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M.A.S. and Midget Submarines in the Black Sea 1942-1943

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In fact, the 15th and the 18th June, in the course of a nocturnal operation, CB submarines number 2 and 3 succeeded to torpedo and sink Soviet submarines S32 and SHCH 306 (with a respective displacement of 1,070 and 705 tons), which were sailing on the surface.

On June 18th, the Mas met a day of glory and blood, too. Two Italian units attacked a column of large enemy motor barges loaded with soldiers, escorted by six gunboats, directed toward Sevastopol.

In the action, which caused the confirmed sinking of a Soviet transport, Lieutenant Bisagno, who was aboard Mas 571, was mortally wounded.

Between the end of June and the first days of July, Italian units participated, along with Germans and Rumanians, in the conquest of the fortresses of Sevastopol and Balaclava. In these operations, Capitano di Corvetta Todaro, distinguished himself with his unit, by repeatedly attacking the numerous enemy naval crafts (either surface ones and submarines) used to evacuate specialists, political commissaries and high officers of the Soviet Army.

In the course of this huge battle, which took place in the Crimea waters from May to July 1942, the four Mas made 65 war missions, while torpedo motorboats and CB submarines made, respectively, 56 and 24 war missions.

On 29 June, German Admiral Schuster (Chief Commander of Kriegsmarine South Group), in demonstration of the courage and the excellent work of Italian crews and crafts, sent Admiral Riccardi his personal congratulations, pointing out in an official radio communicate

“the fighting spirit of Italian crews commanded by Capitano di Fregata Mimbelli”.

Because of the German Army Group South moved toward east, the Italian Flotilla in the Black Sea moved its support bases more to the east as well, consolidating its logistic positions of Feodosia and Iwan Baba.

MAS Torpedoboat in Lake Ladoga 1942

In August, during the Kriegsmarine motor barges flotilla’s operations were tasked to move from the Crimea east coast to the Azov Sea in the west coast, men, weapons and supplies destined to support the new offensive towards Caucaso mountains. A Italian Mas was entrusted with the duty to counter enemy gunboats and torpedo motorboats attacks.

The night between 2nd and 3rd August, Mas 573 (Capitano di Corvetta Castagnacci), 568 (Sottotenente Legnani) and 569 (Sottotenente Ferrari) attacked, southwest from Kerch, the heavy cruiser Molotov (“Kirov” class) (2) and naval destroyer Kharkov (“Leningrad” class ), which were enroute to intercept the German transport mission.

The two large Soviet units, commanded by Commodore N.E. Basisty went near the coast, opening fire with their 181, 122 and 100 mm. guns, against objectives situated between Iwan Baba and Feodosia. Realizing the great danger (the attack of a powerful 11,500 ton cruiser, armed with nine 181 mm. guns, against a flotilla of German small barges which were in that part of sea, certainly should have ended in total disaster). The Mas 573 and 568 commanders decided to immediately attack the large enemy unit. Torpedoes from Mas 573 missed, but Legnani’s Mas 568 came to a very short distance from the cruiser and launched its two torpedoes: the first missed, while the second succeeded in hitting the aft hull of Molotov cruiser, which was hammering Italian units with its 100 and 45 mm. guns. After the strike, Mas 568 tried to outrun the adversary with a quick evasive maneuver, but was chased at full speed by the destroyer Kharkov, which had arrived to help the Molotov. With remarkable cold blood, Commander Legnani ordered his men to drop from rear all ten little depth charges the unit had aboard, triggering them on the minimal explosion depth. The Depth charges exploded in a fast succession, immediately ahead of the Kharkov, which was still in chase, damaging it so badly that it forced the Russian destroyer to stop the chase. Both the Molotov and Kharkov retired from the combat toward the east to reach their base as soon as possible. Mas 568, which in only 15 minutes succeeded in damaging the two enemy units, managed to return to Yalta, damaged and attacked by some Soviet aircraft that were drawn by the explosions.

On the morning of 3rd August, Mas 573 and 569 returned to Feodosia. After this brilliant action, which ended in the crippling of Molotov (the unit was towed to Bathumi port and put in a shipyard where it needed two years of repairs which saw the complete substitution of about twenty meters of the aft hull: part that was taken from the twin unit Frunze, in that time in construction) and in damaging of Kharkov (the destroyer was in shipyard repair for some weeks), Italian Mas made about a half dozen war missions, sinking only a 3000 ton steamboat.

MAS 57

On 9 September 1942, just after the official visit by Admiral Reader at the Italian base of Yalta, the base was violently attacked by a squadron of Soviet fighter-bombers, which hit and sank Mas 571, Mas 573 and a barge, succeeding also in seriously damaging Mas 567, 569 and 572.

In the period comprised between October 1942 and January 1943 (in the same time of the Russian winter’s offensive, which forced Axis forces to surrender at Stalingrad and to withdraw from Caucaso and Don river line) Italian craft activity (either surface and submarine units) was heavily conditioned by the worsening of the conflict and by the shorting in oil supply, at the point that the Command of Italian Navy decided to allow the crews to return home, leaving the German sailors all remaining operating crafts (a part of the German sailors were trained at the Italian base of Pola, in Istria, and in the motor factory Isotta Fraschini, in Milan).

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  1. Joe! Great to hear from you again :) I bet those MTB drawings look great! Try posing this question in the forum. I’m sure somebody can help you!

  2. Hello Jim, I am trying to finish a story I started years ago of the raid on Malta by the XMAS unit that.
    Do you have any information on the British system of assigning radar units and shore batteries at Malta? It would appear that the attacking force was spotted immediately while still some distance away.

    Any nugget of information would be useful. Thank you so much. I did finish my ten volume set of Motor Torpedo Boats from 1280 AD to 1945. It’s called The Ship Killers