R. Smg. Zaffiro

At Italy’s entry into World War II, the Zaffiro was based in Leros, part of the Dodecanese island, and at the time occupied by Italy. The boat completed the first war mission from June 10th to 14th, 1940, patrolling off the Island of Rhodes, but did not encounter any enemy ships.

The Zaffiro
(Photo U.S.M.M.)

Between the end of July and the beginning of August 1941 the Zaffiro was sent between Pantelleria and Malta, along with other submarines, to counter the a British operation consisting of sending a convoy of supplies to Malta, but failed to intercept any British units.

The Zaffiro, under the command Lieutenant Commander Giovanni Lombardi,  was chosen to recover the operators of the SLCs who had carried out the Alexandria attack: from December 24th to 26th, 1941, Lombardi surfaced every night off Rosetta (fifteen miles north of the mouth of the Nile), and stationed there from midnight to three in the morning. This turned out to be useless because the operators who had managed to get away from the port of Alexandria (the captain of the Naval Engineers Antonio Marceglia and the sub-chief diver Spartaco Schergat) had already been captured while trying to reach Rosetta. Finally, on December 26th, the submarine had to return to Leros.

On June 8th, 1942, under the command of Lieutenant Carlo Mottura, the Zaffiro departed from Cagliari heading south of the Balearic Islands; he was then ordered to move to an area between Cape Falcon and Cape Ferrat (off the coast of Oran), where, together with three other submarines, it would form a barrage to counter the British operation “Harpoon” as part of the Battle of Mid-June, which would develop in a few days. However, it is probable that this order never reached the boat, since after his departure contact was lost and the radio messages continuously sent until 22 July were in vain.

There is a report that the Zaffiro may have been sunk by a PBY Catalina seaplane of the Royal Air Force’s 500th Squadron on June 9th, 1942. However, the 500th Squadron did not relocate from the RAF St Eval, Cornwall base to Gibraltar until November 1942 and, at the time, the squadron was operating Bristol Blenheim and received Lockheed Hudson in November; it never flew Catalinas.

The Zaffiro under attack. To these days, this photograph is often described as a U-Boat being attacked by a Catalina.
(Photo Imperial War Museum)

More credible is the report that on that day a Catalina Z2143/J of No. 240 Squadron RAF, then attached to No. 202 Squadron based in Gibraltar, sunk the Zaffiro near the Balearic Islands. While flying a sortie from Gibraltar, Flt. Lt. Desmond Ernest Hawkins, the squadron’s Flight Commander, and his crew spotted the submarine from an altitude of 2000 ft. The submarine turned to bring its surface guns to bear. The plane descended to 100 ft., and while exchanging gunfire with the submarine, dropped four 450 lb. depth charges. The submarine then started to dive.  Approximately four minutes later, the Zaffiro (probably severely damaged) resurfaced, and its crew went to man the guns. The Catalina fired upon the boat until a white flag was raised. The crew started to abandon ship. Seeing that the submarine was sinking, Hawkins tried to land his plane to pick up survivors, but the condition of the sea did not allow it. As the Catalina hit water the hull was split open, injuring members of the plane’s crew. Flt. Lt. Hawkins, subsequently, received a bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross for this action. He would retire as an Air Vice-Marshal in 1974.

Operational Records

Patrols (Med.)Patrols (Other) NM Surface NM Sub. Days at SeaNM/DayAverage Speed
22 12,919 2,629 128121.475.06


No offensive actions reported.

Crew Members Lost

Last NameFirst NameRankItalian Rank
AldinucciEnricoJunior ChiefSottocapo
AprileRobertoJunior ChiefSottocapo
AreggiGiulioJunior ChiefSottocapo
BertiniBrunoSublieutenantSottotenente di Vascello
BertoliniBrunoNaval RatingComune
BonaldoGiovanniNaval RatingComune
BonliccelliAlfirioChief 3rd ClassCapo di 3a Classe
BurgatoGiovanniChief 3rd ClassCapo di 3a Classe
CarboniMarioJunior ChiefSottocapo
ColuccioGiuseppeNaval RatingComune
CorioGuidoNaval RatingComune
DellarieriIgnazioChief 1st ClassCapo di 1a Classe
DenteCarloNaval RatingComune
Di SommaFeliceChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe
FintoRaffaeleChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe
FonsecaCosimoNaval RatingComune
GadeschiGiovanniJunior ChiefSottocapo
GayMarioNaval RatingComune
GerardiAntonioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe
GuidoneMarcelloJunior ChiefSottocapo
LoniAntonioJunior ChiefSottocapo
MezzenzanicaRinoJunior ChiefSottocapo
NovielloFrancescoChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe
PacificoAntonioNaval RatingComune
ParacalliVincenzoNaval RatingComune
PediciniAntonioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe
QuagliaArnaldoJunior ChiefSottocapo
RanaGualtieroJunior ChiefSottocapo
RibuoliGigettoJunior ChiefSottocapo
RossakolaRenatoJunior ChiefSottocapo
RuvoloOrazioChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe
SantoniPierinoNaval RatingComune
ScukovitStanislaoJunior ChiefSottocapo
TacconeGiuseppeJunior ChiefSottocapo
TartaraLucianoJunior ChiefSottocapo
TrentinPaoloChief 2nd ClassCapo di 2a Classe
UvaSergioNaval RatingComune
VakgiuArmandoNaval RatingComune
ZannaCorradoSublieutenant G.N.Tenente G.N.