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Weapons of World War Two

The Raid on Alexandria (Dec 1941)

Siluro a Lenta Corsa (Maiale)

Siluro a Lenta Corsa (Maiale)

The concept of assault means, understood as a weapon of more or less particular characteristics, but adapted to cause the highest possible damage to the enemy with the least energies and cost of utilization, is not an invention from the modern era. Already in the ancient navies, before the existence of engines and explosives, they were used contraptions as for example sailing ships loaded with sulfur and flaming tar, launched without a crew against the enemy fleet, which was very vulnerable to such attacks because of being built with good old wood. Through a simple comparison it would not be hard to imagine these vessels as the ancestors of the Motoscafo da Turismo, the famous "barchini" of Suda. But if a rather frequent utilization of such contraptions is found in Naval History, there is no doubt that they were put at the service of any weapon, for they were nothing else than a material means of causing damage. Which is a fruit of the 20th century is the idea of assault means as a surprise means, able to execute their war action based on the effectiveness of the result upon the principle of the economy of the forces employed, but aimed to hurt the enemy both materially and morally. It is true that, in war time, the danger of receiving a cannon shot from the enemy is logical and accepted by mariners. On the other hand the danger posed by a torpedo launched from a submarine keeps the nerves tense because it is not known from where and when it can arrive, but at least the submarine attacks in the sea during the navigation, and it can be ultimately detected and attacked with depth charges. Which is worse is the idea that a ship can be blown up at any moment, without warning nor apparent cause, either in the dock or while in navigation, despite the exhaustive vigilance and controls. Besides, for these purposes highly specialized personnel, who would be more useful in other places, is required. It is enough to think that after the first raids of the Italian assault flotillas against Gibraltar and Alexandria a surveillance service had been organized in each of these ports, which comprised, besides the passive defenses (namely, blockage nets), the deployment of sentinels in the docks, in the ships, in the mouth of the port and in motorboats which were kept in continuous movement and which dropped, every certain number of minutes, explosive charges in the water. Despite of that, from the 15th March 1941 the raiders belonging to the 10th Flotilla MAS (Motoscafo Armato Silurante or Torpedo Armed Motorboat) managed to bring their offensive to the heart of the enemy ports, to the point that the 8th September 1943 this bunch of audacious men had registered five warships and 27 merchant ships in their record, accounting for a total of 264792 tonnes, either sunk or severely damaged.

Let us see the equipment of these men and their best known assault mean: the "Maiale" ("Pig"). The raiders were provided with a common fabric diving suit, upon which they wore a rubberized fabric suit named as "Belloni" after its inventor. They wore an appropriate footwear and only the head and the hands were exposed to the water. The breathing device was one of oxygen with a soda lime purifier filter, which granted six hours of operation. The mask was one of anatomical adaptation with independent lenses and incorporated mouthpiece. The equipment of each man included also a wrist compass, properly isolated to not be influenced by the magnetic mass from the breathing device and the "Maiale", and a phosphorescent wrist watch. The Siluro a Lenta Corsa (official name of the "Maiale", meaning Slow Moving Torpedo) was nothing else than a 533-millimeter torpedo to which some modifications had been added. The original engine, which granted high speeds to the normal torpedoes, was replaced by a slower one, fed by a 30-cell battery which provided a total voltage of 60 volts. A rheostat allowed to regulate the speed, which could reach a maximum of five kilometers/hour. Two control tanks, located afore and abaft, allowed, by flooding them, to bring the torpedo to the desired depth, which theoretically should not exceed 30 meters. The two operators sat straddled on the torpedo, clunging themselves to the structures. The controls were in the fore part, available to the pilot. In the fore end there was the explosive warhead, of 1.80 meters in length, filled with 300 kilograms of explosive. Once detached, it remained beneath the keel of the target ship, with the time fuzes working, while the two operators tried to reach a safe position by using, if possible, the motor section of the "Maiale", or else by taking cover in the terrain.

Year: 1940

Length: 6.70 meters

Diameter: 533 millimeters

Propulsion: Electric motor

Maximum speed: 5 kilometers/hour

Operational range: About 20 kilometers

Maximum depth: 30 meters (theoretical)

Warhead: 300 kilograms of explosive

Crew: 2

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