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Boats

By Cristiano D'Adamo


The Submarine Dandolo was laid down on June 14th, 1937 in the Monfalcone shipyard (Gulf of Trieste). It was one of the six boats of the Marconi class. Construction was completed on November 20th, 1938 with the official launch, and on March 25th, 1938 the boat was delivered to the Regia Marina. Assigned to the XXI Squadron along with the Marcello and Provana, the boat’s home base was Naples. This boat had one of the most intense operational lives in the Italian submarine fleet with 322 days at sea, 44,486 miles of navigation on the surface and 5,290 submerged for a total of 39 patrols.

War activity for the Dandolo began with Italy’s the declaration of war on June 10th, 1940. The boat, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Riccardo Boris, was assigned to a patrol area about 25 miles SE of Cabo Palos (Cartagena) along with the Provana, Morosini and Faà di Bruno. On June 13th, the boat sighted a French naval formation of light cruisers and escort. It was the 3rd Cruiser Division, based in Toulon, which included the La Galissonière (which eventually became the Regia Marina’s FR 12), the Jean De Vienne (to become FR 11), and the Marseillaise – units of the same class – along with the escort of the destroyers Le Brestois and Boulonnais.

This French naval force, deployed to intercept a phantom German force which supposedly was in the process of reaching the Mediterranean to join the Italian Navy, became the target of the Dandolo’s rapid, but unlucky attack. The boat’s profile, at the time navigating at periscope depth, was easily detected by reconnaissance airplanes launched by the French units. Thus, the cruisers were fortuitously able to avoid the torpedoes, even if only by a few meters.
In July 1940, a few weeks after Italy’s declaration of war, the Italian Submarine Command organized a large and continuous patrol line east of the Strait of Gibraltar. The area in question was patrolled by a total of 11 boats divided into 3 groups. The Dandolo, along with the Emo, Marcello and Barbarigo, was assigned to the first group. This patrol started on July 1st and lasted for almost two weeks. The Emo and Marconi were assigned to the westernmost area. The Emo patrolled south of the meridian of Alboran (about halfway between the Moroccan and Spanish coast), while the Marconi was assigned north of this meridian and closer to the Spanish coast. The Dandolo and the Barbarigo were instead placed along the line between Cabo the Gata and Cabo Falcon, near Almeria.

Later, the Dandolo was selected as one of the boats to be reassigned to the newly established Atlantic base in Bordeaux, codenamed Betasom. Around August 2nd, taking advantage of the new moon, Maricosom (Italian Submarine Command) ordered the boats Malaspina, Tazzoli, Cappellini and Glauco across the Strait of Gibraltar. About 10 days before departure day, due to breakdowns on some of the boats, the Barbarigo and the Dandolo were sent as replacements. After having left base on the 13th, the Dandolo began crossing the strait on the 16th. Following instructions received before departure, the captain navigated submerged up to the point between Point Europe (Gibraltar) and Point Almina (Ceuta), and on the surface passed Tangier. During navigation, the boat’s hydrophones picked up light units on patrol.

On the 17th, once reached the patrol area between Spain and the Azores Island, the Dandolo patrolled for almost three weeks. During this period it intercepted six isolated merchant ships, two of which from neutral countries. Of the other four, only two could be pursued. The first, the motor tanker Hermes of 3,768 t. was attacked on the 21st by torpedoes but only damaged. The second was the British merchantman Ilvington Court of 5,187 t. attacked on the 26th at around 18:00 in position 38º 57N, 13º 50 W and resulting in the sinking of the cargo ship. All 39 crewmembers were eventually rescued. Belonging to the Court Line Ltd, this merchantman was built in 1919 and had changed ownership four times.

The first attack demonstrated the Italian submarine’s struggle in sinking tankers, ships of great structural integrity and excellent buoyancy which required strikes to the last blow and great aggressiveness, skills these in which the Germans would demonstrate their mastery. Completed the patrol, the Dandolo reached Bordeaux for the first time on September 10th. Soon after its arrival, the boat entered the shipyard for alterations similarly completed on other boats. Although the base was not fully equipped, the submarines were refurbished, tested, and readied for action in less than 30 days. Eventually, this shipyard, in addition to regular maintenance work, completed various modifications, especially after the Germans and war experiences suggested some improvements.

