Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, March 5, 2017

With United Forces

If in early 1918, you had been in Venice one evening you might have seen an odd sight. A lone man swimming around in the lagoons, towing a barrel filled with water, this gentleman would only be seen at night swimming around in circles for hours on end, night after night. If you had met him, as he wearily clambered out of the water after his nightly exercise you'd have found out his name was Raffaele Paolucci, a lieutenant and surgeon in the Italian Navy.
What he probably wouldn't have told you was he was single handedly planning on attacking the Austro-Hungarian Navy.
Lt Paolucci
The Italians had been fighting the Austro-Hungarian Navy since they joined the Allies in World War One, and had kept them bottled up in the Adriatic for most of that period. Now their fleet including the flagship Viribus Unitis, was in port at Pola. Lt Paolucci planned a night swim towing a charge of TNT which he would attach to the hull of a battleship and sink it. His target was to be the Viribus Unitis (which translates as "With United Forces"personal motto of Emperor Franz Joseph I).
The battleship Viribus Unitis had carried Archduke Ferdinand on the first leg of his ill-fated trip to Sarajevo. And likewise carried his body back. She'd taken part in a sortie where one of her sister ships had been damaged and another sunk by two Italian MAS boats. Since then the Austro-Hungarian Navy had been bottled up in its anchorage, subjected to around eighty air raids by the end of the war by Italian aircraft and she'd had her impressive armament increased to include some AA weapons. However the Tegetthoff Class, which Viribus Unitis was the lead ship of, was known to have poor protection against underwater attack. Her protection was similar to protected cruisers, using the coal bunkers as protection along the sides of the ship under the water line. Now a single Italian was planning to swim to her from outside the harbour and mine her. When he felt ready Lt Paolucci approached his superiors with the idea. They told him to keep practising while they worked out the details.
Maj Rossetti
As it happened, the young lieutenant was introduced to Major Raffaele Rossetti, whom had been thinking along similar lines, but with a more mechanical solution. He was modifying a German torpedo that had been washed up on the Italian shore. He'd added a pair of screws powered by the compressed air tanks. Forget the seated position of the human torpedoes of World War Two, both men were to cling onto the outside of this vehicle using their bodies as rudders to steer it. Two charges of explosive replaced the front of the elongated torpedo, and these had timers. Each contained 400lbs of TNT. This entire contraption was nicknamed "Leech"
The human torpedo "Leech"
On the night of October the 31st, 1918, the two men lowered their contraption into the water from a MAS boat just outside Pola Harbour, slipped in after it and began their long swim. Lacking SCUBA equipment the men had to keep their heads above water. It was a cold night with a fierce wind, which meant quite some chop on the sea, as they set off for Pola harbour. They estimated it'd take them three hours to swim to the battleship and return.

Part two is next week.

Image Credits:
croatian-treasure.com


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