Military Review

Underwater fighters duce. From sea sabotage to punitive raids on land

The beginning of World War II, Italy met with a very strong division of underwater saboteurs. After the Italian combat swimmers successfully attacked the Court, the Italian Navy command decided to organize a raid on Malta. At that time, the island of Malta, which belonged to Britain, was the main outpost of London in the Mediterranean. It was possession of Malta that allowed the British the fleet to control the main shipping lanes from Italy and Southern France to Tunisia and Algeria. These paths played a particularly important role in the context of the unfolding battles in North Africa, where British troops fought with Italian and then German forces.

But Malta was not only of military interest to Rome. The prevailing ideology, which proclaimed the need for the revival of the Roman Empire, regarded Malta as a legitimate part of the Italian state. The island was supposed to become Italian, but this goal was practically unattainable, given the serious power superiority of Great Britain over Italy. Therefore, Italy decided to enlist the support of Germany. A secret plan for Operation Hercules was developed, after which regular German and Italian raids began. aviation both the island itself and the British naval convoys that followed. At the same time, the command of the Italian Navy decided to organize an underwater sabotage operation to weaken the British fleet, based off the coast of Malta.

The development of the underwater operation began in April 1941. In support of the operation, Teseo Tesei himself was very active - a significant figure for Italian underwater saboteurs, one of the developers of guided torpedoes and the creators of the flotilla of underwater saboteurs. The commander of the 10 Flotilla of the MAS, Captain 2 of the rank of Vittorio Mokkagatta (in the photo), was to lead the operation, and Major Engineer Teseo Tesei volunteered to take personal part in this raid. Moreover, he insisted that not only MTM boats but also guided torpedoes were used in the raid. The command of the fleet, worrying about the safety of the designer, tried to dissuade him from participating in the operation, especially since at the recent medical examination, Theseus was deemed temporarily unfit for scuba diving due to heart disease. But Theseus, who had a very strong character and was known as a hot patriot of fascist Italy, was adamant - he demanded personal participation in the operation and the command had to agree with him.

A group of underwater swimmers had to penetrate special boats into the bay of Mars-Mash, then blow up the Sant Elmo bridge and organize sabotage against British submarines and surface ships in the bay. In the evening of July 25 1941, a detachment of underwater saboteurs under the command of Moccagatta left the base in Augusta, on the island of Sicily, and headed towards Malta. The detachment included the messenger ship Diana, the 9 of exploding MTM boats aboard the ship, a special MTL motorboat designed to carry Maileh guided torpedoes, two powerboats and a torpedo boat. When the squad approached Malta on the 20 miles, they launched all the MTM 9 boats into the water. However, one of the boats immediately sank, so all the 8 boats headed for the island.

To divert the attention of the British Coast Guard, Italian aviation bombed La Valetta base three times. Near 3: 00 nights, being near the Sant Elmo bridge, Teseo Tesei and Costa swimmer lowered the Mailea torpedoes into the water and were about to destroy the barrier network. However, swimmers immediately found that Costa's torpedo had engine problems. Since the fuses on the boats were supposed to work at a specific time, Theseus and his partner Pedretti (in the photo) on the dashboard headed for the barrier. After the swimmers would have blown up the barrier, they would have to follow into the bay and exploding boats. Getting close to the bridge, Theseus looked at his watch and saw that already 4: 30 minutes was the time set for the passage of boats. There was no time to think, otherwise the attack would have failed.

Theseus set the fuse to zero. A moment later, an explosion sounded. At the same time, a group of MTM boats headed towards the bay, but since the sailors were not sure that the barrier was destroyed, one of the MTM boats, on which Carabelli was stationed, was sent to him, who no longer had time to escape. Thundered explosion. The coast guard of the British base immediately turned on the lighting projectors, after which a group of Italian boats approaching the bay was discovered. The British began to fire boats with machine guns, while simultaneously fighters on duty from the base of British aviation were lifted into the air. The sailors on the remaining boats decided to turn back, but were noticed by British aircraft. As a result, 11 Italian swimmers still managed to get on a torpedo boat.

Underwater fighters duce. From sea sabotage to punitive raids on land

The British, who surveyed the area of ​​the bridge, soon fished out a bloodied oxygen mask with pieces of meat. It was all that remained of the celebrated combat swimmer Teseo Tesei. The attack on Malta was the first serious defeat of the 10 of the MAS flotilla. The losses of the Italian combat swimmers amounted to 15 people killed and 18 people captured by the British. In addition, the Italians lost their 2 powerboats, 8 exploding boats, the MTL and 2 launching torpedoes, and the 2 air support fighter shot down by the British. Among the dead were the celebrated Major Teseo Tesei, his partner, the second Corporal Pedretti, the commander of the surface detachment, Capt. 3, rank Giorgio Jobe, the head of the medical service, Captain Bruno Falkomat, and the commander of 10 Flotilla, captain, 2, Vittorio Mokkagatta. In honor of the fallen heroes, the underwater detachment of the 10 fleet MAS was named Teseo Tesei, and the surface unit of the flotilla was Vittorio Mokkagatta.

