At the end of March 1942, contemporary with the German offensive in Crimea and the imminent attack of the fortified naval base of Sevastopol, the Berlin High command realized the necessity to have in defense of its naval traffic along the southern coasts of the peninsula of Crimea and inside Azov Sea, an adequate escort of light and fast units and a consistent number of small tonnage submarines.
Starting from spring 1942 the Germans had deployed in the Black sea, along the Danubian fluvial way, a small but efficient number of coastal motor patrol vessels and submarines. The Germans, however, could not completely afford this urgent necessity. Admiral Reader asked the Italian Navy High Command to take part in these far theaters and on great Ladoga Lake (1) with a mixed flotilla composed of Mas, CB midget submarines, and suicide boats (in Italian “barchini” =”punts”).
They were crafts fit to counter the frightening Soviet fleet in the Black Sea, composed of a battleship (Pariskaja Kommuna), four heavy cruisers (among them the Molotov, based on a pre-war Italian project) approximately ten naval destroyers (some of them heavy ones, of the Kharkov class), the flotilla leader Tasken, approximately 29 small and medium tonnage submarines and numerous patrol and transport units.
Favorably impressed by the numerous successes obtained from these assault crafts in the course of the first two years of war in the Mediterranean Sea, Raeder had therefore good reason to consider the Italian support. The first formal request for Italian participation in Black Sea was made by this German Admiral the 14th January 1942, just in light of the great Germanic offensive in South Ukraine.
Interestingly enough, it is to be noticed that in the course of the period of co-belligerence (1940-1943), it was the only time in which Germany asked Italy a specific request for military support, just in consideration
“..of the superiority of light torpedo crafts, either submarines or surface ones, of the Regia Marina regarding those which we had” [ Raeder, ndr ]
Therefore, in order not to disappoint the ally, and to try in some way to compensate from the profitable results carried out by German U-boats, sent in 1941, in the Mediterranean Sea against the British naval forces, that Italian Admiral Riccardi gave immediate disposition to send four Mas (of 24 ton displacement), six CB 35 tons submarines, five torpedo motorboats and five explosive punts. These three squadrons were grouped in 101th Flotilla and prepared for the transportation to the Black Sea in the Moccagatta Convoy. The Italian assault fleet was put under the command of Capitano di Fregata Francesco Mimbelli.
The first big problem was how to deploy these units in the Black Sea. In fact the only reasonable solution was land transport, since the Turkish Dardanelli Strait was closed by international convention to military naval traffic. In order to try to resolve this difficult issue, the Italian Navy Command gave proof of great ability and imagination by preparing in short time a special column composed of 28 motor vehicles, three tractors, nine trucks, tankers and trailers. This long column of vehicles left the base of La Spezia the 25th April and after having successfully passed innumerable obstacles and difficulties (the drivers and the engineers had in some cases, to demolish buildings along the way in order to let the cumbersome vehicles pass), the column reached Wien, where the boats were put in Danube waters. From here they reached the Rumanian port of Costanza (2th May). Starting from this last port of call, with a fast and easy navigation, all the Italian units finally reached the Russian port of Yalta, it would have become their first operative base.
A few days after their arrival in this locality situated along the southern coast of the Crimea peninsula, the Italian units were ready to act against the numerous Soviet warships and transport present in the quadrant of sea situated between the Sevastopol fortress, the Strait of Kerch and the bases of Novorossijsk and Tuapse. From May 1942 to May 1943, Italian units carried out an intense and shining activity, obtaining various sinking and earning the respect of the German allies and of the Russian adversaries.
The 11th and 13th June 1942, the Mas torpedoed and sunk a 5,000 ton steamboat and a 10,000 tons transport (crippled, sunk by Germans Junker 87). Subdivided, for tactical and emergency reasons, among the bases of Yalta and Feodosia, the Italian units had to face the rabid aerial offense of the enemy, who in those zones had beyond 700 aircraft, comprised of either fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Not being able to count on an adequate aerial protection (the Germans, hardly engaged in the conquest of the fortified system of Sevastopol and Balaclava and then on the front of Mariupol, Rostov, Krasnodar, almost never gave an air escort to Italian crafts), Mas and midget submarines had to endure the first losses. Just at dawn of of the 13th June, a group Soviet fighter and fighter-bombers Yak and Ilijushin, supported by about a dozen torpedo boats, attacked the port of Yalta causing the sinking of the submarine commanded by Sottotenente di Vascello Farolfi. But the loss was nearly compensated by two shining tricolor victories.