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What instructions and orders had Admiral Bergamini given?

There has been, and sometimes still exists, a discussion between historians and some of the survivors and / or scholars, about what Bergamini's intentions were once he learned that La Maddalena had been occupied by the Germans. There have also been various hypotheses about what happened on board the Roma shortly before the sinking.

Nevertheless, for a serene reconstruction of the facts, we can only rely on the actual historical evidence deriving from the documentation examined by Commander Pier Paolo Bergamini, son of the Admiral, editi  from the Maritime Magazine in the 2nd edition of his book "The Naval Forces from Battle and the Armistice" on 9 September 2003, on the occasion of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the sinking of Rome in the waters of Asinara. And these facts unequivocally demonstrate the profound sense of duty that the Navy and its Commander in Chief of the FF.NN .BB showed in those tragic situations.

On the morning of 7 September I had with Admiral Bergamini, (Commander in Chief of the FF.NN .BB., Who had arrived by car from La Spezia for the meeting called for the afternoon) “an interview on the spirit of the Fleet. I had full and explicit assurance from him that the fleet was ready to go out to fight its last battle in the waters of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea. He told me that Commanders and Officers were perfectly aware of the reality they would encounter, but that in all of them the decision to fight to the extreme of possibility was very firm. The crews were full of faith and enthusiasm. The training had made good progress in recent times. The agreements made with the German and Italian Air Forces and the experiences made gave good confidence to finally be able to count on a decent air-naval cooperation. He confirmed that, by intervening in the landing operation that had just begun and taking advantage of the inevitable crisis of that delicate phase, it would be possible to inflict serious damage on the enemy. I remember this conversation with emotion because from the words of this man, who had always lived on and for ships, emanated without any hesitation the calm security of being able to ask the powerful organism in his hands for extreme effort and total sacrifice. Knowing that the underwater forces were already on the move and that the smaller torpedo forces were ready to go into action, I could not help thinking and I cannot but reaffirm today that the Navy was captured by the Armistice in full material and moral efficiency ".

Admiral Bergamini, at the end of this meeting, met with Admiral Massimo Girosi, Chief of Operations and Training of Supermarina, to examine the orders prepared for the forthcoming release of the FF.NN.BB., orders that had the his approval as well as that of the admirals de Courten and Sansonetti. Admiral Girosi writes about it to commander Pier Paolo Bergamini: "In confirmation of what you wrote to me, I will tell you that the operation orders for what presumably would have been the last exit with the supreme sacrifice of all our naval forces , had been physically compiled by me with the full consent of your father and the Chief and Deputy Chief of the Navy. They were so clear and resolute that they even envisaged the hypothesis of leaks or the need to bring the ships in dry position and keep them firing as stationary batteries, except to blow them up in case of need ”.

Therefore the firm conviction, on 7 September, was that of the supreme sacrifice of the fleet in opposing the attempted allied landing in Southern Italy.

At about 7.00 pm Admiral de Courten had a new conversation with Admiral Bergamini: "Although the restrictions imposed on me did not allow me to inform him exactly of what I had so far known about the problem of the armistice, I expressed my concerns for the evident evolution of the national situation towards a definitive solution imposed by the general conditions of the country, so that, in the short term, it could also be expected that we would be faced with accomplished facts. I also wanted to highlight my opinion that, in this difficult and complex phase, the existence of the Fleet, which was a compact organism with a strong offensive capacity, constituted a pre-eminent element, capable of exercising an influence proportionate to its absolute value and relative. I then examined with him the possibility that, faced with a German offensive action, the ships of the Fleet managed to evade any threat by leaving the ports, but found themselves in the embarrassing situation of not knowing where to go, so as not to remain in areas controlled by the Germans and not to pass into areas controlled by the Anglo-Americans. We reviewed all the alternatives, agreeing that, in this extreme case, the decision to scuttle all the naval units in deep water could have been taken into consideration, using thin ships to rescue the crews, which would then be destroyed on the high seas. or on the coast. And, with this oppressive conclusion, which however did not appear, at the moment, of urgent relevance, we took our leave ".

In reality  de Courten, still on 7 September was not aware of the signing of the Armistice

On the night of the 8th, and at the first light of dawn, further sightings of the convoys headed for the Gulf of Salerno, gave certainty to Admiral de Courten that an Allied landing operation towards the coasts was to be expected in the short term. south-central Italians. Therefore "after having consulted the Supreme Command, which gave its consent, at 08.00 the order was sent to the Fleet to be ready to move at 14.00 on the 8th". Starting at that time, the fleet would have found itself in the waters of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea in the early hours of day 9, thus being able to intervene in the critical phase of the start of the landing, as agreed with Admiral Bergamini.

