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

heroic deeds.

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

to win.

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

distant smoke.

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.