R.Smg. Giuseppe Finzi
The Italian submarine Giuseppe Finzi set sail from Le Verdon, at the mouth of the Gironde estuary downstream from its Betasom base at Bordeaux on the 6th of February 1942, bound for the Bahamas area. Commander Ugo Giudice had relieved Capitano di Corvetta (C.C.) Dominici at the end of 1941. The Italian submarines are named with the preface R.Smg., which stands for Regia Sommergibilior Royal Submarine, as they sailed for the Regia Marina Italiana, or Royal Italian Navy. This designation is much like the term U-boat for undersea boat (unterseeboot).
On the 28th of February Giudice received orders diverting the boat from a patrol of the Bahamas to the Caribbean and so he accordingly set a course for the nearest entrance to the Caribbean, which was the Mona Pass, named for Mona Island, a US territory between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on Hispaniola Island.
The author Cristiano D’Adamo, creator of the website RegiaMarina.net notes that “on March 3rd, the Finzi reached Mona Pass.” If true, then by default and deduction Finziwas the only Axis submarine in a position to attack the American island of Mona, shelling the cliffs to no foreseeable end except target practice. However due to technical difficulties the Finzi was never able to actually make the Mona Pass – it had simply been ordered to do so.
Another candidate was U-156 who was in the passage for two days several days before. It was calibrating it gun, which had been damaged by a failure to release the tampion off Curacao some weeks before and jury-rigged since. But experts doubt whether a submarine would shell an island and draw attention to itself in enemy territory. Whoever was responsible, the shelling had the effect of scaring 170 youths camping at the top of the cliff!
On March 4th the New York Times (and subsequently the Nassau Guardian et. al.) reported the following: “An enemy vessel, presumably a submarine, made the war’s first attack on the United States soil in the Atlantic last night, harmlessly shelling the cliffs of Mona Island… Remberto Cassaba, assistant director of the National Youth Administration camp on the island… said about thirty shells had landed far up the cliffs. He reported [to Governor Rexford Guy Tugwell] that ‘we want protection at once’ …Naval authorities made no official comment. …Besides 170 youths at the camp, the island’s populations includes one family and a lighthouse keeper.” (New York Times, 4 March 1942).
However tempting it is to place the Finzi at the site of the shelling at that time, the submarine’s own log places her hundreds of miles to the northeast, at 22.06N, 62.54W on that date. She remained in that general position (23.40N by 62.22W the following day, when it sighted a tanker it could not attack), for several days, evading Allied aircraft while it undertook repairs to its valves and hydroplanes – damage which rendered it ineffective as an attack submarine.
As D’Adamo writes, “a serious failure of one of the exhaust manifolds’ shutoff valves prompted the relocation of the boat to an area not as much covered by the enemy aerial reconnaissance. The repairs required four days, and during this period the boat intercepted a tanker which could not be attacked. At this point, the crew discovered that both periscopes had failed and that the forward planes (used to control depth) were out of service and operated only sporadically.”
The fact is that no U-boat was in the area – or within 300 miles at least – at the time, and that, provided the witnesses were accurate, then Allies, most likely US air bombers or a US naval ship – were having target practice. Since the US Navy refused to comment and then denied it was training in area, it is likely that a member of the Naval air or Army forces in Puerto Rico staged a mock attack on the cliffs of Mona Island (not the lighthouse, as rumored) and were embarrassed to find out that 170 youths were camped there, and as a result of the attack urged the Governor for protection.
However the witnesses say the island was shelled, not bombed from the air (they would have heard an airplane) so the attack remains a mystery. Perhaps one day someone will find spent shells in the cliffs of Mona Island and solve the mystery by determining their origin – German, Italian, American or perhaps those of another ally like the Dutch or Free French.
This author has corresponded with experts from Uboat.net, from Uboatarchive.net, and Mr. Alexiades regarding the attack. A study of the main German candidates from the U-boat dispositions (BDU KTB PS 30305a, Uboatarchive.net) for the 3rdof March and a comparison of the patrol diaries at Uboat.net illustrate that none of them either utilized the Mona Passage or were near the site at the time. U-161 was in the Caribbean north of Trinidad, U-156 heading north of Puerto Rico from an attack on the Oregon, U-67 was well south of the Greater Antilles, and U-129 was also inside the Caribbean proper
The Times article went on to say “Naval authorities… dismissed any theory that the shelling might have been due to target practice in the vicinity”. Another historian of Italian submarines, Platon Alexiades of Montreal, provides the following further insight, though he disagrees that the Finzi shelled Mona: “Captain Polacchini of Betasom did issue orders to carry out shelling of American shores but this was quickly countermanded by his superior (Admiral Legnani of Maricosom). It is probable that the Italians did not wish to be exposed to retaliation as their own shoreline was very much exposed” (correspondence with author, 20 Sept. 2011).
Finding more trouble than they had originally looked to repair, the crew discovered other faults, this time with the periscopes and the forward planes – both essential to effective attacks. These did not prevent them from successfully attacking the 7,011-ton French tanker Melpomeneon the 6th of March northeast of the Antilles, at 23.35 degrees north and 62.39 degrees west.
On the following day (it is not entirely clear but appears to have been the 7th or 8th of March), Finzi found and sank the Skane, a Swedish ship of 4,528 tons at 20.50N / 62.05W or about 150 miles northeast of Anegada. The Skane (ex-Boren) is reported as having left New York on the 26th of February on a voyage to Cape Town and India with a general cargo (New York Ships to Foreign Ports, 9.1939 thru 8.1945, John Mozolak Jr.)
The boats’ next move was cooperative rather than defensive – having decided to wind up its patrol due to recurring technical difficulties, the Finzi offered to share its valuable surplus fuel with its compatriot submarine the Morosini. Accordingly, on the 10th of March it proceeded to a rendezvous with the Morosini northeast of Anegada and on the border of the greater Bahamas area.
Though accounts differ (one says the transfer was completed on the 8th), it appears that the transfer began on the 10th of March but was interrupted by the sighting of an enemy tanker, the Norwegian 9,957 vessel Charles Racine. The Morosini is said to have pursued another vessel at roughly the same time to no effect. The Finzi broke off its fueling operations and sank her at 23°.10’N, 60°.28’W.
Returning to the Morosini, the Finzi completed transfer of twenty-one tons of fuel on the 13th and departed back to France. According to Regiamarina.net she arrived back at Le Verdon on the 31st of March.
SOURCES: Cristiano D’Adamo, www.regiamarina.net, 2011, Platon Alexiades, correspondence with author, Sept. 2011, John Mozolak Jr., New York Ships to Foreign Ports, 9.1939 thru 8.1945, 2011