Within the autumn of 1969 I used to be a Lieutenant within the Royal Naval Reserve and the long-serving navigator of the primary, all-British nuclear submarine, HMS Valiant (SSN 02) at the moment on a courtesy go to and berthed within the inside basin of La Spezia Harbour on Italy’s west coast. HMS Valiant was the second nuclear vessel within the Royal Navy, the primary being the submarine HMS Dreadnought (SSN01) which had an American S5N reactor. Because of some misunderstanding with Vice-Admiral Herman Rickover, America refused additional to provide submarine pressurised water reactors to Britain and so we needed to construct our personal. HMS Valiant was subsequently all British and was given a really superior and silent 80 megawatt reactor and turbine propulsion unit, components of the design of which have been, paradoxically, later copied by the US Navy for his or her submarines.
After three weeks of strenuous workout routines with NATO warships within the Mediterranean, all eager to realize priceless and uncommon expertise in monitoring a nuclear submarine, we docked within the inside basin of the port of La Spezia. As was the customized throughout courtesy visits, the native dignitaries and senior Italian naval officers have been invited to an official wardroom occasion. That night time I used to be doing ‘meet and greet’ responsibility on the casing of the submarine for the occasion being held within the management room. A considerably grizzled Italian Vice Admiral got here up the forehead, saluted the quarterdeck and approached me as I stood in my finest uniform (with sword) subsequent to the hatchway right down to the occasion.
“Good night sir,” I greeted him, saluting, “welcome to HMS Valiant.”
“I sank the final HMS Valiant!” he growled, returning my salute.
“Nicely sir, strive to not sink this one please,” was all I might consider in reply; for it was Vice Admiral de la Penne. He a lot loved the following occasion, took me out to an enormous lunch on the town the subsequent day and advised me, in his personal phrases, how he sank the earlier HMS Valiant in 1941. That is his story.
On December nineteenth 1941 when he was a Lieutenant-Commander within the Italian Regia Marina, he led three groups of two Italian frogmen into Alexandra Harbour using on two-man chariots. On December third 1941 the Italian submarine Scire left La Spezia with three torpedo chariots secured to her higher casing and en-route, embarked Commander de la Penne along with his 5 educated frogmen from the Island of Leros within the Aegean Sea.
The Serce proceeded to a place simply over a mile off the doorway to Alexandra harbour, got here as much as periscope depth and launched the chariots. The three chariots proceeded into the harbour when the growth defending the doorway was opened to let three British destroyers out. A lot of the British Mediterranean fleet was at anchor inside together with the WW1 battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant. De la Penne’s companion, Lieutenant Emilio Bianchi misplaced his Oxygen provide and needed to floor for a couple of minutes. De la Penne proceeded in direction of HMS Valiant alone. When he was just a few yards quick, the chariot’s motor ceased to operate and he needed to push it below the battleship which had about 4 ft clearance from the flat, sandy backside of the harbour.
After putting their cost each de la Penne and Bianchi needed to floor close to the strict of HMS Valiant and have been captured. Bianchi had damaged his arm and was taken to the sick bay, handled, after which, after questioning which elicited not more than identify, rank and serial quantity from every of them, they have been locked in a decrease deck compartment, coincidentally solely simply over the cost that they’d positioned below the battleship. With fifteen minutes to the supposed time of the explosion, de la Penne warned HMS Valiant’s captain Charles Morgan in time for all of the ship’s personnel to be cleared from the decrease decks. Each de la Penne and Bianchi have been barely injured when their cost went off however have been evacuated to the higher deck in time to witness the fees positioned by the opposite two maiales going off below HMS Queen Elizabeth, the British Destroyer HMS Jervis and the Norwegian tanker Sagona. In spite of everything the fees detonated, each battleships sank onto the sand and remained motionless for some months till non permanent repairs might be accomplished and the ships refloated. Full ceremonial colors, sundown with bugle calls, parades on the higher decks and gun drills have been carried out within the interim whereas the battleships have been resting on the underside of the harbour, in order that it appeared from the shore that they have been nonetheless afloat and totally operational, if considerably closely laden.
Italy agreed an armistice with the Allies on September eighth 1943 and de la Penne was launched from his prisoner of battle confinement. He agreed to help the Royal Navy with their underwater weapons and frogman programme.
He was concerned within the planning and execution of the raid by Royal Naval frogman on the German fortifications at La Spezia when a blended group of Italian and British frogmen sank the cruisers Gorizia and Bolzano within the harbour.
Admiral Charles Morgan, who had been the Captain of HMS Valiant when Luigi Durand de la Penne sank her again in 1941, by no means forgot de la Penne’s chivalry in warning him of the hazard to the British personnel within the decrease decks of HMS Valiant and thus saving many lives when these decks have been evacuated. He had tried to get de la Penne a British medal, however failed as Italy was not formally allied to Nice Britain. In March 1945 Crown Prince Umberto of Italy, with Admiral Sir Charles Morgan, now commanding the British Naval forces within the Adriatic, was inspecting the Italian naval barracks at Taranto and awarding medals to personnel for bravery in service. Crown Prince Umberto of Italy, who knew of Admiral Morgan’s makes an attempt to acquire a British medal for de la Penne, requested him to current de la Penne with Italy’s highest medal for valour, the ‘Valor Militare’ on the Prince’s behalf.
Vice-Admiral Luigi Durand de la Penne died on January seventeenth 1992. He was a really courageous man and I’m honoured to have met him and heard his story of the sinking of the battleship HMS Valiant from his personal lips.