Garibaldi class armoured cruisers (1901)

Garibaldi class armoured cruisers (1901)

Italy (1894-1904)
10 Armoured Cruisers (+1 cancelled). Italy: Giuseppe Garibaldi, Francesco Ferruccio, Varese

The best Italian Armoured Cruisers ?

Among the best armoured cruisers of their time with 10 ships built (11 planned, one cancelled), The Garibaldi class were sold to Argentina, Spain and Japan. Italy operated Varese (launched 1899), Guiseppe Garibaldi (1899) and Francesco Ferruccio (1901). They were designed by chief engineer Edoardo Masdea in 1893, combining elements that would make their success, a perfect balance of armament, protection and speed given their limited specified tonnage, and the ability to join a battle line. The class is either referring to the Argentinian “Garibaldi” or the Italian one, a rare case in ships classification, but based on the same historical figure. Despite a design dating back 1893, the last were launched in 1904 for Japan, a mere year before the construction of HMS Dreadnought. They all saw plenty of service on all oceans, with two lost in action.

Edoardo Masdea About Edoardo Masdea: Born in Naples, 23 July 1849 died in Rome, 12 May 1910, a naval engineer, politician and general.
As a general grade naval engineer, Masdea designed various naval classes of the Regia Marina at the end of the nineteenth century, including the armored cruisers of the Vettor Pisani class. At a suggestion of Benedetto Brin, he also worked on the Giuseppe Garibaldi class, meeting with considerable success in terms of sales abroad. He worked later on the Pisa and San Giorgio classes, as well as the first monocaliber battleship (or dreadnought from the name of the first ship of this type built) of the Regia Marina: Dante Alighieri.
He was awarded the Commander of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, Commander of the Order of the Crown of Italy ribbon, Gold Cross for Long Service (40 Years) and Commander of the Order of the Legion of Honor in France.

The Garibaldi class were in short, very versatile ships able to hold their place within the fleets line, ands perfect intermediaries between heavy cruisers and battleships. In addition, they were built quickly (4 years against often 6 to 9 for French ships) and at a lower cost than other most European shipyards making them an attractive proposition on export. Thus, they became the first major export success of Italian military shipbuilding at the time, for many years, and in fact the largest cruiser export for a European player outside Britain (Armstrong anyone ?). Indeed a total of 10 units were built, of which 3 for the Regia Marina and 7 for foreign navies.

Design Genesis

launch of Garibaldi The design of the Giuseppe Garibaldi-class cruisers was submitted to naval architect Edoardo Masdea known for his successful, earlier Vettor Pisani-class. He was submitted an admiralty project that was reworked by him as chief naval engineer, conducting studies following directives of the Minister of the Navy Benedetto Brin, crossed with suggestions by Ansaldo Yard commissioned to build the first ship. Brin suggested to rework the design indeed of the Vettor Pisani class in the light of new characteristics presented by St Bon class Battleships. It would have been odd to have battleships faster than cruisers…

The basic concepts behind the project were:
-Cruisers able to work as “normal” armored cruisers (commerce raiding notably) and line units, operating closely with the fleet.
-Facing enemy formations of protected cruisers, even in individual missions, and thus having heavy armament and protection.
-Being still able to out-run battleships due to a higher speed.

In the end, Brin was confirmed in the idea that Vettor Pisani was a good starting base by Masdea, but he revised it to gain an increase in displacement, no less than 1000 tons to reach the difficult requirements, in large part the larger hull meant to accomodate a greater powerplant. The first design was deemed satisfactory on this base as everythibng match the upgraded design: Better armament, still adequate protection 20 knots as a top speed. The classic “impossible trilogy”, nightmare of all naval engineers, between armament, protection and speed for once was perfectly well balanced. The displacement also reflected this fact, with 40% of the total going to structural weight, 15% to artillery (including ammunition), 25% to the armor, 20% to the powerplant.
This new design was slightly larger, a knot faster than the Pisanis, with the improvement of two twin gun turrets fore and aft of the superstructure, which remedied the primary armament on the broadside for older ships, not able to engage targets forward and aft.

Design of the class

Hull and general design

The hull was continuous (flush deck) with a rounded (pointed fom above) stern, high freeboard. Their width/length ratio favored stability more than speed, making them good platforms, and agile in navigation. Superstructures were almost completely symmetrical, with a reinforced bow ram. In the central section, between the two brirges there were located the two well apart funnels, both with a circular section.

In between was located a single military mast, with a spotting and fighting top. It supported at its base two boom cranes for the numerous service boats, pinnaces and cutters aboard. The steam pinnaces were unarmed but will be put to good use during landing parties. The rudder was of the semi-compensated type. The general architecture saw superstructures reduced to the essential minimum, offering a smaller target, tonnage and aor drag as well. Though, the bridge had an enclosed level with broad wings and open deck above. This design remaind the same for all vessels of the class. Only the armament changed.

Armour protection layout

The ship’s armor was made of Harvey-type case-hardened steel. It was cast locally at Terni in Nothern Italy, using a process treating surfaces of nickel steel with carbon for high hardness. So the structural strenght was provided by internal iron bracing. Krupp managed later to obtain more elastic ensemble with adding chromium in the steel alloy.
On the Garibaldis it was nickel-plated steel reaching 150 mm for the main belt, tapered down to 80 mm at both ends.
-The central citadel had 130 mm thick transverse bulkheads.
-The armored deck reched 38 mm on the slopes.
-The turrets and barbetes reached 150 mm
-The 152/40 casemates were protected by 130 mm shield.
-Underwater protection consisted of a double bottom but only a few compartments above to protect the machinery space. This was unsufficient as shown by the loss of Garibaldi by a single torpedo hit in WWI.
To resume: belt 75 to 150mm, upper belt 150mm, main barbettes 100 below deck, 150mm above, main turrets 150mm, casemates 150mm, armor deck 25 (flat section) to 38 mm slopes. Conning Tower 150mm.


Garibaldi in trials
Garibaldi in 1915
The Garibaldi class cruiser’s powerplant consisted of two triple expansion, reciprocating steam engines. They were in turn fed by the high pressure steam coming out from 24 boilers, coal-fired with a reserve of 1,200 tons. Ansaldo, Hawthorn, Guppy, Orlando, Belleville and Niclausse provided the VTE and/or boilers including the export cruisers. These VTE engines drove in turn two shafts, and their two bronze propellers.
Trials had Garibaldi reaching 14,713 hp (13,655 not forced heated), for a speed of 19.7 knots. Close results were provided by her sister’s tests: Varese reached 14,713 shp and Ferruccio 13,500 shp. Varese had 24 Belleville boilers, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Franceso Ferruccio, 24 Niclausse boilers. The “standard” was 19.5. Varese reached 20 on trials, the faster of them all, and Ferruccio: 19.3.

In normal use, although design rated at 20 knots (37,04 km/h), they rarely reached more than 18 knots. Autonomy, or radius of action was either 9,300 nautical miles or 4,400 at 10 knots. Most sources states it was 5,500 nmi (10,200 km; 6,300 mi) at 10 knots. It could be caused by their “normal” and “wartime” coal load, with all empty compartments filled. This speed was not stellar: The follow-up Pisa class indeed cranked up 23 knots based on 10,000 tonnes, but almost half the range at 12 knots with 2,500 nmi (4,600 km; 2,900 mi).


The overall class was unusual in that it was not an uniform armament. Earlier group (4 Argentinian and Colon) had single 10-inch (254 mm) Elswick Pattern R guns in their turrets fore and aft. The next group, Italian and and Japanese ships, had a mixed armament: Single 10-inch (254 mm) forward, twin 8-inch (203 mm) aft. Nisshin had four 8-inch (203 mm) in twin turrets. Cristobal Colon had its own 10-inch defective, removed, and thus came to Cuba with just her ten Armstrong casemated 6-inch guns. The Italian 10-in proved formidable “fort levellers” during their careers, but worn out rapidly.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, Brasseys Naval Annual 1902
Giuseppe Garibaldi, Brasseys Naval Annual 1902


The main armament of the Italian cruisers was mixed:
-One EOC 10 gun Armstrong Pattern R 254mm/40 (10 inches) in the forward turret. 30,5 tons, Elevation 35°, range 19,700 yards (18,000 m), ROF 1.5 rpm 1
Note that Francesco Ferruccio had a 254mm/40 A99 forward, unlike the 254/40 A Type of the others;
-Two EOC 8, same Pattern W 203mm/45 (8 inches) in aft twin turret. 19 tons, Elevation 25°, range 19,700 yards (18,000 m), ROF 2 rpm 2
These cannons were build under licence by Società degli Alti Furnaces, Foundries and Steelworks, of Terni, which also procured the armor plating.


Fourteen single 152mm/40 (6 in) A99 pattern (Ansaldo Terni cannoni da 152/40). All three carried the same casemated guns, located in five side positions amidships: The four outer ones were encased in armoured sponsons to fire in chase and retreat. The other three either side were only capable of a limited traverse, broadside fire. They fired a 256 lbs. (116 kg) shell, with a bagged charge;
Performances: mv 2,592 fps (790 mps); 19,700 yards (18,000 m); 2 rpm 3


All three shared the exact same tertiary armament.
Ten single 76mm/40 A Pattern (3 in) guns: 1894+ QF 12-pounder 12 cwt naval gun, licenced later by Ansaldo as the Cannone da 76/40 Modello 1916. 15 rpm, mv 2,210 ft/s range 11,750 yd (10,740 m) 40°
Six single 47mm/40 H Pattern (1.9 in) guns: Hotchkiss 3-pdr, 30 rpm mv 571 m/s (1,870 ft/s) range 5.9 km (3.7 mi) at +20°
The 76 mm were located on the bridges and in embrasures on the hull, at the prow and stern. The 47mm were located also on the bridges, inclusing on extended wings, and upper gallery above the battery deck.
Two 6.5mm/115 Maxim Machine guns, when commissioned, likely Fiat–Revelli Modello 1914 from 1915. They were deployed on the steam cutters for landing parties and support.

Torpedo Tubes

Four single broadside 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes. Whitehead Type 1890, from Fiume.

Design Differences

For ships built between 1892 to 1903, design improvements and changes in armaments and sub-systems occurred. The the three ships actually accepted by Italy were true sisters, with totally similar caracristics. All were built by Gio. Ansaldo & C. in Genoa-Sestri Ponente, but ARA San Martin and ARA Belgrano in Orlando, Livorno. The first five, the Argentinian ones and Spanish Colon, were built to the same dimensions displacement, however the Garibaldi “sub-class” and last Kasuga and Nisshin were stretched by six frames amidships. The first group tuhus measured 106.94 meters (350 ft 10 in), for 18.2 meters (59 ft 9 in) in beam and deep draft of 7.1 meters (23 ft 4 in). Displacement was 6,840 metric tons (6,730 long tons) at normal load, although General Belgrano is reported by to have had a beam of 18.8 meters (61 ft 8 in) -Not in Conways- and thus displacing some 300–400 metric tons more.

