Daring The Undarable
We are thirty in the hands of Fate
And thirty-one with Death, our mate.
So sang the men who, with D'Annunzio, the Italian poet and hero, set
out "to dare the undarable."
Little has yet been told of the deeds of the Italians in the World War,
but as they become known, the people of other nations realize that
Italy has really worked wonders in her almost superhuman attempts t
conquer, not only men, but nature as well. When the complete story is
written of her struggles with avalanches, snow, frost, and enemy
soldiers in the mountain passes, it will be one continuous record of
D'Annunzio, although well over fifty years of age, and in most
countries judged too old for actual warfare, has been one of Italy's
most daring fighters. He was known throughout his native land by his
writings, and his fiery, passionate pleas published in all Italian
cities before Italy entered the war, helped his countrymen see the
right and decide to fight for it.
As soon as Italy decided to join the Allies, D'Annunzio sought and was
granted a post of great danger. He became an aviator, in the same corps
with his son.
Austria, whenever possible, sent aviators over Venice and other Italian
cities to drop bombs, although this warfare upon non-combatant women
and children was contrary to international law. The Austrians, like the
Germans, seemed to believe that it was wise for them to use any means
In August, 1918, D'Annunzio commanded a flight of eight bombing
airplanes over Vienna. It was a long-distance record for a squadron of
planes. Leaving the Italian lines at half past five in the morning,
they flew to Vienna and back, over six hundred miles, reaching home in
about sixteen hours. It was necessary for them to fly very high, at
about fifteen thousand feet, to cross the Alps and to escape the
Austrian barrage. All the machines returned but one, which was obliged
to land on account of engine trouble.
More than a million printed declarations, or statements, were dropped
on Vienna to inform the Austrians of the real state of affairs. In
Germany and Austria, the people were allowed to know only what their
rulers thought would be good for them to know. D'Annunzio wanted to
show them that Italians could drop bombs on Vienna if they desired to
do so, or thought it right to do so.
The manifestoes, as they are called, were in German, and read as
We Italians do not war upon women, children, and old men--but
only upon your blind, obstinate, and cruel rulers, who cannot
give you either peace or food, but try to keep you quiet with
hatred and falsehood.
You are said to be intelligent. Why do you wear the uniform of
Prussia? It is suicide for you to continue the war. The victory
that would end the war promised to you by the Prussians is like
the wheat they promised you from Ukraine. You will all die while
waiting for it. People of Vienna, think for yourselves! Awake!
In February, 1918, D'Annunzio with twenty-nine companions set out on
three small torpedo boats to destroy some Austrian warships discovered
by an Italian aviator to be lying hidden in the Bay of Buccari. To get
at them, it was necessary to steam past the Austrian fortifications.
Discovery meant death.
It is not strange that D'Annunzio was the mastermind of this
expedition, for he loves the sea, as he says, with all the strength of
his soul. He was born on a yacht at sea and has written much about
ships and the ocean. He has taken as his motto three Latin words,
"Memento audere semper," which mean, "Remember always to dare."
As they steam away from the Italian shores, D'Annunzio talks to his
brave companions. He says, "Sailors, companions, what we are about to
do is a task for silent men. Silence is our trusty helmsman. For that
reason I need not urge you with many words to be brave, for I know you
are already eager to match your courage against the unknown danger. If
I were to tell you where we are bound, you would hardly be able to keep
from dancing for joy. We are only a handful of men on three small
ships, but our hearts are stronger than the motors, and our wills can
go further than the torpedoes.
"We carry with us, to leave for a souvenir for the enemy, three bottles
sealed and crowned with the flaming tricolor of Italy. We will leave
them to-night floating on the smooth surface of the bay amid the
wreckage of the vessels we have struck."
Then D'Annunzio reads to them the letter which he has written and
inclosed in each bottle, ridiculing the Austrians because they have
hidden their ships safely behind the guns of the forts, and do not have
courage to come out in the open sea. He says the Italians are always
ready "to dare the undarable," and that they have come to make the
enemy whom they hate most of all, the laughingstock of the world.
