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Giovanni Caretti

September 9, 1943

from RN Italia

I am on the sky of the starboard mid-caliber DT turret of the Regia Nave “Italia”, where I alternate on guard duty with Lieutenant Mario Casardi, Director of Shooting of this battery. It is not cold: but as a precaution, when I left my dressing room last night to the trumpet blasts of "navigation in war" transmitted over the loudspeakers of the Collective Orders Network, I covered myself well; in addition to the life jacket, I have a good knife, a flask of cognac and some lire in cash. Everything can be useful, you never know …….

There are five of us in the turret: pointer, telemetry, two SDTs and me. Eighteen months ago, in Taranto, I embarked on this ship, a shy twenty-one year old aspiring fresh from the Naval Academy. I was immediately assigned to the "transmissions" (firing centers, aiming devices, range finders). Now I can already consider myself an elder of the ship, I am a second lieutenant in the vessel and I have always worked with gunners and specialists of the 3rd and 4th wards, who know me well.

We are still stunned by the events of the night before, in La Spezia. Our three battleships of the IX Division under pressure at anchor, ready to leave for Salerno and one last battle against an ultra-powerful enemy. Then, completely unexpected, the announcement on the radio of the Armistice, the chaotic shooting of joy of all the batteries on the mountains, the general assembly in the bow to listen to the sober and thoughtful words of our Commander.

And this morning we are in the W of Corsica with a 180 ° course, in the company of cruisers and minor escort units. The weather is fine, the sea calm, no enemies in sight. In short, a smooth sailing, nothing compared to the many hours of tension spent in the Central Mediterranean in March and June 1942. Some British twin-engined boats "Baltimore" and "Marauder" limit themselves to watching us from afar, low on the sea. Our 152 mm pieces are ready for torpedo bombing barrage, but today it seems there is no need.

Shortly before 13.00 h you start to pull over to the left. "Rome" and "Vittorio Veneto" precede "Italy" in a row towards the Strait of Bonifacio. The destination can only be La Maddalena. But at 14.40 h, a sudden surprise: 180 ° turnaround at the same time.

How come ? Where, now? Because ?

Just a few minutes after asking these questions, here they are! We spot five, twin-engined, very high (6000 m and more). In a loose group, they seem to wander aimlessly at low speed, almost on our vertical. Difficult to identify them: and initially we do not worry because they have far exceeded the usual release site. However our 90mm AA batteries open fire. From one of the planes a strange object comes off that seems to burn, leaving behind a tortuous trail of smoke. "We hit him!" shout the machine gunners on the squares under our turret. But the object quickly falls towards us - and it doesn't look like an aircraft. Strong breath, pressure wave, high water column a few meters from our stern. The ship sways emitting those curious puffs of air expelled from the compartments that I already heard when we were torpedoed on June 15, '42.

Our Director of Shooting TV Casardi arrives in a hurry to replace me. As I am about to descend into the turret I look towards “Roma”, a few thousand meters to starboard, a little towards the stern. What happen ? Something is wrong, it seems to me that he is slowing down and abandoning the training. Ouch! The cage antenna of his radiotelemeter falls from the tower and a light white smoke rises. One moment - and soon after, towering flames hide half a ship, blinding our horrified eyes! A muffled roar reaches us, while a slight warmth touches my cheeks ,,,,,. like a farewell caress from comrades that we will never see again! .........

We all remain silent, motionless, stunned. We find it hard to believe! SDT Giberti murmurs: "Poor ship!" The other SDT, Dagnino, has eyes full of tears. Casardi, Chief Telemetry Munari and I look at each other in amazement without words. I observe in dismay that smoking wreck, skidded to starboard and farther and farther away. It was the most recent and most beautiful of the three battleships of our IX Division; on board he had our Commander in Chief Admiral Bergamini and his entire Staff. And to think that all of them just two days ago were still here with us on "Italy"! On 22 and 23 March and 12 and 13 April last in La Spezia I myself had been on the "Roma" and I had fired at length with its 90 mm guns against air and naval targets, to obtain the qualification for shooting with qualification "to" !

