Military Review

Deadly "leech"

The idea to adapt a torpedo for a carrier of combat swimmers appeared a long time ago - almost a century ago. Its authors were the Italians, who at one time were trendsetters in the field of underwater sabotage war.

History group submarine carrier (GPN) torpedo type, which is often referred to as a human torpedo, originates in June 1915. It was then that Luigi Martignoni, mechanical engineer of the leader of Alessandro Poerio, invited his immediate superior, Rafael Rossetti, major of the Italian Navy engineering service, to study the possibility of converting a conventional torpedo into a guided underwater vehicle, with which it would be possible to penetrate into a well-guarded military Austro-Hungarian naval base fleet.

Lonely creator

Rossetti liked the idea, but only after three months he designed it on paper and submitted it to his chief, Colonel of the Engineering Service, Giovanni Scalp. However, he reacted to the project without enthusiasm, although he promised not to interfere with the “private technical initiative” of Rossetti, who was allowed to present his “rationalization proposal” further on command. What Rossetti did immediately: 24 September 1915, the memo went to Vice Admiral Alberto de Bono, who headed the La Spezia district. But the admiral also turned out to be a skeptic, although he nevertheless recommended “discuss the idea” with the head of the torpedo test center. weapons in Spice, captain di corvette (captain of 3 rank) Guido Kavalazzi.

Paradoxically, the latter also perceived the intention to “ride the torpedo” more than coolly: Rossetti had to return to de Bono on November 3, this time with a detailed sketch of a two-seater torpedo-shaped carrier of combat swimmers and sabotage mines intended to be mounted on the bottoms of enemy ships. Rossetti wanted to use the 30-inch (14-mm) old-fashioned B355,6 torpedo, still in service with the Italian Navy, but gradually replaced by a newer A57 as a basis for creating a future vehicle that had a calculated range of travel to 63 miles. So there would be no shortage of "products" for experiments. Nevertheless, de Bono considered the project “too optimistic” and rejected it, and the new head of the naval district, Vice Admiral Leon Vayale, did the same.

Then Rossetti decided on a desperate step - began to implement his plan in secret from the command. In May 1916 of the year, being a representative of the Navy at the shipyard Sestri Levante (Genoa), an officer, as foreign naval historians write, “insolently stole” a couple of B57 and forwarded it to a secluded place according to fake documents. In May, 1917 of the year he transferred to La Spezia, the staff of the administration that was engaged in testing various shipboard systems and weapons, delivered both torpedoes to a nearby submarine base, and already here began more active work on the group submarine project.

18 January 1918, Rossetti conducted the first test of his “miracle weapon”, and 24 January and 27 February repeated experiments, testing various types of propellers and diving equipment “drivers”. After another testing of 9 in March 1918, Rossetti concluded that the “human-controlled torpedo carrier”, as he called it, is ready to be shown to high authorities and when approved for its subsequent use as intended - for sabotage in the main naval base (GVMB ) Austro-Hungarian fleet Paul.

GPN "Minyatta" (also sometimes "Mignatta"), or translated from the Italian "Leech", generally repeated the B57 torpedo, but had a propeller of a larger diameter (450 millimeters). GPN length - 8,3 meter, diameter of the main section - 600 millimeters, travel speed - up to 2 nodes. The course was managed “manually” - swimmers had to work with their hands and feet, like oars on a boat, to expose them, contributing to the “Leech” turn in the right direction. Two saboteurs were placed on the torpedo carrier from above; they should have put on diving suits, but not put on masks - their heads should have been above the water level. Armament - two 170-kilogram mines, presumably with magnetic suckers. There is no exact information about what the hell machine data was. For example, in a number of sources it is claimed that these were just metal containers filled with explosives and fitted with fuses with clockwork mechanisms for six hours. Rossetti even considered the option of an “underwater mine suspended under the bottom of a ship on an 12-foot line”. In the aft section of the "leeches" was a self-destruction mechanism.

Long awaited approval

Rossetti planned to use the “Leech” to break through to the internal raid of the GVBB Paul, where by the end of the war the largest Austro-Hungarian ships were concentrated. According to his plan to tow the FPP, the range of which did not exceed 10 miles, and autonomy - five hours, as close as possible to the entrance to the harbor of Paula was to be a torpedo boat. Then the saboteurs plunged onto the carrier and under their own power made an attempt to get inside the base. After laying the mines on the bottom of the enemy ship or, if a favorable situation arises, even two ships the saboteurs had to go to the evacuation area where the boats were waiting for them.

