29 December 1941: Rescue of the Survivors of Atlantis and Python

(To Marina Militare)

One of the most beautiful (and least known) stories of the Second World War, at the end of the 1941 year, four protagonists of the Command Italian underwater forces in the Atlantic, the legendary BETASOM.

The Italian boats are called to participate in a rescue operation, in the middle of the war, unprecedented for submarines, under particularly difficult conditions and at a huge distance (over 5.000 miles, round trip) from their base.

It is known that the German Navy had sent some corsair cruisers and their support vessels to the oceans. These units, which proved effective against isolated traffic, were subjected, in turn, to intense British hunting. In the end even the most famous Germanic corsair, theAtlantisAfter more than a year and a half of raids, the 22 November 1941 is surprised, about 350 miles north of the Ascension Island by an English cruiser while it was refueling a U-Boote and scuttles itself without a fight. The British ship, fearing to be attacked by the submarine, immediately submerged, moves away without recovering the survivors.

The German naval command in France sends the supply vessel to the rescue at this point Python, which recovers, three days later, the one chosen Germanic crew.
The December 1, however, another English cruiser intercepts the second vessel, also self-parked to the first salvo, while it was supplying two U-Boote. The scene is repeated: the British go away and the shipwrecked boats and rafts, at the mercy of the waves in December in the middle of the Atlantic, are now 414. Taken in tow, within four days, four German submarines flowed into the area, face dramatic weather conditions. There is no food or water for everyone and if the British return, it would be the end.

BETASOM, requested, has the immediate intervention of four ocean boats, the Luigi Torelli (commander, the corvette captain Antonio De Giacomo), theEnrico Tazzoli (corvette captain Carlo Fecia di Cossato), the Giuseppe Finzi (corvette captain Ugo Giudice) and the Pietro Calvi (corvette captain Emilio Olivieri).

The units are set up in record time to embark each 70 shipwrecked and take the sea with a south course, between the 5 and the 7 December 1941. Orders include the ability to attack offensive traffic during outbound navigation, avoiding any war effort after boarding shipwrecks.

The meeting between Italian submarines and German submarines with towing lances takes place off the islands of Cape Verde between the 14 and 18 December, and the transhipment of part of the survivors - in total 254 men, all arranged below deck - immediately assisted , materially and morally (Ulrich Mohr, one of the Atlantis officers and author of the most famous book ever written on that ship, speaks of "great treatment" aboard the Tazzoli) - is happily accomplished, without losses, despite the sea force 4 -5. During the return navigation the only Torelli, sighted a convoy in the area to the east of the Azores, is attacked by the opposing units but manages to evade the British antisom fighter.

Finally, the four Italian units arrive at Saint Nazaire and disembark the survivors, all safe and sound, between the 24 and the 29 December 1941. Even the two German boats that have embarked the rest of the crews of the two sunken ships are able to return to the base.

A story of sea and war, with a happy ending, between Christmas and New Year.