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By Martin Cridge
Header image of the IJN Nagato and other historical images courtesy of Dirty Dozen Expeditions.
Full Disclosure: Dirty Dozen Expeditions is a sponsor of InDepth.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet had been awake since 2 a.m. on his flagship the IJN Nagato, anxiously waiting news on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, the now infamous code word was excitedly shouted down the voice pipe from the radio room. ”Tora Tora Tora!” meaning that surprise had been achieved and the attack was a success.
Earlier, that same radio room on the Nagato had transmitted coded message number 676, “Niitakayama nobore (Climb Mount Niitaka) 1208” to the Japanese Strike Force (Kido Butai), which was then around 1513 km/940 miles north of Midway and steaming towards Hawaii. Mount Niitaka, located in Taiwan, was the then-highest point in the Japanese Empire, and the message meant that hostilities would commence against the U.S.
The Nagato was laid down at the Kure Naval Arsenal on August 28,1917, launched just over two years later on November 9, 1919, and commissioned just over a year later on November 25, 1920. The ship incorporated a number of technological advances for the time, which were developed by the Japanese, and when she entered service she was the world’s largest and fastest battleship.
The Nagato was the first Capital ship in the world to be fitted with 16-inch guns. The eight guns were arranged in four twin-barreled turrets, two forward and two aft. The ship was extensively modified and refitted in the 1930s. The most striking modification was the fitting of a Pagoda mast. Pagoda masts were common on Japanese ships of the time; they had a number of platforms, lookouts, and shelters built upon each other and included watch points, searchlights, rangefinders, gun directors, and spotting points. The end result often resembled a pagoda temple, hence the name. Her displacement also increased at the same time to 39,130 tons and her length to 224 m/734 ft.
The Nagato was the only Japanese battleship to survive the Pacific War. Lack of fuel and materials to repair her meant she saw out the last months of the war as a floating anti-aircraft battery at the Yokosuka Naval Base. The Nagato was purposely taken over by US Navy personnel on August 30, 1945, before the official Japanese surrender was signed on board USS Missouri a few days later. The US Navy said this symbolized the unconditional and complete surrender of the Japanese Navy. After being selected for Operation Crossroads—the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll— preparations were made to get her ready for her final voyage. While no one at that time knew what the outcome of the atomic tests would be, it was always going to be a one-way journey for the once mighty Nagato.
She was in a very bad state of repair, having been seriously damaged before the Japanese Surrender. Patched up, she left Japan on March 18, 1946, along with the Japanese cruiser Sakawa, which would also be one of Crossroads’ victims. With only two of her four propellers operational, the Nagato could barely manage ten knots. During the voyage, due to previous battle damage and a lack of maintenance, the Nagato started shipping water into her forward compartments. Her pumps couldn’t cope, and stern compartments had to be purposely flooded to maintain the ships stability. Ten days into the voyage the Sakawa broke down and the Nagato attempted to take her in tow, but then the Nagato lost one of her own boilers and, low on fuel, both ships ended up drifting helplessly in the mid-Pacific. To help, two Navy tugboats were dispatched from Eniwetok, and the Nagato was taken in tow by USS Clamp.
The Nagato continued to ship water, developing a seven degree list, meaning she could be towed at only 1 knot. The Nagato finally arrived in Eniwetok on April 4th, where emergency repairs were carried out and the flooded compartments pumped dry. The repairs enabled Nagato to steam the last 322 km/200 miles to Bikini under her own power and on to her date with destiny. For the Able test of Operation Crossroads, the USS Nevada was the target ship and the Nagato was moored less than 400 m/1312 ft away on her starboard side, well within the expected fatal zone. The Able bomb, however, missed the Nevada, and the Nagato escaped relatively unscathed, suffering only minor damage. For the Baker test the Nagato was once again placed well within the expected fatal zone.
