Tag Archives: Regia Marina

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.

Italian seaplane carrier Giuseppe Miraglia entering Taranto. Look at all those Macchis…

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. 

Warship Wednesday, July 21, 2021: Luckiest of the Italian Heavies

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, July 21, 2021: Luckiest of the Italian Heavies

Here we see the Zara-class incrociatore (heavy cruiser) Gorizia of the Regia Marina, with her sister Fiume, anchored in Venice circa September 1937. The Palazzo Ducale is in the distance to the left, where the visiting British County-class cruiser HMS London (69) rests in a place of honor pierside. Note the whaleboat in the foreground with the duster of the Royal Navy, which called on the City of Canals that summer under the flag of VADM Sir Charles Kennedy-Purvis. Of course, the British would revisit Italian harbors several times just a few years later, but under much less cordial terms, and often at night.

The four Zaras were impressive in scale, at some 599-feet in length overall, and had an “official” Naval Treaty standard weight of 10,000-tons, although their actual full load weight was closer to 14,500 tons. Using eight British pattern Thornycroft boilers and a pair of Parsons steam turbines, they could make 32 knots even with a very strong armor scheme (up to 5.9-inches) for interbellum cruisers.

The primary armament for these Italian heavies was eight 8″/53 Model 1927 Ansaldos, mounted in four twin turrets. These guns had a range of about 34,500 yards firing 270-pound AP shells and, due to the electrically-powered training and elevation and hydraulically powered rammers used in their mountings could fire as fast as 3.8 rounds per minute per gun– very respectable for the era.

Heavy cruiser Gorizia, 1941, with members of her crew clustered in front of her forward 8 inch mounts. Although excellent guns, the very tight mountings limited the spread of shell fire. 

Secondary armament consisted of 16 3.9″/47 O.T.O. Model 1928 DP guns in eight twin shielded mounts. Basically, an unlicensed version of the old Austro-Hungarian Navy’s Skoda K10/K11 that the Italians fell in love with when they saw it on war prizes in 1918, O.T.O. had revamped the design into a decent AAA piece with a ceiling of 33,000 feet. 

Incrociatore Zara pezzi da 100 47 mm O.T.O. mod.1928

Unlike most cruisers built in the first half of the 20th Century, the Zara class did not carry any torpedoes, but they did, awkwardly, have a bow-mounted catapult for two single-engine floatplanes.

Italian heavy cruiser Zara incrociatori pesanti classe Zara in navigazione. Photographer Miniati, Bruno 1939, Alinari archives. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Richard Worth, in his Fleets of World War II, notes that the Zaras had a lot of attributes that set them up for success.

They were handsome ships, dry and stable, with the most endurance among Italian cruisers (5,000+ miles at 16 knots). With 13 percent of their tonnage devoted to protection, they showed an excellent concentration of metal; only American cruisers had thicker belt armor. The guns were paired too closely but they otherwise performed well. If the Italians had persisted in designs like this one, they could have deployed a powerful fleet indeed.

Laid down at O.T.O. Livorno on 17 March 1930, Gorizia was completed just 21 months later on 23 December 1931.

The class, among the most advanced and formidable in the world during the “Treaty” era, was a favorite of the U.S. ONI, and several period photos are in the collection of the Navy Heritage Command, likely gleaned from open sources by Naval attaches in Europe before the war.

Italian ship: GORIZIA. Italy – CA (Zara class). Italian fleet in the harbor of Naples. Catalog #: NH 111423

The four Zara class heavy cruisers, seen during the late 1930s, possibly at the now-infamous May 1938 “H Review” along the Gulf of Naples in which Il Duce tried very hard to impress his little Austrian buddy with the funny mustache. The four ships are (unidentified as to order in the photograph): ZARA (1930-1941); FIUME (1930-1941); GORIZIA (1930-1944); and POLA (1931-1941). NH 86333

The Four Italian ZARA Class Heavy Cruisers at Naples. The late 1930s, all four sister cruisers at anchor from front to back: FIUME (1930-41), ZARA (1930-41), POLA (1931-41), and GORIZIA (1930-44.) NH 86432

The “four sisters” of Italian heavy cruisers. From left to right: GORIZIA (1930-1944), POLA (1931-1941), ZARA (1930-1941), and FIUME (1930-1941) at Naples, circa 1938. One of the Italian Navy’s training ships, AMERIGO VESPUCCI (1930) or CRISTOFORO COLOMBO (1928), appears in the distance to the right. NH 86577

Italian ship: Heavy cruiser GORIZIA. Italy – CA (Zara class). Photographed during 1935 in the Suez Canal. NH 111424

GORIZIA (Italian Heavy Cruiser, 1930-44) Photographed at a fleet review before World War II, possibly at Naples in 1938. Three other heavy cruisers and three destroyers appear in the background. NH 86107

GORIZIA (Italian heavy cruiser, 1930-1944) Detail view of the ship forward superstructure, seen from the starboard side in a pre-World War II photograph. Note sailors waving. NH 86304

In the decade prior to WWII, the Zaras in general and Gorizia, in particular, was very busy, spending much time lending Franco a quiet hand in the Spanish Civil War, to include intercepting the fleeing Republican fleet out of Cartegena–consisting of the cruisers Miguel de Cervantes, Libertad, and Mendez Nuñez, along with eight destroyers and two submarines– in March 1939, which was desperately trying to make a friendly exile in Soviet Russia via the Black Sea. Instead, the Spanish had to settle for internment in French Tunisia where its commander, ADM Miguel Buiza, later volunteered for the French Foreign Legion, a force swelled at the time with former Republicans.

It was during the Spanish Civil War that Gorizia let the cat out of the bag on the fact of how outside of the naval treaty limits they were. While holding station off Spain in August 1936, she suffered an avgas explosion that blew out parts of her bow, forcing her to put into British Gibraltar for emergency repairs.

There, dockyard workers and RN personnel were easily able to ascertain that she was grossly overweight and up-armored from her “public” specs and quietly reported it up the chain, although the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, never took up the matter with Rome.

In another prelude to the Big Show, Gorizia accompanied the rest of her class to help support the quickly accomplished Italian invasion of Albania in April 1939 while the British fleet, a force that saw itself as the Lion of the Med, was infamously “lolling about in Italian harbors.”

The Main Event

When Italy entered WWII against France and Britain as one of the Axis Powers in June 1940, the Zara class was in for a wild ride.

Italian battlefleet off Gaeta in 1940 showing four Zara class cruisers, two Trento class cruisers, and Bolzano

The very next month, the four sisters managed to come out of the Battle of Calabria against the British fleet without damage and, that November, were all clustered in Taranto when British Swordfish torpedo bombers famously penetrated the harbor and smacked around the Italian battleships, again surviving without a scratch. In the follow-on Battle of Capo Teulada, Gorizia fired a dozen salvos and bird-dogged the British squadron with her seaplanes, with no real effect on either side.

Gorizia’s luck continued to hold when, missing the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941 as she was escorting convoys to Libya, all three of her sisters, Pola, Zara, and Fiume, were sacrificed needlessly to the guns of British battleships, with horrendous loss of life. All that 5.9-inch plate was of no use against point-blank hits from 15-inch guns, it turned out, a lesson the Brits had previously handed out to Von Spee’s squadron in the Falklands in 1914.

Fiume, a Zara-class heavy cruiser sunk during Battle of Cape Matapan, 29 March 1941, painting by Adam Werka

The only survivor of her class, Gorizia fought at both inconclusive surface actions known as the battles of Sirte, again without taking hits in either.

Gorizia opens fire with her 8in guns on British forces at the Second Battle of Sirte, 22 March 1942

Gorizia cruiser class Zara, in Messina, March 23, 1942, after 2nd Sirte

The U.S. Navy’s ONI 202 listing for Italian ships, released in early 1942, carried Gorizia.

Endgame

Her luck ran out on 10 April 1943.

The last two operational Italian heavy cruisers, Gorizia, and the Trento-class Trieste, were subjected to an attack by 84 Algerian-based B-17Fs of the 15th Air Force’s 301st Bombardment Group (Heavy) and 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), while anchored near Sardinia’s Caprera Island.

As noted at the time by the War Department:

The Italian heavy cruiser Trieste was sunk & the heavy cruiser Gorizia was severely damaged when Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Northwest African Air Forces attacked them as they lay at anchor at the Naval base of La Maddalena on the Northern coast of 4/10. The attack was made by one of the largest formations of Fortresses ever to be put into the air. Both vessels received direct hits. Reconnaissance photographs taken since the attack show Gorizia still afloat but in badly damaged condition with several tugs alongside and a large amount of oil spreading over the water around her. It is apparent that she will be out of action for a long time. The Fortresses, which were unescorted, all returned safely to base.

