Monday, December 10, 2012
The Strange Case of the Luigi Torelli
Because of their large size, most Italian submarines tended to be slower to submerge compared to some others and this made them particularly vulnerable to air attack. However, as a result, Italian submariners became very skilled anti-aircraft gunners. While most other subs would crash dive on spotting an enemy plane, since they most likely could not get underwater fast enough, Italian subs would stay on top and shoot it out with enemy aircraft. In the eastern Atlantic, while returning from hunting around the Bahamas the Torelli was attacked by a British flying-boat on June 5, 1942 and suffered heavy damage. Because of this, the submarine was unable to dive and had to try to make it back to Bordeaux only on the surface. Only two days later the Torelli was spotted by the British and quickly attacked by two Sunderlands. However, the Italian anti-aircraft fire was so fierce that their bombing runs were ruined, though they did manage to spray the sub with gunfire that killed Sergeant Flavio Pallucchini and wounding Captain Antonio de Giacomo and another officer. Still, one of the planes was hit and both were finally forced to retreat and the Torelli returned to port for repairs.
Once at sea again, the Torelli was on patrol off the coast of Brazil when she was attacked by three Catalina American torpedo planes and, because of a valve malfunction, was unable to submerge and again had to shoot it out on the surface. The Italian gunners shot down one of the Catalinas and forced the other two to retreat but took several casualties and suffered a lot of damage. The radio-man was killed, the chief engineer, an assistant engineer and the captain were all wounded and the captain was forced to turn command over to his first lieutenant. Still, they made it back in one piece but because of the extensive damage suffered, the days of the Torelli as a commerce raider were over. Her offensive weapons were removed and she was converted to a long-range transport with her torpedo tubes being converted into extra fuel tanks. On June 14, 1943 she left Bordeaux loaded with supplies as well as a German engineer, two civilian mechanics and Japanese Colonel Kinze Sateke, a telecommunications specialist who has just undergone training in Germany. These passengers were to be delivered to Singapore to help in modernizing the Japanese war effort.