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BETASOM is an Italian language acronym meaning Bordeaux Sommergibile. Phonetically B (for Bordeaux) is Beta and SOM is an abbreviation for 'Sommergibile' which is the Italian for submarine. Hence the abbreviation BETASOM and it refers to the submarine base established at Bordeaux by the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina Italiana) during World War II. From this base, Italian submarines participated in the Battle of the Atlantic from 1940 to 1943. The Battle of the Atlantic was the Axis anti-shipping campaign against Britain and its allies.

Contents

Establishment

Axis naval co-operation started after signing the Pact of Steel in June 1939 with meetings in Friedrichshafen, Germany, and an agreement to exchange technical information. After the Italian entry into the war and the Fall of France, the Italian Navy established a base at Bordeaux, which was within the German occupation zone. The Italians were allocated a sector of the Atlantic south of Lisbon to patrol. The base was opened in August 1940 and the captured French passenger ship De Grasse was used a depot ship. Admiral Angelo Perona commanded the submarines at BETASOM under the control of Rear Admiral (Konteradmiral) Karl Doenitz. Doenitz was the "Commander of the Submarines" (Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote) for the German Navy (Kriegsmarine). About 1600 men were based at BETASOM.[1]

The base could house up to thirty submarines and it had dry docks and two basins connected by locks. Shore barracks accommodated a security guard of 250 men of the San Marco Battalion.

A second base was established at La Pallice in La Rochelle, France. This second base allowed submerged training which was not possible at Bordeaux.

Operational detail

From June 1940, three Italian submarines patrolled off the Canary Islands and Madeira, followed by three more off the Azores. When these patrols were completed, the six boats returned to their new base at Bordeaux. Their initial patrol area was the Northwestern Approaches and at the start they out-numbered their German allies' submarines. Doenitz was pragmatic about the Italians, seeing them as inexperienced but useful for reconnaissance and likely to gain expertise.[2]

Doenitz was disappointed. The Italian submarines sighted convoys but lost contact and failed to make effective reports. Even when assigned to weather reporting - critical for the war effort on both sides - they failed to do this competently. Fearing that German operations would be prejudiced, Doenitz reassigned the Italians to the southern area where they could act independently. In this way, about thirty Italian boats achieved some success, without much impact on the critical areas of the campaign.[2][3]

German assessments were scathing. Doenitz described the Italians as "inadequately disciplined" and "unable to remain calm in the face of the enemy". When the British tanker British Fame was attacked by the Malaspina, "the officer of the watch and lookouts were on the bridge and the captain was dozing in a deckchair below". It took five torpedoes to sink the tanker and, at one point, the tanker's gunfire forced the Malaspina to submerge to safety. The Italians towed the lifeboats to safety, an act worthy of praise, but one against Doenitz's orders and leaving the submarine open to attack for 24 hours.[2]

While the BETASOM submarines did have some value, it is clear why they did not meet the expectations of Doenitz. By 30 November 1940, Italian submaries in the Atlantic each sank an average of 200 gross tons per day. By comparison, German submarines each averaged 1,115 gross tons per day during the same time period.[4]

Seven BETASOM submarines were adapted to carry critical war materiel from the Far East (Bagnolin, Barbarigo, Cappellini, Finzi, Giuliani, Tazzoli, and Torelli). Two were sunk, two were captured in the Far East by the Germans after the Italian surrender and used by them and a fifth was captured in Bordeaux by the Germans, but not used.[5]

End

The base was bombed by the British on several occasions [6]

After the Italian Armistice in September 1943 the base was seized by the Germans. Some of the Italian personnel joined the Germans independently of the Italian Social Republic. During this period the Italian postage stamps on hand were overprinted to show loyalty to Mussolini's rump state.[7]

List of submarines operating from BETASOM

In 1940, all twenty-eight Italian submarines which were to be based at BETASOM initially had to sail from bases on the Mediterranean Sea and transit the Straits of Gibraltar to reach the Atlantic Ocean. All twenty-eight did this successfully and without incident.

In 1941, another four Italian submarines based in Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, or AOI) reached the base after the fall of that colony during the East African Campaign. All four had to travel around the Cape of Good Hope to get to BETASOM.

Transferred from the Mediterranean in 1940

Transferred from the Red Sea Flotilla during the summer of 1941

  • Archimede
  • Perla
  • Guglielmotti
  • Ferraris

In 1941, it was decided to return some of the boats to the Mediterranean. The Perla, the Guglielmotti, the Brin, the Argo, the Velella, the Dandolo, the Emo, the Otaria, the Mocenigo, and the Veniero Glauco made the passage but the Glauco was sunk by the British Royal Navy.

The Cagni was transferred in 1942

References

  1. ^ D'Adamo, Cristiano (1996-2008). "BETASOM". REGIAMARINA. http://www.regiamarina.net/subs/betasom/history/betasom_us.htm. Retrieved 19 Dec 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c Ireland, Bernard (2003). Battle of the Atlantic. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Books. pp. 51–52. ISBN 0 84415 001 1. 
  3. ^ Thirty two submarines operated in the Atlantic for the Italian Navy and sank 109 Allied ships for a total of 593,864 tons.
  4. ^ Piekałkiewicz, Janusz. Sea War: 1939-1945. Blandford Press, London - New York, 1987, pg. 106, ISBN 0-7137-1665-7
  5. ^ Rosselli, Alberto. "Italian Submarines and Surface Vessels in the Far East: 1940-1945". Comando Supremo. http://www.comandosupremo.com/Fareast.html. Retrieved 7 Jan 2009. 
  6. ^ D'Adamo, Cristiano (1996-2007). "The Bombardments of Bordeaux and the Italian submarine base "BETASOM"". REGIAMARINA. http://www.regiamarina.net/subs/betasom/Bombardments/bombardments_us.htm. Retrieved 7 Jan 2009. 
  7. ^ Stamps of the Italian Socialist Republic - The Atlantic Base
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