Illustration of the Garibaldi in 1914

HD Profile of G. Garibaldi as completed in 1901 src

⚙ specifications

Displacement 6,840 t standard 7,400–7,700 t FL
Dimensions 108.8/111.73 oa x 18.9 x 7.32 m (366 ft 7 in x 62 x 24 ft)
Propulsion 2 shafts VTE, 8–24 Boilers 13,000–13,500 ihp (10,100 kW)
Speed 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)
Range 5,500 nmi (10,200 km; 6,300 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 1x 254, 10x 152, 6x 120mm, 6x 76 mm, 4x 47mm, 4x 450 mm TTs.
Armor Belt 70-150, CT 150, turrets 190, decks 100-150, barbettes 10-150 mm
Crew 555 total, 578 as flagship

Exports & Final Assessment

Cristobal Colon, showing her complete lack of heavy armament at the battle of Santiago de Cuba. If fully armed, she may have caused some concerns for the US fleet, having the largest, most recent main guns in town (author’s work)

Of the units sold overseas, four were purchased by Argentina, one by Spain and two by Japan. The Spanish ship was christened Cristobal Colon, and the four Argentine units were named Garibaldi (yes, the same one, which also fought in the Argentinian war of independence), San Martin, Belgrano and Pueyrredon, while the two Japanese vessels were named Kasuga and Nishin. They were delivered just before the Russo-Japanese war and Colon before the Hispano-American War.

The ships of this class, as well as those sold abroad, made history, in addition of being a breakthough design, with many naval actions:
-The sole Spanish Cristoforo Colombo fought at the Hispano-American war and was sunk at the Battle Santiago de Cuba, barely delivered with a missing forward main gun.
-The two Kasuga class saw action at Tsushima, also just delivered, and the Japanese went to appreciate their advantages, comparing her with the previous French-Built Kasuga, the German-built Yakumo, British Asama and turned their attention to a much larger design, hybrid, with an influence on what became the Tsukuba and Ibuki.
-The four Argentine cruisers went through on their side in a civil war.
-The three Italian ships saw action in the 1912 and the Great War, Garibaldi being torpedoed and sunk by U4 on July 18, 1915. Varese ended as training ship from 1920 as Ferruccio which on her side survived as TS until… 1934. before being used as a floating barrack and still around in WW2.

IJN Kasuga, the last of the export cruisers, with Nisshin both rocking at the battle of the Yellow Sea and Tsushima. Colorized by Irootoko Jr.

But the design itself was a new starting point to the Regia Marina to built even larger armoured cruiser classified as “battleships” but in reality large “armored cruisers” such as the Regina Margherita-class and Regina Elena-class battleships in 1904, also forerunners to monocaliber battleships seen through by Colonel Cuniberti.
The consequence of this strategic vision was saw the confirmation of armored cruisers at this level of development with upgraded, larger units not only able to compete with battleships but also potentially out-do them by superior speed and agility. Italy with this class was one of the progenitor of the concepts of both, the fast monocaliber battleship (Dreadnought), and the battlecruiser in a sense.

First published on Nov 13, 2017


Note: I will not cover here the whereabouts of the export cruisers: They will be seen in their own respective posts for the sake of clarity, and to appear in their respective Spanish, Argentinian, and Japanese lists. Here is the career of all three Italian cruisers only, spanning from 1902 to 1915, 1922 and 1931 depending on their fate. All three saw in addition to WWI the Italo-Turkish War but not the Balkan war. They were part of the same unit most of the time, but never had the occasion to fight other ships, mostly putting their heavy guns to good use in coastal bombardments instead, and even capturing towns and sending landing parties.

Italian Navy Francesco Ferruccio (1902)

Francesco Ferruccio (after the condottiere), was built in Venice, launched 23 April 1902 and baptised by the Duchess of Genoa, completed on 1 September 1905. She took part in this year’s fleet maneuvers as part of the “hostile” force blockading La Maddalena in Sardinia. Joined in the same unit with her sisters Giuseppe Garibaldi and Varese, she made her first visit to a foreign port, Marseilles, France, on 15–16 September 1906, a remarked part of the fleet review held for French Pdt. Armand Fallières. Later Francesco Ferruccio made a cruise to the Levant (Syria-Lebanon), in July 1909. She was deployed to Crete from 26 June 1910 to January 1911. Her home port was Taranto in 1911.

Italo-Turkish War

On 29 September 1911, Francesco Ferruccio was assigned to the 4th Division, 2nd Squadron with her sisters Garibaldi and Varese. The first two shelled Tripoli on 3–4 October for their first mission, Varese being in watch for the incoming Ottoman fleet. On 13 October, the cruisers recoaled at Augusta, Sicily and both Ferruccio and Garibaldi were again detached to bombard Beirut (24 February 1912) while Varese stood in watch. Doing so, they sank in harbor the old ironclad Avnillâh, used a guardship, and forced the torpedo boat Ankara to scuttle, not to be captured. Varese in some sources also participated at some point. Ferruccio was then transferred to Libya, remaining there until the war ended.
The First Balkan War, showed her deployed to Albania (18 February-5 June 1913) and again on 4 January-7 February 1914.

Mytilene Island, Aegean sea, Italian cruisers

WWI service

In May 1915 Italy was at war agains the central powers, and Ferruccio was assigned to the 5th Cruiser Division in Brindisi. On 5 June, she took part of a bombardment of railways near Ragusa. She left Brindisi on 17 July for another shelling sortie off Ragusa Vecchia. However at 04:00, Giuseppe Garibaldi was torpedoed by the Austro-Hungarian submarine U-4 and sank in a short span, just minutes, carrying with her 53 crewmen.
This forced the division to wihdraw immediately and further attacks were cancelled. They left three destroyers to rescue survivors. This crippling loss, added to the one of armored cruiser Amalfi (Pisa class) by another submarine on 7 July put a hard stop to any activities in the Adriatic Sea as decided by admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel. Francesco Ferruccio was stationed to the Levant (19 November-22 December) and send to Brindisi for a short refit. Afterwards she proceeded to several escort missions, protecting convoys to Albania. She also patrolled the Albanian coast until the fall of 1918.

After the war due to her already old design, Francesco Ferruccio was no longer attached to an active unit, but kept as a cadet training ship in 1919. Found good enough for the role, she was fully converted with new accomodations and a larger panel of armaments, back in service by 1924. On 30 July 1922, she collided with the Spanish cargo Ayala Mendi, in the Bay of Biscay. The latter sank withing minuts, and the cruiser, which only had superficial damage proving the soundness of her construction, rescued all but 33 of her crew. The rest of her years were quite peaceful and uneventful, shared between times in home waters and training cruisers. She also escaped due to her status the axe blows resulting of the Washington treaty. A new generation of light and heavy cruisers were now filling the ranks of the Regia Marina; She was eventaully decommissioned and stricken on 1 April 1930, sold for BU afterwards.

Italian Navy Giuseppe Garibaldi (1899)

Launch of Garibaldi at Ansaldo in 1899

Giuseppe Garibaldi (after Italian General, statesman and Country Founding father General Giuseppe Garibaldi) was built at Gio. Ansaldo & C. shipyard in Genoa-Sestri Ponente. Launched on 29 June 1899 she experienced an incident prior to commission, during her steam trials, on 12 July 1900: Two boiler’s tubes burst, killing one, gravely burning two other sailors. Inspecting and replacing all tubes went on until 10 August, so she completed her sea trials on 1 January 1901 and commissioned soon after.

From 23 July to 2 October 1902, she made a long training cruise in the Mediterranean, stopping in Tripoli and the Aegean Sea. In 1903 she did the same, this time stopping at Algiers, Salonica, and Piraeus in Greece. With her sisters at the 1905 fleet maneuvers, she was assigned to the “hostile” force off Sardinia. She was later detached to join the international expeditionary force occupying Lemnos and Mytilene, in November–December 1905. This was in a failed effort to force the Ottoman Empire to pay its debts to European Banks. Back with her sisters Ferruccio and Varese, she took part in the naval review in Marseilles (15–16 September 1906) and like Ferruccio she was was deployed to the Levant (May–July 1907) but also again in June 1908.

Italo-Turkish War

From 29 September 1911 she became flagship of the 4th Division, 2nd Squadron with her sisters. The 2nd Sqn was under orders of Rear Admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel. She took part in the same bombardment missions as her sister Ferruccio, starting with Tripoli on 3–4 October. In fact, Giuseppe Garibaldi was the first to enter the harbor, sending a landing party which made its way into Fort Hamidiye, disabled the fort’s guns beech and raising the flag. The shelling left 12 Ottoman soldiers dead, wounding 23 and 7 civilians. On 13 October after a stop to recoal in Augusta, Sicily they sailed to Tobruk in January 1912.

Battle of Beirut

Next, they bombarded Beirut, on 24 February 1912 (claiming Avnillâh). In fact, after having her set alight, Giuseppe Garibaldi entered the harbor and torpedoed the ironclad to good measure. Her secondary fire disabled the torpedo boat Ankara, which also scuttled herself. The shelling made 140 civilian victims, wounding more than 200. On 18 April, Garibaldi and Varese were sent for a nother bombardment mission, this time on the Dardanelles forts. The first took heavy damage, which conducted the Ottoman high command to ask Germany to improve them. We know how this turned out in 1915… Back in Italy by late April she started a refit until mid-June. Her worn-out guns were replaced. Her two sisters followed suit.

She did not participated in the First Balkan War in May 1913 but was deployed after it in the Albanian port of Scutari to watch over its passation by Montenegro to the Ottoman Empire. She also stand guard to protect Italian interests there, and went back home in August. Next year in February-March 1914, she was stationed in Benghazi.

WWI and Sinking

From May 1915, Garibaldi stayed as flagship of the 5th Cruiser Division (Rear Admiral Eugenio Trifari) based in Brindisi. On 5 June, the division sorties in the Adriatic. The first mission was to bombard, with her sisters, the rail lines near Ragusa (Dubrovnik). The next day, she did the same off Ragusa Vecchia, but soon after the start of the bombardment at 04:00, Giuseppe Garibaldi was struck without warning by a single torpedo from Austro-Hungarian U4.

Main flag of Garibaldi saved from the sinking

The torpedo hit her starboard side, near the aft boiler rooms. The blast presumably went through the first layer of compartimentation and breeched the engine rooms. The flooding was soon uncontrollable and she sank very quickly, in minutes, but on an even keel, nor rolling over, which saved most of her crew, raking with her 53 crewmen, most being trapped inside the lower levels and machinery rooms.

The remaining 525 could survive in these mildly cold waters, and were rescued by three destroyers, left behind while Ferruccio steamed out of the area by order, joining Varese. Just after rescuing survivors, the destroyers derparted at full speed and joined the the division, which retreated to Italy. This event (plus the loss of Amalfi) constrained Di revel to avoid any further exposure of major Italian ships in the Adriatic. Only fast, scout cruisers, destroyers and TBs would be deployed and the “Otranto Barrage” was setup until the end of the war.


The wreck of the Giuseppe Garibaldi did not stayed oin an event keel but apparently rolled over as she was rediscovered upside-down at 42°28.362′N 18°16.758′ and 42°28.362′N 18°16.758′E, south-east of Dubrovnik, now in Croatia below 122 meters (400 ft). At forst she was uncovered by a Czech expedition in 2008, but she claimed a diver on 9 September. Without permits to explore what os now a war grave, another Croatian expedition explored and filmed her in August 2009 using CCR technology. Others followed in November 2009 and May 2010 with underwater archaeologists, making her one of the best known modern wreck in the Adriatic.

Italian Navy Varese (1899)

Varese prewar
Varese prewar

Varese (in reference to the Battle of Varese, Second Italian War of Independence) was built at Orlando, Livorno, launched on 6 August 1899, completed on 5 April 1901 and making her sea trials without incident. After working out and initial training she departed for her first long cruise, visiting Algiers on 14 September 1903, Barcelona on 4 April 1904. She took part in the 1905 fleet maneuvers in the “hostile” force off Sardinia.

