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Tankers Alabama, Dentice, Sangro and Recco

Begonnen von LColombo, 05 November 2013, 00:06:58

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Hello again.
Another thing I was trying to clarify were the fates of the tankers Alabama, Dentice, Sangro and Recco and of their crews.
They were all four among the 250+ Italian merchant ships left outside Mediterranean when Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940.

Now, according to a book by Dobrillo Dupuis, "Forzate il blocco!", both Dentice and Alabama, loaded with respectively 8,000 and 10,000 tons of petroleum, found themselves near Venezuela and were ordered to seek refuge in Maracaibo, but they couldn't enter there because of their draft; the French cruiser Jeanne d'Arc found the Alabama near the coast and ordered her to follow him, but the master of the Alabama tried instead to run the ship aground. As a result the Jeanne d'Arc opened fire and the Alabama's forward tanks were immediately hit and exploded, setting the ship ablaze. The survivors, many of whom badly burned, clung to some rafts/floats and drifted for a few days before reaching the coast and receiving aid. Later the Jeanne d'Arc found also the Dentice, but before he could do anything, the Italian master ran the ship aground on an islet, successfully this time, and then set her on fire. The crew refused to be rescued by the French ship, in order to escape capture, and after a few days they managed to repair one of the ship's lifeboats and to reach the coast.
"Navi mercantili perdute" by the Historical Office of the Italian Navy, instead, gave a different version: the Alabama refuged in Maracaibo and was gunned by French ships, but she did not burn and sink, and instead she ran aground and the engine room and the tanks were voluntarily flooded to prevent capture. She was salvaged by Venezuela and later sold to the USA, sailing as the Panama-flag Osmond, being finally scrapped in 1946. The Dentice was in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, when the war broke out, remained there and on 3 March 1941 was captured (after being probably sabotaged by the crew) and then sold to the USA.

Now, which version is correct? And, moreover, does any know who were the masters of the two ships, how many people composed each crew, and how many perished in the sinking of the Alabama (if she was actually sunk)?

Sangro. From both the above-mentioned books and the Internet sources (e.g., I know how was this ship sunk (tried to run the blockade leaving Santa Cruz de Tenerife in April 1941, first captured by the HMS Camito, then torpedoed and sunk by a U-Boot while on way to Great Britain). All but 4 or 8 of the Italian crew, and the entire boarding party from the Camito, were lost. Does anybody know if the survivors were 4 or 8, and how many were the victims among the Italian crew?

Last but not least, Recco. She was interned in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, but on 19 April 1941 she left for France. According to "Navi mercantili perdute" and Internet source such as: and this Intelligence report which among other things briefly describes the capture:, on 3 May she was intercepted by the AMC HMS Hilary and was scuttled by the crew to prevent capture. The entire crew – nine officers, including the master Castagnola, and 21 men – were captured by the Hilary and spent the remainder of the war in captivity in Great Britain. Quite unexplicably, however, Dupuis in his book writes instead that the ship, after leaving Santa Cruz, was never heard from again, and even after the war her fate remained unknown, presumably sunk with all hands by a mine or a torpedo. I wonder, how was it possible that in 1976 (when the book came out) Dupuis, which otherwise gives pretty accurate information on the fate of a lot of other merchant ships trapped outside the Mediterranean, still did not know that the Recco had been intercepted and scuttled and that the whole crew had been saved?


Why shoud Dupuis have better informations than the Ufficio Storico della Marina Italiane, which in the second edition of Navi Mercantili Perdute (of 1977) says the same "Nulla si seppe della sua sorte."
By the way, Conversion for War (World Ship Society Monograph n. 6, 1983) doesn't mention the interception of "Recco" by Hilary, too. There is only mention of the interception of a "Giannam" (="Gianna M.") 10.05.1941.


The "Navi mercantili perdute" I was referring to was the third edition, 1997.
So both Dupuis in 1976 and the USMM in 1977 believed that the Recco had disappeared with her whole crew, while later it was stated that she had been intercepted by HMS Hilary and scuttled. I wonder, how was it possible that still in 1977 also the USMM didn't know about the Recco? The Intelligence report I have found and linked is back to 1941, and seems to confirm that she was intercepted by the Hilary.


Please check the link to the report - I cannot open it  :-(


Hmm, you are right. I had found that link several months ago and now it doesn't seem to work anymore. Now I have done a brief search and this War Cabinet weekly report came out: it briefly mentioning that the Recco was intercepted by the Hilary and her crew taken prisoner (although here is said that the Recco was sunk by the Hilary and not scuttled by the crew, but I'm fairly sure that the 'lost' report state that it was the crew who scuttled her, and the British even tried to prevent her from sinking - and this is also stated by the 1997 "Navi mercantili perdute").

Now the mystery for me is to understand how 25 years later the USMM seemed not to know her fate yet. Shouldn't some of the crew, at least the master, report the fate of the ship when they returned from captivity after the war?


The mystery starts somewhat earlier, for even if they were captured the members of the crew should have the possibility to give notice that they're still living via the Red Cross!


I wonder if is there a way to find out about them. Would be Red Cross lists, or prisoner lists, available somewhere? I am starting to wonder if it is possible that something could have happened to the Recco's crew shortly after their capture.

