A "treasure" to tell: the Historical Hall of the Sommergibilisti

(To Lia Pasqualina Stani)

"Writing is traveling without the hassle of luggage" (Emilio Salgari) ... "my journey" at the COMFLOTSOM - Submarine Flotilla Command, began "only" with an entry permit to the Naval base in Mar Piccolo to be shown to the door personnel of access at the Arsenale Marina Militare of Taranto.

I thought it would really be a "short" trip to an unknown "world", not only to me, even to those who believe that the Italian Navy (MMI) is only "ships, uniforms and degrees".

Italian submariners - like raiders - are part of a specialist component of the MMI elite.

When something scares us the best way to overcome fear, is to face it: when I don't know "that" something the best way to know it, is to read "exploring" it. To carry out this report - like the following ones - in the previous days, I downloaded from the internet, printed, read and reread many documents concerning Italian submarines and submariners from their birth to the present day.

Remembering Calvino: "writing is always hiding something so that it is later discovered". Looking at all those documents I realized that there were endless pages of history, remained unknown, that describing a "heroic" and glorious component of MMI, from the last century to the present day, had also "written" some of the most important pages of the history of our country through the two great world conflicts.

I arrived at COMFLOTSOM a few minutes late, but the frigate captain Antonio Tasca (then public information core leader) and the vessel lieutenant Carlo Faggiana (current public information core leader of the Submarine Flotation Command) welcomed me in the best way: they had even reserved one of their parking spaces for my Smartina. As true gentlemen they opened the door for me and immediately shook my hand, with a smile accompanied by a "Welcome back to our Great Little Family".

After a brief briefing, with tasty coffee, with the commander of Submarine Flotation Command, the ship captain Stefano Russo, we took our leave and headed to the structure immediately next to the command building. In "Rio Corazzi" Submarine School, defined theUniversity of Italian submariners, "all" Italian submariners are trained by the cook to the submarine commander.

As soon as we enter we greet the photographer and the person in charge of the Historical Hall, Marshal Todaro, and the corvette captain Giacomo Petruzzi, one of those responsible for the formation of aspiring submariners.

The photographer starts the first shot to create the "book" of the day.

Before they opened the Historical Room, from the door - with an opening similar to that of a safe - I had the impression of entering a sort of bunker. I was wrong. As soon as I crossed the threshold, that room was so bright that it sparkled. An intense emotion so as to lose the breath in a few seconds, typical and indescribable, the amazement of children. The photographer asked the cf Tasca, the Faggiana TV and me, to position ourselves near the periscope of the glorious submarine Scirè. There are no words to describe these moments. I just had the audacity to say clumsy: "Let's smile!"

I immediately listen to Commander Tasca who begins the "journey" that will lead me to discover the various showcases and various relics and everything that is kept inside them.

The Historical Hall exists thanks to Admiral Giuseppe Arena and the Admiral Duilio Ranieri. Arena became the doyen of submariners last year after the death of another dean of submariners, the commander Mario Rossetto, who was in command of the submarines during the Second World War. Before Rossetto there was Admiral Patrelli Campagnano, who was the youngest commander of the submarines during the 2 World War, at the age of 25 he already commanded the submarine Platano.

Admiral Duilio Ranieri is considered the founder of the Submersible School "modern part", thanks to him the construction of the 2 wing of the Submarine School was started and it is Ranieri himself who wanted and managed to obtain the 1 ° simulator of the Sauro Class. He founded the "modern part" of the Submarine School which is named after another submariner official, Rio Corazzi, who was its founding father.

Arena and Ranieri, the two admirals, were not only passionate about submarines and the history of Italian and non-Italian submariners, but being fraternal friends, they created this historic hall in the modern part of the school, where they could keep memorabilia and documents they gave us heirs of the great heroes. And not all the material collected was nevertheless exposed but it was closed and cataloged in so many cartons that they will soon be overhauled.

The "path" starts from the "construction plan" of the 1 ° Italian submarine which is the Dolphin, designed in the 1892 commissioned by the Army, which entered service on the 1 April 1895 and its final fate was demolition! It was the first underwater unit of the Regia Marina.

Commander Tasca continues: The decision to equip the Italian Navy with an underwater unit was taken by a naval engineer who was at the Italian embassy in France. He inquired about the submarines that were built in France towards the end of the 800 and in particular he was surprised by the performance of the French submarine Gymnote that was built in the 1888.

The Italian submarine project, which was completed only in the 1889, was entrusted to Giacinto Pullino, director of the Naval Genius, whose work was also assisted by two officers, Vigna and Laurenti. The construction of the Dolphin (photo), which was initially referred to as Pullino (the name was changed only later), it began between 1890 and 1892 in the Arsenale of La Spezia. It was designed to navigate underwater and was the first submarine equipped with a gyroscopic compass. The internal lighting was guaranteed by 12 electric bulbs.

