Durand de la Penne (February 11, 1914 - January 17, 1992):
Luigi Durand de la Penne was an Italian Navy naval diver
in the Decima MAS (Decima Flottiglia Mezzi d'Assalto - 10th Assault Vehicle
Flotilla) during World War II. De la Penne was born in Genoa, where he also
died. He graduated from the Italian Naval Academy in Livorno in 1934. He
joined the Decima MAS in 1935.
Iride submarine crew rescue action:
On 22 August 1940, in the Gulf of Bomba, the Italian submarine Iride, being a
human torpedo carrier, was sunk by a torpedo released by a British Fairey
Swordfish bomber. The air attack happened during an exercise, in shallow
water, when four human torpedo squads were around, including officers Teseo
Tesei and Luigi Durand de la Penne. The divers were able to make an immediate
rescue action. Of the 12 Iride crewmen who survived, two died during an
unsuccessful attempt to surface, nine were retrieved alive (two of them died
soon, due to wounds), and one was too shocked to leave the sunken submarine.
De la Penne tried to persuade him to surface, and even gave him his own
aqualung, but the seaman refused surfacing and died.
Sinking of HMSValiant:
As part of a team of divers he took part in the human torpedo attacks on
British vessels in the Mediterranean. In December 1941, he was one of a team
of six (Emilio Bianchi, his second; Antonio Marceglia with Spartaco Schergat;
Vincenzo Martellotta with Mario Marino) that attacked Alexandria harbour.
They used an Italian manned torpedo known as S.L.C. (Siluro Lenta Corsa, also
known as "maiale"), actually a small underwater assault vehicle
with a crew of two. As a result, four ships were disabled: the British
battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth (by Marceglia and Schergat) and HMS Valiant
(by Martellotta and Marino), and the oil tanker Sagona and the destroyer HMS
Jervis. De la Penne personally placed the limpet mine under the hull of the
Of the three teams of frogmen, only de la Penne and Bianchi were captured
before the devices exploded. As de la Penne refused to inform the ship's
captain (Charles Morgan) of specifics of his missiom, mines, he and his mate
were confined in a cell under-deck, actually in a place just above where the
mine had been placed.
Few minutes before the detonation, De la Penne informed Captain Morgan of the
imminent explosion, in order to allow the British to evacuate the ship, but
continued to refuse to disclose where the mine had been placed. The two
frogmen were immediately sent back to their confinement place. Few minutes
later, the mine exploded. Although hurt by the explosion, the frogmen reached
the deck of the Valiant just in time to see the other mines explode under the
Queen Elizabeth, Sagona and Jervis.
Although both ships settled on the sea bed, their decks were still clear of
the waterline. As all six frogmen were eventually captured and both vessels
appeared to be operational, the success of the attack in neutralising the
British ships became known by the Italian Navy only after some days.
For this action, de la Penne was awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valour,
the Italian highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face
of the enemy" (equivalent to the Victoria Cross). In May 1945, at the
end of the war, the then Admiral Charles Morgan - who was the Valiant's
Captain at the time of the attack in Alexandria - wanted to confer himself
the medal to de la Penne in a ceremony in Taranto.
With the Allies in La Spezia:
After the 8 September 1943 Armistice, de la Penne was offered the opportunity
to be released from prison and fight for the Allies. He accepted and returned
to duty as a frogman.
On 22 June 1944, he participated in a joint Italian/British operation against
the Germans. A team formed of British and Italian divers was transported by
the Italian destroyer Grecale in an attack on La Spezia harbour, at the time
in German hands. They sank the cruisers Gorizia and Bolzano before they could
be used to block the harbour entrance.
After the war, Durand de la Penne stayed in the Marina Militare. He was
promoted to Capitano di Fregata (Commander) in 1950 and Capitano di Vascello
(Captain) in 1954. In 1956 he was appointed as Naval Attaché in Brazil. He
was also Deputy of the Parliament of Italy for the second through the sixth
legislatures as an independent candidate. He retired with the rank of
Ammiraglio di Squadra (Vice-Admiral).
Luigi Durand de la Penne - awards:
d'oro al Valor Militare - Gold Medal for Military Valour (1941)
di Argento al Valor Militare - Silver Medal for Military Valour (1940)