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Giovanni Zamparelli, 20 years old, was a cadet onboard Cristoforo Colombo, attending the second year at the Livorno Naval Academy. I think his diary gives a good perspective of the confusion that reigned in the troubled days after the armistice.
Since its foundation in 1881, the Academy has always had its seat in Livorno, but in the summer of 1943, after Livorno had been heavily bombed, it had been temporarily moved to Venice. At the time of the proclamation of the armistice, Amerigo Vespucci and Cristoforo Colombo, which formed the Training Ship Group together with Palinuro, were carrying out a training cruise in the northern Adriatic Sea.
“Trieste, Wednesday, 8 September 1943
*Today, finally, after two days of sailing, we were supposed to remain in port; everyone, indeed, thought that they would enjoy a full shore leave. Life on board went on as usual until 10:00, when there was an air raid alert. But after an hour all ended without anything extraordinary [happening]. At 15:00, suddenly, the news spread: it seems that we are leaving. The news reach me [while I am] in my cot: I am still half asleep and I refuse to go, but the assembly calls me back to reality. It is true indeed, we are leaving and hastily, too. We throw a glance around in the port and we see that all the steamers have their engines under pressure and and are preparing to depart. At 16:00 we too set sail, followed by Vespucci and Palinuro [another sail training ship, formerly the Yugoslav Vila Velebita, captured in 1941. Not to be confused with the current Palinuro, which is a different ship]. We know nothing about the reason of our departure, much less about our destination. Some say that this morning, during the air raid alert, a reconnaissance aircraft photographed the harbour and that we are leaving to escape a possible air raid. But nothing is certain and a certain commotion reigns onboard. The four hospital ships that had been in Trieste for two days sail at our side in line ahead, but they soon leave, steaming (apparently) towards Venice. We are following the Istrian coast and now it seems certain that we will go to Pola. We are escorted by two MAS and one aircraft. By now nobody makes questions anymore and everybody is calm when suddenly news spread onboard about the amistice. A seaman runs towards the forecastle, loudly calling his mates; small crowds form and the news spread in the blink of an eye. 20:30 Now the radio transmitted Badoglio’s proclamation. Italy, having acknowledged the impossibility of resisting the enemy’s superpower, has sent a request of armistice to the English [sic] command. The terms have been accepted, therefore all resistance on every front ceases from this moment; on the other side the government pledges to resist enemy infiltration of foreign powers. The news seem unbelievable. We hear excited voices and even some screams of joy by some irresponsible people. The commanding officer gathers us all in the forecastle. He is moved and outraged. He speaks hastily, a bit excitedly. He attacks those idiots who yelled and finally urges us to stay united in this moment more than ever. By now, onboard, a stifling silence reigns everywhere; few men still feel the need to discuss, everyone withdraw into themselves to think. I look beyond the ship’s side and think. The moon shines unperturbed above us. A man next to me seems to be weeping, but I am not sure, nor do I turn to look at him, I feel the need to remain alone to think and fret my soul. The voyage continues, without anything new or important [happening]. At 24:00 we enter the harbour of Pola. (…) Finally at 2:00 we are moored at a buoy and everybody goes to bed. I am on guard duty amidships and therefore I have to stay up till 4:00. I am alone and I start thinking about the rumors that circulated aboard today. Among other things, they said that the Germans have occupied Trieste, and there are even some [men] who stated they had seen smoke when we sailed away from Trieste. Is this true? What will they think of me at home? At 4:00 I finally go to sleep. I feel extremely tired: as soon as I reach the wardroom I lay down, but I cannot fall asleep. Too many things happened today*.
Thursday, 9 September 1943.
I get up at 6:00, as usual. Now I feel sleepy and I’d like to sleep. As soon as possible, I go up on deck; the weather [sky?] above us is grey, with low-lying mist. The weather, I feel, makes the atmosphere reigning onboard even gloomier: it is the famous awakening after a catastrophe. It seems to me that the sadness is ever greater than yesterday: at this point everyone has had the time to reflect about the seriousness and irreparabilità of the situation. Even those who yesterday were screaming, I think, are now sad. Some say that we will soon leave again. We are at the buoy at the entrance of Pola harbour. Inside the port we can see a battleship, the Giulio Cesare, and a destroyer; their engines are under pressure and they are ready to depart. (…) Around 9:30 we set sail, but it’s not very clear what is our destination: some say it is Kotor. I have been told that on the register it has been written: The training campaign for the cadets of the Royal Naval Academy ends today, wartime sailing now begins.
Friday, 10 September 1943.
*We sailed all night with course south-east, towards Cattaro. At 7:15 we spot an Italian submarine, far away. At 8:00 another submarine, nationality unknown, is spotted, but it soon disappears over the horizon. Palinuro is always towed by Vespucci (…) There are always those who want to yap, and they would suggest to scuttle Palinuro and abandon her in the middle of the sea. Who knows, perhaps they are nervous and they fear that they aren’t fleeing fast enough. Palinuro emits some smoke every now and then, and finally around 12:00 she is again able to sail on her own. At 12:30 we are roughly off San Benedetto del Tronto. 13:00: signals from Vespucci. News immediately spread aboard that we cannot go to Kotor because the Germans are there. We reverse course and sail towards Ancona, as our commander had been suggesting for a long time. Palinuro with Commander Giudice carries on along the previous course and soon disappears, emitting smoke and with all sails set. What will she do? Where will she go? We also know that she has little food aboard. We are now off Fiume. By now, we have reversed course twice in a short time. Nobody knows if we should go north or south. We are indecision personified. It seems to me that there is not enough courage to make a decision and that we are just buying time. Perhaps it is right [to do so]: we are waiting for some message [with orders/clarification]. But they are now saying that Rome is no longer broadcasting. It seems to me that someone onboard is nervous. I am extraordinarily calm; in fact, this feeling of adventure almost does not displease me. 17:40: a submarine of unknown nationality is sighted. The submarine makes a sharp turn towards us; we alter course to get away. A merchant ship that is nearby turns away at full speed to escape. 18:40: the submarine is recognized as Italian, it’s the Ametista. Vespucci stops her engines and the submarines comes alongside her, it seems to me that we [too] are stopping. 19:15: the commander goes back on board and the submarine gets in motion again. The crew is lined up on deck. “At attention” is sounded, and onboard and from the submarine echoes the cry: “Long live the king!”. Ametista sails away amid a waving of caps, alone on the vast sea in the indecision of the moment. We are all a bit moved. I now learn that Rome has been occupied by the Germans. How will my parents be doing? What will they do? The stewards are beastly nervous; some tables had to serve themselves; our [steward] did not eat and ceded us his portion. Better this way. They say that they have been told that the Academy has been disbanded and they are all desperate. 20:00: we are sailing towards Ancona. 24:00: I am on guard duty at the engine order telegraph. (…) Sixty miles to Ancona.*
What are they training for exactly? My ADD wont allow me to read all that
Fun fact, the name America comes from Amerigo Vespucci, since he was the one who proved that America was a separate continent and not part of Asia, which is what Columbus believed.
those ships look over a hundred years late to the party