Salvatore Todaro (pron. Tòdaro) (his paternal family originated from Palma di Montechiaro, near Agrigento), he joined the Naval Academy in Livorno on 18 October 1923 and was promoted to ensign in 1927, after completing the course.
The following year, he was promoted to lieutenant junior grade and sent to Taranto to take a course in aerial surveillance, after which he was assigned to various roles aboard submarine and surface units.
In 1933, in Livorno, he married Rina Anichini, with whom he had two children: Gian Luigi (1939-1992) and Graziella Marina (1943).
On 27 April 1933, in La Spezia, he had an air accident on board an S.55 in which he was flying as an observer: the water raised by a torpedo struck the tailplane of the seaplane, causing it to crash into the sea.
Todaro fractured his spine, which required him to wear a brace for the rest of his life.
In 1936, Todaro was assigned to the 146th Seaplane Squadron and the following year he joined the crew of a submarine operating off the Spanish coast during the civil war.
In 1940, having reached the rank of corvette captain, he was given command of the submarine Luciano Manara (Bandiera Class) and then of the Atlantic submarine Cappellini (Marcello Class).
When World War II broke out, Todaro and the Cappellini were assigned to the Betasom ocean base in Bordeaux, from which Italian submarine crews, participating in the German effort in the Battle of the Atlantic, endeavoured to block the sea routes between the United States and Great Britain.
The Kabalo incident
On the night of 16 October 1940, during a mission off the island of Madeira, Todaro sighted the Belgian steamship Kabalo (5,186 tons) and, after unsuccessfully launching three torpedoes, he sunk it using the deck gun.
After making the sinking, Todaro drew closer, picked up the twenty-six survivors of the Belgian ship and towed them on a raft for four days.
When the raft broke the tow rope, Todaro did not hesitate to take the shipwrecked sailors aboard the submarine until they were put ashore, unharmed, on the coast of the Azores.
After putting them ashore, he heard the second officer of the Kabalo ask him: “What kind of a man are you, if this is how you treat your enemies? If I hadn’t been asleep in my cabin when they attacked us by surprise, I would have fired on them with the deck gun. Excuse my frankness.” Salvatore Todaro replied: “I’m a seaman, like yourself. I’m sure that you would have done the same in my place.” He raised his hand to his visor in salute and made to leave, but seeing that the second officer was staring at him, he stopped and asked: “Have you forgotten something?” “Yes,” the other replied, with tears in his eyes. “I forgot to tell you that I have four children. If you don’t wish to tell me your name for my own personal satisfaction, at least tell me it so that my children can remember you in their prayers.” He replied: “Tell your children to remember Salvatore Todaro in their prayers.” (Passage summarised from the book “La Battaglia dell’Atlantico” published by Ferni).
This generous behaviour was not appreciated by the Commander-in-Chief of the German submarines, Admiral Karl Dönitz, who severely criticised the “Don Quixote of the sea”. Moreover, the sinking of the ship lead to the declaration of a state of war between Italy and Belgium; it was later revealed, however, that the Kabalo was a ship dispersed from the British convoy OB.223 and was carrying spare parts for aircraft: the sinking was therefore fully justified. In any event, he was awarded the bronze medal of military valour for this action.
Other Atlantic cruises
On 22 December 1940, Todaro left the Bordeaux base once more with the Cappellini for a new mission. On 5 January 1941, in the stretch of sea between the Canary Islands and the African coast, the Cappellini sunk the 5,029-ton British armed steamer Shakespeare, once again using the deck gun. During the action, a sailor from the Cappellini was killed by the heavy enemy fire. Also in this instance, Todaro picked up the 22 survivors, some of whom were seriously wounded, and dropped them off safely on the shore of one of the Capo Verde islands
Continuing the cruise, the submarine reached the area of Freetown (Sierra Leone), where it managed to sink the 7,472-ton British troop transport Emmaus with two torpedoes and the deck gun.
The submarine also suffered some losses in this incident due to heavy return fire. During the battle, a British aircraft, perhaps alerted by the SOS from the Emmaus, arrived on the scene and managed to hit the Cappellini with two bombs before it was able to submerge, causing serious damage and wounding many.
Despite this, Todaro managed to bring the submarine to the neutral Spanish port of Puerto de La Luz on Gran Canaria, which he reached on 20 January 1941. Thanks to the help of the Spanish authorities, who were close to Italian fascism, Todaro was able to take the wounded ashore and repair the vessel. It returned to sea on 23 January 1941 and safely reached the port of Bordeaux. His second officer, Danilo Stiepovich, had been killed during the course of the fighting. For these missions, he received the silver medal of military valour.
