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Four days on the V. Veneto

Copy/Orig & 4

2 October 1943
At War Stations.
18th September 1943.


I have the honour [honor] to submit the following report of ay duty as British Naval Liaison Officer in the Italian Battleship Vittorio Veneto from l2th to l6th September 1943.

I arrived on board the Vittorio Veneto at about 1800 on Sunday l2th September. She was lying at Mersa Sarobh moored with two anchors stern to a buoy.

My arrival was evidently unexpected, and I was told that the British Naval Liaison Officer was not expected until the next day. I was shown into a small very hot Reception Room and left to wait. One or two officers came in and looked at me, and one of them an Engineer Officer of equivalent rank to a Midshipman informed me that he was my interpreter. His English I found to be rather limited and very affected with constant repetition of: “It is It possible – Yes?” and similar phrases; he was a thoroughly unctious [unctuous]personality. He had been in Italian Passenger ships before the war, in particular the Conti [Conte] di Savoia.

After about half an hour's wait the Commander came in and told me I would be shown my cabin. At this stage any efforts I made to see the Captain or the Admiral were ignored by the Italians, who were evidently uncertain what attitude should be adopted toward me. I was left in my cabin for an hour and was then told that supper was ready, I had been asked previously if I would like say meals in ay cabin but had explained, to their evident surprise, that I should like to eat in their mess. This was due, I discovered later, to the fact that a German officer had had my cabin and had behaved in a Teutonic manner.

I made further efforts to see the Captain or the Admiral and was told after some delay that the Admiral would see me. Ha received me in his day cabin and was quite formal in his attitude. Later he was to be extremely friendly.

Arrangements for the passage to Alexandria were discussed during which various staff officers including the Secretary, a Lieutenant Commander, the Flag Lieutenant, a Lieutenant, the Flag Captain, and the Chief of Staff, a Commander, were called upon. Five points of importance were brought out.

1. Oil fuel was still required.
2. Water - stated to be feed water, was also required.
3. The Italian's draught might not permit her passage through the great pass, as the Italian charts showed this as being 34 feet.
4. Tugs would probably not be required for unberthing.
5. The sailing instructions as contained in the Hand Message from Rear Admiral, Force 'H' for the Italian Admiral were understood.

Accordingly, signals T.0.0. 122106, 122107. 122109 and 122254 were sent. I was then taken to the Ward Room Mess for supper. Here I found the officers awaiting me before starting, and I was formally introduced by the Commander.

Many of the officers had a smattering of English and most spoke some kind of French. Reasonable conversation was possible with their little English and my indifferent French. It must then be understood that some of the views I report as being expressed by the Italians may not be strictly accurate. After supper the atmosphere was distinctly more cordial and in many cases friendly. I was taken for a brief tour of inspection of the upper deck and bridge structures.

I was &asked by the Flag Lieutenant to press the matter of fuel and water as they were extremely doubtful if they would be able to sail at the appointed time on the morrow. Accordingly at 0520 in the following morning the 15th, I sent my signal 150554.


At 0650 the oiler Green Ranger arrived and fuelled first the Italia and later the Vittorio Veneto. A second oiler arrived later, the Brown Ranger, but was too late to be of any use.


By now it was apparent that if the water boats did not arrive at once that the squadron would not be able to sail on time. As I did not consider it prudent to leave the ship at that time I sent by Leading Signalman ashore with written instructions to phone up the duty staff officer at Vice Admiral, Malta's offices to make the situation clear. This I am satisfied he did as subsequent signals were to show - at 1040 instructions were received to the affect that the movement was delayed and that steam should be kept at one hour's notice. Rear Admiral, Force 'H's 131032.

During the forenoon I discovered that the Italians had an injured man whom it was desirable to land and I made the necessary arrangements through Staff Officer Operations, Rear Admiral Force ‘H' and the Berthing Officer, Mersa Saroch. An RAF launch came to collect him and the Italian officers commented to me on the careful way that the orderlies and doctors had treated the man, in a way that made me suspect that either they did not expect such treatment from the English, or that they were not used to ratings being given such careful treatment. The rating was taken to the 45th General Hospital, Malta. There was something of a scene over this. The Admiral heard about it and "threw a temper". It seemed that his superior admiral in the Cavour (I understood him to say) should have been consulted first - he said he had no power to land the man without his superior's permission, and it seemed as if he was somewhat afraid of being reprimanded. I was to notice the Admiral's "powerlessness" to do anything on his own initiative, many times before my stay was finished.

At about 1100, Staff Officer Operations to Rear Admiral, Force 'H' arrived on board and gave further instructions about watering and departure which were in turn cancelled by his 131318.

A water boat, the Arena, with domestic water only eventually arrived at about 1600, and first, watered the Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto. It was 3 hours before any water was pumped owing to delays and lack of organization, for the men were allowed to swarm over the Arena impeding the working of the ship. The Italian officers either did not wish to step their men or were unable to do so. I felt it was a mixture of the two. It was only on this occasion that I noticed any lack of control over the ship's company of the Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto.


Shortly after this a Captain (E) of the staff of Flag Officer, Commanding Force 'H' came and thrashed out the water problem with the Italians. It was evident that their demands had been excessive and he whittled them down to 200 tons of domestic water and none of feed water. The Italia similarly needed only 200 tons of domestic water. Both, ships were supplied with approximately 300 tons.

I went over to the Italia with Captain (E) and saw certain bomb damage to her Forecastle on my way there. The reception in the Italia was distinctly formal but polite. The Captain did not speak English but the Commander spoke moderately well. A first class interpreter was supplied - a young Sub-Lieutenant brought up in China, educated in an English school and decidedly pro-English. The Captain gave a first impression of being short and sharp with his subordinates and of annoyance at the defeat and surrender of Italy.

