The Bettolina di Sestri is one of the three wrecks that lie on the sand in front of Punta Manara, in Sestri Levante. We will retrace its history and immersion in three episodes, following the narrative line that Claudio Grazioli used in his latest book: “The fleet on the bottom”
Claudio Grazioli is above all a friend I met underwater, on the occasion of the expedition on the wreck of the plane of Santa Caterina.
Claudio suffers from a very serious virus called the “fascination of sheet metal”. He is a great lover of wrecks and history; for him, combining these two passions means searching for the causes of a sinking.
Recently he wrote a book, “The fleet on the bottom“, a complete collection of data, drawings, information, historical testimonies and vintage photos of four ships, from their launch to their sinking.
Three of these hulls lie on the seabed in front of Sestri Levante. In the pages of this book you will find their entire history and you will be able to learn about their life and you will be able to appreciate diving more at your next dive.
La Bettolina di Sestri is one of these three.
You can purchase the book “La flotta sul fondo” by calling the editorial staff directly at 345-0631008 or on the website www.manualidiofficina.it
La Bettolina Jörn (the Barge of Sestri)
A Dutch river barge
It was a classic river barge, used as a transport boat, launched in the Netherlands under the name of Gretha. For some time she plowed through rivers and canals carrying different materials.
Then, when the German troops invaded the Netherlands, the Barge of Sestri was confiscated. To be used in operations involving the invasion of Great Britain from the sea.
In the summer of 1943, due to the scarcity of naval means, some barges were transferred to the Mediterranean Sea. To be used in the transport of war materials and for the supply of German troops. The Bettolina di Sestri descended the Rhone river and arrived in Marseille. Subsequently it arrived in the port of Savona and took on a new identity, it was in fact renamed Jörn.
On February the 12th of 1944, while it was still at anchor waiting to carry out a new transport to the south, the Barge of Sestri was sunk. After a raid by a flock of 24 American B 25 bombers on the port of Sestri Levante. The boat sank after 45 minutes of slow agony, leaving its crew plenty of time to escape to safety.
The first historical reconstructions
Until a few years ago, almost nothing was known about the Bettolina di Sestri. Except that it was a German boat and that it probably sank in 1944.
Then Manfred Krellenberg managed to find some new information and, 50 years later, in 1994, a reconstruction by Andrea Ghisotti came out. It was published by a well-known magazine in the diving sector and made known the name of the Barge of Sestri and part of its history, which until that moment was quite unknown.
However, among the new information, the last moment of the boat’s life was missing: the sinking. There were hypotheses but without any valid evidence. An air attack was assumed but the type of aircraft was not known. It was thought to come from a base in Sardinia but in those days it was snowing in Sardinia and there was strong wind.
But who had sunk it?
Doubts about the accuracy of the date and who actually sank the Sestri Barge and with what means they remained. Doubts and hypotheses were raised about this wreck well known among divers of Northern Italy.
But there was only one possibility left, to try to ask for further information from whoever had first discovered the name of the wreck of Sestri: Manfred Krellenberg.
He received the answer that everyone was waiting for with an e-mail to which was attached a form, filled in in German, on the Bettolina di Sestri.
At the end of the card, a small paragraph from which it was learned that it was lost on February 12, 1944 at 12:00
That day, twenty bombers made a raid on the port of Sestri Levante. The barge still in the harbor was attacked and sank after 45 minutes. No casualties.
To be sure of information, you must always have at least a second feedback. Digging through the books, to look for further information on the air bases in Corsica and on the missions carried out by the planes during that period, confirmation arrives.
It arrived via email from the United States. Attaching the copy of the American report of the mission of that day on the port of Sestri Levante.
The Sestri barge sank attacked by allied aircraft while it was still at anchor in the bay in front of Sestri Levante. Not in navigation, as was reported until then. She wasn’t carrying a load of sacks of cement and fuel. The attack came during the day and not at night as was supposed.
Towards a new reconstruction
The old information was completely turned upside down. The data that was believed to be certain had misled the research for a long time but a new scenario was opening up.
Suddenly new deductions emerged and with them the solution of the enigma. The ballast bags, visible on the bottom inside hold number one, were used when the barges with no load moved. They balanced the hull during navigation, but then, once in port, they were unloaded to make room for the cargo. A sign that the barge had reached Sestri Levante to embark a new quantity of material to be transported to Livorno.
It had anchored in front of the port, remaining close to Punta Manara. Only one anchor in the water, a sign that it would probably have to enter the port shortly thereafter. This can be deduced from the fact that on the wreck, at the stern, you can see the anchors still in place while the bow ones are missing.
Suddenly, at 11:55, a flock of 24 B 25 bombers appeared from Ghisonaccia in Corsica. The bombers were escorted by 21 Spitfires. They attacked the port of Sestri Levante, bombed the positions on the ground, the deposits and the coastal batteries.
In the passage, they hit a ship of about 3000 tons, they also destroyed two ships anchored near the depots and three 50 m long barges, including our Barge.
The boat did not sink immediately, but it took 45 minutes to reach the sandy bottom below. That time was long enough for the sailors who were on board to get to safety. Other fellow soldiers who came to help rescue them from the cold waters of the Gulf.
This is the other news. For a long time it was said that four people died in the sinking of the Barge of Sestri. Which according to the first version were collected the next morning on the sandy shores of the Bay of Silence. It is probably a temporal error because it is an overlap of two different episodes, which took place in the same place but happened at two different times.
So finally, also for the Barge of Sestri the whole history has been reconstructed. From launch to sinking. After a long time, even the last mystery has fallen. But today, the charm of a visit to the Jörn remains unchanged.