Todaro later took part in two other ill-fated Atlantic cruises.
The Tenth MAS Fleet and death
In November 1941, because of the remorse felt on account of the loss of his men, he requested and obtained a transfer to the MAS Fleet. Assigned to the 4th MAS Fleet with the rank of corvette captain, he participated with this new unit in the naval blockade of the city of Sevastopol, on the Black Sea, during the operations on the eastern front. In these daring operations, he distinguished himself once more, earning his third silver medal of military valour.
In 1942, Todaro was assigned to the La Galite base in Tunisia and, in command of the armed trawler Cefalo, began to plan and implement a series of attacks on the port of Bona, an important enemy base. After returning from a night mission on 13 December 1942, the Cefalo was attacked by a British Spitfire aircraft. During the strafing, Commander Todaro was hit by shrapnel in the temple and died from the impact. He was 34 years old and his memory was honoured with the Gold Medal of Military Valour.
The S 526 – S. Todaro “Salvatore Todaro (S 526) and Salvatore Todaro (F 550).”
One of the two new U212-type submarines that entered operational service with the Italian Navy on 5 February 2007 was named after Commander Todaro. It was assigned to the Active Endeavour operation under NATO command.
Previously, another Italian Navy unit had been named in memory of Salvatore Todaro; it was a De Cristofaro-class anti-submarine corvette, in service from 1966 to 1994, which had been converted into an offshore patrol vessel in 1990
Gold medal of Military Valour – Gold Medal of Military Valour ribbon bar for service dress.
“Superior officer of distinguished military and civil virtue. Highly competent, strong-willed, determined, aggressive and most courageous, at first in command of a submarine and then of an assault division, he faced arms of superior strength and number than his own on several occasions and showed the enemy how the sailors of Italy are capable of fighting and winning.
A staunch advocate of the power of the spirit, infirm but not incapacitated, he was never subdued by material difficulties, personal considerations orphysical hardship, but always preserved his aggressive will, his faith and an intense mystical devotion to duty in the highest and broadest sense.
Never satisfied by glory and success, with no concern for himself but only for victory, he managed to obtain command of increasingly risky endeavours until, in the course of one of these, strafed by enemy aircraft, he sacrificed his precious life for the greater glory of the Fatherland.
A most pure figure of a man and a fighter, he was a radiant example of serene and intelligent courage and of total dedication.”
Mediterranean June 1942 – December 1942
Silver Medal of Military Valour – Silver Medal of Military Valour ribbon bar for service dress.
«Commander of an ocean-going submarine, during the course of a lengthy war mission in the Atlantic, at great distance from base, he attacked an armed steamer in broad daylight and on the surface, and then an auxiliary cruiser, succeeding, after bitter fighting with the deck gun, to sink both enemy units, totalling 12,500 tons.
Having consequently become the target of an aerial attack, which seriously damaged the submarine, he faced the difficult situation with all available means and evaded the enemy search to return to base.”
Oceano Atlantico dicembre 1940 – gennaio 1941
Silver Medal of Military Valour – Silver Medal of Military Valour ribbon bar for service dress
«Commander of an ocean-going submarine, during the course of a lengthy war mission in the Atlantic, at great distance from base, he attacked an armed steamer in broad daylight and on the surface, and then an auxiliary cruiser, succeeding, after bitter fighting with the deck gun, to sink both enemy units, totalling 12,500 tons.Having consequently become the target of an aerial attack, which seriously damaged the submarine, he faced the difficult situation with all available means and evaded the enemy search to return to base»
Atlantic Ocean December 1940 – January 1941
Silver medal of Military Valour in the Field – Silver Medal of Military Valour in the Field ribbon bar for service dress.
«Submarine commander on a war mission in the Atlantic, having sighted a strong enemy naval formation in daytime, he courageously moved in for a surface attack and, despite heavy return fire from the enemy and the impaired capacity of his own unit, he sunk an auxiliary cruiser with a torpedo and then, with a bold manoeuvre, managed to evade a violent enemy pursuit.”
Waters of Sevastopol June
Bronze Medal of Military Valour – Bronze Medal of Military Valour ribbon bar for service dress.
