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Boats

by Cristiano D'Adamo


The Reginaldo Giuliani was one of the four submarines of the “Liuzzi” class of the “Cavallini” type. Laid down on March 12th, 1939 it was launched on December 2nd of the same year and entered service on February 2nd of 1940, a few months before the beginning of the conflict. Like all boats of the same class, it was built by the Tosi shipyard of Taranto and was considered an ‘Ocean Going’ submarine capable of long range cruises. Although tested to only 100 meters maximum depth, operational life indicated a greater diving capacity, but a general vulnerability to rough seas and adverse atmospheric conditions.

The submarine was named after a Catholic chaplain who fought in World War I and later participated in the occupation of Fiume with D’Annunzio and the war in Ethiopia. He died at the Battle of the Uarieu Pass in January 1934 and would thereafter become a Fascist hero.

There is no record of the training activity of the Giuliani during the brief period between being commissioned and becoming fully operational. At the beginning of the conflict in June 1940, it was assigned to one of the Italian submarine patrol lines. The one south of Gaudos was maintained by four boats -- Salpa, Bagnolini, Tarantini, Giuliani – positioned about 20 miles apart. Of the four vessels, only the small Salpa failed to sight any traffic and returned to base on the 16th of June. The night of the 12th the Giuliani, under the command of Lieutenant Bruno Zelik, sighted a light unit very close and almost to the bow. forcing a quick disengagement through a rapid dive. The Bagnolini, on the other hand, was more successful in scoring, the same night and not too far away, the sinking of the British cruiser Calypso.

In July the Giuliani, along with the Bagnolini and Toti, was sent again south of Gaudos and closer to Derna (Lybia), for a patrol from July 15th through the 24th in which the Toti participated only after the 19th. After the uneventful patrol, in the early morning of the 27th Captain Zelik sighted a large submarine about 25 miles off Cape S. Maria di Leuca (Southern Italy). Unsure of the identity of the vessel and fearing that it could be the Bragadin, which was also returning to base, the captain disengaged ordering a dive soon after the crew had sighted the wake of a torpedo fired by the enemy unit.

At the end of this mission the boat received orders to transfer to the Atlantic Ocean to become part of the new submarine base established in Bordeaux. With command transferred to Lieutenant Commander Renato d’Elia, the Giuliani left Trapani (Sicily) on August 29th to then cross the Strait of Gibraltar on the 10th. The crossing, mostly completed while submerged, did not present any obstacle other than the strong wind and rough seas. Once in the Atlantic, the boat was assigned to a patrol area south of Madera, while the other vessels – Emo and Faà di Bruno – were positioned further north. During this patrol, which lasted from the 14th of September through the 30th, the Giuliani encountered only one armed merchant of unknown nationality which was attacked with the deck gun at a great distance. The attack had to be aborted due to a malfunction of the weapon.

In early October, on its way to the new base and upon reaching the mouth of the Gironde, the Giuliani joined the Baracca to make the final approach when an enemy submarine launched three torpedoes which fortunately failed to hit the vessels. This was the second time that the Giuliani would be attacked by another submarine. Eventually, its loss was caused by a submarine attack. In the following several weeks, numerous boats, including the Giuliani, left Bordeaux to complete short practice missions.

Between November 11th and 22nd, four more units were sent on patrol between 15 00 and 20 00 W and 55 20 and 53 20 N, west of the patrol area maintained by the Germans. This group was named “Giuliani”, after the leader boat, and included the Tarantini, Torelli and Argo. Having left Bordeaux on the 11th, the Giuliani reached the assigned patrol area on the 24th, sighting an auxiliary cruiser which was avoided by submerging. Thereafter, the boat started experiencing a series of mechanical failures which, at times, would jeopardize not just the mission but the boat itself. First, the outside cover of one of the forward torpedo tubes failed to open, then the forward horizontal planes failed completely while the rear ones defaulted to manual operations.

On the 29th of November, while trying to mend some of the damaged machinery, the Giuliani sighted three ships which could not be attacked on the surface due to the adverse sea conditions. Furthermore, with the forward planes unable to retract, navigation in rough waters could have seriously damaged the hull, causing grave deformations. Having assessed the impossibility of making further repairs at sea, the Giuliani began the return voyage to base which, on December 4th, was interrupted by the sighting of a British Sunderland flying boat. The submarine dove seeking shelter underwater but the malfunctioning of the forward planes - the forward planes were used to control depth - and slow manual operations of the rear planes, caused the vessel to lose control and reach a depth of 135 meters. Still, although this depth was far superior to the maximum allowed depth, there were no damages. Eventually, the Giuliani made it to port.

