From the Messe Affair to the Bergamini Case. The former was the story of a good general who in the end betrayed his past loyalty and valor; the latter is the story of an unfortunate admiral who went down with his ship to the bottom of the sea, and who now is subject to an unworthy speculation by the fugitive Royal Government.
There is no more infamous crime than to betray the dead. The dead, as you know, do not speak; it is easy to make a market of their honor. But fortunately for him, Admiral Bergamini left incontrovertible testimonies of his loyalty as a sailor and as an Italian. And we, however far by now from the events and men of the recent bitter past, claim the privilege of defending the memory of that gentleman, because it is not right to pervert history and to sully the reputation of a captain who was left alone above the sad act which delivered our fleet and the sweat and blood of the people to the enemy. Indeed at 2 AM on September 9th, a few hours after the proclamation of the Badoglian armistice, the entire naval fleet under the command of Admiral Carlo Bergamini departed from La Spezia and headed towards La Maddalena. During the night, three cruisers from Genoa joined the formation, which advanced at a reduced speed.
After ten hours of navigation, that is to say at midday, when the fleet was in sight of the Bay of Bonifacio and had already assumed a straight line to channel towards the planned anchorages, a squadron of five German bombers emerged from the clouds, unleashing on the formation—which, by virtue of treason, had become in the Germans' eyes an enemy naval formation and therefore a legitimate object of attack—a series of bombs, particularly aimed at the battleships. The ships were in serious danger with rapid approachments everywhere; and then it was a matter of time: the battleship Roma, centered in Santa Barbara, after a violent explosion, broke in two and sank into the abyss in the span of a few minutes. Standing at his command post, Admiral Bergamini followed the ship's fate, disappearing into the waves.
The cruiser Attilio Regolo, some destroyers and torpedo boats stayed behind to aid the survivors; this nucleus of ships, with the survivors on board, later headed to a neutral port in Spain and docked there. Meanwhile the bulk of the fleet had already set sail, at a speed of thirty miles, with an initial course towards the Balearic Islands; then, almost as a result of sudden regret, the formation changed course towards the south, meeting at the port of Bona, to deliver itself into the hands of the enemy. And the treason thus had its epilogue. Up to this point we have reported the bare and controlled chronicle of events.
What happened next can be defined as a grotesque spectacle: the Government of the midget king issued a solemn proclamation posthumously promoting Admiral Bergamini from Vice-Admiral to Admiral, "for having found glorious death in the fulfillment of his mission of delivering the fleet to the Anglo-Americans".
This document represents a most vulgar bad faith. Let's set aside the fact that they are intending to publicly award the eventual architects of a military treason, which is disgusting in and of itself, and let's turn our attention instead to the enormous mystification that the document expresses to the detriment of the fallen admiral. With evidence and testimony in hand, we can formally affirm: Admiral Bergamini, if he were still alive, would have never delivered the ships to the enemy.
In fact, these are the precise instructions given by him to all admirals and fleet commanders in the aftermath of the armistice: a) do not offer armed resistance to the Germans under any circumstances; b) if the Anglo-Americans attempt to seize the ships by force, the ships are ordered to resist to the bitter end with their arms and, in cases of desperation, the ships are ordered to be scuttled.
Clenching in the grip of his hands the orders he had received, Bergamini spoke that day with his heart in his throat, pained by grief, but had by no means abdicated his dignity as a sailor. He was already on a high level compared to the ballast of all the other military leaders entangled in the betrayal which they conceived and wanted despite the extreme consequences.
Many officers—including those who, in obedience to the example and teachings of this man, today fight under the banner of the Republican Navy—are good witnesses of the proud intentions expressed by the Admiral in the anguished hours that preceded the embarking of the ships at sea. To Commander Bedeschi, for example, as with others, he expressed himself verbatim (on September 8th):
"I intend to bring the fleet to an Italian anchorage or to a neutral port. I will never deliver the ships to the enemy."And bidding farewell to his officer, he added:
"But my plan is delusional. I feel that we will never see each other again. We will have to sink ourselves."Indeed, as we have seen, he headed for La Maddalena, an Italian port, in the hopes of being able to protect the fleet. On the threshold of that port his ship was bombed.
Up until that final moment his fleet had been integral to his honor. With the exception of a few ships that obeyed him by scuttling themselves or docking in neutral ports, once the admiral had fallen, his orders fell also. The bulk of the fleet passed to the enemy.
And here the cases of Admiral Oliva, Captain Tallarico and the other advocates of the hijacking and surrendering of the fleet are emblematic. Many veils have fallen, responsibilities are increasingly in focus. On the basis of new and comprehensive reports arriving from the other side of the barricade, it would be easy, if charity for the Fatherland would permit it, to reconstruct scene by scene the environmental climate of some ships, the cruiser Eugenio di Savoia for example, and follow from Bona to Malta, and from Alexandria to Taranto, the cases, the misadventures and the attitudes of the senior officers on board there...
In this atmosphere of treason, Admiral Bergamini therefore was also betrayed. What has been said above is the most extensive, authoritative and definitive documented testimony. And yet these traitors now seek to turn him into a hero of the armistice, depicting him as the first victim, the first martyr. This is a repulsive fraud which insults the memory of the deceased, the honor of his children, and our dignity as true Italians. We have no nostalgia nor tenderness for yesterday's Italy, prior to 1943; behind us we intend to build a solid wall that will isolate us forever from every past indignity and ugliness; we want to look towards the future, and we have a long way to go...
If today we have paused for a moment between the scenes of such a sad era it is because it seems terrible to us that dishonesty should be perpetuated, while we are all still suffering from the recent dishonesty. Therefore, it is not for reasons of polemics or pretense that we bring to light the facts of the Bergamini case, but out of sincere love of honesty and truth, to defend and clear the reputation of a good soldier from the mud that threatens him, in order to properly enumerate one less traitor and one more gentleman, in order to define ever more clearly the distinction between worthy Italians and unworthy Italians.
That is why we are happy and proud to proclaim that Admiral Bergamini did not fall on the path to desertion. He fell during the freely chosen path that links two Italian lands in Italy's sea.
This demands our respect, if for some time his stupendous virtues as a man and as a soldier had not already demanded our admiration: he was energetic, good, courageous, tireless, upright.
Carlo Bergamini was not of the same cloth as those generals and admirals who trampled upon and insulted the sacrifice of the dead! In vain they call him into question, in an obscene attempt to use his good name as some sort of holy veil or justification for the treason of September 8th.
He cannot be one of them, because he remained a defender of Italy's sea.