The Discovery of Roma Battleship
THE TELLING OF GUIDO GAY
Among the major vessels that lie under the sea and in particular in the Mediterranean Sea, the battleship Roma after 69 years still represented a mystery and it was a goal coveted by some researchers.
All three flagships of the Axis Marine were sunk.
The German Bismarck lies in the Atlantic at almost 5000m depth.
The Bismarck was hunted down in the Atlantic after it sank the British armored super cruiser HOOD, blew up and sank in 6 minutes by fourth precise large-caliber salvo that centred the ammunition depot at incredible distance of 27,000 meters. The Bismarck was then hit by a dozen torpedoes, immobilized by locking the rudder, exposed to the fire of the British battleships that riddled it with 300 large caliber rounds, it did not want to sink except with self-sinking charges. It lies on the entire bottom except for a break in the stern similar to the Roma one, proof of an incredible structural strength.
It was located and filmed in 1989 by Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic.
The Yamato Japanese was also hunted and sunk by hundreds of planes that had to hit it with numerous bombs and torpedoes to sunk it on a depth of just over 400m in the Japanese archipelago, therefore relatively easy to find and film.
The third, the ROMA BATTLESHIP, sunk by a new type of bomb that unluckily hit the ammunition depot, seemed to have disappeared. The first source of information is the Navy Historical Office. There it can be find the navigation reports of the ships of that time.
I so tried to make a point by studying the documents and imagining paths and situations: long work, like a bookworm but even with the best disposition to identify in the environment and circumstances of the time, almost useless. Unfortunately, the indications are often contradictory, some clearly wrong and misleading, others too general to be reported on a nautical chart. At sea, even an error of one km makes it difficult to find an object.
To me, however, I happened to interview the nonagenarian mother of Giovanni of Isola Rossa.
She has Alzheimer's but the ancient memories are still alive. She tells how she saw the planes pass and then the column of smoke. I do not want to take into account her indications, I just ask myself where exactly she was: with clear memory she remembers that she was governing the pigs. Giovanni leads me out to the place where the pigsty was. I look towards the sea and I see that on the right the view is blocked by a mountain, this is an element of almost certainty. With a compass I take a bearing and I consider this indication to be reliable. I draw a line on the map: the ship must be on its left. It seems like a step forward, but it has little influence on research, only one area is excluded but another vast one remains.
There is also a point which is marked on the nautical charts. This is the point that resulted from the official investigation on the sinking of the late 1940s: this is the point alleged to be the most accurate of all, only two miles (4km) from the truth, a published point available to anyone (of anyone who wanted to give credit to the indication).
At our day more than one is tempted to say - clearly, I had said that I was there, Mr. Gay has the means to see and has photographed it –
In 2007 a German Swiss consortium, Polivideo and Contex (documentary production houses that no longer exist) presented themselves to the Navy with a point taken from the study of German archives where according to them it was certain that the wreck was. They gave the press news of the intervention also publishing a false sonar image of the wreck to raise fuss and accredit themselves as discoverers. The Italian Navy made Antaeus available for a week (bearing the consequent costs) obviously everything ended in the silence of a soap bubble. Their point was about 300m deep, areas that I had previously already beaten abundantly and with precision with my instruments at the time, so much so that I could categorically exclude the presence of the wreck.
Following this and also a novel by Folco Quilici released at that time and which awakened interest in the battleship Roma, the Navy itself began a hydrographic campaign to systematically map the seabed for cartographic purposes, but with the second not declared aim to find the Rome.
Even so nothing done.
In 2008 a new "research team" appears, headed by a young Calabrian named Francesco Scavelli and owner of a television production company, with the participation of other divers experienced in shallow wrecks, an underwater photographer journalist, as well as helped by a consultant "for institutional relations". Totally lacking the ability to explore the deep sea, they made an agreement with a renowned French company, Comex of Marseille, whose owner who recently passed away had a passion for deep wrecks.
Scavelli, self-appointed director of the "team", set out that he would be the discoverer of the wreck as if the Comex equipment were his own. In 2009 he gave the press a sensational announcement: - found the battleship Roma - which then went out like another soap bubble. His group appears to have worked intensively on archival searches or and interviewing witnesses. It then turned out that Comex's "high technology" consisted in renting or buying a Canadian magnetometer and dragging it around their MINIBEX shuttle for a few miles, without knowing that basalt rocks, emerge from time to time on the bottom, confuse and make the magnetometer track unusable. For this reason, their readings were then not considered reliable even if it had returned only one value compatible with an artificial anomaly.