The inventor sends to the higher command an official note describing the design and capabilities of a new type of special naval armament, as well as all actions taken by him and several like-minded people in the past two years. The “theft” of the torpedoes could not but cause negative emotions to the authorities, but on the whole the idea seemed worthy and the creator of the “Leech” summoned 1 of the year to the Italian Navy Commander, Vice-Admiral Paolo Emilio Taon de Revel, on 1918 April. The audience ended with the approval of the project and the transfer of Rossetti to Venice, where he arrived on April 5 at the disposal of Captain Di Vascello (captain of the 1 rank) Konstanzo Cyano.

Soon, however, Rossetti decided to return to La Spezia, where, under his leadership, a lightweight version of diving equipment was developed, and on May 31 brought the “Leech” to the final tests - she performed the “run” on 8 kilometers, showing quite good results.

Rossetti’s partner was a young naval doctor, Lieutenant Raphael Paolucci, who in February 1918 offered himself as a volunteer to participate in the sabotage raid in Paul to undermine one of the Radetsky type battleships there. Paolucci believed that the easiest way to get into the base was alone: ​​where the guard was able to detect a boat or a submarine, she could easily miss one swimmer. After examining in detail the area’s lot, he came to the conclusion that if he was brought close to the GMSB, he would have to independently travel about 2 – 3 kilometers. A swimmer intended to take a special mine of his own design, which was a torpedo-shaped disc about a meter long and about five centimeters in diameter, supported on the surface of the water with two inflatable cylinders and loaded with an explosive charge (TNT) weighing 220 pounds (about 99,8 kilograms). Mina was supplied with a clockwork explosion.

“Then I will come back in the same way,” Paoluchchi later recalled, as the command was persuading, “I’ll overcome all the barriers again and I’ll expect the results of the explosion outside. When this happens, I will sail further to the open sea, and turning my back to the enemy, I will turn on a small electric torch to show the boat waiting for me where I am. ”

For several months, the medical lieutenant, acting on his own initiative, was preparing for the mission, arranging swims in the Venice harbor at night, and eventually achieved what he could without a distance to overcome a distance of five miles, i.e., 3 – 4 times larger than required by the plan. As a simulator of mines, he used a tank with water 300 pounds (136 kilograms) in swims. In May, 1918, Paoluchchi reported on his plan to the immediate superior, and he advised to continue training. And in July, the lieutenant met his namesake - Rafael Rossetti, who in the meantime was trying to “tame” his “Leech”.

Drove the officers together to Constanzo Ziano, he is credited with such words: “Paoluchchi, end your night heats and solve the problem with Rossetti, and you, Rossetti, stop your solo trips and unite with Paolucci. That's it, here we have a team! ”

True, the first exit to the sea on the “Leech” of a friend ended in failure for Paolyuchchi: the device overturned, the driver found himself in a “submerged” state and almost choked. Raphael was rescued by a miracle, a tug boat was near, the crew of which pulled the cable onto the torpedo carrier and pulled it along with the lieutenant from the water. In fact, “Minyatta” was not yet finalized, but Konstanzo Cyano, appointed head of the “operation on the attack of the naval base of Paul”, insisted on the immediate implementation of sabotage. In the end, the command demanded “to attack Paul regardless of the readiness of the apparatus” on the first suitable night of November - by that time Rossetti already had two Leeches - S-1 and S-2. Having received an order to return to Venice, he 25 October 1918, the last test test: volunteers came out on the Minyatta from the harbor of the naval arsenal and successfully "blew up" the ship, anchored in the Grand Venetian Canal in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute. The decisive moment was coming ...

Through obstacles to the goal

In the evening of October 31 1918, a torpedo cutter MAS 95 of type “A” equipped with two five-power electric motors of a silent course and a “PN” type destroyer 65PN carrying the S-2 GPN on the deck came out on a course heading for Paul. The operation was headed by Konstanzo Ziano himself. Not far from the Brijuni Islands, the Leech was launched, MAS 95 took it in tow and delivered one kilometer from the barriers at the harbor entrance, and in 22 hours 13 minutes (according to other data - in 22 hours 20 minutes) she reached the first line of defense of the enemy.

In general, the situation favored the Italians. First, the weather was “real sabotage” - a dark, moonless night and drizzling rain. Secondly, still 30 of October, the emperor of Austria-Hungary, Charles I, refused to continue to lead the armed forces of the collapsing state and transferred the Navy under the control of the Yugoslav Committee, which took possession of the fortress of Paul and ships. In 16 hours 45 minutes the next day, Admiral Miklos Horthy left the flagship - the battleship Viribus Unitis, resigning as commander of the Austro-Hungarian fleet, and in the evening the imperial flag was lowered on the ship for the last time. Linenshifskapitan (captain of 1 rank) Janko Vukovich de Podkapelski, a Croat by nationality, took command of the Navy and the base. And along with Horthy, most of the officers of Austrian and Hungarian origin left the ships, mostly lower ranks remained on board, which immediately affected - not for the better - the nature of the watch and patrol duty. And in general, sailors have already begun to celebrate the onset of a long-awaited peace. It was then that Rossetti and Paoluchchi “arrived”, which, according to Italian historians, did not know anything about the change of command and the beginning of peace talks.

