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Giovanni Vittani

adapted from:"A September afternoon"by Andrea Amici


At the same time as Giovanni a purely venal thought flashes into his mind. He has already started to take one of the passages that from Piazza Impero leads to the bow, on the main deck, when a pessimistic idea makes him think to go back and go for a moment to his locker to retrieve his watch and wallet. . He wants to have them with him, he feels  instinctively that something serious is about to happen. His carpenter's cabinet is located on the first corridor, in the technical workshop of the 7th-8th ward, the large room forward of the one where the entrance to the refuge of tower three is located, room 154.

He then follows the same path as Italo, only a couple of minutes later. Not seeing him anymore, he can only deduce that he has already closed himself inside the armored tower along with all the others. In fact he finds the area almost deserted, only a few latecomers who are hurrying to run in his place. He enters the workshop, takes his wallet and watch from the locker and puts them in his trouser pocket. He goes out, closing the heavy watertight doors behind him. Giovanni still doesn't know that having lost these two minutes to get to his meeting point in the Central Floating Center will save his life!

He then begins to run on the deck of the first corridor, enters the forward door of the medium caliber three plant, the one on the left, continuing to run along the corridor, two  and a half meters long and seventeen wide . He arrives at another watertight door, goes through it and starts running into the corridor of the 4th security zone. He has reached the middle of the corridor and realizes that the road he is taking is not the right one. It would have been better to go on the starboard corridor, since the floating station is on the straight side, in a room of about twelve square meters, next to the ferrule of tower two, practically under the command tower. When it is between the tower and tower two, the road will become complicated and the watertight door will certainly already be completely closed. But there is no more time to go back.

He arrived at the height of the ship center, where there is the ladder leading to the upper deck, when suddenly he feels thrown towards the bulkhead  by a gigantic explosion that seems to never cease. From the blow he takes falling he remains stunned for a good minute, while Roma are already starting to lean on the straight side. In recovering, he has not yet realized that the ship has just been hit by a plane bomb. When he opens his eyes, he is in total darkness and he already hears many voices of frightened people who are screaming about everything. He simply believes that the blow caused him to lose his sight, because he struggles to open his eyes, but he cannot see anything. It is a terrible moment for him, he has the distinct sensation of having a few moments of life in front of him! For a moment he sees in his mind the images of his mother and his brothers: would he never see them again?

He is in the most absolute bewilderment because he does not realize anything, he hears only a noisy chaos in the thickest darkness. In the dramatic and confused moment he is experiencing, he seems to hear the metallic voice of the General Orders Network intercom that communicates to the Floating Center to balance the heeling of the hull and to the rescue team to move to the IV area. It is his department, made up of thirteen carpenters[the], which at this moment should take over the whole situation to deal with the emergency.

Suddenly the light returns and someone comes out of the watertight door towards the bow. For Giovanni these are unreal moments of a mute world, with blurred outlines and very slow movements. The light slowly appears sharper to him. Slower still, he begins to have a sense of direction again. What decision to make then? Is it better to go to the Central Buoyancy Station or look for directions from the Naval Engineers officer who commands the security area in which it is located? Those arriving from the premises towards the bow, that is, from the III area, say that everything is fine there, but the damage is in the area in which it is located at that moment, the IV. Giovanni and the others still do not know that the bomb that just hit Roma exploded under their feet, a few meters from the live work, because it went through the entire hull as if it were made of simple cardboard and exploded under water.

In the meantime, the order was repeated to close the watertight hatches and to bring help in the fourth area, on the straight side. He therefore understands that the damage is on the other side of the ship and since he is a carpenter, before going to starboard, he checks the doors of the corridor in which he is located.

Ten minutes have passed since the first explosion and while he is closing the hatch leading to the deck, which some sailors had opened a couple of minutes earlier without authorization, he hears a thud and metallic thud coming from the bow. A few seconds later the light fails again and the ship begins a violent tremor in constant increase, as if the hull had convulsions. It is like an animal spasm of a mortally wounded beast, because almost at the apex of the jolt a devastating roar emanates from the bow rooms and an infernal heat begins to radiate from the III zone. It has the immediate feeling of being inside a devastating thunder of biblical proportions. For Giovanni it is a second fall from the ladder that makes him stunned again on the steel floor.

But this time there is no time to be stunned. In the dark and without any reference light he plays the card of his destiny. The corridor has two paths: the stern, which leads to salvation and the bow, which leads to death. But this John does not know. He relies on chance, groping down one of the two roads. He has a one in two chance of dying, but he has no choice. Somewhere he has to go, at least to understand what's going on. A voice inside him seems to tell him that once he has taken a road he will not be able to repent and go back. One way ticket for life or death!

He comes to a bulkhead, touches it, it's cold. With his hand he begins to look for a reference, an object, anything that can make him understand where he is. Calmly he can feel the outline of an armored door and immediately finds the handle that unlocks the four bolts. Fortunately, he knows the geometry of all of the ship's locks so well that he never misses a second. His job in the carpenters team is to grease the hinges and check the seals of the watertight doors. He opens the door and finds himself in another corridor, hears people screaming at the back and glimpses the faint beams of portable lamps, while the premises are rapidly filling with smoke and steam. He deduces that he is going aft, there is smoke but there are no fires.


