The U-boats made ocean transport most dangerous during the Great War, but no navy had worse luck in moving troops over the waves than Italy.
|The Greatest Ocean Disaster of World War I|
SS Principe Umberto Goes Under
In January 1916 an Italian merchant ship, the Brindisi, was crossing the Adriatic with war materials and food for Italian and Serbian forces in Albania. She was also carrying several hundred Italian and Montenegrin volunteers from America for service in that theater. The Brindisi hit a mine and sank with the loss of over 200 lives, many of them the luckless volunteers. An eyewitness reported that scores of the Montenegrins, who had earlier vowed that they would prefer suicide to drowning should the ship be torpedoed, kept their pledge. The mine had been laid by the German UC-14 which was operating against Allied shipping in the Adriatic despite there being no state of war between Italy and Germany until August 1916.
SS Principe Umberto was an Italian passenger and refrigerated cargo ship built in 1908, and during World War I, the ship was employed as an armed merchant cruiser to transport men and materiél. On 8 June 1916, Principe Umberto and another transport, the Ravenna, were carrying the 55th Infantry Regiment back from Albania to Italy, under the escort of the Italian scout cruiser Libia and four Regia Marina-class destroyers. The Austro-Hungarian U-boat U-5, under the command of Friedrich Schlosser, launched a torpedo attack that successfully hit Principe Umberto, which went down quickly with the loss 1,750-1,926 men (sources differ). This constituted the greatest maritime disaster of the war.
SS Minas – On 15 February 1917 the troop transport was carrying Italian, Serbian, and French troops from Taranto to Salonika, was torpedoed and sunk by U-39 off Cape Matapan. Eight hundred seventy men were lost.
SS Perseo — On 4 May 1917 the troop transport, sailing from Messina to Cephalonia, was torpedoed and sunk by the Austro-Hungarian submarine U-4, killing 227 men.
SS Verona: On 11 May 1918 the troop ship was off Capo Peloro in Sicily and heading for Libya, when UC-52 torpedoed and sank her. She went quickly, killing 880 of about 3,000 troops aboard.
Sources: Various shipwreck sites