The matter turns out to be more complicated than I was thinking.


Might be you should ask the Italian Red cross as a first step. They should know if and where these lists are available.


Well, not so simple, unfortunately: "Records of prisoners of war (POWs) were compiled by each national branch of the Red Cross and are now all held centrally by the Archives Division and Research Service, International Committee of the Red Cross, 19 Avenue de la Paix, CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland. Because of their personal nature, these records are not accessible to the general public but paid searches can be conducted (currently 80 Swiss Francs an hour) – please be patient as this may take some time."
I wonder if there is more in the book "I violatori di blocco" by the USMM, but I doubt, since it is a book from 1972. What about the other three tankers?

de domenico

You may not be aware of the fact that in May/July 1941 the Tripartite Armistice Commission sitting at Wiesbaden forced the Vichy government to deliver to Italy three merchant ships, two tankers and one cargo, as a form of indemnity for a corresponding quantity of Italian vessels whose loss had been due to French action during the brief period of warfare. The ships in question were ALABAMA and DENTICE, intercepted by the AMC BARFLEUR X 19 on 11 June near Maracaibo (the JEANNE D'ARC was in harbour at Halifax N.Sc. from 1 to 16 June, then sailed as an escort to the old carrier BEARN), both beached to escape capture, and later interned by Venezuela, to be finally turned over to the US WSA.
ALABAMA became the USMC/Panama OSMOND, managed under Panamanian flag by the Cities Service Oil Co., then in March 1944 was taken over by the US Navy in the Pacific as the station tanker IX-140 QUIROS. Returned to the USMC  in Dec. 1945, broken up at Richmond, Calif., from April 1947.
DENTICE for her part became the Venezuelan FAIRENO, then in 1943 was turned over by the WSA to the Cities Service Oil Co. under Panamanian flag, and in April 1944 was also taken over by the USN as IX-134 ARAYAT, a station tanker for the Pacific theatre of war. Returned to the USMC/Panama in February 1946 as FAIRENO, and then returned to her old Italian owner  (La Polena of Genova) in 1949 as DENTICE. Broken up at Savona from Jan. 1954.
In exchange, Vichy gave to Italy the tankers BEAUCE (Italian PROSERPINA)  and MASSIS (Italian SATURNO). The third ship was the Italian cargo ship CAPO OLMO, captured in Marseilles on 11 June and never returned to Italy because her Gaullist skipper diverted her to Gibraltar while en route to Oran on 25 June 1940. She was replaced by the AVEYRON (Italian CAPO PINO).
I wrote a piece on the subject  in the "Bollettino" AIDMEN no. 24, 2009, so the story is rather familiar to me.

Urs Heßling

hi, Francesco,

Zitat von: de domenico am 10 Februar 2014, 21:52:31
The third ship was the Italian cargo ship CAPO OLMO, captured in Marseilles on 11 June and never returned to Italy because her Gaullist skipper diverted her to Gibraltar while en route to Oran on 25 June 1940. She was replaced by the AVEYRON (Italian CAPO PINO).
.. und so lassen sich zwei Threads miteinander verbinden ...
.. and this is a connection between two threads ..,21203.msg237271.html#msg237271

Gruß, Urs
"History will tell lies, Sir, as usual" - General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne zu seiner Niederlage bei Saratoga 1777 im Amerikanischen Unabhängigkeitskrieg - nicht in Wirklichkeit, aber in George Bernard Shaw`s Bühnenstück "The Devil`s Disciple"


Thank you, this finally accounts for the fate of Alabama and Dentice.
Do you know if the Alabama, before being beached, was really gunned by the Barfleur, and in that case, if there were damages, casualties, a fire?
Did the Dentice crew set fire to their ship after running her aground (later to be however repaired), or they left her as she was?
There remains the strange Recco affair: I now know that also the USMM book about the blockade runners states that she desappeared without a trace after leaving Santa Cruz. So we have three books in the 1970s, including two from the USMM, who didn't know the ship had actually been scuttled and the crew captured by the Hilary. The most strange thing is that in the same books, the fate of the tanker Gianna M. is described; she left the Canary Islands some days after the Recco and she was captured herself by the Hilary on 11 May, just eight days after the Recco had scuttled herself. Both ships arrived in Belfast on 20 May; wouldn't the Gianna M. crew know the presence of the Recco crew, and report it (as it seems to me that reports from the Gianna M. were used to write the story of this ship, unlike for the Recco)?

de domenico

Dear Colombo,

Your doubts about the USMM are not exactly new. If you want my modest opinion (in the hope that our friends from the Forum will be lenient with us and behave as these words were never written), one of the main problems with them is the very, very limited (to use an euphemism) access to non-Italian sources. There is an English word which cannot be translated literally into Italian, and that is "parochialism"....

Best regards,

de domenico

As far as I know, ALABAMA was damaged by gunfire fron BARFLEUR, which was armed with 7 x 150 mm guns coming from the WW I Reichsmarine light cruisers given to France as war prizes. However, as a tanker she had good survival capabilities (she had survived a torpedoing in WW I) and she went on to soldier for several years more.

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