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Below is the direct testimony of the Catalan Commander Gonzaga, embarked with the rank of Ensign on April 15, 1943, subordinate to the retail service withfighting postthe DTA in tower n. 4 medium caliber, where it was at the time of the attack.

The story  inserted in chapter IX of the book "For the honor of the Savoy", which the Commander wrote between 1993 and 1994


Chapter IX.


I ran from the stern to reach my "fighting post". The battleship Roma, at that moment still in line with the other two battleships, the Vittorio Veneto and Italy, was completing its approach to the north. It had not yet struck four o'clock in the afternoon of that 9 September 1943, that time when I would have to replace a colleague in the naval guard service in the great armored tower at the bow. I checked the time on my chronometer which showed, I remember it very well, 11 minutes at 4.00 pm. I decided to go to my "fighting post" instead of to the bridge to stand guard. My "fighting post" was in the "direction of the autonomous fire" of the three-pointed 152 mm mid-caliber tower: No. 4, which was to the left and aft of the ship. It was those only 11 minutes that saved my life.

Having entered that I was in tower n. 4, I settled on the shooting director's seat, after carefully closing all the side armored doors, which had remained unusually open. I left only the one in front of me open, while still being protected by its thick glass. I immediately swung the turret of the direction of the shot towards the sea. I saw the battleship Italia too close to us, but on a retreat course. Its two smokestacks erupted dense blackish smokes that created a strong contrast with the bow, which by opening a deep furrow in the sea raised two great white and foamy waves. At that moment a strange shiver ran down my spine. I murmured to myself: "I think we have it!". I was right because the battleship Italia had been close to being hit in full by a German bomb.

Fortunately, everything was resolved with an explosion at sea abaft the ship, with the consequent temporary blocking of the rudders, which had caused that unreasonable diversion towards us. I was aware that I had nothing to fear enclosed, as I was, in my small tower protected by a 150 mm thick armor of steel. This was my very optimistic conclusion at the time. I asked, through the microphone in front of me, my non-commissioned officer in charge of the plant, Marshal Macchia, if our personnel were all present at their combat posts. "All the bomb-disposal sailors from the ammunition depot are missing!" Was his laconic and worried reply. Capo Macchia had full reason to be alarmed, because in this situation we were certainly not able to open fire on the enemy. The bullets were stuck on the norias and the guns were unloaded. Who knows where my bomb squads from ammunition depot # 4 had gone to take refuge! Certainly the announcement of the armistice must have already deeply devastated every concept of responsibility and discipline on board to get to the point of making my entire three-tier system unusable! I don't know how many minutes it was before a lone plane flew over us coming back from the stern. The plane, slow in its flight, gave me plenty of time to frame it with my binoculars and follow its maneuver. Here again a red dot that lit up: it seemed motionless in space; then the same trail of smoke I had seen before, long and thin, dappling the blue of the sky with white.

I shouted several times into the microphone, which was joining me to the "firing center", that I had a plane over my head that had dropped a bomb. Nobody answered me! I was fully aware that at that moment the Germans were attacking right from our zenith, and that, in this particular case, my 152 mm guns were of no use. My system of three guns, with a maximum elevation of up to 45 °, could not intervene against targets that expected an elevation of between 80 ° and 90 °. This task was reserved for our 90 mm anti-aircraft systems. However, my tower could not and should not open fire, unless there was the case of a simultaneous attack on the water by torpedo bombers.

In reality at that moment I was tormented by only one other thought: it was the Germans who attacked us, the comrades who for three long years had fought alongside us against the British!

I saw only the steer rail that went ashore on the left-hand yard of the mainmast, but the ship continued on its course. Eternal seemed to me the time it took the bomb to fall. I was hoping to dodge it. Suddenly I saw it in the millimeter field of my binoculars; it seemed very long. It disappeared from my view to starboard, behind the 90mm anti-aircraft systems, those towards the bow.

Suddenly a very violent shock made the whole ship jump, until I was already thrown off my stool, hitting me several times against the steel walls of my turret. "Damn you!" I exclaimed, as I felt my ribs with my hands. Another seconds passed; a loud shouting, muffled by the glass of my turret, reached my ears, mingling with the voices coming out of the loudspeaker connected to the "central firing station". Some time went by, then I heard something falling from above which fell on deck with a sharp sound: it seemed to me that it was the entire gabion of the "Owl" system, which had been placed on top of the tower for a month. first in Genoa.

