tricheco, Topazio, Fisalia, Adua, Malachite, Dessiè, Squalo and Smeraldo), to support the German assault on Crete (Operation “Merkur”).
Another mission in the Aegean Sea, departing from Leros.
February 10th through 13th, 1942
Sirena was sent off the coast of Cyrenaica to counter the passage from Alexandria to Malta of a British convoy as part of operation “MF 5” and named “MW. 9” which departed Alexandria on February 12th. The convoy consisted of the merchant ships Clan Campbell, Clan Chattan, and Rowallan Castle, escorted by four anti-aircraft cruisers (H.M.S. Naiad, H.M.S. Dido, H.M.S. Euryalus and H.M.S. Carlisle) and 16 destroyers (H.M.S. Lance, H.M.S. Heythrop, H.M.S. Avon Vale, H.M.S. Eridge, H.M.S. Hurworth, H.M.S. Southwold, H.M.S. Dulverton, H.M.S. Beaufort, H.M.S. Arrow, H.M.S. Griffin, H.M.S. Havock, H.M.S. Hasty, H.M.S. Jaguar, H.M.S. Kelvin, H.M.S. Kipling and H.M.S. Jaguar), all under the command of Rear Admiral Philip L. Vian. At the same time as the arrival in Malta of the “MW. 9”, a convoy of unloaded merchant ships (Ajax, Breconshire, City of Calcutta and Clan Ferguson) would leave the island, “ME. 10”, escorted by Commodore William Gladstone Agnew’s Force K (light cruiser H.M.S. Penelope, destroyers H.M.S. Decoy, H.M.S. Fortune, H.M.S. Legion, H.M.S. Lively, H.M.S. Sikh and H.M.S. Zulu).
To attack the British convoy bound for Malta, eleven Italian submarines were deployed in an area of just over 800 square miles: in addition to Sirena, also Topazio, Tricheco, Dandolo, Malachite, Perla, Platino, Ondina and Ciro Menotti.
Sirena did not make contact with the convoy “MW. 9”, which was completely destroyed by the Luftwaffe: Clan Chattan and Rowallan Castle were sunk by German bombers on February 14th, 250 miles east of Malta, while the previous day the Clan Campbell was damaged and forced to give up reaching Malta, entering Tobruk. Convoy “ME. 10”, on the other hand, would reach Port Said unscathed on February 16.
Sirena carried out a patrol in the waters of Cyrenaica, in the later part of the month.
June 4th through 16th, 1942
Sirena was sent to patrol the waters off Palestine, along with the submarines Ondina, Beilul and Galatea.
Around the middle of the month (June 12th, according to a source) Sirena, Ondina, Beilul, Galatea and the German submarines U 77, U 81, U 205, U 431, U 453, and U 559 were sent to Libyan waters to attack the British convoy “Vigorous” sailing from Alexandria to Malta, as part of the Battle of Mid-June. However, the Siren was not involved in the battle.
Sent on a mission east off the Island of Rhodes.
Sirena carried out another mission in the Eastern Mediterranean, departing from Leros.
December 1942-January 1943
Sirena underwent a round of modification works, lasting about two months, at the CRDA of Monfalcone. The conning tower was radically downsized, with a strong reduction in its volume and the shortening of the periscope jackets, which, after the modifications did not exceed the height of the parapet of the parapet.
Sirena carried out a mission in the Gulf of Sirte.
Sirena in Monfalcone after refitting with the modified conning tower
(From the magazine “Storia Militare”)
April 10th, 1943
Sirena was in La Maddalena when, starting at 2.37 PM, the Sardinian base was subjected to a heavy bombardment by 84 Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers of the USAAF.
Among the injured was the commander of the submarine Sirena, Lieutenant Luciano Garofani. He was found in the rubble of the Faravelli Barracks, in a state of semi-consciousness and with a serious hemorrhage in his right leg, by sub-chief radio telegraphist Dario Leli, 19 years old, from Castelfranco Emilia. Unharmed, Leli did his utmost to rescue his wounded comrades trapped in the rubble of the barracks. When he found Commander Garofani, he tried in vain to stop the bleeding in his leg, after which he carried him on his shoulders with the intention of taking him to the military hospital, half a kilometer away. However, realizing the impossibility of carrying such a weight for such a long journey, Leli loaded the half-unconscious officer onto a wheelbarrow found in the middle of the rubble, and thus ran and pushed the wheelbarrow with the wounded man, the distance that separates the barracks from the hospital. Arriving at the hospital, where confusion reigned due to the arrival of the large number of wounded caused by the bombing, Leli pointed out that the wounded man risked bleeding to death if he was not rescued immediately but was told to wait in line.
Then, secluding himself with the unconscious commander, he took off the officer’s uniform and puts it on in his place, and then presents himself again to the hospital staff pretending to be an officer, and ordering, this time successfully, that Garofani – whom Leli says was one of his sailors, in danger of life – be immediately taken to the operating room. (Garofani survived, and from this episode a lasting friendship was born: thirty-five years later, in 1978, it was the former commander of Sirena who had to say his last goodbye to his sailor, who had died prematurely from a serious illness).
