Regia Torpediniera ALDEBARAN

“The blooming ocean and the mountains at the loss of the moon […]
golden may be the stars of the swan and the star called Aldebaran”

G. Seferis
Epifania 1937

In the middle February 2014, the diving group of Antonis Grafas, after a thorough preparation and a cooperative historical research, dived in a wreck that they found by themselves located in the wide sea area of the island of Agios Georgios at Saronikos, better known as “Saint George”.
The main goals of diving were: the visual contact with the object, the comparison with the existing historical sources and the photo shooting as well as the filming of it in order to use it for the further identification and documentation of the wreck.

The circumstantial research showed from the very beginning and with no doubt that this wreck is a wreck of a torpedo ship SPICA type PERSEO (Torpediniera) of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina Italiana). This final estimation, combining with historical and photo sources, showed that is definitely the wreck of the Italian Royal torpedo ship Aldebaran (C.F. Antonio Giungi) which, according to the official opinion of the History Directory of the Italian Navy, sank at 09.40am on 20/10/1941 at a distance of almost 3 nautical miles north – north-west of the west side of the island Saint George, after crushing into a mine of a allied minefield which was created at this area on 8/10/1941 by the British submarine HMS RORQUAL (Lt. Lennox William Napier, RN).  

As stated by the Italian USMM (Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare):

“The ship left Piraeus port at midnight on 20/10/1941 commanded to help the torpedo ship LUPO to tow the torpedo ship ALTAIR. Also, it was commanded to search for cast away on the submerged bow of ALTAIR. Unfortunately, during its search the boat crashed into an enemy mine which exploded under the ship’s bottom. The ship, partially submerged and with the keel broken, it was floating for about one hour until it turned over and sank.”

Construction and technical characteristics

The construction of the Italian royal torpedo ship ALDEBARAN (Regia Torpediniera ALDEBARAN) started at the shipyards of Cantiere Ansaldo at Sestri Ponente, at Genova, Italy on 2/10/1935. It was launched on 14/6/1936 and it was completed on 6/12/1936. Immediately after the completion of its construction and the first tests under the supervision of the constructor, it was sent to Sicily and then to Dodecanese, that was under the Italian occupation, in order to make some necessary tests before its complete inclusion in the navy operations of Regia Marina.

The torpedo ship ALDEBARAN was SPICA, type PERSEO and it was identical to the other seven torpedo ships of the same type. All these torpedo ships had names of constellations, such as ALDEBARAN whose name is Arabic and has to do with the bright star “a” of the constellation of Taurus.

The general characteristics and the ship’s properties were the below:

Name: ALDEBARAN
Code: AL
Type: Torpedo ship (Torpediniera)
Nationality: Italian
Guns: Regia Marina Italiana
Displacement: Standard, 630 tones / Full cargo, 1020 tones
Length: 82m
Width: 8,2m
Draught: 2,8m
Impulse: Two steam turbines producing 19.000 bhp.
Propellers: 2
Speed: 34 knots
Autonomy: 1.910 n.m with a speed of 15 knots / 1.700 n.m with a speed of 16 knots / 60 n.m with a speed of 30 knots
Armour: 3 Italian navy firearms of 100/47 mm, OTO Mod. 1931 type, 8 Italian firearms of 13,2mm Breda Mod. 31 type, 4 torpedo tubes of 450mm, 2 throwing bombs mechanisms, a capacity of carrying 20 mines
Crew: 119 persons (7 officers and 112 assistant officers and sailors)

Operational action 1937-1941

The first operational mission of ALDEBARAN, in which participated in 1937-38, was to prevent the transfer of armour and supplies to the Spanish Democratic Army. ALDEBARAN was one of the ships of the auxiliary base that Benito Mussolini sent in order to support the Spanish Nationalists under the General Franco against the democratically elected Spanish Government.

ALDEBARAN, at the initiation of the World War II on 1/9/1939, was with its sister torpedo ships ALTAIR, ANDROMEDA and ANTARES included in the 12th group of torpedo ships (XII Squadriglia Torpediniere) of Regia Marina, based on Messini, Sicily. The ship, at that period, was considered to be an antisubmarine and a companion ship of convoys at the Adriatic Sea.

