Italy - Kingdom of: The significant and emotive Italian Armistice Sinking of the battleship Roma 9th September 1943 posthumous Al Valore Militare in Bronze awarded to Capitano Genio Navale Vincenzo Manna, Regia Marina. Manna held the rank equivalent to a Captain in the Naval Engineering Branch, and had the misfortune to find himself aboard the battleship Roma when on the occasion of the Italian Armistice. Roma, the flagship of Admiral Carlo Bergamini, was ordered to sail from La Spezia and to make for an Allied port. When Germany learned that the Italian fleet was sailing towards an Allied base, the Luftwaffe sent Dornier Do.21s from Kampfgeschwader 100 armed with Fritz X radio-controlled bombs to attack the ships. These aircraft caught up with the force when it was in the Strait of Bonifacio in the waters off Sardinia, and attacked, have made the most of some confusion as to whether they were Allied or enemy aircraft. Manna was one of over 1200 men to lose their lives in this horrendous incident, and as an officer, was decorated for the incident, being posthumously awarded the Al Valore Militare in Bronze. One Gold Medal (Admiral Bergamini), 15 Silver Medals and 37 Bronze Medals, and 9 Cross of War Merit’s were awarded, and given out both posthumously and to the living, with Manna being confirmed as one.
Italy - Kingdom of: Al Valore Militare in Bronze, reverse officially engraved: ‘MANNA VINCENZO / ACQUE DELLA SARDEGNA 9-IX-43’
Condition: Good Very Fine.
Vincenzo Manna saw service as a Captain in the Naval Engineering Branch (Capitano Genio Navale) of the Regia Marina, and had the misfortune to find himself aboard the battleship Roma when on the occasion of the Italian Armistice. Roma, the flagship of Admiral Carlo Bergamini, was ordered to sail from La Spezia and to make for an Allied port. The fleet then changed course, but when Germany learned that the Italian fleet was sailing towards an Allied base, the Luftwaffe sent Dornier Do.21s from Kampfgeschwader 100 armed with Fritz X radio-controlled bombs to attack the ships. These aircraft caught up with the force when it was in the Strait of Bonifacio.
Along with many of the principal units of the Italian fleet—including Vittorio Veneto and Italia, Roma put to sea on 9th September, a day after the Armistice, heading for Allied-controlled Bone.
Along with many of the principal units of the Italian fleet—including Vittorio Veneto and Italia (the ex-Littorio) —the cruisers Eugenio di Savoia, Raimondo Montecuccoli, and Emanuele Filiberto Duca d’Aosta, and eight destroyers—Roma sailed from La Spezia with Adone Del Cima as captain and also as the flagship of Admiral Carlo Bergamini, on 9th September 1943, a day after the proclamation of the 1943 Italian Armistice. The group was later joined by three additional cruisers from Genoa, Luigi di Savoia Duca degli Abruzzi, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and Attilio Regolo.
On that same day, the fleet had been scheduled to sail towards Salerno in order to attack the Allied ships sailing to invade Italy as part of Operation Avalanche; the proclamation of the armistice on 8 September, however, had led to the cancellation of this operation. As German forces in Italy launched Operation Achse, Admiral Bergamini was ordered to leave La Spezia, in order to prevent the fleet from falling in German hands, and reach Allied-controlled ports. Due to Bergamini's initial reluctance to bring his ships to Malta (not knowing the details of the armistice and what would be the fate of the fleet once in Allied controlled ports) and to initial plans for the transfer of Victor Emmanuel III, his court and the government from Rome to La Maddalena, a naval base in Sardinia (the destroyers Vivaldi and Da Noli sailed from Genoa and La Spezia, heading for Civitavecchia, for this purpose), the initial destination was La Maddalena. Once at La Maddalena, Bergamini would receive further orders (to proceed to Malta) from Admiral Bruno Brivonesi, naval commander of Sardinia, as well as some documents regarding the conditions of the armistice for the Navy. The transfer of the king to La Maddalena was cancelled, however (he instead fled towards Pascara), and when the fleet arrived off La Maddalena, German troops had occupied that base to transfer their troops from Sardinia to Corsica, therefore the stop at La Maddalena was also cancelled and Supermarina ordered Bergamini to head for Allied-controlled Bone. The fleet then changed course, but when Germany learned that the Italian fleet was sailing towards an Allied base, the Luftwaffe sent Dornier Do.21s from Kampfgeschwader 100 armed with Fritz X radio-controlled bombs to attack the ships. These aircraft caught up with the force when it was in the Strait of Bonifacio.
The Do 217s trailed the fleet for some time, but the Italian fleet did not open fire upon sighting them; they were trailing the fleet at such a distance that it was impossible to identify them as Allied or Axis, and Bergamini believed that they were the air cover promised to them by the Allies. However, an attack upon Italia and Roma at 15:37 spurred the fleet into action, as the anti-aircraft batteries onboard opened fire and all ships began evasive manoeuvres. About fifteen minutes after this, Italia was hit on the starboard side underneath her fore main turrets, while Roma was hit on the same side somewhere between frames 100 and 108. This bomb passed through the ship and exploded beneath the keel, damaging the hull girder and allowing water to flood the after engine room and two boiler rooms. The flooding caused the inboard propellers to stop for want of power and started a large amount of arcing, which itself caused many electrical fires in the aft half of the ship.
Losing power and speed, Roma began to fall out of the battle group. Around 16:02, another Fritz X slammed into the starboard side of Roma's deck, between frames 123 and 136. It most likely detonated in the forward engine room, sparking flames, and causing heavy flooding in the magazines of main battery turret number two and the fore port side secondary battery turret, and putting even more pressure upon the previously stressed hull girder. Seconds after the initial blast, the number two 15-inch turret was blown over the side by a massive explosion, this time from the detonation of that turret's magazines.
This caused additional catastrophic flooding in the bow, and the battleship began to go down by the bow while listing more and more to starboard. The ship quickly capsized and broke in two. According to the official inquest conducted after the sinking, the ship had a crew of 1,849 when she sailed; 596 survived with 1,253 men going down with Roma. According to naval historian Francesco Mattesini, who cites the research of Pier Paolo Bergamini, the son of Admiral Bergamini, around two hundred men from Bergamini's staff were aboard Roma, and were mistakenly not included in the official inquiry. These men increased the total number aboard to 2,021 and the total fatalities to 1,393. Rear Admiral Stanislao Caraciotti was also killed. In her 15-month service life, Roma made 20 sorties, mostly in transfers between bases (none were to go into combat.
Capitano Genio Navale Vincenzo Manna was amongst the casualties, and was one of those men to be posthumously decorated for the incident, when he was awarded the Al Valore Militare in Bronze, as gazetted on by Royal Decree on 18th August 1945.
In all one Gold Medal (Admiral Bergamini), 15 Silver Medals and 37 Bronze Medals, and 9 Cross of War Merit’s were awarded for the incident, these being given to survivors and deceased alike. It seems only the officers were honoured. A full list can be found on the Royal Ship Rome Association website.
There are no given individual citations, with the exception of the Gold Medal to Admiral Bergamini. The citation for this reads: ‘Commander-in-Chief of the Naval Battle Forces, surprised by the armistice in full material and moral efficiency, dragged all his ships with authority and example to face every risk in order to obey, out of loyalty to the King and for the good of Homeland, to the bitterest of orders. And in the fulfilment of his duty he disappeared at sea with his flagship struck to death after relentless defense from the new enemy, writing in the history of the Navy an indelible page of dedication and honor. Waters of Asinara, 9 September 1943.’