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Arturo Catalano Gonzaga of Cirella - RN Rome


Ruri anticipated by six years the answer to my request to know his first embarkation and how he lived that particular day of our life as Italians and officers which was September 8, 1943. Perhaps he presaged that his earthly time was about to end and, before resting forever, he wanted to reconstruct, on the basis of his diary of Aspirante G, M. the fortunate personal events that saw him come out unscathed from the Rome stake and take refuge in Spain with the survivors. But for this reconstruction he also used the diary of the Father, Admiral of Division in Command, composing a picture that has as a background the tragic days that Italy lived while the armistzio negotiations were underway, and, immediately after, when, it manifested, in all its ruthless harshness, the German occupation at the same time as the allied one. The book "For the honor of the Savoy - 1943-1944 from a survivor of the battleship Roma", is therefore the true card of Arturo Catalano Gonzaga di Cirella and it would not be right to try to summarize it without misrepresenting the purpose for which the book was written,

However, since Ruri in January 1997 asked me to present his book to the Circolo della Caccia in Rome and to review it in the "Rivista Marittima", I think it is permissible for me to report here some considerations I made about the work and to quote some particularly significant passages.

The book opens with the story of a journalistic, pathetic and sensational "Scoop", which took place in July 1993 in Rome. Some survivors of the great ship (including Ruri) meet the two German pilots who fifty years earlier with the PC 1400 X bomb, nicknamed "Fritz X", had hit the battleship with extreme precision, causing it to sink. .... "After two days spent together we entered the Traspontina Church in Via della Conciliazione when it was getting dark. We had gathered, silently, in the half-light of the great church in front of the great statue of the Madonna, dimly lit by about twenty candles, to pray together, one in elbow contact with the other, for all the sailors of our fleet who have disappeared  at sea on that tragic day which was September 9th ".

Ruri must be acknowledged the merit and humility of never setting himself up as a critic with easy hindsight, but of limiting himself to presenting the events enriching them with memories and personal details or of the classmates embarked with him, both of those who disappeared with the ship of both those who are still with us. -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_  _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58ccd__cc781905-136bad5cf58d_ _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d -136bad5cf58d_      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf 58d_      _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   _cc7905-badd-136bc5cf58d__cc7905-badd-136bcc5_b58c5 3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_  _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d81__cc781905 -... bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-136bad5cf58d_  _cc781905_bcde-3194bbadd-136bcc5__ 136bad5cf58d_ _cc78190 5-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ .

As the day of the Apocalypse approaches, the rhythm of the narration slows down as if we wanted to grant a few more hours of life to those who will not be spared. We linger on the most minute details, on the life that was led in La Spezia under the air alarms and bombings, on the routine of life on board in port while Italy is about to close the page of the twenty years. Then comes the day of the armistice, the strange state of mind of those who feel freed from a nightmare but already see a worse one, the waiting for the "last mission", the departure in the middle of the night of the whole team, 'approach to Sardinia on a splendid sunny morning, the unexpected turnaround towards the open sea, and at 3.40 pm the ominous appearance of German planes ...

Ruri is the scion of a family of noble wealth, educated in the exclusive boarding school of Mondragone, enfant gaté, with a light-hearted, distracted and indolent behavior ... but now he faces with decision his destiny which suddenly involves him in the immense fire of Rome. . Miraculously left unharmed, he did his best to help the mangled bodies of the wounded, to help the castaways, to organize the survivors in Spanish internment. We read a few passages of the book following the transformation of the carefree young Ensign, for whom death was a distant event that did not directly interest him, in the man who suddenly becomes aware that instead it is there in the hot air and acrid smoke and that it's up to him to do what he can, to the extreme, for the safety of his sailors: "I was aware that I had nothing to fear enclosed, as a cable, in my small tower protected by a 150 mm thick armor of steel . This was my (at the time) very optimistic conclusion; ..... then I realized that the 152 mm guns were of no use ..... with a maximum elevation of 45 ° against targets that expected a range between 80 ° and 90 ° ......... Suddenly a violent shock made the whole ship jump until I was thrown off my stool, hitting me several times against the steel walls of my turret. ... The ship had begun to skid on side d upright ..... Certainly we had received a hit on board our anti-aircraft fire had already ceased ............................

After a few moments of understandable confusion, the ship seems to have regained control of vital functions. The starboard 90mm anti-aircraft guns fire along with the big gunners, but the planes are unreachable. The Roma, inclined to starboard, reduces speed. Ruri begins to think that all is lost: "In the meantime, the clear and violent sensation of danger, of an ever more imminent danger, was growing inside me. Unconsciously I recommended myself to God, because it seemed to me that death was behind me. very strange sensation, almost palpable ".

With binoculars, he focuses on a plane from which a red dot detaches, tracing a long nebulous strip in the blue sky: "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 taking hold of my eardrums. Everything kept coming inexorably 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 .. ..., .. The device finally reached its destination with a light, almost imperceptible thud.

