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by Cristiano D'Adamo
Of the many heroic Italian submarine commanders of World War II, undoubtedly the name of Carlo Fecia di Cossato is one that immediately comes to mind. This soldier and gentlemen is perhaps remembered not only for his successes at sea, but also for having taken his own life in a sad summer day in 1944. Today, the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) has a submarine named after Commander Fecia di Cossato.
Carlo Fecia di Cossato was born to a highly respected Piedmotese noble family in Rome, on September 25th, 1908. His father, also named Carlo, had married Maria Luisa Genè. Amongst Carlo’s ancestor figured several generals, and his brother Luigi the recipient of the silver medal for bravery while serving during the landing at Bargal, in Somalia in 1925. The Fecia di Cossato family was a strong supporter of the monarchy and had contributed several successful soldiers. Carlo’s father was also in the Regia Marina where, up to 1912, had served as “Capitano di Vascello” loosing the use of an eye while stationed in China.
Carlo attended the renowned Regio Collegio Carlo Alberto in Moncalieri, an educational institute run by the Barnabiti brothers also known for the Quercia in Florence and the Collegio Denza in Naples. He completed his high school studies in 1923 and immediately entered the Accademia Navale (Naval Accademy) in Leghorn where, in 1928, he graduated as Acting Sub-Lieutenant. At the very beginning of his career in the Regia Marina, he served aboard the submarine Bausan, the ship Ancona and the destroyer Nicotera. Later, he completed another class at the academy followed by an assignment to the old cruiser Libia in China.
While in China, just like his father several years before, he commanded landing troops in Shanghai and later Peking. The mission concluded in 1933 with the return of the Libia to Italy. After a short stay in Italy, Fecia di Cossato sailed aboard the Bari for Eritrea where he participated to the Italo-Ethiopian war. During this period, he was in charge of the naval defenses of the port of Massawa.
After having returned to Italy aboard the Bari, Fecia di Cossato immediately returned to East Africa as the adjutant of Admiral De Feo, then governor of the Italian Colony. This assignment was brief, and after eight months he left to join the crew of the torpedo boat San Martino, the Polluce, and the Alcione, all based in Lybia.
In 1939 attended the Submarine School in Pola, and at the beginning of the hostilities he was assigned the command of the submarine Menotti operating in the Mediterranean, followed by the Tazzoli, in the Atlantic. He served for almost 4 long years in the confined and unhealthy spaces of submarines and was later transferred to the torpedo boat Aliseo in the Mediterranean due to his precarious health. During his service aboard submarines he was first promoted to Tenente di Vascello (Lieutenant), then capitano di corvetta (lieutenant commander) and finally capitano di fregata (commander). His war record aboard the Tazzoli speaks for itself.
On September 8th, 1943 Fecia di Cossato was aboard the Aliseo along the Ligurian coast. Following orders, he engaged and destroyed German naval forces in Bastia (Corsica), and later reached Portoferraio in Tuscany. He continued serving aboard the Aliseo until 1944, mostly escorting convoys in the Jonian, Adriatic and Tyhrrenian Sea. After the Congress of Bari, when some political forces questioned the monarchical institutions, he openly questioned the direction the Regia Marina and the country were taking. When the Regia Marina changed procedure asking for allegiance to the government instead of the king, he promptly requested to be dismissed.
When crewmembers based in Taranto became aware of the situation, they demonstrated very emotionally. During this period of great confusion, Fecia di Cossato was also believed jailed by the government; instead he had been recalled in Rome where he was punished with a six-month suspension.
He later moved to Naples with friends since he could not reach his family in the North, at the time past of the slowly moving frontline. While in Naples, he refused to accept employment from the Allied, mostly on ground of prestige and love for his country. He was abandoned by many, finding himself tormented by a Monarchy, which had betrayed the country and the vivid memories of the man of the Tazzoli who had been lost at sea in May 1943. The pain was enormous and the future appeared so dark. On August 27th, 1944 he took his own life leaving a letter to his mother:
Naples, August 21st, 1944
When you receive this letter, some grave events will have taken place and they will pain you very much and I will have been responsible for it. Do not think that I committed what I have committed in a moment of dementia without thinking of the sorrow I would cause you. For the last nine months, I have reflected upon the extremely sad moral position in which I found myself, following the IGNOMINIOUS SURRENDER OF THE NAVY to which I resigned myself only because it was presented to me as a direct order from the king who had asked us to perform THE ENORMOUS SACRIFICE FOR THE SAKE OF OUR MILITARY HONOR to remain a bastion of the monarchic institution during peace. You understand what is happening in Italy and how we HAVE BEEN UNWORTHILY BETRAYED AND WE DISCOVERED TO HAVE COMMITTED AN IGNOMINIOUS ACT WITHOUT ANY RESULT. It is from this gloomy realization that I have developed a deep sadness, a DISGUST FOR WHAT SURROUNDS US, and what matters the most, a profound disgust toward myself. Mother, it has been months since I started thinking about these events and I cannot find a way out, a meaning to my life. For months I have been thinking about my sailors of the Tazzoli who are honorably on the bottom of the sea, and I think that my place is with them.
Mother, I hope that you will understand that even in the enormous grief caused by news of my inglorious death, you will understand the nobility of the reasons which guided me. You believe in God, and if God exists, there is no way that he would not appreciate my sentiments, which have always been pure, and my REVOLT TOWARD THE MEANNESS OF THE PERIOD. It is for this, Mother, that one day we shall meet again.
Hug Father and sisters, and to you, Mother, all of my deep, untouched love. In this moment, I feel very close to you and you all and I am sure that you will not condemn me.
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