After many years of sonar surveys and diving with PLUTO on significant points, after having come across wrecks of Roman ships even at depths that are difficult to reach, after returning in this new 2012 season with new instruments (a long-range sonar from to go deep under the PLUTO PALLA and a magnetometer already experimented in the discovery of Transylvania ), after having re-examined the sonar traces one more time without finding anything resembling a wreck broken into two sections, on June 16 I didn't know where bang my head. Logic suggests that I have to start from the gully. All areas less than 1000m are practically excluded, there is no compatible contact, therefore the bottom of the Bonifacio gully is also excluded as far as it merges with that of Castelsardo at -900m. Starting from the confluence of the gullies the bottom is still quite clean and the tracks showed three suspicious spots. I had gone through many steps to record the same lenses while viewing them from different directions. The tracks are recorded on the computer as successive and numbered screenshots, the contacts 654a and 654b were therefore at -1200m on the main screen number 654. The bottom of the gully a little further off becomes rocky and very tormented, if the wreck fell there it would be almost impossible to locate it.
Last year the Underwater Carabinieri’s Group of Genoa called me to help them find the TRANSYLVANIA, a steamship from the First World War that I can briefly tell you about here separately...
The situation was similar to the Rome, with a bumpy bottom and many echoes, but here there were no magnetic rocks. I thought at magnetometer and built a special one, not to drag it behind the boat and make horizontal magnetic profiles like the Comex done, but suitable to be lowered vertically on any suspicious sonar spot. A quick and safe operation that saves me a long visual inspection with PLUTO PALLA. So, in this way, I discovered Transylvania.
Now on the gullies of Rome I make yet another selection of echoes and I go with little confidence to try some of the most probable.
I had already examined the sonar traces a thousand times with great attention, always with greater competence thanks to the eye that becomes more experienced. In 2008, therefore, I had at my disposal not only sonar traces but a real bathymetric map that no one possessed, not even the Hydrographic Institute of the Navy which is the Italian body responsible for cartographic surveys of the sea.
The Castelsardo gully begins just outside Isola Rossa.
It is an underwater valley that was created by the erosion of the Coghin river in a very similar way to the terrestrial valleys about 6 million years ago when the Strait of Gibraltar closed and the Mediterranean emptied of its water. On a slope at a depth of 200 meters I had discovered the wreck of a wooden ship or barge perhaps three hundred years old and loaded with squared granite blocks. Years earlier, further out to sea on the edge of the escarpment, I had spotted and explored my first Roman wreck at a depth of 320 meters, and to say that at the time my sonar was not as accurate as the one I built in 2006! But if I could distinguish a heap of amphorae 15 meters long and 2 high, could I have missed the two sections of a steel battleship over 200 meters long? Certainly not. So at least I knew where the wreck was not. My tracks told me that neither on the bottom of the gully nor on the sides was there anything similar up to over a thousand meters deep, where the other gully, that of the Strait of Bonifacio, flows into. Around twelve hundred meters, the first echoes worthy of attention appear, then at greater depth the bottom becomes very tormented, it is the area where I had seen the basalt pinnacles. On June 2, 2012 Gabriella is with me, I drop the magnetometer on the first significant spot, on my site 654a, and I get a positive response, an anomaly: a progressive decrease of 400nanoTesla from - 1100m down to 30m from the bottom, for then suddenly return to normal at the contact with the bottom: bah... I attribute the variation to some magnetic rock, I tell myself that it will almost certainly be a basalt rock, I have no experience yet but I distrust and move on... On June 15th, after waiting days and days as usual for sea and wind to calm down, magnetometer down to -1200m on site 654b. The cable runs a little in jerks due to the residual waves that cause the Daedalus' stern to lower and raise, at 700 meters deep the ballast stone comes off. Then I retrieve and attack another rock more solidly. This time starting from -1100m down to the bottom at -1200 the reading progressively decreases by 400nanoTesla which means a lot. Even here I am perplexed…. Both of these contacts, which I had detected since 2008, appear as spots at the end of ridges that run downhill from the sides of the gully. I tell myself it would be a strange coincidence if the pieces of the wreck had fallen right there. Discouraged I still think of a basaltic background. Gabriella has to go back to Trieste. I accompany her ashore and in the meantime I talk about holiday programs: Menorca... Ibiza...