In early October the first four Italian submarines left Bordeaux to participate in a joint operation with the U-Boats. The Dandolo, Malspina , Otaria and Barbarigo joined 11 German submarines in an operation against several British convoys. Other patrols involving more Italian submarines took place until early December. In all, 42 German U-Boats and 8 Italian “sommergibili” sank 74 ships. Unfortunately, the 310,565 tons sunk by the Germans dwarf the 25,600 tons sunk by the Italians. Thus, early German excitement waned and some recrimination surfaced, despite the Italians having lost two submarines, the Faà di Bruno and Tarantini, with all hands on board. During this patrol, the Dandolo made a single sighting on the 22nd, and return to base on the 15th of November.

After the necessary refitting, the Dandolo was again at sea. In the new mission, the boat would part of a group led by the Baracca and which included the Morosini, and the Otaria. The assignment was similar to the previous missions; the Italian boats, larger and with better endurance than the ones employed by the Germans, would patrol an area further west from the British Isles, while the U-boats and surface vessels would cover the area closer to the continent. Still under the command of Lieutenant Commander Riccardo Boris, the Dandolo left Bordeaux on January 24th, 1941. In the afternoon of the 31st, after having sighted the British tanker Pizarro, began an attack maneuver which was completed at night with the sinking of this ship of 1367 t. The sinking, reported in position 49º 30N, 19º 40W was achieved with the launch of torpedoes and caused the loss of 23 of the 29 crewmembers aboard the ship.

On February 2nd, the boat reached its patrol area where it began chasing the Dutch merchantman Prins Frederik Hendrik, but realizing that the Morosini was also un pursue, Captain Boris left the area. Lacking communication between boats, having two vessels in the same area was considered very dangerous. On the 18th, completed its patrol, the boat began the return voyage arriving around the Gironde on the 22nd. Here, while approaching the coast, the boat was attacked by was presumably a British submarine, but with a skilled maneuver the enemy’s torpedoes were avoided. Two days later, on the 24th, the boat returned to base and entered the shipyard for maintenance.

After the mediocre if not very limited results in the northern Atlantic, the new areas of operations for the “sharks of steel” of Betasom were the more temperate waters of the central Atlantic and the coast of Africa. The design of the Italian boats did not make them very suitable for the rough sea. The deck gun was practically unusable, and torpedoes were easily diverted by the heavy swell. The engine air intake and the design of the Italian cunning towers made things even worse by making life aboard these vessels very difficult. On April 9th, a day before the Baracca, the Dandolo left for a patrol in the more temperate waters off the Strait of Gibraltar. The patrol area, split with the other boat by the 36th parallel, extended to the area west of Gibraltar. Having reached the patrol area on the 14th, two days later the Dandolo sighted in position 35º 26N, 7º 14W a battleship escorted by two destroyers. Considering the size of this force, probably it was a cruiser rather than a battleship. Despite the “full force ahead”, the boat failed to get close enough to the targets. Between the 16th and the 19th, the Dandolo joined the Baracca and Tazzoli in the pursue of a convoy, but on the 22nd the boat experienced serious breakdowns which left Captain Boris with no choice but return to base. At the end of the patrol, Captain Boris was replaced by Lieutenant Walter Auconi.

During this period, the Italian government wanted to return all submarines located in Bordeaux back to Italy. The issue was discussed at the highest levels, especially because Germany had only 30 submarines operational and needed the presence of the Italian boats. The German submarines were smaller and better suited for the Mediterranean, the Italian boats larger and more useful in the Atlantic. Still, Mussolini received permission from Hitler to withdraw the Italian submarines and on June 8th an order was issued in accordance. Soon after, on the 14th, Admiral Doenitz went to Berlin to request the reversal of this order. Admirals Reader, Weicholz, Riccardi and Parona were called to resolve a very difficult diplomatic and military situation. Finally, a compromise was reached; of the 27 Italian submarines still operating in the Atlantic, only 14 would be sent back. Eventually, due to war losses, only 10 submarines made the journey back, among them the Dandolo (the other boats were the Argo, Veniero, Brin, Mocenigo, Velella, Emo, Otaria, Perla, and the Guglielmotti).

