14th March 1941 – British sink Italian hospital ship Po

po-1The Italian hospital ship Po was sunk by a British torpedo bomber during a night raid on 14th March 1941, in the Bay of Valona, Albania. Apparently all lights were off on the ship, by order of the local naval command, who thought the darkness would provide better safety than illuminating the Red Cross markings. The attack was by five Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers from 815 Squadron, shore-based at Crete after HMS Illustrious was damaged. They were temporarily based at Paramythia in Greece. In the darkness, the attacking pilots were not aware that the ship was a hospital ship. In the attack 21 aboard died, including three nurses. Mussolini’s daughter, Edda Ciano, was aboard, working as a nurse for the Red Cross.

LA_WienLaunched in 1911 as Wien, for Lloyd Austriaco, the ship was 454 feet long, 7,367grt, with two funnels and twin propellers. She had served as a hospital ship in the Great War. On 29th June 1916 she had run aground and damaged her propellers, after which she was returned to her owners. She was again requisitioned in December 1917, this time as an accommodation ship for German naval crews, and was based at Pola. During a raid by Italian frogmen on 1st November 1918, she was sunk.

poRaised in 1921, she was rebuilt and then renamed Vienna, for Lloyd Triestino. Renamed again in 1935, as Po, she was requisitioned in November 1940 and served as a hospital ship for the Italian navy. She had completed 14 missions as a hospital ship prior to the attack, mainly carrying wounded troops from the fighting in Libya and Albania. Apparently British policy was that, although larger hospital ships were protected under the Hague Convention, smaller ones were legitimate targets as they could be used to transport troops and to rescue crashed aircrew. In fact, all 11 Italian hospital ships were attacked at least once during World War II. Po has the rare distinction of being a hospital ship in both wars and of being sunk in both wars. The wreck was found in 2005.