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Boats

by Cristiano D'Adamo


1940
The Cappellini was one of the two Marcellos of more recent construction and it differed from the previous series simply for the substitution of the diesel engines produced by CRDA with similar ones produced by FIAT. The Cappellini was one of the boats selected for the new Atlantic base of Bordeaux. It was considered, along with the Faa di Bruno, one of the vessels in better mechanical conditions since it was of more recent construction. At the same time, the Cappellini was one of the first vessels which, at the beginning of 1941 and following damage inflicted after a patrol, utilized the new naval shipyard established in Bordeaux.

The Cappellini left Cagliari (Sardinia) on June 6th, 1940 a day after the Finzi and under the command of C.C. Cristiano Masi and moved off the Island of Madera. The night of the 14th, near Cape Negro (Point Almina), the vessel was sighted by the British trawler “Atlantic Ranger”, but, following a crash dive, it was able to run away. Around 00:30 AM on the 15th, while it was near Point Alpina, the vessel was once again sighted by enemy units. One of them, the destroyer “Vidette”, was targeted with the launch of a torpedo which failed to reach the ship. Once again, following quick maneuvering, the vessel was able to elude the enemy ships, but sighted by yet another unit, the Cappellini had to seek refuge in the Spanish port of Ceuta, from which, at a later day, was able to escape reaching a Spezia. These first attempts to cross the Strait of Gibraltar gave proof that the security measures implemented by the British were quite effective. Thanks to the Cappellini’s visit in Ceuta, it was possible to document the organization of the British screen which, effectively, were divided into six areas each patrolled by light units.

Furthermore, the Cappellini help testing Spanish flexibility in regards to Article XII of the 13th Convention of the Hague (1907). The articles of this treaty limited the stay of a military vessel in a neutral port to only 24 hours, unless breakdowns would not allow it to leave. Thanks to Spanish compliancy, the Cappellini falsified the various breakdowns, thus allowing for the tight British surveillance to be relaxed, and at the same time rising support within Franco’s government. Finally, it should be mentioned that not a single Italian submarine was lost during the crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar, while the German allies considered this forced route a near suicide, especially after the tragic experiences of WW I with the loss of U.104 (April 11th, 1918), and U.61 (May 11th, 1918).

At the end of the first war patrol, C.C. Salvatore Todaro, one of the more shining heroes of the Italian Navy, replaced C.C. Masi. The submarine left La Spezia on September 29th, 1940 to complete the crossing of the strait (Gibraltar) on the 5th of October, but this time submerged. As it happened with other vessels, the Cappellini also experienced a sudden loss of depth which brought the boat down to 140 meters, far exceeding the maximum certified depth.

After the crossing, the Cappellini moved on to its previously assigned area of patrol where, the night of October 15th, it intercepted the armed steamship Kabalo, part of convoy OB.223. The ship was sunk with the deck gun since the three torpedoes launched failed to reach the target, probably due to the rough sea.
After the sinking, Captain Todaro decided to take the ship’s life boat in tow to bring it closer to land, but when the boat began to sink, he transferred the ship’s crew aboard the submarine. The 26 shipwrecked sailors were housed in the cunning tower and, after three days at sea, were disembarked on the Island of Santa Maria in the Azores. This is an interesting episode because it generated the admiration of the international press, but surely not that of the Germans and the Italian high command; as it will be soon discovered, this war could not be fought by heroes and gentlemen.

The Kabalo was a Belgian steamship built in 1917 by the Cammel Laird & Co. of Birkenhead and was previously known as the “War Myrtle” (1919) and Caledonier (1927). The displacement listed by the Italian authorities (5,186 t.) is slightly higher than the one indicated by the “Lloyd’s Register of Shipping” which lists 5,051 t. The ship belonged to the “Compagnie Maritime Belge” of Antwerp. The sinking took place in position 31° 59’N 31° 21’W, one crewmember was lost and the remaining 42 were rescued. Completed its patron, the vessel began the return voyage to Bordeaux which was reached on November 5th, 1940.

After a period of repairs and maintenance, the Cappellini left Le Verdon on December 22nd 1940. The boat had been chosen for a mission in the eastern Atlantic after radical transformations that had included the reduction of the casings of the periscopes and the increase of the ammunitions for the guns. Moreover, the range of the boat had been increased with the stowage of provisions for approximately two months, and the transformation of a double hull into an additional diesel fuel tank.

The Cappellini reached the area off Oporto around Christmas, and having failed to detect any traffic, it continued southward reaching Funchal on January 1st, 1941.

