The Survivor and the Little Mouse...
Artist: John Meeks
Original painting is oil/alkyd on canvas measuring approx 30" x 20"
Subject: The Italian coastal submarine RM Smg. Alagi makes ready for sea

The story behind the painting...

The "survivor" is Alagi - she was the sole survivor of her class (Italian coastal class 'Adua') at the end of WWII.  The "little mouse" is the very small Fiat 500 "Topolino" car on the dockside -  from which a rather portly officer has just emerged....!
 
The 'Adua' class submarines of the Regia Marina (Named for African towns) all boasted fairly long and successful careers.  Of modest displacement, they served in Spain with the Nationalist forces during that country's terrible civil war 1936-39; with fascist Italy's war effort from 1940 through 1943, and a few (like the subject of this painting) went on to serve with the Italian co-belligerent forces on the allied side until 1945.  It was also a submarine of this class, the RM Smg. Axum which committed the disgraceful act of popping a torpedo into the ship of the artist's father, in 1942.....!  (An inexcusable incident - but she only damaged the ship...)  
 
Notwithstanding this personal 'connection', Alagi was chosen to be the subject of this piece, primarily because she was the survivor...and secondarily....because reasonably accurate information was at hand with regard to her coloration and conning tower...!
 
Nearly, if not all Italian boats had their conning towers 'cut down' after Italy's entry into WWII.  Admiral Doenitz saw to that !  He was somewhat appalled, apparently, at the rather large conning towers sported by his allies and ordered in the cutting torches !  


Unfortunately for the modeller and the artist, these modifications were not always consistent, and underwent, in some cases, several modifications during the course of the war. The boat in this painting is depicted as she (most probably) appeared during late 1941-42.  She later sported a conning tower with an 'open' bridge, rather like a type VIIC U-Boat.  The Kriegsmarine also criticized the Italian boats for having "too elaborate galley and toilet facilities".....
 
The artist feels that this was going a little too far.  Sour grapes and all that....!
 
The dockside portrayed in the painting is 'almost generic' - but bears more than a passing resemblance to one of the basins in Brindisi, in Southern Italy.
 
And the little lady arguing with the sentries ?  She is wearing the uniform of a Fascist female auxiliary, so she most probably has a right to be there. Does she have a problem with her papers ?  Is she, simply, lost in the large dockyard ?....or is she being accused of being the one who chucked a couple of tomatoes at Mussolini's 'portrait' on the workshop wall ?
 
History just doesn't record those kinds of details.....

 

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