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Decima Flottiglia MAS: Strike on Alexandria

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The SLC’s made their way to the harbor “gate”, the three rows of retractable steel netting positioned between the break walls.  The Frogmen piloted their SLC’s into a dive searching for an opening or perhaps room to traverse under the nets.  Unfortunately there were no openings and the nets reached almost all the way to the sea floor blocking the way under.  To further complicate things, the commandos discovered that explosives had been attached to the cables.  The ‘front door’ had been secured quite well.

The Frogmen were left with the unenviable prospect of having to rise back up to the surface and attempt to lift or pull the SLC’s over the top of the netting.  This of course would greatly increase their odds of being detected.  They were left with little choice, as the harbor presented no other option for them to be able to deliver the explosives to the targets.  It was now nearly midnight, and the commandos were just moments away from moving the SLC’s into position to go over the net when the entire ‘gate’ area was illuminated by floodlights and probing search lights.  In the distance the distinctive sound of several large ships could be heard as they approached the harbor. As the ships slowly cruised forward, the Frogmen could make out the form of three British destroyers and a troop transport heading to the port to find refuge.  The ‘gate’ was opened to allow access to the harbor for the ships, and the Frogmen were quick to capitalize on this unexpected development.  The commandos deftly maneuvered their SLC’s behind the last ship in the line, and followed closely in the ships wake right through the ‘front door’.  As the Frogmen slipped into the inner harbor undetected, the ‘gate’ was closed behind them.  Decima MAS had just caught their second big break of the mission.

Once inside the harbor the three assault teams split off from each other in search of their assigned targets.  De la Penne and Biachi set off for the Battleship Valiant; Marceglia and Schergat made their way for the Battleship Queen Elizabeth, while Martellotta and Marino began their search for their target.  As De la Penne’s team made its way past the rows of anchored ships, the Valiant finally came into their view.  As the Commandos guided their SLC towards the ship, they encountered a second protective net that had been erected about 15 yards around the target.  The Frogmen were forced to lift their vessel over the netting, and once this was accomplished, they began their dive to position the SLC under the ship.  Meters from the Valiant however, the SLC suddenly froze up and dropped from underneath the team and immediately sunk to the harbor floor.  De la Penne followed his partner moments after he had dove under the water in an attempt to find and revive the SLC  so that it could be attached to the underside of the Valiant.  In the murky darkness De la Penne lost contact with his fellow Frogman, but was able to locate the SLC.  A quick check of the vehicle revealed that a cable from the netting had wound itself around the propeller, thus rendering the SLC inoperable.  De la Penne would latter remark when thinking back on the situation: “We had arrived a few meters from the target, after years of preparation and work, and now it had all come to an end”.  This commando however was not going to be stopped on his mission that night.

Although the SLC, which weighed close to 1000 pounds armed, had partially sunk into the muddy harbor bottom , De la Penne was able to drag it underneath the Valiant.  He would not be able to attach the charge to the ship itself, but De la Penne was confident that the results would still be effective with the explosives set directly under the mighty ship.  Once he had armed the device and set the fuse, he headed back up to the surface.  As De la Penne broke the surface of the water, he found himself under fire from a British security detail.  Moving swiftly through the water he quickly found cover behind a large buoy that the battleship was attached.  He was glad to see his fellow Frogman Bianchi also taking refuge here.  Bianchi’s breathing device had failed when he dove under looking for the STC, and he was forced back to the surface.  De la Penne quickly informed him that the explosive was set, and that the clock with running down for the Valiant.  A small British patrol craft moved in behind the Frogmen and took them into custody.  It was to be, to the Frogmen’s horror, that they were ushered onto the Valiant to be held and interrogated.  The commandos were escorted to a room in the lower compartment of the ship which would serve as their makeshift cell.  As the door closed behind them their uneasiness increased, for they realized they were sitting almost exactly over the explosive.

The team of Marceglia and Schergat in the mean time had made their way to the battleship Queen Elizabeth.  The Frogmen were able to dive their SLC under the security net that surrounded the massive ship.  Attaching and arming the explosive to the bottom of the vessel went smoothly, and the team quickly resurfaced.  After insuring that the SLC was out of sight from the shore, the commandos were able to exit the water unseen.  Once out of the water they made their way stealthily away from the harbor and headed inland under the cover of darkness.  Their part of the mission complete, Marceglia and Schergat were now on the run and begin their journey to meet up with the get-away sub.

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