The Splasilach stopped at 250 meters from the coast, gently sliding on the sea’s bleak surface. That day, the waves were saturated with blue and were elegantly overlapping each other, allowing the troupe to peer through the rippling lather, searching for a blurred shadow in the deep. The divers plunged into the water on alternate shifts, eight per time, flanked by the national TV’s cameras that had arrived with trepidation to document the historic event. They nimbly swam for 37 meters to the seabed, opposing the impetuous current which secrets had been kept under a layer of obscurity for too long. Once they had reached the destination, for a moment, the scene seemed to crystalize. The divers’ figures were suspended in the Adriatic’s cold embrace. Surrounded by the motionless enchantment of a bewitching underwater frame, their profiles were gracefully dancing in that forgotten corner of Mediterranean Sea. Under them was silently laying Nereide, abandoned on the ocean floor’s deserted desolation. Even though 57 years had passed, the submarine seemed to be in relatively good conditions. Perhaps the waves, with due regard for its tragic story, had renounced to pile on its defenseless body.
Despite the absence of the first shell and the wooly glaze hiding the underlying metal, the submarine was unbelievably well-preserved. While drilling it, a dense column of bubbles rose from the Nereide, as if it had miraculously started to breathe again. It looked like the war hero had simply dozen off, waiting to be enlisted for a new mission. Having carried out all the procedures involving the blow torch and an indescribably careful lifting, Nereide finally returned to the surface. After more than half a century of solitary captivity, the submarine gloriously reappeared like a legendary creature fiercely re-emerging from the obscure abysses of a lost world, celebrated by a nostalgic breeze.
Just five months before, in January, the Jugoslav government had decided to indulge the Italian Foreign Office’s insistent requirement to recover the submarine that sank in Pelagosa on 5th August 1915 and then to exhume the corpses. The Nereide, mysterious crypt, had lived paramount adventures before facing its inexorable destiny.
Commissioned to engineer De Bernardis and built in 1911-1913 at the Arsenal in Venice, it was the first Italian submarine to be charged with a mission during World War I. Nereide vaunted extraordinary proportions and matchless peculiarities: it was 134 feet and 4 inches long and could reach a maximum of 13.2 knots when surfaced and 8 knots when submerged. After the country’s entry in the conflict, its armed forces occupied the island of Pelagosa in the central Adriatic. Unfortunately, on 5th August 1915, Nereide was on the surface, moored under a cliff in the island’s harbor. When the Austro-Hungarian submarine U-5, sent by the rival navy, surfaced just offshore, Nereide’s commanding officer, Carlo del Greco, cast off the lines and maneuvered to get a shot at von Trapp's U-5. Nereide launched a torpedo at the enemy submarine but the effort backfired, forcing del Greco to order his boat down. Taking advantage of the propitious moment, U-5 lined up a shot and launched a single torpedo at the slowly submerging target immediately striking it and sending it to the bottom together with its courageous hands and its valiant captain, later awarded Gold Medal of Military Valour.
In 1972, only 10 corpses out of 35 were re-brought to light. The other 25 were probably lacerated by the explosion or drowned, in the useless and desperate attempt to swim away. Thanks to precious and accurate testimonies of the moving exhumation, we’ve come to know incredibly unexpected and sadly picturesque details. The bodies were buried under a thick and suffocating stratum of mud, encapsulated in their eternal slumber. Beneath it, the narrow sepulcher. Surprisingly rosy skeletons devoured by time sleeping in their uniforms. Strands of hair still clang on the craniums, unwilling to surrender to their cruel fate. Folded clothes in tidy lockers that dissolved in the water at the slightest touch. Fragments of heroes.
Meccaniche Veneziane pays homage to the glorious memory of extraordinary men who, aware of the imminent danger’s entity, unhesitatingly sacrificed themselves for their country, preferring death to a coward desertion, and with noble abnegation didn’t give up on defending Nereide, Italy and their honor.
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