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Boats

by Cristiano D'Adamo


Operational Life

1940

At the outbreak of the hostilities, the submarine Morosini was already in position off Cape Palos, Spain. During the night of the 15th of June, it located a small vessel presumed French, which was attacked without success. The following day, it sighted a large convoy escorted by several smaller naval units, but mostly due to the large distance between the boat and the targets, failed to reach a position suitable for an attack. On the 21st, it sighted a medium size merchantman against which it launched a torpedo at a short distance; still it failed to hit the target, most probably due to the adverse meteorological conditions. As it will be soon discovered in the Atlantic, torpedoes do not perform well in large swells.


In July, the Morosini was again at sea, this time to patrol the area between Cape of Gata (Almeria) and Cape Tres Forcas (Morocco). Once back to base, the boat was transferred to the shipyard for special refitting work in preparation for an assignment to the newly established submarine base of Bordeaux, in France. The Morosini belonged to the “II Gruppo”, “XXII Squadriglia” based in Naples, along with the Barbarigo, Emo, Marconi, Da Vinci. Still under the command of C.C. Alfredo Criscuolo, the Morosini left Naples the 25th of October, reaching the Strait of Gibraltar five days later, on the 31st. Here, the submarine proceeded, submerged, in fair weather conditions, and despite having picked up with the hydrophones sounds from patrolling British vessels, it proceeded through the strait undetected. Just off Tangiers, the boat experienced a sudden loss of control, quickly diving to a depth of 130 meters, but without experiencing any damage. This phenomenon would be experienced by many Italian boats and was caused by the strong currents present in the area.
Completed the crossing, the submarine moved north, reaching a patrol area off Oporto (Portugal) on November 3rd. On the 16th, Betasom instructed Captain Criscuolo to move to 20° 00' W since the Germans had provided information regarding the presence of British traffic from Gibraltar and Spain directed to Great Britain. On the 20th, further information alerted the crew of the presence of a nearby convoy, which, despite a search, could not be located. Eventually, the Morosini remained in the area until the 26th of November, and then reached Bordeaux on the 28th, thus completing its first Atlantic mission.

1941

The Morosini remained in port until January, eventually leaving La Pallice (the secondary base near La Rochelle) on the 22nd of January 1941 for a mission off the Irish coast. After having reached the pre-assigned area on the 29th, the boat was immediately reassigned farther west. During this operation, captain Criscuolo received two signals informing him of the presence of enemy traffic, but after patrolling the area, he was only able to locate two small boats full of shipwrecked sailors. Soon after, the boat moved to the newly assigned area of operations, meeting during the transfer, the Italian submarines Baracca and Dandolo, also assigned to the area.

On February 7th, at 22:08, the Morosini sighted an isolated man-of-war decisively larger than an escort unit, but, following standing orders, it did not attack. During this period, Italian submarine commanders were instructed not to attack larger warships to avoid the risk of sinking German raiders or ships captured by auxiliary cruisers. On the 8th, the Morosini sighted the Dandolo, and later a merchant ship against which it launched three torpedoes which, probably due to the strong swell, failed to reach the target. Eventually, the crew heard a powerful explosion and assuming success left the area . The night of the 17th, while the foul weather continued, lookouts sighted a large merchant ship which, soon after, was lost and, despite an intense search, never found again. On the 24th, without having encountered any other ship, the Morosini returned to Bordeaux, thus completing its second Atlantic mission. At the end of this mission, C.C. Criscuolo was reassigned and the command of the Morosini was transferred to C.C. Athos Fraternale.