The Nagato, however, rode out the tsunami of water that hit her following the explosion and although she was displaced almost 400 m/1312 ft from her original position, apart from a list to starboard again she appeared relatively unscathed. However, like the other survivors of the Baker blast, the Nagato was now seriously contaminated with radiation. Some minor attempts were made to wash the radiation off her decks, but she wasn’t re-boarded and she gradually settled in the water over the next few days. As the sun set on Bikini on July 29th, the Nagato was still afloat. Her list was now ten degrees and her stern so low in the water that waves were washing over parts of the main deck, although she didn’t appear to be in imminent danger of sinking. Whatever the future held for the Nagato, she wasn’t leaving Bikini. She had survived the two atomic tests but was now seriously radioactive. Having seen the media fanfare as the USS Saratoga slipped under the waves a few days before, the Nagato decided she would go silently, without fuss, without attention. During the night her stern dipped deeper in the water, she rolled over and settled down on the seabed 52 m/171 ft below.
As the sun crept up behind Bikini Island the following morning, the Americans on Bikini gazed out at the empty spot in the lagoon which the Nagato had occupied the day before. She had gone.
Diving The Nagato
Diving the Nagato today, it soon becomes evident that everything about this vessel is big, and even after multiple dives, divers can barely scratch the surface of what the Nagato has to offer. Most dives start on the stern as the main mooring on the wreck is attached to one of the four propeller shafts. The first thing that comes into view are the four massive propellers that once drove the Nagato to 25 knots or more. These are now facing towards the surface, and behind them sit two large rudders.
Being over 4 m/13 ft in diameter, these are certainly impressive, but most divers quickly bypass these, leaving them for exploration towards the end of the dive. Like most battleships, due to her heavy topside weight, she turned turtle before sinking to the seabed 52 m/171 ft below. It appears the stern hit the seabed first, and the stern section of the ship has now broken away behind the rudders and lies collapsed down on the seabed.
The once-mighty 16-inch guns haven’t fallen away from their mounts and are still in their turrets in the stowed fore and aft position. The bow guns still have their end caps in place on the muzzle, but the stern guns don’t enable divers to peer down the inside of the barrel. Sitting as they do in 50 m/164 ft, just exploring the aft guns and propellers can take up almost an entire dive.
Heading towards the bow from the stern, you eventually come to the huge Pagoda mast. The end of the mast broke away as it hit the seabed and now lies out to the right hand side of the vessel and divers can still see the various upper levels, which included spotting points, rangefinders, and gun directors. Look more closely you can see voice tubes and remains of the lift than ran up inside the mast.
Forward of the Pagoda mast you come to the bow guns. Depending on your dive plan, you might not have much time to explore the bow area, as it’s a 200 m/656 ft swim back to the mooring line. One option is to be dropped on the mid-ships mooring by skiff or do a free descent on the bow—that said, most divers still choose to swim from the stern as there is lots to see on the way and lots of nooks and crannies to explore.
Another option is to take a scooter; needless to say, scootering around the Nagato is a fantastic way to experience the wreck. If decompression starts to build up, one can come onto the top of the upturned hull, which stretches for as far as the eye can see, becoming an artificial seabed.
Turtles are often seen on the Nagato as well, and will often swim alongside divers. Due to the lack of human interaction in Bikini, they are far less skittish than turtles found elsewhere. For those who desire it, there are options for penetration both at the stern and bow as well as in the mid-ship sections of the ship.
Care needs to be taken, however, if one does decide to enter the wreck, as there are many old and discarded lines—some which lead into areas that have since collapsed. Any serious penetrations should be planned properly and with the appropriate temporary lines laid. For most divers, there is enough to see on the outside of the wreck and the Nagato is an often requested repeat dive in Bikini.
On the way back, observant divers will notice sharks and other sea life coming into the cleaning station halfway back to the mooring. In fact, the Nagato is a good place to see sharks in general. Normally, there are many grey reef and black tip sharks, and occasionally silver tips—and don’t be surprised to be sharing your deco time with a tiger shark or two swimming around you.
Without Martin Cridge, The Dirty Dozen Expeditions wouldn’t exist. A few years back, Aron and Martin spent a full year diving together in Truk Lagoon. One evening, after a day of demanding dives, they sat, had a beer, and came up with their ideal CCR wreck dive itinerary.
