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Raid on Alexandria
Part of World War II
0950 - Taormina - Sottomarino Maiale alla Villa Comunale - Foto G. DallOrto, 30 Sept-2006.jpg
An Italian manned torpedo
Date 19 December 1941
Location Alexandria, Mediterranean Sea
Result Decisive Italian victory
United Kingdom United Kingdom Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Italy
United Kingdom Charles Morgan Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Luigi Durand de la Penne
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Junio Valerio Borghese
unknown 1 submarine
3 human torpedoes
Casualties and losses
2 battleships sunk,
1 destroyer damaged,
1 tanker damaged,
8 killed,
unknown wounded[1]
unknown wounded,
6 captured

The Raid on Alexandria took place on 19 December 1941, in the Alexandria harbour between Italian Navy and Royal Navy forces.



On 3 December, the submarine Scirè of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) left the naval base of La Spezia carrying three manned torpedoes.[2] At the island of Leros in the Aegean Sea, the submarine secretly picked up six crewmen for them: Luigi Durand de la Penne and Emilio Bianchi (maiale nº 221), Vincenzo Martellotta and Mario Marino (maiale nº 222), and Antonio Marceglia and Spartaco Schergat (maiale nº 223).[3]


On December 19, Sciré, at a depth of 15 metres (49 ft), released the manned torpedoes 1.3 miles (2.1 km) from Alexandria commercial harbor,[4] and they entered the naval base when the British opened their defenses to let three of their destroyers pass. There were many difficulties for de la Penne and his crewmate Emilio Bianchi. First, the engine of the torpedo stopped and the two frogmen had to manually push it; then Bianchi had to surface due to problems with the oxygen provider, so that de la Penne had to push the Maiale alone to where Valiant lay. There he successfully placed the limpet mine, just under the hull of HMS Valiant. However, as they both had to surface, and as Bianchi was hurt, they were subsequently discovered and captured.

Questioned, both of them kept silent, and they were confined in a compartment aboard Valiant, under the sea level, and just over the place were the mine had been placed. Fifteen minutes before the explosion, de la Penne asked to meet with Valiant´s captain Charles Morgan and then told him of the imminent explosion but refused to give further information, so that he was returned to the compartment. Fortunately for the Italians, when the mine exploded just before them, neither he nor Bianchi were severely injured by the blast, while de la Penne only received a minor injury to the head by a ship chain.[5]

The other four torpedo-riders were also captured, inland, by the Egyptian police and handed over to the British,[6] but not before their mines sank the battleships HMS Valiant and Queen Elizabeth.[7] The 7,750-ton Norwegian tanker Sagona lost her stern section and the destroyer HMS Jervis was badly damaged. Although the two capital ships sank only in a few feet of water and were eventually raised, they were out of action for over one year.[8]

This represented a dramatic change of fortunes against the Allies from the strategic point of view in the central Mediterranean during the next half-year. The Italian fleet had achieved naval supremacy.[9]

The attack is dramatised at the beginning of the film The Silent Enemy (1958). Another movie The Valiant, done in 1962, is about the sinking of HMS Valiant in Alexandria harbour. There it is even a 1953 Italian movie (I sette dell'Orsa Maggiore) about the attack, done with some real members of Decima Flottiglia MAS as support actors in the cast.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Borghese, page 135
  3. ^ Borghese, pp. 134-136
  4. ^ Borghese, page 143
  5. ^ Borghese, pp. 148-151
  6. ^ Borghese, page 152
  7. ^ Sadkovich, page 217
  8. ^ "...the battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, so badly damaged that they were effectively out of service for the duration of the Italian war effort." Sadkovich, page 334
  9. ^ "Consequently, the Alexandria Fleet remained for many months without any battleships, and it was forced to abandon any further open activity. In fact, Admiral Cunningham wrote that his Fleet now should have to leave it to the Royal Air Force to try if they could dispute the control of the Central Mediterranean with the enemy's fleet.(...) In fact, it opened a period of clear Italian naval supremacy in the east-central Mediterranean." Bragadin, page 152


  • "Frogmen First Battles" by retired U.S Captain William Schofield's book. ISBN 0-8283-2088-8
  • "The Black Prince and the Sea Devils: The Story of Valerio Borghese and the Elite Units of the Decima Mas", by Jack Greene and Alessandro Massignani, Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2004, 284 pages, hardcover. ISBN 0-306-81311-4
  • "Sea Devils" by J. Valerio Borghese, translated into English by James Cleugh, with introduction by the United States Naval Institute ISBN 1-55750-072-X
  • The Italian Navy in World War II by Marc'Antonio Bragadin, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, 1957. ISBN 0-405-13031-7
  • The Italian Navy in World War II by Sadkovich, James, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1994. ISBN 0-313-28797-X

External links

Coordinates: 31°10′43.71″N 29°51′44.89″E / 31.1788083°N 29.8624694°E / 31.1788083; 29.8624694



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