Admiral de Courten went to General Ambrosio early in the morning of 8 September to report to him the outcome of the "Ibis Mission" (which had ended with the landing in Gaeta of General Taylor and Colonel Gardiner), to deliver the two reminders regarding the "Dick Instructions" and to communicate the orders given for the imminent departure of the FF.NN.BB. for the southern Tyrrhenian Sea “highlighting the availability of means and the prospects for the result, the character of the commitment”.

General Ambrosio, who appeared particularly gloomy and worried, then communicated to Admiral de Courten that the Anglo-Americans had rejected the proposal to reunite the FF.NN.BB. to Maddalena, but that he was still insisting on the acceptance of the Italian request with the hope of succeeding in obtaining something. The Allies instead agreed on the transfer of the King to La Maddalena, however, allowing only one cruiser and four escort destroyers to be left at the disposal of the King and his entourage.

As for the movements of the FF.NN.BB. it was appropriate to await his "way"; however, it was decided to go to the state of readiness in two hours and to have the ships pass to the moorings in the roadstead, while the 8th Naval Division had to be ready in two hours in Genoa. These instructions were sent at 10.00 to the Command in Chief of the FF.NN.BB .. Admiral de Courten, at 12.00, also in consideration of the attitude held by General Ambrosio in the morning meeting, worried that he had not yet received its provisions regarding the departure of the FF.NN.BB. for Salerno.

Thus he relates in his Memoirs: “At noon, since General Ambrosio had not made any communication to me, my worries became more serious. I had the feeling that the possibility taken into consideration the day before, with Admiral Bergamini, that of being in a state of hostility with the two sides, without knowing where to support the Fleet, could become a reality ”.

And again below he expresses himself in this way regarding the self-sinking: "The orientation of this position was largely influenced by the circumstance that the persistent silence of General Ambrosio, unattainable, left very perplexed about the meaning of this attitude, which appeared ambiguous and susceptible of any interpretation ".

He therefore decided, should the appropriate provisions regarding the departure for Salerno of the FF.NN.BB. from:

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ consider canceled the mission of the FF.NN.BB. in Salerno;

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ provide in any case for the transfer of the fleet to La Maddalena;

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ also prepare the appropriate provisions for the possible self-sinking of naval units.

Admiral de Courten, around 12.30, had a meeting with Admiral Bruno Brivonesi, Autonomous Military Maritime Commander of Sardinia, summoned by him and arrived by plane from La Maddalena.

Admiral Brivonesi told him that General Antonio Basso, Commander of the Armed Forces of Sardinia (the Military Maritime Commands were operationally dependent on the High Command of the Army for the land part) had already communicated the directives received from the Supreme Command in case of German attack. The provisions to be implemented the following day in case of docking of the Fleet in La Maddalena were also examined, as well as the possible accommodation of the Royal Family and part of the Government if their transfer to La Maddalena was confirmed. 136bad5cf58d_ After this interview, Admiral Brivonesi went to Admiral Sansonetti who, among other things, entrusted him with a package containing documents to be delivered to Admiral Bergamini on his arrival in La Maddalena, which probably also included the "Instructions ”By Commodore Dick, and immediately flew back to headquarters

On 8 September, Admiral de Courten, shortly after 5.30 pm, received an urgent telephone call from the Ministry of the Navy with the order to be at the Quirinale at around 6.00 pm. A similar generic urgent communication, around the same time, was received by the participants in the meeting, as shown in their reports.

Marshal Badoglio, General Ambrosio, Ministers Guariglia and Sorice, Admiral de Courten, General Sandalli, General Roatta, General Giuseppe de Stefanis, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army and General Coals. Badoglio, Guariglia and Ambrosio were made to enter immediately in the presence of the King, shortly after the other summoned authorities were also introduced.

The King said: “General Eisenhower has communicated that this very evening he will make the notification of the Armistice on the radio, while this should have taken place only in a few days. I wanted to bring together Lor gentlemen to find out their opinion on this sudden and unexpected change in the situation ”.

Admiral de Courten expressed to the minister Guariglia, a neighbor, his surprise not being aware of the signing of an armistice and the related clauses.

The King, noting the exchange of words between de Courten and Guariglia, turned to de Courten: “What do you think, Admiral? I answer. I have no knowledge that an armistice has been concluded, nor its clauses, nor of a fixed date for its notification, so I do not feel like expressing an opinion on a matter of which I do not know the exact terms “.

