2nd Lieutenant (Sottotenente
del CREM - Corpo Reali Equipaggi Marittimi)
(born: October 4, 1890 in Pinerolo (Turin) /
died in action: March 28/29, 1941 - off Cape Matapan, Greece - Ionian Sea)
Volunteer in the Italian Royal Navy at age 18.
He was embarked on torpedo vessels and
participated in the Italo-Turkish war of 1911-12.
He participated in WWI aboard the Battleship
Conte di Cavour.
In 1938 he was assigned to the Naval Academy
of Livorno, where he received his promotion to Lieutenant of the CREM.
In July 1940 he embarked on the Heavy
Aboard Zara he participated in the naval
battles of Punta Stilo (July 1940) and Cape Matapan (March 1941).
Zara sunk after the battle of Matapan on
March 29, 1941.
„When the XO asked who wanted
to go down with him in the ammunition-store to blow up the ship, so that it
could not fall prey to the enemy, he offered first, firm and secure. Not
pushing the surges and the enthusiasm of youth, but the cold, conscious
willingness to advanced age. On the night, illuminated by the flames of the
fire, he followed the XO down in the darkness, Santa Barbara with him, set
fire to the offices and - did not return.“
Umberto Grosso - Awards:
d'oro al Valor Militare alla Memoria - Gold Medal for Military Valour in
Battle of Matapan:
27 March, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Wippell - with the cruisers Ajax, Gloucester,
Orion and Perth and a number of destroyers - sailed from Greek waters for a
position south of Crete. Admiral Cunningham with Formidable, Warspite, Barham
and Valiant left Alexandria on the same day to meet the cruisers.
The Italian Fleet was spotted by a Sunderland flying boat at 12:00, depriving
Iachino the advantage of surprise. The Italian Admiral also learned that
Formidable was at sea, thanks to the decryption team aboard Vittorio Veneto.
Nevertheless, after some discussion, the Italian headquarters decided to go
ahead with the operation, in order to show the Germans their will to fight
and confidence in the higher speed of their warships.
Action off Gavdos
On 28 March, an IMAM Ro.43 floatplane launched by Vittorio Veneto spotted the
British cruiser squadron at 06:35. At 07:55, the Trento group encountered
Admiral Pridham-Wippell's cruiser group south of the Greek island of Gavdos.
The British squadron was heading to the southeast. Thinking they were
attempting to run from their larger ships, the Italians gave chase, opening
fire at 08:12 from 24,000 yd (22,000 m). The Italian guns had trouble
grouping their rounds, which had little effect. The rangefinders also
performed poorly, with the exception of those of the Bolzano.
The three heavy cruisers fired a total of 535 rounds of 203 mm ammunition: Trieste
fired 132 armour piercing rounds; Trento fired 204 armour-piercing and 10
explosive shells, and Bolzano fired another 189 armour piercing shells until
08:55. HMS Gloucester fired back three salvos, but these were short, even
though they caused the Italians to change their heading.
After an hour of pursuit, the Italian cruisers broke off the chase, as the
distance had not been reduced, and turned northwest under orders to rejoin
Vittorio Veneto. The Allied ships also reversed their course, and followed
the Italians at extreme range. Iachino's plan was to lure the British
cruisers into the range of Vittorio Veneto's guns.
An officer eating a sandwich on Orion's bridge remarked to a companion,
"What's that battleship over there? I thought ours were miles
away." The Italians eavesdropped on Orion's signal that she had sighted
an unknown unit and was going to investigate. At 10:55, Vittorio Veneto
joined the Italian cruisers, and immediately opened fire on the shadowing
Allied cruisers. She fired 94 rounds from a distance of 25,000 yd (23,000 m),
all well aimed, but again with an excessive spread of her salvos. The Allied
cruisers, until then unaware of the presence of a battleship, withdrew,
suffering slight damage from 15 in (380 mm) shell splinters. A series of
photographs taken from HMS Gloucester showing Italian salvos falling amongst
Allied warships was published by Life magazine on 16 June 1941. Veneto fired
a total of 94 shells in 29 salvos. Another 11 rounds got jammed in the
At this point, Cunningham's forces, which had been attempting to join up with
Pridham-Wippell's, had launched a sortie of Fairey Albacore torpedo bombers
from HMS Formidable at 09:38. They attacked Vittorio Veneto without direct
effect, but the required manoeuvring made it difficult for the Italian ships
to maintain their pursuit. The Italian ships fired 152, 100 and 90 mm guns
and also 37, 20 and 13.2 mm guns when at close range, repelling the attack,
while one of the two Junkers 88 escorting the Italian fleet was shot down by
a Fairey Fulmar.