On April 28, 1892 in La Spezia under the command of the TV Carlo Scotti and with only 4 men as a crew, the first dive of the Dolphin began. It lasted five hours. Remarkable was still the distrust, on the part of the Royal Navy and many other important Marines of the time towards the "underwater force", considered in a certain sense not in harmony with the rules of honor of the time. Despite all the evidence carried out, in the 1895, the Dolphin was shelved in a warehouse of the Arsenale of La Spezia.

The reconstruction of the Dolphin resumed in 1901 and, in the month of May of the same year, completely renovated, diving, attack and torpedo launch tests were carried out, remaining underwater, in the presence of King Vittorio Emanuele III and the main leaders of the Royal Navy. Then the Dauphin was gradually overtaken by the construction of the new classes of national submarines. It was disbarred and demolished on January 16, 1919.

We move a little further and immediately "read" in a frame, the hymn of the submariners: They touch the black waves in the dense darkness, from the proud Turrets every look Attentive! The submarines depart Taciti and Invisibili! Hearts and assault engines against immensity! [...] Hit, and bury every enemy you meet on the Way! Thus the Marinar lives, in the Profound Heart, of the resounding sea! He doesn't care about the enemy or adversity because he knows he will win [...].

To my banal and provocative question: "do you know it by heart? ", those present hum it "timidly".

We are approaching one of the most precious relics of the Historical Room: the periscope of the "historian" Scirè (photo).

Continue Tasca: The Scirè was sunk by an English lookout, Isley, off Haifa with depth bombs. After the Constitution of the State of Israel, the wreck of the Scire, which lay at 35 mt on a backdrop off the coast of Haifa, broken into a keel, was the object of incursions (v. article).

After a pact reached between the governments of Italy and Israel, from 2 September to 28 September 1984, the recovery operations of 42 bodies were carried out by the "auxiliary" ship Antaeus of the Italian Navy. On that occasion various parts of the hull were also recovered, removed in a previous recovery attempt. A couple of SLC cylinders, part of the fascia, the war flag, parts of the turret and the periscope have been recovered. The parts of the wreck recovered are also preserved in the Museum of the naval base of Augusta, the Arsenale of La Spezia and the Arsenale of Venice, while the base of the cannon with part of the planking is preserved in the Vittoriano. In the following years, the divers of the Italian Navy sealed the wreck to prevent other divers from entering it. On 18 December 2004, on the anniversary of the attack on Alexandria in Egypt in the presence of the MOVM Emilio Bianchi, the new submarine was launched "Shire ".

On the wall, the commander Tasca, shows me a plaque donated by the engineer Barberini, a former officer of Marina, passed to Fincantieri. On the occasion of his 30 years of career he wanted to give to the Historical Room, one of the plaques designed to commemorate the fallen of the Scirè and given to the family members of the latter immediately after the war. He had recovered it in a flea market. At the base of this plate which, as can be seen from the engraving, was dedicated to the young ensign Uggese, the engineer Barberini had a steel plate welded, the same used in the construction of the new Scirè submarine and this to underline the deep bond among the submariners of today and yesterday.

We arrive at the bulletin board dedicated to father Carlo Messori Roncaglia, chaplain of Betasom, lived until the years' 90, which also participated in the centenary of the submersible component, which is traced back to the 1890.

In the 1990, on that occasion - says Tasca- celebrated the Mass in a profound way as if it were still in Betasom. He was a Jesuit with incisive values ​​and deeply rooted in his "human" soul. Having his cup, which we call the "holy grail", which was part of the celebration kit with which Father Messori celebrated Mass during "his" navigations with submariners, is a source of pride. At the base of the glass were engraved, the 32 names of the Atlantic submarines that were based in Betasom.

Recognizable is the bulletin board dedicated to the young commander, Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia, who lost his life aboard the "Da Vinci" submarine that held the sinking record during the 2 World War. A Class submarine is currently in service Sauro IV series, which was dedicated to the commander Gazzana. On display in the showcase is the "Gala outfit" by Commander Gazzana.

Next to it is the bulletin board dedicated to the commander, Carlo Fecia di Cossato (photo), 27 died of suicide on August 1944.

