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Valerio Del Nero - RN Italy

My first destination in April 1943 was the Doria ship, on which I attended, like many other Sharks, the "a" internship also participating in the ship's services, among which the "washing station" and the gun guard excelled. I also had the good fortune to spot, among the first, a couple of enemy planes that dropped a few bombs into the sea: I aimed the 90 mm guns on them, but I was unable to open fire because the Director of the anti-aircraft shooting rushed into SDT abruptly getting out of the way. Evidently the Aspiring Ensigns did not enjoy much confidence. In July, after completing my training, I was transferred to the battleship Littorio, after the 25th of the same month renamed Italy. The ship was at anchor in the Gulf of La Spezia and, before 8 September, had a very quiet activity, despite the numerous air alarms which, however, had no consequences. Just a couple of sea trips in the Upper Tyrrhenian Sea for various exercises. I was the director of the straight-side machine gun range and had such a large department employed that I had to wait to be promoted to ship captain (25 years later!) to get another one of the same size.

September 8 took me by surprise (it was a very bad surprise!) After having completed the shipment of food and ammunition for a long mission. In my naive Ensign mind I thought we were going to fight the last battle. The armistice excluded this possibility, however, opening up a horizon of mystery. What would we have done? Would we have transformed the Gulf of La Spezia into a new Scapa Flow, or would we have gone to some unknown place? The first alternative was canceled during the night, when we set sail to leave La Spezia; as for the second one, I thought I had guessed it when we headed towards Corsica and then, having passed Capo Corso, we headed south. I thought in fact that we would have gone to Maddalena, a hypothesis confirmed by the next approach towards the Strait. But at a certain moment, from my DT machine gun platform, I saw a turn signal rise from Rome at a time of 180 ° (I later learned that La Maddalena was in the hands of the Germans). When the route was reversed, we were immediately attacked by German planes with guided bombs. I remember that I was trying to aim the gunners on the planes just spotted to indicate with the tracers the new targets to the dashboard and to the 90 mm batteries. When we saw a bomb coming down, presumably aimed at us, the personnel assigned to the platform DT machine gunner took cover under a small tent. It seemed to me very ridiculous behavior and I stayed out in the open. I regretted it soon after, when a bomb exploded near the stern raising a column of water that bathed me like a chick. The others in the tent got away with a few sketches.

We then witnessed the drama of Rome and subsequently we were also hit at the starboard bow, luckily with less disastrous consequences. We compensated for the heeling of the ship by embarking a certain number of tons of water in the double bottoms of the left side and we continued the navigation with our means, now headed south.

At dawn on 10 September there was a meeting with two English battleships (Repulse and Warspite) who accompanied us to Malta. Seeing all those beautiful ships at anchor, in enemy waters up to two days before, after an unconditional surrender, I remember feeling immense sadness. We had obeyed an order that was certainly right, but extremely painful!

I felt a similar feeling many years later when they gave me a picture with the speech that Admiral Bergamini had made to the Commanders before leaving La Spezia.

A beautiful, moving speech, which wonderfully expresses the feelings we all felt on that fateful day. Someone later told me that that speech is not authentic, but that it would have been reworked by Admiral Garofalo. I want to believe it is authentic. I hung the picture near my desk and reread it every now and then.


From the Report to the Commanders before the departure of the FF.NN. by Battaglia

Tell all this to your men.

They will be able to find in their generous hearts the strength to accept this immense sacrifice.

Tell them that the 39 months of war we have fought together, hour by hour in unequal struggle, that the ships sunk fighting hard, that the glorious dead, have won the Navy the respect and admiration of the adversary.

And the Fleet, which until an hour ago was ready to move against it, can, now that the interest of the Fatherland demands it, meet the winner with the flag in the wind and may its men hold their foreheads high. . This was not the way imagined.

But we must take this path without hesitation, because what counts in the history of peoples are not dreams and hopes and denials of reality, but the awareness of the duty fully accomplished, whatever the cost. Avoiding this duty would be easy, but it would be an inglorious gesture and would mean stopping our life and that of the entire nation and closing it in a circle without resources, without redemption, never again.

The day will come when this living force of the Navy will be the cornerstone on which the Italian people can patiently rebuild their fortunes.

Tell all this to your men and they will follow you obediently, as they always have followed you in the hours of actions full of dangers.

La Spezia evening of 8 September 1943

The Commander in Chief of the Naval Battle Forces Admiral Carlo BERGAMINI

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