On 13/6/1940, three days after Italy declared the war against France and Great Britain, ALDEBARAN participated in its first war operation; it was an antisubmarine operation. The next day, 14/6/1940, the ship was transferred, along with another part of the 12th group of torpedo ships, at La Spezia, in order to protect the coastal cities of Liguria by the bombings of the French Navy.
From August until September of the same year, ALDEBARAN participated as a protect ship in mining that was realized at the sea areas of the Italian island Pantelleria and Malta. One of the most important facts that connect ALDEBARAN with the Greek history is when the ship, with the torpedo ships ALTAIR, ANDROMEDA and ANTARES, participated from October 31st until November 1st 1940 in the “Special Navy Forces” (Forze Navali Speciali) of Regia Marina in order to prepare the scheduled landing of the Italian forces at Corfu. This operation was organized by the General Command of the Italian army.
According to this plan, it was scheduled that the 47th Infantry Division of the so-called “Bari” Division (47a Divisione Fanteria “Bari”) would embark in ships and then disembark at Corfu in order to invade in the Greek land through the Ionian islands. However, the great losses that they had at the Albanian front led to the cancellation of the plan and to the transfer of the troops at the port of Avlona, in Albania in order to reinforce the Italian army at the Greek-italian front of Albania. Maybe at this point we should mention that at that period and specifically on 29/12/1940 one the sister ships of ALDEBARAN, the torpedo ship ANTARES, rammed and sank the Greek submarine “Protefs” (under the lieutenant commander M. Chatzikonstantis) with the whole crew on it. The Greek submarine earlier had managed to torpedo the Italian troopship SARDEGNA.

From November 1940 until April 1941, ALDEBARAN worked at the sea areas of Adriatic and Libya as a companion ship of convoys whose target was the continuous supplying of the Italian body at Cyrenaica with men and supplies.

In May 1941, after the occupation of Greece by the Axis powers, ALDEBARAN, along with the torpedo ships SIRIO, SAGITTARIO and ALCIONE, was included in the 1st Torpedo ship Division (1a Squadriglia Torpediniere) of Regia Marina at Greece that was under the administration of the newly founded Italian Navy Administration of North Aegean «Marisudest» (Comando Gruppo Navale dell’ Egeo Settentrionale). Marisudest had its base in Athens and participated with the German Kriegsmarine in all navy operations in the Greek land.
ALDEBARAN mainly worked until its sinking as a companion ship of convoys , first at the “Ermis Operation” (see the Battle of Crete) and then at the whole Greek land accompanying convoys of the Axis powers and operating from North Aegean up to Crete and Cyrenaica.

The British submarine HMS RORQUAL (N74)

As it is already mentioned, the cause of the sinking of ALDEBARAN was its crash into a mine of the minefield that was created by the British mining submarine HMS RORQUAL. Due to this minefield, the sister torpedo ship ALTAIR also sank by crashing into a mine one day earlier than ALDEBARAN on 19/10/1941 at 19.28.

HMS RORQUAL was one of the most successful submarines of Royal Navy as it had sank 16 ships. It was constructed  at the Vickers Armstrong shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness, in England in 1936, the same year when ALDEBARAN and ALTAIR were constructed, and it was one of the six submarines of GRAMPUS type. In 1940, it was sent to Mediterranean Sea working as a mining submarine until 1945 when it was sent to Far East in order to participate in the allied operations against the Japanese Imperial Navy. After the end of the war it stopped its operations and in 1945 it was sold for breaking down. In March 1946 it was broken down at Newport, Wales.

On 1/10/1941, HMS RORQUAL, under the command of Lt. Lennox Wiiliam Napier RN, left from Alexandria, the base of the British fleet at the East Mediterranean, in order to make an attack patrol at the Aegean Sea. The next day, and after arrived at Port Said, Egypt went through the Suez Canal to the Lake Acigöl where it attached to the S.S GUMA in order to load mines. On 3/10/1941 left from Port Said and four days later, after had passed from the Kithira Canal on 7/10/1941, it was at the area of Saronikos in order to create a minefield with 50 mines at the west side of the island of Saint George.
The British records of the submarine mentions for the date 8/10/1941 the below:

“05.30 Diving near the island of Saint George heading to the point of creating the minefield.

