“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…?


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.


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?


`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

Malcolm Richard

Ord Seaman Sub Lt RNVR

FV Arthur
HMS Fabius (Taranto)

Not Gazetted
28 Nov 44


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.

“Saracen’s Saga”

One more drawing taken for Jim L’Esperance Wartime Log.

Jim L'Esperance 017

At first I had thought I had found nothing about George A. Freer. Then I realised his name was Freed!

HMS Saracen is mentioned here on this Webpage, and there is a picture!

George A Freer


Able Seaman Arthur Ross Pinnell DSM,  Able Seaman Arthur Melling, Petty Officer Leonard C. Roberts  DSM and George A. Freer escaped from the submarine as did Kenneth Hutchings, DSM, who recalled that

We had great difficulty in keeping our trim and depth. Due to efforts of our Captain we managed to surface. As the submarines was in no condition to proceed as a fighting unit, the Captain ordered abandon ship. Before leaving, the Captain ordered me to open all the main vents. The motors were still running as we left the control room and went up the conning tower to leap into the sea. The Saracen continued to run a short distance before she took her last dive. The Italians treated us very well and gave us brandy, cigarettes, and blankets.
From http://www.rnsubs.co.uk and http://www.uboat.net

You can also visit Wikipedia to learn more about that submarine.

HMS Saracen

Statue of Liberty – Our Aim

Jim L'Esperance 022


Best Wishes Buck (?) Phill. 1944 (See the comments I added below…)

I know there was a POW from the list in the book Unlucky Lady whose name was Russell E. Phillips, V-926, Able Seaman, from Ocean Falls, B.C. His name appears also in pages 119 and 169 of the book.

Any idea?