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, July 9, Italian spaghetti and midget meatballs.
Here we see one of the plucky little Italian-made coastal submarines of the CB-class at Sevastopol, Russia, circa 1942. Ordered from the Società Caproni e Comitti in Milan, the company specialized in the production of military aircraft, not ships, but they did a great job on these tiny u-boats.
Capable of spending a couple of days at sea and carrying a pair of 17.7-inch torpedoes (externally), these boats were capable of sending a decent sized ship to the bottom and, if there had been enough of them, would have made any amphibious assault of the Italian coastline very dangerous as these ships could submerge in waters as shallow as twenty feet of sea.
The Regina Marina ordered 72 of these plucky 50-foot long boats in 1941, but only 20 or so were completed due to Allied invasions and blockades. Of those ships, about half served the Axis forces, with the others being completed after Italy switched sides in 1943.
The first six ships completed, CB-1 through CB-6, were shipped to the Black Sea along with a group of some 40 Italian submariners where they quickly set up camp in captured Soviet digs and went looking for Russkies.
About the only victory chalked up by these Italian midget subs was sending Soviet Black Sea Fleet Shchuka-class submarine SHCH-208 to the bottom by torpedo attack on June 18, 1942, just weeks after they arrived at Yalta. As a Shchuka was some 187-feet long and 700-tons load, that was a true David and Goliath victory for the Italians. This was something of a bit of payback for the Italians as one of the boats, (CB-5) was bombed and sunk by Red bombers near Yalta, 13 June 1942.
Once Italy switched sides, these five remaining Black Sea boats were transferred to Romania in 1943.
With the advance of the Red Army, the Romanians and Germans scuttled these in Constancia harbor in August 1944. The Russians, never one to let a piece of kit go bad, promptly raised them and put them in local service until the end of the war.
Other craft were captured by the British or Germans in the Adriatic and were in turn sunk or scrapped around the end of the conflict. One was found in Bordeaux by the Americans in 1944, where it had been sent along with a crew under Lt. Eugenio Massano in 1942 for trials in an aborted program that would have seen a false-flagged mothership such as the DaVinci take a few CBs to the Hudson River in hopes of running amok in New York harbor.
One boat, CB-20, fell into the hands of Tito’s Partisans and was soon pressed into service with the new Yugoslav navy (as pennant P-901). The Yugos loved the little craft so much that they kept it in service for nearly two decades and even then kept it as a museum and trials ship.
It should therefore surprise no one that the Yugoslav navy built its own class of homemade midgets, the Una-class, in the 1970s. These half-dozen craft were very similar in size (61-foot long, 70-tons) as the old Italian CB craft they still had in storage. The Italians, likewise, spent several decades making their own improved midgets from COSMOS and others which have a direct lineage to these humble WWII-era boats.
CB-20/P-901 still exists by the way.
An excellent reference is at Maritime Quest on the CB20, including more than 9 pages of in-depth images on CB-20.
There is also this:
Displacement: 35.4 tons surfaced, 44.3 tons submerged
Length: 14.99 m (49.2 ft)
Beam: 3.00 m (9.84 ft)
Draught: 2.05 m (6 ft 9 in)
Propulsion: 1 shaft diesel-electric,
1 – 80 hp Isotta Fraschini diesel, 1 – 50 hp Brown Boveri electric motor
Speed: 7.5 knots (13.9 km/h) surfaced, 7 knots (13 km/h) submerged
Armament: 2 externally mounted 450mm torpedoes or two mines
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