General Sandalli pointed out that he was in the same condition as Admiral de Courten.

The King then invited General Ambrosio to illustrate the situation which turned out to be the following:

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ the first active contacts with the Anglo-Americans to reach the signing of an armistice dated back to the beginning of August;

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ the armistice had been signed in Cassibile on 3 September (the same day that Marshal Badoglio had communicated to de Courten "that His Majesty the King had decided to start negotiations for the conclusion of an armistice" );

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ had insisted on defining the notification date taking into account the mutual needs;

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ the presumable date indicated by the negotiators was between 12 and 13 September;

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ suddenly General Eisenhower had announced that at 18.30 today he would announce the signing of an armistice and the suspension of hostilities;

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ this advance created very serious situations even bearing in mind the foreseeable German reaction;

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ General Rossi, Deputy Chief of the General Staff, flew to Palermo together with American General Taylor to persuade Eisenhower to postpone the announcement for a few days;

·      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ it was hoped that our good reasons would be accepted, but the Reuter Agency had already sent rumors about it.

Major Marchesi, who had participated in the armistice negotiations and in the signing of the "Short Armistice" which took place in Cassibile on 3 September, was brought in, who illustrated both the progress of the negotiations and the figure of General Castellano, signatory of the Armistice.

The meeting took on lively tones and those present expressed their indignation towards Marshal Badoglio and General Ambrosio for not having kept them informed of the actual progress of the armistice negotiations, which would have allowed them to take the appropriate security measures in time.

Some hypotheses were also advanced on the actions to be taken, but all were discarded.

At 6.30 pm General Paolo Puntoni, Adjutant of the Field of the King, entered to point out that General Eisenhower was about to communicate from Radio Algeri the signing of the Armistice with the Italian Government.

The King, who had carefully followed the exchanges of views, the recriminations, the criticisms, the various proposals, asked to be left alone for a short time in order to reflect serenely on the situation. After a while he called Marshal Badoglio and told him that he had decided on the complete and loyal application of the armistice clauses by ordering that the Government, and in particular all the Armed Forces, had to faithfully carry out the provisions of the Armistice.

The Marshal reported to the other attendees at the meeting, what was arranged and ordered by the King. Badoglio then went to the EIAR headquarters to communicate the news of the Armistice to the Italian people.

The Crown Council meeting ended around 7.00 pm. The proclamation of Marshal Badoglio was broadcast at 7.45 pm.

On this meeting we also report what was written on the subject by Admiral (CM) Giovanni Bernardi, an attentive scholar of the events of 1943:

“The descriptions we have of the session, which ended with the King's decision to proceed with the declaration of the armistice, coincide in their general lines, if not in details, giving us an idea of the climate of bewilderment in which it took place. And this not only because of the drama that befell the nation, but also because it came suddenly both for the "initiates", such as Badoglio and Ambrosio (who had believed until the very end that Eisenhower would postpone the declaration of the armistice), and, and even more so, for the others who, as Guariglia wrote, "knew little or little precisely about what had happened in the previous days". In fact, in the meeting it emerged that the three military ministers (two of which also heads of MS), although they had been informed on September 3 that it had been decided to start negotiations for an armistice, had not known anything about this and even less about the occurrence. signature, and that General Puntoni, although First Adjutant to the Field of the King, had been kept in the dark about everything ”.

General Ambrosio then summoned the three Chiefs of Staff (de Courten, Roatta and Sandalli) to Palazzo Vidoni.

He read the text of the "Short armistice"signed on 3 September which, for the Navy, provided for in article 4 the following: "Immediate transfer of the Italian fleet and aircraft to the localities, which may be indicated by the Allied Commander-in-Chief, together with the detailed provisions on their disarmament which will be he established ".

The reaction of Admiral de Courten, on hearing this news for the first time, was particularly harsh, because he had not been informed of this clause and concluded by saying: "You have made a holocaust of the Fleet, which was the only force that remained steadfast in the Country, but you do not deserve that it sacrifices itself, I will give the order that it self-sink this very evening “.

At this point, General Ambrosio delivered the "Quebec Memorandum" to de Courten, which began as follows:

“The present conditions do not contemplate active assistance from Italy in fighting the Germans. The extent to which conditions will be changed in Italy's favor will depend on what the Italian government and people actually do to help the allied nations against Germany during the rest of the war. "

General Ambrosio added: "in every way the Allies have assured that they will respect the honor of the Fleet."

