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Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia

Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia

Born from nobility in Milan on the 30th of August 1912, Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia moved to Liguria with his family during the Great War. He enrolled in the Naval Academy at Livorno in 1931 and embarked on navy school ships Amerigo Vespucci and Cristoforo Colombo where he became Guardiamarina in 1935.

In January 1936, Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia embarked on the destroyers Trento and Trieste as the vessels sub-lieutenant. In 1936 he was a member of the submarine “Millelire” during operations to support the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War and earned a “Alzamento Medal”.

Between 1936 and January 1940 he served on board the submarines “Scirè”, “Balilla” e “Malachite”. Afterward, he was nominated vessel lieutenant and second official in “Durbo”. He then assumed the same position on the “Malachite” in June 1940.

Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia’s mark on military history came when he was transferred as second commander on the submarine “Tazzoli” stationed at Betasom (the Bordeaux submarine command center).  Guided by the already famous Carlo Fecia di Cossato; they participated in four missions in the Atlantic Ocean. The operations resulted in the sinking of 10 allied vessels totaling 54,360 tons.

On the 22th February 1942, Gazzana Priaroggia was nominated commander of the Submarine “Archimede”, initially operating in the Red Sea, and then transferring to Bordeaux after the defeat of the Italians in East Africa in May 1941.

The submarine class “Benedetto Brin” (72,5 m*6,7m*4,55m, 1066-1200 tons, speed 17.3-8 knots, autonomy 80 miles at 4 knots submerged) was built in the naval shipyard Tosi of Taranto. Launched in 1939, the “Archimede” was equipped with 1*100/43, 4* 13,2mm guns and N. 8 533mm torpedo launchers. The submarine was first equipped with a front cannon 100/43 and a back cannon of 100/47.

Departing on the 26th of April to operate in the northern Brazilian shores, the “Archimede” faced stronger anti-submarine Allied measures than previous encounters. Therefore, it change the hunting field further north east. On the 23rd of May it engaged a Brazilian steam boat and a Brazilian tow boat together with the American cruiser Milwaukee and the destroyer Moffet. However, the attack was not successful.

At the beginning of June, Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia made course for a return to base. However, on the 15th of June his submarine intercepted and sunk the Panamanian steam ship Cardena and arrived in Bordeaux on the 4th of July.

On the 1th of August he became commander of the “Leonardo da Vinci”.  From the submarine class “Marconi” (76m*6,82m*4,72m, 1190-1490tsl, speed 18-8 knots, autonomy 110 miles at 3 knots submerged), it was armed with a 1*100/47, 4* 13,2mm machine guns and 8 533mm torpedo launchers). This submarine was bigger, modern and adapted to long missions in the ocean. Built in the Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico of Monfalcone, and launched on 16 September 1939, this submarine entered in action in April 1940.

In the following weeks the submarine was adapted to transport and launch small submarines (CA2) which were capable of reaching New York in a demonstrative attack. But this ambitious and difficult plan was soon abandoned.

On the 7th of August 1942, he arrived to the new area of operations northeast of the Cape S. Rocco, close to the Brazilian shore. In this area, he torpedoed the English steam ship Empire Zeal and the Greek Andreas. Moving to the north of Recife to avoid the Catalinas based in Natal, he sank the American Marcus Withmann with a torpedo, and the Dutch Veerhave with its cannons.

On the return trip he transferred to the “Tazzoli” and reenter triumphantly in Bordeaux on the 6th of December.

He departed for a new operative mission on 20 February after a short period of rest. The consolidated domination of the central part of Atlantic by the Allies forced the command to move their operations to the Indian Ocean. In the Indian Ocean the merchant ships were not escorted with the same power and attention as in the Atlantic. Therefore, after receiving supplies from the “Finzi”, the “Leonardo da Vinci” approached the coast of South Africa on the 20th of March, and then to its new operational area.

All was going as planned. On the 13th of March, Gazzana Priaroggia, sitting just 70 miles from the equatorial line, sank the Canadian troop transporter Empress of Canada and on the 18th the English steam ship Leilworth. Unfortunately the first ship traveling directly to South Africa and passing by the Guinea Gulf held not only 1400 soldiers but also 500 Italian war prisoners. The “Leonardo da Vinci” was able to save only few of those.

This transport troop ship of 21,000 tons was the biggest ship sunk by the Italians during the war. However the mission was not over. Between 17th and 21st of April the “Leonardo da Vinci” sank 4 ships: the Dutch Sembilan, the English Manaar, the American Liberty Ship John Dayton and at 180 miles from Port Elizabeth the Brazialian oil transporter Doryssa.

Promoted Lieutenant Commander for war merits, Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia established a route back to Bordeaux. Following a message to the headquarters on the 22nd of May, he planned to reach Betason on the 29th. Instead, on the 23rd of May at 11:45 west of Vigo (Spain) the “Leonard da Vinci” was detected by the English Frigate Ness that was guarding a sea column. The ship and the destroyer Active made a combined attack with several deep charges, and at 12:00 a strong roar from the deepness of sea announced the end of the “Leonardo da Vinci“ adventure, its Captain and the 62 members of the crew.

Described by his friends and enemies as a loyal fighter, chivalrous, rich in humanity and a gift to command, Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia was decorated with 1 Medaglia d’oro al valor militare, 2 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare sul campo, 3 Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare, war crosses, 5 crosses of war merit, a second class iron cross and a German knight cross. With 10 ships totaling 90,000 tons, he was one of the major submarine aces. The Republic gave his name to one of its ex American submarines in service during the 1970-1980’s and to a submarine of the “Sauro” class that entered in service in 1995.

F. Mattesini “BETASOM. La guerra negli oceani“ USMM Roma 1993
E. Bagnasco “Submarines of WWII” U.S. Naval Institute Annapolis 1980
D. Brown “Warship losses of WWII” London Arms and Armor 1990
Bagnasco-Rastelli “Sommergibili in Guerra” Albertelli Parma 1989
J. Rowehr “Axis submarine successes” Greenhill 1999
P. Hervieux “I Marconi in Guerra” Storia Militare n.70/1999 Albertelli Ed.
M. Brescia “Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia” in Storia Militare 2001 Albertelli ed.
A. Rastelli “Carlo Fecia di Cossato, l’uomo,il mito e il marinaio”Ed.Mursia
G. Pardini “La non scelta del Maresciallo De Bono”Nuova Storia Contemporanea n.3/2001 ed Le Lettere


  1. Love the mini-Bios Marco, keep them coming!!!