Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Longest Three Hours

Part one.

We left the two Italian naval officers as they lowered their modified human torpedo into the water off the port of Pola, to begin their attack. 

The first obstacle they encountered, at about 2230, was a line of metal drums tied by cable to each other, swept by searchlights. Unable to get past it the Italians pushed their torpedo over the top, during a gap in the searchlights sweeps. The grating and scraping of metal upon metal was not heard by the guards.
They then reached the seawall. Swimming alongside the wall Lt Paolucci managed to find a sturdy wooden gate, which again they heaved their torpedo over. This was made all the worse by the tide turning, and it was now flowing out of the harbour. Equally it began to rain, and then hail. Luckily this hid the sounds of the torpedo being shoved over the gate. Buy the time they'd finished it was now 0100 on the first of November.
Viribus Unitis in Pola harbour
They immediately ran into another series of anti-submarine nets, it took a further two hours to get past them. The two men had been in the cold water since 2213 the previous night, and during that time they'd been lifting their torpedo over obstacles, with nothing to stand upon, and swimming against the tide. By now the two exhausted men were close to their objective as they swam slowly towards the mighty Viribus Unitis. They closed in as dawn was beginning to light the sky but disaster struck when the torpedo began to sink! One of the valves had been opened which was letting a buoyancy chamber fill up. While one of the men tried to keep it afloat the other tacked the problem closing the valve.

By 0445 the men were under the towering metal cliff that was the Viribus Unitis hull. They detached the first of their explosive charges, set the timer for 0630, and stuck it onto the side of the hull. As they began to swim away a sentry spotted them. The two men steered for shore hoping to escape on foot, however, a boat was dispatched from the battleship. Seeing that their capture was imminent the Italians armed their last bomb and released it into the harbour (it would later damage a transport ship). Then opened the valve to scuttle their torpedo. Shortly afterwards they were fished out of the water and escorted back aboard the Viribus Unitis. Once on-board they learnt an important piece of information.

At 1700 the previous day the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, had come into existence. Because it had owned most of the coast line the remnants of Austro-Hungary had gifted its fleet to the newly formed state. SCS had declared neutrality in the First World War!
Immediately the two Italians tried to convince their captors that they were in danger, although not giving the exact location of the explosive charge, they did state when it was due to detonate. Eventually Captain Ianko Vukovic ordered all hands to abandon ship, which caused panic and chaos. As the men began to lower life boats and flee the two Italians asked permission if they might save themselves. Cpt Vukovic agreed, and both men leapt overboard into the water once again. However a group of sailors in a lifeboat re-captured them and dragged them back on board. It was now 0620.
By 0630 Cpt Vukovic was still trying to restore order, and there had been no explosion. Some lifeboats were beginning to return when at 0644 the charge detonated drenching the foredeck. Immediately the ship began to list. The coal bunkers were empty and so what little protection the ship had to underwater attack was removed, and she suffered a fatal blow.
Once again the Italians asked for permission to save themselves, and again it was granted. This time however Cpt Vukovic directed them to a rope ladder and ordered a lifeboat to come collect them, but only after shaking their hands.
Cpt Vukovic
About fifteen minutes later the water reached the deck line and the ship turned turtle, her huge gun turrets were seen through the murky water to tumble out of their mounts. Cpt Vukovic was seen crawling along the upturned hull before the ship sank. In the tumultuous water he was struck in the head by a wooden beam and killed.
The Viribus Unitis sinking
The Viribus Unitis had been in SCS service for about thirteen hours, and is I think the shortest term of service for a warship in history. The two Italians were interned until the end of the war, and then given a medal by the Italian government. Maj Rossetti was given a 650,000 lira award as well, which he paid to the widow of Cpt Vukovic.

Finally the whole story leaves us with a lesson about history. Some sources (such as Wikipedia) claim the Viribus Unitis was renamed the "Yugoslavia". While others say that this is false. This is a contentious fact because of the ongoing political issues in the area, and one side or another tries to use it to support their point of view. The argument is that country that would become Yugoslavia wasn't so known until 1929, and so how could a ship be named as such eleven years earlier. However it appears that the term Yugoslavia was used as a concept before hand, so maybe it was true, maybe it isn't.

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