As he approaches the door on the side of the corridor, the emergency light comes on again. When the light bulbs illuminate the premises, he realizes that the ship is lost, because the heel is increasing considerably. In fact, he can hardly keep himself in balance, while in the large aft room, the 154, people are starting to arrive, especially from the ammunition depots on the lower decks. All these terrified people disturb him and make him want to join those who are already going to the upper decks, outside. He desists, because he still has to go to the straight side, the General Orders Network has ordered him.

He struggles into the door leading to the starboard corridor, given the heeling, but as soon as he sets foot through the bulkhead a violent puff of hot steam hits him in full. The sensation he feels is terrible, because at the same time he also inhaled smoke, mixed with  vapor. Inside his lungs is hell, because if the blaze had been dry, it might not have caused him that immediate choking sensation typical of high-temperature water vapor. This is probably the boiling water from the boilers that exploded.

Recovering for a moment, he turns and staggers back to the room 154, hoping that someone will support him and help him out. But no one is able to look after him. Everyone runs and even begins to slide on the deck, shiny and clean to prevent any adhesion, because until the day before it was polished like a mirror by the washing teams.

From the premises towards the bow, inhuman screams of pain are heard. Through a door he sees a distant sailor waving desperately with his clothes on fire. The silhouette of that human torch that illuminates the dark corridor with its fire paralyzes him with horror. He has never seen anything like it in his twenty years of life and all this can only render him helpless with fear. He starts gasping and struggling not to pass out, holding on to the elevator posts of the large-caliber shells. He fears that the human mass in full panic will overwhelm him and crush him.

A couple of minutes pass and he recovers. Move your gaze to the giant pot-bellied bulkhead of the beard of tower three. Eight meters from him is the small door that leads inside. “Italo is in there!”. It's the only thought that crosses his mind.

He throws himself into the small opening, while another sailor is approaching with a large bar. She looks him in the face and says: “Vittani, is that you? What has he done to his face, you are all burned! ”.

He is a friend of his, he hardly recognizes him, because he no longer has lashes and eyebrows, with slightly burnt hair and a blackened face. Fortunately, two more arrive and in a group they begin to strain the opening, while from the inside some fingers are already peeking out of the crack that is slowly widening. He manages to enjoy the joy of seeing the glow of another emergency light filtering through the ferrule of tower three, but he doesn't have time to see if Italo is there because he is overwhelmed by the group that is rushing out like a maddened herd. He finds himself on deck shortly after, going up from the straight side, the most tiring one due to the slope, but precisely because of the less crowded one. Out there, havoc begins to develop around him.

The sun is obscured by a real eruption that comes out of the bow areas, from the tower. He remains for a moment terrified by a reasoning that comes out spontaneously: the Central Floating! That's right, if he hadn't returned for a few minutes to get his watch and wallet, he would have been locked up in the fire area, with no possibility of escape.

Like everyone at this moment, she doesn't understand what she has to do, so she stays a bit aft waiting for someone's instructions. Meanwhile the water has reached the gunwale and quickly begins to rise on the teak deck. A sailor comes to meet him, struggling to support another boy with his head literally split in two. He is losing a lot of blood and is unrecognizable, but he is still alive. Mumbles incomprehensible words. "Help me, help me find a doctor!" the healthy sailor says to Giovanni.

Towards the center of the ship they see one of the medical officers on board. Giovanni calls him and tells him to run. The officer follows him to the rail, where the wounded man is holding on with difficulty, helped by his friend. He takes his head in his hands, soaking himself in blood, observes his wound for a few seconds and shakes his head. He leaves it and with his gaze lost in the void goes to the extreme stern, arrives with his feet in the water and dives into the sea, moving away. The scene is dramatic, because  at that moment Giovanni and the other sailor understand that there is not a moment to lose. They take the poor man, who does not understand why but still manages to remain conscious, and they bring him next to the starboard boat, now almost submerged. You don't even need to dive, the water practically reaches your feet. Many sailors enter the water without even putting their heads under. But they only travel a few tens of meters until the unfortunate person loses consciousness, with the naphtha and oil entering the wound. It should burn him mad, but he doesn't say anything, which worries his two companions. He doesn't react and is immobile as his friend tries to keep his head above the water. Giovanni sees that a whitish liquid is coming out of the cut, they shake him and his friend calls him by name. For him there is nothing more to be done, he is dead, they can only abandon him.

Giovanni then begins to move away decisively from the hull which seems to tilt more and more, immediately followed by the other unharmed sailor. Just in time they leave, that a few moments later the ship capsizes.

While helplessly witnessing this drama, in his instinct he increases the fear of dying again, the second time after the first bomb explodes. Rome could not sink, everyone said it! And if a steel giant like this sinks in a few moments, it means that man has sinned with arrogance and loses, as often happens, his fight against Nature! It is up to the sea to carry out the death sentence on Rome.

