Friday, June 22, 2012

Fullbore Friday

I first ran in to this story back in the 1990s when Mrs. Salamander insisted that we go to the naval museum in Venice (yes, I married THAT kind of well).

It still gets to me to think about these men. All that training for what they knew was a one way trip ... but not suicide trips like the Japanese; a very civilized way of professionals.

The story combined from two sources;
The evening of 17 December at 18.40, Italian submarine Scire' was at about a mile from west entrance of Alexandria port. At 20.47 three S.L.C. (slow running torpedo), the "maiali" (Italian word for "pigs") were put into the water, everyone rode by two commandos of X flotilla MAS, who went to, underwater, towards the harbor entrance. Luckily three English destroyers were returning, so the nets at the entrance were opened to let the ships pass, saving Italian commandos the long and hard work to break open them. The three pigs followed English destroyers and entered in enemy base, directing toward their assigned objectives.
Two of the crews attached their charges to the hulls of the battleships Valiant and Queen Elizabeth—Admiral Andrew Cunningham’s flagship.

The third was destined for the absent aircraft carrier Eagle, so a large tanker, Sagona was targeted instead. ...
Their work was slow, laborious but succeeded; at 06.00 a 8000 ton. tanker exploded, followed at 06.15 by an explosion that heavily damaged battleship Valiant, and the worst had to come: a few minutes after, at 06.19 battleship Queen Elizabeth, Cunningham's flagship, leap on the water, shaking for a large explosion. ... The two battleships were severely damaged, Queen Elizabeth settling on the bottom of the shallow harbor. The explosion under the tanker also damaged the destroyer Jervis.
The Alexandria raid was fully successful: six Navy commandos (Durand De La Penne, Emilio Bianchi, Antonio Marceglia, Spartaco Schergat, Vincenzo Martellotta and Mario Marino) succeeded to inflict on English ships a great defeat: two powerful battleships were out for a long time. The six commandos were captured and put into detention.
Here is one nice twist to the story.
Durand De La Penne, mission commander, returned in Italy after the armistice of 8 September 1943 and was decorated for valour, for Alexandria raid, in March 1945. At the ceremony was present also English admiral Charles Morgan, BB Valiant commander, who pinned up the gold medal on Italian commando breast.
I also have to say that that visit, and the story of these men, still inform my thoughts about our Fleet vulnerability - specifically in Norfolk.

Thanks for the reminder, E40.
UPDATE: CB reminded me on FB that USNI has a book on Italy's finest. Sea Devils: Italian Naval Commandos in World War II.


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