I continue with the DAEDALUS logbook and diary of subsequent events, as experienced and subjectively perceived in those moments:
(The disturbance caused by an intruder who has brigaded to be credited as the discoverer of the wreck, embarrassing even the Navy, clearly emerges)
I go through all the recordings once again discouraged and re-examine all the contacts in the area without finding any distinctive signs.
I am really fed up, I don't know where to turn my head, if the bottom is so difficult it is a matter of doing a huge job to lower the PLUTO PALLA vehicle to inspect every stain.
At the phone Gabri feels me depressed, ready to change my life.
- I set the bow at the Balearic Islands ... -
- but no ... you are already there, the weather is good, go and see ... so you remove the doubt ...
- Yeah, maybe she is not wrong, the weather is good, tomorrow I'll try.
17 JUNE 2012
We leave with the DAEDALUS at dawn from Isola Rossa. Three hours of navigation. Calm sea, little wind on the spot. We are on the vertical of the spot on point 654b, I put it in dynamic positioning and the boat remains stationary in place controlled automatically by the computer.
PLUTO PALLA is ready on the right tail of the Daedalus with the ballast stone for the descent already attached.
Vehicle on the crane and then in the water -free- begins the descent.
The cable unwinds regularly and the hanging vehicle descends into the abyss dragged down by the rock of disposable ballast.
Just over half an hour to get to the bottom 1.2km below.
I stop the unwinding of the cable when the vehicle is about ten meters above the bottom.
Lighthouse on, lots of plankton crumbs around, they look like snowflakes. I turn on the sonar of the vehicle, point my head horizontally and with the motors I turn the vehicle on itself to look (with the sonar) what is around. With the rattle of the PLUTO PALLA I can see up to 120m away and create images of the surrounding area in successive sectors of 90 degrees. I compose a first sector and I only see echoes of a muddy bottom. Second sector the same. I rotate the vehicle again to register a third sector and here an intense black spot appears: instant emotion, we are… aware that we are perhaps close to the result. The strong intensity of the echo denotes a hard object, it could be a rock, but the outlines, however irregular they have a geometric arrangement, yes, maybe even a rock can be geometric, but the adrenaline increases... the distance is about 70 meters... I point in the direction and I start forward, I do not release the stone, so the umbilical cord remains stretched upwards and I reduce the danger of getting entangled... the plankton, just like the snow running on your face, gives the sensation of movement very well... I soak a bit 'of cable until the vehicle comes down to skim the bottom... Now I also see the mud flowing underneath. Suddenly a strange streak of yellow mucilage hits the lens... stop the vehicle immediately... did I hit something? I look around but there is nothing... who knows what it was... I resume the approach and a thought flashes in my mind... here no one has ever come to look like I am doing, this is an inviolate place... who knows... the souls of dead... Forward again... and an elongated object appears... but yes of course, it is a piece of iron girder... in front the sonar shows me another ten meters to meet something big... I proceed with caution, underwater in the dark lighthouse lights up only a few meters away, I expect the wreck and the danger of getting caught keeps me on the highest alert... here, from the black I glimpse an outline of something, it is a circular outline... so here we are, it is the wreck really... from the mud from the bottom a large cylindrical object rises... I make the PLUTO PALLA rise higher on the bottom to see what is higher and also to verify that it is free from debris where to entangle the umbilical cable that rises straight towards the surface... above is all free then I approach and better distinguish a elongated opening structure covered with mud as if it were snow... a groove with a long cylinder inside... in the mind that sees the ship as it was, memorized by many studies, the image of the 90/50 anti-aircraft gun is immediately formed... I approach the vehicle... here it is, there are also the two slits of the pointing device, I found the Roma Battleship!!!I immediately take photographs as well as video recordings.
- Are you sitting?
- ?? (Gabriella in Trieste)
- I found it…
Phoning at Rome:
- Commander, I've located the battleship almost 99%
- ?? (Commander Bergamini - perhaps he did not understand - perhaps I caught him at an incorrect moment - he is 92 years old, I'll try again tomorrow)
I warn the Carabinieri of Genoa
With Marshal Lenzini we found Transylvania last year, there is a privileged relationship. Then I always have in mind the warning of Doctor Gambogi:
- Engineer... do not tell me you do not go for wrecks... Do you know it's against the law, right?
I don't "go for wrecks" I test my devices and when I find something "accidentally" I immediately report to the authorities. The Battleship Roma has become a Cultural Asset, I came across a wreck and I know it is it, but officially I am waiting for the recognition to be done by them, by the Authorities, therefore:
- Marshal, I have an extremely probable contact ...
