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Lieutenant Commander Salvatore Todaro, in command of *Comandante Cappellini*, had a rather unique personality, and became known for his chivalrious attitude towards the crews of the ships that he sank.
On 16 October 1940 *Comandante Cappellini*, on patrol in the Atlantic, met a Belgian steamer, *Kabalo* (en route from Glasgow to Freetown with a cargo of aircraft and spare parts), about 700 miles northwest of Madeira. *Cappellini* pursued *Kabalo* and engaged her with her deck guns; *Kabalo*, being also armed, returned fire, but the merchant’s gunfire was ineffectual, and ceased after some time. *Cappellini* instead scored multiple hits, brought the ship to a halt and set her afire, then fired three torpedoes in succession to finish her off, but all the torpedoes passed beneath the target’s hull without exploding, perhaps due to the rough seas. The submarine then resumed fire with her deck guns, until the target sank. One crewman from *Kabalo* was killed in the action, the others abandoned ship. After the action was over, *Cappellini* began searching the area with a small searchlight; after a short time five survivors were found in the water, near a capsized dinghy, and were taken aboard. They were drenched wet and freezing, and Todaro gave his jacket to one of them, *Kabalo*’s third mate, who was shivering with cold. Then, *Cappellini* located a lifeboat with 21 survivors, including *Kabalo*’s master Georges Vogels; two badly wounded men were transferred to the submarine, while the five survivors rescued earlier were sent to the lifeboat with the others. The submarine then departed to look for the second lifeboat, but after several hours learned that it had already been found by a neutral steamer, so she went back to the other boat and took it in tow. The weather became increasingly rough, and the towing cable snapped multiple times; every time a new line was fitted, but in the afternoon of 17 October the lifeboat began to give in and to take on water, and Todaro resolved to take all its 24 occupants aboard the submarine and land them in neutral territory in the Azores. He did so (lacking space elsewhere, they were housed in the conning tower except for capitan Vogels, who was hosted in the wardroom), and on 19 October, after sailing 750 miles from the steamer’s sinking position, *Cappellini* landed *Kabalo*’s survivors in Santa Maria Island, after which she resumed her patrol. This incident had some resonance in the neutral press, especially in Portugal, and in November 1940 an anonymous sender sent a letter from Lisbon, written in French, to the Italian Navy Ministry, addressed to Todaro. The author said: “…there is a barbarous kind of heroism and another kind in front of which the soul kneels: this is yours”. This episode also added to his nicknames: “the gentleman of the sea” or, less praisingly, “the Don Quixote of the sea” by those who thought that his humanitarian efforts were a waste of time in a war like that, potentially endangering the submarine.
In [this older post](https://www.reddit.com/r/WarshipPorn/comments/9lm1gy/survivors_from_the_belgian_steamer_kabalo_sunk_in/) on /r/warshipporn I wrote some more about *Cappellini*’s actions and the story of Salvatore Todaro.
(Photo credits: E. Bagnasco-M. Brescia, *I sommergibili italiani 1940-1943*)