Open main menu

Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci (1939)

Leonardo da Vinci was a Marconi-class submarine of the Italian navy during World War II. It operated in the Atlantic from September 1940 until its loss in May 1943, and became the top scoring non-German submarine of the entire war.[3][4]

Leonardo da Vinci in 1940
Name: Leonardo da Vinci
Builder: CRDA (Monfalcone, Italy)
Launched: 16 September 1939
Homeport: BETASOM, Bordeaux
Fate: Sunk 24 May 1943
General characteristics
Class and type: Marconi-class submarine[1][2]
  • 1,175 long tons (1,194 t) standard
  • 1,465 long tons (1,489 t) full load
Length: 76.5 m (251 ft)
Beam: 6.81 m (22.3 ft)
Draught: 4.72 m (15.5 ft)
  • Diesel engines, 3,600 hp (2,685 kW) (surfaced)
  • Electric motors 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) (submerged)
  • 2 shafts
  • 17.8 knots (33.0 km/h; 20.5 mph) surfaced
  • 8.2 kn (15.2 km/h; 9.4 mph) submerged
Complement: 57


Leonardo da Vinci was built at the CRDA shipyard in Monfalcone, near Trieste, Italy's leading submarine builder. One of six boats of the Marconi class, which were laid down in 1938–39, Leonardo da Vinci was launched in September 1939. Designed as an ocean-going vessel, she was intended for operations both in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic.

Service historyEdit

With Italy's entry into World War II in June 1940 Leonardo da Vinci was dispatched to the Atlantic to Bordeaux in occupied France to serve in the Italian submarine flotilla there, BETASOM. She arrived October 1940 after a successful transit of the Straits of Gibraltar, scene of a number of Axis submarine losses.

Leonardo da Vinci carried out 11 war patrols, sinking 17 ships of 120,243 GRT,[5] which included the 21,500-ton ocean liner RMS Empress of Canada. Leonardo da Vinci was Italy's most successful submarine in World War II, and her captain, Lt. Gianfranco Gazzana-Priaroggia, Italy's leading submarine ace. In July 1942 Leonardo da Vinci was assigned to a special operation aimed at mounting raids on harbours on the eastern seaboard of the United States. To this end she was converted to carry a CA-class midget submarine, and during the autumn engaged in trials with the new weapon.[6] However, the operation was delayed due to the need for modifications to the CA craft and Leonardo da Vinci returned to action to the Atlantic.

Planned attack on New York HarborEdit

Leonardo da Vinci was to be used on a clandestine attack on the New York Harbor. The project, first started in July 1942 by Junio Valerio Borghese, involved launching Leonardo da Vinci from the BETASOM base in Bordeaux to the mouth of the Hudson River loaded with a CA-class submarine and a team of divers armed with 28 explosive charges.[7] Once in position, the divers would take the CA-class into the harbor. Their charges – ranging in size from 20 to 100 kg – would be set to undermine the ships in the harbor.[8]

Early tests carried out in August 1942 were promising, showing that Leonardo da Vinci could effectively launch the CA-class and recover it.[9] In reality, however, recovery of the CA-class was a remote possibility, and it was more likely that the divers would have to destroy the vehicle once they had completed setting their charges.[9]

The mission was postponed following the loss of Leonardo da Vinci, and was ultimately canceled when the armistice was signed four months later.[10]

Last patrolEdit

In March 1943 Leonardo da Vinci made her last and most successful patrol, to the South Atlantic. On 14 March she sank the Empress of Canada en route to Takoradi, West Africa. She was carrying Italian prisoners of war, and Polish and Greek refugees, and of the 1800 people on board, 392 perished.[11] On 19 March Leonardo da Vinci torpedoed and sank the 7,628 ton British cargo ship SS Lulworth Hill in the South Atlantic.[12] She captured and took on board one survivor;[13] two other men survived following a 50-day ordeal on a liferaft.[14]

In April 1943 Leonardo da Vinci sank four vessels in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Durban.[15]


After the last sinking at the end of April, Leonardo da Vinci turned for home. On 22 May 1943, off the coast of Spain, it unwisely signalled its intention to head for Bordeaux on completion of its patrol.[15] Its position having been fixed by direction-finding, on 23 May the destroyer HMS Active and the frigate HMS Ness (both escorts to convoys WS-30 and KMF-15) subjected the submarine to an intense depth charge attack and sank it 300 miles (480 km) west of Vigo at an estimated position of 42°16′0″N 15°40′0″W / 42.26667°N 15.66667°W / 42.26667; -15.66667Coordinates: 42°16′0″N 15°40′0″W / 42.26667°N 15.66667°W / 42.26667; -15.66667.[16] There were no survivors.