- Ahh, you found it!
- Take for granted what I said, for now let's be content with that, would you like to help me proceed?
- I understand, I understand. Yes, now I alert my Commander then I tell you...
I warn the Navy.
I call Comsubin the TV Fantini who was the aide of Amm Cavo Dragone, he tells me that the Admiral is no longer there. He directs me to Rome 3rd department where I find CF Lamberti from Idrografico whom I had met two years earlier in La Spezia and who directs me to his superior CF Chiappetta. I call him and the Officer falls from the clouds:
- Excuse me engineer, I inquire and call you back
After a while he calls back and we see that he has found the dossier that concerns me, he also has the letter that two years ago I wrote to the Chief of Staff complaining that foreigners were being helped to find Rome and that my explorations did not enjoy of any consideration.
he pass to me his boss, Admiral Piroli.
- Admiral, I have an extremely probable contact for battleship Roma
- Ah yeah? (Dunno, he seems indifferent too)
- Admiral, I tell you, it is at 99%
- Oh really? I mean… and where would you find it? (incredulous)
- Castelsardo’s Channel at 1200 meters
- Yeah , I mean ... it had to be there ... (looks almost annoyed) Do you know that others are looking for it? We are making a deal with a group.
- Admiral, they arrive late, it no longer makes sense
- I'll send you two of mine, can you show them? (maybe hoping it's not true?) I mean… do you know there are relevant interests involved?
In conclusion, after this discovery we have received many expressions of appreciation and gratitude, we have been honored by the Navy and by the institutions in every possible way and we are happy to have rendered an important service to our State.
On board the DAEDALUS the CF Lamberti and the TV Busonero finally saw with their eyes the photo of the cannons arriving on the monitors in real time from the bottom. I took them to the place, I sent down the good PLUTOPALLA and we counted 5 guns together. Then another dive on the other site and we discover, for the first time too, a piece of overturned hull. We wander around on the mud-covered keel, I discover a fin that we identify as a roll fin. I follow it as far as it ends, I proceed with PLUTO still ahead and I glimpse a cylindrical object, a cannon I think immediately, but the position is strange, still forward and the supposed cannon turns into an axis, we see the propeller stand and then the propeller, gigantic, clean (it is bronze, it does not rust like the rest of the hull).
All happy. The two officers who, upon their arrival, looked incredulous and embarrassed when they saw the picture of the cannon, now dissolve in moderate enthusiasm. We return to Isola Rossa. In the evening, great communication activities with the General Staff in Rome.
Meeting with Nave Aretusa of the Hydrographic Institute, Captain Pizzeghello invites us to lunch on board, then follows a session of external photos and videos of the DAEDALUS catamaran and PLUTO PALLA.
The Officers disembark, Commander Lamberti and Commander Busonero leave the Daedalus.
The Navy is organizing a press conference in La Maddalena and they find us a mooring at the quay near the Officers Club.
Invitation to the Admiralty by Adm. Serra
and dinner by the Adm. Felicioni then visits of his center.
Press conference in La Maddalena. Present were the Amm. Camerini and other senior officers of the Navy, the Commander Pierpaolo Bergamini, etc.
I project underwater videos.
I meet and know Maria Pia Pezzali, promoter of Paul Allen's research group with OCTOPUS.
I receive photos of the ship in a silver frame with a long emotional dedication from the Chief of Staff Admiral Binelli Mantelli.
We meet technical Tortora and Maurizio Ricci director of Porta a Porta who is amazed by the 9-minute wreck audition that I prepared (everyone was doubtful that the images were not up to par).
In the afternoon Bruno Vespa sees the audition and approves the episode that will be recorded the 18th.
At Porta S Paolo we wait for the President of the Napolitano Republic
When he goes to see the panels with the photos of Rome I am presented, (also to the Mayor Alemanno and the president of the Lazio region Renata Polverini) then Camerini explains the ship and at the end I briefly explain the discovery and I answer questions about the depth and devastated state of the wreck.
Andrea Amici, author of a book on the sinking of Roma.
Vittorio Gonzaga, relative of a survivor who wrote a book, president of the regianaveroma association and Pierpaolo Bergamini with his daughter Maria. Than Busonero family, Amm. Foffi in quality of Deputy Chief of Major State (in the absence of Binelli). Private visit to the Quirinale accompanied by the Assistant to the President CV Aurelio De Carolis.
The discovery of the Battleship Roma is a happy episode that gives us a welcome notoriety and flattering appreciation from the institutions.