The first-ever Dirty Dozen trip was the result of that beer, and the rest is history. Martin has lived in Truk for eight years with his family and works as the skipper of our expedition vessel in Truk and Bikini.
Stefano Carletti: The Man Who Immortalized The Wreck of the Andrea Doria
Poetic Italian explorer and instructor Andrea Murdock Alpini reveals the inside story of Italian adventurer Stefano Carletti, who wrote the first book—Andrea Doria – 74—on the wreck of the Doria. Carletti penned his work after participating in the first expedition to film the failed luxury liner in 1968, led by Italian cinematographer Bruno Vailati, along with cameraman Al Giddings.
Text and archives research by: Andrea Murdock Alpini
Header image: The dive deck of the Narragansett used by Vailati’s expedition.
Restored Images from the Book “Andrea Doria-74” (2021, new upcoming press by Magenes Editoriale). Courtesy of Luca Maresca
Original images from Ansaldo Archive based in Genoa: Antonio Pacucci, chief curator of Archivio e Fototeca Fondazione Ansaldo
Stefano Carletti is an adventurer, scuba diver, aviator, fisherman, and storyteller. He has told many stories about his great love, the sea; he has searched for hidden treasure on the seabed; and he is a man with a soul that mirrors the many moods of the sea—sometimes calm and placid, and other times stormy and unpredictable. The story of Stefano Carletti’s life is an extraordinary tailor-made adventure illustrated by sea life and narrated with books and articles which have fascinated audiences in the past as well as today. One of the stories he is likely known best for is that of the ship the SS Andrea Doria.
The Andrea Doria was a fascinating ocean liner that sailed from Italy to New York City. She was a symbol of class, taste, and refinement. The ship was launched on June 16, 1951, for its maiden voyage crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Genoa, Italy, to New York City on January 14, 1953. Andrea Doria remains a symbol of a bygone era. To travel on the Andrea Doria was a dream for many—from the anonymous third class passengers to the rich and famous first class voyagers whose names were well known: Magnani and John Ford, Orson Welles, Cary Grant, and Spencer Tracy, amongst others.
On a damned night—July 26, 1956, to be precise—the magnificent ocean liner sank off the Nantucket shoal after a long, agonizing struggle in the ocean’s current. The cut in her hull made by the MS Stockholm tore apart the right side of the Doria. Commander Piero Calamai was the last man to disembark from the doomed ship, the accident having struck his soul so deeply that he spent the rest of his life obsessed by the event.
As the Atlantic Ocean closed up its waters, surface foam was all that was left of the most beautiful ship ever built in the modern era. Nationwide, TV channels broadcast scenes of the abandoned dreams of a nation as the muddy seabed of the ocean welcomed the magnificent Andrea Doria vessel and transformed it into a myth.
In the summer of 1968, Bruno Vailati, the Italian film maker and scuba diver, gathered a crew of adventurers to travel to the USA to film the wreck of Andrea Doria. They were the second film crew to visit the wreck, though the first led by James Dugan, a colleague of Jacques Cousteau reportedly were not successful. Vailati’s crew was composed of Mimì Dies, Arnaldo Mattei, Al Giddings, and finally Stefano Carletti: the man who made Doria’s wreck immortal. The expedition was “provocatory” and demanding.
Coming back from the expedition to Rome, Stefano Carletti wrote the first book ever about the wreck of the Doria entitled, Andrea Doria -74 (the -74 refers to the depth of the shipwreck in meters). The book is a collection of feelings and rare images caught during scuba dives onboard the expedition’s side ship, Narragansett, where Stefano and the crew spent a month.
The first edition of the book has now become treasured possession for collectors world-wide, and a new updated edition with restored images, a new introduction from the author, including a critical essay from me (Andrea Murdock Alpini) will be soon available. The book will be a stunning new opportunity for wreckers and historians to own a re-edition of the extraordinary book into their private library.
Similarly, more than fifty years later, Bruno Vailati’s documentary by the same title, Andrea Doria -74, has become a cult classic. Thinking of the Andrea Doria invokes hundreds of emotions for Italian scuba divers. History, for us after all, is a foundation on which we build our lives. In the end, the wreck of the Doria will disappear into the Atlantic seabed, but her story will live on. After all, immortality is a destiny reserved only for the great beauty of the world.
