Early Life of Angelo Iachino
Angelo Iachino was born in San Remo on the 24 April 1889. The son of the schoolteacher Giuseppe Iachino and Emilia Piccione, he joined the Naval Academy in Livorno at the age of 15. Iachino enrolled in the “General Staff Corp” and focused on mathematics. He was promoted to Ensign on 01 December 1907 and embarked on the battleship Regina Margherita.
Onboard the Regina Margherita, he participated in the rescue of the civil population of Messina, struck by the massive earthquake of 28 December 1908. Promoted second lieutenant on 15 May 1910, he took part in the Italo-Turkish war aboard the battleship Re Umberto. In 1911 he commenced publishing articles for the navy magazine Rivista Marittima.
World War One
When the great war broke out, Iachino embarked on the battleship Giulio Cesare, on which he remained until 22 June 1917. In May 1918 he assumed command of the torpedo boat “66 PN“, which later in November took part in the Raid in Pula, where a single Italian MAS sunk the Austro-Hungarian Battleship Viribus Unitis. At the end of the war, he received the Silver medal for Military Valor.
Far East Naval Division
In May 1922 he became a commander of a small naval squadron deployed in China and in 1924 he assumed command of the gunboat Sebastiano Caboto. Iachino noticed the unrest and worsening situation in China. He suggested the formation of an expeditionary corp tasked with international police duties. The acceptance of his proposal led to the establishment of the naval division in the Far East.
Youngest Rear Admiral
Back in Italy in 1927, he taught at the Maritime War Institute in Livorno. This assignment lasted two years before assuming additional commands of several warships. Iachino became a Rear Admiral at the age of 47, a record for Italian standards.
Over the years he had continued his activity as a publicist, writing numerous articles and expressing his opinions on several matters. In the late 30s, the wrote in the Almanacco Navale that Italy does not need to build an aircraft carrier. He also did not favor the work carried by professor Ugo Tiberio on the Radiotelemetro (the Italian radar), claiming that “innovations have to be cautiously accepted by the Navy, and only after a long testing period” (Giorgerini, pp.68). Such statements, in line with most of the Italian naval thinking at the time, proved to be in sharp contrast with the war experience and with what Iachino wrote after the war.
World War Two
After Italy had entered the war in July 1940, Iachino assumed command of the 2nd naval squadron raising his banner on the heavy cruiser Pola. On the 27th of November 1940 the 2nd naval squadron was the most active Italian formation during the Clash of Cape Spartivento, exchanging fire with Sommerville’s Force H and damaging the cruiser Berwick. During the action, the destroyer Lanciere was heavily damaged and the engine knocked out, Iachino ordered the entire III division to come to the rescue of the immobile destroyer and tow it back to Sardinia. This decision foreshadows the similar but fatal order given by Iachino during the so-called Battle of Cape Matapan.
The negative outcomes of the clash of Cape Teulada led to the replacement of Admiral Campioni with Iachino as commander of the Naval forces in December 1940.
In January 1941 Iachino tried to intercept Force H which had bombarded Genoa, but faulty air-recognizance prevented him to make contact with the British.
Battle of Gaudo/Cape Matapan
However, Admiral Iachino is mostly remembered for his actions during the disgraced events of Gaudo/Matapan. The Regia Marina and the Kriegsmarine planned a surprise raid against British convoys in Eastern Mediterranean before the German attack against Greece scheduled for early April. The Luftwaffe wrongly reported all British battleships in the theater were out of action. The reports were completely wrong, and the Royal Navy knew in advance of the operation thanks to ULTRA. This doomed the Italian raid from the start.
On the morning of 28 March 1941, Iachino’s forces clashed with a group of British cruisers near Gaudo. Soon afterward, Swordfish torpedo bombers arrived on the scene. Acknowledging they lost the element of surprise and that the Mediterranean fleet was near, Iachino wisely withdrew. In the late afternoon, Swordfish torpedo bombers damaged the Vittorio Veneto and immobilized the cruiser Pola. Despite being informed of the presence of a large British naval formation, he insisted on towing Pola back to safety. He dispatched two cruisers and four destroyers for the rescue. On the same day at night, near Matapan, the Royal Navy intercepted these units and fired at point-blank range which resulted in the death of over 2,300 Italian crew members.
First and Second Battle of Sirte
Despite this defeat, which is the worst suffered by the Regia Marina since Lissa in 1866, Iachino maintained his command. After participating in other minor actions, he commanded the Italian naval forces during the First Battle of the Sirte in December 1941 Iachino managed to guarantee the arrival of a convoy in Libya. Iachino clashed again with the British during the Second Battle of the Sirte in March 1942. His willingness to avoid a night action led him to disengage the enemy formation, which later suffered heavy losses due to the intervention of the German Luftwaffe.
Battle of Mid-June 1942
The last remarkable action Admiral Iachino participated in was the Battle of Mid-June 1942. His aggressive behavior and threat posed by Regia Marina battleships led the British to withdraw.
In April 1943, Angelo Iachino left his fleet command and soon after promoted to Ammiraglio d’Armata. For a few months, he also participated as a member of the Committee of Admirals and Chairman of the Superior Coordination Committee for technical projects.
In 1954, he entered a reserve status and subsequently discharged in 1962.
Since 1945, Iachino dedicated himself to writing articles, books, and memoirs regarding the wartime experience of the Regia Marina. He attempted to explain his decisions during Battle of Gaudo/Cape Matapan. This event undoubtedly haunted the man until his death in 1976.
In 1966, Iachino attended his last public event; the launch of the new missile cruiser Vittorio Veneto. Dino Buzzati, a famous Italian writer and former navy officer under Iachino stood beside him and later wrote:
The admiral remained silent. His cold, blue eyes looked far away, beyond the hull, hovering over the port, beyond the flags. Perhaps because of the icy wind that drove straight down from the Irpinia mountains, but more likely his memories. From time to time something clear passed his eyes. In that moment his mind traveled back to that night – also cold – twenty-five years ago, when 2,300 of his sailors died in the waters south of Cape Matapan.
In 1974, Admiral Iachino donated a bronze monument to the city of Taranto. The statue is dedicated to all Italian sailors who fought in the Second World War. The monument still stands today near the city’s harbor.
Angelo Iachino died on 03 December 1976 in Rome, Italy.
Giorgio Giorgerini, La Guerra Italiana sul mare: la marina tra vittoria e sconfitta 1940–1943, Edizione Mondadori (2001).
M. Gemignani, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, TRECCANI, Volume 61 (2004).