Massimo "Max" Domenico Bondone, an experienced deep diver and explorer from Italy is credited with yet another fascinating wreck find and identification.
Massimo Domenico Bondone, is a fan of wreck diving and over the years he is credited with some historic finds: He has found S/S Kreta, near the island of Capraia, Benghazi in Sardinia and San Marco off Villasimius among other wrecks.
A British submarine, lost for 73 years, since 1943, was found by Massimo Domenico Bondone and positively identified, thanks to a unique feature: Two Chariots, small assault submarines, piloted by two people, who easily could creep into enemy ports and place underwater explosive charges on enemy shipping.
|Luca Magliacca, Domenico Massimo Bondone and Corrado Azzali|
The midget submarines were still there, attached to the hull of P311 or "Tutankhamen", as this was the name the submarine would be assigned, after the Egyptian king. She would have been the only vessel of the Royal Navy, before or since, to officially bear the name, but never did.
|Loading torpedoes on P311 at Holy Loch, Scotland, 1942|
The Class T HMS P311 had left Malta at the end of December 1942. It was her first mission, a very difficult one, almost suicidal. The goal was ambitious: to reach the port of La Maddalena to hit Italian cruisers Trieste and Gorizia.
But a few days later, in early January 1943, the P311 struck a mine not far from Tavolara.
It is said that some fishermen have heard a loud roar, during a stormy night. But none over the decades had never been able to locate the British submarine.
Last Sunday however, on May 22nd, 2016 Massimo Domenico Bondone discovered a few kilometers from the Gulf of Olbia the nearly intact wreck.
The P311, 84 meters long and 8 meters wide lies at the seabed, almost intact.
Only the bow is damaged, because of the explosion of the mine.
The silhouette of a cannon positioned in front of the turret is yet another sign. The two Chariots make the identification almost certain!
The discovery is exceptional and very important too, as the P311 is considered to be the final resting place of her crew, as all hands were lost with her: 61 crew members and 8 operators of the two Chariots with two engineers.
In all probability the middle compartments of the submarine were not flooded, as the explosion of the mine could not have affected the internal structure, which has remained sealed since January 1943.
"We must treat such wrecks with utmost respect" Massimo Domenico Bondone said to the newspaper "La Nuova Sardegna".
"Life in a submarine was really very difficult, including tight spaces, poor living conditions and the constant fear of being hit by a torpedo or a depth charge", Massimo Domenico Bondone added.
HMS P311 was a T-class submarine of the Royal Navy, the only boat of her class never to be given a name. She was to have received the name Tutankhamen but was lost before this was formally done.
The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill had minuted the Admiralty on 5 November 1942, 19 December and again on 27 December, saying that all submarines should have names. In the final minute, he provided a list of suggestions and insisted that all unnamed submarines be given names within a fortnight.
P311 was to be assigned the name Tutankhamen, after the Egyptian king. She would have been the only vessel of the Royal Navy, before or since, to bear the name. She was lost in the Mediterranean between late December 1942 or early January 1943, before the new name could be formally assigned.
She therefore never received the name Tutankhamen, and is officially designated as P311.
P311 was a Group 3 T-class boat built by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness and commissioned on 5 March 1942 under the command of Lieutenant R.D. Cayley. She was one of only two T-class submarines completed without an Oerlikon 20 mm anti-aircraft gun, the other being HMS Trespasser.
She joined the 10th Submarine Flotilla at Malta in November 1942, and was lost with all hands between 30 December 1942 and 8 January 1943 whilst en route to La Maddalena, Sardinia where she was to attack two Italian 8-inch gun cruisers using Chariot human torpedoes carried on the casing as part of Operation Principle.
She was reported overdue on 8 January 1943 when she failed to return to base. She was mined and sank near the island of Tavolara, in Sardinia.
A message Massimo Domenico Bondone received from a family member of one of the lost seamen reads as follows:
"Sir on behalf of the family of Able Seaman L Auty, I would like to thank you for finding HMS P311 and the care and respect that you have shown to those that perished. You have my grateful respect."
Giving the lost seamen's families closure, to help them know where they loved ones are after 73 years, is the most important element of this discovery, in my opinion.