1941

On the 5th, in the area between the Canaries Islands and the African coast, it intercepted the British steamboat “Shakespeare of 5.029 t., an isolated ship from convoy OB.262. The steamboat was sunk after a duel with the gun in which the artillerymen of the Shakespeare hit the forward gun of the Cappellini causing the death of sergeant Ferruccio Azzolin.

The Shakespeare was built in the 1926 by the R Duncan & Co. shipyard of Port Glasgow and it belonged to the "Shakespeare Shipping Co. Ltd." The position of the sinking was 18° 05' N 21° 11' W; 20 crewmembers died, and the remaining 22, in great part hurt, were rescued by the Cappellini and then left on one of the Islands of Cabo Verde. This was another example of the humanitarian spirit of commander Todaro and of his sense of chevaliery.

The Cappellini continued the cruise in the zone of Cabo Verde, and then moved off Freetown, where the morning of January 14th attacked with two torpedoes the troop transport ship Eumaeus of 7,472 t. which was eventually sunk with the gun. This was an auxiliary cruiser (armed ship) in service to the British. Built in the 1921 by the "Calendon Shipbuilding & Engineering" of Dundee (Scotland), the ship belonged to the "Ocean Shipping Co." The sinking was given in position 08° 55' N 15° 03' W (118 miles for 285° from Cape Sierra Leon). During the battle, which lasted more than two hours, the Cappellini experienced several breakdowns. First the ammunition lifts stopped, forcing the movement of projectiles by hand, then the aft gun lost the brakes recoils. During the battle lost their lives sergeant Francisco Moccia and common Giuseppe Bastino, and also the T.G.N. Danilo Stiepovich to whom was awarded the Gold Medal (M.O.M.). The records of the Lloyds list 23 British fallen and 63 survivors, but the war log of the Cappellini clearly describes a "swarming" of troops getting away from the ship. In facts, this was a troop transport ship directed to Egypt.

At the end of the engagement, and probably called by the S.O.S. launched by the ship, and airplane appeared in the area launching two bombs against the Cappellini. Because of a fault with the flooding valves, the boat submerged very slowly, thus offering an optimal target; the damage was extensive. The trim tanks were damaged, so were the main electric motors, the batteries, and other systems, forcing Commander Todaro to seek shelter in the nearby Spanish port of the Luz, in Gran Canaria. The Cappellini moored the night of January 20th, and with the acquiescence of the Spanish authorities, the boat received the necessary repairs and disembarked a wounded. The vessel left the 23rd, and after a week the Cappellini was again in Bordeaux (to be accurate in Pauillac), after 39 days at sea and over 7,600 miles of patrol.

The forth mission began April 16, 1941 with destination the northern Atlantic as part of the group Da Vinci which included the submarines Da Vinci, Cappellini, Torelli and Malaspina. On the 21st, commander Todaro, in spite of the failure of one of the two thermal engines, lead an attack against two large passengers ships of the type "ACCRA". After having launched the torpedoes, the boat had to submerge and then endure the hunt of the escort vessels, including an attempted ramming, artillery fire, and the launch of depth charges.

The Accra type was of British production and built by the "Harland & Wolff", company with shipyards in Belfast, Greenock, Glasgow, and Irvine. In addition to the Accra there was the Apapa. The first was sunk by U 34 on July 26th, 1940 while the second one was sunk by a German Kondor on November 15th, 1940. Belonging to the same company there was the Adda, similar but much smaller, also lost during the war, and more precisely on June 8th, 1941 victim of U 107. The Cappellini continued in vain the search for enemy traffic and eventually it left the area of operations the 11th, returning to base on May 20th.

The fifth mission was to some extent short: the Cappellini left Bordeaux June 29th, 1941 with destination a sector to the West of the Strait of Gibraltar, but due to serious breakdowns, it had to abandon mission and re-enter to base on July 6th. At the end of this short mission, while the boat entered the shipyard, Commander Todaro departed leaving the command to T.V. Aldo Lenzi. Todaro would join the famous Xa MAS dying, as a gentleman and hero, during a mission in the small port of La Galite (December 14th, 1942) killed by airplane straifing while a group under his commando was preparing to force the port of Bona. In should be mentioned that, due to the change of commanders, several boats had delays in being deployed their area of operations while the officers and the crews were becoming familiar which each other in short practice missions. The Cappellini was not immune; in fact it seems that although ready well before May 1942, if had not been for the change of commander.