“The Italian heavy cruiser Gorizia was severely damaged when planes of the 342nd Bomb Squadron, 97th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force attacked as it lay at anchor at the Naval Base of La Maddalena on the northern coast of Sardinia on 10 April 1943.” (U.S. Air Force Number 3A26988, via NARA)

“The 11,000-ton Italian cruiser Gorizia lying off La Maddalena harbor of Northern Sardinia. One of the largest Flying Fortress formations badly damaged the Gorizia with direct hits on April 10. Its sister ship, the 10,000-ton Trieste was sunk on the same raid. Lines around Gorizia are anti-torpedo nets.” (U.S. Air Force Number 24037AC, via NARA)

“Here, the stern and bow of the cruiser Gorizia are dimly seen through the smoke and flames of many bombs burst on her deck and in the water around her.” (U.S. Air Force Number A23879AC, via NARA)

“Here, the bow of the Trieste is seen high out of the water as she receives a direct hit on the stern and many other bombs burst around her.” (U.S. Air Force Number 23879AC, via NARA)

In the attack, the Fortresses landed at least three 500-pound bombs on Gorizia, with one penetrating the rear super firing turret and the other two the armored deck next to the port side superstructure. Meanwhile, near-misses wracked the hull and caused limited flooding. She suffered 63 deaths and 97 wounded.

Two days later, on 12 April, emergency repairs were effected, and Gorizia steamed for La Spezia where she entered dry dock on 4 May.

It was while high and dry in La Spezia that word came in September of the Italian surrender to the Allies. As the Germans moved in to seize the harbor, the ship’s skipper mulled an order to flood the dock and further scuttle the already heavily damaged ship but was not able to carry it out. Either way, the Germans found her in poor condition and simply moved Gorizia, sans crew, from the dry dock to the harbor, where they left her to swing at her anchors near the similarly abandoned Bolzano.

With aerial photography showing the (believed) still mighty cruisers afloat in La Spezia despite several raids from B-25s and could nonetheless be used as block ships by the Germans, a team of volunteer co-belligerent Italian X MAS Flotilla frogmen, working in conjunction with the British, infiltrated the harbor’s “defenses” on the night of 21/22 June 1944 by means of Chariot human torpedoes and SLC speedboats with the aim of sinking same. Codenamed Operation QWZ, just two British/Italian Chariots made it into the harbor and only one found her target. Hint, it was not Gorizia.

While Bolzano went to the harbor bottom, the abandoned Gorizia escaped mining and still had enough compartments intact to remain afloat until the Allies liberated the harbor in April 1945.

“Italian light cruiser Gorizia First Caught It Off Sardinia from 15th Air Force, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, later from North American B-25 Mitchells At La Spezia.” (U.S. Air Force Number 57668AC, via NARA)

Epilogue

Surveyed and considered wrecked, Gorizia, although the last Italian heavy cruiser not underwater in 1945, was passed over both by the Allies’ prize committee and the newly-formed post-war Marina Militare.

Gorizia is not listed in the 1946-47 Jane’s Fighting Ships entry for Italy.

Stricken from the naval register on 27 February 1947, she was subsequently raised and slowly broken up for scrap.

The modern Italian Navy has not recycled the name, that of an often controversial former Austrian border town and Great War battleground which now sits astride the Slovenian line. The Marine Militare does have a short memorial page to the old cruiser, though.

Several period postcards are in circulation with particularly good views of the vessel. 

You have to admit, the Zaras had beautiful lines

Gorizia continues to sail in plastic as she has been the subject of several scale model kits including those by Tauro and Trumpeter, which have resulted in some interesting maritime art.

Specs:
Displacement: 13,660 t (standard), 14,460 t (full)
Length: 599 ft. (overall)
Beam: 67 ft.
Draft: 23 ft.
Propulsion: 8 Thornycroft boilers, 2 Parsons turbines, 2 propellers, 95,000 hp
Speed 33 knots
Range: 5,434 nm at 16 knots
Crew: 31 officers and 810 sailors
Armor:
vertical belt, turrets: 150 mm; horizontal: 70 mm
Aircraft: 2 Piaggio P6bis seaplanes, later replaced by Macchi M.41, CANT 25AR, CMASA MF6, and finally (1938) IMAM Ro.43. Bow catapult
Armament:
4 x 2 203/53 Mod. 1927
6 x 2 100/47 OTO Mod. 1928 (Skoda M1910)
4 x 1 40/39 mm QF Vickers-Terni pattern AAA pom-pom guns
14 x 20/65 mm Breda Mod. 35 AAA guns
8 x 13.2 mm Breda Mod. 31 machine guns

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.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.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Vespucci at 90

The Italian Navy’s historic nave scuola (training ship) Amerigo Vespucci (A5312) was constructed back when Italy had a king on the throne and is still going strong. Built at the Royal Shipyard of Castellammare di Stabia, Vespucci was commissioned as part of the Divisione Navi Scolastiche (School Ships Division) on 6 June 1931, joining her sister, the ill-fated Cristoforo Colombo, with the task of training Italian naval cadets.

The “most beautiful ship in the world” is set to turn 90 this year and never looked better.

Warship Wednesday, Jan.20, 2021: Bruised Georgie

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Jan.20, 2021: Bruised Georgie

Australian War Memorial Photo 100014

Here we see the ancient and battered Regio incrociatore corazzato (armored cruiser) San Giorgio, some 80 years ago this week, scuttled and burning after air attacks at Tobruk, Libya, 22 January 1941. The anti-torpedo nets around the wreck reportedly held 39 British fish of various types in their mesh.

Named after Saint George, the patron saint of Genoa, San Giorgio was ordered for the Regia Marina in 1904, during the height of the Russo-Japanese War, and at the time was the largest and strongest armored cruiser in the Italian fleet.

Designed by naval engineer Edoardo Masdea, San Giorgio and her near-sister San Marco were beefy 10,000-ton beasts swathed in as much as 10 inches of armor. They carried four 10″/45 Elswick-pattern Modello 1908 in a pair of turrets as the main battery, eight 7.5″/45 Modello 1908s in four twin turrets as a secondary battery that itself was powerful enough for a heavy cruiser, and a tertiary armament of 20 rapid-fire 76mm and 47mm guns meant to defend against torpedo boats– then seen as the most dangerous non-battleship threat. Speaking of torps, they had three small tubes of her own, below the waterline in period fashion, and at least two steam cutters that could carry torpedos as well.

Powered by 14 Blechynden boilers trunked through two sets of paired funnels, San Giorgio could make 23 knots and steam for over 6,000 nm on a full coal load at about half that.

Janes of the era listed the class under the battleships section. Click to big up

Laid down in 1907 at Regio Cantieri di Castellammare di Stabia in Naples, she was completed 1 July 1910.

Cover of the magazine La Tribuna Illustrata 9 August 1908, showing the launch of San Giorgio

She was a good looking ship and appeared numerous times in postcards of the era. 

Embarrassingly, the brand-new ship on 12 August 1911, following exercises in the Gulf of Naples, ran aground on the shoal of Gaiola, a rocky outcrop some 18 feet deep. As she did so while making 16 knots, she had five forward compartments flooded and took on 4,300 tons of water. Recovering the vessel required much effort and it took a full month to refloat.

Lightened and patched up, she was pulled free on 15 September by the battleship Sicily.

The resulting investigation hit the skipper– the well-placed Marquis Gaspare Alberga– and XO with a slap on the wrist while the navigator got three months in the brig.

Quickly patched up, she took part in the latter stages of the Italian-Turkish War, operating along the Libyan coast.

San Giorgio firing her guns during the Italo-Turkish War 1912

In March 1913, she was part of the international squadron that escorted the remains of former Danish prince William, who served as Greek King George I from 1863 onwards, back home to Athens. George had been assassinated while walking in Thessaloniki, shot in the back of the head by a socialist who later fell to his death from a police station window.

Transfer of the body of King George I on the Greek Royal yacht Amphitrite escorted by three Greek destroyers, Russian gunship Uralets, German battlecruiser SMS Goeben, British cruiser HMS Yarmouth, French cruiser Bruix and Italian cruiser San Giorgio. Painting by Vassilios Chatzis.

Remarkably, San Giorgio soon grounded once again off Sant’Agata di Militello in the strait of Messina in November 1913 but, while another black eye, was more easily freed than the 1911 crack up.

Der italienische Panzerkreuzer San Giorgio im November 1913 in der Straße von Messina gestrandet.

The card translates to “O ship, twice locked in the tenacious branch of the treacherous cliff and returned twice to the loving mother who embraces you,” which makes you think it was issued sometime after her second grounding.

Another war

When Italy joined the Great War in 1915 on the side of Britain, France, and Russia, San Giorgio was soon very active against the Austro-Hungarian Navy in the southern Adriatic. This involved defending the Otranto line and Venice but got hot with a surface raid on the Italian port of Durazzo in October 1918 along with her sistership San Marco and the cruiser Pisa.

At the end of the conflict, she sailed triumphantly into Pola to take the surrendered Austrian fleet under her guns.

San Giorgio class (Italian Armored cruiser), center. RADETZKY Class (Austrian Battleship), built in 1908 (right). The photograph was taken about 1919, Pola Yugoslavia Description: Courtesy of Mr. Donald M. McPherson 169 Birch Avenue, Corte Madera, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 68218

Peace

An aging ship, San Giorgio by the 1920s was increasingly used for training purposes and extended overseas cruises for midshipmen from Livorno.

On such a run in 1924-25, she carried crown prince Umberto of Savoy abroad on a round-the-world voyage to take a company of the San Marco Battalion to Shanghai to protect the international delegation there.

Crown Prince Umberto boarding the San Giorgio for the voyage to South America, 1924. Illustration by A. Beltrame

After 1931, her sister, San Marco, was disarmed per the various London and Washington Naval Treaties– back when Italy was still in the ill-fated League of Nations. Like the U.S. Navy battleship Utah (BB-31/AG-16), she was repurposed as a floating target ship, an easy conversion for a vessel that had armor coating almost every surface, even the deck.

