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Affondamento del sommergibile Guglielmo Marconi (Oct 1941)


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I was reading the very interesting article by our good friend Francesco Mattesini "LE OPERAZIONI IN ATLANTICO DEI SOMMERGIBILI ITALIANI E TEDESCHI CONTRO IL CONVOGLIO BRITANNICO “HG.75 - LA CAUSA DELL’AFFONDAMENTO DEL SOMMERGIBILE GUGLIELMO MARCONI” published in Academia.edu.

 

First I would like to convey my congratulations for an excellent article which I recommend highly to anyone interested in submarine operations. Complimenti Franco!

 

This story has long interested me and as some of the readers may know, I have long been interested in Italian submarine operations and hope one day to publish something in the English language as their stories have been too much neglected outside Italy!

 

I have noted a little error which may explain the origin of the mystery and why there was a reluctance for some time to assign the loss of the submarine to the action of HMS Duncan.

 

On page 42 of the article, the last signal of Marconi is cited: "Agito in immersione sottoquadratino 86 del quadratino di posizione n. 7171”, corrispondente alla lat. 42°55'N, long. 21°55'W.

 

The first error is sottoquadratino 86, which is a typo as the correct number in the original text is sottoquadratino 66. Sottoquadratino 86 did not exist in the Italian Grid System. The Quadratino was divided in 6 x 6 sections numbered 11 to 16, 21 to 26, etc. the last and highest number of the sottoquadratino being 66.

 

The position of 42°55' N, 21°55' W is in fact an error which comes from page 2 of: "Relazione d’Inchiesta della C.I.S. relativa alla perdita del sommergibile MARCONI in Atlantico nell’ottobre del 1941" (Archivio 37, Sommergibile Cartella 71, AUSMM). The correct position is 41°55' N, 21°55' W (not 42° 55' N). Quadratino 7171 was 41° N, 21° W (the first pair representing the latitude and the second pair the longitude). Correct Quadratino for 42° N, 21° W was 3371  (check the reports by Barbarigo and Archimede and the positions of the Quadratino is clear when you compare them in the signals). It was an easy error to make in translating the Quadratino. 

 

Once the last signal is correctly deciphered and the position 41°55' N, 21°55' W given, everything becomes clear: Marconi was trailing the convoy moving northward and was observed a short time later by HMS Duncan which had turned back (moving southward) and gave the position of the attack as 41°57' N, 21°56' W which is very close to the position Marconi was. When the attack was analysed postwar, historians were misled by the error in translating the Quadratino as the position of 42°55' N, 21°55' W was too far north from HMS Duncan giving doubt to the veracity of the claim.

 

I hope this clears up this little detail.

 

Platon

 

 

 

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 Grazie mille Platon,

 

dovrò controllare dove sta l'errore sui vari documenti.

 

Comunque la tua informazione mi serve per correzione sul mio libro di "BETASOM. LA GUERRA NEGLI ABISSI", che la Marina, e non per colpa di chi all'Ufficio Storicdo aveva ordinato il lavoro, lo ha rifiutato senza vergonarsi di non saldare l'Autore. E questo dopo averlo fatto lavorare per due anni, assieme ad un maresciallo del Comando Squadra Navale che ha ribattuto al computer tutto il libro..E sono ben 900 pagine.

 

Franco

Edited by Francesco Mattesini
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Caro Franco,

 

I have of course your Betasom book which is the definitive history of Italian submarines in the Atlantic. One would have wished that it would be translated into English as readers outside of Italy know very little of Italian submarine operations! I have a few additional comments on your Marconi article:

 

I noted the experience of Italian submarine commanders in the battle for convoy HG 75:

 

C.C. Livio Piomarta (Guglielmo Marconi). He had previously been in command of Ferraris and carried 13 short patrols from Massawa in the Red Sea and carried out two unsuccessful attacks before bringing his submarine to Bordeaux after the very successful circumnavigation of Africa. This was his first Atlantic patrol.

 

C.C. Marino Salvatori (Archimede). He had eight Mediterranean patrols (one as C.O. of H.6, seven in command of Diaspro, not a single torpedo was fired). In January 1941, he was posted in command of Archimede at Massawa and made also the circumnavigation of Africa but his experience of offensive patrols in the Atlantic was nil as Archimede had only carried out a short antisubmarine patrol from Bordeaux (2-7 Sep 1941).