I was honored to be able to interview Stefano and bring his thoughts and words about the Doria, which had been hidden by time, to a new audience.
Interestingly, the Doria was, of course, launched in Genoa in 1951. Two decades later, in 1971, a son of the same city, Fabrizio De André, composed a vinyl album inspired by The Spoon River Anthology from the American poet Edgar Lee Masters. The disc title, “Non al denaro non all’amore nè al cielo” (Nor to money, not to love, or the heaven) well describes the pure spirit of Stefano Carletti. [Listen to the track here] He loved, dived, flew, discovered, wrote, explored, and bequeathed his stories throughout his life. Here is the story that he told to me.
Andrea Murdock Alpini: Who is Stefano Carletti, today?
Stefano Carletti: Stefano Carletti is an eighty-year-old man, a kind of living anecdote. In fact, on May 1 , I will turn 82 years old.
Congratulations! Do you remember the winter evening dinner we had in Rome with Paolo Barone? He granted us a small ink bottle which he had taken from the wreck of Laura C., sunk off Calabria’s shore. Our story started with an ink pen and some stories to be remembered and told.
Of course, I remember that great dinner we had together in Rome. One of the first ice-breaking questions was about my writing practice, a world we both love. Writing is an activity that has been with me all my life, and by the way, one I never gave up to go to the Sea.
At present, I own a small fishing boat that makes me happy during the summer time, from early June to September. Usually, I sail the central and southern Mediterranean Sea: Sicily, Sardinia, Tunisia, and Libya are favorite spots where I have fished for decades. Fishing is an expression of freedom to me. This activity allows me to return to a special place where I have been going for forty years.
I am also still a scuba diver. I haven’t abandoned diving, I don’t miss an occasion to go scuba diving with good friends. However, I look at the sea with different eyes from the ones I had as a boy.
Before we started our interview you said, “The sea is a kind of amniotic fluid.” Can you tell me what you mean by that?
The sea has a moral and aesthetic sense for me. It has become a primary biological requirement over the years for my state of mind. It enables me to tell sea-based stories in my novels, and in this way I feel that the sea loves me.
Do you think of yourself as a scuba diver or a fish hunter with scuba gear?
The world has changed. Once a long time ago, the main goal of scuba diving was hunting fish. All was born by the limits that freediving imposed at that time, but scuba gear opened a new world, and we went deeper and for a longer time. We had, for the first time, a chance to catch huge-sized fish. We saw ourselves as hunters more than scuba divers.
Fifty-sixty years later I am aware that I have taken advantage of the Sea. My confessions are not those of an old man, for I was aware of what I was doing at those times too, but surviving to live this long has allowed me to admit my transgressions.. I wrote a book some decades ago titled “Naumachos”, and one chapter reads as a sort of regret. By the way, it was another time with different rules.
Sponges, red coral, fishes, ancient Roman urns and wrecks—that was what I hunted in my life to earn my daily bread. We did things that were so close to being illegal that probably today if you tried them, you would go to jail. The sea belonged to all who were crazy enough and brave enough to explore it. Wrecks? Those were considered “Res Nullius” (nothing) as ancient Latin people used to say, wrecks never belonged to anybody. There were no rules on this matter.
So what is a shipwreck to you today?
A wreck, first of all, is a terrible loss. Economical, psychological, and human. The wreck signifies the loss of mortal human beings who end up on the seabed.
How did the idea to film Andrea Doria’s wreck come about?
That is a very funny story that occurred while Bruno Vailati was onboard the Giaggiolo minesweeper, a ship which belonged to the Italian Navy. In 1967, Bruno was sailing onboard the Navy ship and went to Lampedusa Island (a remote and small Italian island close to Tunisia’s shores). At that time, I was living on the island and working as a shark hunter, and you know the Doria is famous for sharks. Bruno Vailati was preparing a set of documentaries about sea life titled, “I Setti Mari” (The Seven Seas) and was interested in filming some wrecks from WWII that I had discovered on the seabed that were unknown.
