Legendary undertaking of Commander Todaro - 16 October 1940: the rescue of the castaways of Kabalo

(To Marina Militare)

North Atlantic, 700 miles west of Madeira and 1000 miles away from the African coast: the submarine of the Royal Navy Alfredo Cappelllini cross the steamer in the night Kabalo. The merchant beats the Belgian flag but is requisitioned by the British Navy, armed with a 102 mm cannon and directed to Freetown in West Africa. The commander of the Caps, corvette captain Salvatore Todaro sets out in pursuit on the surface, preparing the boat for an attack with the use of the boat's two 100 mm guns. The Kabalo opens fire first, but the action of the Italian submarine is short and decisive: hit by a dozen bullets the merchant is abandoned by the crew.

Approaching to finish the enemy vessel, the men of the Caps first sighted five men in the water, which are promptly recovered and, subsequently, a launch with twenty-one people on board, including the commander of the merchant, Captain Georges Vogels. Commander Todaro consults with the unfortunate Belgian to reassure himself about the conditions of the castaways. I am in the middle of the Atlantic, hundreds of miles from the nearest coast and, in consideration of the extreme difficulty of sailing in the middle of autumn with that slender lifeboat, Todaro finally decides and communicates to the astonished interlocutors his intention to tow that boat to the nearest coast.

Thus begins a rescue enterprise destined to make history. After a day of navigation, in order to proceed faster, Todaro takes all twenty-six sailors of the merchant on board, cramming them into the boat's false tower, and continues north, towards the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, where it arrives at dawn 19 October in the almost deserted cove of Santa Maria. Upon landing, on behalf of all, Lieutenant Caudron, thanking the Italian commander, asks to be able to know his name. Todaro, a person of innate modesty, replies that his name is Salvatore Bruno (his two first names), keeping his surname silent.

Upon returning to the Italian base of the Atlantic submarines of Bordeaux, the already famous BETASOM, the commander Todaro was reprimanded for his own conduct, deemed not suited to the war requirements of an offensive patrol boat. When it was pointed out to him that a German commander would never have put the fate of any shipwrecked before the regular performance of his mission, Todaro promptly replied with a lapidary phrase, reported by many sources and never denied, which has remained famous, from then on, in the history of our Marina: "The others do not have, like me, two thousand years of civilization on their shoulders".

In fact, during the first years of the second world war, episodes of assistance to the shipwrecked by Submarines Germans, perhaps not comparable as commitment, and above all distances, to that of the Caps. Other memorable feats by Navy units would soon be followed, in the Aegean as in the distant Atlantic Ocean.