Italian Submarine Alberto Gugliemotti: Her Tragic Loss and Rediscovery

Italian Submarine Alberto Gugliemotti: Her Tragic Loss and Rediscovery

Italian Submarine Alberto Gugliemotti
Italian Submarine Alberto Gugliemotti

On 2 August 2018, it was reported by The Telegraph that the wreck of the Italian submarine Alberto Gugliemotti had been found lying on the seabed by two minesweepers of the Marina Militare. The vessel had been lost for over a century since its sinking in 1917.

The Alberto Gugliemotti had been on its way to Brindisi when it was mistaken for a German U-Boat by HMS Cyclamen, a British Arabis-class minesweeper. A brisk action ensued, when the Cyclamen opened fire on the Alberto Gugliemotti before ramming it. Moments later, the submarine sank with the loss of fourteen of her crew.

The sinking of the Alberto Gugliemotti was a tragic accident, a victim of what we would today term as ‘friendly fire’, since Britain and Italy were allies at this time. But what else is known about this ill-fated submarine?

She was built by FIAT-San Giorgio at the Muggiano shipyards in 1916, being one of two Pacinotti-class medium submarines ordered for the Marina Militare. Following her launch and sea trials, she was initially used for training purposes under the Maritime Military Command of La Spezia.

British Minesweeper HMS Cyclamen

However, on 10 March 1917, while under the command of Commander Guido Castiglioni, the Alberto Gugliemotti left the Italian naval base at La Spezia and set a course for Brindisi. Apart from her trials, this was the first voyage of the submarine on the open sea. She was destined for deployment in the Adriatic.

On the night of the same day, the Alberto Gugliemotti was sighted by the Cyclamen, and believing it to be a German U-Boat the minesweeper opened fire with its 4.7 inch guns, hitting the tower of the Italian vessel and killing Lieutenant Leopoldo Alboni. The minesweeper then rammed the Alberto Gugliemotti on her left side, inflicting the killing wound that would send her to the bottom off the island of Giglio, northwest of Capraia.

Little more than half of the crew of the Alberto Gugliemotti survived, being picked up by the Cyclamen, the captain of which, Lieutenant-Commander George Page, now painfully realised his mistake. He reportedly later sent a communication that read: “I attacked and sunk a large submarine. We are sorry to report that survivors appear Italian. It is estimated that the ship should be located near Cape Corsica.” One of the survivors was Castiglioni.

Those who perished included two officers, four non-commissioned officers, seven seamen and a construction worker. It should be noted, however, that other sources put the death toll at sixteen, including the Alberto Gugliemotti’s second in command, Lieutenant Virgilio De Biase.

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