The Dandolo left Bordeaux on June 19th, a day after the Glauco, but even before attempting the crossing of the strait it had to return to base due to a malfunction. The Glauco had the same fate. Repairs did not last long and on the 26th the boat was again at sea. On July 2nd, soon after midnight, the Dandolo crossed the Strait of Gibraltar on the surface taking advantage of a quarter moon and cloud coverage. The Glauco was less fortunate and was lost along with part of the crew. Having completed its first Atlantic experience, the Dandolo returned to Naples arriving on July 7th.

Here began a long and arduous period which will end with Italy’s surrender to then continue with Italy’s participation along the Allies. This is a summary of the Dandolo’s activity in the Mediterranean.

From September 16th through October 1st, 1941: patrol of Cape Tenes, Spain.
From November 2nd, through 11th: patrol off Tangier. On the 4th, the boat attacked and damaged the French tanker Tarn of 4,220 t. in position 36 49N, 2 20E, even though it belonged to the Vichy Government and thus neutral. On the 8th, the boat sank the Spanish merchantman Castillo Oropesa of 6600 t., another neutral ship, belonging to the “Cerencia De Burques Mercantes Para Servicio Oficiales”.
From December 10th, patrol off Malia (Greece) interrupted due to a new assignment.
From December 12th through the 21st: transport mission to Bardia (Lybia) with arrival on the 18th with a load of 12 t. Then, it continued on to Suda (Greece) arriving the 20th and Taranto, arriving the 23rd.
From February 12 through 23rd: patrol of off Cyrenaica (Libya).
From March 1st through April 1st: Patrol off Cabo Ténès. At the end of the patrol, Lieutenant Commander Alberto Campanella assumed command of the boat.
From July 15th through 22nd: after repositioning to Cagliari, patrol off the Balearic Islands where the Dandolo launched 4 torpedoes against the British aircraft carrier Eagle missing the target. At the ned of this patrol, new change in command with the arrival of Lieutenant Giovanni Febbraio.
From August 11tth through 14th: patrol off the Tunisian coast interrupted due to enemy attack which caused damages.
From October 12th trhough16th: patrol off the Algerian coast also interrupted due to breakdowns. At the end of the patrol, another change in command with Lieutenant Giacomo Scano assuming the helm.
From November 20th through December 4th: patrol off Philippeville including a failed attack egaist enemy vessel on the 27th.
From December 29th through January 1st, 1943: patrol off Cape Bon and attack against a merchantman.
From January 4th through 5th: patrol off La Galite.
From January 22nd: patrol off Cape Bougaroni and Cape Carebon. On the morning of the 23rd, attack against an enemy convoy which returned fire causing damage.
From April 18th through May 4th: patrol off Cape de Fer.
From July 15th through 18th: patrol off the Sicilian coast where on the 16th the Dandolo attacked and seriously damaged the British light cruiser Cleopatra of 5,450 t. The following day it was attacked by enemy aircrafts and two bombs lodged themselves in the outer hull without exploding. After the attack, the boat made it to Crotone (Calabria) and then Taranto.

On Armistice Day (September 8th, 1943), the boat was in dry dock. After a period of activity along the Allies in Mediterranean, the Dandolo was transferred to America where in completed 113 patrols covering 16000 miles. In November 144 it was in the Bermudas, in 1945 in New London and then Guantanamo (Cuba). At the end of the conflict, the submarine was allowed back to Taranto.

After the peace treaty, which barred Italy from owning any submarines, the boat was assigned to the United States which, due to the minimal strategic value, ordered its demolition which took place after the boat was stricken off on February 1st, 1948. This was the Dandolo inglorious end after 10 years of intense activity.

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