Showing me a letter written by Di Cossato, the commander Tasca presses on the story: Fecia di Cossato had participated in many missions both as a second and as a commander. In the 1943 when Italy signed the armistice with the Allies, it failed to overcome the "dark period" of the end of the missions. He had fought side by side with the Germans, lived the years between the 1943 and the 1944 as a period of defeat as well as of strong discomfort, and being also an aristocrat lived the armistice as an act of high treason to the monarchy, especially when he learned that the "National Liberation Committee" had been formed and there was already talk of a republic. He also thought of many of his friends who had been men of his crew and who had lost their lives in so many missions, and this contributed to increasing "the moral and human weight" he had in his heart. Before committing suicide he wrote an exciting letter to his mother in which he concluded: "For months and months I have been thinking of my sailors who are honorably at the bottom of the sea. I think my place is with them ".

Two years ago, with the lieutenant Nicola Carbotti, when we were in La Spezia for the launch of the "Venuti", we made contact with the relatives of Pietro Venuti, a submarinist sergeant who during the 2 world war he sacrificed his life to save the rest of the crew: the only way to save the others was to close the hatch of the propulsion room or "battery room" to prevent water from affecting the other parts of the submarine.

A submersible sergeant was assigned to Pietro Venuti, a submarine that will be delivered to MMI next June. For the occasion, as the Submarine Press Unit, Venuti's family donated photos and documents to set up part of this bulletin board.

I continue to listen to the stories of the commander Tasca and I notice how the words, moving through memories, move up to talk about another illustrious commander: First Lombard. Un rather "old" frigate captain for the time, because most of the commanders of the submarines were very young, for example Petrelli Campagnano was 25 years old, another 35 years up to the Lombard's 40. He put pressure on the top management of the Royal Navy and, being one of the teachers of the Submarine School that was in Pola in those years, he insisted a lot on returning to command of a submarine. He loved life on board and his desire was to get back on the front line.

He was satisfied. He lost his life when his submarine was attacked by an English corvette. Although part of the crew was rescued by the corvette men, they died along with others after the attack. When the commander of the English corvette asked the castaways who their commander was, hearing the name of Longobard, he was "shocked": Longobard was a friend of his known in the pre-war period, during an assignment in Beijing (Longobard was in charge of Defense) and as a sign of their friendship they had exchanged an ashtray with their initials.

In Historical Room there are the banners of submarines that have been laid up, those of the Class Sauro, of the class All and the cd Ex USA, ie US Navy submarines donated to MM in the years 60 and 70. There are copies both in the Historical Room which on display at the Vittoriano.

Tasca proceeds quickly and motivated when he talks about the submarine K-141 KurskEvery year there is an international meeting of submariners. When it was organized in Taranto, relatives of the fallen of the K-141 Kursk, a Russian nuclear-powered submarine, which entered service in 1995 and sank in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000, were also invited, even though the seabed was relatively shallow ( less than 100m). Evidently the event is due to an explosion in the bow. Later part of the crew and the submarine were recovered.

I am also proud of the photo of former Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola, who was commander of 3 submarines, while receiving the fighting flag of the submarine Sauro, just one of the submarines he commanded. Di Paola was the submarine officer who reached the highest position by becoming Minister of Defense.

On the same board in a different plan, there are photos of the event of the Centenary of submariners happened near the Aragonese Castle, where he showed himself in all his "gray" beauty, the Pelosi. For the occasion, the President of the Republic, Francesco Cossiga, also arrived in Taranto, and celebrated Mass, Father Messori.

On the lower level of the same bulletin board, there are photos of the visit of Pope Woytjla to Taranto, who took a tour of the Arsenal and knowing that at the COMFLOTSOM there was the Little Madonna of Betasom, wanted to see her to bless her. Personally, I had the opportunity to see and "touch" the little Madonna thanks to Admiral Arena. I let you imagine the emotions I felt.

The moment in which I found myself in front of the "Book of Missions".

In "Book of Missions "- continues Tasca - for each submarine all the missions are indicated and obviously also the date from the moment in which someone was considered missing, in detail in this register, which was almost a sort of rubric, where each letter corresponded to the name of a submarine and all the war missions in which he participated. Another similar book is present in the chapel where the Madonnina di Betasom is placed. The names of about 3300 submariners who died during the 2nd World War are reported.

We are moving towards another bulletin board where the commander tells me about Patrelli Campagnano: until a few years ago he was our dean. In 2007 we celebrated his 90 years with a surprise party. When he arrived we intoned the hymn of the submariners headed by the commissary officer Arena, son of Admiral Giuseppe Arena, who is a tenor. Patrelli Campagnano was the youngest commander: he commanded 25 the submarine Platano. He shows me the postcard with which Patrelli Campagnano, with the sole signature placed vertically, showed his loved ones of his arrival in Betasom, because the complaint did not allow to send further information.

Tell Tasca: Many submariners were conscripts and did not have specific training. Only a small number of officers and NCOs had been trained by the School. Most of the crew had experience aboard, with a "Training on the job", and was formed based on the type of job he carried out in civil society.