 

C.C. Enzo Grossi (Agostino Barbarigo). He had carried out six Mediterranean patrols (all in command of Medusa (not a single torpedo fired) and after carrying out several exercise sorties with Medusa and Tito Speri, he took over Barbarigo in August 1941 and this was his first Atlantic patrol.

 

T.V. Filippo Flores (Galileo Ferraris). He had been briefly in charge of Mocenigo at La Spezia (1-21 Sep 1941) but this was his first operational command and first offensive patrol.

 

A few observations:

 

Although three of the four submarine commanders were experienced with a total of 26 patrols between them, most of these were uneventful as there was little British traffic in the Mediterranean Theatre and opportunities for attacks were rare. None of the four Italian submarine commanders had made an offensive patrol against an Atlantic convoy.

 

This lack of experience was noted by Comandante Paladini (cited on page 34 of the article) and addressed to C.C. Salvatori of Archimede but could equally be directed to the three other commanders. To send them against a heavily defended convoy from Gibraltar to the UK was perhaps to expect too much of them on their first sortie. German U-boat commanders wrote that they did not like operating against these convoys and preferred Mid-Atlantic operations. 

 

In his analysis of the battle, C.V. Polacchini (cited on page 53 of the article) noted various shortcomings of his commanders but missed an important one: his own. Polacchini tried to exert a tight control of the battle from Bordeaux by ordering his submarines to various positions every few hours. This was a mistake, he ought to have limited himself to supply his submarines with the position of the convoy as signalled by other submarines or by air reconnaissance and let them decide what was the best course to intercept it. Polacchini was not on the spot and could not appreciate the difficulties encountered by his submarines in the bad weather. They wasted time trying to obey orders which were often futile considering the ever-changing situation.

 

It is also true that Admiral Dönitz does not appear to have easily accepted the help of his Italian allies. I believe the establishment of Betasom was forced upon him by Admiral Raeder. Perhaps, he feared that the Italian Submarine Fleet, more numerous than his own in 1940, might have forced him in a subaltern role during the battle of the Atlantic.

 

The battle of convoy HG.75 had a decisive influence as it signalled the end of Italian submarines against enemy convoys in the Atlantic. With experience, they could yield good results, see for example Marconi’s patrol under T.V. Pollina. In retrospect, the decision to redeploy them to the South Atlantic may have been premature and one can regret that their intervention in the North Atlantic was abandoned so quickly.

 

My observations may be faulty and you and other readers in this forum may point out errors in my reasoning, but I welcome a discussion.

 

All the best,

 

Platon

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As you well know, Doenitz was also very reluctant to send his U-Boats into the Mediterranean, and had to be prevailed by Hitler to do so. He probably considered the North Atlantic as  "the battle to end all battles", his own preserve to be kept free of outsiders. In a way of speaking this was the same attitude  of Admiral King (not a particular friend of Britain, as we all know), who  did not want the Royal Navy in the Pacific, and only consented to  the deployment of the British Pacific Fleet at Okinawa on condition that it took care of its own supplies (just like Hitler did as regards Betasom)  - and that it was relegated to a clear  sideshow as the choice of  its theatre of operations, to keep down the Sakishima Gunto archipelago. You should also consider that  when the BPF was absent from   operations while refuelling (a lengthy process, by the way), it was replaced by a single Task Group made up not with fleet carriers like the BPF was but with US escort carriers - which alone says a lot about the consideration in which  the US Navy held the BPF...

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Dear Francesco,

 

Many thanks for your insightful comments with which I agree wholeheartedly. On the other hand, I do not know what the British thought about US submarines in the Atlantic Theatre where they had a lacklustre performance. They kept their opinion very discreetly to themselves!

 

All the best,

 

Platon

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 Cari Platon e Francesco,

.

 

conoscete il mio Betasom - La guerra negli oceani,e anche io sono in sintoinia con le vostre osservazioni.

 

La mia terza edizioni, di cui due editori si sono già offerti di stampare, e parecchio integrata con le azioni contro navi, riprese in buona parte dall'eccellente uboiat.net, ma anche da altre fonti per particolari più approfonditi.

 

Attualmente é in Stampa l'Operazione Westindien", che é stata riveduta rispetto a quella postata in acedemia.edu.