Varese was the only of the sisters present off Athens during the Olympic Games of April 1906, representing the country. Back with Ferruccio and Garibaldi she visited Marseilles on 15–16 September 1906 for the presidential fleet review. By May 1907 she departed for the US, showing the flag at the Jamestown Exposition with honored guest and command of Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi. Nothing of note for 1908. Like her sisters she was assigned in October 1909 to the levant, and returned home on 20 February 1910 via Suda Bay in Crete where she stayed from 23 August to 20 September 1911.

Italo-Turkish War

From 29 September 1911, like her sisters she was in the 4th Division, 2nd Squadron ands took part in the bombardment of Tripoli on 3–4 October but not activaly as she was deployed away at sea to stand watch for any incoming Ottoman ships, what is usually called a “distant cover”, but also probably to a certain frustration from the crew. On 13 October, the three recoaled at Augusta. While both reutned to another bombardment, Varese was dectahed to escorted two troop transports and a hospital ship. On 16 October, she escorted yet another troop convoy to Homs, and this time bombarded the Ottoman town. This happened after she signalled the fort to surrender, which Commander refused. Bad weather however prevented her to send a landing party, which only was launched on 21 October. She covered the progression of the Marines backed by armed sailors to the Fort, and its capture. She also provided fire support in support for the troops.

Varese and Garibaldi were in Tobruk in January 1912, standing guard for any sortie of the Ottomans, while the rest of the fleet was refitting in Italy. Varese may or may not have taken part of the bombardment of Beirut, on 24 February 1912. She was prehaps detached at some point to join in, but was normally assigned as distant cover. On 18 April Varese and Garibaldi shelled the fortifications of the Dardanelles (southermost forts), blasting them outright. She was back in Italy by late April and like Garibaldi, her her worn out guns replaced. She was operational again in mid-June.

Varese in WWI

She was poissibly sent in benghazi in early to mid-1914, but stationed in Brindisi with the 5th Cruiser Division in May 1915. On 5 June she sortied with her sisters to shell and completely destroy the Austro-Hungarian rail line hub at Ragusa to disrupt troop reinforcements to the north. On 17 July she joined her sisters for another such missions off Ragusa Vecchia when at 04:00, Giuseppe Garibaldi was torpedoed and sank. U4 launched a full four array, one torpedo spotted passing between Varese and Garibaldi. This could have been far more deadly, close to what happened on 22 September 1914 with Aboukir, Cressy, and Hogue with Weddingen’s U 9. That was a second wakeup call to the brand new submarine preile, and not the last. All 1890s designs were at risk.

Varese and the division left immediately, leaving escorting destroyers behind at the rescue. After the loss of Amalfi on 7 July it was clear that sorties from Venice and activities in the Adroatic at large would be severely restricted from now on. The setup of the Otranto Barrage saw many ships “taking turns of duty” Italian but also British and French, to patrol the strait closing the Adriatic. Only a few sorties were spotted, generally to attack Italian mineslayers, and in one of these, on 15 May 1917, as full Austro-Hungarian Fleet attacked when it was turn of Varese to stand guard from the port of Butrino, north coast of Corfu. She however was too slow to make a sortie when signalled. The fast ships were already away after skirmishing.
The rest of the war, in 1917-18 was uneventful. After the war she retained her post in 1919, but was reclassified as training ship for cadets in 1920 and until 1922. Unlike Ferruccio she was not transformed as TS but rather decomissioned and stricken on 4 January 1923, sold for BU afterwards.



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Garibaldi class on wikipedia

Agordat class cruisers (1899)

Agordat class cruisers (1899)

Regia Marina – Scout Cruisers 1898-1923

The last ‘Esploratori’
Agordat and Coatit were built at Castellamare in 1897. They had been designed by Nabor Soliani as protected scout cruisers, launched in 1899 and commissioned in 1900. They derived also from Italian Torpedo Cruisers and became a first modern attempt as creating a scout cruiser or “esploratori”. Alas, they were lightly armed, proved too slow and too short ranged to be useful as such, and apart the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–12, they saw little action in World War I, being converted as a minelayers and gunboats to serve a few years until 1923. #regiamarina #ww1 #esploratori #naborsoliani
*First published on April 27, 2018.

The tipping point of an European fad: Torpedo Cruisers

For context, both vessels emerged after a lineage started in 1875 with the laying down of Petro Micca. Well before any idea of a destroyer, or even fleet torpedo boats, Italy was among the first to take the bandwagon of a new and ephemeral type in all navies: The Torpedo Cruisers, born from the enthusiasm for the newly developed torpedo. During the years 1885-1890, the Italians built sixteen torpedo cruisers, a fashionable solution at first to use torpedoes, but soon hardly pressed to counter early torpedo boats. They were obsolete in a decade. Still operational ships were turned into minelayers, often rebuilt with forecastle, new machines, new armaments.

Partenope, the previous class of torpedo cruisers (eight ships, the last completed in December 1895)

These were the Tripoli (1886), Goito class (1888), Folgore classs (1886), and Partenope class (1889-94). Tripoli was designed by Benedetto Brin the precursor of the following classes. She was rearmed in 1904 and rebuilt, then re-armed a second time in 1910, with two 76mm, 57mm and 64mm guns, discarded in 1923. Goito was converted in 1897 and carried 60 mines. Montebello served as a training ship for mechanics in 1898, converted in 1903. The last three were modified in 1906-1909, thus having a new armament. Iride and Minerva were discarded in 1920 and 1921 but Partenope was sunk by UC67 on March 23, 1918.

Development of the Agordat class

Agordat-class_cruiser_plan_and_profile_drawing In this lineage, the Agordat class were at first classed as torpedo cruisers, but they became later protected cruisers. The design for the Agordat class, which was started in 1895, even before the completion of the last torpedo cruiser, Caprera (PARTENOPE CLASS) was prepared by Engineering Director Nabor Soliani. The admiralty staff had the wish to build a pair of fleet scouts.

The filiation showed in their design, broadly similar to the previous Partenope class while beign significantly larger. In fact it was a 50% scaling up, with in addition a proper forecastle to manage better performances as a seaboat. Much hopes were placed of course in their powerplant, and after much debate, choice was made of eight Blechynden boilers to power two vertical tubes steam engines. Initial prospects called for 9,000 shp and 24 knots, to compare with the previous Partenope class, 4,000 ihp for 18 to 20 knots. There were discussions about protection, which had to be minimal as these ships were not intended to fight, as well as armament, which was purely defensive. They even got rid of the previous 4.7 in guns of the Partenope class.

Design of the class

The Agordat class, classified as “explorers” or scouts from 1914, and protected cruisers before, were just slightly larger than a destroyer of the time and roughly considered as light cruisers by default of a better classification. They were relatively unsuccessful units mainly to their steam engines while plagued by heavy compromises in protection and autonomy, not to speak of the ludicrously weak armament gor a “cruiser” of any kind. This seriously jeopardized her chances of survival in any combat.
She was de facto the lightest of all Italian cruisers at 1,300 tons but still largely above the average 500 tons of contemporary Italian destroyers. They were ultimately replaced by proper scouts at last, the excellent Quarto, with steam turbines and the proper performances for this role, followed by the Nino Bixio class.

Hull and general design

They had displacement around 50 percent greater while Soliani discarded their medium-caliber guns and choose instead an homogeneous battery of quick-firing 76-millimeter (3 in) guns derived from Vickers Guns made under licence by Ansaldo. The hull was similar in great lines than the previous Partenope class, but adopting a forecastle extended to the conning tower which made all the difference to carry out missions in all weather. They were constructed entirely from mild steel and wood in scarce quantities to reduce fire hazards in combat. Generally they were regarded as elegant ships, with their two tall funnels rakes and well spaced, and their two pole masts heavenly placed before the main bridge and behind the aft funnel.

The bridge placed in front of the foremast was an inheritance of the sailing navy, most cruisers keeping this caracteristic until the 1890s. It’s only after 1900 than most light cruisers had the formast placed behind the bridge, notably due to the needed proximity between the spotter and staff for fire corrections, carrying projectors but also signals and radio. In that guise, from two masts, it was reduced to just the forward one during refits after WWI, the aft mainmast being reduced to a short quarterdeck pole.

Measuring 87.6 meters (287 ft 5 in) between perpendiculars, 91.6 m (300 ft 6 in) overall they were 9.32 m (30 ft 7 in) wide, with a draft of 3.54 to 3.64 m when fully loaded (11 ft 7 in to 11 ft 11 in), for an overall displacement of 1,340 long tons (1,360 t) for Agordat, and 1,292 long tons (1,313 t) for Coatit. The ships were originally fitted with two pole masts, but the mainmast was removed in both vessels later in their careers. The crew ranged between 153 and 185 depending of the time. Both were painted in the classic peacetime scheme of black hull, white superstructure and canvas for funnels, air intakes and other structures. In 1914, they were both repainted in medium grey.

Armour protection layout

Not a strong point of the design: While the previous Partenope class had 1.6 in (40.6 mm) plating on their conning tower and main armored deck, on the Agordat class it was reduced to 3/4 inches at best for the armored deck or 11.43 mm, although it reached 20 mm on the slopes (0.79 in), acting a bit as internal semi-belts. This was only able to stop rifle fire and shrapnel, and it was only for the armored deck. There was a conning tower forward, persumably also with 0.79 in walls.


Agordat at full steam prior to WWI
Agordat at full steam prior to WWI. This was one of the very earliest photos taken by an aircraft.
Probably the biggest point of contention as great hopes were placed on it. The final design speed only called for 22 knots, a bit light as scouts, but good for “protected” cruisers.
The steam engines were fed by eight Bleschynden boilers working at 15 standard atmospheres (1,500 kPa). The boilers were trunked into two widely-spaced funnels. Those of Agordat were slightly taller. They powered two alternative, three-stroke 8,000 hp engines, positioned halfway between the two boiler rooms. The steam engines in turn drove two bronze four-bladed propellers. There was a single rudder which was large enough for procuring some agility whitout beeding speed too much. They seemed a successful experiment at first, but the rapid progress made by armored cruisers, able to reach 20-21 knots led to the disapprearance of scouts, at least before 1911.

On paper, they eventually developed 8,129 ihp (trials figure) for a top speed of 22 knots, which was only obtained by Agordat with minimal weight and overheating and lake-like sea conditions. In realistic combat conditions, fully loaded, this was 20 knots. With the engines worn-out in WWI this went down more likely to 19. Coatit managed to reach the second design speed of 23 knots based on a superior output and same conditions, at 8,251 shp (6,062 to 6,126 kW respectively). As for their range, due to the ships being poor steamers, it only reached 300 nautical miles (560 km or 350 mi) at 10 knots, which was not even enough to patrol the Italian coast north to south in one go. This also made most destinations in the Mediterranean out of reach.


Although initially Solani envisioned the same 4.7 mm guns used on the previous Partenope, the choice was made for an homogeneous twelve 76 mm/40 (3 in Ansaldo) guns instead, for reasons of weight and stability (with a 4.7 in gun on top of the forecastle) and tactical reasons. This was completed two standard 450 mm torpedo tubes. This armament changed during post-WWI refits (see career).