The third mission began on April 30th and included other submarines: the Bianchi (C.C. Franco Tosoni Pittoni), Barbarigo (C.C. Giulio Ghiglieri) and the Otaria (C.C. Giuseppe Vocaturo). All boats left between the and of April and the 8th of May. In accordance with orders issued by B.d.U., the three companions were to take position between 61° 00 N ~ 58° 00 N, 25° 00’ W, while the Morosini would be further south in position 54° 00’ N – 53° 00’ N between 25° 00’ W and 30° 00’ W. The area between North America and the British Isles was divided in sectors: west of the 34th meridian German surface ships, then Italian submarines, and finally German U-Boats. The Italian boats were asked to cover areas further away from their base, mostly because of their larger displacement and greater endurance. On May 9th, Betasom informed the group of the presence of a convoy in position 54° 30 N 28° 30 W and moving west. The Morosini was the only boat which had already reach the assigned area and was able to engage the British tanker Vancouver of 5,729 t. with the deck gun, but the superior speed of the target allowed it to escape. The Barbarigo and Bianchi, having received signal from the Morosini, continued the hunt, but failed to locate the tanker.

On May 14th, Betasom transmitted another signal alerting the submarines of the presence of a large convoy of about 20 to 30 ships escorted by destroyers in position 55° 45’ N 13° 15’ W and moving SW at a speed of about 8 knots. On this day, the Morosini again attacked a British vessel, this time the Manchester Port of 5469 t., but the merchantmen escaped. On the 15th this ship was attacked, but not sunk, by the Barbarigo, which, despite having hit the merchantman with a torpedo, could not reach it due to a failed diesel engine. At this point, the submarine Malaspina had also reached the area, bringing the total number of Italian boats to five. In the days that followed, airplanes attacked various vessels; the Morosini experienced such an attack on the 15th. Eventually, having exhausted the fuel reserve, the boat began the journey back to base, reaching Bordeaux on the 20th of May.

With the general change of theater of operations for the Italian units from the North Atlantic to Gibraltar and the Azores, the Morosini left base on June 28th, 1941 for the middle Atlantic. At the same time, various boats were engaged in this new area, including the Da Vinci, Baracca, Malaspina, Cappellini, Torelli, Bianchi, Bagnolini and the Barbarigo. Eventually, only a small number of submarines were able to conduct an organized hunt for British traffic. On July 14th, the Morosini located the British cargo Rupert de Larrinaga of 5,358 t. traveling alone, which was sunk with torpedoes. This ship was built in 1930 by Lithgows, Ltd of Port Glasgow, was capable of 10 knots, and belonged to the Larringa Steamship Co. LTD of Liverpool; all 44 crewmembers were rescued. The following day, on the 15th, the “Ocean Boarding Vessel” Lady Somers of 8194 t. was also located and sunk. This second vessel was a passenger ship in service to the Royal Navy, was built by Cammell Laird & Co. of Birkenhead in 1929 and belonged to the Lady Somers LTD; all 175 crewmembers and passengers were saved. On the 19th, having exhausted most fuel reserves, the Morosini began the journey back to base. The date of its arrival in Bordeaux is not known, but it probably fell around the end of the month.


In August, the Morosini was again assigned to a mission off Gibraltar along with several other submarines. During this mission, Betasom coordinated the deployment of the Italian submarine screen based on information received from the Luftwaffe. On the 19th, at around 8:10 AM, the Morosini sighted a large convoy of 25 ships under strong escort, including airplanes. During the approaching phase, one of the two electric motors experienced a severe failure, thus forcing the captain to immediately return to base where it arrived on September 20th.
After the necessary repairs, on November 18th, 1941 the submarine was again at sea for a new mission. On December 13th, at about 250 miles west-northwest of Palma, in the Canary Islands, the Morosini sighted a convoy of 15 ships heading east and immediately gave chase. At night, while approaching the convoy, the submarine was sighted by escort units, which immediately attacked, placing several depth charges well near the submarine’s hull, causing serious damages. Forced into abandoning the mission, the captain immediately returned to base. By the end of this mission, with the United States having entered the war, the area of operations suddenly expanded, thus bringing Italian submarines all the way to the American coast.