While the prow of the ship sinks boiling in the whitish foam of the vortexes, Giovanni swims in the first direction that happens to him, without any precise destination and without following anyone. But soon he remains alone, at the mercy of the sea, downwind of most of the group of castaways and rafts. The current begins to isolate him more and more, while many are already rescued by the ships rushed to help. From a distance he sees these scenes, but to reach them he would have to swim with the sea against for many hundreds of meters and he has already exhausted his strength!


Minutes pass, until they become hours and no one has yet noticed him. It's been a long time after 6pm and she doesn't even have the strength to wave her arms anymore. He escaped the hell of fire, but now he is in a hell of water, where he suffers a little less, but he is abandoned to his fate. Only the life preserver keeps it afloat. He is almost completely frozen, in less than an hour he will surely be dead of cold and the darkness of the night will swallow him forever. He knows that lying to himself is stupid and cowardly, so he realizes that the end is very near for him. He doesn't even have the strength to pray anymore. He is thirsty, he tried to wet his mouth with sea water, but it only made the situation worse. His face burns and every splash of salt water starts to feel like a whip. His situation seems to have no way out and he gives up, closing his eyes resigning himself to the cruel will of the sea. He even begins to feel a strange warmth that is enveloping him, although he is almost frozen. On hearing this, he no longer has any doubts: his death is now near!

The instant he is about to abandon himself and fall asleep forever in the water, he hears the sound of a small diesel engine nearby. With an incredible effort he turns his head and sees a boat that has stopped next to a small group of heads a hundred meters from him. It takes a lot of effort, because when it goes down the wave the image disappears. Save your breath, don't scream or fidget. Keep your last strength like an ace in the hole, to be used only at the right time. It will be when they have finished pulling up the last castaway who screams. In fact, he waits for the coincidence of the moment in which he sees him picking up weight and the one in which he is on the crest of the wave. He knows he has only one chance: when they have pulled him up[ii], the boat's engine will rev to move away and its noise will drown out every voice. He will have to play in advance, his life is in his own hands. With all the strength that his body and his heart can bear he screams one word: “Help!” It happens, in the life of every living being, that at least once it is necessary to make an effort beyond one's means. It is a question of bringing out all the power and concentration one is gifted with, because there is an extremely important game at stake: one's survival! Well, for Giovanni this is the moment in which you have to play that card that has instinct in store. In fact, his scream is so loud that they hear it immediately from the boat. But it is not the same boat that retrieves him: not far away another motor boat is making a last lap to see if it can still find The sailors of the Lance of the Rifleman, who have seen and heard him clearly, indicate the direction from which they have seen Giovanni.

No more than two minutes later, the small boat occupied only by two sailors of the Carabiniere destroyer, is upon him. He tries to cling to the lines surrounding the edge  of the hull, but realizes that it is practically paralyzed by the cold. Four sturdy arms lift him up and place him on the floor of the spear. He cannot utter a word of any kind, his jaw is contracted from the cold and he is unable to extend his legs and arms. He remains for the whole trip up to board the Carabiniere in a fetal position, lying on the bottom of the boat. His face is all burned, albeit not severely. E'solo, on the boat there are only him and his two rescuers.

Arrived alongside the destroyer, two sailors create with their arms a kind of saddle between his legs and hoist him weightlessly on the small beach of the barcarizzo. It is absolutely unable to cooperate. In fact, as soon as he gets on board, they immediately cover him with a brown wool blanket and carry him to the officers' square.

As soon as they lay him down on one of the armchairs in the small square, he looks into the face of the other survivors as exhausted as he is. They barely smile, but he falls asleep almost immediately, without noticing that a pitiful hand is applying ointment to his burned face. He falls into a very deep sleep that lasts a few hours.

Upon awakening, he naturally believes he is waking up from a bad nightmare, but finding himself on the armchairs and the moans of the other injured, brings him back to sad reality in an instant. The first thought obviously goes to Italo, Mario and Marco. Where am I?

He gets up with a start and goes out onto the deck. It is dark, but the sudden image of the bodies lying aft paralyzes him. The white flare of the tricolor is best distinguished between green and red. A couple of them are placed inside the rafts of the Roma, the others on the riveted plates of the bridge.

Compared to his friends from Sanremo, the situation is probably worse, he does not yet know that all three are already heartening each other on the nearby ship.

At dawn the next day, at the stern of the Carabiniere there will be seven bodies, some of which are unrecognizable, which will remain nameless forever. Giovanni goes around the ship several times, but no trace of his friends.

Yet Italo had seen him for an instant ascend into that stream of people fleeing from tower three.


[the]The staff of the carpenters consisted of twenty men: thirteen communes, two sub-chiefs, two sergeants, two second chiefs, a major marshal, commanded by an officer.

[ii]The penultimate castaway of Rome, recovered from a launch of the CT Fuciliere, was the helmsman Ciro Orefice, who later became an officer in the Merchant Navy and Gold Medal of Long Navigation. During our meetings he told me that when he was in command of merchant ships, after the war, every time he crossed the Strait of Bonifacio, he gave orders to go off the Asinara and to slow down the ship's engines, at the point of the sinking. of Rome, where he threw a bouquet of flowers into the sea with the dedication  of the Sailor's Prayer together with his crew (nda).

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