He goes on speaking to the sailors: "Because this thing that we attempt
is so dangerous, we have already conquered Fate. To-morrow your names
will be honored in all Italy, and will shine as golden as the torpedo.
Therefore, every one to-day must give all of himself and more than all
of himself, all of his strength and courage, and even more. Do you
swear it? Answer me."
The sailors cry, "We swear it! Viva l'Italia!"
And D'Annunzio answers, "Memento audere semper."
They have been steaming for twenty-four hours and are now very near the
enemy's guns guarding the entrance to the bay. The very audacity of the
Italians seems to save them, for they steam on unchallenged, and when
near enough, discharge a torpedo at the giant Austrian dreadnought. The
ship is struck and all is excitement and confusion. Rockets are sent up
to alarm and inform the forts. The Italian torpedo boats turn for home.
D'Annunzio says, "The sky is starry, the sea is starry, and our hearts
are starry, too."
One of their three ships is soon disabled and falls behind. The other
two turn back to help her, and this is what probably saves them all;
for the Austrian forts, seeing them sailing into the harbor, think they
are Austrian vessels and do not fire upon them. When they steam out of
the harbor, the forts think they are Austrian torpedo boats in pursuit
of the Italians who must have escaped in the darkness. As D'Annunzio
says, "Our very audacity has conquered Fate."
They sank one of the largest of the Austrian dreadnoughts, and then
returned in safety to Italy.
It remained, however, for another Italian naval officer to outdo those
who "dared the undarable" at Buccari. Lieutenant Luigi Rizzo, with two
small motor patrol boats, succeeded in sinking two huge dreadnoughts
protected by an escort of fast destroyers. His story of the encounter
is as follows:
We were returning to our base just before dawn on July 10, 1918,
after a night of dull, monotonous work along the enemy's coast,
when I saw smoke coming from ships nearly two miles away. I
thought we had been discovered and were being pursued. The only
way I could know what we had to contend with was to get nearer
the enemy, so I turned the two boats in my command toward the
Soon I discovered that it was two of Austria's largest
dreadnoughts protected by a great convoy of destroyers.
Evidently because we were so small, we had not been seen in the
darkness; and although we were poorly armed, with only two large
torpedoes for each of our two boats and eight smaller ones to
throw by hand, we crept ahead until we were inside the line of
the destroyers, and slowly and quietly approaching the
dreadnoughts. I headed for one of them which proved to be the
St. Stephen, and Lieutenant Aonzo, in charge of the other
boat, made for the other, the Prince Eugene.
Then the watch on the dreadnoughts discovered us and began to
fire at us with their small guns. How we escaped destruction is
a miracle. Lieutenant Aonzo sent his first torpedo, and missed;
but the second struck the giant fairly. Both of my torpedoes
struck the St. Stephen.
After that all was confusion and excitement. We were fired upon
and encircled by a muddled crowd of destroyers. I turned my boat
to escape. A destroyer stood directly in my way and I veered off
and almost touched the bow of the sinking St. Stephen in
passing. The destroyers gave their attention to me and this
allowed Lieutenant Aonzo to escape.
I saw that I would soon be overtaken, so I sent two torpedoes at
the nearest destroyer. The first missed, but the second hit the
mark. There was a tremendous explosion. The destroyer wobbled
and began to turn over. I put on all power and escaped in the
The whole thing did not take over fifteen minutes. When we were
sure of our escape, the five boys of my crew went nearly mad
with joy, hugging, cheering, kissing, and crying in their
excitement at what we had done. They hoisted our largest flag
and trimmed our boat with bunting. A short way from us we could
see that Lieutenant Aonzo was doing the same.
We knew the reception we would have when those at home learned
the story, but we did not expect so much. The King decorated and
honored us, the Admiralty gave us prize money, and the people
added their contributions to it, for they declared we doubtless
saved the city of Ancona from bombardment.
Lieutenant Rizzo was promoted to the rank of Commandant although not
yet thirty years of age.
The St. Stephen sank where she was torpedoed. The Prince Eugene was
able to make for home, but sank before she reached there, a short way
from the Austrian coast. At the beginning of 1918, Austria had four of
these giant dreadnoughts; on July 11, she had but one still floating.