I read the book Kretschmer, in which the author Lawrence Patterson quoted one of Dönitz's report concerning the collaboration with the Italian submarine service. One element given for the bad performance of Italian submarines is that:

Italian submarines had never sailed in such waters and meteorologic conditions. They are not adequately equipped for that.

I would like to know more about the necessary equipment that the Italians were lacking?

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    Would be interesting to know the original wording for that 'equipped' got translated from, the 'waters and meteorologic' parts makes it sound like they were too small or had low freeboard (quite plausible for the a mediterranean design) but hull shape is not normally considered equipment. Or did they just lack heating? May 6, 2022 at 8:01
  • When was this report made?
    – Schwern
    May 6, 2022 at 14:09
  • Unfornately I don't have the original wording It was made during late 1940 May 6, 2022 at 19:21
  • Not one of my chosen fields of interest, but you might want to take a look here regiamarina.net/detail_text.asp?nid=88&lid=1 or, perhaps, here uboat.net/italian_submarines/introduction.html
    – R Leonard
    May 19, 2022 at 13:29
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    @DanM Schnorchel is a bad example, they weren't operational in the German navy until 1943 by which point North Africa had been lost and Italian submarines would be unable to leave the Med. They weren't very effective at that point anyway, Allied aircraft and radar could see them. I doubt the quote is referring to Schnorchel.
    – Schwern
    Jun 24, 2022 at 19:15

2 Answers 2


The Italian submarines originally suffered from two material issues that prevented them from operating efficiently against convoys crossing the North Atlantic. The following quotations can be found on page 147 of the English translation of Karl Dönitz's memoirs "Zehn Jahre und zwanzig Tage":

In the Italian submarines the conning-tower was very long and very high. Both by day and by night it offered a very conspicuous silhouette. The lookout's position was far below the top of the very high tower with its long periscope mountings.

Further these Italian submarines had no Diesel air supply mast in the conning-tower. This meant that when running on the surface, the conning-tower hatch had always to be left open in order to ensure for the Diesels the requisite supply of air for combustion purposes.

These were significant issues. Why? In the North Atlantic, the Germans sought to apply the "wolf-pack" tactic. Submarines sought out and maintained contact with convoys until a sufficient number of submarines could be assembled. Then they attacked en masse on the surface during the night. A small silhouette was a necessary condition for the success of this tactic. In the North Atlantic, the sea is typically so rough that it is impossible to keep the hatch in the conning tower open for any period of time.

These material problems were quickly rectified. After the fall of France a base was established for the Italian submarines at Bordeaux. Here the conning towers were both shortened and reduced in overall size and they were fitted with an air supply line for the diesel engines. Dönitz implies that the refits were completed by the end of November 1940.

Moreover, there were significant differences in the how the Germans and the Italians trained their crews and deployed their submarines. These issues are important in order to understand the failure of the Italians in the North Atlantic and their successes in the middle and South Atlantic. However, this topic is outside the scope of the original question.

Karl Dönitz : "Ten Years and Twenty Days". Da Capo Press, New York 1997 ISBN 0-306-80764-5


Italian submarines and their adventures in the Atlantic during World War II, there were a few key pieces of equipment that they were lacking. One significant factor was the absence of an efficient air conditioning system aboard their submarines. The scorching temperatures of the Atlantic waters made it challenging for the crews to endure long patrols without proper climate control, leading to discomfort and fatigue.

Additionally, Italian submarines often suffered from inadequate sonar systems, which affected their ability to detect and track enemy ships effectively. This technological disadvantage put them at a significant disadvantage in the cat-and-mouse game of submarine warfare, as their detection capabilities were inferior compared to those of their Allied counterparts.

Furthermore, Italian submarines faced limitations in terms of long-range fuel capacity. The Atlantic Ocean presented vast distances to cover, and the Italian subs struggled to maintain extended patrols due to their limited fuel storage. This constraint restricted their ability to remain at sea for prolonged periods, reducing their effectiveness in conducting operations in the Atlantic theater.

However, it's worth noting that despite these equipment shortcomings, Italian submarines did achieve some successes during their Atlantic campaigns. They managed to sink a number of Allied vessels and occasionally proved to be formidable adversaries. Nevertheless, these deficiencies in air conditioning, sonar systems, and long-range fuel capacity undoubtedly impacted the overall performance and capabilities of the Italian submarine fleet in the Atlantic theater during World War II.

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    – Community Bot
    Jun 22, 2023 at 16:16
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    First time I've ever heard of the North Atlantic being described as suffering from "scorching temperatures requiring air conditioning. More often it's the extremely brutal cold that is featured. Are you sure you interpreted that correctly? Jun 22, 2023 at 23:54
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    This is either factually wrong or dubious. As far as I know, no German submarine prior to the type XXI had any air-conditioning. The Italian submarines that served in the Atlantic belonged to the Argo, Brin, Clavi, Glauco, Luzzi, Marcello and Marconi classes, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BETASOM#Establishment for a complete list. With the exception of the Marcello class (7500 nmi) they all had ranges that exceeded the range of the German type VII C (8500 nmi). Active sonar is useless, dangerous even, to a submerged submarine unless it can outrun surface threats. Jun 23, 2023 at 20:51
  • @CarlChristian - SONAR is also used in a passive role, and especially at that early date it's likely that the Italian subs could be deficient in that area. They may not even have had active SONAR at that time, given some of that was a fairly recent invention by the allies. To echo your point about speed though - it's a rare submarine that can outrun any surface ship, and utterly impossible for it to outrun an airplane... Jun 24, 2023 at 8:14
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    The structure of this answer reads like it is chatGPT generated, which might also explain the odd claims.
    – PhillS
    Jun 26, 2023 at 11:02

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