The ship that lived twice

Publish date 17-05-2024

by Renato Bonomo

Once upon a time there was a ship that lived twice. Its first name was Mario Rosell and it was built in the Monfalcone shipyards on behalf of the Società Italia di Navigazione of Genoa in 1940. In 1942 it was requisitioned by the Navy as an aid to the war fleet. She was a cargo ship that served as support for our soldiers engaged in Libya. In that period she was the subject of several allied attacks during her usual routes between Brindisi, Naples and Benghazi. On 9 September 1943, the day after the Cassibile armistice was communicated, she became war prey of the German Navy.

From that tragic September she was used as a transport of Italian prisoners from Greece to Venice and Trieste. In one of these missions the cargo ship Mario Roselli arrived in Corfu on 9 October 1943. In those days, in fact, a large transport of Italian prisoners from Greece was planned, over 5,500 people. They were a small part of the 800 thousand Italian soldiers who were captured and disarmed by the Germans after 8 September, many of whom, once they became "Italian military internees" (imi) ended up in German prison camps. In Corfu, the Italian prisoners had been captured by the Nazis after some clashes that the Italian troops had engaged in against those who until a few weeks earlier had been their allies. They were the losers of Kefalonia, one of the most important and tragic episodes of resistance to the Nazis by the Royal Army. During the night between 9 and 10 October the Mario Roselli was loaded with prisoners. At the end of the boarding operations, an Allied plane was spotted and bombed the ship. It was a massacre, at least 1,300 dead. A bomb hit a hatch and fell directly into the hold full of men. It was carnage, the sea covered in bodies. The hard-hit ship took on water and sank on its side. A further bombing the following day seemed to definitively close the brief history of the Mario Roselli. The episode of the Roselli was neither the first nor the last tragedy at sea in which thousands of young Italian soldiers died at sea due to accidents or air attacks.

After 1952, in full post-war recovery, the hunger for merchant ships led to considering the possibility of re-emerging the Mario Roselli. Having assessed the feasibility, it was possible to refloat the wreck and tow it to Monfalcone. The shipyard that had built it had the task of bringing it back to life. At the end of the same year she was launched with a new name, Alpe, and with a tonnage of 6,893 tons. The new owner was Italnavi of Genoa which operated on behalf of Fiat. The transport of cars such as the Fiat 500 and 1500 from Italy to South America was its main task at least until the mid-1960s. In 1972, after further changes of ownership and modernisations, she was deregistered and finally scrapped the same year in England. Before her it was called Mario Roselli, then Alpe, but for the sailors who sailed with her she was simply La Nostra

Renato Bonomo
NP April 2024

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