History: December 19, 1941: Italian Divers Raid Alexandria Harbor

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A Brief History

On December 19, 1941, in one of the most daring raids of World War II Italian Navy divers snuck into Alexandria harbor and heavily damaged 2 British battleships.

Digging Deeper

The Italian divers rode 3 torpedoes modified to serve as mini-submarines past the harbor’s defenses when the gates were opened to allow British destroyers to enter the harbor.  The mini-subs, called “pigs” by the Italians, had been ferried to the harbor by the Regia Marina submarine, Scerie.  Each of these manned torpedoes had a 2 man crew, equipped with magnetic limpet mines to be placed on the hulls of British ships where timers would explode the mines hours after the divers were to have escaped.

Despite trouble with the torpedoes, both with propulsion and oxygen production, the divers managed to place mines on 2 British battleships, the HMS Valiant and the HMS Queen Elizabeth.  Failing to find an aircraft carrier to mine, the Italian divers chose a tanker ship as the third target. All 6 exhausted divers were captured, but when questioned remained silent about their mission.

The British found out soon enough what the mission of the Italian divers had been when the limpet mines exploded, seriously damaging the 3 mined ships.  Additionally, a destroyer tied up alongside the tanker was also damaged.  It took months to repair the ships and get them back into service, and in the meanwhile the Italian Navy had taken over naval supremacy in the Mediterranean.

Anyone that has the lack of knowledge to question the bravery, persistence and skill of Italian fighting men during World War II need only to research this operation for the inspiring ingenuity and courage necessary to conduct such a raid.

World War II had many such nearly suicidal type raids in all theaters.  Which raids strike you as the most daring and most audacious?

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.