 

Il titolo é stato cambiato in::

 

L'ATTACCO DEI SOMMERGIBILI TEDESCHI E ITALIANI NEI MARI DELLE INDIE OCCIDENTALI (FEBBRAIO - APRILE 1942)

                                                                                  OPERAZIONE WESTINDIEN

 

Cordialmente

 

Franco

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Caro Franco,

 

I have always read with great interest your articles published in academia.edu and your books published at the Ufficio Storico and your article of submarine operations in the Western Hemisphere is equally excellent. Readers of these lines may also note the equally interesting works by my friend Eric Wiberg ("U-boat in the Bahamas", "U-boats off Bermuda" and "U-boats off New England").

 

I have been toying for sometime with the idea of publishing the histories of Italian submarines in WW2 on uboat.net but this will require quite a bit time an efforts. I am sure that Italian readers will quickly point out my many mistakes!

 

Cordialmente,

 

Platon

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Dear Francesco,

 

Many thanks for your insightful comments with which I agree wholeheartedly. On the other hand, I do not know what the British thought about US submarines in the Atlantic Theatre where they had a lacklustre performance. They kept their opinion very discreetly to themselves!

 

All the best,

 

Platon[/quote

 

If I remember right, a US submarine sank by mistake a Spanish merchant ship in the Atlantic, with the unavoidable diplomatic follow-on.

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Caro Franco,

 

I have always read with great interest your articles published in academia.edu and your books published at the Ufficio Storico and your article of submarine operations in the Western Hemisphere is equally excellent. Readers of these lines may also note the equally interesting works by my friend Eric Wiberg ("U-boat in the Bahamas", "U-boats off Bermuda" and "U-boats off New England").

 

I have been toying for sometime with the idea of publishing the histories of Italian submarines in WW2 on uboat.net but this will require quite a bit time an efforts. I am sure that Italian readers will quickly point out my many mistakes!

 

Cordialmente,

 

Platon

 

I have the book "U-Boats in the Bahamas" and I enjoyed it.

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If I remember right, a US submarine sank by mistake a Spanish merchant ship in the Atlantic, with the unavoidable diplomatic follow-on.

Dear Francesco,

 

You are quite correct in citing this incident. This was the the torpedoing of the Spanish CAMPOMANES (6276 GRT, 1932) by the submarine USS BARB (SS-220) on 26 December 1942. She was on passage from Bilbao to Aruba but was not sunk and managed to reach Vigo. The incident was very embarrassing and was hushed up for many years (I seem to remember that in the 70s the identity of the culprit was still being discussed!).

 

At the time, CAMPOMANES was outside Spanish territorial waters but also outside the "Sink on Sight" zone so the British Naval Attaché in Madrid was instructed to say that no British submarine was in the area (which was true but this was of course a half-truth!). It was hoped that the incident could be pinned on a German submarine.

 

American submarines were judged too large to operate in the Mediterranean and their disappointing performance in the Atlantic led to their withdrawal (except for training in the Western Hemisphere). They had, of course, an excellent performance in the Pacific where they were more suitably employed and which shows that one has to have some patience toward submariners as they need a period to get adapted to their surroundings. A period which Doenitz did not seem ready to give to Italian submariners. He was not alone: as First Lord, Churchill was not satisfied with the performance of British submarines during the first months of the war and wanted a more aggressive submarine campaign. He had Rear-Admiral Watson removed and replaced by Max Horton in January 1940, with the result that three submarines were lost within a few days. Luckily, by the time of the Norwegian Campaign, British submarines were more accustomed in operating in enemy waters in the North Sea and delivered the most severe blows to German shipping than the RAF or the Royal Navy surface forces.

 

My best wishes,

 

Platon

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Caro Platon,

 

ti ringrazio per gli elogi, anche forse non li merito tutti, in quanto errori, in buona fede, né ho fatti.

 

Per il libro "U-Boats in the Bahamas", ne ero già a conoscenza, e l'ho cobntrollato nel fare il WESTINDIEN in quanto si trova in Internet. Ma é anxche mia intenzione acquistarlo in AMAZON.

 

Cordialmente

 

Franco

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The modern motor-tanker CAMPOMANES, 6.276 grt and 8.397 dwt/March 1932  of CAMPSA (Compania Arrendataria del Monopolio de Petròleos S.A.), built by SECN at Matagorda, port of registry Cadiz,  was in the Frente Popular area on July 18,  1936, so she made trips to Russia before being sunk by five Nationalist (Italian) S 79s at Valencia on 15 August 1938. She was refloated in the same year and fell into Nationalist hands when Valencia was taken on 29 March, 1939. So her December 1942 torpedoeing off Cape Finisterre  was not her first misadventure, so to speak...

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