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Boats

by Alberto Rosselli


The Medusa was lost at 2:10 P.M. on January 30th, 1942 following an attack conducted by the British submarine H.M.S. Thorn (1) which, since a few days earlier, was on patrol off the Italian naval base of Pola.

The day of its loss, the Italian submarine commanded by Lieutenant Commander Enrico Bertarelli was at sea conducting technical trials. According to the only two survivors of the sinking, the unit, which had aboard seven officers (including the captain), eight non-commissioned officers and 43 ratings, was traveling on the surface at low speed when it was suddenly attacked by the Thorn, which launched four torpedoes. As Ensign Fei reported (he was rescued by a motorboat, but then died at the Pola hospital due to serious wounds), “the sea was calm and navigation was proceeding without any problem when from the cunning tower, on which I was along with Captain Bertarelli and the other five officers, we sighted the trails of four torpedoes. Quickly, the captain maneuvered, avoiding three of them, but the forth one hit us right on”.
According to Fei, H.M.S. Thorn launched its weapons at a distance of about 1,000 meters after having crashedived. After striking its victim, the British unit dived very rapidly, leaving the area. Also according to this witness, the explosion was extremely violent ripping open a good portion of the side of the boat which, in a short time (less than ten minutes) sank, dragging most of the crew into the abyss. As narrated by Teucle Meneghini’s book “Cento sommergibili non sono tornati” (One hundred boats did not come back), Captain Bertarelli (who earlier had distinguished himself in the Atlantic commanding the submarine Baracca) did not think of himself and despite being wounded in the face and bleeding profusely, attempted to save his men. This was a heroic action with cost him his life; he disappeared under the gurgling waters along with his ship. The rescue operations attempted by some Italian rescue ships were fruitless, as they arrived on site by the time the Medusa had already sunk. In a desperate attempt to save the crew members trapped inside the hull, divers from a barge arrived from Pola and completed several descends, but unfortunately without any result.

The Medusa was a coastal submarine, and it was quite obsolete (laid down on November 30th, 1929, it entered service on October 8th, 1931). It was 65.5 meters long and 5.65 wide with a displacement of 650 t. on the surface and 810 t. submerged. Powered by two diesel engines and two electric motors (1,500 and 800 HP), the unit was capable of reaching 14 knots on the surface and 8 submerged. With a range of 4,900 miles at 9.5 knots (on the surface), the Medusa was armed with a 102 mm gun, two 13.2 mm machine guns and six torpedo tubes. The standard complement included 4 officers and 40 crewmembers. In 1941, the Medusa, along with the same class units Serpente and Jalea, was assigned to the submarine school of Pola.


(1) A boat of the T Class, built by Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, was lost on August 7th, 1942.
Translated from Italian by Cristiano D'Adamo


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