The main battery comprised twelve 76 mm L/40 guns on single mounts, with six placed in sponsons along the lower hull, aft of the forecastle, three each side, and two on deck aft. The other two were in casemates in the forecastle and two on deck. In early publications these seems far larger, owing the initial choice of 4.7 in guns.
These models derived from the Vickers gun, but using Fixed QF ammunitions. They used for the Breech single-motion screw system, were capable of 15 rounds per minute at 2,210 ft/s (670 m/s) and up to 11,750 yd (10,740 m) at 40° elevation. Some were landed and/or replaced during modernizations.


Both cruisers came with two 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes. It is unclea if they were submarine, broadside or on deck, but likely the first option. They fired the standard Whitehead 1890 type.

Agordat – author’s illustration

⚙ specifications

Displacement 1340t, 1292t. FL
Dimensions 91.6 x 9.32 x 3.6 m ( x x feets)
Propulsion 2 shafts TE, 8 boilers Blechynden, 8,300 hp.
Speed 22 knots max (23 planned, 20 in 1915)
Range 300 at 10 kts
Armament 12 x 76 mm, 2 x 450 mm TTs.
Protection Armored deck 16-19 mm (0.45-0.8 in), CT 0.8 in
Crew 185 as built

The Agordat class in action 1900-1923

Agordat just entering service in the Bay of Naples in 1900
Both vessels were classified as “explorers” (Esploratori) on 4 June 1914. Their mediocre performabces soon changed these plans at the end of the war. Both ships served as reconnaissance vessels in 1914-18, which were not satisfactory because of their relatively low speed and range. The ships proved short-ranged and marginally faster than contemporary pre-dreadnought battleship designs such as the Regina Margherita class, limiting their utility as fleet scouts and prevented them to serve on foreign stations since they were unable to cruise long distances, so they could not be usable as gunboats, in addition to their armament, making for a poor deterrence anyway.

Agordat had to make up for the replacement of much older scouts of the 1860-70s and answer to this new type of unit widespread in Great Britain, fast and light to fulfill part of the tasks of the armored cruiser of the ‘exploratori’ in Italian sense, a modern interpretation of the “warning ships” used at Lissa. The armament was modified during construction, after envisioing 4.7 in guns, but quickly centered on a battery of small-caliber 76 mm having only on paper to combat torpedo boats, and expecting 22 kots being sufficient with a presence of larger units nearby.

Italian Navy Agordat

On 26 September 1900 under the command of frigate captain Emilio Prasca, the torpedo cruiser Agordat entered service in Naples.

Agordat, built in Castellammare, was laid down on 18 February 1897, launched on 11 October 1899, completed and commissioned with the Regia Marina on 26 September 1900. Sea trials by February-March 1901 so her reaching 22 knots, better than the 21 expected, and was partially in service in the years 1902–1904. Her unit comprised also eight battleships, six cruisers, and six destroyers, later reduced in 1905. She took part in the 1908 fleet maneuvers, as part of the “hostile force” simulating a landing on Sicily.

The Italo-Turkish War by September 1911 saw her assigned to the 2nd Division, 1st Squadron (RADM Ernesto Presbitero), separated from her sister. On 15 October, she was runited with her to escort the battleship Napoli, the cruisers Pisa, Amalfi, San Marco to escort a troop convoy to take Derna, which was done after failed negociations and a naval bombardment. She was meanwhile offshore to deter Ottoman counterattacks. Later with San Marco she raid Ottoman positions at Al-Kuwayfiya on 28 November, returning afterwards to Benghazi. In December 1911 stil with San Marco, the battleships Roma and Regina Margherita in Benghazi she prevented by gunfire Ottoman troops to close on the city.

Agordat also intercepted the French mail steamer SS Carthage on 16 January 1912 with an aircraft and pilot (Emile Duval) suspected to be Turkish mercenaries. She forced the steamer to go to Cagliari in Sardinia, on which the pilot and his plane were landed, before being authorized to proceed. The same happened with the French steamer SS Manouba, with fleeing Ottoman citizens aboard also brought to gunpoint to Cagliari. There was a mild diplomatic between the countries until the Ottomans were disembarked and the French pilot authorized to board another steamer, not for France but Tunis, still a protectorate. In April 1912 with Iride and other vessels she protected a 10,000 men troop convoy to Zuwarah (close to the Tunisian border).

By 1914, Agordat was assigned to the 2nd Division, 2nd Squadron comprising armored cruisers, supported by both and other scout cruisers. In May 1915, they were mobilized but after a few opertations in the Adriatic, the fleet was retired due to the submarine threat by Di Revel’s order, preferring blockading the southern end of the Adriatic with the Otranto Barrage. Although light, Agordat was too slow to perform attacks and saw little service but uneventful patrols.

In November 1918, she however took part in the International occupation of Constantinople, going through the Dardanelles, landing troops to occupy the city. In 1921, being reclassified as a gunboat she had four 76 mm guns retired and replace like her sister by two 120 mm (4.7 in) L/40 guns fore and aft, her TT removed, but on 4 January 1923 she was sold for BU.

Italian Navy Coatit

Coatit in Genoa, photo by Alfred Noack, already with her new grey wartime paint.

Coatit was laid down at Castellammare Di Stabia NyD like her sister on 8 April 1897, launched on 15 November 1899, completed and commissioned on 1 October 1900. As we saw ans like her sister way too “short-legged” as a scout, the admiralty stuck her with the main fleet in 1902–1904, ative yearly for seven months and with reduced crews the rest of the time. In 1904, she sailed for the Red Sea, staying in Eritrea as a gunboat with the old corvette Cristoforo Colombo, gunboat Volturno, aviso Galileo and “played” at being used to land enemy troops on Sicily in 1908 when back for Mediterranean fleet maneuvers.
Soon however, lk,eher sister she was prepared to take part in the Italo-Turkish War, and from September 1911 she was assigned to the 4th Division, 2nd Squadron (RADM Paolo Thaon di Revel). Her task was to secure the flanks of battleships and armored cruisers shelling Tripoli on 3–4 October. She later patrolled the area with the armored cruiser Varese and sixteen destroyers. No surprise attack came from the Ottoman Navy.
On 15 October, Coatit and Agordat with Napoli, Pisa, Amalfi, San Marco and three destroyers protected a coniy of troop transports landing at Derna. Negotiators were unsucessful and the port and city were pummeled. On 18 October the Ottomans withdrew and the port was captured. Both cruisers remained offshore in case of counterattacks for two weeks. On 3 October 1912, Coatit shelled the port of Kalkan, making light damage as expected but had more success against an exposed Ottoman infantry battalion spotted by aircraft, put it in flight and spending 200 rounds on these. The captain of the nearby French cruiser Bruix witnessed the attack and officially protested based on international law.

Coatit entered Constantinople during the First Balkan War, in November 1912, after the Italo-Turkish War was over, with Emanuele Filiberto, the French Victor Hugo and Léon Gambetta and two British cruisers, joined by Goeben, Rostislav and a Spanish vessel, together landing 3,000 men ashore to protect nationals. Later she stayed in the Sea of Marmara befoore joining Crete and going back home.

Coatit in 1916
Coatit in 1916, note the mainmast has been removed.

In August 1914, Coatit was in the “special purpose” Division (2nd Squadron) with two Regina Margherita-class and two Ammiraglio di Saint Bon-class battleships, still acting as scout. With netrality gone by May 1915, Revel started the Otranto blockade and in that new context, Coatit rarely was at sea but to take part of patrols, without anything notable. In 1919 Coatit was converted into a minelaye, with eight 76 mm guns disposed of as her torpedo tubes. Instead two 120 mm (4.7 in) L/40 guns were installed fore and aft. Eventually she was placed in reserve and sold for BU on 11 June 1920.

Read More


Beehler, William Henry (1913). The History of the Italian-Turkish War. USNI
Fraccaroli, Aldo (1979). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships: 1860–1905. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Garbett, H., ed. (1902). “Naval Notes”. Journal of the Royal United Service Institution.
Leyland, John (1908). Brassey, Thomas A. (ed.). “Foreign Naval Manoeuvres”. J. Griffin & Co.
Marsh, C. C. (November 1899). “Notes on Ships and Torpedo Boats”. Notes on Naval Progress. General Information Series, No. XVIII
Willmott, H. P. (2009). The Last Century of Sea Power (Volume 1, From Port Arthur to Chanak, 1894–1922). Indiana University Press



Italian WWI Torpedo Boats

WWI Italian Torpedo Boats

About 140 vessels, 9 classes (1880-1918)

The saga of Italian Torpedo Boats

Italy was not long to take advantage of the Whitehead torpedo, developed by its adversary on the other side of Adriatic, invented 1866 by Robert Whitehead from a rough design conceived by Giovanni Luppis of the Austro-Hungarian Navy in Fiume. The Regia Marina’s first capital ships to sport torpedo tubes were the Duilio class (1876), while masted cruisers like the Caracciolo (1869) had a 15 inches tube added in 1875, as Colombo, but Flavio Goia had two smaller 14-in tubes from the start, as Vespucci, but not the steel corvette Cristoforo Colombo (1894). Torpedo tubes wee not ssytematic though, neither gunboats nor despatch vessels built in the 1870-80s were torpedo armed.

The Italian Torpedo Cruiser fad (1876-90)

RN Partenope (1886)

Of course a dedicated vessel was soon built to integrate the new device, the infamous “Torpedo Cruisers”, somewhat failed ancestors of the destroyers. Pietro Micca was the first to have a single 16-in tube and two machine guns in 1876. This 500 ton vessel, only capable of 13 knots, was followed by Tripoli (1885), a much larger, faster 900 tons vessel armed with five 14-in tubes. The Regia Marina next ordered larger classes, such as the four Goito class (1887-89), the two small Folgore (1886) “torpediniere-avisos” designed by Brin, and the eight vessels of the 900 tons Partenope class (1889-93). Th next Agordat class protected cruisers were still armed with two 17.7 inches (450 mm) tubes, and twelve Ansaldo 3-in guns, a rather weak armament for 1,300 tons cruisers. But at this point like other navies, the Regia Marina abandoned the concept for larger torpedo boats, eventually destroyers, which started to appear in 1893.

The first Italian Torpedo Boats (1878-81)

Italian prototype spar torpedo boat (1877) from Thornycroft

Like Germany or Austria-Hungary, Italy lacked the experience with very small, fast boats and ordered its first torpedo boat to Thornycroft in 1878, owing its good relations with UK. Nibbio was therefore commissioned in 1881, rated as fourth class. She was followed by further prototypes or “samples” from UK, Avvoltio (1879), Sparviero (1881), both to Yarrow and Aquila (1881) to Thornycroft, leaving a two years gap to see technological advances and gain experience in dealing with the new vessels. What was intresting with these, was their propulsion system, which differed for each and allowed comparisons.

