The Atlantean Submarines of Betasom

(To Mario Veronesi)

Betasom is the codename of the Atlantic base of Italian submarines in Bordeaux, in the Second World War, which from autumn 1940 to 8 September 1943, when the armistice was signed, hosted 32 ships of the Royal Navy. The idea of ​​using Italian submarines in the Atlantic Ocean began to make its way through the campaign of Ethiopia, between the 1935 and the 1936, thanks to the prospect of using some naval bases on the Spanish territory, bases that were never put under the Franco regime.

During the military conference of 20 on June 1939 in Friedrichshafen, between the commander of the Kriegsmarine, Admiral Erich Raeder (1876-1960), and the Chief of Staff of the Royal Navy, Admiral Domenico Cavagnari (1876-1966), the participation was approved Italian to the submarine war in the Atlantic and the creation of an Italian base. This agreement was again the subject of discussion during the visit to Berlin of the Italian naval employee, Admiral Giotto Maraghini (1882-1946), and the authorization for the deployment of a number of Italian submarines, in support of the German ally for the war in the Atlantic, the 25 July 1940 arrived at the Navy Ministry.

It was also decided, for the establishment of the Italian command in the Atlantic, to assign as commander Admiral Angelo Parona (1889-1977), until then commanding in second of the submarine team. An Italo-Germanic commission, which included the admirals Parona and Weichold, visited some French ports on the Atlantic coast in the first half of August and chose Bordeaux as the basis for Italian submarines. Supermarina approved this choice and established, under the command of the submarine team, that starting from 1 September 1940 was established in Bordeaux the command of the submarine group atlantic, then replaced name with: "Superior Command of the Italian Underwater Forces in Atlantic". As far as the strategy was concerned, this would be decided jointly with the German Navy, but from a tactical point of view the submarines of the two countries would be under the responsibility of their respective commands. The new base received the codename of "Betasom", the result of the union between the initial letter of the name of the city of Bordeaux, translated into Greek (beta), and the first part of the word submarine.

The base was officially inaugurated on 30 August of the 1940 with the arrival of Admiral Parona. The Germans gave the Italians two passenger ships, the French transatlantic De Grasse of 18.435 tons and, in October, the German steamer Usaramo of 7.775 tons. The De Grasse, in addition to the radio station, housed the infirmary. The marina station's concrete building was transformed into housing, while other buildings were used for offices, warehouses and more. They were assigned to official Betasom 35, including the Army 3 Army for the San Marino Battalion and Military 426 crew of the Regia Marina. In total, the strength of the military and civilian staff assigned to the base services consisted of approximately 800 men, including the San Marino battalion of 225 men who were in charge of the internal watch of the base while outside the watch was of German relevance. In addition, the Germans had installed six antiaircraft batteries from 88 mm and 45 20 mm gun, and offered anti-aircraft and naval supplies along the Gironde and Bay of Biscay.

The base of the Marine Directorate in the Atlantic, had not yet four days of life when the 4 September arrived Malaspina, passed without problems through the English defenses of the Strait of Gibraltar. A few days later the Barbarigo, followed by four more units: Dandolo, Marconi, Finzi e Bagnolini. In the following month of October, another twelve arrived: Emo, Tarantini, Torelli, Faà of Bruno, Otaria, Baracca, Giuliani, Glauco, Calvi, Tazzoli, Argon e Da Vinci. In November and December they reached Bordeaux: Veniero, Nani, Cappellini, Morosini, Marcello, Bianchi, Brin, Velella e Mocenigo. The immersion crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar, in the direction from east to west, was considered very risky for the persistence of an incoming current of rather high speed, slightly lower than that reached by submerged submarines. The studies of oceanography applied to the regime of strait currents, known and perfected in the interwar period, had improved and significantly improved the knowledge of this phenomenon. Submarines that, passing under the British guns of Gibraltar, moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and for three years attacked the Allied navy, pushing themselves to the shores of America. From that moment began the great adventure, which could end with the return of the joy of the crews lined up waiting for the victorious boat, as indicated by the flags displayed to indicate the targets hit and sunk. Or with the rage of a long and useless navigation without prey. But he could stay on the naval registers only with the cold notation of a submarine that set sail on the day "X" and whose return date would never have been marked. Every now and then the newspapers cited the initials and the war bulletin informed that a submarine had not returned to "Betasom", and - the inhuman resignation of that time - made the minds apathetic, even in front of one of the most harrowing dramas of the fight on the seas. , the slow and desperate death in the depths of the abysses.

