Italy Finally has an Aircraft Carrier
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.
In 1925, Rome bought the incomplete passenger/mail steamer Citta di Messina and, sending her to the La Spezia for completion, produced Giuseppe Miraglia.
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. Her war was lackluster, ending it under British guns at Malta.
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 in 1943. 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.
After flirting with Vittorio Veneto in the 1970s and 80s, a so-called “helicopter cruiser” capable of carrying six SH-3D Sea Kings or larger numbers of smaller whirlybirds; the Italian government placed an order for several AV-8B Harriers in 1990 for use on the newly completed 13,000-ton ASW carrier Giuseppe 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 27,000-ton Harrier carrier Cavour will retire her aging AV-8Bs for a squadron of operational Italian F-35Bs by 2024, right at 99 years after Miraglia was conceived. Except the vessel won’t be beholden to seaplanes or Harriers, a first.
Speaking of which, on 30 July, the first Italian F-35B landed on Cavour while the now-Lightning carrier was operating in the Gulf of Taranto.
On the journey to get there:
In related news, the current operational British Lightning carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), entered the tense waters of the South China Sea last week, with F-35Bs of RAF 617 Squadron and the USMC’s VMFA-211 taking to the air during the evolution.