The men of Comsubin tell the Submarine Scirè: when courage becomes a legend

(To Giampaolo Trucco)

"...the glory of sacrifice had replaced the glory of success ... disappeared with the Scirè the best submarine crew in the history of war in the world ... ".

These words, left to us by Commander Junio ​​Valerio Borghese, represent the very essence of the submarine Scirè, a boat of the Italian Navy whose history has aroused and still arouses the admiration and respect of seamen from all over the world.

A story of daring and daring

With a war history in truth not very long, but in the course of which the Sciré in fact had the opportunity to distinguish itself in more than one occasion. Shortly after the start of the Second World War, three pressure-resistant cylinders were used for the immersion of the famous slow-running torpedoes (SLC), also known as "pigs", which together with the Assaulters represented the true armament of the 'Unit.

From that moment the exploits of this submarine were always inextricably linked to those of the underwater Assault Vehicles of the X MAS flotilla. In fact, under the command of the corvette captain Junio ​​Valerio Borghese, he Scirè he performed many important operations, among which we remember in particular:

  • the mission against Gibraltar, of September of 1941, during which the Assaulters succeeded in sinking the transport ship Durham and a military tanker. During this operation the boat remained a week in enemy waters and, as Borghese wrote in his memoirs, "it was a severe commitment that forced us to cross the Strait twice over the course of four days and even to surface just two miles from the enemy port ".

  • the action against the English base of Alexandra of Egypt, which took place during the night between 18 and 19 December 1941, whose outcome was so great that, still today, it is a reason for study and admiration by the most important Military Marines. On this occasion Scirè he demonstrated, once again, that he possessed those characteristics which made the union of the crew-machine a perfect and deadly element. The submarine, sailing in shallow waters and between minefields, managed to bring three SLCs up to the mouth of the harbor. This action, today known as the Company of Alexandria, determined the sinking of the English battleships Valiant e Queen Elisabeth and the oil tanker Sagona from 16.000 tons, whose explosion caused further serious damage to the cruiser Jervis.

The 9 March 1942 Borghese ceded command of the Scirè to vessel lieutenant Bruno Zelik who, in August of 1942, guided him to his last and fatal mission: to transport divers of the Gamma Group a few hundred meters from the breakwater of the port of Haifa (Israel) to allow it to attack, with special explosive charges, some British units moored there.

Unfortunately the 10 August 1942, due to the German Enigma encryption system decrypted by the British, the Scirè it was discovered by some British scouts a few miles from the mouth of the harbor and four destroyers forced it to re-emerge, through the use of depth bombs, and then sink it with the guns on board and with those of the coastal batteries.

Unfortunately Italy had no more news of the Scirè from that tragic date and on 31 August the Unit was declared disappeared at sea in action of war.

From that moment on, the Italian wreck, which became the symbol of boldness and love of country that contributed to the epic deeds of the men of the Navy Assault, lies off the port of Haifa at the depth of 33 meters.

The wreck of the Sciré, an Italian shrine to be protected

At the end of the conflict, perhaps due to the human need to leave behind the pains of war, the sailors of the submarine Scirè were counted among the countless fallen that Italy had at sea. But these legendary men could not be long forgotten, so in September of the 1984 following an agreement between the governments of Italy and Israel, the Comsubin divers were given the task of returning to Haifa to recover their mortal remains so that they could be honored and buried in Military Memorial of the Overseas Fallen of Bari. This activity carried out with the support of Nave Anteo, Unit of the Underwater and Incursors Group "Teseo Tesei", was repeated over time for a further two times in order to preserve the wreck of the Scirè from the effects of a recovery attempt that took place in the 2002 by the American and Israeli Navy.

Aseptically describing these operations would not have given the reader the opportunity to understand the sensations and emotions that the divers of Varignano experienced during these operations, for this reason it was decided to make some of the protagonists talk.