77Y, built in Venice

⚙ Compared Specifications

Name Dimensions/Displacement Propulsion/speed Armament
Nibbio (1878) 24.38 x 3 x 1 m/25,5 tons 1 shaft TER, 1 boiler 250 ihp/18kts 2x 14 in TTs
Avvoltoio (1879) 26.21 x 3.3 x 0.95 m/25 tons 1 shaft VTE, 1 boiler 420 ihp/22.5 kts 2x 14 in TTs
Sparviero class (1881) 30.43 x 3.81 x 1.49/39,5 tons 1 shaft VR, 1 boiler 620 ihp/22.5 kts 2x 14 in TTs
Aquila (1881) 29.18 x 3.28 x 1.47/34,5 tons 1 shaft VDE, 1 boiler 475 ihp/20 kts 2x 14 in TTs+ twin 25 mm

All these vessels were originally intended as midget 4th class TBs, to be operated from capital ships used as “motherships”, and used as an active close defense, one of the concepts explored notably by Brin around the torpedo. They were all crewed with 10-11 men, and renamed: Nibbio became 1T (T standing for Thornycroft, not torpedo) in 1886, and was converted as a steam boat PE44 later, BU possibly in 1906. Avvoltoio became 2Y (for “yarrow”) in 1886 and was discarded in 1904. Sparviero and Falco became 22 and then 25Y in 1886, also discarded in 1904. The paved the way for the “stars” (stella) series of the 1880s-90s, all small 4th or even 5th rank vessels to international standards.


The first Italian-built Torpedo Boats (1882)

Mosca class
Mosca class

Note: These were all discarded in 1914. They could be seen more in detail in a dedicated post related to the 1890 Regia Marina.

The very first prototype was ordered to Orlando Leghorn yard, designed by Engineer, director Luigi Borghi, still 4th class owing to her 30 tons displacement; Choice was made of a single shaft vessel propeller by a triple expansion, reciprocating (TER) engine fed by a single locomotive boiler, rated at 250 ihp for 18 knots. Armament stays the two single 14-inch tubes (356 mm), one fixed, prow, one traversing, amidship. Classed as fourth class TB, primary interest for the boat was to be operated from the Battleship Caio Duilio, in total fighting trim. Although launched in 1882, trials and fixes had he commissioned only in 1885 and later renamed 11T the next year. Mostly experimental, she was discarded in 1904.

Next a serie of Aldebaran and Euterpe class (plus the Mosca) were built in several groups ordered in various yards at the same time, Thornycroft, Odero, Orlando, Pattison, and Guppy. They shared similar caracteristics to the previous vessels, all 3rd class at 38.5 tons (Aldebaran 1,2,3,4, 5th groups) and lighter 4th class at 13.5 tons for the Euterpe class (2 groups) and the relatively similar Mosca class (1883)

Aldebaran class TBs (1882-87)

Aldebaran class

Aldebaran, Antares, Andromeda, Centauro, Dragone, Pegaso, Perseo, Sagittario, Sirio, Orione, Canopo (1st gpe), Arturo, Spica, Cigno, 50T/51T (2nd gpe), Vega, Rigel, Castore, Polluce (3rd gpe), Procione, Lira, Idra, Regolo, 54T, 55T (4th gpe), Acquario, Cassiopea (5th gpe).

In all, 34 boats of this class were built, delivered on similar specs, ordereded in 1882-84 from Thornycroft (10 boats), Odero Sestri (4 boats), Orlando (6 boats), Pattison (6 boats) and Guppy in Napoli (2 boats launched in 1885). The one inch or 25mm/41 twin-barreled heavy machine gun, Nordenfelt type. No reloads for the 350 mm torpedo tubes. Turtleback hull, ram type bow with the two forward, fixed tubes. No mast but a small command post whith the stering wheel inside, a projector, a small service boat. Apart 39T lost in a collision, they were all discarded in 1907-1914.

⚙ Aldebaran class specifications

Dimensions 30.58 x 3.58 x 1.67 m (100 ft x 11ft 9in x 5ft 6in)
Displacement 38-1/2 tons standard
Propulsion 1 shaft VDE, 1 loco boiler, 430-455 ihp.
Top Speed 21 knots (xx km/h)
Armament 2x 25mm, 14-in TTs (356mm)
Crew 10-11

Euterpe class TBs (1885)

Euterpe class

Euterpe, Talia, Erato, Melpomene, Tersicore, Polimnia, Urania, Calliope (1st) Lucciola, Formica, Cicala, Locusta, Grillo, Zanzara (2nd)

Two groups, eight boats total coming from Thornycroft, Cheeswick in 1883 based on the same 4th class design. They were discarded in 1896-1904.

Euterpe class

Euterpe class

⚙ Euterpe class specifications

Dimensions 30.58 x 3.58 x 1.67 m (100 ft x 11ft 9in x 5ft 6in)
Displacement 38-1/2 tons standard
Propulsion 1 shaft VDE, 1 loco boiler, 430-455 ihp.
Top Speed 21 knots (xx km/h)
Armament 2x 25mm, 14-in TTs (356mm)
Crew 10-11

Mosca class TBs (1885)

Mosca class

Mosca, Ape, Vespa, Farfalla

These Thornycroft 4th class TBs built in 1883 were renamed 12-15T in 1886 (and thus are also known as 12T class). Mosca was later transferred to customs service, the others were discarded in 1898.

⚙ Mosca class specifications

Dimensions 20.12 x 2.44 x 1.34 m (66 ft x 8ft x 4ft 5in)
Displacement 16 tons standard
Propulsion 1 shaft VR, 1 loco boiler, 250 ihp.
Top Speed 20 knots (xx km/h)
Armament 2x 14-in TTs (356mm)
Crew 10

“YA” class TBs (1894-95)

Torpedo Boat 76YA
Torpedo Boat 76YA

Four second class TBs built in Yarrow for the first, 76-77YA and Venice NyD, for 78-79YA. Development and construction was slowed down in Italy by budgetary problems. There was a 4 kts difference between them on trials. Overall they were considered however very successful. In 1898 77YA was equipped with watertube boilers. All four were discarded in 1907-1910.

⚙ ’76YA’ specifications

Dimensions 41.18 x 4.27 x 1.54 m (135 ft x 14ft x 5ft 1in)
Displacement 108-1/2 tons standard
Propulsion 2 shaft VDE, 2 loco boilers, 1600-1640 ihp.
Top Speed 22-26 knots (xx km/h)
Armament 1x 37/25, 1x 37/20mm, 3-4x 14-in TTs (356mm)
Crew 10-11

“S” class TBs (1887-93)

S67 (Guppy) 1898

144S (Ansaldo) 1893

75S (Odero). All, A. Fracaroli coll.

Italy in 1886 started to order Schichau boats, and this went on until 1888, with the last boats delivered in 1895 for a total of around 60 vessels. They made the bulk of the 2nd class Italian TB force at the start of the Italian-Turkish war. The first 19 were all ordered in Germany, at Schichau, Stettin, the great specialist of the time. The rest were ordered respectively in Odero, Cravero, Guppy, Pattison and Ansaldo Yards in Italy under licence to gain time.

Schichau Order 1886-87:

19 boats, Lead vessel 56S later renamed 81S. Some had their TT fixed in the bow, other had one fixed, one trainable aft. 104S was used for fuel oil experiments under the direction of Eng. Vittorio Cuniberti, and successful. The boats were all converted to oil later, and watertube boilers adopted. This traduced in S82 by the addition of a second funnel. S106 was used to test wireless telegraphy for TBs. In November 1886, S56 sank in the bay of Biscay after colliding with 57S. The same month, S105 foundered during a gale in the Piombino Channel October 1890 and the rest were discarded in 1907-1914 with the esception of 102S which served in WWI as a pilot boat, discarded 1923.

Odero boats (1887-95):

26 boats converted to oil fuel and in 1898, 75S and 95S received watertube boilers and second funnel. 137S was wrecked in November 1906 off Favignana. All the rest wre discarded in 1904-14 except 128S that took part in WWI (discarded 1920), 129S sunk as target and 105S converted as minesweeper.

Cravero Boats (1887-94):

12 boats. 68S was active as pilot in WWI, 117S was lost off Brindisi in 1894. All discarded 1905-1914.

Guppy Boats (1888):

Just two boats built in Naples, 66 and 67S. They tested new types of trainable TTs and were discarded in 1905.

Pattison Boats (1888-94):

Sixteen built with an output of 683-1082 ihp. Three converted later to fuel oil. 113S also had a Belluzo turbine. 114S tested wireless telegaphy. 115S was fitted witn a MAN diesel engine. 134S received two Normand small watertube boilers. All but five discarded 1913.

Ansaldo Boats (1888-94):

Eighteen boats, same as above but 728-1079 ihp output. More than half of these were converted to fuel oil in 1896-97, and all were discarded in 1907 to 1915. 87S was the sold lost due to collision in La Spezia, 1894.

⚙ ‘S’ class specifications (Original)

Dimensions 39-39.84 x 4.8 x 2 m (128-130 ft x 16ft 6ft 2in)
Displacement 78 tons standard
Propulsion 1 shaft VDE, 1 loco boiler, 902-1080 ihp.
Top Speed 21-22 knots (xx km/h)
Armament 2x 37mm, 2x 14-in TTs (356mm)
Crew 17

Aquila class TBs (1888)

Aquila, Sparviero, Falco, Nibbio, Avvoltoio

Ordered in 1887 and built in 1888 these were large 1st class TBs built in Schichau, rigged as 3-mast schooners. In 1897 their armament comprised two 37mm/25, three TTs. They were discarded in 1912-14.

⚙ Aquila class specifications

Dimensions 47.61 x 5.1 x 2.2 m (156 ft x 17ft x 7ft 2in)
Displacement 137 tons standard
Propulsion 2 shaft VDE, 2 loco boiler, 2180 ihp.
Top Speed 24 knots (xx km/h)
Armament 2x 37mm, 3x 14-in TTs (1 trainable)

Technical aspects:

Ariete (Greenwhich Museum
Ariete (Greenwhich Museum
Ariete (Greenwhich Museum)

Italian WWI torpedoes

Comparison between the original drawing of the time (1895) and the dust jacket by V.M.Gay from the text of the Italian submarines and underwater assault vehicles by Turrini-Miozzi-Minuto – USMM 2010

Torpedo Models

There was a single manufacturer for Italian torpedoes at the origin, and until the great war broke out: Silurificio Whitehead of Fiume, the world’s oldest torpedo manufacturer, founded in 1860. It provided the standard types in use with Italian built and purchased German or British Thornycroft vessels:
-Spar Torpedo: According to Thornycroft designs, early 1877 proposals comprised a spar-torpedo vessel, however it seems regular torpedoes were favored early on.
-12 inches torpedo (305 mm) – Basically the Fiume Whitehead/Luppis model.
-14 inches torpedoes (356 mm) – Shared by all Italian TBs until 1910.
-17.7 inches torpedoes (450 mm) – All TBs from Schichau’s Sirio (1905). Strangely, Gabbiano (1907) went back to the 14-in caliber.
-21 inches torpedoes (533 mm) – None. They were introduced -(as for destroyers, even the 1923 Curtatone class still had 17.7 in types) in the mid-1920s and Sella class Destroyers (Even larger lead ships like the Poerio, Aquila, Mirabello, Leone, still had 45 cm tubes). The only exception was Cesare Rossarol, ex-B97 acquired in 1920, which had 500 mm tubes and German models.
-The Luppis torpedo (1875) was used in the Italian Navy as a single-propeller and compressed air (stroke 150 m), 27 kg. gun cotton warhead.
-The first modern mass-produced model was the siluranti A 34/356 W, built in Fiume by Whitehead in 1882. It was innovative by its use of two counter-rotating propellers, which stabilized it. This 356 mm (15 in) model had also a larger wahread of 34 kg. also gun cotton. Its air tank worked at 70 atmospheres, for a top speed of 22 knots over 400 m.
-The Siluranti B20 built in Berlin in 1884 by Schwarzkopff in bronze was also used by the Schichau models. Its tank worked at 90 atmospheres for 22 knots over 400 m and 20 kg warhead.
-The Siluranti B57 by Schwarzkopff and Rijeka (1888) had a tank at 90 atmospheres and 27 knots over 400 or 22 over 800 m and 57 kg. TNT wahread. It was the first with two settings.