The sixth mission took the boat in waters south and southeast off the Azores Islands along with the submarines Morosini and of Da Vinci. Commander Polacchini (Commanding Officer of Betasom) , for the occasion, wanted to experience a new system of patrol that called for the positioning of the boats at approximately 40 miles from one another. The three boats, therefore, assumed a wedge-like formation, with the central unit proceeding approximately 120 miles ahead to the others two. The idea was to act in close collaboration and have the boat closer to the contact take action. After departure, on November 17, 1941 the boats continued the patrol operation until the 29th, when B.d.U. requested the transfer of the boats to another sector. December 2nd, the Da Vinci, experiencing mechanical failures, had to abandon mission while the Cappellini intercepted the British steamboat Miguel de Larringa of 5.230 t. The submarine war logs lists the torpedoing in position 35° 34' W 29° 52' W, but the documents of the Lloyds do not confirm this sinking, therefore it must be assumed that, perhaps, the ship was only damaged. Completed the mission, the Cappellini returned to Bordeaux on December 29th, 1941 to remain at the shipyard for several months due to the precarious conditions of the boat. At this time, and after only a single war mission, T.V. Aldo Lenzi relinquished the command of the submarine to T.V. Marco Revedin. In spite of the continuous damages, in many cases due to enemy attacks, the Italian submarines’ armaments worked well, with the torpedoes functioning 60% of the time (the analysis reflect the total launch of 109 weapons).

1942

The official Italian documentation does not specify the departure date of the seventh mission, but what is known is that on May 11th, the Cappellini, while on patrol in position 19 33N 26 48W, intercepted a convoy of 9 ships. Two of the escort units subjected the boat to an intense hunt, but in spite of the damages inflicted, the boat was able to continue on.

On the 19th, the Cappellini located an isolated unit of convoy OS.27 (England - Western Africa) and sank it. It was the Swedish motor-ship Tisnaren of 5.747 t. Constructed by the shipyards "Götaverken A/B of Gothenburg" in Sweden in 1918, the Tisnaren belonged to the shipping company "Transatlantic Rederiaktiebolaget". The position of the attack was given at 03° 38' to N 32° 01' W, while the ship sank in position 03 N 33 W; there were no casualties and the 40 crewmembers were later rescued.
At daybreak of May 24th, the boat, then in position 03° 59' S 35° 01' W, located a naval formation which, due to distance, could not be attacked. This formation, for sure, was the same one met from the Barbarigo in the famous action against the Milwaukee and the Moffett.

Two days later, while it was searching for a steamship previously signaled by the Archimede, the Cappellini was attacked by an American Catalina based in Natal. At this point, having exhausted the fuel reserve, the boat began the along journey back to base.

The night of May 31st, in position 00° 45' S 29° 45' W the Cappellini hit with four of the six torpedo launched the British fleet tanker Dinsdale of 8.250 t. The captain gave a vivid report of this action. The combat was along, in fact, although it had begun in the late evening the 31st, the oil tanker did not sink until 06:12 of the following morning. The Dinsdale , previously named Empire Norseman, was launched on April 11th, 1942 and was completing its maiden voyage. The tanker was built by Harland & Wolff, Govan, and there is no information regarding casualties. The Cappellini continued on, reaching Bordeaux (actually Le Verdon) on June 19th, 1942.

The experience of the summer of 1942, especially in the waters off Brazil, had convinced the Italian command that, because of the considerable increase of antisubmarine activity, it was no longer opportune to send submarines in the Antilles and in Brazil. Instead, it was thought that traffic off Guinea and Congo would be an easier prey.

In this period, the availability of Italian submarines was much limited, and the arrival of new units could not be expected. In fact, the situation was deteriorated to such point that, for the August mission off Congo, only four boats were available: Cappellini, Barbarigo, Archimedes and Bagnolini.

The Cappellini, at the commando of the T.V. Mark Revedin, left base on August 21st, 1942. After approximately twenty days into the mission, the boat reached the assigned zone just off Freetown. After only three days, on September 13th, the boat received orders to move at maximum speed to approximately 240 miles for NNE of the Island of Ascension in position 05° 05' S 11° 28' W where, the previous day, a U-Boot had sunk the passenger ship Laconia. After the sinking, the German commander realized that the British ship had on board a large number of Italian prisoners of war. The U-Boot, U.156, recovered some of the shipwrecked P.O.W. and also called in other boats (U.506 and U.507) for help. The Cappellini arrived in the area on September 16th after a fast run of approximately 700 miles. The episode of the Laconia is not only sad, but also tragic and therefore we will leave the historical narration of it to another time.

With the aid of French units just arrived in the area, nearly all the shipwrecked were transferred aboard the neutral ships, but 6 Italians and 2 prisoners of war remained aboard the Cappellini. Because of excessive use of diesel fuel, the original operational plan had to be abandoned and the boat began the return trip to base. During this phase, the submarine sighted a British steamboat that was not attacked because of a breakdown with to one of the two thermal engines. The boat arrived at the base, without further incidents, on October 17th, 1942.