Here is the bulletin board dedicated to Filippi, a quartermaster who spoke good German. He was Donitz's contact person in Betasom. Donitz himself was Hitler's successor for 20 days, from April 20 to May 10. He was at the head of the nation, at Hitler's suggestion, because he had to try to rescue as many Germans as possible. Donitz wrote a book entitled "10 years and 20 days", that is, 10 years in command of submarines and 20 days as head of the German state. Although he was convicted not of "crimes against humanity" by the Nuremberg Tribunal but of "war crimes" (for torpedoes of merchant ships), he served 10 years. Returned to freedom, he never regretted his post. He claimed that he was unaware of Hitler's actions. It is unlikely, but at least it was not a Göring or other "executioner".

On a photo of a submarine he makes me notice a phrase: "He who fears death is not worth living".

BYou must make an enormous effort, I believe - continues Tasca - to identify with the submariners of the time because you knew you were leaving but no one guaranteed your return. It is no coincidence that when they returned from missions, especially the German submariners, they went to Paris to drink, have fun etc. They had courage, or perhaps they were "motivated" by the power of unconsciousness. Many simply had the desire to leave for the homeland, a sense of belonging experienced as a rooted value. In many cases the way was almost obligatory, otherwise they were considered as "traitors".

Continuing the journey, let's talk about the Romei, or new Romei not yet delivered to the Navy, but currently engaged in testing (v.articolo). The curiosity that has been reported to me is that the last commander of the Romei - Admiral Filippo Casamassima - and the future commander appointed to head the new one Romei - the TV Fabio Casamassima- are father and son.

The path is about to end when we arrive at the window dedicated to the commander Di Cossato, where there is a photo in which he is decorated by Donitz and his saber can be seen in the lower level. Next to the display case there is the "estate" used by the submarine commanders when they were in the turret, made with seal skin to keep them sheltered from the weather and or by adverse weather conditions.

The bulletin board dedicated to the commander, Salvatore Todaro, it is the last and here is a letter. "I would like if possible that this letter was sent to Commander Sommergibli Italians who sank the Kabalo ship. Lucky the country that has children like you, your newspapers give an account of your behavior towards the crew of a ship that duty requires you to suffer. There is a barbaric heroism and another in front of which the soul kneels. This is yours. Be blessed for your kindness that makes you a hero not only of Italy but of Humanity". This is the text of the note letter which was written in French.

When I went to America - recalls Tasca - as a liaison officer for Todaro in 2008, the Americans inquired about the name of the boat, called me and were impressed by the figure of Salvatore Todaro and by the Kabalo story (v.articolo).

When the submariners came back from the missions they carried flags indicating the tonnage of merchant ship - sunken ship -still tells the captain of the frigate Tasca and continues: Commander Salvatore Pelosi and his crew were captured in the Red Sea, and during his imprisonment, his crew embroidered the banner he gave to his commander, who after his various missions and after the war continued his career to become an admiral.

This is the Historical Room told verbally and with the "canvas" of memories by the commander Antonio Tasca. It is enriched more and more with relics and documents every time "someone" becomes aware of its existence knowing well the "family" of Italian submariners directly or indirectly.

During the year, after visiting the Aragonese Castle of Taranto, every Saturday, the visit to the Historical Hall and to the School Sommergibilisti, just make a request at the South Marina Command.

Commander Tasca leaves for an important meeting and leaves me with a promise to have the doyen of the submariners, Admiral Giuseppe Arena, interviewed.

We begin a conversation with Lieutenant Carlo Faggiana, who adds a curiosity "of personal and national merit". Meanwhile, the commander Tasca returns, in great haste: he had exchanged his "cap" by commander with that of the vessel lieutenant Faggiana. We all genuinely smile.

Faggiana resumes: In the 2007, I had the honor of putting down a wreath of flowers, aboard the submarine Pelosi - a submarine of the Sauro Class 3 ^ series - in the same spot where, the commander Salvatore Pelosi and his crew off the Gulf of Aden , under the command of the submarine Torricelli, the 23 June 1940, was forced - after a fight with three destroyers and two gunboats of the Royal Navy - to scuttle.

We then browse through various photo albums placed on the central table that document the various phases of the Italian submariner component.

Realizing this report - and the others that will follow - I have always had the certainty, speaking with each submariner, beyond the "degrees", of their tenacious attachment, as if it were a heartfelt "devotion", and of the felt pride of belonging to the specialty .

A "microcosm", indeed a great little "family" as they often like to call themselves, "unique and unrepeatable", I would add, that welcomed me right away making me feel at home, protected as in the arms of a mother.