“Italian Cruiser R.M. Bolzano”

I had never heard about that ship.

I am not surprised since I did not know a thing about HMCS Athabaskan when I started writing this blog in 2009.

This drawing was in Jim L’Esperance’s Wartime Log.

Jim L'Esperance 001

Jim L'Esperance 006

W.K. Laurence did this drawing on January 1945, and he had to be a prisoner at Marlag und Milag Nord along with Jim L’Esperance.

W.K. Laurence had to have some knowledge of what had happened to R.M. Bolzano.

I will tell you more about the artist next time.

What about the R.M. Bolzano…?

Bolzano

The photo with Bolzano on fire in August 1942, when she was torpedoed by HMS Unbroken. (see comment below)

 

Bolzano was built a year later than the other two, with enough differences that she is sometimes considered a separate class. She served in most of the same missions as her sisters. She was hit three times by six-inch rounds from the British cruiser HMS Neptune in the battle of Calabria, where she sustained two deaths and minor damage below the waterline, which was patched up in just six minutes. Another round hit in the “B” turret and holed the guns, which continued to fire undeterred. A third round struck the torpedo room, where the two fatalities took place.[3] At the beginning of the battle of Spartivento, her Ro.43 floatplane was the first to spot the British fleet 20 miles off Algeria.[4] On 25 August 1941, while returning from an abortive attempt to intercept minelayer HMS Manxman, used by the British in re-supply missions, Bolzano was damaged by a torpedo from the British submarine HMS Triumph near the Straits of Messina. With her steering damaged, she had to be towed to Messina. Repairs lasted three months, during which she was hit during an air raid.[5]

In August 1942, when her participation in the interception of the Pedestal convoy had been cancelled, she was again torpedoed while returning to base. Bolzano and the light cruiser Muzio Attendolo were both seriously damaged by torpedoes from the British submarine HMS Unbroken off the Aeolian Islands on 13 August.[5] The damage to Bolzano required her magazines to be flooded and she was beached at the island of Panarea. After a month, she was salvaged and taken first to Naples, then to La Spezia for repairs. While she was at La Spezia in September the Italians surrendered and she was captured by the Germans. However the damage was so heavy that they didn’t have resources to repair her. She was sunk by former members of Decima Flottiglia MAS, transported by human torpedoes, in a combined Italian and British raid on 21 June 1944.[6] After the war she was refloated, and sold for scrap in 1947.

Wikipedia

She was sunk by former members of Decima Flottiglia MAS, transported by human torpedoes, in a combined Italian and British raid on 21 June 1944

What about Able Seaman H. Smith?

Excerpt

Britain
`operational training for a two man Torpedo, known as a “Chariot or “Jeep,” the intrepid crew were “Charioteers” and dressed in Frogman outfits.

Their name indicating that they rode the Torpedo sitting astride, one behind the other. A later version of the “Chariot” had recessed seats in tandem but the crew were still exposed to the open sea.

The torpedo rudder was controlled by means of a short joy stick which moved left or right for turning, and fore and aft to control diving or rising through the hydroplanes. A combined starter and throttle had four positions, three to move ahead and one for astern. Top speed was but a slow 3.5 knots.

Two pump levers pumped water in or out of ballast tanks, or moved water from the forward tank to the aft tank or vice versa. A final lever could open or shut the main ballast tank, and compressed air would expel this water via a valve.

The two crew, the front one known as Number 1, controlled the “Chariot.” His Number 2 sitting behind him became operational on arrival at the target. Powerful hand magnets were used to position the “Chariot” after coming alongside the target submerged, and then used by the Number 2 to secure the detachable warhead to the ship’s bottom.

It was planned to use “Chariots” to attack the “Tirpitz” in October 1942, whilst she was located at Trondhjemfjord in Norway. It was then reported that she had moved further South.

A fishing boat “Arthur” with a Norwegian Skipper was prepared. She would stow two “Chariots” on deck until they reached the proximity of the Norwegian coast. The “Chariots” would then be placed on tow, and “Arthur” would sail through German controls with the “Charioteers” concealed in a hollowed out “Hidey hole” in the peat cargo.

With the “Chariots” under tow and submerged, “Arthur” came alongside the German examination boat, a Control Ofticer came aboard, but the vessel passed his scrutiny. When the party was within striking distance of their objective, both “Chariots” broke away from their tow, and were lost. The “Arthur” was holed and sunk, and the crew and the “Charioteers” all landed and managed to pass into Sweden, but one of the “Chariot” team, Able Seaman Evans was badly wounded in a shoot out near the frontier. On Hitler’s orders, he was later shot.

Further “Chariot” operations were undertaken in the Mediterranean, including reconnaissance of the coast of Sicily prior to the invasion, and the sinking of an Italian Cruiser at Palermo. The final operation was an attack in the harbour of La Spezia, ironically, the actual birth place of the Italian two man Torpedo.

Lieutenant Causer and Seaman Harry Smith managed to sink the 10,000 ton Italian Cruiser “Bolzano,” but had to abandon their craft, and they then scrambled ashore having been at sea for over 7 hours. The two British sailors joined up with Italian guerillas, with whom they fought for 6 weeks, finally being captured by a German patrol.

It was suspected that they both were responsible for the sinking of the “Bolzano,” however they both denied any involvement in that affair, maintaining they were survivors from a large British Submarine. Smith was sent to prison camps in Germany, at first to Bremen, and then to Lubeck, where he was kept in solitary confinement, whilst the Germans tried to break him down to admit that he was involved in the sinking of the “Bolzano”, but he managed to stick to his claim that he survived the sinking of a large British Submarine. Smith survived the war, to be finally rescued by the invading British troops.

About Lieutenant Causer…?

Causer and Smith

CAUSER
Malcolm Richard

Ord Seaman Sub Lt RNVR

FV Arthur
HMS Fabius (Taranto)

Not Gazetted
28 Nov 44

MID
DSO

Chariot Diver – Participated in first Chariot attempt to sink the Tirpitz 50 miles up Trondheim Fjord in Oct 1942.  During rough weather, both chariots were lost from beneath their fishing boat ‘Arthur’ which subsequently sank.  All personnel attempted to make their escape across Sweden.

DSO awarded for great gallantry.  Teamed with Smith as the crew of a ‘Human Torpedo’ which penetrated the heavily defended harbour of La Spezia on the night of 21 Jun 44 and sank the Italian Cruiser Bolzano.  Captured while trying to escape across the River Arno.

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11 thoughts on ““Italian Cruiser R.M. Bolzano”

  1. Malcolm Causer was my mother’s brother. Born in Brazil, Niterói in Rio de Janeiro, he volunteered as his two brothers, Daniel (Airforce, missing El Alamein) and Charles Eric (Navy). He was a frogman and charriot on the first attempt to sink the Tirpiz. He managed to flee on foot to Sweden.

    Later, he was with Seaman Smith responsible for sinking the Bolzano, fleed and were with the “partidiani” resistance, until captured by German troops and POW until the end of the war. He married a British girl, came back to his hometown, had three boys (Harold Malcolm, Michael Richard and Robert) lived until mid 1990s.

  2. Malcom John,

    Can you tell if his uncle Charles Eric Causer was in a Royal Navy vessel on D Day, I saw some information in newspapers from Rio de Janeiro that he was in a vessel.

    Thank you

    Paulo Pinotti

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