Realising that they might not be so lucky next time, Iachino broke off the
pursuit at 12:20, retiring towards his own air cover at Taranto.
A second sortie surprised the Italians at 15:09. Lieutenant-Commander Dalyell-Stead
flew his Albacore to 1,094 yards (1,000 m) from Vittorio Veneto, before
releasing a torpedo which hit her outer port propeller and caused 4,000 long
tons (4,100 t) of flooding. Dalyell-Stead and his crew were killed when their
aircraft was shot down by AA fire from the battleship. The ship stopped while
the damage was repaired, but she was able to get underway again at 16:42,
making 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph). Cunningham heard of the damage to Vittorio
Veneto, and started to pursue her.
A third strike by six Albacores and two Fairey Swordfish from 826 and 828
Naval Air Squadrons on Formidable - as well as two Swordfish from 815
squadron on Crete - was made between 19:36 and 19:50. Admiral Iachino
deployed his ships in three columns and used smoke, searchlights and a heavy
barrage to protect the Vittorio Veneto. This tactic succeeded in protecting
the battleship from further damage, but one torpedo hit the Pola, which had
nearly stopped in order to avoid running into the Fiume and could not take any
avoiding action. This blow knocked out five boilers and the main steam line.
Pola lost electric power and drifted to a stop. The torpedo was apparently
dropped by Lieutenant F.M.A. Torrens-Spence. Unaware of Cunningham's pursuit,
a squadron of cruisers and destroyers were ordered to return and help Pola.
This squadron was composed of Pola's sister ships, Zara and Fiume. The
squadron did not start to return towards Pola until about an hour after the
order had been given by Iachino, officially due to communication problems,
while Vittorio Veneto and the other ships continued to Taranto.
At 20:15, Orion's radar picked up a ship six miles to port, apparently dead
in the water; she was the crippled Pola. The bulk of the Allied forces
detected the Italian squadron on radar shortly after 22:00, and were able to
close without being detected. The Italian ships had no radar and could not
detect British ships by means other than direct sight; the resulting military
doctrine did not envisage night actions and the Italians had their main gun
batteries disarmed. They managed to spot the Allied squadron at 22:20, which
they thought to be Italian ships. Therefore the British battleships Barham,
Valiant and Warspite were able to close to 3,800 yards (3,500 m) unnoticed by
the Italian ships - point blank range for battleship guns - from where they
opened fire. The Allied searchlights illuminated their enemy. (The
searchlights aboard Valiant were under the command of a young Prince Philip.)
Some British gunners witnessed the cruiser's main turrets flying dozens of
metres into the air. After just three minutes, two Italian heavy cruisers -
Fiume and Zara - had been destroyed. Fiume sank at 23:30, while Zara was
finished off by a torpedo from the destroyer HMS Jervis at 02:40 of 29 March.
Two Italian destroyers, Vittorio Alfieri and Giosué Carducci, were sunk in
the first five minutes. The other two, Gioberti and Oriani, managed to
escape, the former with heavy damage. Towing Pola to Alexandria as a prize
was considered, but daylight was approaching and it was thought that the
danger of enemy air attack was too high. The British boarding parties seized
a number of the much needed Breda anti-aircraft machine guns.
Pola was eventually sunk with torpedoes by the destroyers Jervis and Nubian
after her crew was taken off, shortly after 04:00. The only known Italian
reaction after the shocking surprise was a fruitless torpedo charge by some
destroyers and the aimless fire of one of Zara's 40 mm guns in the direction
of the British warships.
The Allied ships took on survivors, but left the scene in the morning,
fearing Axis air strikes. Admiral Cunningham ordered a signal to be made on
the Merchant Marine emergency band. This signal was received by the Italian
High Command. It informed them that due to air strikes the Allied ships had
ceased their rescue operations, and it granted safe passage to a hospital
ship for rescue purposes. The location of the remaining survivors was
broadcast and the Italian hospital ship Gradisca came to recover them.
Allied casualties during the battle were a single torpedo bomber shot down by
Vittorio Veneto's 90 mm (3.5-inch) anti-aircraft batteries, with the loss of
the three-man crew. Italian losses were up to 2,303 sailors, most of them
from Zara and Fiume. The Allies rescued 1,015 survivors, while the Italians
saved another 160.