A total of four men of Sirena lost their lives in the bombing: the chief torpedoman first class Arturo Brandani, 39, from Bondeno; the motorist Tommaso Ferragina, 20 years old, from Catanzaro, who will be missing; sailor Giuseppe Poggi, 21 years old, from Savona; electrician Giuseppe Tesoriero, 21 years old, from Lipari.
Two more dead and four injured were recorded among the crews of Topazio, Mocenigo and Aradam, while the personnel of the Submarine Station (Maristasom) complained of three dead, one missing and two wounded. At 9.15 PM the VII Submarine Group informs Maricosom of the dramatic situation in La Maddalena: «At 2.50 PM immediately air attack of which an objective east was the submarine base STOP Accommodation both for officers and personnel practically temporarily unusable STOP Submarine workshop and torpedo workshop hit in full by unused bombs STOP Units present only submarine Mocenigo drilled double bottom number 2 starboard oil case et tubing external compensation et double bottom air vent pipe number 2 starboard STOP Arranged unless counter-ordered submarine Aradam immediately displaces Bonifacio STOP Arranged appropriate thinning out of other units STOP On submarine Mocenigo et submarine Topazio it is not possible to use semialt works I propose transfer other headquarters STOP Units present from 08.00 current will all perform listening r t continuous STOP Lieutenant Vascello Garofani Luciano Lieutenant G. N. Vigiari Carlo Maggiore G.N. Sini Mauro Sub-Lieutenant Vascello Sella Gregorio wounded STOP I reserve the right to communicate the number of casualties and wounded STOP Submarine Sirena not currently in condition given number of personnel wounded to carry out mission alt».
Last ambush mission in the Eastern Mediterranean.
June 7th, 1943
Sirena transported a load of spare parts for engines and various materials from Taranto to Leros. Also in June (it is not clear whether as part of the same mission in which it went from Taranto to Leros) Sirena would appear to have transported a cargo of supplies to the island of Lampedusa, subjected to a naval blockade by the Anglo-American forces, who would conquer it a few days later (June 12th, 1943). Together with the one carried out at the same time by the large minelayer submarine Atropo, also destined for Lampedusa (in total, the two submarines landed 49.6 tons of supplies on the island), this is the last transport mission carried out by an Italian submarine before the Armistice.
August 3rd, 1943
Serena left Leros for Naples, with orders to carry out a patrol of the waters between Ras el Tin and the Gulf of Sollum during the transfer navigation.
August 20th, 1943
After a mission tormented by breakdowns, the boat reached Naples.
August 21st, 1943
Sirena left Naples for La Spezia, where it had to undergo repair work.
August 25th, 1943
The submarine arrived in La Spezia, after making an intermediate stop in Portoferraio.
On the date of the announcement of the armistice between Italy and the Allies, on September 8th, 1943, Sirena (Lieutenant Vittorio Savarese) was part of the V Submarine Group of Leros (commander Virgilio Spigai), along with the similar boat Ametista (sub-lieutenant Luigi Ginocchio), Beilul (lieutenant Pasquale Beltrame) and Onice (lieutenant Ferdinando Boggetti). Like the other units of the Group, however, it was not in the Aegean at that time: it was in fact undergoing work in the shipyard of La Spezia.
At the beginning of August 1943, Supermarina had recalled Sirena to Italy, like the other submarines of the V Grupsom, the boat had left Leros on August 3rd bound for Naples, with orders to carry out, along the way, a patrol in the waters of Cyrenaica. The mission had been tormented by a long series of mechanical failures, which, however, had not prevented Sirena from carrying out the planned patrol of the Cyrenaic waters. On August 20th, the submarine had reached Naples (according to a source of uncertain reliability, in the final part of the navigation it had crossed the Italian minefields until it emerged a few hundred meters from Punta Carena, on the island of Capri, making itself recognized by a battery with optical means as the radio was also broken). Since the damage suffered could not be repaired with the means available in Naples, the following day Sirena left for La Spezia, where it arrived on August 25th, after a stop in Portoferraio. It entered the shipyard to repair the damage but was surprised there a few days after the news of the armistice.
There were several units under maintenance or repair in the large La Spezia Arsenal in September 1943: among them, in addition to Sirena, the old light cruiser Taranto, three destroyers, five torpedo boats, two corvettes, three submarines and two minelayers, as well as numerous smaller and auxiliary ships.
The manoeuvres for the scuttling of Sirena were carried out by a small group of officers and sailors who had remained on board for this purpose, including the commander Savarese and the sailor helmsman Giuseppe Costanzo.
The wreck of Sirena was recovered in 1946. Formally removed from the roster of the no longer Royal Italian Navy on October 18th of that same year; it was scrapped in La Spezia.
Note: A member of the crew of Sirena, the 24-year-old stoker Alberto Morbin, from Cervignano del Friuli, appears to have died in Italy on November 24, 1946; it is included in the registers of the fallen and missing of the Navy of World War II. Based on this, it seems possible that his death was caused by after-effects of injuries sustained on duty on Sirena, but no information could be traced on the matter.
Original Italian text by Lorenzo Colombo adapted and translated by Cristiano D’Adamo
|Days at Sea
|Submarine – Coastal
|Sunderland “Q” 228th Squadron, L.5806
Crew Members Lost