Italian Target Ship ex-Armored Cruiser SAN MARCO, capable of being radio-controlled. She would go on to be captured by the Germans in 1943 when Italy pulled out of the war, then later scuttled at Spezia. Interestingly, she used a different engineering suite from San Giorgio, being powered by Parsons steam turbines, and Babcock & Wilcox boilers. NH 111446

By 1936, she was assigned to the Italian task force off Spain during the Spanish Civil War and, with the Supermarina seeing the writing on the wall, withdrawn from the line the next year for modernization.

Spending nearly two full years at Ansaldo in Genoa, the cruiser was extensively rebuilt and modernized. Her boilers, replaced by more modern oil-fired examples, were reduced from 14 to eight, which allowed two funnels to be removed. She also picked up new electronic gear, landed most of her 1910-era small guns in favor of new 100/47mm OTO Mod 1928 DP twin mounts, and sealed up her torpedo tubes.

Italian Ship: SAN GIORGIO. Italy – OCA. (San Giorgio Class). 1939. Note her vastly changed appearance from the original Great War era vessel. NH 111445

And it was just in time.

George’s final war

Deployed from Italy to the Eastern Libyan fortress port of Tobruk, arriving on 13 May 1940 while the country was still at peace. Remember, Italy didn’t join WWII until 10 June 1940 when Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg has already fallen and France was on the verge of collapse, leaving Britain alone against Hitler and Mussolini.

Two days after the Italians clocked in, the British light cruisers Gloucester (62) and Liverpool (C11) swung by Tobruk and engaged the port and San Giorgio in an ineffective long-range artillery duel, with neither side connecting. Before the end of the month, HMS Parthian (N75), arriving in the Med from China station in May 1940, made it close enough to fire two torpedoes at the big Italian that did not connect, leaving the British sub to settle with sinking the Italian submarine Diamante near Tobruk on 20 June.

San Giorgio‘s skipper at the time, Capitano di Fregata Rosario Viola, reinforced her exposed decks with sandbags and ordered a triple layer of torpedo nets around the hull, then mounted as many extra guns and lookouts as he could.

This had mixed results as, on late in the afternoon of 28 June, her gunners were involved in a friendly-fire incident in which a pair of SIAI-Marchetti SM79 Sparvieros had the bad luck of coming in low and out of the sun over the port in the wake of a British bomber strike. One Sparviero was blown from the sky– flown by no other than fascist darling and big aviation advocate Italo Balbo, then serving as Libya’s governor-general.

Oof.

Balbo/Sparvieros.

Still, the attacks came. 

5 July, Swordfish torpedo bombers of 813 Squadron from HMS Eagle attacked Tobruk in a combined attack with the RAF at dusk, sinking the destroyer Zeffiro and the freighter SS Manzoni but missing San Giorgio.

Swordfish from Eagle’s 824 Squadron conducted a night raid on 27 October, seeding the harbor with mines.

San Giorgio was still Tobruk in early 1941, which was probably the worst time and place to be an Italian cruiser. After a terribly run invasion of Egypt, the Italian 10th Army had just been thoroughly defeated by the British Western Desert Force at Bardia and the stragglers, largely formed around the 61st (Sirte) Infantry Division by 7 January were encircled in Tobruk and subject to heavy bombardment.

San Giorgio, after the Balbo shootdown, was placed under the command of Capitano di Fregata Stefano Pugliese, a 40-year-old who had spent 25 of those in the Navy, including as skipper of the “pirate” submarine Balilla during the Spanish-American war and as XO of the light cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi during the Battle of Calabria. The port commander, RADM Massimiliano Vietina, ordered Pugliese to remain in the besieged port as a floating artillery battery and lend his cruiser’s heavy guns to the wobbly perimeter.

Over the next two weeks, as the Italian lines crumbled and air attacks by Blenheims escorted by Gladiators and Hurricanes owned the skies, San Giorgio did her best. Sealed into the harbor by the destroyer-screened Great War Erebus-class monitor HMS Terror, who occasionally lobbed 15-inch shells into Tobruk, the Italian cruiser was heavily damaged but continued to both contribute to the flak clouds and ground defense.

When it came to AAA, her biggest contribution was from five twin 100/47 high-angle guns, augmented by three 20mm Bredas and four 13.2mm mounts. Over the course of 291 air raid warnings during her time at Tobruk and 115 engagements, she fired a whopping 13,000 100 mm rounds and 120,000 from the smaller pieces. Her crew claimed 47 aircraft hit or shot down (not sure if Balbo’s plane is included in that tally).

Note the sandbagged AAA positions and covering on deck as well as the torpedo net boom

Twin OTO 100mm DP mount

Her big guns fired over 100 shells from the big 10-inch guns and 360 from her 7.45s.

Finally, when the end was near on the night of 21/22 January, Pugliese signaled the ship abandoned, after ordering the crew to wreck everything they could find for two hours, then led a small party, primarily of volunteer junior officers and NCOs, back to blow the vessel’s magazines. Two men, Torpedoman 1st Class Alessandro Montagna and 2nd Lt. Giuseppe Buciuni, were lost in the explosion due to a delayed fuse.

Epilogue

The ship, through a combination of magazine explosions and bunker fires, burned for days.

Members of C Company (mostly from 14 Platoon), Australian 2/11th Infantry Battalion, part of the 6th Division having penetrated the outer defenses of Tobruk, assemble again on the escarpment on the south side of the harbor after attacking anti-aircraft gun positions, 22 January 1941. San Giorgio is one of the plumes in the background. Burning fuel oil tanks at the port are the second. AWM

These photos were taken on 25 January, four days after the ship was scuttled. AWM

One of the better shots soon circled the globe, tagged in four languages. Big news for the struggling Brits in 1941. 

Once the wreck cooled, there were extensive surveys and relic hunting done by Allied troops.

The wreck of the Italian Armored Cruiser San Giorgio in Tobruk Harbor, sunk by RAF and RN aircraft. Photographed by Robert Milne taken from HMAS Vendetta. AWM

AWM photos.

To honor the crew and the vessel, San Giorgio was awarded the Medaglia d’oro al Valor Militare, Italy’s highest recognition for military valor, by the Royal Decree of King Umberto on 10 June 1943. Only seven other units– the five daring torpedo boats of the Dardanelles Squadron: Spica, Centaur, Perseo, Astore, Climene; MAS Flotilla Alto Adriatico, and the submarine Scirè— received the MOVM in gold during the war.

The two men lost in San Giorgio’s scuttling were similarly decorated, posthumously.

Her surviving ~700 crew, meanwhile, spent the rest of the war in a British POW camp in India. Many would receive decorations for their actions for Tobruk. The crew was decorated with five Silver MVMs as well as 16 Bronze and 237 War Crosses.

“Four Italian ratings captured from San Giorgio, 31 January 1941.” AWM

Pugliese, who returned home to a hero’s welcome in 1945 and a MOVM of his own, later went on to rise to the rank of vice admiral in the postwar Italian fleet and in the 1960s would become commander of the NATO naval forces in the central Mediterranean– which ironically included British vessels.

In 1951, the then-independent Libyan government of King Idris came to an agreement with Rome to salvage the cruiser’s hulk. During the recovery, it was reported that 39 torpedoes and a huge amount of other UXO were found in the nets and on the seabed around the ship.

Refloated by a scrapper who intended to haul it back to Italy, while under tow by the tug Ursus the wreck started taking on water and broke her lines, taking a deep plunge some 140 miles north of Tobruk in some of the deepest water in the Med.

Relics of the cruiser are few.

San Giorgio‘s ceremonial ensign, presented to the ship in 1911 by Duchess of Genoa, Isabella Maria Elisabetta di Baviera, was spirited past the blockade out of Tobruk by a volunteer crew of six officers, three sailors and the ship’s dog, “Stoppaccio,” and made it back to Italy aboard a requisitioned trawler, Risveglio II. If anyone can find an image of the banner, please let me know.

When the Axis retook Tobruk in 1942 once Rommel was on the scene, the Italians inspected the wreck of the cruiser and, finding three 100/47mm guns still sound, recovered them and put them back in circulation.  

A 12-minute wartime film, Vita e fine della San Giorgio, The Life and end of the San Giorgio, can be seen online at the Italian national archives and includes much footage of the vessel.

The Australian War Memorial has a brass pistol grip and trigger from one of San Giorgio‘s direction finders that were salvaged by the crew of the destroyer HMAS Vendetta (I96), as well as an Italian naval officer’s dress sword engraved to the ship.

AWM

The U.S. National Archives has numerous naval attaché reports on San Giorgio in their collection.

As for the Italian Navy, the Regia Marina faded away in 1945 and was replaced by the Marina Militare Italiana, which still honors the famous armored cruiser’s memory. Since then, the Italians have very much kept the name alive on their naval list, commissioning a 5,000-ton light cruiser/destroyer leader/training ship (D 563) in 1955.

SAN GIORGIO (D 562), Italian DL, in New York Harbor for the International Naval Review, 4 July 1976. Originally laid down as a Roman Captain-class light cruiser in WWII, by 1965 she was a training ship that took summer midshipmen cruises around the globe– replicating her namesake’s 1920s and 1930s mission. She was retired in 1979 and sold to the breakers in 1987. K-114252

In 1987, the Italian Navy christened the class leader of a new series of 8,000-ton amphibious transport docks (L9892) which are all still in service and going strong.