Following the removal of the Massaua base, four more boats reached "Betasom", bringing the number of submarines to 31. These were: Guglielmotti, Archimedes, Ferraris, e Pearl. The order to leave France, was given by the submarine command "Maricosom", when the situation of the Italian colony was now defined. It was decided to evacuate what remained of the colonial underwater component, so that it did not fall into English hands. Submarines departed from Massawa between the 1st and the 4th March. 1941, coming out of the Red Sea, reached the Indian Ocean, went through the Mozambique channel and, after carrying out the planned supply in the South Atlantic, moved to the west of the Capo Islands Green and Azores, arriving in Bordeaux after driving 12.700 miles. Very important was the role played by the corsair ship Atlantis, and the German oil tanker Nordmark, which took care of the supply of the four units in the high seas. Finally the February 20 1943 came to Bordeaux the Cagni, who departed from 6 October 1942 from Maddalena, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, had a mission of 136 days along the coasts of South East Africa.

In July-August 1941, due to the negative trend of the Mediterranean war, pushed "Maricosom" to recall ten of the submarines operating in the Atlantic in the Mediterranean: Pearl, Guglielmotti, Brin, Argon, Velella, Dandolo, Emo, Sealion, Mocenigo, Veniero. 11 submarines remained to operate on the Atlantic front: Calvi, Barbarigo, Morosini, Da Vinci, Caps, Finzi, Archimedes, Bagnolini, Torelli, Tazzoli, while the Giuliani it was used at the Goetenhafen submarine school on the Baltic Sea; returned the 23 May 1942 to Bordeaux. The base will be used until 8 September 1943, when the Germans will requisition the only two submarines present at anchor in that moment: Bagnolini e Finzi.

A special story had 5 Submarines: Barbarigo, Caps, Giuliani, Torelli, Tazzoli, departing for missions to the far east. The Tazzoli disappeared in the Atlantic, around the 20-5-1943, during the journey to Singapore, as well as the Barbarigo, who stopped giving 15-6-1943 news while navigating to Indonesia. The Giuliani came to Singapore the 26-7-1943 and after the armistice was delivered by the Japanese to the Germans, who renamed it ITU-23, the 14-2-1944 was sunk in the Malacca canal from the English submarine Tallyho. Torelli, the 25-8-1943 arrived in Singapore, also handed over to the Germans, who renamed it ITU-25. The fate touched to was not different Caps, arriving in Singapore on 23 July 1943. After the armistice was reused by the Germans with the name of 'ITU-24; was demolished by Americans at the end of the war.

Thus ended the adventure of the Italian submarines employed in the battle of the Atlantic, with a positive overall balance, managing to destroy 109 merchant ships, for a total of 593.864 tons of sunken ships, damaging other 4 boats and an English destroyer. The Da Vinci, commanded by CC Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia (1912-1943), was the best non-German submarine in World War II, succeeding in destroying 17 enemy hulls for a total of 120.243 tonnes of sunken navy. Submarine 32s at "Betasom" Dependencies did 197 war missions. The total sea-going of the submersible exceeded the 6.000 days, during which over 990.000 miles

More than 70 years from those events, the battle fought by Italian submarines in the Atlantic Ocean against the world's strongest marinas still gives rise to a sense of respect that finds its motivation in the far act of action and in the legendary sacrifice alliance of officers and sailors who heroically fulfilled their duty.

Of the submarine 32s operating in the Atlantic, 16 were lost:

1) Tarantini, sunk near Bordeaux for stoning the 15-12-1940.

2) It's Bruno, sunk off Ireland, between 31-10-1940, and the 5-1-1941.

3) Nani, sunk in the North Atlantic, between the 3-1 and the 20-2-1940.

4) Marcello, sunk in the North Atlantic between the 7-2 and the 6-4-1941.

5) Glauco, self-depleted in the Central Atlantic, the 27-6-1941.

6) White, sunk by 5-7-1941 for piercing in the Bay of Biscay.

7) Cabin, sunk in the Gulf of Vizcaya, 8-9-1941.

8) Malaspina, sunk by unknown causes, between the 8-7 and the 18-11-1941.

9) Ferraris, self-depleted in the Central Atlantic, the 25-10-1941.

10) Marconi, sunk in the Central East Atlantic, between the 28-10 and the 4-12-1941.

11) Calvi, self-depleted in the Central Atlantic, the 15-7-1942.

12) Morosini, sunk for imprecise causes, between 8-8- and 10-9-1942.

13) Archimedes, hit by 15-4-1943 plane bombs in Brazilian waters.

14) Tazzoli, sunk for uncertain reasons, in the Bay of Biscay, between 17-5 and 31-8-1943.

15) Da Vinci, sunk in the area of ​​Cape Finisterre the 23-5-1943.

16) Barbarigo, sunk in the Middle East between the 16-6 and the 31-8-1943.

(photo: web)