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Carlo Fecia di Cossato

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Carlo Fecia Conte di Cossato

Born in Rome the 25 September 1908 of a noble Biellese family of proven loyalty to the Savoian Dynasty, Carlo Fecia di Cossato studied in the Military College of Moncalieri, and from 1923 at the Livorno Military academy. He became a Guardiamarina in 1928 and vessel sub-lieutenant in 1929. After two years he was transferred to the naval bases in Beijing and then accepted for academic studies in Livorno.

During the Spanish Civil War he took part on two special missions as vessel lieutenant. When Italy entered the war on the 10th June 1940, Carlo Fecia di Cossato had the command of the submarine “Menotti” of the 34° Squadriglia of Messina; The Menotti was a “Bandiera” class. It was 69.8 7.22, 5,18 mt. vessel with 940-1,100 tons that could reach 17,5-9 knots. The submerged range was 60 miles at 4 knots. The submarine was armed with a 102/35 cannon, two 13.2 machine guns and 8 533mm torpedo launchers. With 52 crew members, the submarine completed several missions in the Mediterranean without special results.

Designated as lieutenant commander in December 1940, he assumed command of the “Tazzoli”, a 1936 “ Calvi” class oceanic vessel, destined under his leadership to become legendary, he was a protagonist with lieutenant commander V. Raccanelli in the sinking of the Yugoslavian steamship Orao (5,100 tons on the 12th of October) and the English Ardanbahin (5900 tons. 27 December). Gazzana Priaroggia, the future ace, was his second commander during one year.

On 7 April 1941 he departed from Bordeaux in the direction of the west African coast. On the 8th of April a first alarm was sent after the interception of 2 anti-submarine ships. Fecia di Cossato attacked them before identifying the ships, which resulted at the end to be only 2 Spanish fishing boats. On 12 of April the “Tazzoli” fired two torpedoes without success against a ship that was thought to be of the English cruiser class “Bonaventure” around Finisterre cape.

The first sinking took place a few days later. On the 15th of April while close to Azores, the armed steam ship Aurella (4,700 tons) was able to avoid the first torpedo and reacted with cannon fire. The artillery duel with the Tazzoli ended with the English ship sunk. Fecia Di Cossato often used this tactic: first to immobilize the enemy ship with torpedoes and then finishing it off with artillery fire power after surfacing.

The following three weeks were unfruitful when he was accompanied with the submarines “Baracca” and “Dandolo” around the Lisbon coast and then the south of Madeira and Canary Islands. He tried to attack a destroyer and a big steam ship close to Sierra Leone on the 16 May but was unsuccessful. However, in the following days he had his revenge by sinking the Norwegian Fernland (4,310 tons), a ship that became isolated from the Allied column OG59. The Fernland was sunk with four torpedoes; 2 while submerged and 2 while surfaced at close range.

On the 8th of May, while close to the equator, he intercepted the armed petrol vessel Alfred Olsen (8,800t.). The Olsen proceeded with its lights off and was zig zagging to avoid torpedoes. The pursuit took several hours, and was made difficult due to fog and heavy rains, but on the 9th of May the Tazzoli ended the Alfred Olsen with its cannons.

The Tazzoli was attacked and bombed on the 23 of May by a Bristol Beaufort of the 217° RAF squad close to the Gironda estuary while returning to Bordeaux. It strongly reacted with machine gun fire and was able to damage the aircraft.

In this first mission Fecia Di Cossato was able to sink 3 ships for a total of 17,860 tons, at the time a record for the Italian sub navy. He was awarded with a Medaglia d’argento al valor militare. On 15 July 1941 he sailed from Le Verdon sur Mer after a cycle of repair works. He was directed to the Liberian waters, an area that proved to be weak in results. He met a column of 3 liners with the two military escort units. This time he had to face a strong and vivid reaction as the escort units launched several depth charges for several hours.

On the 19 of August he torpedoed the Norwegian Cistern Sildra (7,300 tons). However, due to a damaged propulsion vent the submarine had to return to Bordeaux. The new mission assigned to him had an humanitarian objective. To save the shipwrecked crew from the German auxiliary destroyer Atlantis sunk by the HMS Devonshire, and the supply ship Python, who scuttled itself from the HMS Dorsetshire. Besides the “Tazzoli”,  the submarines “Torelli”, “Calvi” e “Finzi” were also sent to help the 2 U boots already in the area.

The encounter took place in Cape Verde Island on 16 December 1941. They were able to save 254 people. Despite the Allied attacks using antisubmarine aircraft and depth charges, the column reached Saint Nazaire between the 23rd and the 29th of December. Cossato earned a German Cross.

In the meantime the United States entered the war. The “Tazzoli” had as new operative area in the eastern part of Florida. It departed on 11 February 1942 and on the 5th of March he unsuccessfully torpedoed the English petrol ship Ripana (8,000 tons), but was successful against the Dutch cargo steamship Astrea (1,400 tons), and at the South of Bermuda, during the night, against the Norwegian Tonsberfjord (3,100 tons).

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  1. La grande frode. Come l’Italia fu fatta Repubblica
    di Franco Malnati