Specs:

(1910)
Displacement: 10,167 tons (standard), 11,300 (full)
Length: 462 ft 3 in (o/a)
Beam: 69 ft 0 in
Draught: 24 ft 1 in
Machinery: 14 Blechynden boilers, 2 shafts, 2 vertical triple-expansion steam engines, 19,500 ihp
Speed: 23 knots
Range: 6,270 nmi at 10 knots on 1500 tons of coal, (Carried 50 tons naphtha for boats)
Complement: 32 officers, 673 enlisted men
Armor:
Belt: 7.9 in
Gun turrets: 6.3–7.9 in
Deck: 2.0 in
Conning tower: 10.0 in
Armament:
4 Elswick 10.0 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (2×2)
8 Armstrong 7.5 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (4×2)
18 single Armstrong 76 mm guns
2 single Vickers 47 mm guns
2 Colt 6.5mm machine guns
3 x 17.7 in torpedo tubes
Embarked torpedo boats

(1940)

Displacement: 9,232 tons
Length: 459 ft.
Beam: 69 ft 0 in
Draught: 22.5 ft.
Machinery: 8 boilers, 2 shafts, 2 VTE, 18,000 ihp
Speed: 18 knots
Complement: 700
Armor: (Augmented by sandbags and extensive anti-torpedo nets)
Belt: 7.9 in
Gun turrets: 6.3–7.9 in
Deck: 2.0 in
Conning tower: 10.0 in
Armament:
4 Elswick 10.0 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (2×2)
8 Armstrong 7.5 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (4×2)
10 100mm/47 OTO Mod. 1928 DP (5×2)
12 Breda 20mm/65 Mod. 1935 AAA guns (6×2)
10 Breda Mod. 31 13.2mm machine guns (5×2)

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.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.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, June 24, 2020: ‘You are the most beautiful ship in the world’

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, June 24, 2020: ‘You are the most beautiful ship in the world’

Photo via the Marina Militare

Here we see the Italian Navy’s historic nave scuola (training ship) Amerigo Vespucci (A5312) during the vessel’s 1992 at-sea campaign, specifically the Colombiadi, a Tall Ship regatta organized on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Pushing almost a full century in service, the Vespucci is most assuredly “old school.”

Designed in 1925 for the old Royal Italian Navy, the Regia Marina, Vespucci was to replace the aging Flavio Gioia-class incrociatore (cruiser) of the same name. The former Amerigo Vespucci, a 2,750-ton iron-hulled steam barque carried 13 guns and was laid down in 1879, the first such Italian warship named in honor of the 15th Century explorer who figured out the American continent was, in fact, not Asia.

The Regia Marina’s first Amerigo Vespucci, shown here in 1903 while ranked as a corvette, served from 1882 until 1928, first as the fleet flagship, then a solid 26-years as a training ship for the students of the Royal Naval Academy, the Accademia Navale in Livorno.

The new Vespucci was designed by Francesco Rotundi as was her near-sister, the slightly larger Cristoforo Colombo, taking pains to model them on the old Sicilian (Sardinian) Navy’s 84-gun ship-of-the-line Re Galantuomo (Monarca), a key vessel in 19th Century Italian naval lore. If Rotundi’s name rings a bell, he was the naval engineer who drew up the plans for the interwar modernization of the WWI-era Caio Duilio– and Conte di Cavour-class dreadnoughts as well as the construction of the new Littorio/Vittorio Veneto-class fast battleships.

Some 329-feet in length over the bowsprit, Vespucci’s main mast towered 177 feet into the air and, when fully rigged, she carried more than 20 holona canvas sails. While she had two white-painted “gun decks” fitted with more than 200 portholes rather than cannon ports, she was completed only with saluting guns and a few vintage black powder display pieces. She carries a life-size figurehead of the ship’s namesake explorer in golden bronze, has teak decks, and ornate embellishments from her bow to stern, some covered in gold foil.

In a nod to 20th Century shipbuilding techniques, her hull, masts, and yards were steel (although her tops are wood) and the vessel was designed from the start with an “iron topsail,” an auxiliary diesel-electric plant of two 6-cylinder FIAT Q 426 engines coupled with a pair of dynamos to supply electricity for her radios, navaids, loudspeakers, sounding gear and lights. The electricity in turn could also be used to spin up a pair of Marelii motors on a single shaft– good for up to 10.5 knots. She carried enough diesel to cruise 5,400 nm at a breathtaking 6-knots without breaking out the first sheet.

Launch of Amerigo Vespucci

Built at the Royal Shipyard of Castellammare di Stabia, Vespucci was commissioned as part of the Divisione Navi Scolastiche (School Ships Division) on 6 June 1931, joining her sister Cristoforo Colombo with the task of training Italian naval cadets.

La navi scuola Vespucci (left) e Colombo (right) all’ancora a La Spezia, 1935 (Archivio storico Marina Militare)

Italian Sail Training ships- AMERIGO VESPUCCI and CRISTOFORO COLOMBO. Italy, Circa 1936. NH 111394

Vespucci sailed on her first annual training cruise, to Northern Europe, late in the summer of 1931. As noted by the Italian Navy, “from 1931 to 2006 the Amerigo Vespucci performed 79 training cruises for the 1st Class Cadets of the Naval Academy: 42 in North Europe, 23 in the Mediterranean, 4 in the Eastern Atlantic, 7 in North America and 1 in South America within the only circumnavigation of the globe carried out between May 2002 and September 2003.”

While not a warship in the traditional sense of the term, Vespucci and her sister trained the officers that manned Italy’s battleships and cruisers in a series of surface actions throughout the first few years of WWII, as well as many of the young gentlemen of the Italian submarine force and Decima MAS who wreaked havoc on the British fleet during the conflict.

As for the tall ships, however, they spent the war on training missions close to shore at Pula and, gratefully, survived to come through the other side.

The Regia Marina training ship Amerigo Vespucci repaired in the port of Brindisi following the armistice of 8 September 1943.

Once the war was over, and the Allies began carving away the most choice cuts of the old Italian fleet in 1949, Cristoforo Colombo was awarded to the Soviets along with the old battleship Giulio Cesare, the cruiser Duc’a De Aosta, two destroyers, three torpedo boats, two submarines, and assorted auxiliaries for a token fee. Colombo was renamed Dunaj (Danube) and worked with the Red Navy’s Black Sea Fleet for a decade.

Arriving in Odessa, 1949, former COLOMBO, soon to be named DUNAJ

Falling into disrepair in the 1960s after Colombo was handed over to the merchant marine school at Odessa, the graceful Italian tall ship was slowly dismantled by 1971.

Meanwhile, Vespucci returned to service with the reformed (i.e. non “Royal”) Italian Marina Militare. She resumed her overseas training cruises in 1951, equipped this time with a modest armament of four American-supplied 3″/50 guns and a single 20mm cannon to provide the ship’s cadets with some underway ordnance training.

Amerigo Vespucci in Rotterdam, Bestanddeelnr 912-9445

Playing a role in the XVII Olympiad, held in Rome that year, she transported the Olympic flame from Greece to Italy, an important healing moment between the two countries a generation after WWII. Vespucci, placed at the disposal of the Games’ Organizing Committee, embarked the flame on 13 August at Zeas with the torch carried aboard by an Italian naval cadet in a whaleboat and, sailing across the Ionian Sea, arrived at Syracuse on the 18th.

According to legend, while sailing in the Med in the 1960s, the 80,000-ton Forrestal-class supercarrier USS Independence, on a deployment with the Sixth Fleet duty in support of President John F. Kennedy’s firm stand on the newly-established Berlin Wall, came across a strange tall ship at sea. The carrier flashed the vessel, Vespucci, with the light signal asking, “Who are you?” The answer, “Training ship Amerigo Vespucci, Italian Navy,” came back. Independence was said to have replied, “You are the most beautiful ship in the world.”

AMERIGO VESPUCCI Italian Training Ship, Sails past USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62) in the Mediterranean, 12 July 1962. The Navy later used this image on recruiting posters and advertising in the 1960s and 70s. USN 1061621

In 1964, she was extensively refitted at La Spezia, given new engines, generators, radars, rigging, and refurbished below deck areas.

Afterward, she became increasingly visible overseas, taking part in international tall ship events in 1976, 1981, 1985, and 1986, crossing the Atlantic at least twice in that period.

The Italian cruiser Garibaldi (C551) passing Vespucci off Naples, 1968

Photograph of the Italian vessel Amerigo Vespucci visiting Finland 25 Aug 1965. By Pentti Koskinen, Finnish archives

Amerigo Vespucci (Italy) in New York Harbor during OpSail 76. Photo by Marc Rochkind via Wiki Commons

A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3B-95-LO Orion (BuNo 154576) from Patrol Squadron VP-23 Seahawks flying over the Italian Naval Academy sailing ship Amerigo Vespucci in 1976. The P-3B 154576 was later sold to Norway. U.S. Navy photo by PH1 R.W. Beno, U.S. Navy. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation No. 2004.NAI.055.001

A port beam view of the Italian training ship AMERIGO VESPUCCI (A 5312) in New York harbor during the International Naval Review, 7/4/1986 NARA DNST8701314

Amerigo alongside one of the Italian navy’s exotic Sparviero-class hydrofoils, Falcone (P 422). From the look of the way ahead of Falcone, a sistership may have just flown by the storied training vessel before the image was snapped. Talk about old meets new…

Today, Vespucci is only armed with two 6-pounder saluting guns in pivot mountings on the deck, forward of the mainmast, although her small arms locker is interesting and recent pictures show that she still carries at least two-dozen WWII-era Beretta MAB38/42 submachine guns, used by her ship’s watch.

