Betasom (Bordeaux Sommergibile)
Headquartered in Bordeaux from 1940-1943, Betasom directed Italian anti shipping operations during three years of the battle of the Atlantic. Given the port of Bordeaux after the fall of France, the Regia Marina was allocated the Atlantic south of Lisbon to conduct operations against allied shipping.The facility could service nearly 30 boats and was staffed by 1600. A total of 28 boats operated out of Bordeaux.
Opened in August 1940, Betasom was commanded by Admiral Angelo Parona, a stern disciplinarian “disappointed by the initial results of his submarines, reprimanded harshly several of his submarine commanders, whom he expected should be able to obtain a performance comparable to that of the U-Boats, disregarding their lack of experience, inadequate rules, and technical defects of the boats.” getting used to the Atlantic was no easy task for Mediterranean submariners. Malaspina took five torpedoes to sink tanker British Fame.
Karl Donitz had doubts about Regis Marina’s subs. “No Italian boat had ever operated in the cold rugged North Atlantic; none had trained for the difficult task of convoy tracking and pack attacks.”*
Measures were taken to improve Italian performance: deck gun emplacements were downsized, older skippers were replaced with younger aggressive commanders, Italian crews were trained by the Kriegsmarine in the Baltic. The measures helped: the average tonnage sunk by Betasom submarines rise from 3,844 (GRT) in 1940 to 27,335 GRT in 1942 (and, respectively, from 7,779 GRT to 68,337 GRT per actually operating submarine). The boats still suffered from slow crash diving, poor bridge design and obsolete fire control
Five Betasom subs took part in Operation Neuland – anti shipping operations in the Caribbean
In February/March 1942. Two skippers, Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia and Carlo Fecia di Cossato were awarded the Knights Cross. Priaroggia was the Regia Marina’s high scoring boat commander (120,243 GRT). His boat Leonardo da Vinci was sunk with all hands on May 24,1943. Di Cossato committed suicide in 1944.
Italian submarines sank 109 allied ships (593,864 GRT) for the loss of 16 boats. After operation ceased in 1943 a number of submarines were modified to carry strategic materials from the far east. Two were sunk, three captured by Germans after the armistice of September 1943.
The following boats operated from Bordeaux –
Faa di Bruno (lost)
Leonardo da Vinci (lost)
Giorgio Giorgerini, “Uomini sul fondo. Storia del sommergibilismo italiano dalle origini ad oggi”
* Blair, Clay, Hitler’s U Boat War, The Hunters ( Vol.1) P. 196