R. Smg. Tembien

The submarine Tembien was an Adwa-class coastal submarine (698 tons displacement on the surface and 866 tons submerged). During the war the boat completed a total of 10 patrols and 6 training and transfer missions, covering 9,806 miles on the surface and 1,881 submerged.

Brief and partial chronology

February 6th, 1937

Setting up in the Odero Terni Orlando del Muggiano shipyards.

February 6th, 1938

Tembien was launched in the Odero Terni Orlando del Muggiano shipyards.

The launch of Tembien in Muggiano, La Spezia

July 1st, 1938

The boat entered service.

August 10th, 1938

Placed under Maricosom (the Command of the Italian submarine fleet), Tembien was assigned to the V Submarine Group of Leros and deployed on that island. There it carried out training and endurance cruises.

June 10th, 1940

Upon Italy’s entry into World War II, Tembien was stationed in Messina, part of the XXXV Submarine Squadron (III Submarine Group), along with the boat of the same class Durbo and Beilul. The commander of the submarine was Commander Primo Longobardo, who, however, would leave after a few days, having been assigned to a new post.

July 1st, 1940

The boat was sent to lie in wait off the coast of Malta.

July 5th, 1940

Tembien returned to base.

July 1940

The boat took to the sea for the second war patrol but had to interrupt it before reaching the ambush area and returned to base due to a breakdown.

August 1st, 1940

Tambien was sent off the coast of Crete for an ambush.

August 6th, 1940

The boat returned to base, after patrolling the waters of Sollum as well.

September 23rd, 1940

Tembien was sent to lie in wait off the coast of Tobruk.

September 28th, 1940

Tembien participated, unsuccessfully, in the fight against the British operation “MB. 5”, consisting of sending to Malta 1,200 men and a cargo of supplies by means of the light cruisers H.M.S. Liverpool and H.M.S. Gloucester, with the support of two battleships (H.M.S. Valiant and H.M.S. Warspite), an aircraft carrier (H.M.S. Illustrious), two light cruisers (H.M.S. Orion and H.M.A.S. Sydney), a heavy cruiser (H.M.S. York) and eleven destroyers.

October 6th, 1940

The boat returned to base. Thereafter, Lieutenant Guido Gozzi assumed command.

November 21st, 1940

Short night ambush mission off Malta.

November 22nd, 1940

Another short night ambush to the west of Malta.

November 26th, 1940

Return was sent to ambush west of Malta, 26 miles west of Comino (islet located between Malta and Gozo), to participate in the fight against the British operation “Collar” (transfer of ships from Alexandria to Gibraltar, dispatch of convoys with supplies from Gibraltar to Malta and the ports of the Levant, all with the help of Force H and the Mediterranean Fleet:  the outcome would be the inconclusive Battle of Cape Teulada).

November 27th, 1940

At 11:24 PM, Tembien (Lieutenant Guido Gozzi) sighted three large warships to the south, advancing at an estimated speed of 9 knots and on an estimated course of 320° (to the northwest). This was the British 3rd Cruiser Squadron (heavy cruiser H.M.S. York, light cruisers H.M.S. Glasgow and H.M.S. Gloucester), at sea as part of the British convoy traffic connected with Operation Collar. At 11:28 PM (another source 10:26 PM), in position 36°00′ N and 14°47′ E (or 13°47′ E), the submarine launched two torpedoes from 1,500 meters (other sources speak of 500 meters).

Since the weapons miss the target, Tembien further reduces the distance, down to less than 1,000 meters. Then, at 11:33 PM (or 11:34 PM the boat launched two more torpedoes. This time a loud bang was heard after 45 seconds, but the torpedoes had misfired again. Tembien, which had disengaged with rapid immersion, was briefly hunted with depth charges (according to another source, the British units did not realize that they had been attacked).

November 30th, 1940

Tembien returned to base.

January 1st, 1941

The boat was sent off Sollum.

January 8th, 1941

At 00.45 Tembien (Lieutenant Guido Gozzi) sighted a large steamer off Bardia and attacked it with the launch torpedoes in rapid succession: these, however, had an irregular course and did not hit the target.

Lieutenant Guido Gozzi was born in Bologna on October 25th, 1910

It was the first case in which there was an irregular torpedo race in the Regia Marina. An investigation by the General Directorate of Naval Weapons and Armaments would follow and discovered that some components of the torpedo guidance devices, in a batch produced by the torpedo factory of Rijeka, were stressed at the time when the torpedoes were launched, thus preventing the weapon from maintaining it course.

January 12th, 1941

The boat returned to base.