Further, she is still hard at work at age 89, very much a part of the Italian fleet.

Note the saluting guns

Luigi Durand de la Penne (ex-Animoso) destroyer and the training ship Amerigo Vespucci both of the Italian navy.

The Alpino FREMM frigate docked near the Amerigo Vespucci training ship. Italian Navy, 2018.

Specs:

1:84 scale model of Italian training ship Amerigo Vespucci at the Hamburg IMMM

Displacement:
4,146 t (4,081 long tons) full load (DWT)
3,410 t (3,360 long tons) gross tonnage
1,203 t (1,184 long tons) net tonnage
Length:
329 ft 9 in LOA including bowsprit
270 ft overall, hull
229.5 ft pp
Beam: 51. ft
Height: 177.2 ft
Draught: 22 ft
Sail Rig: (original) 21 sails, 22,600 sq. ft. of canvas
(current) Up to 26 sails, 28,360 sq. ft.
Propulsion: Two 6-cylinder FIAT Q 426 engines, Two Marelli motors, 1,900 shp 1 shaft (1931),
Two 4-stroke, 8-cylinder FIAT B 308 ESS diesel engines (1964)
Engineering (since 2016)
2 × diesel engine generator MTU 12VM33F2, 1,824 bhp each
2 × diesel engines generator MTU 8VM23F2, 1,020 bhp each
1 × Electrical Propulsion Engine (MEP) ex Ansaldo Sistemi Industriali (NIDEC ASI) CR1000Y8 (1,010 bhp)
Speed:
Sails, 10 to 15 knots
Engines, 10 knots
Sensors: 2 × navigation radars GEM Elettronica AN/SPN-753(V)5, current
Complement: Up to 470
15 officers
64 NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers)
185 sailors
130 Naval Academy Cadets and Support Staff (when embarked)
Armament:
(1951)
4 x 3″/50cal singles
1 x 20mm cannon
(Today)
Small arms, saluting guns

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.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.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I am a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, June 10, 2020: Yes, but these go to 17 inches

Here at LSOZI, we 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, June 10, 2020: Yes, but these go to 17 inches

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 88710

Here we see the gleaming white late 19th-century Italian turret “ironclad” (corazzata) Caio Duilio (also sometimes seen as “Gaius Duilius”) at the La Spezia Navy Yard, around the time of her completion in 1880. Important to naval history as she was the first blue-water battlewagon on Earth rigged only with a military mast rather than a sail rig, carried only stupidly enormous guns, and likewise was the first two-shaft capital ships in the Italian Navy, Duilio also had the neatest stern-launched torpedo boat– but we’ll get into that in a minute.

The Regia Marina was one of the newest navies in the world in the 1870s, having just formed in the previous decade via an amalgamation of the old Sardinian, Partenopea, Sicilian, Tuscany and Pontifical fleets. In the driver’s seat across much of three decades off and on during this early period as Naval Minister was Benedetto Brin with the blessing of Sardinian ADM Simone Antonio Saint-Bon– Italy’s Tirpitz. A trained naval engineer, Brin sought to build not only the King’s fleet but also to the infrastructure to domestically produce all the things needed for a steel navy from shipyards and engine works to armor and gun factories.

Saint-Bon and Brin’s first large scale effort was the colossal Caio Duilio and her near-sister Enrico Dandolo.

Some 12,000-tons full load, these beasts were iron-hulled with a heavy layer of French-made Creusot steel plates stacked as thick as 21.6-inches in places and backed by twice that amount of timber. With a hull separated into 83 watertight compartments, they were built to absorb damage and they had a 15-foot submerged bow wedge that served as a ram. Equipped with eight boilers driving a pair of vertical compound engines, these ships were designed to make 15 knots.

Then there were the guns.

Throughout their design and construction several armament schemes were brainstormed until it was decided to fit these leviathans with a quartet of 17.7″ (450mm) /20 calibers “100 Ton” muzzleloading rifles made by Elswick/Armstrong in England, making them the most powerful battleships of the time. These immense pieces actually weighed 103 tons but fired a 2,000-pound shell which, in its AP format, could smash through 21-inches of the steel plate of the day. On the downside, they had a short-range (6,000 yards) and an abysmal rate of fire (four rounds per hour).

Originally designed by EOC with the Royal Navy in mind, the Admiralty turned the guns down for being too heavy and cumbersome, leaving Italy as the other fleet that mounted these giant toms on a warship. In British Army, however, did later acquire six of these pieces for installation in coastal artillery batteries at Gibraltar and Malta, ironically as a direct result of the Italian purchase should they ever come to blows with the Duilio-class ships.

As Italy was at the time allied with Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, her navy’s natural enemy was seen as France and in the early 1880s the two Duilio-class ships, with their eight 17.7-inch guns, were considered capable of keeping in check the entire French Mediterranean fleet.

The transport of these huge rifles from England to Italy and their subsequent testing was avidly followed by the Italian press of the era.

100 ton 17.72-inch rifled Armstrong gun being loaded onto the Italian transport ship Europa at Newcastle England bound for Italy. One of eight such guns sold to Italy to arm the Duilio-class battleships.

In October 1876 the first 100-ton gun for the Italian Duilio-class battleships was taken over in Newcastle, named “Margherita” and shipped to Italy on the steamer Europa. This illustration shows its arrival in La Spezia later in October. The L’Illustrazione Italiana No. 54 from November 5, 1876, had an article on page 363 and this picture on page 364. The illustrator is not mentioned, but the signature says something like “Cenni”. Note the inset with the shell compared to an Italian tar. Via Wikimedia Commons

In November 1876 the first 100-ton gun for the Italian Duilio-class battleships was tested at Muggiano near La Spezia. This illustration of the gun named “Margherita” was featured in the November 12, 1876 issue of the L’Illustrazione Italiana. This picture was on page 373, with an article on page 374. The illustrator is not mentioned, but there is both a set of initials and a signature that reads something like “Canedi”. Via Wikimedia Commons

The tests of the 100-ton gun at La Specia continued to capture the Italian public. The experiments apparently also included putting a man into the belly of the beast, plus entertaining the numerous guests who wanted a first-hand look at what was arguably the most potent gun in the world at the time. This illustration of the gun Margherita was featured in the November 26, 1876 issue of the L’Illustrazione Italiana. This picture was on page 405, with an article on page 407-410. The illustrator is referred to as “Signore A. P.” Via Wikimedia Commons

The guns were arranged in two twin turrets, offset from each other.

Which required an interesting loading process since they were front-stuffers. Keep in mind that the rate of fire on these pieces was one round every quarter-hour.

In addition to their main guns, the battleships carried another recent invention in the form of a trio of submerged torpedo tubes for 14-inch Whitehead torpedos. These early devices could make 20.7-knots, had a range of 833 yards, and packed a 94-pound warhead. Italy would order an initial batch of 34 these tin fish, produced at Fiume, in 1879-80, then continue to buy small batches until they moved to larger diameter torpedoes in the 1890s.

One other surprise that just Duilio was outfitted for was the carry of a stern-launched steam torpedo boat, the 76-foot, 26-ton Clio. The vessel was housed, combat-ready, in an 82x13x13-foot well deck, something that was really unheard of in the 1870s.

Constructed in England by Thornycroft to a design by Italian engineer Luigi Borghi, Clio was equipped with a pair of stern-dropped 14-inch Whitehead torpedoes– the same used by the battleship’s own submerged tubes– and a 37mm deck gun. She could make 18 knots on her coal-fired locomotive boiler but was a day-runner with no accommodation for her 10-man crew. Model at the Museo Storico Navale, photos by Emil Petrinic.

Clio’s stack and mast folded to allow her to enter the battleship’s well deck.

Both ships also carried four 39-foot steam launches on their stern deck that could mount a 37mm gun and could deploy mines.

Construction 

When it came to construction, both ships were laid down on the same day, 1 June 1873, with Duilio, named after Roman naval hero Gaius Duilius, having her keel laid at Regio Cantiere di Castellammare di Stabia (which today is Fincantieri) and her sister Dandolo at R. Arsenale di La Spezia with the lead ship completed in 1880 and Dandolo tarrying until 1882.

The launch of the Italian battleship Caio Duilio in Castellamare in 1876. Illustrator’s name quoted as “Piteco” via the L’Illustrazione italiana, May 28, 1876.

