Isacco Umberto Pugliese was born in Alessandria (Piedmont) on January 13th, 1880. He entered the ‘Regia Academia Navale’ (Royal Naval Academy) in Leghorn on November 10th, 1933 at the young age of thirteen; he graduated on September 1st 1989. His family was part of the local middle class and professed the Judaic religion. The U.S.M.M. (Historical Bureau of the Italian Navy) has published a biographical book about Admiral Pugliese authored by Ernesto Pellegrini. This book is not very satisfying, but contains rare photographs of Pugliese.
Vice-Admiral (Eng) Umberto Pugliese
He neither excelled at the Academy, nor during his first assignments aboard ships. He participated to the Italian-Turkish war of 1911, and later to the Great War. Eventually, he joined the “Comitato per l’Esame dei Progetti Navi” (Bureau for Naval Constructions), which had been created in 1907 by parliamentary law and later emended by royal decree in 1911. He was, along with Maggiore Generale Giorgio Rabbeno and Maggiore Gastone Levi, one of the officers victimized by the racial laws of 1938 against the Italian citizen of Jewish origin. He was removed from service until fall 1940 when, following the debacle at Taranto, he was instrumental in securing the recovery of the battleship Littorio. Eventually it was decreed that he did not belong to the Jewish race (an Italian way of saying “he is a Jew, but a good one…”) and reinstated in his rank.
During the German occupation, despite having been called in for interrogation by the Gestapo, he avoided deportation. He was offered a hideaway place by Gianni Caproni in his apartment of Via Azuni, not too far from the Ministry of the Navy in Rome.
Pugliese was also an important member of Freemasons Society, and he was christened in hope to avoid the despicable “certificate of Judaism” issued by the fascist “Tribunale of the Race’ (Tribunal of the Race).
After the war, he was nominated President of the “Istituto Nazionale per gli Studi ed Esperienze di Architectura Navale” (National Institute for the Study and Testing in Naval Engineering). He died, much honored and respected by the people who knew him, on July 15th, 1961 in Sorrento at the age of 81. It should be noted that, although he patented the famous Pugliese underwater defense system, he relinquished all legal rights to the Navy.
He was also much involved with the creation of the new hydrodynamic testing facilities in Rome which replaced the famous “vasca” (pool), often mentions in his report and originally directed by Giuseppe Rota. He is remembered as one of the primary designers of the battleships of the Littorio class.