Reaching the first protective barrier, Rossetti and Paolucci found that it consists of a multitude of empty metal cylinders three yards long each, connected together by heavy metal cables. After waiting a little, the swimmers slipped into the water and then began dragging the "Leech" through the ropes, fearing the sound of a torpedo carrier scratching the steel of the carrier did not attract the attention of the enemy.

“As soon as we passed the barrier,” Paolucci later wrote in the article “The Fate of Viribus Unitis,” published in 1919 in New York’s 105 No. The Fortnightly Review, “I felt a touch on my hand. Turning around, I saw Rossetti pointing to the side - there was a dark silhouette coming straight at us. ” It was an enemy submarine, marching without lights in a positional position. After a moment, the submarine passed the saboteurs and headed for the Adriatic Sea. Then Rossetti started the engine and sent the "Leech" in the direction of the breakwater at the very entrance to the internal base raid. While Rossetti kept the device in his shadow, Paoluchchi swam a little bit forward to look for the most convenient way further. However, a rather unpleasant surprise awaited him - behind the breakwater there was a gate made of heavy logs knocked down with long steel nails. Paolucci reported on the obstacle Rossetti, but he decided to go further, using the tide. Soon he was replaced by ebb and saboteurs had to make more effort, in addition poured cold rain with hail mixed. Finally, the Italians managed to drag the “Minyatta” and through a new obstacle, now the last one. It was two o'clock in the morning, so after spending a few hours in the water, the saboteurs could only get to the Austrian duty ship, who appeared right behind the gate.

But Rossetti and Paoluchchi were waiting for another test: they discovered networks stretched across the channel with explosive charges mounted on them - in order to prevent enemy submarines from breaking into the harbor. However, the stubborn Italians successfully overcame this obstacle. The time approached three o'clock at night, but now between the saboteurs and the armored giants of the enemy remained almost clear water space, occasionally intersected by beams of searchlights.

Passing between two columns of well-lit ships, the Italians in 4 hours 30 minutes (according to other sources - in 4 hours 50 minutes) approached the left side of the battleship Viribus Unitis. The largest warship was the closest to the shore, but almost reaching it, Rossetti and Paolucci unexpectedly began to sink. It turned out that because of the failed nasal air valve, the seawater enters the apparatus. It was necessary to maintain the buoyancy of the "leeches" by tapping the compressed air from the cylinders, so that it could not be enough for the way back. Eliminating the malfunction, the saboteurs took refuge in the shadow of the battleship and took a few minutes to breathe. “Of all our troubles, this was the most serious,” Paoluchchi later recalled.

Then Rossetti noticed a boat prepared for launching and walked around the ship from the other side, attached a mine to its bottom - in the 4 and 5 X-mm 150-guns area, setting the fuse clock mechanism to 6 hours 30 minutes - and returned to the Leech, intending leave the base. However, the top watch discovered saboteurs. The homemade camouflage for floating bushes and a bunch of leaves did not help them to hide. Seeing the boat sent to the battleship approaching them, Rossetti and Paolucci set a timer on the second mine, slipped into the water, pushed their torpedo, and waited for them to be taken prisoner.

Effects of the operation

Both Italians were dragged out of the water and delivered ... to the Viribus Unitis. There Rossetti and Paoluchchi, whom they met quite friendly - almost like friends, learned about the change of power in Pol. The saboteurs who appeared before the commander of the battleship and fleet commander Yanko Vukovich de Podkapielski, first identified themselves as crashed pilots of an Italian reconnaissance aircraft, but then, realizing that they were about to take off from the explosion of their “hellish machine”, they said saboteurs dropped from the plane and they managed to mine Viribus Unitis. True, Rossetti did not share the details of the operation. But de Podkapelsky and what he heard was quite enough - he immediately ordered the crew to leave the battleship: “Save yourself! The Italians set bombs on the ship! ”

Rossetti and Paoluchchi, without hesitation for a long time and asking for permission from de Podkapelski, also jumped overboard. Later they were picked up by a boat, lowered from the same type battleship "Tegethof". However, the explosion did not thunder at the scheduled time and the saboteurs who had been chilled were returned back to Viribus Unitis, whose bathing crew had met the captives not so good-naturedly. Yes, and de Podkapelski himself was not at all delighted with the autumn swimming in the early morning. With Rossetti and Paoluchchi ripped insignia. The participants shouted that they had been deceived, they demanded to show where the mines were laid, in general, a little bit more - and they would not have succeeded in avoiding molestation. And the boats continued circling around the battleship with those who jumped overboard, but did not yet know whether to row to the shore or not to believe the Italians and to return to the ship.

