Warship Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018: The spaghetti boats of Mar del Plata

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time 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, Nov. 28, 2018: The spaghetti boats of Mar del Plata

Colorized by my friend, Diego Mar, of Postales Navales

Here we see the fine Italian-made Santa Fe (Cavallini)-class submarine ARA Santa Fe (S1) of the Argentine Navy sailing past Castello Aragonese in Taranto in 1933. The Argentinians often referred to this class as the “Tarantinos‘ due to their place of birth.

With the recent tragic loss of ARA San Juan, it should be remembered that the blue and white banner of the Armada de la República Argentina has been waving proudly over submarines for almost a century, with the fleet’s Comando de la Fuerza de Submarinos being established some 85 years ago and Santa Fe and her twin sister ships, known in Argentina as the “Tarantinos” due to their origin, started it all.

The Italians had started building submarines as far back as 1892 when the Delfino took to the water. Although they don’t get a lot of press, the Regina Marina put to sea with a formidable submarine force in both World Wars and the Spanish Civil War, which was used to good effect. In WWII, for instance, domestically made Italian subs working briefly in the Atlantic claimed 109 Allied ships, amounting to almost 600,000 tons. Further, Buenos Ares and Rome had a prior relationship stretching back to the 19th Century when it came to ordering naval vessels, so the two were natural partners when the Latin American country wanted in on submersibles.

Contracted with Cantieri navali Tosi on 15 October 1927, the Argentine government arranged for three submarines to be constructed at Taranto to a design of the Cavallini type derived from the Italian Navy’s Settembrini-class boats. At just over 1,100 tons when submerged and some 227 feet long, these were not big boats by any means, but they had a modern and efficient design.

Argentina submarines Sumergibles Salta, Santa Fe y Santiago del Estero. Año under construction in 1929. Astillero Franco Tosti. Tarento. Italia.

Equipped with Tosi diesels and electric motors, they could make 17.5 knots surfaced and about half that while submerged, which was pretty good for a 1920s-era submarine. Using a saddle-tank hull design with five compartments, they could make an impressive 7,100 nm at 8 knots surfaced, allowing them to deploy from Italy to their new homeland non-stop when completed and complete 30-day patrols. With a crush depth of 300~ feet, they mounted a 4-inch gun on deck and eight 21-inch torpedo tubes, making them capable of sinking a battleship with a single salvo. The Italians later developed the design into their Archimedes-class submarines.

ARA Santa Fe (S1) was the class leader followed by ARA Santiago del Estero (S2) and then ARA Salta (S3), all completed by early 1933, all named after Argentine provinces, a tradition in the Armada. After shakedown in the Med with Italian-trained crews and a short work-up cruise to the Canary Islands, they were on their way to Argentina.

Inspected by national leaders including President Agustín Pedro Justo upon their arrival at their new homeland, they were given their naval ensigns in October 1933, scarcely six years after they were ordered.

Argentine submarine ARA Santa Fé (S-1) alongside battleship ARA Rivadavia and two Almirante Brown-class heavy cruisers, Puerto Belgrano Naval Base, 1937

The submarines were tended by the old (Italian-made) protected cruiser ARA General Belgrano until the latter was stricken in 1947, and then her place was taken by the coastal battleship ARA Independencia.

Argentine Santa Fe class submarines, Mar del Plata, circa 1947. Submarinos Tarantinos with coastal battleship ARA Independencia

Argentinian Cavallini class Submarines S-1 ‘Santa-Fe’, S-3 ‘Salta’, and S-2 ‘Santiago del Estero’ are seen here moored together at Mara del Plata with the Mothership Belgrano in the background.

Argentine Tarantino (Sumergible) Salta ,sala de Torpedos

Argentine Tarantino-Type Submarine Salta, in Mar del Plata

Operating from their base at Mar del Plata, the class would train and exercise regularly, and stand to (uneventful) service in WWII to protect Argentina’s neutrality and later (on paper) join the effort against Germany after the country declared war on 27 March 1945.