The failure of the attack on Malta was only the first in a series of further defeats of Italy in the Mediterranean. The situation for the Italian fleet was very bad. Therefore, in October 1941, the fleet commanders decided to re-direct the MAS 10 flotilla, which had recovered slightly after the July fiasco, against the British military base. This time the target was chosen Egyptian Alexandria. The operation was scheduled for December 1941.

3 December 1941 The Italian submarine "Shire" left the base in La Spezia. On board the boat were three managed torpedoes "Mayale." The commander of the operation was appointed captain of 2 rank Prince Valerio Yunio Borghese. In the Aegean Sea, a submarine picked up six combat swimmers who were to control torpedoes. These were Lieutenant Luigi Durand de la Penne, Emilio Bianchi, Vincenzo Martellotta, Mario Marino, Antonio Marcella and Spartak Sherga.

19 December 1941, the boat "Shire" at a depth of 15 meters produced three guided torpedoes with crews of two combat swimmers on each torpedo. The harbor of Alexandria remained a little over two kilometers. This time the combat swimmers managed to get into the harbor unnoticed. However, no problems were not at this time. The torpedo, which was driven by Emilio Bianchi and Luigi de la Penne, had an engine malfunction. Bianchi began to lose consciousness and was forced to surface in order to stock up on oxygen.

De la Penne (pictured) manually sent a torpedo to the battleship Valiant. He managed to install a magnetic mine directly under the body of the battleship, but as soon as de la Penne and Bianchi surfaced, British sailors discovered them and took the mined battleship aboard. De la Penne and Bianchi were put in the hold of the ship. When 15 remained before the explosion, minutes, de la Penne called the captain of the battleship Charles Morgan and informed him that the ship was mined. However, the Italian officer did not report the details of the mining. Soon an explosion thundered on the battleship, and the Italians themselves did not suffer.

Antonio Marcella and Spartak Sherga meanwhile mined the battleship Queen Elizabeth, and in 4: 30 successfully left Alexandria harbor. Vincenzo Martellotta and Mario Marino searched for the British aircraft carrier, but did not find it, since it left the harbor a little earlier and went to sea. Therefore, combat swimmers placed a mine on the Norwegian tanker "Sagona", after which they left the harbor area. Around 6 in the morning explosions thundered. The battleship Valiant was disabled for 6 months, Queen Elizabeth for 9 months, and the Sagona tanker was torn into two pieces and sank. The battleship Queen Elizabeth killed 8 British sailors. As for the combat swimmers, all of them were captured - de la Penne and Bianchi at the time of their ascent, while Marcella, Sherga, Marino and Martellotta were arrested by the local police when they tried to leave the harbor and were transferred by the British.

Despite the capture of the swimmers themselves, the Italians this time were able to brilliantly recoup their defeat in the attack on Malta. Port of Alexandria was considered one of the key bases of the British fleet. Italian swimmers managed to disable the British battleships, and since the German submarine torpedoed the British battleship HMS Barham three weeks earlier, the Italian fleet took priority positions in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the spring of 1942, the Italian ships completely destroyed a British convoy en route to Malta, and in the summer of 1942 the second British convoy was also destroyed by German submarines and aircraft. In Italy itself, the brilliant attack on Alexandria was perceived as a national victory. Prince Borghese and a number of combat swimmers received the highest military award - the medal "For valor".

In June 1942, Italian saboteurs participated in an operation against the Soviet naval base in Sevastopol, hitting a transport vessel, two submarines and a small ship, and in June-September 1942 launched two attacks on the port of Gibraltar, where they also damaged several British ships.

At the end of 1942, the Italian swimmers conducted another very successful operation - a raid on Algeria. At that time, a large number of cargo and transport ships belonging to the Allies were in the port of Algeria. 4 December 1942 from the Italian naval base in La Spezia was released by the Italian super-small submarine Ambra, carrying the 3 guided torpedoes and 10 saboteurs. By the evening of December 10, the submarine approached the port of Algeria at a depth of 18 meters. In 23: 45, combat swimmers and guided torpedoes left the boat. The crew commander of the Ambre to 3: 00 waited for the swimmers to return, but without waiting, left the port area and moved towards La Spezia.

Meanwhile, swimmers were able to successfully cope with their tasks. In 5: 00 exploded on several ships. The British vessel Ocean Vanquisher and the Norwegian Berta sank, the Empire Centaur and Armatan were seriously damaged, and the American landing craft LSM-59 was cast ashore. True, all 16 of Italian combat swimmers and saboteurs who participated in the mining of ships were captured.

It should be noted that in addition to the 10 of the MAS flotilla, in 1941-1942. the XII squadron of torpedo boats, operating on Lake Ladoga and participating in the blockade of Leningrad, and the IV squadron of torpedo boats, based in the Crimea occupied by German and Italian troops, were created. The attacks continued in the Mediterranean, and at the beginning of 1943, the fleet seriously considered a plan to organize sabotage in New York.

