Warship Wednesday Sept 3: Four Italian sisters in Argentine service
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday Sept 3: Four Italian sisters in Argentine service.
Here we see the Giuseppe Garibaldi-class armored cruiser Armada de la República Argentina (ARA) General Giuseppe Garibaldi of the Argentine Navy as she appeared around the turn of the century in her gleaming white and buff scheme. She was a ship representative of her time, and her class outlived most of their contemporaries.
Ordered from Gio. Ansaldo & C shipbuilders, Genoa, Italy, in 1894 the General Giuseppe Garibaldi was designed by Italian naval architect Edoardo Masdea to provide a ship, smaller than a 1st-rate battleship, yet larger and stronger than any cruiser that could oppose it.
The concept predated battle cruisers by a decade or two and had its apex at the Battle of Tsushima, where so-called ‘armored cruisers’ gave a poor showing of themselves. The final nail in the coffin of the armored cruiser design was the Battle of the Falklands in 1914 in which a German force of armored and light cruisers under Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee was annihilated by a group of larger and faster RN battle cruisers of Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves…
The Garibaldi class was innovative for 1894, with a 344-foot long, 7200-ton hull capable of making 20-knots and sustaining a range of more than 7,000 nm at 12. Although made in Italy, she was almost all-British from her Armstrong batteries to her Bellville boilers to her Whitehead torpedoes and Harvey armor.
Armored with a belt that ran up-to 5.9-inches thick, she could take hits from faster cruisers and gunboats while being able to dish out punishment from a pair of Armstrong 10-inch guns that no ship smaller than her could absorb. Capable of outrunning larger ships, she also had a quartet of torpedo tubes and extensive rapid fire secondary batteries to make life hard on the enemy’s small ships and merchantmen.
They therefore scooped up not only the Garibaldi (commissioned in 1895) but also the follow-on sister-ships General Belgrano and General San Martín ( built by Orlando of Livorno in 1896) and Genoa-made Pueyrredón (1898) to make a quartet of powerful cruisers. These ships, coupled with the Rivadavia-class battleships ordered later in the U.S., helped make the Argentine navy for a period of about two decades the eighth most powerful in the world (after the big five European powers, Japan, and the United States), and the largest in Latin America.
The gunboat diplomacy of these ships soon paid off, with Belgrano being used as the signing platform for the 1899 peace treaty between Argentina and Chile to settle the Puna de Atacama dispute.
These ships proved so popular when built, in fact, that Spain quickly ordered a pair (one of which, Cristóbal Colón, was soon sunk in the Spanish-American War), Italy picked up three more (including confusingly enough, one also named Giuseppe Garibaldi-– he was an Italian hero after all!) and Japan acquired two of their own in the 1900s.
The four Argentine ships long outlived their foreign sisters.
Although the country had built a huge naval armada, they remained on the sidelines during a number of crisis in their time. The country remained more or less (some would contend less) neutral in both World Wars as well as in regional conflicts. They did, however, often sail the world and show the flag. Garibaldi for instance, was often seen in Caribbean ports while Belgrano made an extensive European tour in 1927, spending most of that year overseas.
One of the more popular assignments for theses ships over their lifetimes were yearly midshipmen cruises. Typically from August to December, they would alternate between circumnavigating the continent to trips to Europe and Africa.
For example, in 1941, with the world at war, ARA Pueyrredon still had time to travel some 14,964 miles from Puerto Belgrano to New Orleans and back, stopping for lengthy port stays at such popular destinations as Havana, Rio, and Aruba.
By 1920 Garibaldi— the Argentine one– was in poor condition and relegated to duty as a training ship while her three sisters were modernized, disarmed a good bit, and overhauled. By 20 March 1934, with the world in a global recession, Garibaldi was stricken, cannibalized so that her classmates could live longer lives, and sold for scrap at the end of 1936.
ARA San Martin was stricken 8 December 1935 but retained for twelve years as a dockside depot ship and scrapped in 1947.
ARA Gen. Belgrano, who was used after 1933 as a submarine tender, was stricken May 8, 1947 and sold in 1953.
Finally, ARA Pueyrredon, as far as I can tell, was the last ‘operational’ armored cruiser in naval service in the world. As late as 1951 the veteran was making cruises to Europe to show the blue and white banner of the Argentine navy while training naval officers. That summer she moved more than 20,000 miles underway on a round trip from Buenos Aires, Pernambuco, Liverpool, Dublin, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Le Havre, Naples, Genoa, Villefranche, Barcelona, Casa-blanca, Dakar, Santos, back to Buenos Aires.
She was stricken on 2 August 1954 after nearly six decades in commission, spending half of that as a training ship assigned to the Naval Academy, and towed in 1954 to Japan to be scrapped.
Thus she outlived by two years what is considered by many to be the last armored cruiser afloat, the Greek Navy’s Georgios Averof (c.1911) which was decommissioned in 1952.
Sadly, the only monument to these beautiful and hard-serving Argentine ships is the bow coat of arms from ARA Pueyrredon, preserved on the grounds of Argentine Naval Academy.
Displacement: 7,069 long tons (7,182 t)
Length: 344 ft 2 in (104.9 m)
Beam: 50 ft 8 in (15.4 m)
Draught: 23 ft 4 in (7.1 m)
Installed power: 13,000 ihp (9,700 kW)
Propulsion: 2 shafts, vertical triple-expansion steam engines
8 cylindrical Bellville boilers (replaced 1920s)
Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) as designed. Later 15-knots after 1925.
Range: 7000 nm at 12 knots on 1,000 tons coal. Later 4200 nm at 9kts after 1925 refits.
Complement: 520 as designed (typical Argentine service, 25 officers, 300 crew or 28 officers; 60-95 cadets; 275 crew)
Armament: (As commissioned, greatly reduced after 1925)
2×1 – Armstrong 10-inch (254 mm) guns
10×1 – 152mm Armstrong rapid fire (120mm in Garibaldi)
10×1 – 57mm 6-pounder Nordenfeldt guns
8×1 37mm Hotchkiss guns
2×1 8mm Maxim water cooled machine guns
4×1 – 18-inch (457 mm) torpedo tubes with Whitehead fish (Five tubes in ARA Pueyrredon)
+ 2×1 – 3-inch (75 mm) guns landing guns (cañones de desembarcode)
Armour: (All Harvey-type armor)
Belt: 3.1–5.9 in (79–150 mm)
Barbettes: 5.9 in (150 mm)
Gun turrets: 5.9 in (150 mm)
Conning tower: 5.9 in (150 mm)
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