“Dare the inosable”: the “historic” Dolphins of steel

(To Lia Pasqualina Stani)

Tacit and "visible" are deployed in the dock reserved for the submarines at the Submarine Flotilla Command of Taranto.

When the "class" is not water: they look the same on the surface, with a refit that enhances the strength of HY80 steel.

Just in front of the Comflotsom entrance I look at the logo: there is a dolphin.

Someone may believe that it is a reference to the emblem of the city of Taranto, headquarters of the Command at the MM Arsenal, almost a tribute to Taras, son of Poseidon who rides a dolphin.

That dolphin could also be interpreted as a sign of good luck: in reality the first Italian submarine, the "Delfino" (opening photo), was designed by an inspector of the Civil Engineers, the engineer Giacinto Pullino.

It was an experimental prototype, which from 1890 to 1896 was completed in the La Spezia Arsenal, subjected to continuous modifications, the result of numerous and subsequent experiments. The Italian shipyards located between the Arsenal of Venice, La Spezia and Livorno, in the years between the 1903 and the 1913, built the class boats Glaucous, of the class Medusa and Seal.

Warrior Italy on the eve of the 1 world conflict already had 21 submarines. During this decade the only innovations made to the Italian submarines were the strengthening of the hull allowing an immersion under the 100m, the use of hydraulic remote controls and some improvements to the rescue systems.

The German Navy in the 1913 produced the first 30 examples of U-Boot or Unterseeboot (submarine boat) with which it torpedoed for the entire duration of the 1 world war, not only enemy ships but also ships of neutral countries or strangers to the conflict in progress, not allowing the crews of the ships targeted by a U -Boot to get to safety with the boats, to then be able to launch the torpedoes. The U-boats went under water when approaching the enemy or to escape the destroyers.

At the Arsenal of Taranto in the 1920, the greatest of the Naval Genio Pericle Ferretti, he realized a prototype of the "Snorkel", a system that provided a communication with the atmosphere to the submarine, immersed at periscopic altitude, allowing the use of diesel engines (to also recharge the batteries) also allowing the exchange of air in the submarine, without rising to the surface and ensuring its concealment. It was tested on a boat purchased in Canada, the "Smg H3" towards the end of the 1943. The Germans installed it on their first boats.

In the 1915 the Italian shipyards, in continuous experimentation, built "oceanic" and "coastal" submarines, up to 115 submarines, including those of the 600 class which with its different series, was among the most efficient as well as the most successful. . With these new boats they increased both their armament and their autonomy, being able to dive even up to 130 mt, traveling at a speed of 20 knots.

The heroism, courage and self-denial of many Italian submariners accentuated the effective use of Italian boats, which joined the German U-boats, especially during the Second World War, in the central-southern Atlantic and in the Indian Ocean against France and England before the establishment of the Betasom base in Bordeaux when some submarines finally managed to cross the Strait of Gibraltar controlled by the British.

The operations supported by one of the first submarines used by the Italians were worthy as they were daring: the "Pier Capponi", a submarine of the Regia Marina built in Taranto at the Tosi shipyards, launched the 20 in January of the 1929.

He completed his 1 mission between Pantelleria and Tunisia, at the beginning of World War II, under the command of which was Lieutenant Romeo Romei. The 21 June 1940 spotted the Swedish armed steamship Heige who sailed from Tunisia to Malta, which sank with two torpedoes.

The Italians sighted a minesweeper of the Maltese coastal watch, which they exchanged for a French ship, made her approach, as soon as the machine-gunners came under fire, opened fire and hit the crew. Against the Capponi he was targeted by the Maltese, only to go away in the dark. Once back in Messina, leaving it to go to La Spezia, he was spotted by a British submarine, the Rorquai.

Not being able to try to escape, the Italian submariners decided to pretend to be friends, greeting the sailors of the English boat, which when they were close to the machine guns of the Capponi they opened fire to the curious British who leaned over. Against the Italians a rain of fire opened and the Capponi sank, struck by two torpedoes, with all the crew a few miles from Stromboli.

In memory of the commander Romei was awarded the gold medal for military valor.

"L 'Alessandro Malaspina" (in the photo on the left at the Muggiano in July 1940), an oceanic submarine belonging to the Marconi, built in La Spezia, was the Italian 1 submarine that reached the Betasom base, managing to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, despite its colossal size that the German admiral Doenitz criticized, accustomed to the practical maneuverability of the U-boats.

The crew of the Malaspina, under whose command was the frigate captain Mario Leoni, it was made up of sailors who had no experience of boarding the submarines: their training took place during the tests for the submarine itself.

Il Malaspina it was also the 1 Italian submarine that sank an "enemy" English ship, the British Fame, with 4 torpedoes to force his crew to flee, holding the commander as a prisoner, and then sinking the cannon ship.