However, after the Mussolini regime fell in 1943, the activity of the MAS 10 flotilla at sea dropped sharply, and then stopped altogether. But the convinced fascist Borghese was not going, unlike many other Italian officers, to go over to the side of the allies. He swore allegiance to the progitler Italian Social Republic, and his example was followed by the entire MAS flotilla. At the same time, her profile has changed dramatically. Forced to act on land, the flotilla turned into a punitive-police unit that participated in anti-guerrilla operations. Flotilla executed 68 civilians in the city of Mass, killed civilians in Udine, executed 12 civilians in Borto Ticino, executed 5 petty criminals in Casteletto Ticino. Before the end of the war, former underwater saboteurs participated in operations against the Yugoslav partisans in the area of ​​the Italian-Yugoslav border.

Of course, the heroic combat swimmers, who could not help but admire their preparation and courage, strongly discredited themselves with anti-partisan operations and executions of civilians. It was at this time that Prince Valerio Yunio Borghese “worked out” the term he was given after winning for his participation in war crimes. The former flotilla commander was captured by partisans and transferred to the command of the allied forces. Valerio Borghese was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment, but he only spent about four years in prison and was released in 1949. The political situation in the world had seriously changed by this time, the yesterday's ally of the USSR began to be viewed by the United States and Great Britain as the main adversary. Combat experience underwater saboteurs could already be useful for new goals. In 1952, a division of Italian combat swimmers was revived under the name COMSUBIN in the Italian Navy, which were to play an important role in the plans of NATO in the Mediterranean region.

After the war, Valerio Yunio Borghese became actively involved in Italian politics, becoming close to the extreme right-wing circles of Italy who dreamed of reviving fascism. At the same time, although he was no longer officially in military service, he continued the former activities of the saboteur, who had already worked in the extreme right-wing circles and special services. It was his people who were suspected of involvement in the undermining of the Soviet battleship "Novorossiysk" in 1955, but this is another story.

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  1. Olgovich
    Olgovich 16 July 2018 08: 01
    Surprisingly, there is a striking difference in the combat readiness and effectiveness of the 10th MAS flotilla in comparison with the rest of the Italian army.
    As if they are from different countries .....
    1. ilyaros
      16 July 2018 12: 18
      These were a few enthusiasts and "ardent fascists")). As in the early twentieth century. Italian pilots were also distinguished by high professionalism.
    2. RoTTor
      RoTTor 21 August 2018 00: 24
      Enthusiasts and volunteers served there, who were recruited from all parts of the fleet, and then from any military branches.
      There were very few of them, despite the magnificent name "flotilla" in composition, and at the best time there was something about a separate division / battalion
  2. Ekzutor
    Ekzutor 16 July 2018 12: 33
    Mine-torpedo forces and combat swimmers are the elite of the pasta army, as well as bersaliers with arditi
    Well, the 10th flotilla of the MAC is a legend sung in and borghese
  3. NF68
    NF68 16 July 2018 16: 52
    Interesting article.
  4. Mikhail Matyugin
    Mikhail Matyugin 16 July 2018 18: 16
    Interesting stuff.
  5. Saxahorse
    Saxahorse 16 July 2018 21: 45
    In Italy itself, a brilliant attack on Alexandria was seen as a national victory. Prince Borghese and a number of combat swimmers received the highest military award - the medal “For Valor”.

    There was also information that the British were able to keep secret the success of saboteurs. Ships externally looked as usual, but the fact that they landed on the ground so from a distance can not be understood. This is said to have ruled out the activity of the Italian fleet, and did not dare to leave the bases.
  6. Catfish
    Catfish 16 July 2018 22: 48
    "A German submarine torpedoed the British battleship HMS Barham, in the Eastern Mediterranean." (quote).

    “Barham” drowned von Tiesenhausen, I don’t remember the number of his boat, then he still couldn’t explain why he made the very circulation that brought his boat directly to meet the British squadron. wink

    Quote: Saxahorse

    There was also information that the British were able to keep secret the success of saboteurs. Ships externally looked as usual, but the fact that they landed on the ground so from a distance can not be understood. This is said to have ruled out the activity of the Italian fleet, and did not dare to leave the bases.

    You are absolutely right, it was like that: every morning, under the orchestras, raising the flag on both battleships, divorcing work, tactical exercises and guiding the usual "marathon", and serious work was going on in the bottom compartments, completely invisible from the outside. In general, the allies of their opponent fooled, competently did everything. hi
  7. RoTTor
    RoTTor 21 August 2018 00: 18
    The advertising and self-promotion of Italian BP is clearly inflated.
    Recently I carefully read the memoirs of Valerio Borghese, "10th IAS Flotilla."
    Understanding something in this, I can say
    - any of our athlete-submariners of the level from the 1st category and higher in underwater orienteering was a cut above, a minimum higher in underwater training than Italians BP.
    No wonder the first creator and commander of the BP KSF was the former head of the UFISU master of sports of the USSR in underwater orientation.
    - they were all - single-use, regardless of the result.

    It was surprising that the British treated the captured BP even after their successful sabotage against the English ships, more than humane and they all returned home from captivity, despite the often-mean methods.

    But they could sink our trophy Novorossiysk by attaching a mine, during the Second World War they worked in Sevastopol and Balaklava, and trained mines, mining this particular battleship, then the Italian Giulio Cesare.