One evening Bruno invited me onboard the Giaggiolo to meet with him. He told me that a group of French explorers who worked with J.Y. Cousteau did not succeed in filming the wreck of the Doria, and had lost an ROV off Nantucket shoal. Intrigued by this little-known information, I played a joke on him and told him that I had a connection with a member of Cousteau’s crew and boasted that “If the Andrea Doria were here, I would be able to break her down, bolt-by-bolt,” as I had dived many, many wrecks
Some months later, during winter time, I saw Bruno and we worked together on the film we had planned since summer. Once again, Bruno Vailati caught me by surprise, “Stefano! Set up a press conference, and we will announce that we are planning an expedition to Doria’s wreck!”
You were surprised?
I was. I didn’t know anything about this beautiful ocean liner except the chronicles of its sinking. I didn’t even have an exact idea of where it was. The Expedition Board asked us to provide accurate historical research and to write a report after each scuba dive we made on the wreck. As I began to work on this matter, I found an air of mystery about the sinking and the wreck.
We had the Doria’s Loran coordinates which were taken by Doria’s Commander Piero Calamai, and we had been secreted by the American Coast Guard and Marine Navy. However, most of the information I found about the wreck was inaccurate; articles were in contradiction with one another, and a lot of the details were wrong. We spent almost a week at sea trying to get a signal from the wreck, while calculating currents, fog and wind, before finding the Doria on the bottom.
I believed the whole story must be told. Our expedition was known to history as a large-scale expedition, but in truth we sailed only for a great adventure.
So how did you feel about the expedition? Were you drawn by the Doria or the shipwreck itself?
The Andrea Doria expedition was born as kind of an afterthought. I merely followed the intention of the filmmaker, Bruno Vailati, to film an Italian wreck that had sunk in difficult conditions—not only the sea’s surface conditions, but also the surrounding waters. All contributed to the factors that piqued our interest about the wreck.
Our goal was to produce good quality images of the luxury liner on the seabed as an episode for the “I Sette Mari” Italian TV series. At the time, we were not yet fascinated by the Doria; we simply went to the US to do a job. Emotions initially played little part in our trip. We were not engaged with either the ship or the wreck.
Every time I watch the movie Pulp Fiction I love the way Samuel L. Jackson says, “Hamburger: The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast!” Stefano, nowadays, as I’m sure you know, decompression diving is to tech diving, what hamburgers were to Jackson’s Pulp Fiction breakfast. LOL! Please tell me a little about your nutritious decompression diving.
Ha! Well Andrea, first I do remember our expedition breakfasts onboard the Narragansett quite well. I can tell you we had a black coffee, milk, and a healthy Italian breakfast prepared by Chef Mimì Dies and his assistant. After breakfast, we made two consecutive dives on the wreck of the Doria, which we planned according to the tides, fog, swell, and current.
We dived on air with 12-liter twinsets, wetsuits, deco tables, and watches with a bottom timer. We didn’t carry any deco cylinders. I used to drag a hemp rope to the bottom as a main line to find the way back to the boat. Typically, we spent 20 minutes on bottom each dive with an average depth of 55-75m (179-245 ft), and our decompression times varied from 35-45 minutes breathing air and later oxygen, which was supplied by the surface at 9 meters, 6 meters and 3 meters. Sometimes we spent that deco time inside a shark cage we built.
Diving the Doria was hard; the ocean was cold, visibility was often poor, and our lamps seemed like candles in the night. Of course we were also carrying heavy movie equipment. We recorded more than 2km of film, and made thousands of photos. We each spent about 21 hours diving the wreck in the month we were there! We had a great expedition.
The Doria has been called a death wreck, a fatal scuba dive, the Mount Everest of scuba diving. What is your perspective?
Today, you can see videos on YouTube of scuba divers diving the wreck of the Doria. Most of them carry large amounts of equipment they may consider necessary; whereas simpler, more streamlined technology would be more efficient and might even save lives. The excess equipment itself makes Doria’s dive dangerous, not the wreck.
