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Giuseppe Baldacci - RN Italy

On September 8, 1943, I did not have a completely personal story of mine, as many others certainly did. I was then embarked on one of those units of the FF.NN.BB. who, with the black brush on the shore and the large black circle painted on the deck at the prow, sadly ended his deeds by following the widening of Bolla to the English battleships Repulse and Warspite. Therefore, I followed the process of everyone on board, but I was able to do so from a truly privileged observatory: the admiral bridge which, after the transfer of the adm. Bergamini on Rome, had remained empty and was used as an office of the rapid figure where I worked together with the Chief Quartermaster Ferratini. From that place my panorama opened on two vast fronts: on the majestic progress of our fleet, seen through the openings of the bridge, and on the collapse of our homeland through the hundreds of messages that reached us from everywhere.

Even though I was still very young at the time, having turned 20 a month ago, in those days I mentally wrote down everything that happened, what I felt, what I saw, what I thought and then I always found the right moment to fill in sheets and sheets. with minute handwriting, a habit that has remained with me all my life. I would have liked to have reproduced below everything I wrote in those dramatic moments, but it would be an absurd and out of place claim. So I will limit myself to reporting only a few brief excerpts from my diary and to add some comments, some completely personal considerations. A little of the pathos that could have come from the details, the nuances, the atmospheres, the speeches and the messages that I had then faithfully reported in the diary will certainly be lost, but all in all it will not be much of a problem because many of those events are well known to so many of us.

So here I am on 8 September 1943 aboard the RN. Littorio, who I still call this because he welcomed me in this way, so I met her, so I loved her and so I like to remember her. (In fact the name was changed by Littorio in Italy after 25 July 1943 Ed.). I quote in full from my diary: "It was about 8 pm when, after having dinner at the canteen of the Guard, I was talking about this and that with Caleca while walking in front of the Officers Square. Even if the moments we lived were highly dramatic and even if we had almost certain that in the middle of the night we would have set sail together with the other units of the FF.NN.BB. to go to counter the allied landing in Salerno, however we were very far from thinking about the storm of another kind that was about to unleash on us. Suddenly we saw a sailor rush onto the small tower's projector platform, making exalted gestures and shouting. His excited words reached us like a bolt from the blue: "The armistice - he shouted - the war is over, it is peace, it is the peace ". That is a memory that will always remain in my mind, I still hear the voice of that unknown man in my ears, I still see that figure full of jubilation for an event that, inve ce, was to mark the beginning of an era of innumerable disasters for our Italy. We are all as if hit by a blow and we do not grasp the real drama of the thing on the spot. I can not make myself capable that now everything is over, even if so miserably. In the meantime, close to me, many of the crew, tried for over forty months by a very hard struggle and with the hope of having reached the point of seeing distant families again, are now showing signs of great joy. It is as if everyone has lifted a weight off their shoulders. In reality it is the struggle between the feeling of Italians that makes us cry about the ruin of the homeland and that of men that makes the heart smile at the thought of returning to the family. However, not everyone rejoices: I see many officers and non-commissioned officers, especially among the older ones, as electrocuted, but there are young people among them and among them I was certainly me. My thoughts ran to the many who had fallen fighting, to the many who had endured heavy sacrifices on the front as well as in the cities. I thought of my father who for three years had risked his life daily flying over the sea in such dangerous conditions and who twice had returned from mission wounded and dead on board his plane pierced by enemy anti-aircraft. What were the injuries he sustained in combat worth now? And those poor dead aviators. .?

The diary continues and, after many pages, another memory of mine emerges linked to the many who felt betrayed at the announcement of the armistice. Here is what I wrote: "I will not say how I felt myself, even though I was only a young ensign, when that same evening aboard the Littorio I saw in the eyes of the young Oberleutenant (Lieutenant) of the Luftwaffè Mayer; despair, bitterness, amazement made even stronger by what Badoglio had immediately made it clear on the radio: that now the enemy would be the German, that is, the ally, the comrade a few minutes earlier. he had become fond of the ship, of the Italian comrades alongside whom he had always punctually done his duty to ensure the connection between our fleet and the Luftwaffe planes that defended it from above. Now he gathered his thirty men, left them framed and silent on the main deck of the ship in the stern (I remember them well because I was right there in second command aft) and went down the hatch that led to the deck of the second corridor. to be announced to the commander who received it without delay, very embarrassed too, who then told us what had happened between them. Mayer stiffened to attention and saluted, then took his service revolver out of its sheath and placed it on Commander Bottiglieri's desk, telling him in discreet Italian that he and his men were deferring to his judgment. Sabato Bottiglieri was a gentleman, a naval officer of the older generation. He got up, took the revolver from the desk top and, looking into his eyes, returned it to Mayer, telling him that what happened was a surprise and a pain for him too and that this did not change the feelings of respect and esteem he had for who he was. been by his side on many occasions. Therefore he invited him to act as he saw fit for his military honor and if he decided to stay aboard he and his men would always be treated as in the past. Mayer thanked them and the two moved men shook hands. During the night the group of Germans showed up at the stern with their baggage and sadly walked along the boat, greeting with the usual respect, in my person, the officer of the watch who represented the tricolor flag. When he was the last to go down, Mayer and I shook hands for a long time without words, but our looks told each other everything. I saw them go away in order in the night along the quay of the Lagora pier. It was a very sad moment for everyone ".