The Cappellini, after the necessary maintenance work and still under the command of T.V. Mark Revedin, took again to the sea from La Pallice on December 26th, 1942. Before this mission, the boat was equipped with a Metrox of German construction. This device, nicknamed "beaver", allowed for the detection of radio waves emanated from enemy radars. Initially, the device allowed the German and Italian boats to avoid sudden aerial attacks, often carried out in the middle of the night by special Allied airplanes. Subsequently, it was discover that the radio waves released by the Metox helped the Allied located with precision the boats, therefore it was immediately ordered to disable them. Two days after departure, the Cappellini succeeded in avoiding a submarine, probably one of the British boats always in ambush off the French ports.

1943
On January 10th, 1943 the boat arrived in the area of operations NW of the Islands of Cabo Verde. Having failed to locate enemy traffic, the boat headed towards the northern coasts of Brazil where, in the previous days, the Tazzoli had scored several successes. Unfortunately, the hunt off the coast of Brazil first, and the French Antilles later, did not reveal any traffic, and on the February 8th the boat begun the long journey back to base. The 24th, while on the surface, the Cappellini was attacked of the Azores Islands by a Catalina which launch a cluster of bombs while the boat was performing a crash dive. On March 4th, the Cappellini arrived in Bordeaux after the unfruitful mission, which had added further wear and tear to the already aging vessel.

Following negations with the Germans, the Torelli was one of the seven submarines designated to be transformed into transports. Supposedly, the idea of transforming these vessels originated with C.V. Enzo Grossi, then commander of the base, who had realized that these submarines were no longer fit for offensive operations. Grossi made a proposal to Adm. Donitz: in exchange for the 7 Italian submarines, the German would transfer 7 newly constructed U-boat to the Italian Navy. Although it could appear that the proposal was preposterous, it was actually warmly welcomed especially because the Germans were producing a boat a day, but did not have enough personnel to man them.

As part of the final agreement reached between the two navies, the Krisgmarine transferred seven U-boats of the class VII-c (designated by the Italians as class S) in exchange of an equivalent number of Italian boats which, due to their dimensions, were better suited for the long voyage to Japan. Of the seven vessels, only five began the journey. This operation was completely under German control, and the boats were assigned a German name, but retained their Italian crew. Of the five boats, the Tazzoli was lost son after its departure, while the Barbarigo was lost probably soon after. Both losses were never documented and remain a mystery to these days.

The Cappellini, under the command of C.C. Walter Auconi sailed for Japan on May 11th, 1943. The cargo, of approximately 95 tons, consisted of ammunition, aluminum in bars, steel, replacement parts, and others. Because of the overload of the Lange quantity of diesel fuel aboard, the boat left the base with a buoyancy factor of approximately 3,5% and therefore extremely low. In fact, the boat was so overload that it left port with only the bow and the cunning tower outside of the water.

The various submarines assign to these transport missions receive new names; the Cappellini was called "Aquila III". In spite of several aerial attacks, always readily avoided, the boat reached Saipang on July 9th, 1943. According to the official report, the boat reached port with the fuel tanks completely empty.

The following day, the 10th, the boat moved to Singapore under the escort of the colonial sloop Eritrea (C.F. Mario Jannucci). This last mission is meticulously described by C.C. Auconi in a memorandum presented in July 1948. On August 25th, the boat was ready for the return voyage, but the German command decided to withhold it in order to make it travel in tandem with the Giuliani. On September 8th, (actually the morning of the 9th), having received news of the armistice signed by the Italian government, the Japanese immediately took control of the boat, thus concluding its operating life in the Regia Marina.

Eventually, the crew was captured and interned in a Japanese P.O.W. camp. Later on, a good part of the crew (not the offices) decided to continue fighting along the German, and the submarine was manned by a mix crew of German and Italian sailors. On September 10th, the boat was incorporated in the Krigsmarine and assigned the nominative UIT.24. The command of the boat was assigned to Oberleutnant-zur-See Heinrich Pahls, who kept it until May 1945. During this period, the boat conducted six missions as part of 12th flotilla (Bordeaux), and later the 33rd Flotilla (Flensburg).


At the surrender of Germany, May 10th 1945, the boat was incorporated into the Japanese navy with the nominative I-503 where it continued to operate until the end of the conflict. The Cappellini, eventually, was captured by the United States and sank in the deep waters off Kobe (Kii Suido) on April 16th, 1946.
English version edited by Laura K. Yost


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