CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
World War II Oral History Interview
Italian Naval Service
Date: July 3, 2003
Interviewer: Robert Pontecorvo
Summarizer: Irving Bauman
Giuseppe “Joe” Falca was born on the island of Sardegna (Sardinia), Italy in February, 1922. Falca always loved the sea and often skipped school to go boating. At the age of fifteen he joined the Italian Merchant Marine as a seaman and, after intensive training, became a seaman first class. At the age of seventeen he became captain of a small merchant ship that plied Mediterranean waters.
In his interview Falca provided an interesting verbal image of Italy on the verge of World War II. He recalled that on Sardinia at least, there was distrust of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and that people resented what they perceived as an unprepared Italy entering the war in June, 1940 on the side of Germany, They also believed that Hitler might attack if the country did not ally itself with Germany. Falca entered the Italian navy on November 11, 1940, and his first duty was aboard the small reconnaissance or “spotter” sailing ship Cesare Padre, off the coast of Tripoli, Libya. He subsequently served on the light cruiser Raimondo Montecuccoli as a seaman first class and quartermaster. Along with eight other seamen, he pulled four hour duty shifts, alternating two hours manning the ship’s wheel, with two hours as a bridge lookout. After each shift he had eight hours off.
Falca participated in the battle of Pantelleria, an Italian attack on a British supply convoy that took place on June 15, 1942 off the coast of Tunisia. The Montecuccoli and another Italian cruiser sank several British ships and damaged others and counted the battle as an Italian victory. Mussolini personally congratulated the Italian sailors involved in the fight. The sortie against the British convoy was the last Italian naval offensive of the war, and one of its few victories. Following the battle Falca’s ship was engaged in transporting troops and laying mines, as the war fortunes of Italy steadily declined, and British and American submarines and aircraft took a heavy toll on Mussolini’s navy and merchant fleet. Falca noted that there were 946 seaworthy Italian vessels in 1940, but only ninety-five were still afloat at the time of Italy’s surrender to the Allies on September 8, 1943. He recalled on one occasion seeing a transport ship loaded with ammunition explode, killing everyone aboard, after an allied bomb went down its smokestack.
Following the Italian surrender Falca found himself under American command, as an American captain, with radio and signal personnel, took over the Montecuccoli, which then fought against the Germans until the end of the war. He commented on learning of the death of Mussolini, and stated that after the war the Russians took a number of Italian ships in war reparations.
Joseph Falca was discharged from the Italian navy on December 12, 1945. He initially went to work in a coal mine, but returned to the sea in 1946 as a sailor in the reviving Italian Merchant Marine. In his interview he described his travels to Ireland, through the Panama Canal, and to Valparaiso, Chile, through 1949. In 1950 he took a job on as a cook on a merchant ship sailing from Genoa to South America. In 1951 he found himself ashore in New York City, where the company that owned his ship could not afford to move it out of port. Marooned in the United States, Joseph Falca decided to remain in America. He went to work in a restaurant in Trenton, New Jersey, and then as a mason for a corporation building the Levittown developments in New York and Pennsylvania. He married an American girl he met in Trenton, where she was working for the state of New Jersey and raised three children, retiring in 1984.