A stranger from the loudspeaker hastily informed me that refrigerators 5 and 6 were on fire. The stranger closed before I could ask him for more clarification: I did not understand why this communication had been made to me, rather than to the competent bodies. Much was the confusion that increased the agitation in that line of sailors who were increasingly rambling crowded in front of the narrow entrance of the armored door of the tower. The ship had begun to skid on the starboard side. At first I thought that the inclination that the hull had taken was due to the approach, but then I realized that the ship was continuing its course, decreasing rapidly in speed. We certainly had received a blow on board. Our anti-aircraft fire had already ceased.

The other ships, on the other hand, continued to fire, the black wads of the explosions dotted the sky. We were fighting against our German allies, not the Anglo-Americans. How could we have plunged to this point? Yet we still had to defend ourselves! These were the thoughts that were tormenting me in those minutes. Then I put my mouth back on the megaphone to ask: "Capo Macchia, are you all right?". "Good," my head implant replied brightly, but still in a quiet voice.

I turned my gaze towards the sea and saw only ship Italia that at high speed was moving further and further away from us. I then swung my "direction of fire" turret forward to see where the bomb had hit us. I could only see that the six left anti-aircraft guns were silent. At the stern, on deck panic reigned, with frightened sailors rushing in disorderly and hastily to seek refuge under the protective shield of the large, large-caliber triple rig at the stern. Among these I recognized, very pale, while clutching the red life jacket to his chest, the complementary ensign De Crescenzio. Above, towards the wings of the command bridge, from the tower a "pennoncino" had split in two and hung sadly swaying in the void. Not seeing even a wisp of smoke, I couldn't figure out where the German bomb had gone off. The bomb had actually hit the ship in a point quite far from my position, precisely over the middle of the ship, on the starboard side, slipping a little more than a meter from the starboard side of the ship, at the height of the 90 antiaircraft guns. mm n.9 and n. 11. The backlash of the crash on the hull had knocked down the gabion of the radiotelemeter and the telemeter of the anti-aircraft "shooting center". In practice, the bomb had passed from one side of the hull to the other, to finally explode under the hull, breaking through it and consequently flooding the four aft boilers and the aft machines themselves. The explosion under the hull had also blocked two of the four propellers placed aft. There was an immediate drop in the ship's speed below 16 knots.

At the same time there was also a power failure for the entire aft sector. Without sufficient current, the rudders no longer responded regularly to the helmsman's commands. The flooding of the boilers and stern engines had caused the ship to slide gradually and rapidly on the starboard side. Undoubtedly the waterways had been favored by a watertight hatch not regularly closed. To counterbalance the ship's heeling, an attempt was made to flood, or perhaps it happened automatically, some compensation cells on the left side of the hull. The result was positive because the inclination seemed to almost stop.

I had returned to scan the sky above with binoculars in search of the silhouettes of German planes. I saw nothing, the sky seemed clear, perhaps the German attack was over. Nave Roma had collected a bomb for the fifth time without being shot to death. I also felt within me that sense of danger, which had become even more nagging and looming than before. This kind of sensation perhaps found its raison d'être in noting a roar that was progressively expanding from the center of the ship. Now suddenly new thick white clouds had begun to come out of the stern funnel, as if generated by an immense loss of steam from the boilers. It therefore seemed clear to me that the ship had been hit rather seriously and the large amount of water embarked was putting the normal attitude of the whole unit in crisis. The side rail had remained inert at the top of the left yard, the only one still healthy. Meanwhile the ship Roma, always tilted to one side, the one on the right, had begun to approach slowly even towards starboard. I was worried about the ever-slowing speed.

Suddenly, my hasty observations of the situation on my ship were interrupted by the six 90mm anti-aircraft guns on the starboard side. The anti-aircraft guns had opened infernal fire in unison, accompanied by the crackling of the large machine gunners placed on the large caliber tower no. 3 aft. Everyone around me was firing madly as I searched frantically with my binoculars, high up in the sky, for the targets of our artillery. In the meantime the distinct and violent sensation of danger was growing inside me, of an ever more imminent danger. Unconsciously I recommended myself to God, because it seemed to me that death was behind me. It was a very strange, almost palpable sensation. Suddenly, as if by magic, you will finally frame a German bomber plane in the graduated retina of my binoculars and once again that red dot and that long nebula strip. Following the strip of smoke with my binoculars, I realized that on the front there was a long metallic wedge, dark gray in color, adorned laterally by two fins. The bomb was coming down from the sky towards me! It was a very fast thing, preceded this time by an even more piercing hiss that took hold of my eardrums.