«Commander of an ocean-going submarine, in the course of a lengthy war mission, during which he attacked and destroyed an armed enemy steamer that responded to the submarine’s action with fire, he demonstrated possession of exceptional gifts of initiative, aggression, alertness and determination»
Atlantic Ocean October 1940
Bronze Medal of Military Valour in the Field – Bronze Medal of Military Valour in the Field ribbon bar for service dress
«Commander of submarines, he performed numerous missions of war in waters threatened by the enemy. Animated by a lofty sense of duty, in all circumstances he demonstrated serene courage and a fighting spirit»
Mediterranean and Atlantic, 10 June 1940 – 9 June 1941
The experience begins with a warm and friendly welcome from Mario Berardocco, the vessel’s captain and commander of COMFLOTSOM, and from the frigate captain Antonio Tasca, public information cell chief who will accompany us throughout the morning with a running commentary. They will begin by introducing us to the museum’s hall – small but full of pieces of inestimable historical, military and even industrial value (including drawings of “Delfino”, the first Italian submarine dating back to 1892). This corner of history hides not only incredible technological feats, but also never-to-be-forgotten acts of heroism and sacrifice on the part of the submariners – acts that define their history. The very fact that our visit starts from here, shows just how important this centuries-old history is, and how much these values of self-sacrifice and spirit of sacrifice are still fundamental to the ethics of those seamen.
Yes, seamen, because even before being officers and commanders of men and highly technological military means, in their heart there’s a thin thread that binds them to each other, and to those who spend their own life in the “Blue giant”, even the humblest of fishermen.
This makes them even more admirable.
This initial moment of our visit is the perfect occasion for an anecdote, and so we go deeper into the details of the American aircraft carrier within torpedo range during Conus exercise.
That exercise has shown that our class Todaro submarines (batch 1e 2) match up well to the nuclear versions belonging to countries with economic resources that allow continuous investments in defence. Germans know it well, given that they share with our Navy the same type of “boat” (as the commanders who have dedicated their precious time call it), spare parts and even training. In 2012 one of their crews has been trained here in Taranto.
And the Americans know it too, after seeing the photograph of their carrier, taken from the periscope of our submarine in a fire position, that in addition to proving to have managed to evade the protection of an entire Naval Squadron, of the most powerful navy army in the world, it even managed to snatch from a senior U.S. Navy a fraternal smile of complacency between submerged colleagues.
Our hosts explain us the organization, tasks and endowment necessary in submarine life, as well as describing technical characteristics of means and especially the current roles and missions of our submarines.
Now we really realize how much this medium can be effective for many ordinary uses, well beyond the first, obvious, role of first line attack.
Or better, as in their words, the evolution of submarine use is the transition from a simple vector to a weapon, to “Advanced Sensor”.
Our newspapers do not talk about it, but there is an intense underwater work (underwater in a broad sense, since many are investigations covered by confidentiality constraints), essential to prepare, develop and support the most appropriate intervention to the case. Thanks to the optical and radar concealment capability, electromagnetic, infrared and acoustic, combined with the possibility of transmitting data in real time (images, videos, electro / acoustic signatures captured by periscope, I / R camera, AIS, hydrophone, ESM SATCOM), our submarines are today the most suitable means to consolidate their original tasks (Sea Control, Sea Denial and Naval Force Support) to which today we add new and very important ones that go far beyond the imaginary, also for purposes released from tactical use.
-Occult presence and surveillance (ISR). On-site strategic role of investigation and protection, also in collaboration with other institutional bodies and police forces.
-Indications and Warning (I&W) role particularly useful for tracking, up to the arrest and effective identification of smugglers and pirates.
-Monitoring of illicit traffics and transhipments, fight against terrorism and environmental crimes.
Then there are the special operations (SPECOPS) that can go from the submarine rescue to the support of other Police Corps and Armed Forces also with transport of special equipment.
Last, but only by order of treatment, the very important scientific contributions, useful for the study of cetaceans and the evolution of their vital habits. To be able to live up to all these tasks, Tactical and Logistic support is essential.
We have already mentioned the collaboration with Germany about spare parts for the Todaro class submarines, which Germany is also equipped.
Relationships in this sense are so good that we can almost consider the existence of a real sharing of logistical resources, which are particularly structured by virtue of the special materials stored.
Our visit continues instead with the Training and Training Department (Som School) and for this type of institution we have already mentioned the collaboration with Germany.
Here the crews in training perform a theoretical and practical journey that starts with the Basic Submarine Training and continues with specific training differentiated by role.
The submariner will attend numerous courses in order to be able to carry out effectively and safely all subsequent on-board assignments. In order to become commander of a submarine, it is necessary to have covered every board position foreseen for the officers.
