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Italian Submarine Leonardo Da Vinci : The Most Successful Non-German Submarine In The Atlantic Theater of WW2

Italian Submarine Leonardo Da Vinci : The Most Successful Non-German Submarine In The Atlantic Theater of WW2

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The Italian Submarine Leonardo Da Vinci, the most successful non-German submarine in the Atlantic during WW2

The Leonardo da Vinci was a Marconi-class submarine that operated in the Atlantic from September 1940 until its sinking in May 1943, in these years it became the top scoring non-German submarine of the entire war.

When Italy entered World War II in June 1940 Leonardo da Vinci was dispatched to the Atlantic then to Bordeaux in occupied France to serve in the Italian submarine flotilla based there.  

She arrived in October of 1940 getting through the dangerous Straits of Gibraltar, which was where a number of Axis submarines were lost

Leonardo da Vinci carried out 11 war patrols in less than 3 years, sinking 17 ships of 120,243 tonnes which included the 21,500-ton ocean liner RMS Empress of Canada. 

Her captain, Lt. Gianfranco Gazzana-Priaroggia(pictured below) became Italy’s leading submarine ace of the war. 

In July of 1942 Leonardo da Vinci was assigned to a special operation aimed at mounting raids on harbours on the eastern seaboard of the United States. 

She was converted to carry a CA-class midget submarine, and during the autumn engaged in trials with the new weapon. However, the operation was delayed due to the need for modifications to the Ca raft and the Leonardo da Vinci was sent back to the Atlantic.

In March 1943 Leonardo da Vinci made her last and most successful patrol, to the Atlantic. 

On the 14th of March she sank the Empress of Canada which was en route to Takoradi, West Africa which was carrying Italian prisoners of war, and Polish and Greek refugees, of the 1800 people on board, 392 were killed in the sinking. 

Empress of Canada

On the 19th of March Leonardo da Vinci torpedoed and sank the 7,628 ton cargo ship SS Lulworth Hill in the South Atlantic. She captured and took on board one survivor; two other men survived the sinking following a 50 day adrift in a liferaft.

In April of 1943 Leonardo da Vinci sank four vessels in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Durban.

After the last sinking at the end of April, Leonardo da Vinci turned for home. 

On the 22nd May 1943, off the coast of Spain, Leonardo da Vinci unwisely signalled its intention to head for Bordeaux at the end of its successful patrol. 

Her position was fixed by direction-finding and on the 23rd of May the destroyer HMS Active and the frigate HMS Ness escorts to convoys WS-30 and convoy KMF-15 found and attacked the submarine with depth charges and sank her 300 miles west of Vigo without any survivors.

Italian Submarine Leonardo Da Vinci : The Most Successful Non-German Submarine In The Atlantic Theater of WW2

Written by Harry Gillespie

Harry Gillespie is a military historian who resides with his wife in the United Kingdom.

Read more of Harry’s Work:

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