The submarine TOPAZIO was one of the 12 boats of the series “SIRENA” of the class “600” of coastal submarines. The boats of the series “SIRENA” derived from the previous one, the “ARGONAUTA”, with some improvements. They were built by the C.R.D.A. shipyard of Monfalcone, near Gorizia (6 boats), Tosi of Taranto (2 boats), Quarnaro of Fiume (2 boats), OTO of Muggiano, near La Spezia (2 boats) between 1931 and 1934.
The TOPAZIO during a torpedo drill in La Spezia.
(Photo courtesy Erminio Bagnasco and Achille Rastelli)
The TOPAZIO was one of the two boats built in Fiume (Rijeka). Laid down on September 26th, 1931, it was launched on May 15th 1933, and delivered to the Regia Marina on April 28th, 1934.
Upon Italy’s entry into the war, the TOPAZIO was part of the 62nd Squadron, 6th Submarine Group, based in Tobruk (Libya). At the beginning of the hostilities (June 10th, 1940), the boat was under the command of Lieutenant Commander Emilio Berengan and already assigned to a patrol off Solum, Egypt along with three other boats. After four days without having picked up anything, the boat returned to base.
From the 29th of June to July 9th and still off Solum, the boat completed a second patrol but failed to detect any activity. On the night of the 9th, the boat left the patrol area for Taranto to complete a minor refitting. On the 12th, while on the surface, the submarine found a Charlie with six shipwrecked sailors from the destroyer ESPERO, sunk two weeks earlier 120 miles southwest of Cape Matapan. The six shipwrecked rescued were the last of a group of 35, which had sought refuge aboard the Charlie. From the 16th to the 21st of October, the TOPAZIO was again on patrol northeast of Marsa Matruh (Egypt).
During the following patrol, between the 8th and 12th of November, the boat discovered in the waters south of Malta a convoy of four ships heavily escorted. Navigating full ahead on the surface, the boat was able to move on a position for the attack and, at 01:33, launched two torpedoes against the ships. After about three minutes, the crew heard two strong explosions, a sign that the weapons had hit. Nevertheless, as in many similar situations, in the British documentation there is no reference to this action. It is known though that after the attack the TOPAZIO underwent one and one half hours of intense hunt by two of the escorts, a sign that the attack had been detected.
In 1941, the TOPAZIO completed several patrols in the Aegean Sea and along the North African coast. On September 10th, 1941 around 21:00 off the port of Beirut, the TOPAZIO sank the British ship MUFERTE of 691 t. The vessel had been stopped with the deck gun and then finished with the torpedo, but only after the crew was allowed to escape.
Another picture of the TOPAZIO.
In January 1942, the boat’s command was transferred to Lieutenant Bruno Zelick who conducted a long patrol in the waters between Benghazi and Alexandria. After this mission, the TOPAZIO was sent to the shipyard of Leros for major maintenance, which lasted until October 10th. During this period, Lieutenant Zelick was replaced by Lieutenant Mario Patanè. Zelick was transferred to the R. Smg. Scirè aboard which he lost his life on August 10th, 1942. After the refitting, the boat returned to Taranto where it resumed operational activity.
From October 27th to November 9th 1942, the TOPAZIO was on patrol south of the Balearic Islands where, on the 7th, it sighted a convoy bound for Algeria. The boat launched one torpedo against one of the escort but without any result. A few weeks later, while south of Malta, the TOPAZIO launched three torpedoes against a group of British destroyers, missing the target; it was the 14th of December.
In March 1943, after 10 days of patrol in the Gulf of Sirte, the TOPAZIO returned to La Maddalena where, from May 1st to September 1st, it completed a period of refitting. During this time, Lieutenant Patanè left command and was replaced by Lieutenant Pier Vittorio Casarini, who would be lost with the boat.
On September 7th, nearing the Italian armistice, the TOPAZIO left La Maddalena to form, along with 9 other boats, a barrier in the southern Tyrrenhian (Operation Zeta) to oppose the now expected Allied moves.
On September 8th, the boat was caught in those waters. On the same day the submarine command (MARICOSOM) issued orders to the boats to cease hostilities, dive to 80 meters, and surface at 08:00 of the 9th, to then stay on the surface flying the colors and with a black signaling pendant attached to the periscope while waiting further orders. These orders instructed the boats to go to Bona (Algeria) keeping the signals quite visible.
Thus, along with three other submarines (DIASPRO, TURCHESE and MAREA), the TOPAZIO followed orders to the letter on the 9th and 10th, as proved by the testimony of the other submarine commanders. Then, on the night of the 10th, the boat disappears.
After the war, British documentation indicated that on the 12th, about 28 miles southwest of Cape Carbonara (Sardinia), a British airplane attacked, hit, and witnessed sink rapidly a submarine navigating on the surface without any recognition sign and not on route to Bona (38°39’N, 09°22’E). There wasn’t any survivor, even though the British report indicated that there were a few shipwrecked sailors in the water.
The fate of the TOPAZIO is uncertain. The most probable explanation is that the British airplane did not see the signals, although they were properly placed, and made a tragic mistake. If the British report were accurate, why would the boat lower the signals and change course? And why, from the night of the 10th, for two days, would it interrupt all contacts with the other boats? Even if the boat had decided not to obey MARICOSOM’s orders, why would the crew let themselves be found on the surface? The doubt remains.
During its operational life, the TOPAZIO completed 41 patrols for a total of almost 26,000 miles.
Translated from Italian by Cristiano D’Adamo