Meantime, having given up on the idea of creating a training center in France, Adm. Doenitz proposed Adm. Parona, the Italian commander of Betasom, to transfer Italian submarines to Germany to provide for advance training. Two boats were selected, the Giuliani and Bagnolini, at the time both undergoing repairs in Bordeaux, but eventually the Bagnolini was not sent due to operational needs. Thus, the Giuliani left Bordeaux on March 16th under the command of Commander Vittore Raccanelli, reaching Gotenhafen (Gdynia) on April 6th. While in transfer on March 19th, following a sighting by a German FW200, the boat joined U 46, Brin and Mocenigo on a hunt. Following the arrival in Germany, where command was transferred to Lieutenant Commander Adalberto Giovannini on the 21st, the Giuliani began an intense training activity which lasted many months. Giovannini was chosen for his experience and had the necessary knowledge to conduct the mission. Other famous Italian submarine commanders followed, including Enzo Grosso, Luigi Longanesi Cattani, Ugo Giudice and Mario Tei.

At the submarine school, Italian officers and crews were trained on attack techniques and methodologies employed by the Germans . The school received a telegraph denomination of Marigammasom. The Italians were assigned by the Germans the submarine support ship Isar of 3850 t. which, in addition to providing logistical support, served as a moving target. For more complex training, convoy simulation, torpedo boats, gunboats and airplanes were provided by the 27th German Flotilla. Training courses lasted between two and five weeks with cruises of 10 to 20 days. In total, there were seven courses completed, while the eighth was cancelled due to weather conditions. Eventually, the Giuliani was needed back in active service and the Germans and Italians jointly agreed to close the training camp. On April 21st, 1942 command was transferred again, this time to Lieutenant Commander Giovanni Bruno who would take the boat back to France and on May 23rd, 1942 the Giuliani was once again in Bordeaux.

While the Giuliani was in Germany (occupied Poland), the Betasom’s primary area of operations had shifted from the North Atlantic to the Americas. Upon its return to base and following a brief period to ready the vessel, on June 24th the boat was already at sea under the command of Commander Giovanni Bruno. This mission in parallel with the Calvi was to bring the submarine up to the Windward Passage into the Caribbean. While still navigating toward the assigned area of operations, at 15:45 on July 16th, the Giuliani changed course trying to reach a merchantman previously attacked by another submarine. Having reached 22 00 N, 61 22 W and in sight of the vessel, the boat was attacked by a flying fortress which dropped three bombs which did not cause any damage, but forced a dive and abandonment of the attack.
On the 24th of the same month, the Giuliani received 50 t. of fuel from the Finzi and was reassigned to a new operational area east of the Island of Guadalupe. Thereafter, in position 22 15 N 60 25 W it launched two torpedoes against a two-funneled motor vessel of new construction which, despite having been hit once, was able to run away at high speed. It has not been possible to identify the ship in question. The assigned patrol area was reached on the 29th of July, but soon after the boat was ordered south of the Islands of Capo Verde.

It was during this transfer that the Giuliani would score all of its operational successes. These attacks were carried out by torpedo and gun with the use of 10 torpedoes, four of which reached the target, five of which behaved erratically, and the last one was unable to leave the launch tube and was later exploded. The first victim, on the 10th in position 9 26N, 38 28W, was the Medon, a British ship of 5,444 t. built in 1923 by the Palmer Shipyards and belonging to the Ocean Steamshipping Co. All 64 crewmembers survived the sinking which was carried out with the use of the deck gun.
On the 13th followed the American California, a 5,441 ship built in Los Angeles in 1920 and belonging to the States Steamship Co. The sinking, in position 9 21 N, 34 35W, was accomplished by the use of the deck gun and torpedoes and caused the loss of one crewmember while the remaining 35 survived. The following day on the 14th, another British vessel, the Sylvia de Larrinaga of 5,218t was the final victim. This armed vessel built in 1925 and belonging to the Larrinnaga Steamship Co Ltd Liverpool was disposed of by torpedoes in position 10 49N, 33 35W, resulting in three casualties. The remaining 50 crew members survived.

The eventful mission was at its end, and on the 16th the boat was ordered back to base due to the limited amount of ammunition and fuel remaining. The first two weeks of the long voyage back were ordinary, but at only 170 miles from base and while recharging its battery on the surface, the Giuliani was attacked by a Sunderland which was soon joined by two more. The attack was extremely violent both due to the volume of fire and the amount of bombs dropped. Captain Bruno was seriously wounded in his throat and was forced to transfer command to his second, Lieutenant Arezio Calzigna. Another crew member was also wounded. The intense machine gun fire from the Giuliani caused one of the airplanes, which had been repeatedly hit, to abort and, as later reported, land in Spain. Meantime, the Giuliani had been able to dive, but it was attacked two more times. The following day another attack followed and in this case bombs were dropped less than 30 meters away, causing grave damage. The ship report indicated:

September 2nd, 1942
12:44
From an altitude of about 30 meters the airplane drops four depth charges which fall one on deck, aft of the tower and then rolls into the sea, the other three within a few meters of the hull forward to the left. The bombs explode under the hull and the boat, hit full on, undergoes a very violent shock first, and then a tremble. I’m pushed upward and then fall on deck. The boat is hit full on by columns of water which completely cover it; it is still and heavily listing portside. The sea is covered in fuel which is copiously leaking out of the main tanks and the other tanks which still have any left. From the explosion, helmsman 3rd Class Andra Assali and gunner Francesco Perali are thrown into the sea.
12:50 The airplane comes back for another attack and opens fire with machine guns and launches another depth charge which falls 40 meters off the stern. Gunner Pietro Capilli, who at the time was holding the portside gun, suffers a broken arm. Double hull N. 3 portside has been completely removed. Even double hulls 2 and 4 portside must have also been seriously damaged.
13:40 The airplane, after having strafed the submarine, goes away. The inside of the submarine is devastated by explosions and there is no light. The boat is slowly recovering from listing, but at the same time is sinking. From double hull N. 2 seaside some fuel is leaking from holes caused by the machine gun fire. Gunner Mario Gentilini - shrapnel in the right thigh - and sailor Odilio Malatesta –loss of a finger and large wound on his right arm - are also wounded. Helsman Andrea Assali and gunner Francesco Perali are lost at sea.
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The attack causes extremely serious damage which jeopardizes the boat’s sea worthiness such that the airplane crew considered the submarine lost. Instead, on the morning of September 3rd , the Giuliani was able to reach the Spanish port of Santander. The same port had previously provided safe harbor to the Torelli a few months earlier. From here, after lengthy repairs lasting more than two months, on November 8th the Giuliani was able to leave with the acquiescence of the Spanish authorities and reach Le Verdon safely under the escort of the Luftwaffe the following day. This would be the last patrol for the Giuliani as an attack boat.

On February 8th, 1943 Dönitz proposed to the Italians to re-purpose the remaining submarine for transport service from France to Japan. In exchange, the Germans would transfer 10 VII-C class U-boats to the Italian Navy, and Italian crews and commanders began training in Germany soon after. Under the supervision of Rear-Admiral (E) Fenu, the remaining boats began extensive refitting work. The deck guns were removed, the ammunition magazines turned into additional fuel depots, the attack periscope removed, and a great part of the on board comforts, including one of the heads, removed to give space for cargo. The torpedo tubes were also sheared off. With the transformation of these few remaining boats, the Italian participation in the Battle of the Atlantic practically concluded.

Completing the necessary transformations, the Giuliani took to the sea on May 16th, 1943 along with the Tazzoli with a load of 130 t. of mercury, special steel, munitions and other war materiel. There was Italian personnel on board assigned to the Singapore base and two German civil engineers. The return voyage had already been booked with 135 t. of rubber and 70 t. of tin. Only a day into the voyage, the Giuliani returned to base to repair the forward planes, the same ones that had caused so much trouble before. On May 23rd, the boat was again at sea and on June 3rd, at about 120 miles off Madera, was attacked on the surface by a four-engine plane while under the illusory protection of sea fog . Following an exchange of gunfire and the dropping of two bombs, the Giuliani was able to vanish into the fog. On June 17th, Betasom ordered the Giuliani to a position 300 miles east of the Island of St. Helena for a rendezvous with the Tazzoli which never showed up

The Tazzoli, which was assumed by Betasom to have radio communication problems, was later presumed lost between the 18th and the 24th of May, most probably in the Bay of Biscay. After the war the Italian Navy conducted an inquiry with the assistance of the British Admiralty and the U.S. Navy, but there was no confirmation of any successful Allied attack. The Giuliani continued on the long journey, reaching the Italian escort ship Eritrea in Sabang on July 28th. Under the escort of the Eritrea, the Giuliani reached Keppel Harbour (Singapore) on August 1st.

After September 8th, the Giuliani was surprised in Singapore by the events of the Italian armistice. The boat, already under German control, was manned by German personnel and the command transferred to Captain Heinrich Shäfer, while the Italian crew were sent to POW camps. Eventually, part of the crew opted to continue fighting along with the old allies and the Giuliani, now renamed UIT-23, continued serving until February 14th, 1944 when UIT-23 was sunk in the Straits of Malacca in position 04 27 N, 100 11 E, by torpedoes launched by the British submarine HMS Tally-Ho (P317). There were 26 casualties and 14 survivors. The Giuliani had served just a few days more than four years and was only a ghost of the original, proud submarine.


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