-During WWI, a type A100/450 was recovered by the Austro-Hungarian Navy from the submersible Pullino grounded in July 1916. The Italians on their size recovered torpedoes carried by the Austro-Hungarian U12 that sank near Venice in 1915.
-The A140/450 resulting from it, built by Silurificio Italia after 1920: It was capable of 29-32 knots on the 6,000-4,000 m settings and had a 1140 Kgs TNT warhead of 140 kg of TNT, and air tank loaded to 170 atmospheres.

Prewar torpedo developments

Alongside the development or propeller, oxygen tank, warhead and body, progresses were made in locks, fuses, gyroscopes and when Italy entered the war more torpedo stocks were needed, not only the Silurificio Italiano was established in Baia, but a true R&D facility was created to try to improve speed, range, destructive capacity and accuracy. Tanks made in iron sheet were replaced by steel appeared and gun cotton by TNT in 1910 already. Its high stability and ease of processing were greatly appreciated.

In 1914 the Whitehead torpedo factory introduced an universal pendulum-type lock-device to determine the burst timing upon impact. It ensured operation at any angle of impact essentially. The 1877 Brotherood engine led way to the 1879 Brotherood-Whitehead using no longer a single central distribution valve but three cylindrical valves. In 1909, it’s speed, not warhread needs that led to a 533 mm (21-in) diameter, leading to the first two-cylinder sub-horizontal engine.

The adoption of swollen warheadswent back to 1896, preferred over refined ones thanks to higher speeds. The 1895 torpedo guide (by engineer Ludovico Obry) was purchased by Whitehead Silurificio in 1897, enabling automatic adjustment on italian torpedoes. This avoided lateral oscillations often causes of launch failure. Vertical fins were eliminated, notably as they increased friction in motion and if 1876 356 mm bodies prevailed, the need of a greater range and heavier payloads conducted Whitehead in 1889 to propose its 450 mm (17.7 in) and winning a competition in 1909 with a 533 mm.

WWI torpedo developments

At the beginning WWI, Silurificio di Fiume worked exclusively for the Central Empires, cuttinf its supplies to Italy as soon it declared war in May 1915. Following this, production in Fiume was transferred to St. Polten near Vienna, safe from Italian shellings. Only launching range remained in Fiume. These fears turned out to be well founded as on 2 August 1916 the whole area between Plase and Cantrida was shelled by the Regia Marina.

The factory produced some 1,780 450mm torpedoes, 64 torpedo launchers and 94 compressors at Rijeka shareholders approved bankruptcy of the company in 1918 and production as well as R&D was relaunched after Fiume went to Italy (Treaty of Rome, 27/1/1924) and Eng. Giuseppe Orlando became President. Inn 1928, it acquired full property as “Silurificio Whitehead di Fiume S. A.”.

The Rijeka factory was modernized in 1924, having 230 employees and producing 1,000 torpedoes in 1932. A launch & testing station was created in 1935, including to test airplane launches. But this is a story for the development of WW2 Italian Torpedo Boats.

Armament specifics and design

Cannone da 76/40
Cannone da 76/40
Guns-wise, artillery was intended purely as a meant of close defence, and grew in size and capabilities over the years, and larger designs. The initial 1878 experimental types were only armed with their Torpedoes, but Aquila (1881) was the first to receive a twin 25 mm Nordenfelt rapid fire Heavy “machine gun”, mounted on the kiosk.

The larger “YA”, large twin-screws Yarrow boats were armed with a more consistent battery, of a single 37 mm/25 and another of 37mm/20 guns. The first was mounted on the raised platform behind the forward turtleback. The numerous “Schichau” boats all had also two 37 mm, generally mounted for and aft. Prototypes of prewar series, like Condore and Pellicano, had two 37mm/25 H lungo QF guns.

Cannone_da_7640 The Schichau-built Sirio class (1905) inaugurated a battery of three Hotchkiss (presumably) 47 mm/40 guns, far more potent than on previous vessels. The sraight bow Pegaso class and its sub-groups varied, the base ships having two 57 mm and one 47 mm, but they were rearmd as WW1 broke out with a more potent 76 mm/40 for some and/or 13.2 mm Breda heavy machine gun for AA defense. The clipper-bow Orione class (1906) had two 47 mm guns only, replaced in WWI also by two 76 mm.

The “PN” series, all three, built before and during WWI started wioth a single Ansaldo 57mm/43 Modello 1883, but were all armed with this new standard gun, the 76/40 Mod. 1916 R.M. and its precedessor. It was a derivative, licence built of the QF 12 pounder 12 cwt, Armstrong 76/40 Model 1897. The Ansaldo 75mm/30 A1914 became a permanent fixture of the 40PN and 70OLT (Series II, III). This gun had an elevation allowing AA defense as well.

37 mm twin barrel

Likely the Nordenfelt type.

37 mm Hotchkiss

Hotchkiss 37 mm QF gun on a MAS in WWI

Standard 3-pdr Hotchkiss type

47 mm

Standard 6-pdr Hotchkiss type

57 mm

Likely the Vickers QF 12-pounder 12 cwt naval gun

Ansaldo 76mm/40 M1916

This gun fired the HE – 14.3 lbs. (6.5 kg) or 13.3 lbs. (6.0 kg) shell in AA configuration in italian service. It weight 1,676 kg, for 3,139 m in lenght, exact caliber 76,2 mm, single cartridge 6,016-6,820 kg, 12-15 rpm at 690 m/s. Elevation reached -5°/+75° for a maximal range of 5,500 m, up to 6 000 m.

Ansalso 76mm/30 M1915

The 510 kg (1,120 lb) pivot gun, 3.13 m (10 ft 3 in) long, needed a crew of 7. It fired a Fixed QF 76.2 x 420mm R shell 5.6–6.5 kg (12–14 lb). The mount had a -6° to +81° elevation, and rate of fire of 12-15 rpm, Muzzle velocity of 680 m/s (2,200 ft/s) and effective firing range of 10.7 km (6.6 mi) at +40°, 5.8 km (19,000 ft) at +70° and an AA ceiling of 4.8 km (16,000 ft).

Machinery of Italian Torpedo Boats

After the initial orders to Thornycroft in 1877-78, which allowed Italian teams to compare designs of various powerplants: TER (Triple expansion, Reciprocating), but also VTE (Verticle triple expansion), VR (Vertical Reciprocating), and VDE (Vertical, Double Expansion). The latter appeared as the most efficient and was kept for the next orders from Great Britain. Coal remained the order of the day, and was mostly stored in the sides of the hull, offering some protection.

The first Italian built vessels like the Mosca class were provided however with a triple expansion, reciprocating (TER) engine, fed by a single locomotive boiler (which was standard at the time) and reached 18 knots. Hardly an impressive speed, but quite common in the early 1880s. The large Aldebaran class TBs went back to the VDE, which became the great standard. Performanes differed a bit between yards. For the first time, 21 knots became the new standard speed. In the 1880s, most cruisers and battleships hardly reached 16-18 kts. For the first time, TBs could capitalize on their superior speed for hit-and-run attacks, compounded by longer-range torpedoes.

All these vessels had a single shafts, and lacked in agility, until the Regia Marina ordered the “YA” class to Yarrow, which introduced for the first time twin shafts and propellers, also leading to carry two VDE engines fed by two loco boilers. Thanks to this, they reached 26 knots on trials. In 1898, 77YA, built in Venice and 4 knots slower than her sister-ship, tested a small watertube boilers, far more efficient than the old loco boilers, soon reaching the same speed as her sister.

Next, Italy turned to Germany after a shifting in political alliaces, and order around 60 Schichau design boats which formed the 1890s generation, delivered from 1887 to 1895. They were all close to the first serie built in Schichau, near-copies, with the same single shaft and Schichau VTE engine plus the always dependable loco boiler. They still managed to reach 21-22 knots.

The 1st class “YA” seemingly lacked an inheritance. That is, until the Aquila class showed up. These Italian-built vessels also order from Schichau were very different, two-funnels vessel with two shafts. The staged loco boilers and VDE along the lenght of the ship and separate compartment allowed one to be flooded while preserving the other. Only four of these 1st class, 24 kts vessels were built, but they definitively cemented the admiralty’s interest for larger twin-shaft TBs.

In 1900, RN Condore was a single prototype, inspired by Schichau designs but built in Ansaldo, resembling the former aquila. Two shafts, two VTE engines this time, and three Yarrow small tubes boilers made her the most modern, powerful and fastest in the fleet: She reached 26 knots and had a 2000 nuatical miles radius of action. Still, like all the others, she ran on Coal.

Another interesting experimental boat was RN Pellicano, built in Odero at about the same time. She tested a different arrangement, with two shafts VTE also, but fed by three Blechynden boilers, for a total of 2,740 ihp. She only reached 21 knots for a design speed of 25.7 kts and a disappointment; This helped the admiralty to settle on the Condore design for the powerplant.

The Sirio class of 1905 were Schichau-built two shafts boats capable of 25 kts, which confirmed choices made in machinery arrangements. To continue comparisons, the admiralty next ordered to Shichau rival, Thornycroft, the first four boats of the standardized “Pegaso” class. They all settled on the same arrangement and top speed, two VTE, two Thornycroft boilers, and 25 knots. It should be precised that all these boats had ram-like “wave-piercing” bows.

RN Gabbiano was a 1906 experimental boat, testing an unorthodox assembly, two shafts propelled by two German Schichau triple Expansion engines, fed by two French Normand Watertube boilers, which were all the rage at that time (Condore also adopted them after conversion, oil-burning). However, despite an output of 2.190 hp, she only reached 22 knots and was not considered a successful design.

Also of note, she burn oil, not coal. Indeed, 104S in the 1880s was already was modified to burn fuel oil, under the direction of Eng. Vittorio Cuniberti, which saw its potential. This was a success, but without follow-up as for the Navy to adopt fuel oil as a standard the transition took about ten more years. Conversion were made for many boats in the late 1890s though. Two Pegaso class vessels were also given oil bruners from the start.

And after a long “vacancy” came the 1911 new standard serie of the PN (PN I, II and III) mass-produced during WWI. For all these, oil-burning Thornycroft Boilers were standard coupled with two VTE engines of local construction. Two of these were even testing turbines, a bit late compared to other navies. 31AS and 32AS were indeed equipped with three Parsons or two Bergmann steam turbines respectively; They were not overly satisfactory.

With their classic VTEs, all three PN series could sustain 27 knots, which was still way below the performance sub-standard compared to British Torpedo boats for example, capable in the 1890s of 30-33 knots. But they were in line with German Torpedoboote speeds, which reached 28 kts in 1904 however. The roughly comparable A-I types (1915) were much slower at 20 kts, 25 for the following A-II series and 26-28 for the A-III series. They were still much slower than the blasting fast French TBs of the 1890s like the 29 knots Cyclone class, and more so the Mistral class (36 knots) of 1901, last French TBs, before efforts were concentrated on destroyers.

General Assessment: Adriatic Operations

67PN training with MAS 15 in 1918 (luce video extract)

All torpeod boats could not be available for immediate operations in the Adriatic as many were also affected to local defence flotillas on the west coast (Thyrrenian sea) and Sicily, as well as Sardinia in 1915. Gradually, many were transferred to the Adriatic where their shallow draft made them more risky than major warships, such as cruisers and battleships, the latter being also subjected to submarine and Austro-Hungarian TBs attacks.

