On December 7, 1930 the Artiglio, tasked with the recovery of gold bullion from the Egypt, sunk in the waters off of Brest, France, leading to the loss of 14 men. Among the dead were the divers Alberto Gianni, Aristide Franceschi, Alberto Bargellini and sailor Romualdo Cortopassi, all hailing from Viareggio.
The Artiglio had succeeded in locating the wreck and this led both the ship and the city of Viareggio itself to be named in newspapers across the globe.
It all began with a meeting between the noted diver Alberto Gianni and the commendatore Giovanni Quaglia, founder and administrator of So.Ri.Ma, a marine salvage company based in Genoa.
So.Ri.Ma entrusted Gianni with the salvage ships Artiglio, Rostro, Raffio and Arpione. At that time divers had just begun using metal diving suits made in Germany and precious cargo had been recovered from the holds of the steamships Washington, Ravenna, Umberto I, Monte Bianco and Stromboli.
So.Ri.Ma thus dedicated itself to the recovery of the wrecks of the ocean, concocting an ambitious venture: the recovery of the steamship Egypt, which had sunk at an unknown point somewhere in the southwest stretch of the English Channel. At a depth of 130 meters lay some five-and-a-half tons of gold and another 43 tons of silver.
On September 12, 1929 the Artiglio made its way to Brest to search for the location of the sinking — a search for a needle in a haystack.
After almost a year, on August 29, 1930, the ship was discovered.
The salvage had to be delayed however due to the changing of the season as the Artiglio would not have been able to withstand the sea in the event of a storm.
“My dear Maria, how I look forward to the joy of our imminent return. Here the storms never cease…” wrote Gianni in the last letter to his wife.
But instead of returning directly, the Artiglio was sent to Saint-Nazaire and tasked with demolishing the wreck of the Florence, which lay at a depth of 16 meters and held 150 tons of explosives and munitions.
On December 7, 1930 the Artiglio placed explosive charges on the sunken ship and retreated to a distance of 160 meters (as far as the attached cable would allow), even though it should have been a full two miles away. Alberto Gianni connected the electric wires.
“Dynamite! Fire in the hole!” he said for the last time.
A huge roar shook the sky and was felt like an earthquake for miles — the wreck’s entire hold of munitions had exploded and the Artiglio and the Florence both vanished in an instant.
The helm and propeller of the Artiglio I, recovered 75 years after the disaster, are held today at the Museo della Marineria.
The presentation of the 9th Artiglio International Award (Premio Internazionale Artiglio) will take place on June 10 in honor of the heroic acts of the Viareggio divers. The award celebrates those who have distinguished themselves in activities related to the underwater realm.