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Alfredo Brauzzi - RN Vittorio Veneto

My first embarkation was the Vittorio Veneto, second in order of construction of the three 35,000 t battleships, pride of the Royal Navy. My job was the generic one of "Commander Attaché of the IX Division of Battleships", a high-sounding name that covered a multitude of low-level assignments as could compete for a poor Aspiring Ensign: various guard shifts (always in suborder), post washing in the rooms of the IX Department (staff of the Division), service in the Digit Office, various commanders.

Commander of the Division was CEO Enrico Accorretti, Chief of Staff CF Arillo, Deputy Chief of Staff CF Cosimo Basile, aide to the Flag TV Quattrone. The ship was commanded by CV Corso Pecori Giraldi (of which I would later be a Flag Assistant in the years 1950-1951 when, with the rank of Division Admiral, he commanded the 1st Division, before being Deputy Chief and then Chief of Staff of the Navy ). Many of the most qualified officers of the Royal Navy were part of the ship's General Staff.

Carlo Damerini, Gianfranco Legnaioli, Remo Malusardi, Mario Massobrio, Francesco Rallo, Leonardo Sansonetti, Luigi Ziliotto embarked with me, and, in August, Tullio Gemignani and Ignazio Majolino.

We arrived on board in full uniform on the morning of Monday, April 15: the ship, with its imposing bulk of a gray fortress bristling with guns, was at the buoy in the harbor of La Spezia, surrounded by torpedo nets. The city was shocked by the heavy bombardment just suffered during the night, the bombardment of which I had seen the flashes from the nearby town of Levanto, where I had spent my final leave with my mother and my sister, who had been displaced there for some time. The air raid of about two hundred enemy aircraft had lasted from 01.33 to 02.30: the entrance to the port had been made impassable by 32 mines launched by 8 "Lancasters", while almost 500 tons of bombs. The town and the adjacent Arsenal were divided in two by a wide groove caused by the bombs, so that communications between the two sides were very difficult. On the other hand, the train journey from Levanto to La Spezia (36 km) had taken up the whole morning, so much so that I could only show up on board long after the canonical hour (08.00) at which the day in the Marina has always started.

I immediately realized that life aboard the great ship was privileged over that of any other citizen: the dangers were the same (at least as long as we were at anchor), but we were exempt from those rationing of food and others. genres that in that period made the life of Italians so difficult. Our problems were therefore those of all the young officers: a lot of guard, easy arrests and difficult cohabitations in the small square; but above all little sleep, also because the frequent night air alarms forced us to spend long hours on barges armed with hydrochlorine diffusers with which dense fogs had to be produced to hide the ship.

But on Saturday 5 June at 13.45, that monotonous and relatively quiet life was abruptly interrupted: during a heavy aerial bombardment by "Liberators", the Vittorio Veneto was hit by two bombs which, since the impact happened fortunately outside the armored area, they pierced the entire hull without bursting. I was below deck, on a transfer from the stern, where I had been sent to take classified literature, to the armored tower, where I had my combat post on the Admiral's bridge; I was precisely under the 90mm AA guns when the ship gave two jolts accompanied by horrible noises; there was no light, the bodies shining with sweat of the suppliers of the pieces fell on top of each other while cries of terror rose; I was thrown violently against a wall and there I was astonished until, when the light returned, the supply of the weapons resumed under the encouragement of the non-commissioned officers and I was able to leave unscathed. Only a few moments had passed, but it had been enough to make me understand, in that abrupt contact, what war really was.

After a few days the ship moved to Genoa, the only shipbuilding base where there were docks able to accommodate it for the necessary repairs. These lasted a couple of weeks, also because every night the basin had to be flooded for fear of air attacks. The return to La Spezia was very laborious and was postponed several times, because by now not even the Alto Tirreno was safe from the submarine threat. (On 9 August the Gioberti fighter, intended to escort us, was torpedoed just off Punta Mesco).

By now the activity of the ships of the line was limited to a few short training sessions, and we (promoted on July 28th Ensign) were sent in turn on the thin ship for missions in the war. I had to embark on a fighter, I 'Oriani, of which Giulio de Boccard was navigator: we escorted a convoy, made up of two (!) Ships, from La Spezia to Bastia. Departure after sunset, arrival in Bastia the following morning and stop during the day; then I return to La Spezia with the unwanted illumination of the gulf by a Bengali aircraft. Everything went smoothly but I remember the unpleasant sense of frustration that gave me the comparison between the meager dimensions of our convoy and the macroscopic dimensions of the allied convoys (then enemies) of which I learned by deciphering the messages of discovery of our reconnaissance in the Mediterranean. The war continued and the allied advance in Italy too; going ashore and wandering around the half-destroyed and deserted city, the city where I had spent all my youth, was a pain that I tried to spare myself as much as possible. None of my loved ones were there anymore: family, friends, schoolmates, everyone was far away .... My brother Giovanni, twelve years older than me, Corvette Captain, had just completed his command on a torpedo boat and he had been sent on convalescent leave to Milan to treat heart ailments caused by the previous war years; he had been embarked on the Littorio (head of service E) earning a Silver Medal in the terrible night of Taranto (12 November 1940) and then on the Attilio Regolo, as commander in 2nd, from the preparation at the time of the torpedo that cut off the bow ; my mother and my sister were confined to a small house above Levanto, but it was as if they had been a thousand miles away ...

