The Italian gunboat Pellegrino Matteucci

In April 2017, Antonis Grafas and his team dived, with the support of Nautilus Diving Club and in cooperation with the professional diver Mr. Makis Sotiropoulos, near cape Doukato (Island of Lefkada) to an unknown wreck that after the relevant validation and research it was identified to be the Italian gunboat PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI. The vessel was constructed as a high seas fishing steamer in 1924 at the shipyard of the Deutsche Werft AG in Hamburg with construction number 72 under the name DENTICE for the fish company Società Anonima Italiana Industria della Pesca e Sottoprodotti that was based in Rome. She was, along with the sister ships MERLUZZO, ACCIUGA and TRIGLIA that were also constructed in Germany, a part of the German war compensation for the World War I to Italy that during that war had fight as part of the allied powers of Entente. After her completion and delivery, she was registered in the ship register of Rome with number 90.

The vessel had the following characteristics:
Gross Tonnage: 306
Net Tonnage: 110
Displacement: 667 tones
Length: 44,92m
Width: 7,5m
Depth: 3,81m
Propulsion: reciprocating steam engine of 400hp
Propellers: 1
Indicative speed: 9
Autonomy: 4146 nautical miles
Crew: 45 members

In 1931 DENTICE was bought by the Italian state and she became an auxiliary vessel of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina Italiana). In 1932, she was equipped with two firearms of 76/40mm, two Colt firearms of 6,6mm and in October 14th 1932 she was renamed after the Italian geographer and researcher Pellegrino Matteucci. In February 1st 1933, she became a gunbat/minesweeper of the Italian Royal Navy. In July and August 1933, she operated as a radio beacon at the north Atlantic with her sister GIUSEPPE BIGLIERI (ex fishing steamer MERLUZZO). After the entrance of Italy in World War II (June 10th 1940), PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI became part of the Marine Military Department of the Upper Tyrrhenian Sea (Dipartimento Militare Marittimo dell’Alto Tirreno) as an auxiliary troopship based in La Spezia.

The Sinking

During the evening of May 20th 1941, PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI departed from Brindisi to Patras that was her final destination. At 05.40am of May 21st and while she was near cape Doukato at the south-west side of the island of Lefkada (Ionian Sea), she crashed into a mine and she sank approximately two nautical miles north-west of cape Doukato. During the sinking there was a ship convoy near PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI consisted of the vessels ANNARELLA, DORA C. and STROMBO and escorted by the Italian destroyer CARLO MIRABELLO (commander Ludovico Puleo). At 05.40am the convoy saw a flash near cape Doukato and later on a sign of white smoke in the sky. In order to find out what happened, CARLO MIRABELLO left the convoy and headed to the point of the smoke where she detected castaways, ship´s parts and the two lifeboats of PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI floating. Considering that arose the assumption that PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI was attacked with torpedoes and sank. CARLO MIRABELLO remained at the area, launched her lifeboats and started collecting the castaways. At 06.30am she crashed as well into a mine having as a result a strong explosion that led to the sinking of the lifeboats that were collecting the castaways of PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI causing even more deaths. The destroyer CARLO MIRABELLO remained in the area, near cape Doukato, until noon of May 21st 1941 when she finally sank despite the desperate efforts of the captain and the crew members to save her. On the same day at the same point a little bit later the big German steamers MARBURG (7262 gross tonnage) and KYBFELS (7764 gross tonnage) also sank due to strike into sea mines. The vessels were carrying the Wehrmacht 3rd Regiment of armored vehicles (Panzer-Regiment 3) from Patra to Italy after the conquest of the Greek mainland. From the 45 crew members of PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI only four survived.
PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI, as well as the other ships that sank within 24 hours near cape Doukato, crashed into the mines of the sea minefield placed on May 20th to 21st 1941 by the British minelayer HMS ABDIEL (M39). The minefield, consisted of a total of 150 sea mines, was part of the British operation “MAT ONE” that was executed by the minelayer HMS ABDIEL escorted by the warships HMS WARSPITE, HMS VALIANT and HMS AJAX. The target of this operation was the disturbance of the Axis troopships from and to the Gulf of Corinth.

The wreck

The wreck of PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI is laying on the keel in a maximum depth of 95 meters, has a three-wing propeller, an inclination of approximately 45 degrees to the left and carries an Italian firearm of 76/40 R.M type at the area of the stern and a second firearm of the same type at the bow part of the superstructure. The bow is missing and the existing part of the ship has a length of almost 40 meters. The bow points to the north. The general wreck characteristics are those from a small steamer, which was used for war operations and sank due to a war action. The wreck comparisons to the photos of PELLEGRINO MATTEUCCI showed that every technical characteristic of her matches completely with the characteristics of the wreck.

The 41 losses of  Pellegrino Matteucci

Carlo Beber, Giulio Bellina, Giuseppe Boeri, Giuseppe Bracigliano, Annibale Buono, Ottavio Cantarelli, Luigi Chiamenti, Girolamo Chiaramonte, Luigi Cozzani, Antonio D’Aliesio, Cosimo De Marco, Orlando Di Beo, Anzio Ercolini, Walter Fiorini, Gino Fossati, Salvatore Gallo, Orlando Gherardini, Azzone Granconato, Giuseppe Lazzaroli, Quinto Lenti, Ottavio Lenardon, Angelo Leotta, Aristide Maggi, Michele Raimondo Meglio, Natale Miroddi, Renato Mori, Augusto Pernazza, Francesco Privitera, Virgilio Rigamonti, Pasquale Rullo, Silvio Salmoiraghi, Vincenzo Sanfilippo, Umberto Silvestri, Salvatore Strano, Eraldo Trosa, Guido Valentini, Antonio Vitiello, Nicola Voto, Giuseppe Zagarella, Giuseppe Zatilla, Corrado Zeni

Francesco De Domenico / Giorgio Spazzapan: Pesci, costellazioni e altro: la storia di 26 trawlers tedeschi in Italia, bollettino AIDMEN n. 26, 2012
Gazzetta Ufficiale del Regnio d´Italia, numero 263, 15.11.1932
Lupinacci, Pier Filippo (Compilatore), Tognelli, Vittorio E. (Revisore): La difesa del traffico l´Albania, la Grecia e l´Egeo, La Marina italiana nella seconde Guerra mondiale, Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare, Vol. IX, Roma, 1965
Navi Militari Perdute, Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare, La Marina italiana nella seconde guerra mondiale, Vol. II, 3 Ed., Roma, 1965
Lorenzo Colombo: Pellegrino Matteucci (Con la pelle appesa a un chiodo)