Some minor units direct to rescue the survivors, while our formation is unfortunately forced to continue, with violent approaches and with the AA batteries that thunder furiously without stopping. It comes to me to reflect with bitterness that until the summer of 1942, our confidence in the cashing capacity of our modern battleships was unlimited: torpedoed, bombed, they always got away with it. But later, with the arrival of the four-engine bombers, the air offensive had grown out of all proportion. Starting from April 1943 in La Spezia, despite being in the best defended naval base in our country, we had to endure increasingly deadly raids. (Night of 13-14 April: damage to our 381 mm Tower 2 - Night of 19-20 April: 36 bombs and incendiary pieces fallen within 10 meters of our bulwarks and Arsenal in flames - Day of 5 June: "Vittorio Veneto" and "Rome" seriously damaged, we centered but unharmed by a miracle). And now this new diabolical German weapon, much more precise, which for the first time is used in the Mediterranean against us! ... The era of the great battleships is coming to an end. None of them (neither "Bismarck", nor "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse", subsequently not even the gigantic "Yamato" and "Musashi") could survive when not heavily protected by aircraft carriers and fighter aircraft.

But this is not the time to get distracted, the Luftwaffe is giving us no respite. Unfortunately, we of the medium caliber cannot do anything. And there is nothing worse than having to stand still without being able to participate in the defense of our ship! Because these our excellent 152 mm pieces, are designed for naval fire only or at most against torpedo bombers at low altitude, and do not have the necessary elevation against high altitude aircraft. Ah! .... Instead of our 152 and 90, how much I would have liked a single medium caliber of 127 or 132 mm. dual-use anti-aircraft and naval, as the Americans and the British have! .....

The aa fire of our 90s is frenetic, incessant: but the attackers fly at great height and seem to care little about it. In fact, the black clouds of bursting of our grenades all seem to be at a lower altitude. And then the defense lies above all in the prompt maneuver, the safety entrusted to luck. From a distance I see our Commander, Captain Sabato Bottiglieri, standing straight on the bridge wing, careful to peer upwards. The Commander in 2nd Frigate Captain A. Giovannini and the 1st Director of Shooting, CF Bonatti, assist him on both sides of the ship.

One of the twin-engined Martin “Marauder” this morning approaches and passes us on the straight side, a few meters, no higher than our tower on the sea. It is dark green, American made but with English insignia. Quickly pass by signaling towards us with a red light projector. Nobody shoots at him. Maybe he wants to warn us of a new German attack. In fact, around 17.00 h, up there, an aircraft detaches from a group of three, to attack us from the stern to the left. Our Capo Sandri pointer is on the sky of the turret and calmly observes the plane, commenting on its maneuver. Is he very brave or just unconscious? Suddenly he shouts: "This one hits us!" It's the end? Huddled together, we wait without saying a word. New tremendous hiss, another wave of pressure. But this time a threatening vibration, so different from the elastic swing for a bomb that ended up in the sea. We were impressed, unfortunately Capo Sandri got it right! (Later we will know: on the starboard castle, between Towers 1 and 2 large caliber. Either because they were skidded under side or because of an impact that was too angled, the bomb escaped from the side and exploded into the sea instead of in the ammunition depots. hair, "Italy" gets away with a big leak and the entry of about 800 t of water, plus another 400 for rebalancing).

But it's not over yet! A second plane is about to drop off. Capo Sandri, always imperturbable, announces: "This falls right on our head!" A formidable shock and the turret is flooded with water through the manhole! We barely have time to shake up, and a third bomber is aiming at us. The 90mm seems to have gone mad. We see him withdraw, try again a second time, then again turn and give up. Let's take a deep breath, I've never felt so much relief! ......

The sun is setting and the attacks seem to have ended, but who knows? We remain tense and alert. Meanwhile, darkness slowly falls - which may reserve other pitfalls but which will at least put an end to this deadly target practice. Numb and depressed, we leave the turret in silence to move to the night APG. Nobody wants to have dinner. It will be a long sleepless night, during which we will sail W and then S, often illuminated by curtains of Bengal, hiding us with emission of fog and zigzagging.

Our sister "Rome" now lies in the abyss, the perennial shrine of all its fallen. On 9 September its guns thundered for the last time. But from this day, even all our pieces will no longer fire on the enemy. We expect the meeting with yesterday's opponents off the Algerian coast, the arrival in Malta, the continuation to Alexandria in Egypt. For "Vittorio Veneto" and "Italia", twenty-eight months of internment at the Bitter Lakes will follow. And finally, for them as for the other battleships of the Second World War, both belonging to the defeated fleets as to the victorious ones, there will be only the demolition.

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