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Boats

by Admiral (ret) Attilio Duilio Ranieri


The submarine ASCIANGHI was one of the 17 boats of the series “ADUA” (also known as the “Africans”) which was part of the class “600” of costal submarines. The 17 boats of the series ADUA were built by various Italian shipyards between 1936 and 1938 and were named after famous episodes of the recently concluded war in East Africa (1935-36) which had brought about the creation of Italian East Africa.

Upon Italy’s entry into the war (June 10th, 1940), the boat was assigned to the 1st GRUPSOM (15th Squadron) in La Spezia, but deployed in Cagliari (Sardinia). From this base, under the command of Lieutenant Ugo Gelli, the boat left for its first war patrol, from the 20th to the 28th of June, near the Balearic Islands. At 01:25 of the 22nd, the boat sighted a large armed ship against which it launched four torpedoes that failed to hit the target due to the rough sea. Then, the boat continued the attack with the deck gun, hitting the target a few times, but the precise and strong reaction of the enemy ship’s guns forced the submarine to run away.

Several other patrols followed, all around the Mediterranean, but without any important event until August 1941. After command of the boat was transferred to Lieutenant Olinto Di Serio, the 21st of September, during a patrol that lasted from the 20th to the 24th off Beirut, the ASCIANGHI sank the Polish tanker (in service to the British) ANTAR of 389 t., but only after having allowed the crew to abandon ship.

Patrols continued until July 1942, when the boat’s command was transferred to Lieutenant Rodolfo Bombig, who held it for a short period of time, and then Lieutenant Rino Erler. Lieutenant Erler’s first mission, in early November 1942, consisted in the transport of 20 t. of ammunitions from Messina to Tobruk. During the transfer, on the 3rd, the crew sighted and picked up 20 shipwrecks: they were German military personnel whose plane had been shot down.

A few days later, between the 11th and the 16th of November, the ASCIANGHI was again on patrol along the Algerian cost. On the 15th at 03:39, while conducting a raid in the Bay of Bougie, Captain’s Elder’s submarine sighted and attacked a small naval group believed to have included a cruiser and two destroyers. The first two torpedoes missed the target, but the subsequent ones, launched around 03:46, hit the third ship in the group between midship and the bow, causing it to quickly sink. The ship in question was the fast minesweeper ALGERINE of 1,040 t. Confirmed the result of the launch, the submarine disengaged submerging and avoiding the hunt of the other enemy units.

A few months later, the night of the 2nd of March 1943, during a patrol in the Gulf of Sirte, the ASCHIAGHI sighted and attacked a large formation. After the release of the torpedoes, to avoid being rammed by one of the units, the boat was forced to immediately dive, thus could not verify the result of the attack. After several seconds, two strong explosions were clearly heard giving the impression of a hit, but post-war British documentation does not confirm anything.

After this mission, the boat stopped for a long period of repairs at a shipyard and command was transferred from Lieutenant Erler to Sub-Lieutenant Mario Fiorini. The new, young commander of the ASCIANGHI left Naples on July 16th, 1943 to move, along with two other boats, south of Sicily in a last attempt to stop the Allied landing already in course.

In the early afternoon of the 23rd, during a submerged patrol ten miles off Augusta, the ASCIANGHI sighted a group of cruisers and destroyers and moved decisively on the attack against the larger units. It launched two torpedoes (they were later credited by the British for having seriously damaged the heavy cruiser NEWFOUNLAND of 8,000 t.; Later re-evaluation of the events induced to believe that the damage was actually caused by U 407, at the time present in the area of the attack), but it was immediately targeted by a strong hunt with depth charges which caused serious damage and many leaks.

Made heavier, the boats inexorably gained depth, exceeding the maximum allowed. Then, Captain Fiorini decided to emerge and accept the one-sided fight on the surface and scuttle the boat. But, as soon as the boat broke surface, it was centered by precise gunfire from the British destroyers LAFOREY and ECLIPSE; fire was so close that there was no possibility to react.

Hit by multiple shots and greatly flooded, the boat sank in a few minutes taking along 23 of the 50 crewmembers. The British picked up the 27 survivors. During its operational life, the ASCIANGHI completed 22 war patrols, 1 transport mission, and 24 transfers, for a total of 28,923 miles.

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