How the Italian TBs compared to Austro-Hungarian TBs ?
First off, the Austro-Hungarians started WWI with no less than seventy-nine torpedo boats, compared to italy’s 59 (80 with antiquated models), but 26 more would join the fray in 1915-1918.
Individually, the bulk of Italy’s first line TBs, making the main squadrons deployed in the Adriatic, comprised the thirty-seven Boats of the PN serie I (partly based in the southern base of Tarento), plus those of the Serie II later. The Sirio (6), Condore, Pelicano, Gabbiano, Orione and older vessels were mostly kept in the western coastal defense area. In venice, Vice-admiral Aristide Garelli, had under his command three battleships, three cruisers, the 3rd and 4rd destroyer (Cacciatorpediniere) squadrons, and the:
-5th Torpediniere (TP) Sq. (Procione, Climene, Pegaso, Pallade, Calipso)
-6th Sq. T.P. (19 OS-24 OS)
-9th Sq. T.P. (13 OS-19 OS)
-10th Sq. T.P. (1 PN-6 PN)
-11th Sq, T.P. (7 PN-12 PN)
This made just 25 TBs to cover the while northern Adriatic front.

The main opponents of the PN series were the 262 tonnes Tb-74 T class (1913) and the 244 tonnes Tb-82 F class (1914) as the 250 tonnes Tb-98 M class. The first two reached 28 knots and the last 29.5 knots, a bit faster that Italian boats. Armament-wise, the early TB-74T only had a twin TT bank, same caliber and essentually same torpedo type as used by the Italians. The Tb-82 F and Tb-98 M however were better armed, with a more versatile pair of 450 mm TTs. This was a relatively even match, but with a slight advantage for the Austro-Hungarians.

Admiral Paolo Thon di Revel in 1915 decided to switch its initial fleet in being operations, to “guerriglia marittima” (naval guerrilla). Battleships and cruisers (but the fastest) were to remain in the south to reinforce the Adriatic blockade. Light forces (including torpedo boats), screen with aviation, would launch naval attrition operations, in order to weaken the enemy fleet. France and Britain reinforced the Otranto blockade fleet, signing a convention on 10 May 1915. They too, would operate numerous destroyers in the area.

On 3 November 1918, Italy lost six torpedo boats in all, not a heavy price over the total deployed. Losse of destroyers in comparison were twice higher (8). It should be noted that as MAS squadrons became more consistent, Torpedo Boats were gradually sidelined. The average MAS in 1916 indeed had two of the same torpedoes, 30 kts, and presented a much smaller target. They were also way cheaper to built, to operate and maintain, and to add insult to injury, revendicated probably the biggest success of the Regia Marina in this theater of Operation, the sinking of Szent István. Italian TBs on the other hand never were credited with such major loss, or any of importance.

Italian prewar Torpedo Boats

Condore (1900)

Condore was a prototype of 1st class TB built in Ansaldo, Genova from 1898. Launched in 17.9.1898 and commissioned in June 1900 she still was inspired by Schichau type boats with a wide rear section and general pear or almond shape of the hull. Two funnels far apart, its boilers were replaced by 2 Normand oil-burning after sea trials.

She displaced 138 tons, for 47.0 pp 48.0 oa x 5.55 x 1.36m, propelled by two shafts VTE fed by 3 Yarrow boilers for an output of 2,370 shp, and 26 kts as designed. She carried 42 tons of coal for 2000(12) nm radius of action.
Armament comprised two 37mm/25 H lungo QF guns and two single 350mm TT (15 in). Crew was 31. She fought in WWI and was discarded in 1920.

RN Pellicano (1899)

Pellicano anchored and listing. SRC

The single experimental first class Torpedo Boat was ordered to Odero, Sestri Ponente, laid down on 7/1896, launched 7.4.1899, completed 12/1900. She was a good sea boat, but her machinery was unreliable, and she never reached her planned designed speed of 25.7kts (very far from it in fact). Her armament was also weak for her size. The design was not followed through. Photo and specs on

⚙ RN Pelicano specifications

Dimensions/Displacement 47.7/48.7 m oa x 5.74 x 1.53 m (), 148 tons standard, 181 tons FL
Propulsion/speed 2 shafts VTE, 3 Blechynden boilers 2,740 ihp, 21 kts
Armament 2x 15-in TTs (350mm), 2x 37mm/25 H Lungo type guns

Sirio class TBs (1905)

Sirio, Sagittario, Spica, Scorpione, Serpente, Saffo

These six vessels were ordered to Schichau, Stettin in 1903, laid down in 1904. Rated speed was 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) and 25.7 knots (47.6 km/h; 29.6 mph) during trials, re-rated to 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph) in service. The 210 tonnes Sirio class were propelled by two shafts propellers, diven by verticle triple expansion engine, fed by two 2 coal-fired Schultz-Thornycroft boilers with an output of 3,000 ihp (2,200 kW) total, enough for a top speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph). Range was 500 nmi (580 mi; 930 km) at full speed and they were crewed by five officers and 35 men.

Fate: Sirio was discarded in 1923, as Sagittario and Spica, but if three were lost, not one in action: Scorpione Sank following a collision with the French gunboat Surveillente 15 May 1917, Serpente after collision with Italian merchant ship Citta di Bari 28 June 1916 and Saffo ran aground Scalanova Bay, Turkey, 2 April 1920 and never recovered.

⚙ Sirio class specifications

Dimensions/Displacement 51.07 x 6 x 1.6 m (167 x 20 x 5ft), 210 tons
Propulsion/speed 2 shafts VTE, 2 boilers 3000 ihp 25 kts
Armament 3x 17.7-in TTs (450mm), 3x 47mm/40

Pegaso class TBs (1906)

Pegaso – Pattison built

Perseo, Pegaso, Procione, Pallade (Pegaso gpe), Cigno, Cassiopea, Centauro, Clio, Canopo, Calliope, Calipso, Climene (Cigno gpe), Alcione, Ardea, Albatros, Airone, Astore, Arpia (Alcione gpe)

In 1904, four High-Seas Torpedo Boats were laid down at Pattison shipyard, Naples. They were a licenced version of a Thornycroft design, powered by two triple expansion steam engines, fed by two Thornycroft coal-fired water-tube boilers. In all, this gave them an output of 2,900–3,279 ihp (2,163–2,445 kW), on two shafts, so to reach 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) as designed. These four boats were pre-series (later called Pegaso group), followed by the Cigno (8 torpedo boats) also from Pattison, and Alcione (6 torpedo boats), from Odero, Sestri.

Launched and completed in 1905–06, for the first group, and 1906-1909 for the others, they measured 50.05 m (164 ft 2 in) between perpendicular, 50.35 m (165 ft 2 in) overall, with a beam of 5.3 m (17 ft 5 in) and draught beteen 1.725 and 1.775 m (5 ft 7.9 in – 5 ft 9.9 in). The 2nd and 3rd series were caracterized by thicker plating and were slightly heavier at 216.5 t (or 213.1 long tons) versus 210 t for the earlier Pegaso group. Two of the Cigno group, Calipso and Climene, received oil fired boilers for comparative tests, and Pallade, Pegaso, Procione, Airone, Alcione and Arde were converted in 1908-1913 due to the success of this experiment. Moving to oil ensure more storage and thus, greater range.

Stern of the Albatros (A Fracarolli coll. via conways)

As the First World War broke out, after the entry in to the war of italy, Perseo and Cigno received two 76 mm (3 in)/40 guns instead of their old 47 mm, and a single Breda 13.2 mm machine gun for AA defense, as well as two 450 mm torpedo tubes only, but more releoads. The Alcione series however as rearmed had one of the two 76 mm guns fitted on an anti-aircraft mount.

In September 1911 these vessels saw action during the Italo-Turkish War. The Pegaso class and Cigno shelled shore objectives in support of the Tripoli landings, in November, and made reconnaissances and patrols off the Dardanelles (A squadron of five, Spica, Perseo, Astore, Climene and Centauro). During WWI they were considered obsolescent and converted for some as fast minesweepers. Perseo collided with Astore on 6 February 1917, but it was the exploision of one of its torpedoes that sink her. Arpia struck the unreported wreck of the Neapolitan frigate Torquato Tasso from 1861, on 17 January 1918. The hull damage and flooding was too quick for the ship to be saved and she sank in shallow water, but later raised and repaired. She was back in action in July 1918. The remainder were discarded 1923-1927.

Pegaso profile

Cigno group profile

⚙ (*Pegaso) Cigno class specifications

Dimensions/Displacement 50.35 x 5.3 x 1.77 m, 216.5(210*) tons st.
Propulsion/speed 2 shafts VTE, 2 Thornycroft boilers 2,900 ihp, 25 knots
Range 300–350 nmi (350–400 mi; 560–650 km) full speed
Armament 2x 57mm, 1x 47mm guns, 3x 17.7-in TTs (450mm)
crew 3 officers, 32-39 men

Orione class TBs (1906)

RN Orione profile

Orione, Orsa, Olimpia, Orfeo

These four Italian-built vessels were ordered in 1904, laid down in March 1905 at Odero’s Sestri Ponente, Genoa shipyard. They had two coal-fired Blechynden boilers for two sets of triple expansion steam engines (2,900 indicated horsepower/2,200 kW), for a design speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) and a range of 300 nautical miles (560 km; 350 mi) at 24 knots or 680 nautical miles at 18 knots. This was helped by an unusuallt clipper bow and their other caracteristic was two heavenly spaced funnels.

These four ships completed in February 1907-April 1908 reached 25.4 knots (47.0 km/h; 29.2 mph) in sea trials but proved less seaworthy than the Pegaso class. Olimpia and Orfeo helped the 1908 Messina earthquake relieaf effort, Orione collided with the other TB 128 S in April 1911. All four took part in the Italo-Turkish War, Libyan coast and Dodecanese, and formed the 1st Torpedo Boat Division in WWI, in Libyan waters, and between there and Italy. They had two 76 mm guns insalled in place of their 47 mm, and one tube removed. Orfeo collided with Calabria on 10 December 1917, repaired. All were discarded in 1920-1923.

Conway’s profile of Orsa

⚙ Orione class specifications

Dimensions/Displacement 52.6 x 6 x 1.5 m, 220 tons
Propulsion/speed 2 VTE, 2 Blechynden boilers, 2900 shp, 25 kts, 300 nm/24
Armament 3x 47mm/40 3x 17.7-in (450mm) TTs

RN Gabbiano (1906)

Profile of the Gabbiano

Gabbiano was built at the Regio Arsenale Shipyard, La Spezia, laid down on 2 April 1906, launched April 9, 1907 and completed on June 22, 1907, commissioned in September. She was Designed by the Naval Construction Directorate of the 1st Department, as prototype of a new class to replace the “S” class, with twin engines. 110S and 111S engines were used for RN Gabbiano. She was provided with two triple expansion, 2 stroke Schivhau steam engine, fed by two Normand small tubes boilers, driving two Sirio type three-blade propellers (1.80 m diameter), for a top speed of ​​22 knots. With 30 tons fuel aboard, autonoy was 1,508 miles at 8.5 knots, or 1,333 miles at 12 knots, 826 miles at 16 knots and 575 miles at 19.5 knots as reported on trials.

