The untold story of an Italian WWII submarine sunk off the coast of the United Arab Emirates


June 23, 1940. An enemy submarine arrives off the coast of the modern United Arab Emirates to wreak havoc in the Gulf of Oman.

The Luigi Galvani aims to disrupt tanker traffic around the Strait of Hormuz to fuel the British war effort.

Conditions in the Italian submarine were harsh and the sweltering summer heat was harsh.

The waters of the Gulf were eerily calm that day with no tankers in sight. It was a disturbing sign.

“We always read about submarine warfare in the Atlantic,” said Ali Iqbal, a United Arab Emirates-based historian who has researched Luigi Galvanithe story of. “But this kind of story also exists off the United Arab Emirates.”

I had the strong impression that the boat was lost. I decided to emerge

Lieutenant Commander Renato Spano

In June 1940, a sinister new front opened up during World War II. France fell to the Germans and Italy joined the Nazi camp. On June 10, Italy sent several submarines from Eritrea – then one of its colonies – to the Arabian Sea. Luigi Galvani was one of them. The 72.5-meter Brin class was named after the famous Italian scientist and built in 1938 by the Franco Tosi company in its Taranto shipyards.

But British forces in the Gulf had learned of his plan, warned tankers of the danger and sent HMS Falmouth to track him down. On the evening of June 23, the vessel spotted a “blackened object” in the water. It was the Galvani. HMS Falmouth approached within 548 meters and opened fire. The submarine commander ordered a dive but the sloop fired three depth charges.

“I had a strong feeling that the boat was lost,” wrote submarine Lieutenant-Commander Renato Spano. “I decided to emerge. The submarine responded with great difficulty, emerging [on the surface] only in part.

But the damage was so severe that it sank in the early hours of June 24. According to a UK assessment of the clash, it was estimated that poor surveillance allowed the HMS Falmouth approach so close without being detected. Twenty-six of the 57 crew members died.

“The prisoners were taken to India and then back to Italy after the war. They were treated well, ”Mr. Iqbal said.

Eighty-one years after the sinking, the forgotten history of the Italian submarine challenges assumptions that nothing happened here during this war. But the threat was real and people died.

In 1943, Allied planes stopped to refuel in Sharjah as part of a huge resupply effort in the east. The war brought food shortages to the region, but despite this, the Bedouin still helped survivors of Allied air crashes. Thousands of people crowded the streets and danced until sunset when news of the Allied victory in 1945 was heard in Dubai and Sharjah, while a memorial to a British aviator who died in Fujairah attracts annual memorial services.

From Galvani dead was Pietro Venuti, who was posthumously awarded a Gold Medal of Military Bravery for locking himself in the torpedo room to prevent water from entering other compartments. His actions saved lives and the Italian Navy in 2014 launched a submarine after him in tribute.

The affected submarine sank 80 meters to the bottom of the sea about 40 nautical miles northeast of Dibba. He has rested there for more than eight decades, intact in a silent world.

“The Galvani was perhaps the first time that the Axis [German, Italy and Japanese] Allied forces threatened Allied forces in the region and it was the first submarine we know of to sink, ”said Mr. Iqbal, who co-wrote an article with the UAE culture historian, Peter Hellyer, on Axis submarine activity for the Emirates National History Group newspaper, Tribulus. “The British realized that these submarines endangered shipping. “

The increase in Axis submarine activity forced the British Royal Air Force in 1942 to base a squadron of Blenheim bombers in Sharjah to deal with the threat. Planes operating from the base sank the German submarine 533 off the coast of Fujairah in 1943. Japanese submarines were also active in the Arabian Sea and inflicted damage on Allied ships before s ‘escape.

The wreck of the Galvani, meanwhile, is at the bottom of the sea near Iranian territorial waters. Several reports over the years have detailed how UAE-based dive teams were trying to reach it, but these have never been confirmed.

“I have lived in the UAE for the past 30 years and being able to research and publish these little-known events and add a little part of the wonderful UAE history is a great honor,” Mr. Iqbal said.

“Not only because this lesser-known story is being told, but also because individuals – Emiratis and others – are remembered.”

Update: July 1, 2021, 6:40 a.m.

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