By nightfall the destroyers Artigliere, Grecale and Velite had arrived.

At 2000 approximately a water lighter was brought into the anchorage by a tug and supplied 20 tons of distilled water to both the Velite and the Grecale and a further 20 tons to the Artigliere who watered when the Arena was alongside the Italia.

To prevent the intolerable delay in commencing pumping as happened at the Vittorio Veneto I arranged for officers from the Italia to come over and inspect the arrangements in the Vittorio Veneto. This undoubtedly saved 2 hour. 6 Destroyers had been expected to arrive at Mersa Saroch by nightfall but as only 5 had arrived by 0400/14 I authorized the water lighter to make a further issue to the 3 destroyers that had arrived and the Artigliere sailed with an extra 90 tons – Grecaler and Velite – 40 tons.


Watering was completed by 0600 – see my 0826. At 0830 the Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto shipped from the buoy and began to shorten in the starboard anchor which was first reported "foul” but later as "clear.”

At 0930 we proceeded outside the boom in the order - Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto, Italia, Destroyers, and at about 1015, station astern of the Italian Cruisers assumed.

During the passage I remained on the Admiral’s bridge the whole time. On the Admiral's bridge were the Admiral, his Chief of Staff, the Secretary, the Flag Lieutenant, and three other officers and a Sub-Lieutenant, and two midshipmen who kept a navigational plot taking many sights. I saw no attempt at a Tactical plot nor did I see where there could be room for one.

The Captain never visited the Admiral’s bridge, nor the Admiral the Captain’s - Communication between the two were by voice pipe.

The Admiral appeared to do little except read the signals and occasionally make them, through this perhaps might be expected in view of the fact that he had a senior admiral in company. He was interested in my reports to him derived from the British flag hoists and was impressed by our “C pt A”^ or similar signals. I was able to gather that neither he nor his staff were aware of the potentialities of RADAR in ships.

However, he at no time would act on any of the executive orders for signals that I gave him (derived from the British hoists) - ha always waited for the executive from the Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia to come through first. (There was one exception to this and he obtained permission beforehand from the Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia). The executive was somewhat 5 or 4 minutes late in arriving. Nor did it always arrive correctly. On one occasion 2 knots speed was received instead of 20 knots - On this occasion I informed the Admiral that he speed was to be 20 knots hut he insisted on obeying the Italian version. As we were a mile astearn of H.M.S. KING GEORGE V. this did not matter.

Signalling [signaling] was controlled from the Admiral’s bridge, R/T definitely being used at tines. The Italia V/S equipment was vary poor - they having no light equal to our battery aldis. There did not seem to be much difficulty in understanding our maneuvers, though zig-zag caused a little worry. I was much impressed by the Vittorio Veneto’s zig-zagging. That of the Italia was not as good.

The Chief of Staff work seemed to be confined to looking at signals and keeping a watch on the bridge from time to time. There were periods when there were no Italian officer on the bridge. The Secretary seemed to do little but eat, smoke, sleep and occasionally indulge in an English lesson with me. The Flag Lieutenant seamed to be maid of all work. He kept an eye on the signaling [signaling], received all signals, took sights (but had a midshipman to work them out for him) helped keep the navigational plot and kept watch on the bridge.

15th. During the early hours of the 15th at about 0250 I was called by the signalman on watch to say that the Italia was dropping astern. She dropped back to about 3 miles before recovering her position making large amount of white smoke all the while. The Admiral informed me there was water in the Italia's fuel. She appeared to regain position at about 26 - 28 knots.

During the morning the weather had freshened and at about 0700 the starboard wing destroyer, the Velite (wrongly stated to be the Artigliere in my 150748) dropped right astern to an estimated distance of 8 miles. She however regained, position at 1300.

At 0800, on, l6th the O.F. [oil fuel] percentages remaining were:
Vittorrio [Vittorio] Veneto 80%
Italia. 56%

I subsequently made a signal to the British Naval Liaison Officer in the Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia - my 151215. "IS RAH AWARE THAT ITALIA HAS ONLY 26 HOURS ENDURANCE REMAINING." to which I received a reply, B.N.L.O. Eugene [Eugenio] di Savoia’s 151224 "YES. I HAVE TOLD HIM." When the signal was made to prepare to stream Paravanes I discovered that both Battleships were so fitted, but that neither would be able to stream them.

At about 1400 a party of electricians from GREBE arrived on board to demobilize the Re 2001 on the quarterdeck of the Vittoria [Vittorio] Veneto. They were followed shortly afterwards by a party of W/T officers and two RADAR officers from shore bases.

I had no orders about such matters but knew one of the RADAR officers personally and was shown by one of the aircraft party a copy of the orders for Operation Stoneage - my first intimation of anything of the kind.

At about 1730 anti-sabotage guard arrived and I relinquished my duties as British Naval Liaison Officer to Lieutenant Herbert-Smith, R.N.V.R. I was struck by the (as I considered) bad impression that the armed guard made on the Italians who had shown to me what I believe to be a friendly attitude. Many faces that had had a friendly, cheerful aspect previously, went dour. I could not help feeling that a part of their good-will towards us, to say the least, had temporarily waned. This was particularly noticeable with regard to the ratings.

At about 2045 I left the Vittorio to return to H.M.S. H O W E.

I have the honour [honor] to be,
Your obedient servant.

LEVANT STATION Lieutenant, Royal Navy.

(Through The Commanding Officer, H.M.S. H O W E.)

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