Commissioned 1 January 1931, the Giussano-class light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere (John of the Black Bands) was a sleek warship of the Regia Marina, though not quite up to the same quality as her three sisters.
The 7,000-ton, 555-foot cruiser had a lot of speed– 37 knots– and eight 6-inch guns but had *razor thin* armor (less than an inch at its thickest) as an Achilles heel. To make it worse, the class had virtually no underwater protection at all.
When WWII came, Bande Nere managed to escape serious damage in the Battle of Calabria and follow-up Battle of Cape Spada in 1940 but hit HMAS Sydney in turn, then went on to survive another close call at the Second Battle of Sirte in 1942. As such, she was much luckier than her three sisters– Alberico da Barbiano and Alberto da Giussano, sunk December 1941, by Royal Navy and Dutch destroyers during the Battle of Cape Bon; and Bartolomeo Colleoni, sent to the bottom at Spada.
Her luck ran out on 1 April 1942 when she came across HM Submarine Urge who fired a pair of torpedoes at the Italian cruiser, one of which broke the Bande Nere into two sections, and she sank quickly with the loss of more than half her crew in 1,500m of water some 11 miles from Stromboli. In a cruel bit of karma, Urge, a Britsh U-class submarine was herself lost just three weeks afterward with all hands, most likely near Malta as a result of a mine.
Bande Nere was discovered over the weekend by the now-Marina Militare, and her crown of Savoy clearly seen on a released video.
“Over a seaman’s grave, no flowers grow.”
When compared to the large U.S. fleet boats used in the Pacific in WWII, the Royal Navy’s 49 U-class submarines were downright tiny. At just 700-tons submerged and 191-feet oal, these boats were originally designed as coastal training subs. However, with the Italians and Germans giving the UK a run for their money in the Med, the Brits started churning these craft out in numbers.
Armed with a half dozen 21-inch tubes, they could carry 8 warshot torpedoes and a 3-inch pop gun on deck. They gave a good account of themselves, sinking a large number of Axis transports and freighters carrying much-needed supplies to Rommel and his Italian compatriots in North Africa– although they suffered severe losses of their own, with 19 U-class sisters going down during the war.
This brings us to HMS Urge. Commissioned 12 December 1940 at Vickers, she lasted 17 action-packed months during which she managed to torpedo the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto, damaging her in the First Battle of Sirte. She had better luck on 1 April, 1942 when she torpedoed and sank the 6844-ton Italian Giussano-class light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere.
However, Urge went missing at the end of that month and was never heard from again.
— That is until 76-year old Belgian diver Jean-Pierre Misson, poking around off Tobruk, Libya, came across something very submarine-like. It now appears that Italian dive bombers reaped retribution for their lost cruiser.