On the first landing of the staircase entrance of city hall in Capua, lies a majestic marble slab which faithfully records events occurring in World War Two regarding five of Italian citizens awarded Gold medals for their actions. It is just and proper to remember that many Capuans received high military honors. But the memory of these brave people is becoming hopelessly lost. These five Capuans are General Amico, Lieutenant Andreozzi, Sergeant Conti, General De Carolis and the young Santagata. This article concentrates on Osvaldo Conti, because he is the least known of the group. It also pays tribute to the Italian Navy which gave Capua few, but brave and worthy sons.
Background on Osvaldo Conti
Osvaldo Ulderico Conti was born in Capua, at 12:00 on 11 May 1915, in Via Pier delle Vigne 45. His 34-year-old father, Biagio, was a railroad employee. His mother was Anna Delli Bovi.
Just as most fathers, Biagio documented the happy event with the Registry Office of the City of Capua, on 13 May 1915. Accompanying him as witnesses, were relatives Godfrey, 24 years old and a dealer, and Dominic D’Ettore, an employee of 33 years. There is very little else we know about the Conti family. Certainly as early as 1932, the family became residents of Aversa and no longer resided in Capua.
Joining the Regia Marina
In fact, in August of that year, Osvaldo suspended his second year of work to voluntarily enlist in the Regia Marina under service number 30537. After volunteering in Regia Marina, he dispatched to Pola for Mariscuole (Navy Schools) to attend a course in “Cannoniere Armaiolo” . This lasted from 3 September 1932 to 19 September 1933.
On 01 October 1933, he earned a promotion to 1st Class. Exactly three years later he earned another promotion to Sottocapo Cannoniere Armaiolo and on 4 October 1937, he completed his four years of voluntary service. Ultimately, the young Osvaldo decided to remain in the Navy for an additional two years. He never realized that this would be a fatal decision.
One month prior to being promoted to Comune di 1^ Classe on 20 September 1933, Osvaldo Conti’s fate became inextricably tied to one vessel: the Royal Heavy Cruiser Fiume of the Zara class. He sailed on that cruiser as far as Italian East Africa. The Fiume mobilized for mission related duties from 3 October 1935 until 30 July 1936. However, he wasn’t always on board because he obtained a license from the 28th January to the 13th March 1936. Between 1936-1937 he continued to serve on the Fiume along the Iberian coast while participating in the Spanish Civil War.
On 1 October 1938, at just 23 years, he became Sergente Cannoniere Armaiolo.
Invasion of Albania
On 7 April 1939 the Royal Cruiser ‘Fiume’ makes port in Durazzo, Albania. In that mission, part of a vast attack on Albania, Osvaldo Conti became one of the first to land ashore. Conti led a platoon of machine gunners as the team leader. He rushed an enemy position which was decimating them. He made himself an example to his men and encouraged them with his commands.
Although shot twice, he continued to show courage and encouragement to those around him. Shortly after being killed by a mortal wound to the head, his platoon successfully accomplished the task entrusted to it. Osvaldo Conti died on the beaches of Durazzo on 7 April 1939.
His courage facing death was an act of exemplary devotion of the oath to the flag. So much so that Vittorio Emanuele III almost immediately wanted to point it out to the whole nation.
In fact, a Royal Decree giving Osvaldo Conti the Gold Medal for Military Valor was ready for signing on 22 May 1939. The Royal Decree became annexed to order form No 134, Department of the Navy 11- 12 June 1939. All became aware of the exploits of this gallant young sailor, so that future generations of Italians can remember with pride and admiration.
Official account of Conti’s Gold Medal of Military Valor award
[wpsm_quote author=”Royal Decree for Gold Metal for Valor” float=”left” width=”100%”]Belonging to the Royal cruiser Fuime, he took part in the landing operations in Durazzo as the squad leader of a platoon. During the action and while receiving enemy fire, he advanced forward ahead of the others, without hesitation, providing great inspiration to his men. Hit almost immediately by a bullet to the leg, he never stopped firing and continued on with great courage and steadfastness, even after being struck by a second round. Due to his serious injuries, he could no longer join his fellow soldiers advancing towards the adversary. He continued providing cover and firing rounds towards the adversary. He never broke away from his machine gun until he received a mortal wound to the head. A shining example of serene and cold courage with noble devotion to duty. Durazzo, 7 April 1939.[/wpsm_quote]
The documents from this research were provided in part by the Historical Office of the Marina Militare Italiana (MMI), through the benevolent assistance of the former Chief of Staff, Admiral Umberto Guarnieri.