Operation Aquila (i)

'Aquila' (i) was a German-conceived Axis operation to use Italian submarines as transport vessels (20 February 1943).

At a meeting with Adolf Hitler, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Germany navy, suggested that the reduction in Germany’s surface blockade-runner capability as a result of its losses could be offset by the use of the 10 large Italian submarines which were currently operating with little success into the Atlantic from bases such as Bordeaux in German-occupied western France.

Once the matter had been put to them, the Italians agreed to the conversion of nine of the 10 boats based at Bordeaux, only the 1,700-ton Ammiraglio Cagni being reserved in its original high-endurance oceanic cruiser form. In return, Dönitz agreed to give the Italians 10 'Typ VIIC' boats (U-428, U-429, U-430, U-746, U-747, U-748, U-749, U-750, U-1161 and U-1162) and also to provide them with access to the German training areas of the Baltic.

Before they could be taken in hand for conversion, however, Archimede and Leonardo da Vinci were sunk by Allied forces. Of the other seven boats five were despatched between 11 May and 15 June: Enrico Tazzoli and Barbarigo were lost to unknown causes, while Reginaldo Giuliani, Comandante Cappellini and Luigi Torelli each reached Japan with a German cargo, but failed to return as UIT-23, UIT-24 and UIT-25 with Japanese cargoes, and UIT-24 is known to have departed Sabang on the island of Sumatra, carrying 150 tons of rubber, zinc and tungsten, and escorted by the Italian colonial sloop Eritrea, on 10 July 1943. Alpino Bagnolini (UIT-22) departed Bordeaux on 26 January 1944 and was later sunk off Cape Town by British aircraft, and Giuseppe Finzi (UIT-21) was seized by the Germans for use in the Atlantic and scuttled in August 1944.