Ships sunk by da Vinci[15]
Patrol Date Ship Flag Tonnage Notes
4th 28 June 1941 Auris   United Kingdom 8,030 Tanker; 27 survivors from a crew of 59
6th 25 February 1942 Cabedello   Brazil 3,557 Freighter; no survivors
6th 28 February 1942 Everasma   Latvia 3,644 Freighter from Convoy TAW 12 torpedoed at 16°00′N 49°00′W / 16.000°N 49.000°W / 16.000; -49.000; 15 survivors
7th 2 June 1942 Reine Marie Stewart   Panama 1,087 Schooner
7th 7 June 1942 Chile   Denmark 6,956 Freighter; 39 survivors from a crew of 44
7th 10 June 1942 Alioth   Netherlands 5,483 Freighter; 8 survivors from a crew of 36
7th 13 June 1942 Clan Macquarrie   United Kingdom 6,471 Collier; 1 killed from a crew of 90
8th 2 November 1942 Empire Zeal   United Kingdom 7,009 Freighter
8th 5 November 1942 Andreas   Greece 6,566 Freighter
8th 10 November 1942 Marcus Whitman   United States 7,176 Liberty ship; no casualties
8th 11 November 1942 Veerhaven   Netherlands 5,291 Freighter; no casualties
9th 14 March 1943 RMS Empress of Canada   Canada 21,517 Troopship; 392 killed from 1,800 aboard
9th 18 March 1943 Lulworth Hill   United Kingdom 7,628 Freighter
9th 17 April 1943 Sembilan   Netherlands 6,566 Freighter
9th 18 April 1943 Manar   United Kingdom 8,007 Freighter
9th 21 April 1943 John Drayton   United States 7,177 Liberty ship
9th 25 April 1943 Doryessa   United Kingdom 8,078 Tanker; 11 survivors from a crew of 54
Total: 120,243




  1. ^ Conway p 306
  2. ^ Bagnasco p161
  3. ^ Clay Blair, Hitler's U-boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942, p.740
  4. ^ The US Navy's most successful submarine, USS Tang, sank 116,454 GRT, while HMS Upholder, the Royal Navy's most successful submarine, sank 93,031 GRT of shipping.
  5. ^ Blair p.739
  6. ^ Kemp p.59-60
  7. ^ Giorgerini, Giorgio. (2002). Uomini sul fondo : storia del sommergibilismo italiano dalle origini a oggi. Mondadori, Cles, tipografo trentino. Milano: Mondadori. pp. 374–375. ISBN 8804505370. OCLC 801321615.
  8. ^ Giorgerini, Giorgio. (2007). Attacco dal mare : storia dei mezzi d'assalto della marina italiana (1st ed.). Milano: Mondadori. pp. 107, 114. ISBN 9788804512431. OCLC 127107202.
  9. ^ a b Raiola, Giulio; de Risio, Carlo (1969). Obiettivo America, in Storia Illustrata.
  10. ^ Giancarlo, Pertegato (2001-09-23). "Attacco a New York: nel '43 Borghese voleva minare un grattacielo". Corriere della Sera. Retrieved 2019-06-14.
  11. ^ Associated Press, “400 Lives Lost In Sinking of Liner Year Ago”, The San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Saturday 19 February 1944, Volume 50, page 2.
  12. ^ Piccinotti, Andrea (2000–2006). "Sommergibili Classe Marconi". La storia della Regia Marina Italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale. Andrea Piccinotti. Archived from the original on 23 October 2009. Retrieved 1 July 2010.
  13. ^ Allen, Tony (9 May 2008). "SS Lulworth Hill (+1943)". The Wreck Site. Retrieved 1 July 2010.
  14. ^ "What Cares the Sea?" by Kenneth Cooke, published by McGraw-Hill, New York, 1960.
  15. ^ a b c Christiano D'Adamo. "Regia Marina Italiana – Boats – Leonardo da Vinci".
  16. ^ "WRECKsite – Leonardo da Vinci".


External linksEdit