As I have already said, I took these memories from the diary that I was writing day by day at the time and I would gladly continue to draw on those dense and detailed pages in which so many facts are described: like the convulsive night we lived between 8 and 9 September, the exit from the harbor of La Spezia at 03.15, the jumble of news that reached us from all the messages received or intercepted and which as soon as deciphered I passed to the Commander, the feverish pace of life on board, the reunion in the morning with the ships coming from Genoa, the voice of Commander Bottiglieri who, arriving in every corner of the ship through the collective orders network, read with moving accents the message of Admiral de Courten in which, among other things, it was said: "It is possible that other hard duties are reserved for you by imposing moral sacrifices compared to which that of blood appears secondary "and further:" You can always and everywhere look proudly in the eye the adversaries of forty months of struggle because your war history gives you the full right ". In the diary I also described the feelings that those phrases had aroused: "Those words immediately made us think that perhaps we would have to suffer the moral sacrifice of the sale of our Fleet and so I heard many hypotheses put forward. some talk. I felt that there was a general disorientation and not only at the lower levels. Many said that rather than surrender our ships we had to sink cars as the German sailors did in Scapa Flow at the end of the First World War. "

I remember that in the short intervals that there were sometimes in the arrival of messages from the radio station, I would go to the flaps of the admiral bridge to look out. And here is what I wrote: "Our ship seen from above is beautiful and gives a great feeling of power. How sad it is to think that we were defeated without having been able to fight at least the last battle" How beautiful and exciting it would have been one day return to the ports with the flags of victory blowing in the wind, to be able to parade with our crews on a carpet of rose petals under the arch of Constantine, as I saw doing when I was a child by the flies of General Ltalo Balbo returning from the cruise of the Decennial ".

The reasons I have mentioned above (of opportunity and above all of space) lead me to overlook other no less significant memories such as when we sighted at 3.30 pm on 9 September a formation of five Dornier Do 217 of the Luftwaffe headed towards us and a few minutes later our large ship was violently shaken by a rocket bomb falling a few meters from the stern causing the momentary block of the rudders or as when a sailor rushed to the bridge shouting that the Rome had been hit and I, immediately went out to the open, I saw it already skidded and with a huge yellow-red flame that enveloped the tower and rose quickly into the sky, then spreading into an immense and dark mushroom. I wrote: "I see three very red fires rising from the poor ship. They are, we are all petrified in front of so much tragedy: what will become of the crew, what will become of the many course mates?". A few other sentences extracted from my diary: "At 16.11 we have to face a new dangerous air attack, fortunately without consequences. More cannon fire, still zigzagging at full speed to dodge the bombs. But at 4:15 pm we are hit and the ship jolts they are extraordinarily loud and the roar deafening. A column of water pours on the tower also entering from the loopholes. The roar and shaking had been such as to suggest that something worse. our stern. We open the hatch and run out. From the top we see an incredible thing: on the main deck, to the right of the tower there are two large caliber ones and in front of the medium caliber tower there is a circular hole with a diameter of about one meter caused by the bomb that had pierced the thick armor and had penetrated inside the ship ". I still leave the diary and summarize a long part of it to say that the point of impact must not have been very different from that of the bomb which, as we later knew, had hit Rome because underneath, in that direction, there was the deposit. ammunition of large caliber and at a short distance that of the medium caliber. But our luck was that we were under approach and with that speed the ship, approaching, tilted so that the bomb, descending vertically, did not penetrate the ammunition depots, but pierced the outer side, tearing it conspicuously even before the explosion device delayed could come into operation. Thus the deadly bomb exploded out of the ship, into the sea not far from the hull, which, as we saw when we arrived in Malta, suffered a gash about 20 meters long by 8 meters high below sea level. We took on about 800 tons of water and another 400 were introduced by balancing from the opposite side of the ship. Despite this, the ship maintained its performance and speed unaltered. I go back to the diary: "At 4:20 pm we suffer a new attack with other bombs which, fortunately, despite being close, do not hit us even if we feel the repercussions. At 4:52 pm a bomb of the same kind falls very close to our stern on the left side. The ship's jolts are very strong and in our room a valve makes a great blue flash and burns leaving us with only the light that enters through the slits until it is promptly replaced ".

Another leap forward: "Shortly after dawn on 1 September I ran to deliver the long message of the FF.NN.BB. Command to Commander Bottiglieri, which revealed our destiny: in short, directing to Bona, painting black circles at the bow and hoist a black brush. So at 7 and 03 of September 1 on the masts of our ship, as on the others, we painfully see a large sheet in the shape of a pointed triangle that the boatswainers of the boatswain have just painted with black paint. looking out I see other helmsmen at the bow who with brushes and cans of paint paint a large black circle on the deck. I am the mourning, I think, of our defeat, of our humiliation and also of our sudden betrayal towards the German comrades whose disappointment I understand well and anger ". The encounter with the English battleships off Bona .......

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