Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out 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.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday October 23, The Net Jumping Cricket
Here we see a rendering of a very interesting boat in the Italian Naval service during World War One. Part tank, part torpedo boat, it was designed to crawl over the nets protecting enemy naval bases, then punch holes in the bad guys ships, sending them to the bottom and taking them out of the war.
When the Great War started, Italy, who was officially an ally of Germany and Austria, flung its hands in the air and proclaimed its official neutrality. You see Italy bordered France to the west, and faced the might of the combined British and French fleets in the Mediterranean, and had very little to gain for coming into the war for the two Kaisers, with everything to lose. Them, after eight months of wooing from the Allies, Italy double crossed their buddies and cast their lot with the West. Although the Italian Army found itself in a bloody stalemate in the Alps against the Austrian army that brought nothing but misery, their navy served a very real purpose in bottling up the rather large Austrian fleet in the Adriatic. This freed up the British and French forces in the Med to move into the Atlantic to face the Germans.
For most of 1915, 1916, and 1917 the Italian Navy, (Regia Marina) was content with holding the line across the Adriatic and keeping the Austrians in their ports. Then in 1918, they decided to go north and sink the Kaiser’s battleships where they slept. Two Italian torpedo boats made it into the lightly defended harbor at Trieste and sank the old battleship Wien. The problem was, the Austrians had years to fortify their largest naval base at Pola (now Pula in Croatia) with anti-submarine nets, anti-torpedo nets, underwater obstacles, coastal artillery, and naval mines. To penetrate these harbors, the Italians had to come up with something different.
They came up with the “Barchino saltatore” or “punt jumper”. These fifty foot long wooden hulled boats had a flat bottom and two tracks along each side of the hull, port and starboard. Each track held a series of metal crampon hooks and was turned by a set of pulleys fore and aft, propelled by a pair of 5hp electric motors. This unusual boat 8-ton could literally crawl over the rows of torpedo nets and anti-submarine nets that separated the Adriatic from the protected harbor. Once over the nets, the boat would drop into the inner harbor, where it would transit, using its spinning tracks to move like a side-mounted paddle wheel, at 4-knots. Then, lining up with an Austrian battleship at anchor, it would send two torpedoes into its side before beating feet (err, tracks) back out to sea. Of course this required the punt jumper to be towed to Pola and back by a larger ship, but once there, it was good to go.
The Italians built four of these boats and named them the Cavalletta (Grasshopper) , Locusta (Locust), Pulce (Flea) and Grillo (Cricket). The were made a part of MAS 95 and 96 squadrons, which became famous for irregular naval actions in the war.
Four times in early May, 1918, two Italian destroyers, two torpedo boats, and the punt jumper Grillo left the Italian side of the Adriatic and made its way in convoy to Pula. On the first three of those attempts, conditions were less than ideal Then on the night of May 13-14, 1918, the Grillo made a go of it with a mission to make it through Pola harbor. Crewed by Stoker Giuseppe Corrias, Seaman Angelino Berardinelli, and commanded by Lieutenant CC Pellegrini , the Grillo made it through four of the five Austrian obstruction nets, but got caught on on the last one. These obstacles were rows of timber baulks and wire hawsers six feet apart. Four out of five doesn’t count in harbor defenses and the Austrians opened fire on the helpless Grillo when it was caught in the searchlights, which sunk.
Her three-man crew was captured and ended the war as POWs, winning the Italian Gold Medal for Military Valor.
The Austrians thought it interesting enough to make one of their own as a testbed to make sure the Italians couldn’t get successful using one of these tank-boats in the future.
With that in mind, the Italians shelved the other three and concentrated on human torpedoes, which they used to penetrate Pola in November and sink the battleship Viribus Unitis (20,000 t) and the nearby steamer Wien (7,400 t) in the last days of the war.
Displacement 8 tons
Length 16.0 m (52.29ft)
Width 3,10 m (10.17 ft)
Draft 0.75 m (2.46ft)
Propulsion 2 electric motors on axis for 10 HP total
Speed 4 knots
Range 30 mn at 4 knots
Armament 2x 450mm torpedoes
If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO)
They are possibly one of the best sources of naval lore http://www.warship.org/naval.htm
The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.
Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.
I’m a member, so should you be!