|English | Italiano|
by Cristiano D'Adamo
The submarine Naiade was one of the boats of the 600 class, series Sirena, built by the C.R.D.A. shipyard of Monfalcone in 1931. Delivered to the Regia Marina on November 16th, 1933, at the beginning of the conflict it was assigned to the 61st Sq., VI Group based in Tobruk. In June 1940, the Naiade was one of the boats assigned to a patrol organized by MARICOSOM (Navy Submarine Command) off Solum and in which also participated the Lafolč, Diamante and Topazio. In the course of this action, on June 20th, the Diamante was sunk off Tobruk by the British submarine Parthian.
The Naiade was assigned to a patrol area not too far from the British naval base of Alexandria, about 40 miles NW of the base when, on June 12th, it sighted a convoy made of barges and escorted by a gunboat. The captain, Lieutenant Luigi Baroni, attempted an attack on the surface with the deck gun, but the shells in the ready-to-use stowage on deck were damaged due to sea water infiltrations. Thus, having become the unwilling recipient of the enemy’s fire, the captain wisely decided to dive.
The same night, around 10 PM, the Naiade sighted a large tanker which was attacked with torpedoes. Of the three weapons ejected, one had an irregular course, but the other two hit the target causing the sinking of the Norwegian Orkanger of 8,029 t in position 31 42 N, 28 50 E.
This motor tanker built in 1928 by the shipyard Ateliers et Chantiers de la Seine Maritime Worms in France and belonging to the shipping company Westfal-Larsen & Co. of Bergen had been previously attacked and hit at 5:00 AM by a single torpedo launched by the submarine Nereide under the command of Lieutenant Mario Spano. With the sinking of the tanker 4 crewmembers lost their lives. After a systematic hunt conducted by the enemy, the Naiade returned to base on June 15th.
The boat returned to action in August with a patrol off Crete between the 10th and the 16th along with the Balilla. Both boats failed to detect any traffic of interest and returned to base.
In December, now under the command of Liutenant Pietro Notarbartolo, the Naiade was on patrol with the Neghelli and the Narvalo again off the port of Alexandria. The boat was assigned to an area 45 miles from Sidi el Barrani where, on the 14th, it sighted intense enemy activity. Around 7:40 PM, thus during the night, the captain began an attack maneuver with the periscope steering towards some of the units detected by the boat’s hydrophones. Meantime, British units, alerted by sonar detection, were already aware of the submarine’s presence. Soon after, the boat was centered by a cluster of depth charges which caused serious damages. Unable to remain underwater, at 8:30 PM the boat broke surface and then began self-destructing. In the freezing waters surrounding the submarine the British destroyers HMS Hyperion and Hereward (both H class units) were already waiting.
During this action sailor Gaetano Francoforte lost his life, but let radioman Artemio Mancini, one of the survivors, tell us the story:
Struck in full, smashed, we opened our eyes into the most sorrowful darkness and facing to the most horrendous destiny. By then, a sense of ill fate had taken over our souls and inexorably, it seemed to stretch us its jaws.
Under the light of a battery, we looked at the depth manometers; they had been broken by the awful explosion! But the voice of the commander was still firm, incisive and this revived us all: fifty submariners are never intimidated, but that was too much.
Our submarine, stricken in full by a launch of five depth charges, was spinning fast toward the abyss. There wasn’t much left to do and even I understood this while holding a hand to my heart and murmuring “mother”. My throat turned into a knot.
The irate voice of the commander awoke us all, but then an awful dipping of bow made us lose our last hope: "blow the tanks!" His voice, veiled of weeping and anger, raced through all the compartments and was lost into a macabre echo. The submarine bow’s surged upward, went strait up, and suddenly by the listing we realized that we had broke surface.
One by one, we escaped through the cunning tower’s hatch and, once on deck, were welcomed by the angered meow of machineguns and shots from the cannons of the destroyers surrounding us. The commander understood that its duty was to help the crew, and after having opened the kingstones, he came on deck and began his mission.
The submarine, slowly, sunk into the sea while we look for shelter aboard two lifeboats lowered into the sea by the destroyers. What we had to face was a horrible scene: the sailors from aboard the lifesavers were hitting with rows and the buts of their guns the unfortunate ones who had gotten too close. I would prefer not to talk about this as to these days my heart skips a bit and a quiver grips me the throat.
To be more agile, I removed all of my cloths but a blue sweater. Soon after, the submarine, as if she was giving us her last regards, reappeared by the stern and then sunk forever.
During its brief operational life, the Naiade completed 8 patrols (both war and training) for a total of 48 days at sea covering 4,508 miles on the surface and 818 submerged.
Of the two British vessels involved in this action, H.M.S. Hyperion would have a very short life sinking a few days later, on the 22nd, off Pantelleria after having hit an Italian mine. HMS Hereward was instead sunk by German and Italian bombers off Creta on May 29th, 1941.
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