18 December 1941: Alexandria Night

(To Marina Militare)

"The means of assault is the only means of war that asks itself for the prodigious characteristic of achieving decisive results without putting any family into mourning. operators in an unparalleled moral position ".

These are the words of Admiral Spigai, the future Chief of Staff of the Navy, in his famous One hundred men against two fleets, the first book dedicated to the exploits of the Navy raiders.

The enterprises of the assault vehicles, engaged during the Second World War in operations that amazed the world, challenging the enemy in their most equipped bases, are probably among the most famous actions of war of all times.

These events are often described by privileging the work of individuals, often making us forget the factors of competence, dedication and technological excellence of which the Italian incursion is the final product and which are an expression of the entire Navy and, ultimately, common heritage. of the entire national community.

The daring mission of Alexandria is preceded by a careful study of the opposing defenses, developed since the summer of 1941, making use with intelligence and imagination, both of the decryption of the adversary radio messages, and of the capture of documents and English maps obtained in the most diverse forms. One of the most striking cases is undoubtedly the adventurous recovery from the seabed of the secret documentation kept aboard the wreck of the British destroyer Mohawk, torpedoed and sunk by the Italian fighter Tarigo.

The countdown for the attack begins with the boarding of the SLC-type assault vehicles, later universally known as "Pigs", on the submarine Sciré, which leaves from La Spezia at 23 pm on 00 December 3, directed to the Italian base of Lero, in the Dodecanese, where it arrives on the evening of 1941; during the journey, spotted by a British plane, he escapes identification by cheerfully greeting the enemy aircraft only to promptly transmit, with the projector, the correct English recognition signal of the day, obviously obtained thanks to the work of the Secret Information Service of the Navy, as British investigators will discover with horror the following month after examining all the reconnaissance reports from November-December 1941. 

At 07:00 on the 14th, the operators embarked, the boat leaves the moorings and begins the hidden navigation towards Alexandria, emerging only at night to recharge the batteries and check the route. On the evening of December 17, 1941, the confirmation of the presence in the port of two battleships arrived by the central command of the Navy - FROM SUPERMARINA: confirmed presence in the port of two battleships. probable aircraft carrier: ATTACK - and, fully charge air and electricity, lo Scirè it begins its incredible undersea race through the mined dams, always below the 60 m of depth and on rapidly decreasing bottoms, to emerge, finally, in perfect position to 1.3 nautical miles for 356 ° from the headlight of Alessandria.

Once the targets have been assigned, the six men of the assault group, divided into three pairs, proceed towards the enemy base: the lieutenant Luigi Durand De la Penne with the diver chief Emilio Bianchi, the captain of the naval genius Antonio Marceglia with the sub-chief diver Spartaco Schergat, the naval arms captain Vincenzo Martellotta with the diver chief Mario Marino set out to carry out a legendary enterprise in the history of our Navy and in the naval one of all times.

Sinking the two British battleships HMS with explosive warheads Queen Elizabeth (33.550 tons) and HMS Valiant from (27.500 tons) and damaging the tanker Sagona (7750 tons) and the destroyer Jervis (1690 t) the operators scored an epic feat and an extraordinary victory against what was, at the time, the largest Navy in the world, which prompted the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself to write: "in the course by a few weeks the entire battle fleet in the eastern Mediterranean was eliminated as a fighting force. "

To achieve this strategic result, however, the raiders operated with the entire Navy behind them, a force whose officers, non-commissioned officers and sailors, without distinction of rank, body or specialty, supported by technicians and civil workers, have worked for years with passionate commitment to prepare ever more reliable vehicles and to train in their use with maximum safety. Furthermore, many actions could only be carried out thanks to the exceptional results, which remained hidden for decades, obtained by the "shadow men" of the Information Department of the Navy General Staff.

It is also evident that the extraordinary efforts of the assault vehicles would have been of little use if they had not been framed in a strategy aimed at guaranteeing the exercise of Maritime Power. The first results of the Alessandria enterprise appear evident from the days and months immediately following that night: the Italian Navy manages, in fact, to score a long series of effective offensive actions that lead to the operations of the Team in February, March, June and August 1942 against the British convoys bound for Malta.

And precisely in the most successful action, which went down in history as the Battle of Mid-June, the English naval formation that tries, during the Vigorous operation, to arrive on that besieged island, leaves Alexandria and comes back because it has nothing to oppose the timely exit to sea of ​​the Italian battleships set sail from Taranto.

Il 1st Battle Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet, the traditional flagship of the Royal Navy, no longer exists since December 1941.

(in the opening photo from the left of La Penne, Notari, Cella, Forza, Borghese, Marceglia, Chersi, Feltrinelli and Manisco)