Italian ship Gaetano Donizetti

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The Gaetano Donizetti was an Italian merchant ship, which sank on September 23, 1943 in the Aegean Sea, killing some 1,800 people on board, 1,576 Italian POW's and 220 guards and crew.


On September 8, 1943 the Armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces was signed. The Germans had expected and anticipated the Italian surrender, and immediately launched Operation Achse to disarm the Italian Army and take over control of the territories they occupied. The Dodecanese island group had been under Italian occupation since the Italo-Turkish War of 1912. German forces under Generalleutnant Ulrich Kleemann rushed to the central island of Rhodes, and attacked the 40,000-strong Italian garrison on 9 September, and forced it to surrender by 11 September. In doing so, they outmaneuvered the British, which had hoped by their Dodecanese Campaign to conquer the islands and use them as bases against the German-controlled Balkans.

The Germans had to hold off the British and wanted to get rid of the numerous Italian prisoners as soon as possible. The Nazis considered the Italians who chose not to fight further alongside them (the majority), not as prisoners of war, but as traitors to be sent to the Reich to do forced labor.

The disaster[edit]

The Italian Gaetano Donizetti of 3428 tons, had been confiscated by the Germans to bring arms to Rhodes. The Germans then stowed some 1,600 prisoners in the cargo hold, where there was reasonably only room for 700.
The "Donizetti" set sail on September 22. It sailed along the east coast of Rhodes, and headed south-west, passing Lindos to the south. The "Donizetti" was escorted by the German torpedoboat TA10 under Oberleutnant Jobst Hahndorff. This was the former French torpedoboat La Pomone and later the Italian FR 42.

Around 01.10 that night (on September 23), the convoy was detected by HMS Eclipse under Commander E. Mack, who immediately opened fire. The Gaetano Donizetti went down in seconds, taking with her the entire crew and all Italian POW's. The German torpedoboat TA10 was heavily damaged and later towed back to Rhodes, where it was scuttled a few days later. HMS Eclipse left the scene, not realising the extent of the tragedy that had just happened.

On February 12, 1944, another transportship leaving from Rhodes, the SS Oria, sank in a storm, causing the death of some 4,000 Italian prisoners of war.