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- ITALIAN SOMMERGIBILI

6)THE ONLY SURVIVOR


THE PRISONER'S HISTORY


There were some clouds in the sky and the sun was low on the horizon when the first attacking plane appeared. The prisoner was in the aft torpedo compartment at 2000 on 15 April, 1943, when he heard the Executive Officer announce over the loudspeaker: "Plane sighted dead ahead." Immediately Saccardo gave orders to man the guns and to secure all watertight doors. The prisoner ran to his post at the forward deck gun.


Magani stood by with his arms folded and giving no orders but expressing the hope that the order to submerge would soon be given. All on deck were surprised that the first plane made an initial run over their boat without dropping any bombs. The submarine began evasive tactics but made no attempt to submerge. From a point aft of her the plane turned back for a run over the boat. It dropped two bombs, both missed but one dropped close to the forward starboard side.


The concussion from the explosion was terrific, the outer and inner hatches of the forward hatchway were ripped open and away from their hinges, and a mountainous wall of water covered the entire boat. In fact, many of the survivors were sick from the quantity of sea water they swallowed during this cascade. Because of the damage to the forward hatches Archimede was unable to submerge. The lighting installations had been smashed and one Diesel engine had been rendered inoperative.


She continued on the surface following an evasive course. The plane in the meanwhile kept circling at a distance. The prisoner claimed that her guns did not fire during the attack or before the appearance of the second plane. Fifteen minutes elapsed between the first and second attacks. Suddenly out of a cloud about 1,000 meters away, a second plane appeared and made a run at low altitude over the submarine.


It dropped two bombs which hit the pressure hull aft of the conning tower. One tore through the aft hatchway and a sheet of flame burst from the oil deposit at the bottom of the hatchway. The four primed torpedoes in the aft tubes also exploded. The explosions ripped a tremendous hole in the pressure hull, and the aft torpedo compartment hung like "a broken arm" from the rest of the boat. She plunged stern first beneath the surface with her bow high in the air. The prisoner was peppered by many small metal fragments in the second bomb attack. The Engineer Officer at the point of a gun held many of the crew below.


Twenty-five including the Commanding Officer succeeded in getting into the water free of the sinking submarine, but of these six were drowned either because of wounds or burns from flaming oil. The machine gun on the port side of the aft conning tower had been rendered useless during the first bombing attack, but the starboard machine gun manned by Sottocapo Motorista Votero continued to fire until the water reached his neck.


He was badly wounded in one leg and died shortly after he was pulled aboard a raft. The prisoner protested that the first plane machine-gunned those in the water before dropping a rubber raft. Three rubber rafts were dropped by the planes but only two were recovered. The prisoner swam about 100 meters to recover them. He inflated them, tied one in tow and rowed to the other survivors. One raft was manned by thirteen including the Captain, the Executive Officer, two junior officers (Creppi and Magnani) and the prisoner. In the other there were seven ratings.


The two rafts tied up together and drifted as the occupants were too weak to row. The prisoner stated that according to Greppi they were drifting toward the Antilles. On the day after the sinking as well as on the following day planes were seen circling around at a distance. Some of the survivors stood up and blew little whistles furnished in the rafts. They had practically no clothing for signaling. But they were never sighted.


On the fifth day adrift, a steamer was sighted on the horizon but again no success attended their attempts to signal her attention. Again on the seventh day a steamer which Saccardo believed to be Argentinean passed about 1,200 meters away at approximately 10 knots. Saccardo then transferred to the raft with six men, borrowed 2 oars from the first raft and set off in the direction of the ship. He promised to return for the remaining twelve survivors if he were successful. Nothing was seen or heard of the Commander and his companions after that. The prisoner doubted that Saccardo ever succeeded in reaching the ship.


The prisoner's raft drifted on; the survivors one by one except for the prisoner died either from wounds, burns, hunger, and thirst or from drinking too much sea water. Zuliani died two or three days before the rescue of the sole survivor. Only an occasional brief rain squall interrupted the intense heat of the day. The prisoner had a narrow escape on the twenty-eighth day adrift; the raft overturned throwing him into the water but the next wave righted the raft and threw him back into the raft. This incident reminded the prisoner that Zuliani before dying had assured him that he would be the sole survivor. On the twenty-ninth day after the sinking the raft washed ashore on the Island of Bailique near the Western shore of the Amazon River; the prisoner was found weak and delirious by two Brazilian fishermen.


Later he was sent to Belem in a Brazilian Patrol Boat and after recovering from his arduous saga Lo cocco was transferred to a prison camp in Mississipi in the USA and late another in New York. He was repatriated to Italy on 26 October where he could tell to their compatriots he was the only survivor from submarine Archimede. Lo Cocco passed away on 30 August 2004 at the age of eight six.



Picture of the island of Bailique off the state of  Amapa some one hundred miles off the Amazon estuary.


By Capt. Jerry Mason USN Ret. www.uboatarchive.net


 

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