08.35 a convoy was detected, consisted of 2 motor vessels and accompanied by one destroyer CURTATONE and one destroyer TURBINE with a direction of 30 °, passing near the north edge of the island of Saint George. There was no attack due to the mining.

11.29 The first mine was placed at the point 37° 29´ Β and 23° 53´ Α. At 12.12 the 50th mine was placed.

19.00 Emergence and direction south. Crossing between the islands Falkonera and Karavi and through the Kithira Canal continuing the voyage in the surface during night.”

The death trap, because of which twelve days later the twin torpedo ships of Regia Marina, ALTAIR and ALDEBARAN would sink, was set.

The sinking of ALTAIR and ALDEBARAN [3]

In the afternoon of 19/10/1941, a convoy [4] consisted of the Italian ships CITTA DI MARSALA, CITTA DI AGRIGENTO, TAGLIAMENTO and the German ship SALZBURG, accompanied by the Italian torpedo ships LUPO, ALTAIR, MONZAMBANO and the auxiliary torpedo ship BARLETTA, left from Piraeus heading to Heraklion, Crete. At 19.28 and while the convoy was located near the west side of the island of Saint George (see Saint George), an explosion happened at the bottom of the torpedo ship ALTAIR that was at the west side of the convoy. ALTAIR (under the commander Cardinali) at that moment was located at a distance of almost 3 n.m, 320° from the island of Saint George [5]. The bow of the ship cut almost immediately and the ship sank. At the same time a big fire started at the boiler number 1 that was a threat for the ammunition storage of the ship [6].

The torpedo ship LUPO (under the commader Mimbelli) changed immediately its direction sailing towards ALTAIR. There was no possibility of towing the ship. However, at 21.00 and while the fire at ALTAIR was getting lower, LUPO approached ALTAIR and managed to attach its stern with the anchor chain. Although the captain of LUPO and commander of the convoy, Mr. Mimbelli, ordered to continue the voyage to Heraklion, having as accompanying ships only MONZAMBANO and BARLETTA, they stayed there assisting the tow of ALTAIR. However, the continuous flow of water that weighed down the ship and the bad weather conditions, due to the strong north-west wind that was getting even stronger, made the tow very difficult. The target of commander Mimbelli was to tow ALTAIR towards the direction from where he was waiting back up send from Marisudest in order to help the ALTAIR tow.

In the meantime, Marisudest had ordered the torpedo ship SELLA to go and replace LUPO at the convoy. At the same time, it had also ordered the torpedo ship ALDEBARAN to head at the area of the accident and help LUPO at the tow of ALTAIR, by assisting both ships due to the bad weather conditions and to the strong north-west wind. It had also ordered tow ships, antisubmarines and motor vessels to head to the area of the accident in order to collect the castaways and offer help.
ALDEBARAN (under the Lieutenant Commander A. Giungi) left from Piraeus at 23.00 on October 19th and managed to meet LUPO and the towed ALTAIR at 01.00 on October 20th 1941. Believing that there was still danger by enemy submarines, it made a patrol around the ships throwing deep bombs. Then, it accompanied for almost two hours LUPO and the towed ALTAIR, which however was too heavy and as a result it sank at 02.47 on October 20th, 3 n.m south-west of the island Patroklos (Gaidouronissi). ALTAIR managed to stay at the surface without bow for over 7 hours.

Immediately after the sinking of ALTAIR, LUPO and ALDEBARAN headed together to their base at Piraeus. While they were heading there, Marisudest ordered ALDEBARAN to head again towards the initial point of the accident at the island of Saint George. The reason was that Marisudest got informed that there were still missing castaways, that were in ALTAIR and fell into the sea when the bow was roughly detached due to the explosion of the mine.