February 3rd, 1941

Ambush off the coast of Malta.

February 12th, 1941

Tembien returned to base and entered the shipyard for routine maintenance work.

February-June 1941

At the shipyard undergoing repairs and maintenance.

Tembien in 1941 after a period in the shipyard. Note the ‘German’ style conning tower and the mimetic painting.
(From “Sommergibili italiani” by Alessandro Turrini andOttorino Ottone Miozzi, USMM)

June 12th, 1941

Sailor Gennaro Ietro, 30, from Caserta, died aboard Tembien in the central Mediterranean.

June 26th, 1941

Sent off the coast of Cyrenaica.

June 29th, 1941

At 08:41 PM Tembien sighted a formation of British ships off Ras Azzaz, 100 miles east of Tobruk: they were the destroyers H.M.S. Defender (Lieutenant Commander Gilbert Lescombie Farnfield) and H.M.S Waterhen (Lieutenant Commander James Hamilton Swain), sailing from Tobruk (besieged by Axis forces) to Alexandria with troops of the 6th Australian Division.

Just as Tembien was observing them, the two destroyers were attacked, off Sollum, by 19 Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” dive bombers, 12 Germans (Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 of the Luftwaffe) and 7 Italians (239th Dive Bombing Squadron of the Regia Aeronautica, Captain Giuseppe Cenni). One of the latter, piloted by Master Sergeant Ennio Tarantola, hit H.M.S. Waterhen at the stern with a 500 kg bomb. The damage was immediately very serious; the engine and boiler rooms were immediately flooded, and the crew began to abandon ship.

Tembien tried to approach to deliver the coup de grace to the damaged destroyer, but H.M.S. Defender – which was also approaching, to take H.M.S.  Waterhen in tow – sighted it (not far away, forward) and opened fire on it, forcing it to launch two torpedoes blindly (from the aft tubes, from less than 600 meters) and then quickly dove.

On the other hand, according to another source, Tembien arrived and sighted a destroyer that seems to be proceeding at low speed, 600 meters away (H.M.S. Waterhen, already damaged by the attack), launched torpedoes against it and only after the launch was sighted and forced to disengage from a second destroyer (H.M.S. Defender), which tried unsuccessfully to ram it.

In any case, the torpedoes failed to hit the target and Tembien disengaged diving, evading the hunt with depth charges without taking damage. H.M.S. Waterhen, irreparably damaged by the bomb, sank on its own at 1.50 AM the following day, capsizing in position 32°15′ N and 25°20′ E (seven miles north of Sidi el Barrani), after a vain attempt to tow it by H.M.S. Defender.

July 3rd, 1941

Tembien returned to base.


On July 31st, 1941, Tembien, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Guido Gozzi, sailed from Augusta (according to other sources, Messina) bound west of Malta, where it was to form, along with three other units (Fratelli Bandiera, Luciano Manara and Zaffiro), a barrage of submarines in order to intercept British naval forces that had been reported as being in transit in the Strait of Sicily.

In fact, the British operation “Style” was in progress, which consisted of sending to Malta the minelayer cruiser H.M.S. Manxman and the light cruisers H.M.S. Hermione and H.M.S. Arethusa (Force X), on a mission of fast transport of 1,746 men (70 officers and 1,676 non-commissioned officers and soldiers, some of whom remained in Gibraltar when the steamer Leinster, part of the former convoy “Substance” bound for Malta, had run aground.  As a diversionary action, the British would also carry out a bombardment of Porto Conte and Alghero by the destroyers H.M.S. Maori and H.M.S. Cossack and aircrafts from the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Ark Royal (which took place between 2.15 Am and 4.45 Am on 1 August, with negligible damage).

The ships bound for Malta had left Gibraltar at six o’clock in the morning of July 30th, and at 5.30 PM news (that Force H had left Gibraltar at 7:00 AM heading east) had reached Supermarina, which had immediately ordered the dispatch of various submarines (in addition to Tembien, Zaffiro, Bandiera and Manara between Malta and Pantelleria,  four other boats were deployed to the southwest of Sardinia: Alagi, Aradam, Diaspro and Serpente), as well as various other measures (suspension of traffic in the Central Mediterranean, concentration of 13 MAS in Pantelleria, preparation of the 6 torpedo boats available in Sicily, aerial reconnaissance over large areas of both Mediterranean basins).

Supermarina had already been alarmed by the intensification, in the previous days, of enemy radio traffic of an operational nature and air attacks against maritime reconnaissance air bases in Sicily and Sardinia, as well as by the appearance of British reconnaissance in Taranto and in the bases of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea.