The 23 April 1942 with the new commander, the vessel lieutenant Giuliano Prini, with a torpedo damaged the Lycan, a passenger steamer that succeeded, favored by the bad weather to move away.

From the 6 September 1941, there was no more news, it was declared lost at sea in unknown circumstances, even if the loss of the Malaspina to a hunt with depth charges by the HMS destroyer Vimy or to an air attack by a seaplane Short Sunderland.

Commander Prini was awarded the gold medal for military valor.

The use of another Italian submarine was crucial Commander Cappellini (photo), belonging to the Marcello class, built in the Muggiano shipyard.

The 6 June 1940 sailed from Cagliari to reach the Atlantic in an area between Casablanca, the Canary Islands and Madeira, with the commander of the corvette Cristiano Masi in command.

Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, an antisubmarine fishing boat attacked him. Pretending the failures, the commander Masi decided to take refuge in the Port of Centa to elude the Spanish authorities with the Hague Convention that allowed the ships of the belligerent countries a maximum stop of 24 hours in ports of neutral countries. The crew and the commander, pretended to have gone down in relief, instead they went up on board to leave again during the night.

As soon as he returned to La Spezia he assumed command, corvette captain Salvatore Todaro who reached the Atlantic base of Betasom, the 15 October 1940 crossing the Strait of Gibraltar again attacked a large-scale Belgian steamer carrying goods, the Kabalo: this was an episode that made Commander Todaro and his crew protagonists of a gesture of great humanity even if it was interpreted by a German officer as a sign of human weakness.

Todaro obtained the surrender and abandonment of the Kabalo by his crew, immediately after the first cannon shots. But having just spotted him, torpedoed three times to try to sink him, believing he had completely evacuated him, he noticed the presence of five crewmen, who threw a small boat into the sea and asked for help. For reasons of space on board the Caps, Todaro decided to pick up only the wounded and the occupants of a lance of Kabalo, abandoning the five castaways. Unexpectedly Todaro decided to reverse the course and towed the boat, even though the cable broke several times. Arrived in the Azores landed from the submarine - overloaded - the castaways gathered (read article).

The Submarine Caps was also the protagonist of the rescue of the Laconia, an English transatlantic lorry converted to transport troops and prisoners sunk by a German submarine, which lost the lives of 1400 Italian prisoners of war who had survived the battle of El Alamein who were aboard the ship. He was diverted to the site of the disaster to recover the castaways he found at sea.

Il Caps the 16 April of 1946 was captured and sunk off Kobe.

Other Italian submarines remained in the Atlantic, including the Calvi and Da Vinci.

For a patriot and martyr of the Italian Risorgimento the submarine "Pietro Calvi" was built, built near Muggiano and assigned to the I Submarine fleet based in La Spezia, to which the "twins" Finzi and Tazzoli belonged.

During his last mission, entrusted to the command of the Longobard frigate captain, during the sighting of the Sierra Leone-United Kingdom convoy it was taken over by a British ship, the Luiworth who attacked him forcing him to dive. Damaged by depth bombs, he sank into flooding. The Longobard commander tried to re-emerge to attack with the cannons, the Luiworth he shot him again, and while Lombard ordered his men to scuttle and abandon the submarine, he was killed by a machine-gun fire. A boarding team of the Luiworth entered the submarine, side by side, but a clash with the survivors was born, who opened a torpedo tube, making the water pour inside, causing it to sink. The Longobard commander was also awarded the medal for military valor.

Significant successes were achieved by the oceanic submarine, belonging to the class Marconi, the "Leonardo Da Vinci" (photo on the left), considered as the best non-German submarine of the 2 world war.

The crew received an adequate period of training, and demonstrated its efficient preparation during the military operations of the 1940, 1941 and 1943.

The Lieutenant Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia in command of the From Vinches he carried out many missions and as many sinkings of enemy ships.

When the 22 May 1943, after sending a message to the Betasom base to inform that it would start the hidden navigation, it was crossed by the destroyer Active and from the frigate Ness, who surrounded him, although immersed, and hit him with depth bombs. Only when wrecks and human remains came to the surface did it become clear that the Da Vinci with all the crew he was not only sunk but no longer existed.

Commander Gazzana Priaroggia was decorated with the medal for military valor.

Names such as those of the commander Gazzana, Todaro, Longobardo and others did not end up in the "forgotten" but are still famous not only for the humanity and courage that characterized them as valiant Sailors of the abyss but also because the submarines of the class are dedicated to them Sauro and class Todaro equipped with advanced technology, which are now moored and subjected to continuous maintenance at the Comflotsom of the Arsenale MM of Taranto.