The vastness of the training is such that the second master of a submarine has medical skills such as to be able to perform an appendectomy, with only the help of the nurse on board. And we’re not even talking about a medical officer!
Training facilities allow preparation for every situation, ordinary and emergency, whilst a “Rush escape” simulator and an individual exit ensure everyone is up-to-date with emergency evacuation procedures.
A floodable room also equipped with smoke generators (called “Falla and smoke” simulator) and individual respirators enables training to analyze and solve serious but not irrecoverable problems.
Then we visit the Computer-Based-Training training rooms, the multimedia room and those instrumented identically to the real submarine to allow officers and non-commissioned officers to become familiar with the various systems and their operating procedures, without having to navigate the real boat. We will find these same devices in their exact same arrangement, first on the simulators, then on the submarines “Gazzana” and “Todaro” that await us at the piers.
But before visiting these two vessels, after having shown us also the simulator of the “Sauro class”, the COMFLOTSOM commander in chief gives us the honour of attending a short simulation of submarine diving a “Todaro class”, performed under his command. The realistic feeling is remarkable: we almost descend from the simulator with seasickness.
What most impresses and galvanizes is to observe the perfect functioning of the “chain of command”, consisting in the precise execution of orders (subject to verification) by all the professional figures involved in running one of the most modern submarines in Europe to every single order of the commander.
I make a parallel with the aeronautical world, which I know well and find something familiar, but everything is much more complex. It’s simply fantastic to see all these men who know perfectly what to do, each for their own area of responsibility, in the context of a single team, with absolute precision.
It affects above all the security and naturalness of the commander in ordering descents, turns and changes in the speed of a vehicle that moves with bat eyes in a living environment and from a non-infinite and irregular backdrop. It seems that the commander “wears” a war submarine like a second skin, and we have been catapulted into one of the scenes of “The hunt for Red October”, well aware of not being on a film set!
When we get out of the simulator, we’ll have a visit to the room where the “de-briefing” follows the simulated mission.
And here too we find something very similar to that seen in the aeronautical environment, precisely to the 61st Wing of the Air Force for the M-346.
A structure almost equal in structure and technological setting, consisting of a room perfectly equipped to review the mission just simulated, evaluate functional parameters and instrumental indications, to highlight any areas of improvement.
And finally we are moving towards the pier.
Here we visit two exponents of our submersible fleet: one per class. For the Sauro class, the “Gazzana” awaits us. Always touching the ritual of greetings between the commander of the COMFLOTSOM that guides us and the commander of the submarine that welcomes us on board with extreme cordiality.
The over 40 years of the project can be seen, above all in terms of ergonomics, but for many of the tasks we have described it is still an adequate means. We immediately notice certain solutions from other times (such as the camp beds placed exactly above the torpedoes), we also allow ourselves to make a match with the U-boat exhibited at the Deutsche Museums in Munich.
We also see the propulsion engine system: 3 diesel engines and 1 electric motor, obviously not present on the simulator, just as it is not the room where all human activities are carried out, when they are not in the navigation area when they are not occupied. Considering that we have already seen the dashboard in both the technical classrooms and the simulator, its appearance already has almost a familiar aspect, demonstrating the effectiveness of the training system developed. And this even allows us not to ask other technical details, indeed, to give us a chat in the room, in relation to the cinematographic filmography concerning the world of submarines, from K-19 to The Hunt for Red October, passing through the unforgettable U-boot 96. But we also find the time to talk about the acquired capacity of the COMFLOTSOM to carry out some minor repairs, without having to resort to external shipyards. On the other hand, it is necessary to make a virtue of necessity and so, as the average age of the crews has grown, even on the front of the management economies here in Taranto have been able to do an excellent job.
As we leave the Gazzana and climbed on the Todaro, the perception of almost half a century of technological progress is immediate. As ”civilians”, the first thing we notice is the “human” space available. But as technicians, every detail illustrated confirms the technological progress. Just to name a few, the propulsion system (a single Diesel engine and a gigantic electric car), the AIP fuel cell propulsion system (Air Indipendent Propulsion) the construction in high-strength non-magnetic steel, the initial launch of the torpedoes which occurs with a water impulse to reduce the acoustic traceability. Any regrets after this visit? Yes, two.
The first to be joined by people to be really proud of having had the privilege of knowing.
The second is to not see the same enthusiasm of those young people who dance on the notes of “In the Navy”, in approaching professions like that of the submariner, more than anything else for their leave untried the road to a life full of satisfaction and “true” values.