Luigi Rizzo

Milazzo 1887 - Rome 1951

Luigi was born in Milazzo son of Giacomo and Maria Giuseppa Greco. Fifth of six children, he grew up in a family with a strong maritime and patriotic tradition: he was in fact a nephew, son and brother of sailors and at the age of eight he embarked on the ship commanded by his father, immediately giving proof of his abilities. He completed his studies at the Nautical Institute of Messina, where in 1905 he obtained the honorary license, that is the diploma of Aspirant in command of merchant ships.
He sailed as a hub on the Speme sailing ship - risking even the shipwreck near Cape Horn - and the Siciliano, the uncles' boat used for the transport of grain and coal. From 1907 to 1912 he was the first officer of the Livietta steamer, which traveled between Genoa and Great Britain.
Having become Captain of Grand Cabotage in 1911, he obtained the results he desired from 1912: he was appointed Captain of the Long Course and Sub-Lieutenant of Vascello as a complement of the Naval Reserve in the Navy. The same year he worked for the European Commission of the Danube in the Black Sea and, following the courageous rescue of a ship adrift, he was awarded by the Romanian government a gold medal for civil valor.
Once the conflict broke out, in 1914 he returned home because he was called back to active service on the island of La Maddalena first, then as an instructor in Venice.
The following year, a few days after Italy's entry into the war, he was promoted Liutenenat of Vascello as a complement and assigned to the maritime defense of Grado: thus began the story of Rizzo, called the Affondatore.
He entered into action as an observer on seaplanes in the Adriatic, emerging for his talents and his courage: in November he was awarded a first silver medal and the appointment to Tenente di Vascello in permanent active service for special merits of war .
In 1916 Rizzo was transferred to the newborn specialty of the MAS, obtaining the command of the squadron of Grado. The MAS (Motobarche Armate Svan) were relatively light and fast motorboats, produced since June 1915 in the SVAN shipyards, the Società Veneziana Automobili Navali. These were boats equipped with torpedoes and designed to carry out raids on ports or other ships. The daring actions he had undertaken near the port of Trieste were innumerable.
In May 1917 he was awarded the second silver medal for having captured, under enemy fire, two aviators of an Austrian seaplane forced to ditch.
Following the route of Caporetto, the Regia Marina had to leave Grado and the coastal positions of the Upper Adriatic: from Pula arrived in the port of Trieste the coastal battleships Budapest and Wien. After having married Giuseppina Marinaz at the end of October, on the night of December 9th Rizzo, with a section of MAS (MAS 9 and MAS 13), managed to open a gap between the obstacles and to enter the bay in silence, launching two torpedoes against Wien, which sank rapidly along with its crew. Thanks to the success of the action, he obtained a gold medal for military valor, which followed the third silver medal, granted for the missions carried out during the months of service in Grado and for the behavior held during the retreat.
On 1 January 1918 he was promoted to Captain of Corvette for war merits. At the beginning of the year Rizzo, D'Annunzio and Ciano were protagonists of what will later be called the "Buccari hoax", an action carried out in an attempt to force the Bay of Buccari (today Bakar, in Croatia), where they found numerous Austrian boats. Between 10 and 11 February, the MAS 94, 95 and 96 (the latter in command of Rizzo), departed from Venice and reached Buccari, unsuccessfully launched six torpedoes against four steamers and left in the harbor three bottles containing mockery words written by D'Annunzio, then return to Ancona. In this circumstance the poet also coined what became the MAS motto: Memento Audere Semper. The involvement of the officer in the enterprise resulted in the awarding of his fourth silver medal.
Transferred from the Upper Adriatic to the MAS squadron of Ancona, he was entrusted with the task of organizing a number of motorboats operating in the Dalmatian waters. The night between June 9th and 10th, after having sighted several enemy naval units near Premuda Island, he attacked without hesitation, succeeding in sinking one of the most modern battleships of the Austro-Hungarian fleet, the Szent Istvàn, (St. Stephen). Following the positive outcome of the action, which represented a very hard blow for the Austro-Hungarian Navy, Rizzo obtained the second gold medal for military valor, was promoted to Captain of Fregata for war merits and became a national hero. June 10th then became the day of the Italian Navy.
In 1919, after the war, he took part in the initial phase of the "Fiume Endeavour" and was appointed commander of the autonomous government fleet. Thanks to his prestige, six Italian warships passed under the authority of the Fiume authorities, thus making the supply of the city, despite the naval blockade established by the Italian government.
In 1920 he gave up his job and went back to the merchant marine. He was exempted from active service and transferred to the naval reserve.
In 1925 he was elevated to the rank of Captain of Vascello, while in October 1932 he was nominated Rear Admiral and he was conferred the title of Count of Grado and, subsequently, of Premuda.
In 1935 he again entered the naval service for the war of Ethiopia and in June 1936 he was awarded the title of Admiral of Division for exceptional merits. He was president of the Messina shipping company Eolia and adviser of the Società Finanziaria Finanziaria.
In 1937 he accepted the presidency of Lloyd Triestino, another shipping company, while in 1940 he became vice-president of the guild of the sea and air and a member of the Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni.
In 1942 he was appointed president of the Cantieri Riuniti shipyards of the Adriatic. After September 1943, he ordered the sabotage of steamships and transatlantic ships in Trieste so that they would not fall into German hands and strenuously defended the economic interests of the workers who worked in the Trieste yards. For these facts, in April 1944 he was arrested and taken to the Klagenfurt prison in Austria, before being transferred to an internment camp near the Bavarian border. Repatriated after the liberation by the French in May 1945.
Operated for a lung cancer, he died in Rome in 1951.

Grienti Vincenzo, Merlini Leonardo, Navi al fronte. La marina italiana e la Grande Guerra, Fidenza, Mattioli 1885, 2015