Recovery operation of the bodies from the Scirè Submarine (1984)

Lieutenant. Pa / Smz Claudio Lecca - I obtained the patent from Palombaro in 1983, the following year I was sent with Nave Anteo on a mission to Haifa to participate in the recovery of the bodies of our compatriots. The first hitch was that of the position of the wreck: arrived at the coordinates provided by the Israelis we made the first of a long series of dives paired with the 2 ° C ° Pa / Smz Vito Musio, the excitement and adrenaline were at their maximum and every shadow it seemed to us that it could hide the lines of the Scirè, but we found nothing…. To find the wreck and start the mission we had to use the ancient but effective grapple technique which, only after a few hours, gave its results. From that moment the mission began, a hard underwater work of almost two months that every day began at dawn and ended at sunset. As a kid, I looked with admiration at the gestures of divers older than me, collaborating with them in all phases of the operations until the moment we opened the watertight hatch that separated the forward compartment of the Scirè from the aft one, a compartment that contained the sacred remains of our fallen: it was a succession of different emotions. In unearthing those poor mortal remains, I imagined the despair and the last minutes of life of those people. I identified myself above all with the eighteen-year-old Paolo Visentin whose skull, in addition to the medal bearing the name and serial number (he was the only one associated with a name), was attached to a large facepiece connected to an oxygen self-contained breathing apparatus, objects that today they are jealously guarded in the Comsubin Historical Hall. That unforgettable and extraordinary experience, which ended with the closing of the entrance gates to the Scirè, guided my entire professional life among the divers of the Italian Navy.

Lieutenant. Pa / Smz Matteo Elia Draicchio - After obtaining the diving license in 1980 and the diving license in 1981, I was immediately embarked on Nave Anteo to participate in the mission in Haifa whose purpose was to recover the bodies of our compatriots who died inside the Scirè submarine. The country wanted its heroes to return to their homeland .. and it was our job! It was difficult to find the location of the wreck because the coordinates provided by the Israelis were not correct. So on the orders of the Commander of the Underwater Operational Group, CF Dario Carrozzino, we used an ancient search technique, we started grappling ... After a few hours C ° Angeletti, Chief Diving Officer of the Anteo, exclaimed to the VHF "I have a nock!"; a shiver ran down my back because Sgt Biagio Carrano and I were the divers who should have verified the reason for this nuisance. Already in circulation wetsuits and ready to dive as never before, we went down into the water in just a few seconds. The emotion was irrepressible and growing as the shape of the wreck took more and more shape. Only the screeching of the grappling hook on the metal of the hull woke me, I imagined the glory and suffering of the men who had transformed that wreck into a legend. Yes, we had found the Scirè, we had found our heroes! I still remember our first dive inside the submarine: silence, respect and pride at the same time. Pride of belonging to the traditions that those men had helped to build. We lost track of time, we had the sensation of operating in perennial apnea; even breathing seemed disrespectful to those poor mortal remains who had waited so long to rejoin their homeland. After the recovery of the fallen, it was time to close the accesses to the submarine and to bring back to Italy some relics of the Sciré; I was charged with removing the periscope and the binnacle which is now positioned at the entrance to the Varignano Command. That was the last dive of the mission and fate would have it that it was my only dive alone: ​​so I found myself making the decompression stop absorbed in my thoughts and my prayers. That moment gave me a feeling of moral and spiritual fullness, a feeling that has been the lifeblood and spur of my 35-year career in the Navy's Underwater Departments.

Intervention following the attempt to recover the Scirè (2002)

