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Marcello Vacca Torelli - RN Rome

Luigi Alvigini, Angelino Brozzu, Sebastiano Garbarino, Armando Gotelli, Ernesto Guidotti, Mario Moscardini, Italo Tropea, Emilio Rabitti: these are the names that come to my mind as I prepare to recall my "8 September 1943". These are the names of the Sharks who were on Rome on that sad day and who lost their young life on Rome during its last voyage. There were fourteen Sharks on the first boarding and only six, I would say by a miracle, managed to escape that hell (Casini, Catalano Gonzaga, Meneghini, Rossi V., Scotto and me).

Up until the moment we listened to that damned radio communiqué of 1945, even though we were aware that the fate of the war was now compromised, the prospect of going against the Anglo-American fleet with full flags had supported us. After that moment, on the evening of the 8th and the morning of the 19th, while engaged in on-board assignments for the departure and navigation, we were lost, distressed, disheartened, incredulous. The world had collapsed on us.

All this is known and I believe that the feelings we felt in those hours were shared by all the Sharks. But let's come to the afternoon of 9 September. Airplane alarm. Scotto and I were still wearing the winter uniform because we had spent the night outdoors (I notice this detail because it was perhaps the one that limited the burns on our bodies) and we were in the place of "navigation in war" on a platform that wrapped the forward smokestack, on the left side, with the task of coordinating the firing of a group of 20 and 37 mm machine gunners: to carry out this task we had a "column" connected via headphones with the individual heads of the system and with an apparatus counter-index tappet. There were four other "columns" entrusted to Gotelli, Guidotti, Meneghini and a complement Aspirant whose name I do not remember. We spotted the small air formation that, at very high altitude, was about to fly over the naval formation. At 3.50 pm, with binoculars, I saw the one I mistaken for a flare or an identification signal detaching from the tail of one of the aircraft. I kept following that flare, but I soon realized it was a big bomb coming down very fast and swinging along its path. In fact, I had the impression that he was "following" us, even though we were approaching to the left. I left the binoculars when I thought I could distinguish it with the naked eye. I was deluded that it could fall overboard on the right side, but instead the bomb hit the ship on the side and abaft of the 90 mm starboard complexes causing serious damage to the engine system. A few minutes later, while I was intent on showing Michele Scotto a gust of smoke that came out of the room below the crew kitchens, a second bomb hit Roma in the space between tower 1 of medium caliber, the tower and tower 2 of large caliber, exploding in the ammunition depot of the latter, after having pierced the armor.

The explosion caused the deflagration (fortunately not the explosion!) Of the 381 charges and triggered a series of other explosions in the left-hand medium and small caliber ammunition depots, with enormous production of flames and smoke that also attacked the reserves of the machine gunners on deck. A real hell! Michele Scotto and I, who hadn't had any inkling of the impending fall of the second bomb, were enveloped by the huge blaze and immediately fainted. We woke up after a few minutes (maybe five or six?) Both severely burned to the head, neck, hands and legs (the winter uniform had partially protected us), confused and stunned. We were there. inexplicably, on the castle aft of the starboard 90 complexes, that is, in a point that was 20 meters horizontally and 8 meters vertically from our platform, in the immediate vicinity of the hole produced by the first bomb; copious streams of whitish steam came out of the hole. We were also partially covered by the coils of a ship's mooring line, which had slipped off a roller on the deckhouse. I managed to free myself and get up, helped Michele (who was more stunned and burned than me) to do the same; together, passing under the admiral's motorboat (which had been partially thrown from the saddle onto the deckhouse), we followed the stream of people heading towards the stern. I had the skin of my hands in shreds, "boiled", and this greatly limited my ability to juggle in that situation. I noticed that the Corso ring had also gone off with the skin of my hands, but luckily I felt no pain. On the stairs leading to the deck at the stern I met Meneghini (see Meneghini, Rossi and Scotto files) to whom I entrusted Michele who had not yet recovered and I set out in vain for a life jacket (mine had remained on the platform of the DT machine gunner).

To put it briefly, given the inclination of the mortally wounded ship and assessing the current situation, I decided to follow the many who were already at sea. I managed to take off my jacket and remember that, as soon as I was in the water, I touched the lifelines of the blanket with my feet. I was about twenty meters away from the hull when, attracted by the screams of the people, I turned and saw that the Roma was rapidly capsizing. I always have in my eyes the red of the life jackets of the men who had lingered on board and who were being dished into the sea. The hull fell on them and remained a few seconds with the keel facing the sky and which broke into two sections that slipped into the sea. The last vision was the red coat of arms of the city that - instead of the traditional star adorned the bow and that shone in the sun.

I was exhausted and began to feel severe pain in the burned areas of the body, but the self-preservation instinct gave me strength. A few minutes later the machine gunner's motor launch recovered me and at that precise moment I lost consciousness again. I took them back the next morning (September) at the Military Hospital of Porto Mahon, while the Spanish doctors treated me.

Thus began, for Michele and for me, a period of severe suffering: for Scotto the hospitalization lasted for almost a year during which he was subjected to several transplants and plastic operations, faced with truly exceptional strength of mind and courage. . I was already on the mend when I witnessed the removal of one of Michael's eyes which had now become useless: he took it jokingly with the doctors and the stunned nuns.

I left the Military Hospital of Porto Mahon at the end of December 1943 and joined the other four Sharks at the Naval Base: Vincenzo Casini, Antonio Meneghini, Arturo Catalano Gonzaga and Vladimiro Rossi who had emerged practically unscathed (except for Toni Meneghini) from the disaster. Michele Scotto, accompanied by Vladimiro Rossi (see description) was first transferred to Barcelona and then to Madrid for a supplement of treatment and only reunited with us at the time of repatriation.

Our stay in Spain was fairly peaceful. At the beginning of January 1944, the Royal Embassy of Italy managed to obtain for us, shipwrecked in Rome and for the crews of the torpedo boats Impetuoso and Pegaso, the transfer to Caldas de Malavella (in Catalonia) where we were accommodated in a hotel rented by Embassy. We were declared "military internees" and we were paid a monthly salary with which we were able to replenish, at least in part, our trousseau by also replacing items of clothing that had been given to us by the Spanish Navy or given to us by our colleagues on our ships interned in Mahon. (Attilio Rei! Ol, Machine gunner, Rifleman. Carabiniere).

At the end of July 1944 we returned to Italy. A special train took about a week to cross all of Spain from Caldas de Malavella to Algeciras. We six Sharks had a compartment of our own. In Algeciras the cruiser Duca d 'Aosta was waiting for us and in two days he brought us to Taranto.

In Taranto my life in the Navy began again and ended in 1977.

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