The Queen of Italian Wrecks

The MV Viminale is another wreck that we’ve been filming and studying during our expedition to Italy this year. The ship sank during World War II, off the coast of Palmi, Reggio Calabria.

Viminale in Sydney

Some people tend to refer to Viminale as the Italian Titanic, due to her opulence, size and tragic fate. The vessel was built by Lloyd Triestino in 1925 and immediately became the pride and glory of the Italian shipbuilding. An initiative to build such a vessel came directly from the government in order to induce implementation of combustion engines in vessels, that were only introduced to shipbuilding in 1923. Lloyd and Triestino were first to use such technology in merchant navy. There were two sister ships: Esquilino and Viminale.

The Viminale, the first diesel-powered vessel, was 140 meters in length, 18 meters wide with the gross tonnage of about 8600 tonnes. The ship had large cargo holds and exquisite interiors. Viminale was equipped with cabins of 1st, 2nd and 3d class, smoking rooms, lounge halls, reading rooms and everything required to be a luxurious liner.

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The first class cabins, apart from being very roomy, with plenty of light coming in through large rectangular windows also had running water right in the cabin which was something very rare and unique at that time.

In 1925 Italy was third in shipbuilding after Germany with 73 ships, with over 306 thousand tons and the UK with 257 ships, with over a million in tonnage.

The ship made a number of voyages to Japan (Kobe), China (Shanghai) and Australia (Sydney). There, in Australia, in 1932 during the opening ceremony of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Viminale represented the whole Italian merchant fleet.

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With the outbreak of WWII, the ship was requisitioned by the navy to transport soldiers and munitions to Somalia, Eritrea, Albania and Greece.

The ship met her fate on the 25th of July 1943, at 2:15 am while being towed from Palermo to Naples for repair by two tug boats Forte and Tenax. US Navy torpedo boat Higgins PT201 – PT218 attacked the ship and she sank. The torpedo pierced the hull at the port side astern.

Today the ship is lying on the seabed, slightly listing to the left, at the depth of 105 meters.

The torpedo boat attack on Viminale wasn’t the first one. She has been bombed by the British Bristols and has been damaged right in the harbour of Palermo by a Chariot. The whole ‘Operation Principle’, that involved an attack on the harbour that night turned into a travesty.

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On the 28th of December 1942, the submarines Thunderbolt, Trooper and P311 left the Grand Harbour of Valletta, Malta and headed for their target in the proximity of Sardinia. On the 31st of December, the order was corrected and the submarines were sent to Palermo instead. HMS Thunderbolt and HMS Trooper had received the order and changed their heading accordingly. P311 for some unknown reason failed to confirm the receipt of the message.

January 3d, 1943 two submarines approached Palermo. The first Chariot, launched from the submarine’s battery exploded and the chariot sunk, one of the divers drowned the other was held captive. The second Chariot managed to enter the harbour unnoticed and attach the charges on the enemy’s ships (one of them was Viminale) but on the way back had a problem in its motor and sank. Both divers-pilots were captured by the enemy.

The second Chariot launched from the HMS Trooper failed to find the entrance to the harbour and had to return to the submarine but couldn’t find it either. Luckily there was another British submarine that picked them up. These divers were the only chariot pilots to survive this operation and return to Malta.

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As the result of ‘Operation Principe’, the motor vessel Viminale was damaged, light cruiser Ulpio Traiano and three cutters were sunk.

It took us several days to fully inspect the wreck. It is now fully covered in marine life. This ship had travelled far but in the end rests near Italy, washed by her home waters. Once a magestic liner carrying people to the far away places, now – a beautiful wreck welcoming technical divers in the Strait of Messina.

Italian Navy pride of that era, the motonave Viminale sunk on the dark night of July 25th 1943. That night, current fascist leader Benito Mussolini was removed from power and from that night on Italy was no longer an Axis Power.

This post is also available in: Russian

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