1942

On February 2nd 1942, the Morosini was again at sea, directed to an area northeast of the Island of Guadalupe in the Antilles. On February 23rd, it sighted in position 29° 10’ N, 28° 15’ W the British cargo Sagaing of 7,968 t. which was able to elude the submarine, thanks to superior speed. In fact, the Morosini was still overloaded with diesel fuel and could barely make 13 knots. The submarines of the Marcello class underwent substantial modification to increase range. Some of the ballast tanks were turned into additional diesel fuel depots, and the reserve of food and ammunition was also augmented. Despite the benefits, the initial few days at sea were quite dangerous since the boats were left with less than 10% buoyancy, lowering the boat up to 22 cm. Also, by redesigning some of the interior compartments, the number of torpedoes aboard was increased to 16.

On March 8th 1942, the Morosini received 21 tons of extra diesel fuel from the Finzi, thus allowing it to extend the days at sea. On the 11th of March it attacked a tanker launching two torpedoes, but failing both to hit the target and recognize the name of the vessel.


Just before sunset of the same day, Captain Fraternale intercepted the British cargo Stangarth of 5,966 t., sinking it in position 22° 45’ N, 57° 40’ W with the torpedo on the early hours of March 12th. We do not have additional information regarding this vessel. After the sinking, the Morosini relocated south-west of the original position, intercepting on the night of the 15th, the Dutch motor tanker Oscilla of 6,341 t. which was sunk by three(1) of the five torpedoes launched and a few 100 mm shells. The Oscilla was built in 1939 by Van der Giessen & Zonen’s Scheepswerven, NV Krimpen in the Netherlands, was capable of 12 knots, and belonged to ‘La Corona’ NV Petroleum Maatschappij; of the crew, 51 were saved, but 4 perished.


Continuing patrol, the Morosini came upon the British tanker Peder Bogen of 9,741 t. which, after dark had fallen, was hit the night of the 23rd by two torpedoes and eventually sank in the early hours of March 24th in position 24° 53’ N, 57° 30’ W by about 70 100 mm shells. This tanker was built in 1925 by the Dordr NV Scheepswerf Dordrecht of Dordrecht in the Netherlands. It was capable of 10 knots, and belonged to the South Georgia Co. Ltd; all 53 crewmembers were rescued. At this point, having exhausted all torpedoes, the submarine began the long journey home, reaching Bordeaux on April 4th. At the end of this mission, C.C. Fraternale was transferred and replaced by T.V. Francesco D’Alessandro.


On June 2nd, 1942 the Morosini left Bordeaux for a mission in the Caribbean, specifically northeast of the island of Puerto Rico. After the long transfer, the boat reached the area of operations on the 28th of June, and on the 30th it located and sank the Dutch motor ship Tysa of 5,327 t. in position 25° 33’ N, 57° 33’ W utilizing torpedoes and the deck gun. This ship was built in 1938 by P. Smith Jnr of Rotterdam, was capable of 13 knots, and belonged to the “Vrachtvaart’, NV Maatschappij: all 43 crewmembers were rescued. On July 19th, the submarine attacked, without success, a small military ship, possibly a gun boat or an armed merchant ship which followed the submarine for a little while, without attacking.

On July 27th, as in the previous mission, it received 25 tons of diesel fuel from the Finzi, submarine with a very large fuel capacity, thus continuing operations for a few more days. On the 31st of July, having reached the minimal fuel reserve, it began the journey home. On August 5th, the Morosini informed base that it was in position 41° 00’ N 33° 00’ W and that it would reach base on the 10th at around 14.15. On the 8th, it sent a confirmation signal to Betasom in reply to instructions for the approach to the Gironde. At 23:00 of the 9th, Betasom sent another message informing the Morosini of the presence of a merchant ship and three German torpedo boats, but the submarine never confirmed receipt. The boat never reached base and it was assumed that it had been lost between 8° 80’ W and 3° 00’ W after 14:50 of the 8th. Possibly it was sunk at night by a plane equipped with radar, but it has never been confirmed.

(1) Oscilla was hit by two, not three torpedo's according to the Dutch reports.

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