Everything continued inexorably to come against me. My skin crawled all over my back as I followed the path of the bomb with bated breath and my heart beating faster and faster, faster and faster. It was very close now, but its trajectory now seemed less directed at me. It seemed destined to slip further ahead, exactly between the armored tower, very close to the forward funnel, just behind the twin plant to mine, that of tower n. 2 medium caliber. The bomb finally reached its destination with a light, almost imperceptible thud.

An eternity or perhaps a handful of seconds passed, I had already lost all notion of time: there was a violent gust of boiling air, not an explosion. Suddenly, very high and very wide, a yellow flame was born, then almost purplish, which flew towards the sky, enveloping the tower and the bow funnel as in a gigantic vise. In that same instant I felt a sharp pain in the eardrums and a sensation of scorching heat. The air smelled of burning sulfur and it burned my breath as it entered my lungs, forcing me to cough nervously. Amid the violent glow of the explosions I could see the armored keep curling up on itself. The smokestack in the prow was disappearing into thin air in a thick smoke, now white, now black, now gray, which seemed to howling from the bowels of the ship.

A gigantic wave of steam pushed upward an infinity of fragments of iron, of pieces of the ship, of pieces of everything. Then a second wave of very violent heat reached me and suddenly enveloped me while with wide eyes I continued to follow that apocalyptic hell of fire and steam. Now that hell was advancing towards me. "Fire! Fire!", A confused shouting could be heard: the light went out. The feeling of being unharmed gave me a spontaneous, instinctive joy.

The second bomb had pierced the hull deck, like the first, but this time it had exploded in the ammunition depot of the mid-caliber tower # 2 forward. The explosion had broken through the adjacent boilers, generating a gigantic wave of steam that had easily triggered the explosion of the adjacent ammunition depot of tower n. 2 large caliber. The violence of the explosion had been so strong that the entire trinato complex no. 2 of 381 mm. Other explosions followed for the ammunition depots of tower no. 2 medium caliber on the left side of the ship. The consequences had been very serious because in a few moments all the remaining engines in the bow had flooded. The fire of the explosion completely enveloped the tower and the smokestack in the prow. The skidding of the ship had resumed so quickly that it was now difficult for me to keep my balance on my stool. I still could not take my eyes off that spectacle of the great armored tower that had become a huge torch of fire, which gradually erupted pieces of metal among the increasingly black clouds. Many terrified sailors ran from side to side, many had faces black with soot and groped, although there was the brightness of the sun. Others were bleeding from invisible wounds, still others came out from somewhere, with their robes in flames, waving their arms convulsively. Some tried to throw themselves into the sea, clutching the life jacket in a convulsive embrace. They all actually ran like blind men without a goal.

Above everything was a dull and nagging roar, which almost managed to shatter your eardrums. A myriad of small explosions joined the hissing of the pieces of metal, which flew everywhere. Swarms of machine gunner bullets, coming from the reservoirs of the bow rigs reached by the wave of fire, wandered on deck with improvised trajectories. All this was mowing down and mercilessly killing the men who crossed their path looking for a refuge. Then I had the first clear sensation that Roma was dying and that for my sailors and for me only a rat-like death was being prepared, enclosed as we were in the steel tower of our guns. I immediately made up my mind by grabbing a megaphone in both hands. With a loud and steady voice I said: "All the personnel of the tower come out, I repeat go out and get to safety, I repeat everyone must go out and get to safety!". Then slowly, as if to give all my sailors time to get out of the large hatch of the tower before me, I too made my way into the open air. I was forced to face real stunts to keep myself in balance between the stools and the various upside-down and stacked equipment along my way. Fortunately, I finally managed to gain the exit and found myself on deck at the stern. My tower, # 4, was empty, all my sixteen sailors were out and wearing life jackets.

The spectacle that presented itself in front of me left me petrified. Towards the bow there was nothing but a compact curtain of black smoke that rose upward like a huge mushroom gravitating over us all, as if it were a storm cloud, so much so as to completely obscure our sky. Aft some bodies lay lifeless on the ground. Small rivulets of blood running straight to the starboard were coloring the wood of the deck red. Others, injured and burned, found it difficult to keep upright because the deck below them was tilting more and more. Everywhere I saw screaming, burned and bloodied human beings wandering desperately to the far stern in search of escape from the wave of fire and smoke that advanced relentlessly behind their backs. Many tried to take refuge under the catapult of the plane at the extreme stern.

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