We lived those days in anticipation of the ineluctable, without asking too many questions about the future that we never saw as then "in God's hands" until September 8th arrived. So I wrote in my diary of that time:

"On 8 September I was inspecting the Cifra Office and read numerous messages that had arrived during the night. The traffic was very intense: discovery messages and intercepted messages agreed in signaling naval formations headed for the Sorrento peninsula, Ischia, Capri. Landing vehicles, merchant and war ships were now crossing in the Gulf of Naples and, also given the naval bombardment of the previous two days, it was clear that a landing in the area was imminent. kept to the most rigorous secrecy, they spread with lightning speed throughout the ship. A riddle of suppositions ............ At about 10.00 the FF.NN.BB. Command sent by radio signal the order to switch on At the same time Adm. Bergamini reported to the Admirals and Commanders on the ROME Then the day passed as quiet as possible, always amid comments and assumptions about what would be done in the next few hours.

But in the early afternoon Rome and Italy from the Darsena Duca degli Abruzzi were transferred with the tugs to anchor in the gulf, taking place near us. Meanwhile, the readiness had been completed: the retal obstructions surrounding the hull had been removed, the supplies were full, the tugs were ready alongside.

At 3 pm the AdB told me to prepare all the nautical charts for navigation from La Spezia to Naples and to another officer (with the name of Armenian origin Ghiragossian) he also asked for the maps of Sardinia and the Maddalena plan. Simple intuition or was it already known that our destination would be that base in the north of Sardinia?

At 7.30 pm the trumpeter sounds the signal from the guard's table as usual, At 7.50 pm we hear a confused shouting from the bow and from the portholes of the saloon we see a large number of sailors running towards the stern jumping, shouting and embracing.,.,. " The machine gunners of some ships in the roadstead and of batteries on land were firing up in jubilation, the sirens of the tugs were whistling ....... The radio had announced the armistice.

At that announcement I too felt my heart enlarge: but mine and that of many others were not joy; just a spontaneous and unconscious sense of well-being that vanished immediately at the thought of the sure terrible consequences. The war would continue in our cities, with doubled massacres and pains.

Order re-established (but on the Vittorio Veneto everything was limited to a few screams and a few isolated machine gun shots), received by the Adm. Accorretti, the Commander in Chief AS Carlo Bergamini came on board: this illustrious visit was due to the fact that our ship was the only one still connected by telephone and telearmonica with the Ministry of the Navy in Rome. Three times the Minister called the Admiral; from Genoa, AD Biancheri, Commander of the VIII Division, asked for instructions; then the following message was issued: "To all units dependent on CC.FF.NN.BB. Admirals and Commanders meeting at 9.30 pm on the Vittorio Veneto ship I repeat: Vittorio Veneto". It was I who encrypted and overencrypted the message and it was good for me that I did not make any mistake, as I feared, as some ships repeatedly asked for the message to be repeated, perhaps wondering that the ship indicated for the meeting was not the Rome.

The historic meeting, in which the Adm. Bergamini asked the Commanders to obey the King's orders, which ended at 01.00 del  9 September; an hour later the maneuvering post was beaten and at 03.00 the three battleships, preceded by the cruisers of the VII Division (Eugenio di Savoia, Montecuccoli, Attilio Regolo) and by the CC. TT. of the XII Squadriglia (Machine gunner, Rifleman, Carabiniere, Velite and of the XIV Squadriglia (Legionario, Oriani, Artigliere, Grecale) passed the obstructions directed towards Sardinia. Meanwhile on all the radio waves Supermarina had confirmed the cessation of hostilities and made known the signal conventional for ships which consisted of a black brush on the masthead and two black circles on the deck. Any encrypted message from the Center, to be considered authentic, had to contain the conventional word "Milan".

In the early hours of the morning (06.30) the junction with the naval formation coming from Genoa compocst from the VIII Div. Cruisers (Duca degli Abruzzi, Garibaldi, Duca d'Aosta) and the torpedo boat Libra took place and the whole naval device continued regular navigation, during which only one scout of unidentified nationality was sighted, until 14.42 when the FF.NN.BB. he gave the order "Reverse the course at the same time". The message filled us on the spot with amazement: what did it mean to make evolutions in such a moment? I remember that soon after we received another message that clarified the situation: "Marina La Maddalena overwhelmed by the Germans".

Then there was no more time to wonder where we would end up; because we had to think about defending ourselves from attacks by German planes that were using rocket-propelled weapons for the first time. What happened next is well known to all and it is appropriate that the Sharks who were directly involved in Armageddon speak about it. The anti-aircraft guns fired at a frenzied pace, dotting the sky with white clouds. The Vittorio Veneto, launched at maximum speed, under the expert guidance of Commander Pecori, who gave orders calmly and quietly from a flap on the command bridge, evolved like a torpedo boat. I, in the naval room of the Admiral bridge overhead, with my heart in my throat, I tried to put on the chart all the approaches of that crazy navigation. But, at times, from the slits of the tower I could see the huge cloud of black smoke that rose on the point of the sinking of the Rome: in that cloud of death I saw all the sharks that were on board wrapped around it, not being able to know who could have survived. to such a disaster, and I felt heartbroken.

The Vittorio Veneto came out unscathed from those attacks and continued the navigation with the naval force towards Bona where we arrived in the early hours of 10 September under the escort of British aircraft. By now the tension caused by the primordial need to defend ourselves from the deadly attacks of the new enemy was dissolving, leaving room for new sensations that were certainly not pleasant: the concern for our distant families of which we had no more news, the burning disappointment of being defeated with the inevitable humiliations that followed, the unknown of the near and distant future for us and for our homeland, the failure of

 a life undertaken with so much enthusiasm and the fear of being completely useless ......

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