The Italian Almanac

submarine on the road

Italian News - August 14

When the giant submarine came lumbering down the lonely strip of highway early Friday headed for its new home in a Milan museum, hundreds of mobile phones were raised in unison to capture images of the spectacle. The early-morning maneuvers had a distinctly military feel. Perched on a 240-wheel flatbed truck, the Toti was preceded by the low rumbling of a motorcade of military trucks, police motorcycles and cars with flashing lights. Men in camouflage gear milled about, looking busy.

Farther up the highway, closer to the city, the second brigade of the Genio Pontieri, the army's bridge engineers, laid the base of a movable bridge built to provide extra support to the road as the truck passed over an underground river. Soldiers raised floodlights from trailers marked KFOR, the NATO-led security force in Kosovo, where the military division helping transport the submarine had worked building bridges.

The Toti took to sea in 1968, the first Italian submarine to be built after World War II. Its mission was to hunt out and destroy Russian nuclear missile launchers. But the lifting of the Iron Curtain together with rapid technological change effectively grounded the vessel, and in 2001 the Italian Navy bequeathed it to the museum, which already had an important transportation collection.

That year, the Toti sailed up the Adriatic, and then took to fresh water, navigating along the Po, Italy's longest river, until it arrived in Cremona. A planned two-month hiatus in the port turned into a four-year soap opera as engineers and local lawmakers fretted that the costs and technical difficulties of moving the cumbersome 536-ton craft would be too much to bear.

The impasse was overcome last year when sponsors, including the military contractor Finmeccanica and Telecom Italia, were found to supply the $3 million to $3.7 million price tag. For the museum, whose logo is emblazoned across the Toti's side, the media flurry around the transfer has been a publicity boon.