To supply Italian troops in Aden, the "Umbria" in Genoa, Livorno and Naples was loaded with various war materials at the end of May 1940. The ship, which had been converted from a passenger steamer to a material and troop carrier in 1935, had previously been used for such trips.
More than 360,000 bombs and 60 boxes of incendiary bombs and other explosives are stowed in the 5 holds. Cars, aircraft parts as well as cement bags and other building materials.
The route leads the "Umbria" via Messina in Sicily to Port Said, from where it is to sail through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to East Africa.
After arriving in Port Said on June 3, it bunkers another 1,000 tons of coal and 130 tons of water. 23 British Navy soldiers and 2 pilots board here. In view of the impending entry of war between Italy and England, the passage of the canal is deliberately delayed. So the "Umbria" with her explosive cargo leaves Suez only 3 days later.
From now on she pursues the gunboat "Grimsby". It stops the freighter at Port Sudan on the grounds that it is in British sovereign waters. The "Umbria" anchors on June 9th at Wingate Reef.
Under the pretext of wanting to search the ship for contraband, Lieutenant Steves led 22 soldiers from New Zealand cruiser "Leander" on board. They immediately occupied the strategically important points and started a time-consuming search.
In the afternoon, Captain Muiesan in his cabin hears via radio that Italy will declare war at 7:00 p.m. and that the first acts of war can be expected from 12:00 a.m. the following day.
It is clear to Muiesan that he must not waste any more time so that the strategically important cargo does not fall into enemy hands. Together with the first officer Radolfo Zarli and the flight engineer Carlo Costa, he plans the sinking.
The inconspicuous evacuation of the crew is causing them difficulties.
Finally, Muiesan suggests Lieutenant Steves to conduct a rescue exercise, which he approves in the hope that he will be able to hold on to the "Umbria" even more. As the Italians begin the exercise, Steves receives news of severe water ingress throughout the ship on the bridge After a few minutes and with the ship's flank increasing, he realizes that he can no longer prevent the sinking.
On board the "Gimsby", Muiesan tells him that Italy was entering the war and that he had given the order to sink himself.
He then went to India with his crew before the outbreak of war in captivity.
- Nine years after its demise, the "Umbria" aroused the interest of the then 30-year-old Hans Hass.
- His contacts with the governor of Port Sudan finally enabled him to dive on the "Umbria".
- His photo and film material contributed significantly to the myth of the wreck.
- The "Umbria" is now one of the most famous wrecks in the Red Sea.