On board the battleship Roma, at 18.30, the Command in Chief of the FF.NN.BB. he intercepted the communication of Radio Algiers with which General Eisenhower announced the Armistice between Italy and the Allies. Admiral Bergamini thus unexpectedly learned via radio that an Armistice had been signed.

Admiral Bergamini immediately gathered Admiral Caraciotti and his General Staff to examine the situation and to take the related decisions, which were oriented towards the self-sinking.

At 7.45 pm, shortly after the end of that meeting, he heard the proclamation of Marshal Badoglio on the radio. He therefore decided to go to the Vittorio Veneto (the only unit that he had specifically left moored at the buoys of the breakwater, because they allowed the telephone connection to be maintained with the land), to speak with Admiral de Courten. He also arranged for a meeting of the admirals and dependent commanders to be held at 22.00 on the Vittorio Veneto

at 20.30 Admiral de Courten reported in his "Memoirs" as follows: "While I was trying to make contact by telephone with Admiral Bergamini, he, who, upon the announcement of the Armistice received by the radio, had taken to the battleship Vittorio Veneto, seat of the Command of the 9th Division, he was calling me ”.

Admiral Bergamini initially expressed his indignation at not having been informed the day before the conclusion of the Armistice, considering this attitude as a lack of trust in him. He therefore asked to be exonerated from the Command in Chief of the FF.NN.BB. However, he pointed out that it was not his intention to take his ships to allied ports and that his intention, as well as that of his General Staff, was to scuttle the ships, as foreseen by Supermarina.

I illustrated the situation to him, as it was also revealed to me in its crudeness, placing myself in front of the fait accompli that previously was only partially known to me, with the bond of secrecy. I explained to him the progress of the meeting held at the Sovereign, which had closed with the order of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces [the King] to loyally execute the harsh armistice clauses, an order that certainly had cost him at least as much as it weighed on ours. I mentioned to him the subsequent meeting with the Chief of General Staff and the existence of a document, which he communicated to me [the Quebec document], from which this appeared to be the way to give the Italian people the possibility of life and recovery in the future. , with a certain guarantee from the leaders of the Anglo-American coalition. These were the considerations that led me to believe that the fair execution of the agreed and accepted clauses was necessary. I also mentioned in general terms that the Armistice provided for the transfer of the Fleet to areas controlled by the Anglo-Americans beyond Bona, with precautionary security measures, but with respect for military honor. I added that it was better to remove the ships from / as soon as possible, not only from the danger of a German intervention, which could manifest itself at any moment, but also from the deleterious influence of the land environment and the repercussions of contacts and discussions between the General Staff. and crews of different units. Since the advanced hour would not have allowed us to leave the naval bases until after midnight (and therefore would not have allowed us to follow the procedure of the Dick Document, which provided for the arrival in daylight hours in the waters of Bona), I told him to prepare to leave as soon as possible for La Maddalena, where he had already been prepared for mooring and where I would have him find the exact text of the armistice clauses and related documents, as well as the detailed instructions for further movements.

At 9.30 pm Admiral de Courten decided to go to the home of Grand Admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel, who enjoyed a deep esteem in the Navy and was considered an "example of the sentiment of military honor" to explain the situation to him and have his opinion. Admiral Thaon di Revel listened attentively to de Courten, gathered himself for a few minutes in silent meditation and then addressed de Courten with these words: "The Navy must carry out His Majesty's orders." It was rather difficult for Bergamini to accept the need to obtain this bitter sacrifice from his employees, and not even the prospect of a future softening of the armistice clauses could induce him to impose on the crews an attitude that they considered contrary to military honor.

Admiral Bergamini, after deep reflection on the contents and arguments presented by the admirals de Courten and Sansonetti, decided to "obey the most bitter of orders".

The meeting of Admiral Bergamini on the Vittorio Veneto took place, as planned, at 22.00.

A quick comment was made on the Armistice communiqué transmitted by the Radio, he recommended to the Commanders who had not already done so, to assemble the crews and explain its meaning.

Then he communicated that the units of the FN able to move, had to, at the order that was expected from the Center, move to the Magdalene, and that before leaving it was necessary to stock up on food from subsistence in the greatest possible quantity.

He did not give other communications regarding the location of the ships [as he does not know why it would have been communicated to him at La Maddalena]. Then, perhaps to remove any doubt from the minds of those present, he spoke of the need for the strength of the Navy to remain compact in spirit and decision, as it could constitute the strongest element for the reconstruction of the homeland and concluded by pronouncing approximately the following words: It is the duty of each of us to blindly obey the orders of the central authorities as they alone possess the elements to judge the situation that has arisen and to choose the right path to follow. We all must be ready to make any sacrifice, even if it goes beyond our lives.

