Underwater Raid of Alexandria
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseOn 3 Dec 1941, Italian submarine Scirč departed La Spezia, Italy with three manned torpedoes, heading for the British naval base at Alexandria, Egypt. En route, the submarine stopped at Leros, Dodecanese Islands and picked up three teams for the three torpedoes: Luigi Durand de la Penne and Emilio Bianchi; Vincenzo Martellotta and Mario Marino; and Antonio Marceglia and Spartaco Schergat. On 19 Dec, at the depth of 15 meters or 49 feet and at about 2.1 kilometers or 1.3 miles from Alexandria, the three torpedoes were launched. Sneaking through the opening as three British destroyers passed through the entrance to the harbor.
ww2dbaseDe la Penne and Bianchi's submarine was able to place a limpet mine under the hull of HMS Valiant, but they were discovered, captured, and brought aboard HMS Valiant. 15 minutes prior to the mine was set to explode, de la Penne told Valiant's commanding officer Charles Morgan of the imminent explosion, but refused to divulge further information. As the mine exploded and sank the battleship, the two Italians were only lightly hurt.
ww2dbaseAfter they successfully set and detonated their limpet mines, the other two teams were also captured and brought to land, detained by first by Egyptian police then British Army. Battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth was sunk. Norwegian tanker Sagona and British destroyer HMS Jervis were also damaged.
ww2dbaseThe loss of the two British battleships resulted in a temporary naval superiority for the Italians.
Last Major Update: Feb 2011
Underwater Raid of Alexandria Interactive Map
Underwater Raid of Alexandria Timeline
|3 Dec 1941||Scirč departed La Spezia, Italy for Alexandria, Egypt with three manned torpedoes on board.|
|19 Dec 1941||Italian frogmen on human torpedoes slipped into Alexandria harbour in Egypt and sank British WW1-era battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant with limpet mines; 6 Italians were captured in this mission. Although both were later refloated and repaired, their loss coupled with the sinking in the previous month of the Barham left the Royal Navy without a single capital ship in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, giving the Italian Navy superiority in the region.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945