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At the beginning of World War II, Ugolino Vivaldi, a large Navigatori-class destroyer built in 1930, was the flagship of the 14th Destroyer Squadron, which included her sisterships Antonio Da Noli, Leone Pancaldo, and Lanzerotto Malocello.
In the night between 1 and 2 August 1940, less than two months after Italy had entered the war, Vivaldi rammed and sank HMS Oswald. The latter, a Odin-class submarine built in 1929, had sailed from Alexandria on 20 July for her third wartime patrol, under the command of Lieutenant Commander David Alexander Fraser. On 30 July Oswald had unsuccessfully attacked an Italian convoy off Capo dell’Armi (Calabria, near the Straits of Messina), and on 1 August she had radioed a sighting report about an Italian cruiser force she had spotted heading northwards through the Straits of Messina. This report was intercepted by Italian radio direction finders, which were thus able to approximately determine the area where Oswald was operating; as the 14th Destroyer Squadron was scheduled to sail from Augusta (Sicily) to Taranto on that day, and would pass in the vicinity, the Italian naval high command ordered them to carry out an anti-submarine sweep in the area. It was during this sweep that, late in the evening of 1 August, Vivaldi sighted Oswald while the latter was surfaced, recharging batteries: the destroyer immediately turned towards the submarine and increased her speed, in order to ram her; when Oswald in turn sighted Vivaldi, it was already too late to avoid the collision. The collision – and the subsequent explosion of ten depth charges, dropped by Vivaldi immediately afterwards and set to explode just beneath Oswald’s hull – caused heavy damage to Oswald, but did not sink her outright; the damage, however, dislodged one of the two main engines and rendered her unable to submerge, and Fraser quickly realized that trying to fight it out in a surface battle against a destroyer would be suicidal. He therefore ordered the crew to abandon the submarine and to scuttle it. The order was carried out; Oswald sank south-east of Calabria after everyone had jumped into the sea, and Vivaldi rescued 52 of her 55 crew (the other three were never found, they presumably drowned after abandoning the submarine). For this action Vivaldi’s commanding officer, Captain Giovanni Galati, was awarded the first of the five Silver Medals for Military Valor he would earn during the war, and Vivaldi herself was honored with a brief propaganda newsreel where the Fascist commentator, after announcing the destruction of the enemy submarine, lingered on the tattoos worn by the captured British seamen, implying that this showed that the Royal Navy recruited its men among rogues and criminals…
Vivaldi landed the prisoners in Taranto, where they stayed a few days in the local naval hospital before being transferred to the island of Poveglia, in the Venetian Lagoon, where they were housed for a few months in a former psychiatric hospital. In October 1940 they were transferred again, this time to POW Camp no. 78 in Sulmona, Abruzzo, where part of them remained till 8 September 1943, whereas others were moved to other camps in other parts of Italy, including Gavi in Piedmont (POW Camp no. 5), Rezzanello in Veneto (POW Camp no. 17), and Fontanellato in Emilia-Romagna (POW Camp no. 49). Several of Oswald’s crew members attempted to escape during the next three years (Sub-Lieutenant Michael Kyrle-Pope, Oswald’s third officer, made six escape attempts before the summer of 1940 and September 1943; Lieutenant Commander Fraser managed to get near the Swiss border before being shot in the knee and stopped), but all attempts ended in their recapture within a few days. In September 1943, with Italy’s surrender to the Allies, the prisoners were released, but most of them were soon recaptured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war as POWs in Germany; a few instead managed to escape to neutral Switzerland (among them seaman J. E. S. Tooes, who is the third prisoner from left in the photo above). One crewman, Ronald Douglas Elliott, was killed in 1944 during yet another escape attempt. The others were liberated at the end of the war. Lieutenant Commander Fraser, upon his return from captivity, was court-martialled by the Admiralty as his superiors felt that he had given up too quickly. He was reprimanded and sentenced to loss of seniority, a sentence that has been contested by some in recent years (the whole affair is described in detail here).
Well you know what they say: Oswald that ends well
War is hell, especially when you need to be saved by the earlier killer of your shipmates! Bizarre. Great shot though.
"Wot? Italian food again?"
They don’t really seem that irritated. Maybe they’re happy to be alive? Or just putting on a face?
And for you, my friend, the war is
buon appetito Mangiare!