Warship Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018: Giuseppe, how many seaplanes you packing?
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018: Giuseppe, how many seaplanes you packing?
Here we see the Regia Marina’s very proud seaplane carrier, Giuseppe Miraglia, at anchor in the 1930s. A true-life example of what today would be seen as a dieselpunk aesthetic, the Italian navy views her as an important predecessor of their modern pocket carriers– Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi— today.
Italy got into the seaplane tender biz in February 1915 when they bought the aging 392-ft./7,100-ton Spanish-built freighter Quarto and, as Europa, converted the vessel to operate a half-dozen or so FBA flying boats. Taking part in the Battle of the Strait of Otranto against the bottled-up Austro-Hungarian fleet in 1917, she was discarded after the war.
Fast forward to the mid-1920s, and Italian rivals Britain and France had newer and more modern seaplane carriers (such as HMAS/HMS Albatross and Commandant Teste, the latter carrying 26 aircraft) on the drawing board. This left the Italian Navy with a need for a warship that could pack a lot of (sea)planes once again.
In 1925, Rome bought the incomplete passenger/mail steamer Citta di Messina and, sending her to the Regio Arsenale Della Spezia for completion, produced Giuseppe Miraglia.
The vessel was renamed in honor of Tenente di vascello Giuseppe Miraglia, an early Italian naval aviator killed in an accident in 1915 at age 27.
Early in the war, he made headlines in the country by leading his seaplane squadron over Austrian-held Trieste in a raid that was widely celebrated.
She wasn’t a giant ship, just under 400-feet long with a light draft of 4,500-tons. But Miraglia was fast enough for naval use (21 knots) and with enough room for as many as 20 seaplanes of assorted sizes.
For this, she was well-equipped with two below-deck hangars in what was to be the steamship’s holds, each equipped with catapults and cranes for launching and recovery, respectively. Inside the hangars were room for spare parts including fresh engines, a few spare aircraft in “knocked down” crated condition, tools, and handling equipment.
Many of the planned staterooms which originally were meant for 1st and 2nd class passengers were completed for aircrew instead. A central ordnance magazine and avfuel storage were accessible from each hangar.
The twin hangars could each hold 5-6 Macchi M.18AR seaplanes with their wings folded while additional aircraft “parking” was available topside for a couple extra boats.
A pusher-style biplane flying boat, the M.18AR was one of the more successful “combat” seaplanes of the 1920s and 30s, serving not only with the Italians but with the Spanish Navy‘s early seaplane carrier Dédalo (Dedalus) during the Civil War in that country as well as against Moroccan rebels, but also with the Paraguayan Navy during the Chaco War.
The open cockpit three-seat scout bombers were the staple of the Aviazione per la Regina Marina for much of the interwar period, capable of toting a few small bombs and a 7.7mm machine gun aloft with a 300~ mile combat radius.
By 1930, the Macchi aircraft were replaced largely with Cantoni 25 AR seaplanes and, after 1937, with the smaller but more modern IMAM Ro.43, which at least had a closed cockpit and two machine guns rather than just one– although carried no bombs.
Miraglia’s topside deck was protected by 50mm of armor to stave off air attacks not scared off by her AAA suite of a dozen Breda machine guns while a quartet of 4-inch guns could take shots at closing destroyers or torpedo boats. She had a side belt of between 70 and 80mm (sources vary).
Miraglia entered service 1 November 1927 and was used in the disgrace that was the Italo-Ethiopian War in the late 1930s to transport aircraft to the theatre.
When WWII came, she somehow managed to not catch a British torpedo or American bomb while serving in the Mediterranean although she was present in the harbor for the raid on Taranto in 1940. She spent most of the war as a transport and testbed, rather than in operations.
Later in the conflict, the zippy little Reggiane Re.2000 Falco I “Catapultabile” monoplane, which could be catapulted off by not recovered by the vessel, made an appearance on the ship.
Following the shit-canning of Mussolini, Miraglia sailed to Malta in 1943 to be interned under British guns and served the rest of the war as a receiving ship for Italian sailors from smaller vessels.
Meanwhile, Italy’s first planned aircraft carrier– a respectable 772-foot leviathan by the name of L’Aquila (Eagle) converted from an unfinished ocean liner– was left under construction at Genoa.
Although it was envisioned she would carry up to 56 aircraft, the Italian eagle was never completed and finally scrapped at La Spezia in 1952. A sistership, Sparviero, never even got that far, making Miraglia the sole Italian aviation ship fielded in WWII.
Following the end of the war, with the general disfavor of seaplanes and seaplane carriers of the time, Miraglia was retained at Taranto as a PT boat tender until 1950 when she was disposed of. Jane’s, in their often confusing 1946-47 volume, noted that she was to be refitted as a supply ship.
The spark rekindled
Italian Naval Aviation languished for a full decade following VE-Day, only restarting on a limited scale when a few Bell-Augusta AB-47G helicopters were handed over to the Navy for shipboard service in 1956.
By 1969, Vittorio Veneto, a so-called “helicopter cruiser,” was in service, capable of carrying six SH-3D Sea Kings or larger numbers of smaller whirlybirds.
Finally, in 1990 the Italian government placed an order for several AV-8B Harriers for use on the newly completed light aircraft carrier Garibaldi, returning the country’s fleet to a fixed-wing capability that it hadn’t seen since Miraglia steamed for exile in Malta in 1943.
Today, it is thought that the carrier Cavour will carry a squadron of operational Italian F-35Bs by 2023, almost a century after Miraglia was conceived.
Displacement, full load: 5.913 t
Length: 397.72 ft.
Beam: 49.18 ft.
Draft: 19 ft.
Propulsion: 8 Yarrow water tube boilers, 2 groups of steam turbines with Parsons type reducer, 2 propellers with three blades, 16,700 HP, 430 tons oil.
Speed: 21 knots
Crew: (196) not counting airwing, as follows:
4 x 102/35 Schneider-Armstrong naval rifles
12 x 13.2 mm Breda machine guns
2 Gagnotto steam catapults in bow and stern
2 aircraft hangars for 5-6 planes with folded wings (total of 11 seaplanes)
2 depots for 3 dismantled aircraft, each
17 Macchi M.18AR seaplanes (1927-30), 20 Cantoni 25 AR seaplanes (1931-36) up to 20 IMAM Ro.43s (1937-43)
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