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Decima Flottiglia MAS: Strike on Alexandria

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Junio Borghese: Picture courtesy of

The Frogmen were provided by naval intelligence a very detailed model of Alexandria harbor to study. Ariel photography, maps, and drawings made by informants and Italian agents in Alexandria helped the commandos plan their attack with incredible accuracy.  The Frogmen and their support team also spent hours studying meteorological reports and charts showing the different currents and the underwater environment they would find themselves in during the mission.  There were three main parts to the mission before them.  First was the journey itself; the submarine would have to run a gauntlet of British ships and planes from Italy to Alexandria just to reach a disembarkation point for the assault team.  The second phase would be the attack on the harbor.  The last step would be for the commandos to make their escape from the harbor, if successful leaving a wake of destruction behind them.  The challenge before them, to say the least, was daunting.

The harbor at Alexandria was protected by miles and miles of minefields that guarded its approach from sea.  Six miles from the entrance a separate minefield laden with radio controlled detonator mines shielded the harbors mouth further.  The harbor itself is separated from the Mediterranean by break walls on the eastern and western sides; the 200 meter wide opening in between was gated by three steel anti-submarine nets that controlled traffic coming in and out.  Giving the harbor additional protection were anti-aircraft and costal guns distributed around the perimeter.  Surveillance planes made multiple passes a day, as did patrol boats that randomly dropped depth charges to deter submarines.  Searchlights illuminated the port at night, and armed guards walked the break walls and dock.  The British seaman had always felt safe and secure while in their well protected harbor.  That was about to change;  Decima MAS was coming.

On December 3rd the Submarine Scire, now with Lt. Cmdr. Borghese as her captain, left La Spezia and headed out to the open sea.  The Frogmen had already flown ahead to the island of Leros for further training.  The Scire would rendezvous with them several days later to continue the journey south.  The Scire had been modified to carry 3 large tube-like containers on the hull which would hold the SLC’s.  To help protect the secrecy of the mission, it was announced that the Scire was heading out on a training mission.  A point was made to show the tubes on the hull were empty lest British spies grow suspicious.  That evening of the 3rd  under the cover of darkness, the submarine met up with an Italian ferry-boat at sea where the SLC’s were transferred on to the Sirce. On the 14th, with the Frogmen collected off of Leros and now on board, the Scire changed course and headed south.  Alexandria awaited.

Borghese had the Scire navigate on the surface only during the hours of darkness.  Travel in the daytime was done only when submerged.  While this would reduce the speed at which they could travel, stealth was the main goal.  Extra caution was given to avoid detection at all costs.  Borghese was determined that the Scire and her commandos would make it to their target this time.

The Scire surfaced on the 18th into the evening darkness.  In the distance towered the Ras-el-Tin lighthouse, the predominant landmark for sea faring vessels heading to the harbor.  The lighthouse had stood for nearly 100 years as a beacon and guide for those seeking protection and anchorage in Alexandria.  That night however, it would serve to usher in chaos to the port once thought impenetrable.

The commandos donned their protective gear and exited through the turret hatch of the Scire.  Once outside the sub they made their way to the mounted tubes and pushed their SLC’s free into the sea.  With the SLC’s and Frogmen clear, the Scire dove back into the safety of the sea and departed.  The commandos were for now on their own.  A second submarine had been dispatched to retrieve them after the completion of their raid.  The escape plan created for the Frogmen teams’ called for them to make their way onto land, undetected of course, after the completion of their assignment.   From there they were to later steal or hijack a fishing boat or small craft and make their way to the waters off of the city of Rosetta located near the mouth of the Nile.  It is here they were scheduled to meet with the second sub on Christmas Eve, and begin what they hope was a victorious journey home.

The men of the assault team were not thinking about Rosetta and escape the night of the 18th however. Their minds were focused on the mission at hand, and how much depended on its success.  Using the lighthouse as a guide, the Frogmen piloted their SLC’s across the still dark water towards Alexandria.  All of the training and studying they had put in for the mission would be called upon that night; for their very lives were dependent on it.

As the teams made their way closer to the harbor, they spotted a patrol boat circling about and dropping depth charges at random intervals.  To avoid detection, the men maneuvered the SLC’s close to the western break wall and then slowly made their way towards the mouth of the harbor.  The commandos passed within yards of several British sentries who were positioned on top of the break wall.  The guards, perhaps thinking of home or the card game the night before, did not see or hear the commandos slip right past them.  The Frogmen had caught their first break on the mission.

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