Detail view was taken on the ship’s starboard side amidships, looking forward sometime after 1890 as they have 37mm anti-torpedo boat guns mounted atop the turrets. Both of the ship’s twin 450mm (17.72-inch) main battery gun turrets, mounted en echelon amidships, can be seen in this view. Note the details of the opened turret port covers; the hammocks stowed around the turrets, and the “flying deck” running overhead. NH 88685

DANDOLO Photographed on the ways at the Royal Navy Yard, La Spezia, not too long before launch on 10 July 1878. Note the large opening in the hull amidships for installation of the 45 meters long, 550mm thick iron armor belt. The hull was built of iron, with wood backing for the armor. NH 88759

DANDOLO Photographed at the Royal Navy Yard, La Spezia, not too long before being launched on July 10, 1878. Here you can really see the 15-foot submerged bow. Note that the ship’s short midships armor belt-550mm thick iron 45 meters long-was not yet installed at this time. Thick wooden backing supported the armor, explaining the very deep gap in the ship’s side that can be seen here. Note the submerged bow tube for Whitehead torpedoes. NH 88684

Service

Caio Duilio on trials. Via the Italian weekly L’Illustrazione Italiana, June 1, 1879 edition, Wikicommons

DANDOLO Probably photographed soon after completion in 1882. These ships were completed in an all-white scheme and then after 1889 changed to a black and buff. NH 88711

DANDOLO, likely in the late 1880s. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington DC Catalog #: NH 74828

While huge, impressive ships, they were something of white elephants (see what I did there?) as naval technology soon past them by, and Italy, except for mixed results in North Africa, had nothing in the way of colonial enterprises to protect. Therefore, their entire career took place in the central and Eastern Mediterranean and was spent in peacetime training exercises, regional port visits, and the like.

In 1890, the ships would receive three 4.7″/40cal, two 3-inch, eight 57mm, and 22 37mm guns to defend against small torpedo boats.

Colorized photo of the crew of the Battleship Duilio (Italia) posed in front of one of her 17.7-inch turrets sometime in the 1890s. Note the small-caliber guns, 37mm 1-pounders, atop the turret.

Postcard of Duilio in the 1890s. Note her two 3″ stingers over the stern and two of her four 40-foot steam launches shown stowed.

DANDOLO underway in the Canal at Taranto, Italy, on 24 February 1894, bristling with small guns. Farenholt Collection. NH 66131

Italian ironclad battleship, Caio Duilio, of the Regia Marina, in Venice around 1900. By Steve Given via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/69559277@N04/16575211845

Duilio was increasingly sidelined and was withdrawn from fleet use in 1900, lingering on for a few years as the school ship Timonieri e Marò and a floating coastal defense battery until she was disarmed in 1906. Clio, her parisite torpedo boat, would be disposed of in 1903. Struck from the naval list in 1909, her superstructure was demolished and she would later be converted to a coal and oil storage hulk, dubbed GM40, and fade into history.

Her sister Dandolo would be rebuilt in 1898-1900 with new engines and be fitted with breechloading 10-inch guns in place of her massive 100-ton muzzleloaders. She would also pick up a wide array of smaller guns, seal off her bow torpedo tubes, and gain four deck-mounted 450mm tubes arranged bow, beam, and stern. She would continue in this manner through 1918, serving as a coastal defense ship during the Great War, until she was finally disposed of in January 1920.

The monicker Duilio by then had been recycled for an Andrea Doria-class battleship that served in both World Wars and was scrapped in 1957. The third Duilio was an Andrea Doria-class helicopter cruiser (C 554) that served throughout the Cold War. The fourth and current Italian warship to bear the name of Rome’s famous admiral is an Orizzonte-class destroyer (D 554) commissioned in 2008.

The original vessel endures in various series of popular period maritime art.

Duilio, Italian Navy, trade card from the “Naval Vessels of the World” series (N226), issued in 1889 to promote Kinney Tobacco Company. Via The Met

And, as already shown off in the above details of her parasite torpedo boat, there are some very nice scale models on public display.

This impressive model of the armored ship Duilio was built by Jürgen Eichardt on a scale of 1:100. It is displayed in the Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg’s exhibition on the history of the modern navies, on deck 9 of the museum.

Specs:

Longitudinal Section of the Warship Duilio Italian battleship. This view shows inboard (internal) features of the ship, including half the ship’s 8 oval boilers, the hull framing outboard of the starboard (forward) twin 450mm (17.72inch) gun turret, and the large open compartment aft used to carry a small torpedo boar. This space measured 25 x 4 x 4m in size. Via Ocean Steamships 1891

Displacement: Standard 11,138 tons; full load 12,265 tons
Length: 358 ft oa over ram, 339 pp
Beam: 64 ft.
Draft: 29 ft.
Machinery: 2 double-expansion vertical steam engines, 8 oval-section boilers, 8,045 shp, 2 propellers
Speed: 15 knots designed
Range: 2,875 mn at 13 knots; 3,760 nm at 10 knots on 1,000 tons coal
Crew: 26 officers + 397 enlisted (1880) 515 (1890)
Armor:
Belt 550 mm.
Bridge 50 mm.
Turrets 250 mm.
Tower 350 mm.
Armament:
(1880)
2 x 2 450mm/20 caliber Armstrong
3 bow 350mm torpedo tubes
(Added 1890)
3 x 120 mm
2 x 75 mm
8 x 57 mm
22 x 37 mm

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.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.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Battlewagon in the anti-ship missile age, 29 years ago today

While primitive guided bombs and missiles were fielded in WWII (see = the U.S. Navy’s SWOD-9 Bat and the sinking of the Italian battleship Roma in 1943 by an air-launched Fritz X) it wasn’t until the P-15 Termit (NATO: SS-N-2 Styx) was developed by the Soviets in 1958 that a reliable surfaced-launched anti-ship missile was fielded. Soon answered in the West by the Swedish Saab Rb 08 and Israeli Gabriel in the 1960s, then by more advanced platforms such as Exocet and Harpoon, such weapons replaced coastal artillery batteries as well as surfaced-launched torpedos as the principal means for asymmetric forces to effect a “kill” on a capital ship.

Likewise, the age of the dreadnought and large all-gun-armed cruiser was fading at the same time.

The four Iowa-class fast battleships were mothballed in 1958 (but, of course, New Jersey would be brought back for a tour in Vietnam while all four would be returned to service in the 1980s for the Cold War– more on that later) while the British retired HMS Vanguard in 1960 while the Soviets had gotten out of the battlewagon biz in the late 1950s after their Italian trophy ship Novorossiysk (ex-Giulio Cesare) blew up and their circa 1911 Gangut-class “school battleships” finally gave up the ghost. The French held on to Jean Bart until 1970, although she had been in reserve since after the Suez affair in 1956.

With that, it was no surprise that when the quartet of Iowas was reactivated in the 1980s to play a role in Reagan’s 600-ship Navy, they were “modernized” with 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from eight funky four-shot armored box launchers as well as 16 Harpoon anti-ship missiles in place of some of their WWII-era retired AAA gun mounts. In a nod to the facts, the missiles all out-ranged the battleships’ gun armament.

Fast forward to the 1st Gulf War and Mighty Mo, USS Missouri (BB-63), chunked 28 Tomahawks and 783 rounds of 16-inch shells at Saddam’s forces while dodging a Persian Gulf filled with naval mines of all flavors– as well as the occasional anti-ship missile counterfire.

16-inch (410 mm) guns fired aboard the battleship USS MISSOURI (BB-63) as night shelling of Iraqi targets takes place along the northern Kuwaiti coast during Operation Desert Storm. Date 6 February 1991. Photo by PH3 Dillon. DN-ST-91-09306

As for Missouri, the Iowas were not able to carry Sea Sparrow point defense launchers as they could not be shock-hardened to deal with the vibration from the battleship’s main guns, so they had an air defense provided by soft kill countermeasures such as chaff, decoys, and ducks; along with a quartet of CIWS 20mm Phalanx guns and five Stinger MANPAD stations– meaning a modern anti-ship missile would have to be killed either by an escort or at very close range. Good thing the Iowas had as much as 19.5-inches of armor plate!

While closing in with the enemy-held coastline to let her 16s reach out and touch someone on 23 February 1991, Missouri came in-range of a battery of shore-based Chinese-made CSS-C-2 Silkworm anti-ship missiles. One missed while the second was intercepted by Sea Darts from a nearby screening destroyer, the Type 42-class HMS Gloucester (D96). The intercepted Silkworm splashed down about 700 yards from Missouri.

USS Missouri under Attack by Iraqi Silkworm Painting, Oil on Canvas Board; by John Charles Roach; 1991; Framed Dimensions 28H X 34W Accession #: 92-007-U
Official caption: “While providing gunfire support to harass the Iraqi troops in Kuwait in preparation for a possible amphibious landing, USS Missouri (BB-63) was fired upon by an Iraqi Silkworm anti-ship missile. By the use of infrared flares and chaff, the missile’s guidance was confused. It crossed close astern of Missouri and was engaged and shot down by HMS Gloucester (D-96).”

The AP reported at the time:

Royal Navy Commander John Tighe told reporters two Sea Dart missiles were fired by the Gloucester less than 50 seconds after the ship’s radar detected the incoming Iraqi missiles at about 5 a.m.

Tighe said one Sea Dart scored a direct hit, destroying the Iraqi missile. He said a second missile launched by the Iraqis veered into the sea.

The commander said allied airplanes subsequently attacked the Silkworm missile launch site. He said that while he had not received a battle damage assessment, he was ″fairly confident that site will not be used to launch missiles against the ships again.”

Missouri did take some damage that day, from CIWS rounds fired by the escorting frigate USS Jarrett (FFG-33), which had locked on to one of the battleship’s chaff clouds and opened fire. One sailor was wounded by 20mm DU shrapnel.

Today, battleships left the Naval List for the final time in 1995 and all that made it that far are preserved as museums. The missiles, however, endure.