On August 1st, Tembien reached the ambush area, located in the southern area of the submarine barrage. In the early hours of August 2nd, Tembien was on the surface – it will never be known whether to recharge its batteries, or to approach the British formation (which was crossing its ambush zone) and attack, or for different reasons – when it was spotted by an aircraft from H.M.S. Ark Royal. Shortly afterwards – at three o’clock in the morning – the light cruiser H.M.S. Hermione (Captain Geoffrey Nigel Oliver), which was sailing at 28 knots towards Malta, sighted it in turn and maneuvered to ram it. The bow of H.M.S. Hermione, launched at high speed, cut the Italian submarine in two, sinking it in position 36°21′ N and 12°40′ E (halfway between Pantelleria and Malta, southeast of Pantelleria), off the coast of Tunis and southwest of Sicily. H.M.S. Arethusa and H.M.S. Manxman, which were following H.M.S. Hermione, collided with the already half-submerged wreck of the Italian boat when they passed over the spot where it had sunk.

Commander Gozzi, 4 other officers and 37 non-commissioned officers and sailors died. There were no survivors. It was not entirely clear whether the entire crew sank with the submarine, or whether some men (perhaps being on deck or on the conning tower) ended up in the sea but were not recovered by the British ships, which continued at full force towards Malta. Albert Pettman, chief stoker of H.M.S. Manxman, noted in his diary that ” H.M.S. Hermione rams a U-Boat [a term often misused by the British sailors of the time, to indicate Axis submarines in general] and cuts it in two, none of the crew were saved as we must be well away before day break”)”.

A painting by Marc Stone portraying the sinking of Tambien
(UK National Archives)

H.M.S. Hermione suffered only minor damage in the ramming (a six-meter waterway in the bow, which, however, did not prevent it from continuing at full speed towards its destination). On arrival in Malta three hours later, a “piece” of Tembien was found crumpled around the bow of the cruiser. Some of the wreckage of the submarine was recovered and turned into “souvenirs” or good luck charms, such as a piece of iron that was forged into a horseshoe shape. After returning to Gibraltar (August 4th), the cruiser spent a few days repairing the damage to the bow. Commander Oliver later received the Distinguished Service Order for the sinking of Tembien.

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 – Coastal1698061881102 114.58 4.77


11/26/194022.26T.V. Guido GozziMediterranean36°00’N-14°47’ETorpedoFailedYorkHeavy CruiserGreat Britain
11/26/194022.33T.V. Guido GozziMediterranean36°00’N-13°47’ETorpedoFailedGlocesterLight CruiserGreat Britain

Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian RankDate
AppaiaLuigiJunior ChiefSottocapo8/2/1941
ArgentiniEgidioJunior ChiefSottocapo8/2/1941
BottazziCarloNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
BozzoVincenzoSublieutenantSottotenente di Vascello8/2/1941
BuscemiSalvatoreChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe8/2/1941
ConteEnricoSublieutenant G.N.Tenente G.N.8/2/1941
CorniaCamilloJunior ChiefSottocapo8/2/1941
Della ValleGaspareNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
Di GelidoVincenzoJunior ChiefSottocapo8/2/1941
Di GiulioVenanzioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe8/2/1941
EspositoGiuseppeChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe8/2/1941
FabbriAdolfoNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
FanziniOnorioChief 3rd ClassCapo di 3a Classe8/2/1941
FerrariEugenioJunior ChiefSottocapo8/2/1941
GalaPaolinoNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
GambiFrancoJunior ChiefSottocapo8/2/1941
GiagnacovoEmilioNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
GianniniGianninoNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
GozziGuidoLieutenantTenente di Vascello8/2/1941
LadisaFrancescoJunior ChiefSottocapo8/2/1941
LettieriRaffaeleNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
IetroGennaroNaval RatingComune6/12/1941
LucchettiGiovanniNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
MagnaniTommasoSublieutenantSottotenente di Vascello8/2/1941
MazzellaSilverioJunior ChiefSottocapo8/2/1941
MotoRomeoNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
NardiniMarioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe8/2/1941
OrruMarioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe8/2/1941
PediciniGabrieleJunior ChiefSottocapo8/2/1941
PisiniRaffaeleNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
RitonnatoFedericoNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
SalatinoSalvatoreNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
SirotiFernandoJunior ChiefSottocapo8/2/1941
TarranaBenedettoNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
UgoliniGiuseppeNaval RatingComune8/2/1941
VassenaCarloChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe8/2/1941
VenturiUmbertoChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe8/2/1941
ViestiRenatoNaval RatingComune8/2/1941