I’m also sure, in some cases, inadequate skills and lack of fitness put many divers at risk. It’s true, too, that so many divers are interested in retrieving artifacts from inside the wreck, which puts them in danger. They have transformed a mid-level difficult dive into a “fatal dive.”
And that’s why it has a bad reputation?
The Andrea Doria does not deserve to fill the black chronicles of scuba diving. Too many poor souls have lost their lives, which is why it has been called “fatal dive.” I trust that the Doria is not a “fatal” wreck, and not even a difficult dive; however I think it is necessary to rethink the current way to approach diving this amazing wreck. If this were done, lives could probably be saved. A dive becomes “fatal” if the scuba diver makes it so. The wreck has no responsibility at all.
The Andrea Doria, what an amazing fate; from Dolce Vita’s luxury liner to a shipwreck. People say that today there are more Doria artifacts stored in American households than there are on the Nantucket shoals seabed. Each year the Doria is cannibalized by scuba divers from around the world. Did you keep any memorabilia from your exploration?
I have never removed any relevant memorabilia from the Doria’s wreck. Most of our scuba dives took place in the exterior part of the ship. I have gone inside the wreck only a very few times. I went to the commander’s deck, and I remember the helm and the stunning windows. To tell you the truth, I dived the Doria to tell a story, to write a book, and to make a film—that is to do a job—not to gather souvenirs. During my dives, I took just five or six First Class forks from the Doria’s dining room, and I gave them all to special friends. All I have left are my memories.
At the end of the final dive, filmmaker Bruno Vailati said, “We turned back and we looked at her.” For the first time he appears melancholic. It seemed like the great filmmaker finally put aside the job and revealed his feelings about the ship.
The last dive we made was during incredibly flat and calm sea conditions with no current. The visibility for the first time was stunning. I can say it was the only dive I had on Doria with crystal-clear visibility. It seemed that the wreck showed herself to us. During the previous 21 dives we had never really seen the Andrea Doria; we had only an idea of it because the strong current and the cold water with tons of plankton had hidden the wreck from our gaze. In fact, the majority of our dives were more tactile than visual.
Those times, what was in front of our eyes could have been a common ship. But on our last dive, when I brushed away the silt from her beautiful name letter-by-letter, I will never forget when the name “Andrea Doria” finally appeared to me. Yes, it is true, when we did the last amazing dive, we turned in awe, and said, “Arriverderci” to the ship.
LA Times (1990): Bruno Vailati; Producer Known for Sea Footage
Bruno Vailati’s Andrea Doria-74 (In Italiano)
Andrea Doria-74 is a 1970 documentary directed by Bruno Vailati, a film director specializing in marine and underwater films. The film was the first documentary able to show, in an organic and complete way, the wreck of the Italian ship Andrea Doria, which sank 14 years earlier. He received the David di Donatello Critics’ Award and the “Jury Prize at the Paris Film Technology Congress.” Filming took place in July 1968, during 21 dives on the wreck, with a diving group composed of Bruno Vailati, Stefano Carletti and Al Giddings, while the surface assistance group was composed of Mimì Dies, Arnaldo Mattei and the crew. ship Narragansett, chartered for the purpose. Source: Wikipedia.
Alert Diver (2016): Remembering the Andrea Doria by Michael Menduno
Andrea Murdock Alpini is a TDI and CMAS technical trimix and advanced wreck-overhead instructor based in Italy. He is fascinated by deep wrecks, historical research, decompression studies, caves, filming, and writing. He holds a Master’s degree in Architecture and an MBA in Economics for The Arts. Andrea is also the founder of Phy Diving Equipment. His life revolves around teaching open circuit scuba diving, conducting expeditions, developing gear, and writing essays about his philosophy of wreck and cave diving. Recently he published his first book entitled, Deep Blue: storie di relitti e luoghi insoliti.
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Stefano Carletti: The Man Who Immortalized The Wreck of the Andrea Doria
Poetic Italian explorer and instructor Andrea Murdock Alpini reveals the inside story of Italian adventurer Stefano Carletti, who wrote the...