Warship Wednesday, May 22, 2019: The Defiant Bicyclist

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off 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, May 22, 2019: The Defiant Bicyclist

Il sommergibile Enrico Toti 2

Here we see the Balilla-class diesel submarine Enrico Toti of the Italian Regia Marina around 1933, dressed to impressed. Although many of Il Duce’s undersea boats met grim ends at the hands of the Allies in World War II and had little to show for their career, Toti had a much higher degree of success on both accounts.

While British, American and German submarines are given a lot of press for their storied achievements during the conflict, it should be noted that Italy was no slouch in the submersible department, historically speaking. The first Italian “sottomarino,” Delfino, was designed by marine engineer Giacinto Pullino at the La Spezia Navy Yard back in 1889, predating John Philip Holland’s designs for the U.S. and Royal Navy by a decade.

Over the next four decades, the Italians produced more than 100 subs, including some for the King of Sweden, the Kaiser of Germany and the Tsar of Russia, while in turn adopting a modicum of contemporary British designs to learn from. During World War I, the Italian submarine force counted some of the few Allied “kills” in the northern Adriatic when the Regia Marina’s F-12 torpedoed the Austro-Hungarian U-boat SM U-20 in 1918. Importantly, after the war, Italy received the relatively low-mileage German Type UE II long-range submarine SM U-120 as reparations, which the country’s designers apparently learned a good deal from.

In 1927, with an increasingly fascist Italy on track to build the fourth largest navy in the world, Rome ordered a new class of four Balilla-class “cruiser” type submarines, large enough to operate independently in the Indian Ocean and around Italy’s African colonies which at the time included Italian Somaliland and Eritrea on the strategically important (Red Sea/Suez Canal) Horn of Africa.

The country’s first post-WWI submarine design, the big Balillas went 1,900-tons and ran 284-feet long, capable of making 17-knots in a surface attack. Capable of diving to 400 feet– which was deep for subs of the 1920s, they could travel 13,000 nm on their economical diesel engines. Able to carry 16 torpedoes for their six tubes as well as a 120mm deck gun, the design rivaled the U.S. Navy’s later Porpoise-class subs (1900-tons/289-feet/18-knots/16 torpedoes) of the early 1930s, which in turn was the forerunner of the USN’s WWII fleet boats. A fifth Balilla was constructed for Brazil, which in turn triggered Argentina to order three later Cavallini-class subs from Italy in the 1930s

Built by OTO at Muggiano, largely side-by-side, Italian Navy sisters Balilla, Domenico Millelire, Amatore Sciesa, and Enrico Toti were all in service by 1928.

Balilla class member Domenico Millelire, note her conning tower-mounted short-barreled 120mm gun. This was later replaced by a longer gun mounted on the deck.

All the vessels were named after famous Italian heroes:

Balilla was the nickname of one Giovanni Battista Perasso, a Genoese youth who is credited with a revolt against the Austrians in 1746.

-Millelire was an officer in the Sardinian Royal Navy who reportedly gave the first defeat to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1793.

Sciesa was an Italian patriot hung by the Austrians in 1851.

As for Toti, the namesake of our sub, he was a one-legged bicyclist who was allowed to join the elite Bersaglieri in the Great War and was killed by the Austro-German forces at the horrific waste that was the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo in 1916, famously throwing his crutch at the enemy lines and remaining defiant to the last.

The 1 October 1916 cover of La Domenica del Corriere, a popular 20th Century Italian weekly newspaper famous for its cover drawings akin in many ways to the American Saturday Evening Post, on Toti’s deed

The class soon engaged in a series of long-range peacetime cruises, waving the Italian tricolor around the globe. Boston photojournalist Leslie Jones documented Balilla off the Boston lightship on her way to Charlestown Navy Yard in May 1933.

Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

Note how large the sail is on these boats. Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

In September 1933, Toti, in conjunction with her sister Sciesa, set sail from La Spezia to circumnavigate the African continent East-to-West, passing through the Suez, and calling at Mogadishu, Chisimaio, Mombasa, Zanzibar, Dar-es-Salaam, Diego Suarez, Lourenço Marques, Durban, Cape Town, Walvis Bay, Lobito, São Tomé, Takoradi, Dakar, Praia, Las Palma, Gibraltar and Barcelona before making it back to Italy in February 1934. In short, visiting every important British, French, Portuguese and Spanish port in Africa and the Med.

Il sommergibile Enrico Toti

In 1934, the class was updated with a more modern 120mm/45 cal gun (from the old 27cal weapon) mounted on the deck rather than the conning tower, while Breda M31 13.2mm twin machine guns on innovative pressured disappearing mounts replaced the older Hotchkiss singles.

Images of Toti in March 1935, showing her new configuration, via Association Venus :

Deck mounted 120mm gun

Images of the internals of WWII Italian submarines are hard to come by

At sea, note the new conning tower profile

One of the few pictures I’ve ever seen of the twin submarine mount Breda M31 AAA machine guns. It could reportedly telescope in and out of the pressure hull like a periscope.

Starting in 1936, Toti and her sisters became heavily involved in the Spanish Civil War, semi-secretly supporting Franco’s forces without any (published) successes.

When Mussolini finally joined WWII proper in June 1940, just in time to deal a death blow to France, the Balilla class were no longer the best subs the Italians had in their fleet, as a staggering 150~ follow-on large submarines were either in commission or on the drawing board. With this, the four Balillas were largely relegated to training use although they did undertake a few war patrols early in the conflict. Toti was the only one that was successful.

Just after midnight on 15 October 1940, off the Italian central Mediterranean town of Calabria, Toti, commanded by LCDR Bandino Bandini, encountered the British Royal Navy T-class submarine HMS Triad (N53) at a distance of about 1,000 meters.

HMS Triad (N53)

Toti, like the British sub, was operating on the surface and moved to close at flank speed, managing to hit Triad with her 120mm deck gun as the vessel was submerging. RN LCDR George S. Salt, the skipper of Triad, went to the bottom with the vessel’s entire 52-man crew. Salt and Triad did not go down without a fight. Her own deck gun hit Toti‘s pressure hull and injured two Italian sailors, while a torpedo from the British boat reportedly came within just a few feet of her opponent.

Once Bandini and the crew of the Toti made it back to port, they were celebrated as heroes. After all, they had sunk a British submarine (and would be the only Italian boat to do so, although HM Submarine Force would scratch 17 Italian subs). However, there would be enduring confusion over just which RN ship they should be credited for. The Italian press was initially told it was HMS Perseus (N36), a British Parthian-class submarine which in fact would only be sunk by an Italian mine in the Ionian Sea on 6 December 1941.

A 22 October 1940 Domenica del Corriere cover depicting Toti’s deck crew splashing a British submarine in a night action, incorrectly identified as Perseus.

For decades, both the Italians and the British mistakenly thought Toti sank the submarine HMS Rainbow (N16), which had actually been lost off Albania at about the same time after she struck a submerged object.

It was only in 1988 that Triad, which had been listed as missing for 48 years, was positively tied to the Italian boat that sunk her. In a twist of fate, Triad‘s lost commander was the father of British RADM James Frederick Thomas George “Sam” Salt, who was captain of the destroyer HMS Sheffield during the Falklands when that ship was lost to an Argentine Exocet– the first sinking of a Royal Navy ship since WWII. The junior Salt was only six months old at the time of his father’s disappearance in the Med.

By 1941, the obsolete Balillas were removed from frontline service. Of the quartet, Millelire and Balilla were soon hulked and used as floating battery charging vessels. Sciesa was disarmed and hit by an air attack in Benghazi in 1942 while running resupply missions to the Afrika Korps then later scuttled in place as the Americans advanced on the city.

Toti, true to her past, remained more active than her sisters.

From March to June 1942 she carried out a reported 93 training missions at the Italian submarine school of Pula, which saw her very active.

Enrico Toti submarine at the submarine school in Pula

She was then was used for four short-run supply missions across the Med to Italian forces in North Africa, landing her torpedoes and instead carrying some 200 tons of medicine and high-value materials as well as transferring most of the diesel fuel in her bunkers ashore for use by panzers and trucks.

Enrico Toti returns to Pola June 42, note her newly supplied camo scheme applied to run supplies to Italy Via Lavrentio/WarshipP reddit

Submarine blockade runners in North Africa: Enrico Toti (left) with the smaller Bandiera-class submarine Santorre Santarosa (in the center) and the Foca-class minelaying submarine Atropo (right) in Ras Hilal, Libya on 10-7-42. Of these, Santarosa would be grounded and scuttled in place 20th January 1943 while Atropo would be used to supply isolated British forces in the Dodecanese after the 1943 armistice and scrapped after the war. Via Lavrentio/WarshipP reddit

By April 1943, Toti was hulked and used to charge batteries, a role she continued through the end of the war.

The Italians lost over 90 subs during the war, almost one per week, with little bought with their loss. This figure is made even more considerable once you figure the Italians were only an active Axis ally from June 1940 to Sept 1943. By 1945, the country could only count about a dozen semi-submersible vessels and most of those had been laid up/disarmed for months.

On 18 October 1946, Toti was retired for good, along with the last of the Italian submarines. You see, the Regia Marina was dissolved with the end of the monarchy and the Treaty of Paris in 1947 banned Italy from operating submarines. With that, Toti and the last few Italian boats were scrapped or given away to victorious Allies as war reparations.