Finally, in response to a question put to him by some Commander or on his own initiative, he said that it could not be excluded that the ships were attacked both by the Germans and by the allies and that therefore it was necessary to be ready to react to any offense, from whoever it was received.

He then called Admiral de Courten who reported the interview as follows: “Just before 11.00 pm the telephone bell rang again. It was Admiral Bergamini who gave me the long-awaited answer. He concluded and summed up in the brief dialogue - during which I confirmed the urgency to leave the waters of La Spezia as soon as possible and the allied commitment to respect the honor and dignity of the Navy and the concordant judgment of the Grand Admiral - with these simple words: “Don't worry, in a few hours the whole team will leave to fulfill their duty entirely; all ships capable of moving, even with a single propeller, will leave with me ”.

At La Spezia, Admiral Bergamini, returned to Rome, had the personnel employed by the Command in Chief reunite to inform him about the latest events and about the decision he had taken to "obey" the orders to abide by the armistice provisions; he communicated that within a short time the Naval Forces would set sail from La Spezia to go temporarily to the Maddalena, where the port of final destination would be specified.

Meanwhile Supermarina, with a phonogram of 11.45 pm on 8 September, ordered the CC.FF.NN.BB. to set sail for La Maddalena.

September 9

143709 hours. Admiral Bergamini received a message filled in at 1.16pm by Supermarina in which it was communicated that La Maddalena had been occupied by the Germans, ordering him to reverse the route and go to Bona. Of this message, the EC indicates only: “Prot. 348 time of transmission 14.24: time of compilation 13.16 PAPA Cifrato 16 ter C. Supermarina to CC.FF.NN. Indecipherable because the key C is missing; ". However, Admiral Sansonetti reports: “Except that around 11.00 on the 9th, I was called to the teleprinter by Admiral Brivonesi, and from him I learned that the estuary was in the hands of the Germans. So I immediately sent a telegraph to Rome to reverse the route and certainly proceed to Bona ”. This message is also reported by Admiral Giuseppe Fioravanzo who writes “towards 13.00 Supermarina warned that Germanic forces had occupied La Maddalena, ordered the FF.NN. with radio message completed at 13.16 to direct to Bona. It was able to receive on Rome at 14.24 "

145509 hours. The CC.FF.NN.BB compiled the PAPA message n. 06992 addressed to Supermarina and for information to the 7th, 8th and 9th Divisions, communicating that he had carried out the hijacking and that he was managing on Bona. However, the only traced text relating to this message is that which was only partially decrypted at the time the "Chronological List of Messages" was compiled, because some parts of it were illegible. The text reported on the "Chronological List" is the following: "PAPA Cifrato Table A LODI from Comando FF.NN.BB. to Supermarina 06992 Table LODI (alt) I assure reply to message 12286 group [...] time date night 49 pond asking for confirmation [...] Hijacking, done (alt) Table LODI 145509 ”.

The phonogram 06992 was however regularly received and decrypted by Supermarina, as shown by the message 57847 that this body sent at 17.38 on the 9th to Admiral Oliva - who took over the Command from Admiral Bergamini, who disappeared at sea with the sinking of the Roma - in response to his requests for instructions.

The text of Supermarina's message was the following: “PAPA Cifrato 16 ter Onda AC. From Supermarina 57847 to 7th Division, 8th Division, and 9th Division Confirmed order Bona, repeat Bona, previously transmitted (alt) Today's Reference 06992 of the Naval Battle Command intended for 7th Division Command for Naval Battle Force and pc 8th Division Command and pc 9a Division".

Therefore, from this message it is incontrovertible that Admiral Bergamini had addressed the phonogram 06992 to Supermarina, and for information to the Dependent Divisions, to communicate that not only had he carried out the "hijacking" but also that the new destination was Bona. It should also be noted that the "Chronological List" reports that the CC.FF.NN.BB. he was able to transmit the phonogram 06992 to Supermarina only at 3.45 pm, when Roma had already been hit by the first bomb. It is therefore believed that given the tragic pressure of the offensive action of the German planes, the radio station of the CC.FF.NN.BB. did not have time to transmit 06992 to the dependent Divisions before its sinking. In fact, it appears that this message was received only by Supermarina (which mentions it) and not to the other recipients.

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