When ALDEBARAN arrived at 08.00 on October 20th at the area of the accident, where the Italian antisubmarines FALCO, MARECHIARO, SAN CIRO and NIOI were already there to help the castaways of ALTAIR, started searching the area with a speed of 20 knots making zigzag as it was afraid of enemy submarines. At 08.05 and while is was located north-west of Saint George, crashed into a mine that exploded exactly under the bottom of the ship, breaking its keel. When Marisudest got informed about this by an Italian antisubmarine that was there, ordered the Italian minesweepers R14 and R187 as well as the Greek tow ship Taxiarchis that was at Piraeus to go to Fleves, at the point of the accident. The German Navy Administration of Attica also ordered the German minesweepers 12M 3, 12 M 4 and 13 M 4 to go at to the same place. However, the help arrived too late. The ship got too heavy by the flow of waters, turned over and sank at a distance of almost 2 n.m north-west of Saint George, at 09.40 on 20/10/1941.

There is controversial information concerning the number of victims of ALDEBARAN. The Italian sources [7] mention that from the 150 passengers, 7 got lost and 3 passed away by their wounds. All the German sources mention that 14 got lost and 140 were saved, from which 5 were seriously injured and 10 were lightly injured.

The wreck

At the beginning of January 2014, Antonis Grafas confirmed the information that he had for the existence of a wreck at the north-west side of the island of Saint George. This confirmation as well as the cooperative cross-check and comparison of the spots was the beginning for the preparation of a well-organized, diving and historically tour in order to find, photo shoot and film this wreck. The tour was realized on 16/2/14 when, having as ally the good weather conditions, the diving group of Antonis Grafas dived for the first time after almost 72 years in the wreck of the torpedo ship ALDEBARAN. During the diving in a depth of 107m, with a total diving time of 185 minutes, the group already knew that it had discovered something really special and unique.

The wreck is situated in an upright position on the keel on a flat sea bottom, having the axis of bow-stern in a direction of 270°. The ship’s bow, that is almost the one third of the total length of the ship, is detached and is missing along with its armour, the firearm of 100mm. The point where the ship was cut is located exactly in front of the chimney that is still situated in an upright position. At the area in front of the chimney there are remainings of the superstructure of the cockpit. From the right and the left side of the chimney there are the four davits that are still in an upright position. Exactly behind the chimney there are the towers of the firearms that have partially collapsed. Under the first tower, that is located behind the chimney, there is a small place of accommodation that it has been partially covered by ruins. From the left side of the ship there are parts from the one of the two torpedo tubes.

Στην περιοχή της πρύμνης διακρίνονται, δεξιά και αριστερά του σκάφους, τα υπολείμματα των βάσεων από τους πλωτήρες του συστήματος ναρκαλιείας. Ακριβώς πίσω από την πρύμνη, τοποθετημένος επάνω στην εξωτερική του βάση, βρίσκεται ακόμα όρθιος ο γερανός ρυμούλκησης του μηχανισμού γρίπισης, ο οποίος είναι έντονα καλυμμένος με βένθος. Πρόκειται για ένα βασικό κομμάτι του ναρκαλιευτικού συστήματος που έφεραν όλα τα τορπιλοβόλα της Regia Marina. Κάτω από την πρύμνη είναι απόλυτα διακριτές οι δυο προπέλες του πλοίου και οι άξονες τους. Τέλος, γύρω από το ναυάγιο βρίσκονται σκορπισμένα συντρίμμια, με κύρια ανάμεσα τους τα πυρομαχικά.      

With a direction towards the stern and exactly behind the towers of the firearms, there is a superstructure with spaces of accommodation, where, on it, there is the first stern firearm of 100mm and after that, located on the deck, the second stern firearm of 100mm.

Conclusion and research point of view

The wreck of the torpedo ship ALDEBARAN is one the most important findings at the area of Saronikos bay the last years. This torpedo ship, along with the other discovered war ships CURTATONE and D.R 7, is one more evidence of the presence and action of Regia Marina Italiana at the Aegean Sea during the period of 1941-1943.