But in 6 hours 44 minutes the hull of an armored giant shuddered, a huge column of water shot up and poured over the deck of the Viribus Unitis, which in a matter of minutes received an 20 degrees roll to starboard. Rossetti and Paoluchchi again asked permission from De Podkapelsky to leave the ship, although someone suggested locking saboteurs in the hold of a sinking battleship, giving them the opportunity to “enjoy” the fruits of their work. However, it was unlikely that they would have had time to deal with prisoners in this way: after a quarter of an hour, the Viribus Unitis overturned and sank. The Italians were able to correctly identify its most vulnerable spot - the 150-mm guns detonated an ammunition cellar.

And what about the "leech"? In the confusion, everything was forgotten about it, but it did not disappear anywhere - it flowed and swept up to the ship “Vienna” with a displacement of gross registered tons of 7376, which was used as a floating base of a German submarine. The second mine left by Rossetti on the GPN worked at the ship’s side. As a result of the explosion, the "Vienna" sank, sowing on an even keel (according to other sources, the steamer received damage to the bow, but did not sink).

The exact number of victims of sabotage is still unknown. It is believed that the order of 300 – 400 people. One thing is for sure - the commander of the Viribus Unitis did not survive his ship: the Italians and many others saw how at first de Podkapelski was on the upper deck of a sinking battleship, and then tried to sail to the shore. At this moment, the captain of the 1 rank rang a beam on the head ...

As for Rossetti and Paoluchchi, they were first kept on the old battleship Hapsburg, in February 1918, reclassified into a training ship, and then used in the Field as a floating prison. After some time, they were transferred to the Radetsky battleship, where they remained until November 5 1918, when the Italian troops occupied Paul: according to the terms of the signed truce, the city was ceded to Italy.

Literally immediately after the release of Colonel Rossetti of the engineering service, submitted to this rank as 1 November 1918, and Paolucci, who was promoted to captain, was awarded the Gold Medal for military merit. Got her and Constanzo Ziano. Additionally, a special decree was signed, according to which three officers were awarded a cash bonus - a total of 1,3 million lire in gold. However, Rossetti’s prospect of sharing this amount with Cyano genuinely outraged, and after lengthy discussions, he nevertheless achieved that the money went only to him and Paolyuchchi - according to 650 thousand. But Luigi Martignoni, the author of the idea embodied then by Rossetti, was probably not mentioned in any way. At least the author could not find in any of the sources anything intelligible on this issue.

But what is most striking is that Rossetti and Paoluchchi gave part of their premium to the first widow of Janko Vukovich de Podkapielski, and then it was decided to distribute this money among the widows of sailors who died in the Viribus Unitis explosion ...
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  1. shurup
    shurup 25 March 2013 10: 44
    Success was repeated in World War II. This time the British suffered. I hope that the author will tell about this.
    1. AK-47
      AK-47 25 March 2013 22: 41
      Quote: shurup
      Success was repeated in World War II.

      Quote: Rusik.S
      read about the German unit "K", I hope they will tell about it

      I propose to read.
      "Submarine saboteurs in World War II"
      Year of release of 2002
      The author is Borghese J., Becker K.
      AST Publishing House
      Description: The first book, Sea Devils, talks about the creation of special units, the development and use of assault weapons in Italy. Its author is a legendary person, the "black prince" Junio ​​Valerio Borghese, who led the Italian group of subversive submariners. The second book, German Maritime Saboteurs, by Kayus Becker, is devoted to the activities of the K subunits - sabotage and assault formations of the German Navy.

      Well, very interesting.
      You can easily find it on the Internet in electronic form.
  2. Iraclius
    Iraclius 25 March 2013 11: 49
    The article is interesting. Such enthusiasts and patriots of their country as Rosseti need to be cultivated.
    In all honesty, the names of Italian inventors have worried my heart all my life, because they are tightly tied with the name of Otto Skorzeny and the "black prince" Valerio Borghese. Researchers associate the name of the latter with the death of our Soviet battleship Novorossiysk. The version, of course, has not been proven, but it has not been refuted either. It is a fact that on the eve of the explosion, Italian ships left the waters of Sevastopol.
    My grandfather served on that battleship.
    Here is such a fate of the sea mysterious ligature ...
  3. Rusik.S
    Rusik.S 25 March 2013 13: 20
    read about the German unit "K", I hope they will tell about it
  4. Drosselmeyer
    Drosselmeyer 25 March 2013 15: 42
    These people, literally on themselves, pulled the honor of the Italian navy in two wars.
  5. Alex
    Alex 2 September 2013 19: 21
    The irony of fate: in no world wars did the giant Italian battleships do even a hundredth of what the little "leeches" and "frog people" of the IAS flotilla did. It was worth spending the money.