An eternity passed or maybe a few seconds, I had already lost all notion of time; there was a violent blast of hot air, not an explosion. Suddenly, very high and very wide, a yellow flame, then almost purplish, was born from it, which flew towards the sky, enveloping the tower and the bow smokestack 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 as it entered my lungs it burned my breath forcing me to cough nervously "

The second bomb had exploded in the ammunition depot of tower 2 of medium caliber in the prow and had broken through the adjacent boilers generating a gigantic wave of steam; thus the explosion of the contiguous ammunition depot of tower 2 of large caliber was triggered. The end is now near: "Many terrified sailors ran from side to side, many had faces black with soot and groped, although there was the brightness of the sun. where, with their clothes on fire, waving their arms convulsively. Some tried to throw themselves into the sea, clutching the life jacket in a convulsive embrace. All in reality were running like blind men aimlessly. Then I had the first clear sensation that Rome 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 ".

He therefore orders to get out of the tower and to safety.

"The spectacle that presented itself in front of me left me as if petrified. Towards the prow we could see nothing but a compact curtain of black smoke that rose upwards like a huge mushroom gravitating over us all, as if it were a stormy cloud, so much to completely obscure our sky. At the stern some bodies lay lifeless on the ground. Small rivulets of blood running towards starboard were coloring the wood of the deck red ....

One came towards me dragging a sailor with one arm almost detached from his body. From the cut of the wound came a gush of blood so copious that it flooded the blanket under him red. "(it was his quartermaster of the Detail Secretariat calling him as his savior)" With my handkerchief, already soaked in blood, I tied his shattered arm trying as best I could to prevent the blood from leaking. With the remnants of his shirt I tried to cover those mangled flesh that showed the whiteness of the bones. My secretary, seized by an impulse of gratitude, tried to embrace me by showering me with blood. For a moment I felt like I was losing control of my nerves because its red liquid had entered my shirt collar and ran hot down my chest. Then, slowly, with difficulty, I put my life jacket on him.   "Don't move without me, stay next to me, understand? Never give up". This was the only recommendation I gave him.

Among that frightened humanity Ruri recognizes some other familiar face ..... "Suddenly from the black smoke screen, which was covering everything, a black ghost appeared. The black shadow had a blue uniform with three gold braids on the sleeves: it was Lieutenant Agostino Incisa della Rocchetta. The skin of his hands hung down as if they were long gloves, the face was swollen, the hair, the eyelashes, the ears, everything had been torn apart by the heat of the explosion and of boiling steam ". It is now time to abandon ship. The sea is littered with survivors trying to stay afloat waiting to be rescued. Ruri has time to take a last look at the ship, reduced to a heap of wreckage, before it capsizes and breaks into two large sections. Then "the stern sank slowly, sliding forward, with a subdued gurgle, the bow instead rose towards the sky, as if to challenge the enemy again. I saw the bow for a few moments, motionless, so much so that I was able to clearly see the bulb. Then vertically, as if attracted by a titanic force, the prow of our ship tried to rise even more imposing towards the sky. It tried to give us its final farewell before disappearing forever in the abysses of the sea ". In the second part of the book, while in Spain the burned wounded are fighting for life and to regain a human aspect, History gives way to the chronicle of the vicissitudes and the long gray days of tired and disappointed men, without news of their f ' families, unsure of the future that awaits them while the present is rather miserable. Ruri does his utmost to give meaning and organization to the lives of these men, but souls are exacerbated, forced idleness exacerbates discontent, discipline falters. There is a refusal of the ration that the Spanish authorities, already short of food for their men, cannot tolerate: all delivered for a week and Ruri, the responsible officer, punished with ten days of "fortress" which he will serve on the Spanish fighter Churruca with armed sentry on guard at the accommodation. And here a singular episode occurs: the commander of the fighter, known by the surname of Ruri, visits him and embraces him as the son of his great friend Gaetano (Ruri's father) commander of the explorer Da Verazzano during the Spanish civil war.

Ruri returned to Italy with the cruiser Duca d 'Aosta who left Algesiras on July 12, 1944 to arrive in Taranto on the 15th, where the Duilio and Cesare Division of battleships commanded by his father was located: "To arrive promptly on the cruiser .. ... my father sent his motorboat alongside the unit with ensign Antonello Zunino on board with the order to return to full force on the Duilio ship as soon as he saw Admiral Da Zara disembark (who had brought the repatriated shipwrecked greeting from the Minister of the Navy Adm. De Courten). This operation allowed him shortly afterwards to board the Duca d'Aosta ship with Commander Goretti and his flag aide. As he got on the boat, he was very excited and finally, received the honors prescribed and, having greeted the commander of the unit, he saw me while banning the naval etiquette I ran to meet him .... I found myself on deck in the arms of my father who, moved, was repeating myself more and more times: "On Ruri, on Ruri now everything is aft! ".

Ten months and six days had passed since 9 September 1943.

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