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From 1940 to 1943, Naples was the main port of departure for Axis supply convoys bound for North Africa, and as such was heavily bombed by the Allied air forces, suffering well more than a hundred air raids. By the time the Allies entered the city in early October 1943, Naples had become a major naval graveyard, with more than twenty large wrecks laying in the harbour, most of them sunk by these raids with some more scuttled by the German troops before retreating from Naples. Among them the light cruiser Muzio Attendolo, the destroyer escorts/large torpedo boats Monsone, Pallade and Partenope, the old WWI destroyer Giuseppe La Masa (also downrated to torpedo boat), the minelayer Vieste, the hospital ship Sicilia, the liner Lombardia, the merchant ships Bari, Caserta, Catania, Caterina Costa, Città di Bengasi, Enna, Lecce, Modica, Sant’Agata, Siculo, Sileno, Silvano, Tivoli and Villarosa, the tanker Carnaro, and countless smaller coasters, tug boats and sailing vessels.
The three ships in this picture are, left to right, Villarosa (sunk by air raid on 4 September 1943), Catania (sunk after being badly damaged by an air raid on 4 August 1943) and Sicilia (sunk by air raid on 4 April 1943).
Sottocapo (Leading Seaman) Alberto Arcene describes in his memoirs the situation in the early summer of 1943: “…one morning they summoned me to the orderly room: I had been assigned to the Naples submarine chaser flotilla. (…) The first submarine chaser was ready – the first of the flotilla. (…) After a disastrous voyage, I reached Naples in the evening. I showed up at the anti-submarine personnel’s barracks near the harbour station, where I saw only a sentry and the petty officer of the watch. The others were in the nearby tunnel, used as an air raid shelter. The petty officer advised me to go with them. It was better to sleep in the tunnel, the bombers came every night. “What kind of music, you’ll hear!” I reached the tunnel and I clumped with civilians and sailors, in a disgusting medley. There were people who had been living in there for months. What a stench! A heterogeneous mixture of smells of food and intimacy, unwashed people, sweat, cooker smoke, piss, roasted fish. Never seen so much filth. Poor Naples, mangled, brutalized, look what they did to you! (…) Next morning, I went again to the anti-submarine personnel’s barracks, filled with so much nausea that I did not drink that little coffee which the chief yeoman had benevolently offered me. I asked him for information about how and where should I settle in and what would be my task. He silently led me outside, beyond the small gate, and pointed to a wreck. “Look, that is your submarine chaser. Last night!” He suggested me to leave, to go back to La Spezia. “Go back to a safer place while you can, it is hell here. Leave! I’ll prepare your documents; there’s a train leaving from Mergellina at noon. Take it””.
(Photo credits, Naval History and Heritage Command).