Jane’s 1946-47 edition does not list Italy with a single submarine of any kind.

Italy, with her navy rebranded as the Marina Militare, was only allowed out of the Treaty restrictions after the country joined NATO in 1949, effectively refraining from submarine operations until 1954 when the Gato-class submarines USS Barb (SS-220) and USS Dace (SS-247) were transferred to Italian service, where they became Enrico Tazzoli and Leonardo da Vinci, respectively. Through the 1970s, the Italians went on to acquire nine former WWII U.S. fleet boats.

The first of a new class of domestically made Italian submarine since WWII was laid down in 1965 by Fincantieri and commissioned in 1968 with the name of one of Italy’s most succesful boats, Enrico Toti (S 506). She went on on to provide nearly 25 years of service to the Italian Navy, much of it during the Cold War spent keeping tabs of the Soviet Mediterranean Fleet

This newer Toti has been preserved at the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan since 2005.

The latter Toti, via the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan

Today, the Italian Navy fields eight very modern SSKs of the Todaro and Sauro-classes, with two more of the former on order.

Italian submarine Salvatore Todaro (S 526) passing the Castello Aragonese di Taranto by Alberto Angela

Specs:
Displacement: 1464 tons (1927 submerged)
Length: 284 ft.
Beam: 26 ft.
Draft: 15 feet.
Operating depth 100 m
Propulsion:
2 4,000 hp Fiat diesel engines, twin shafts
2 Savigliano electric motors, 240 cell battery
Submerged speed, max: 9 knots
Surfaced speed, max: 17 knots
Range: 3,000 miles at 17 knots or 13,000 nm at 7 knots; 8 miles at 9 knots underwater
Crew: 5 officers, 47 enlisted. Given as 77 in wartime.
Armament:
(1928)
1 120mm/27cal Mod. 1924 gun (150 shells)
2 single Hotchkiss 13.2 mm machine guns
6 torpedo tubes (4 front, 2 rear) of 533 mm, 16 torpedoes
4 mines in dedicated tube
(1934)
1 120mm/45cal Mod. 1931 gun (150 shells)
2 twin Breda M1931 13.2mm machine guns on disappearing mounts (3000 rounds per machine gunner)
6 torpedo tubes (4 front, 2 rear) of 533 mm, 16 torpedoes
4 mines in dedicated tube

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.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.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Italians discover long lost cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere

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.”

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018: Giuseppe, how many seaplanes you packing?

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, Aug. 8, 2018: Giuseppe, how many seaplanes you packing?

(1500×1000)

Here we see the Regia Marina’s very proud seaplane carrier, Giuseppe Miraglia, at anchor in the 1930s. A true-life example of what today would be seen as a dieselpunk aesthetic, the Italian navy views her as an important predecessor of their modern pocket carriers– Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi— today.

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.

Italian seaplane carrier Europa, in service 1915-1920. Note her method of flying boat storage

Fast forward to the mid-1920s, and Italian rivals Britain and France had newer and more modern seaplane carriers (such as HMAS/HMS Albatross and Commandant Teste, the latter carrying 26 aircraft) on the drawing board. This left the Italian Navy with a need for a warship that could pack a lot of (sea)planes once again.

In 1925, Rome bought the incomplete passenger/mail steamer Citta di Messina and, sending her to the Regio Arsenale Della Spezia for completion, produced Giuseppe Miraglia.

The vessel was renamed in honor of Tenente di vascello Giuseppe Miraglia, an early Italian naval aviator killed in an accident in 1915 at age 27.

This guy

Early in the war, he made headlines in the country by leading his seaplane squadron over Austrian-held Trieste in a raid that was widely celebrated.

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.

For this, she was well-equipped with two below-deck hangars in what was to be the steamship’s holds, each equipped with catapults and cranes for launching and recovery, respectively. Inside the hangars were room for spare parts including fresh engines, a few spare aircraft in “knocked down” crated condition, tools, and handling equipment.

Note her hangar arrangement fore and aft of her stack

Many of the planned staterooms which originally were meant for 1st and 2nd class passengers were completed for aircrew instead. A central ordnance magazine and avfuel storage were accessible from each hangar.

All those Macchis…

The twin hangars could each hold 5-6 Macchi M.18AR seaplanes with their wings folded while additional aircraft “parking” was available topside for a couple extra boats.

A pusher-style biplane flying boat, the M.18AR was one of the more successful “combat” seaplanes of the 1920s and 30s, serving not only with the Italians but with the Spanish Navy‘s early seaplane carrier Dédalo (Dedalus) during the Civil War in that country as well as against Moroccan rebels, but also with the Paraguayan Navy during the Chaco War.

The open cockpit three-seat scout bombers were the staple of the Aviazione per la Regina Marina for much of the interwar period, capable of toting a few small bombs and a 7.7mm machine gun aloft with a 300~ mile combat radius.

A flight of Macchi 18ARs with the Aeronáutica Naval Española, impressive airpower for the roaring 20s.

By 1930, the Macchi aircraft were replaced largely with Cantoni 25 AR seaplanes and, after 1937, with the smaller but more modern IMAM Ro.43, which at least had a closed cockpit and two machine guns rather than just one– although carried no bombs.

Recovering an IMAM Ro.43 seaplane, the standard Italian Navy’s floatplane that flew from not only Miraglia but also all her cruisers and battleships from 1937 onward

Miraglia’s topside deck was protected by 50mm of armor to stave off air attacks not scared off by her AAA suite of a dozen Breda machine guns while a quartet of 4-inch guns could take shots at closing destroyers or torpedo boats. She had a side belt of between 70 and 80mm (sources vary).

Miraglia entered service 1 November 1927 and was used in the disgrace that was the Italo-Ethiopian War in the late 1930s to transport aircraft to the theatre.

With six Macchi seaplanes on deck, underway

Note the Macchi ready to cat. The ship carried one Gagnotto-made catapult forward…

…And another aft. Also, note the 4-inch gun under the cat on the aft stdb quarter

Italian ship GIUSEPPE MIRAGLIA. Italy – CVAN. Circa 1935. Note the seaplanes on her hangar decks. NH 111421

When WWII came, she somehow managed to not catch a British torpedo or American bomb while serving in the Mediterranean although she was present in the harbor for the raid on Taranto in 1940. She spent most of the war as a transport and testbed, rather than in operations.

Later in the conflict, the zippy little Reggiane Re.2000 Falco I “Catapultabile” monoplane, which could be catapulted off by not recovered by the vessel, made an appearance on the ship.

The Re.2000 Catapultabile (MM.8281) on a topside catapult of Giuseppe Miraglia ready for take-off, May 1942. Less than a dozen of these variants were used during WWII. The planes were planned for the unfinished 27,000-ton Italian aircraft carrier L’ Aquila but cut their teeth on Miraglia.

Following the shit-canning of Mussolini, Miraglia sailed to Malta in 1943 to be interned under British guns and served the rest of the war as a receiving ship for Italian sailors from smaller vessels.

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. 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.

The unfinished Italian aircraft carrier “Aquila” tied up at La Spezia sometime following Italy’s surrender in WWII.

Italian aircraft carrier Aquila in 1950, pending her conversion to razor blades

Following the end of the war, with the general disfavor of seaplanes and seaplane carriers of the time, Miraglia was retained at Taranto as a PT boat tender until 1950 when she was disposed of. Jane’s, in their often confusing 1946-47 volume, noted that she was to be refitted as a supply ship.

Giuseppe Miraglia 1946-47 Janes listing

Giuseppe Miraglia, 1946-47 Janes listing, where she was one of the few Italian ships left from WWII

The spark rekindled

Italian Naval Aviation languished for a full decade following VE-Day, only restarting on a limited scale when a few Bell-Augusta AB-47G helicopters were handed over to the Navy for shipboard service in 1956.

By 1969, Vittorio Veneto, a so-called “helicopter cruiser,” was in service, capable of carrying six SH-3D Sea Kings or larger numbers of smaller whirlybirds.

Vittorio Veneto was all cruiser in the front…

But a party in the back…ITS Vittorio Veneto (C550) view from the stern with raised deck and hangar beneath.

Finally, in 1990 the Italian government placed an order for several AV-8B Harriers for use on the newly completed light aircraft carrier 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 Cavour will carry a squadron of operational Italian F-35Bs by 2023, almost a century after Miraglia was conceived.

Italian aircraft carrier Cavour

Specs:


Displacement, full load: 5.913 t
Length: 397.72 ft.
Beam: 49.18 ft.
Draft: 19 ft.
Propulsion: 8 Yarrow water tube boilers, 2 groups of steam turbines with Parsons type reducer, 2 propellers with three blades, 16,700 HP, 430 tons oil.
Speed: 21 knots
Crew: (196) not counting airwing, as follows:
16 officers
40 NCOs
140 enlisted
Armament:
4 x 102/35 Schneider-Armstrong naval rifles
12 x 13.2 mm Breda machine guns
Airwing:
2 Gagnotto steam catapults in bow and stern
2 aircraft hangars for 5-6 planes with folded wings (total of 11 seaplanes)
2 depots for 3 dismantled aircraft, each
17 Macchi M.18AR seaplanes (1927-30), 20 Cantoni 25 AR seaplanes (1931-36) up to 20 IMAM Ro.43s (1937-43)

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.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.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

« Older Entries