The detection, the diving, the listing, the representation, the research and the documentation of the historical wrecks of the World War I & II that are being realized by groups of amateur divers the last years, led to the creation of a very detailed wreck map that right now can not only summarize but also help the historical simulation of the navy facts of those two big wars. The findings, which are impressed upon visual material before they get lost forever due to the natural erosion and time, exist in order to help researchers find information and material that has to do with the evaluation of the facts and the correct version of history. It would be great if the next diver generations would continue towards that direction. This project is based on German record sources that mainly took their information from the Italian Marisudest and Supermarina. They were also based on the official Italian book editions of USMM. However, the access to the main records and unpublished Italian sources, such as the war diaries of Regia Marina, is not possible at the moment, as the research at those records requires the physical presence of the researcher at the reading room of USMM at Rome.

The fact that the official editions of USMM do not always offer a complete information, combined with the inaccuracies that may contain, shows that the evaluation must be realized after researching the Italian main records at the reading room of USMM at Rome. Also, more researches on the spot should be realized in order to detect the stern of the wreck and in order to answer the remaining questions.
This is why this research is still at a primitive stage and it still goes on. Only the final result can be compared to the historical truth, after all historical, record, material factors and sources have been examined.

To summarize up, I would like to thank all members of Antonis Grafas group for this unique finding and for their great cooperation, the Italian researchers Maurizio Brescia and Francesco De Domenico, as well as the German researchers Theodor Dorgeist and Reinhard Kramer because without their support this project would be poor in content and visual presentation.
DG

References, Auxiliaries, Clarifications

[1] see Navi Militari Perdute, p. 39-40, USMM, 1965

[2] Along with ALDEBARAN, at the same period at the shipyard of Ansaldo, the sister torpedo ships ALTAIR (AT), ANDROMEDA (AD) and ANTARES (AN) were constructed. The other four sister torpedo ships, PERSEO (PS), SAGITTARIO (SG), SIRIO (SI) and VEGA (VG), were constructed at the shipyard of Quarnaro at Fiume of Croatia, that back then was under Italian possession.   

[3] All information that this project contains is taken by the sources mentioned below. The main details of the facts are presented as they are at La difesa del traffico l´Albania, la Grecia e l´Egeo, USMM, p. 110-112. The secondary details are from Navi militari perdute, USMM, p. 39-40, Lagemeldungen Admiral Ägäis, KTB Admiral Ägäis, KTB Seekommandant Attika. The differences that exist at some points are clarified with the corresponding references.

[4] 4th Italian Division of Transfers

[5] The minefield placed by the HMS RORQUAL was the first ally minefield that was placed at the area, after the occupation of Greece by the Axis powers. The explosion at ALTAIR was considered to  be a result of  sinking by the Italian minesweepers that detected the ally minefield. The German Navy Office of Aegean mentions that the explosion happened 5 n.m north-west of Saint George at the spot of 37° 32´ Β and 23° 51´ Α (see. KTB Admiral Ägäis 19.10.41).  

[6] Heeres-Küsten-Artilerie-Abteilung 831 that was at Sounio, transferred to the Navy Administration Office of Attica the below message: «at 19.10, on 19/10/1941, at a distance of 40km south-west from Sounio cape, a ship explosion took place and then there was a fire. At the same time, a second ship was realizing patrols around it searching the surface of the sea under ist spotlights. The burning ship was the Italian torpedo ship ALTAIR (see KTB Seeko Attika 20.10.41)»

[7] see. Lupinacci, p. 112 

Sources
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Akten Gemeinsame Kriegsführung, Deutsches Marinekommando Italien, PG-46157, T1022/Roll 2550, NARA
Archivio Storico Ansaldo, Genova, Italia
Bagnasco, Erminio: Aldo Fraccaroli: Fotografo Navale 1933-1993 sessant´anni di storia della Marina italiana attraverso le immagini, Ed. Albertelli, 1996
Cocchia, Aldo (Compilatore), De Palma, Filippo (Collaboratore), Fioravanzo, Giuseppe (Revisore): La difesa del traffic coll´Africa settentrionale, La Guerra nel Mediterraneo, Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare, Vol. II, Roma, 1958
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