Argentine submarine SANTA FE (S-1) underway. She was the class leader of the Tarantinos 1933-1956

Famously, the last two German U-boats to surrender, U-530 and U-977, did so to Argentine military forces on 10 July and 17 August 1945 at Mar del Plata, respectively, and were briefly in the custody of the country’s submarine flotilla until transferred to the U.S. Navy.

U-977 lies in Mar del Plata, Argentina; rusty and weather-beaten after 108 days at sea – Photograph courtesy of Carlos J. Mey – Administrator of the Historia y Arqueologia Marítima website http://www.histarmar.com.ar/ via U-boat Archive

Post-war service continued with more of the same and the Santa Fe-class subs, growing long in the teeth and being hard to repair due to their 1920s Italian parts, often made by companies no longer in business after 1945, meant their timeline was limited. Santa Fe was stricken in Sept. 1956, followed by Santiago del Estero in April 1959.

Salta would outlast them all, making her 1,000th dive in 1960 before striking on 3 August. The last of the Tarantinos was sold for scrap the following April. Salta‘s flag, as well as several artifacts from her days in the Armada, are on display at the Museo de la Fuerza de Submarinos in Mar del Plata but that is not the end of her legacy.

On 1 April 1960, the US and Argentine Navy signed an agreement to transfer two Balao-class submarines, USS Macabi (SS-375) and USS Lamprey (SS-372) who went on to be renamed ARA Santa Fe (S-11) and ARA Santiago del Estero (S-12), respectively, and were manned in large part by veteran submariners who cut their teeth on the Italian-built boats. Serving until 1971, they were in turn replaced by two other GUPPY-modified Balaos, USS Chivo (SS-341) and USS Catfish (SS-339) who served as (wait for it) ARA Santiago del Estero (S-22) and ARA Santa Fe (S-21). The latter, a Warship Wednesday Alumni, had somewhat spectacularly bad luck in the Falklands, becoming the first submarine taken out of service by a helicopter-fired missile.

Speaking of the Falklands, in 1971, Argentina ordered a pair of new Type 209/1200 submarines from Germany, named ARA Salta (S-31) and ARA San Luis (S-32), the latter was more or less active in the Falklands but faced the double-edged sword of not being sunk although an entire British task force (including modern SSNs) were looking for her but, in turn, not being able to make a hit with her malfunctioning torpedoes.

ARA Salta S31, a Type 209 SSK now some 45 years young and still on active duty

Salta is still on active duty although San Luis has since been decommissioned. With the recent loss of San Juan, Salta, and one remaining TR-1700 type U-boat, ARA Santa Cruz (S-41), are the only operational Argentine subs.

Argentine submarine classes in a nutshell from 1933 to the current. Between the 11 boats, only six names were used.

For more information on the boat and her class, see the dedicated memorial group for them at Los Tarantinos Argentina 1933 -1960 (Historia de submarinos) and the articles on the class at ElSnorkel (Spanish) and Histarmar.


USN Submarine Sighting Guide ONI 31-2A June 1958 with Salta compared when she was likely one of the last 1920s-ordered submarines on active duty anywhere

Displacement: 755 tons (1155 submerged)
Length: 227 (oa) ft.
Beam: 21.91 ft.
Draft: 16.56 ft.
Diving depth: 80m operational
Engines: 2 Tosi diesels, 3,000hp. One electric motor, 1,043kW
Speed: 17.5 knots on the surface, 9 submerged
Range: 7,100nm at 8 knots surfaced on 90 tons of fuel oil, 80nm at 4kts submerged
Crew: 40
1x 4″/40 Odero-Terni deck gun
2x machine guns
8x 21-inch torpedo tubes (4 forward, 4 aft)
1x 40mm/60cal Bofors single added in 1944 for WWII service

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