CF (AN) SUB Giampaolo Trucco - My boarding on the Anteo had come to an end. It had been an intense period of professional and human growth that had allowed me to face numerous underwater operations, all different but equally rich in adventure and discovery. My luck was that my last mission with that Unit was the most exciting: to return to the wreck of the Scirè submarine. Thus the 22 October 2002 set sail for Haifa with the aim of verifying the state of preservation of the wreck following a clumsy operation carried out a month before by the Sixth American fleet and by some units of the Israeli Navy, during which it was tried the recovery of our boat. At the 13.00 of the 27 October we started diving. The wait before diving immersed my thoughts in that Italian crew that through its deeds had transformed the wreck, which was below us, into a legend. Time passed, until I was in the water last, five minutes before sunset, together with a veteran of the Scirè: Claudio Lecca became Capo Palombaro on board. That descent into darkness, that unprecedented advancing emotion I will always carry with me. Images and sensations that were outlined with the shapes of a wounded hull from which the sail's structure was still proud. I touched that corroded metal almost feeling noises coming from inside, as if those heroes were still there. We checked the damage our submarine had suffered and confirmed the brutal recovery attempt carried out the month before: a large chain had been passed between the stern of the submarine and the rudder, as if to form two half-hills, and the accesses to the Sciré , occluded during the 1984 mission, had been opened. The sorrow and bitterness were great, not having respected what the wreck represented was incomprehensible to us. We closed the Scirè and placed a plaque made in the Anteo workshop to honor our men. He comforted us, however, to have known that our own feelings were tried by many Israelis, so that, among their press organs, there was someone who intervened saying: "How we Israelis would react, how our Armed Forces would react, if the Did a Navy of a foreign country send one of its units to practice on the wreck of one of our glorious submarines?

Commemoration ceremony for the Sciré victims in the Italian-Israeli bilateral exercise "Rising Star" (2015)

CTo Francesco Chionna, Comsubin Commander - Ship Anteo has perfectly arranged the buoy field and is now exactly on the vertical of the wreck. The depth is significant but not excessive. Current and visibility are acceptable and, at least today, even the weather conditions are good. The immersion therefore does not present particular difficulties .... yet while I wear the diving suit and I check the equipment I feel a subtle emotion in the chest and thoughts in the head that run after and distract me. It is not a dive whatever I am preparing for ... I am about to dip on the wreck of the Scirè! Finally there are, what a journey to get here! And I'm not referring to the transfer from La Spezia to Haifa, where the submarine lies, but to the journey along a career passed to COMSUBIN and the GOI ... For me - Raider - it's getting to where it all started! I'm about to introduce myself to the legend. I'm about to get wet in the same waters that the Decima's assaulters and submarines guard. Those to whom we owe everything!

They almost sensed my mood and perhaps sharing it, the men of the GOS, who are also preparing to dive, speak softly, the professional but almost reverent gestures. Yesterday they removed the old plaque on the Scirè in 1984 when Comsubin's men plunged to evacuate the crew's remains from the wreck to save them from profanation.

The new plaque is next to me, lying on the bridge of the Anteus, ready to be brought to the bottom along with a crown of leaves and branches of laurel and oak: value and strength. So there are finally! Together with the other operators who will carry the plaque and crown with me, we are ready on the side door of the Anteo, motionless as a sentinel at the Altar of the Fatherland. Last checks on the equipment and I dive. The colors altered by the depth do not detract from the beauty of our flag that has been stretched over what remains of the sail of the submarine.

Around the silence. There is only the sound of thoughts. I am struck by the dimensions of the submarine: it is smaller than I expected and it is inevitable to think that this increases the glory of the 60 operators, including submariners and raiders, who lived and fought here. And I am struck by dignity: the wreck bears the signs of the violent reaction against it, but it is still in navigation, straight and target-oriented; the torpedoes ready in the launch tubes. A knight fallen with the sword in his hand.

I place a hand on the plates for a moment of concentration. I made dozens of dives on and in wrecks of all kinds, and beyond the various technical difficulties. I have always liked to let myself be involved in their stories, but that of Scirè nothing is the same as the previous dives, here the involvement is total, almost spiritual.

In addition to ours, a plate of the Israeli Navy and a mail from an unknown hand, broken but on which the English words "heroes" and "meditate" are clearly stated, confirm definitively that the glory of the Scirè and the courage of its men are not only patrimony Italian.

I am reminded of the verses of a poem composed by an old sailor years ago: "... but you glorious Scirè you remained alone in those waters where you met death ... around there is only the memory that runs to distant times, even when the feared enemy, to the sailors of Italy made the honors ... ".

(photo: Comsubin)