SA3 “Kammamuri”, the secret submarine produced in Naples

by Federico Quagliuolo

It had to be the flagship model of the Italian Navy fleet. Total product secret in the yards of the Silurificio di Baia, born from the projects of one of the geniuses of military naval engineering: the SA3 "Kammamuri" submarine which, if we read it with the Neapolitan accent, makes us discover his true Neapolitan soul.

Here we must dieIt was in fact his nickname translated into Italian. Everything else is shrouded in mystery: if in fact the first two prototypes of the submarine are known, of the third we have only a photo and very little information.

Arms race

It was 1942 when the Italian government, while the war was tearing apart the whole of Europe, allocated huge funds to a super secret project to be built in the Baia shipyards. Even today it turns out classified in the archive documents of the Ministry of Defense and all the information can only be found, paradoxically, from theUnited States Defense Archive.

It was about a "pocket submarine", a nice way to call submarines which, given the tiny size, they are capable of accommodate only 2-3 sailors, they travel with one extreme rapidity and I'm lethal in assault operations against enemy ships. They were a type of vessel already present in the most advanced fleets in Europe and Italy wanted to equip itself with such an avant-garde model to be able to have his say in the seas of the Mediterranean.

In reality the project dates back to 1934: Pericle Ferretti, one of the foremost naval designers in Europe who he taught engineering at the University of Naples, in fact asked the government for funding to be able to carry out studies and projects of an "Assault submarine", that is a small submarine, agile and fast, capable of sail above and below the water with the same engine. The idea was liked, but in 1936 it was decided to postpone the work. Four years later, with a world war at the gates and with Mussolini who could no longer postpone Italy's entry into the conflict, it became clear that it was necessary resume the discourse of marine armaments as soon as possible because Italy was totally unprepared.

Baia torpedo factory
The Baia torpedo factory

Sandokan and Yanez: the first two prototypes

The General Staff gave the task to Eugenio Minisini, the admiral who directed the Silurificio di Baia, to resume together with the engineer Ferretyou the study and implementation of the SA. It had to be a super secret project which, it was hoped, could be launched within 2 years, perhaps even after the war, given the speed of Germany in conquering the whole of Europe.

The first two experimental models were tested by the parts ofIslet of San Martino and even before in a secret place in Rome. The workers of Baia called them using the names of the protagonists of Salgari's novels: SA1 Sandokan and SA2 Yanez. The reason is to be found in the fact that, precisely at the time of the launch, it was depopulating in cinemas the film dedicated to the adventures of the Tiger of Malaysia.

The first two submarines, however, were subject to continuous failures. The tiny size, the need for contain weight up to a maximum of 13 tons and the rush that put the leaders of Rome did not row in the right direction: while the X MAS Flotilla, with its "pigs“, He earned the gold medal for his war actions daring and heroic, in Rome there was clearly the need to have to to equip the army with much more effective and modern tools to resume a war which was now about to be lost by the Axis forces.

Thus it was that in Baia it was planned the third and last submarine.

Pig X Mas
A "Pig", a rideable torpedo that became famous for the exploits of the X Mas

Kammamurì: a science fiction medium

The genius of the couple Ferretti-Minisini completely overturned the cards on the table: for the SA3 it was revolutionized the propulsion system, a unique 2-stroke diesel engine was specially designed. It was also used the driving propeller, and not propulsive: so to speak, the propeller of the motor was placed in the opposite direction, like that of an airplane. The choice was truly unthinkable for the engineering logic of the time.

Even the fuel of the submarine was very special: Professor Ferretti personally studied one chemical formula with oxygen and ethanol capable of being able to optimize engine power, behave properly in an environment with very high pressure like the submarine one and above all of do not leave trails or fumes that could detect the vehicle. There speed of this pocket submarine was approx 20 knots, remarkable for 1943, and could bring two latest generation torpedoes. According to the plans, the Kammamuri itself was to be launched as a gigantic torpedo from a destroyer: from there, quickly, he had to run underwater and attack the enemy ships.
The submarine also had others special features, on which there are many doubts: according to some reports, in fact, he had a internal oxygen production system such that it never has to emerge.

The name? The specialists of the Baia shipyard chose it: Kammamuri. It reflected well the mood of the workers, mixed with the inevitable Neapolitan irony.

The war power of the SA3, however, was not never put at the service of Italy. In fact, he arrived the Armistice of 8 September 1943 and the retreat of the Germans.

Recovery SA1 SA2 kammamuri
The submarine SA1 and SA2 while being withdrawn by the Americans, among the rubble of the destroyed torpedo factory. Photograph of the United States Defense Archive

The Kammamuri disappears

Americans, just 4 days after the occupation of Naples, they ran to occupy what remained standing of the Baia torpedo factory. The retreating Germans indeed had it mined e bombed, without knowing that inside there were prototypes of the secret weapons of the Navy. Or maybe they knew and, for this very reason, here the mystery opens up.

The operation of recovery was led by one of the stars and stripes army heavyweights: the colonel Donovan, founder of the OSS (which in the future will become the CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY). This makes it clear the importance that the Americans gave to these experimental projects. Then the same military expert secured the collaboration of Admiral Minisini: he had him escorted into one villa in Capri together with the family, guaranteeing him protection. Then sent it to the United States as early as October 1943 together with Sandokan and Yanez. The Kammamuri, on the other hand, is not made known in the American archives and researchers who have studied the story in the archives, by Dr. Enrico Cernuschi to the architect Franco Harrauer, they could not find a solution.

It has come to hypothesize even that the third submarine never existed, but there are photos showing it in the bay plant a submarine with a futuristic and unusual appearance which, no doubt, is the SA3 Kammamuri. The first two prototypes were instead recovered and brought to the United States and are equipped with extensive photographic documentation which, for copyright reasons, cannot be attached to the article.

The rest is in the legend of military spy-stories: we are sure that it is Japanese espionage was secretly following the plans of the Baia shipyard, as well as i Germans they almost certainly knew about it.
Maybe then it was they a take away projects during the destruction of the Torpedo factory? Or they are lost under the Nazi mines?

Instead, there are those who think that it was the Americans who made the submarine disappear and his projects, to secretly reuse them: the problem is that it is not even mentioned in secret service inventories. Or some Italian officer, before handing over everything to the Americans, has destroyed all cards.

The last hypothesis, fascinating no less than the others, is that the submarine, together with its original designs, was sunk near the Li Galli Island in Positano, while it was moved in October 1943 to a hidden place. It was indeed one too advanced technology to be able to lose it or give it to new allies, ready to take the lion's share.

What is certain is that, wherever it is, this story certainly is worthy of a movie.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Layout 3 (
mas in the Treccani Encyclopedia
The Royal submarine Sandokan (
Top Secret: submarines in Naples, submarine SA3 Kammamuri (

Become a supporter!

With a small contribution you will keep the largest cultural dissemination site in Campania alive! Many advantages for you

Leave a comment

error: NOTICE: You can't copy the content!