Armament included two 47 mm Hotchkiss M1901 cannons L/40 and 3 torpedo tubes Modello 1888s (356 mm), two forward fixed, one trainable aft, plus 14 mines (since 1909). The Crew of 32 comprised 2 officers and 30 non-commissioned officers, sub-chiefs and ratings. Her cost has been 457,165 lire, with a 20% saving compared to similar vessels. She had a galvanized steel hull, with 98 frames, divided into 11 watertight compartments. She also used planking o her flat deck aft (turtleback forward) ranging in thickness from 3 to 5 mm, with a bow and stern in forged steel. She was a good and robust vessel, but not followed in ater designs. Higher operating costs had her follow-up cancelled despite cost-effectiveness of reused engines, which were now technically outdated. Her armament was also lower than comparable vessels of the same tonnage.

Gabbiano on 22 August 1907 was assigned to the Torpedo Squadron of Civitavecchia. She took part in many squadrons exercises in Sicily and in the Tyrrhenian Sea, the great maneuvers of 1907-1908, and was overhauled in Venice, arriving on 20 October 1908. From February 1912 she was assigned to the Adriatic Lighthouse Inspection Service. From November as the Italo-Turkish ended, she became TS for Mechanical School cadets at Venice. On 23 March 1915 she was reassigned to the Hydrographic Service and on 24 May sent to Taranto for coastal surveillance. From 1917 she made to missions in Corfu, and in 1918 patrolled the Ionian Sea until the end of the war, followed by a disarmament in Taranto. She was stricken on May 15, 1921, BU 1921-22.

⚙ Gabbiano class specifications

Dimensions/Displacement 49.62 x 5.92 x 1.38 m – 161.79 t standard 179.36 t FL
Propulsion/speed Schichau TE engine, 2 Normand WT boilers 2.190 hp, 22 kts
Armament 2x 47mm, 3x 15-in TTs (356mm)

1PN class (1911)

1-12PN, 13-24OS, 25-32AS, 33-38PN:
PN types
PN** Type

PN types
8PN (A. Fracaroli coll. via Conways)

The 1PN was the first prewar mass-built class of torpedo boats, thorty-three in all, built in four groups in separate yards: Pattison, Odero, Ansaldo and Pattison again, respectively. They were laid down from February 1910, based on the 1909 program and a redesigned standard, taking in part inspiration from RN Gabbiano, but smaller and cheaper. As a whole, they were considered rather successful, especially in the Adriactic Sea theatre when they were quite active. 31AS and 32AS were the only one experimentally equipped with three Parsons or two Bergmann steam turbines and same boilers as the others, but consumption was quite high as well as maintennace, with a rather lower reliability. They carried 16 tons of fuel oil for a raius of action of 175 nutical miles at 16 knots. Crew varied between 23 and 30 men.

The PN series were completed from June 1911 to December 1913. Some took part in the Italo-Turkish War and Balkan war of 1913. In 1915, some had their armament revised: 1PN to 4PN, 7PN, 8PN, 26AS to 30AS received all between 8 and 10 mines. 6PN received in 1916 a single 57mm/43 and a single 76mm/40 AA (76mm/30A and Breda 6.5mm/80 MG AA in 1914).

Torpedo boat 39RN was an experimental derivative, laid down at Arsenale di La Spezia on 7.1914, launched 12.8.1915 and completed in February 1916, to test a new composite powerplant, composed of 2 VDE, 1 steam turbine, and 2 super-heated steam boilers on triple-shaft. As a whole were considered rather successful, reaching 27 knots and allowing for more radius in the Adriactic. This combined machinery, combined with 27 tons of fuel oil reached 185 nm at max speed, and far more in normal conditions.

The 1PN and following saw action in the Adriatic, patrolling the sea and making coastal reconnaissance missions, almost all survived, stricken 1925-32, but 5PN was sunk 27.6.1915 by UB1 (Austrian U10) off Venice, and 17OS on 3.7.1915 from the accidental explosion of her own mine, off the Istrian coast. 36PN hit a mine and sank on 10.11.1918 near the Albanian coast.

⚙ 1PN class specifications

Dimensions/Displacement 42.5 x 4.6 x 1.5 m, 120 tons/134-143 tons FL
Propulsion/speed 2 VTE, 2 Thornycroft boilers, 3200 shp, 27 kts.
Armament 1x Ansaldo 57mm/43 Modello 1883, 2x 17.7-in TTs (450 mm)

Italian TB wartime classes

40PN class (1916)

40-45PN, 46-51OS, 52-57AS, 58-63OL, 64-69PN, 76-79CP (cancelled).

60OL at sea

The 30 boats became the main wartime torpedo-boat class of the Regia Marina. They were ordered in 1914, and built in 1915-18, the first commissioned in May 1916, the last in October 1918. They were built in Pattison, Odero, Ansaldo, Orlando like the previous vessels, with the addition of four more by CNR Palermo, which was cancelled. Unlike the previous boats however they were better armed and fitted to carry mines aft.

They were virtual repeats of the 1PN, but heavier, despite same hull dimensions. The same powerplant was repeated, with the same speed, and slightly lower endurance at 170 nm at 27 knots. Armament varied between series: 40-45PN, 53AS, 55-57AS, 61-63OL had two 76mm/30 A1914, and a twin 450mm TT, plus 10 mines. Other had in addition a 37mm/43 V1914 gun, while 64-69PN were delivered with two 76mm/30 A1914 guns and a single 6.5mm/80 Breda AA LMG. The rest was identical.

None was lost in action, notably due to their late entry into service, stricken in 1927-34.


⚙ 40PN class specifications

Dimensions/Displacement 42.5 x 4.6 x 1.59 m, 129 tons/157-168 tons FL
Propulsion/speed 2 VTE, 2 Thornycroft boilers, 2,700 shp, 27 kts.
Armament 1x Ansaldo 75mm/30 A1914, 2x 17.7-in TTs (450 mm), 10 mines.

70OLT class (1917)

75OLT, 76OLT

Last wartime torpedo boats, 1st class, these larger vessels were originally ordered to Orlando, Livirno yard in 1915, laid down in June 1916 for the last two, and in November 1916, and planned in 1917 for 70-73 OLT. It happened that they were never laid down. 70OLT was left on its slip after little work was done and scrapped. They were officially cancelled in 1919.

74 and 75OLT were lainched in October 1917 and January 1918 respectively and completed in June and September 1918, seeing little service. The first was stricken in September 1934 and the other in November 1937. Also considered the III serie (which was Conway’s own classification), they were considered rather successful, and were equipped with turbines, but without much change in top speed and being far more expensive, less reliable. They had two 76 mm/30 A1914 guns and a trainable twin TT mount plus rails at the poop for 7 mines.

pnIII - 70OLT

⚙ Serie III class specifications

Dimensions/Displacement 44.5/45.7 x 4.6 x 1.78m, 168 tons/195 tons FL
Propulsion/speed 2 Orlando Turbines, 2 Thornycroft boilers, 3500 shp, 27 kts.
Armament 2x Ansaldo 76mm/30, 2x 17.7-in TTs (450 mm), 7 mines

Francesco Rismondo (1917)

Francesco Rismondo was the ex-TB11, ex-TB XI, an Austro-Hungarian boat which crew mutinied and on 5.10.1917, crossed the Adriatic, surrendered to the Italians. After the war she served until 1925 as beacons supplier.

It is of note that the Italians purchased British (Thornycroft) and Schichau (German) vessels, but never a French Normand design, which was the third great specialist of the time, and had credency given its exports and the scale of the French Torpedo fleet in 1906, as part of the “Jeune Ecole” credo.

Interwar egacy

The first postwar Italian TB designs were entirely new animals: Dictated by the Washington treaty which considered the below 600-ton category was not considered a threat, Italy found justification to start a massive production of Torpedo Boats, well-suited for the Confines of the Mediterranean. Only the Kriegsmarine took the same path in Europe, mostly for the Baltic. RN Albatros, built in 1933-34 in CNR Palermo, was a handsome, 25 knots 350/500 tons vessel, still with small 450 mm Torpedo Tubes but a modern armament, and a forecastle, the main difference compared to previous design. Rather small and classes at first as a sub-hunter, she served as a prototype for the following 600 tons Spica (1934-38), the twice heavier Pegaso (1936), and wartime Ciclone and Ariete class, in tonnage all way above 600 tonnes.

Sources/Read More

Gardiner, Gray, Randal, eds. (1984). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships: 1906–1921.
AMM. Paolo M. Pollina. Le Torpediniere Italiane. Officio Storico della Marina Militare. Rome, 1964.
Jane’s Fighting Ships
The Naval Annual 1913
Chesneau and Kolesnik 1979, p. 359.
“Sezione Torpediniere: Sottosezione Torpediniere da costa: Classe Sirio”. Marina Militare.
Purnell’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Modern Weapons and Warfare, p. 2138.
Beehler, William Henry (1913). The History of the Italian-Turkish War, Sept. 29, 1911 to Oct. 18, 1912.
Fraccaroli 1970, p. 78-80.
Beehler 1913, pp. 87–90. tessi sana, WWI italian naval Ops (it) (pdf)
On (pdf)
Ariete on
Italian TBs on navypedia – Trieste (It)
Torpedoes on – SaloneArmiSubacquee Torpedoes
ON on 1 (gallery) 2
RMG Images of Thornycroft Ariete

WW1 Italian Battleships

WW1 Italian Battleships

Kingdom of Italy (1886-1916) 20 battleships

Foreworld about ww1 Italian Battleships

Italy started WWI with 16 battleships, several dreadnoughts in completion, construction, or planned. Recoignised as a major naval power in the Mediterranean, the fact it choosed eventually the side of the entente was crucially important for Britain and France to secure access to their colonies. Italy did not lacked talented engineers and a solid industrial basis in the north to fulfill its capital ship procurements in full autonomy.

The process started already in the 1860s with an Ironclads race, notably to face Austria-Hungary. From the lessons of Lissa, Italian engineers and the admiralty board devised new ships, some surprisingly powerful and using unique designs to gain supremacy in the Mediterranean. In 1880 for example, Italy unveiled two ironclads fitted with 100-ton 450 mm calibre muzzle-loading guns, making them the most powerful warships afloat. Italian engineers were also the first to test the waters of fast battleships (as pre-dreadnoughts !) and V. Cuniberti famously pioneered the idea of the monocaliber ship.

This post is best seen in conjunction with WW2 italian Interwar Battleships

Ships of the origins: Italian Ironclads (1860s)

Italy was not long to adopt ironclads. It happened during its unification, arguably a long process but solidified as a consequence of the Second Italian Independence War of 1859. Even before the Regia Marina was created in 1861, two ships were ordered in France in 1860 and laid down in June and December 1860: The Formidabile-class. Rather small ships, they were followed by the Principe di Carignano class, Principe di Carignano (1863), Messina (1864) and Conte Verde (1867), built this time in Italy, the Re d’Italia class (Re d’Italia (1863), Re di Portogallo (1863) built in UK, the Regina Maria Pia class (Regina Maria Pia (1863), San Martino (1863), Castelfidardo (1863), Ancona (1863) again built in France. Most of these were ready to fight the Austrians, after a considerable effort translated into the battle of Lissa in 1866.

The Roma class (Roma (1865), Venezia (1869)) and the delayed the Conte Verde (1867) of the Principe di Carignano class, integrated world’s naval innovations at the time but still not those of Lissa. The Roma class however were the first Italian central battery ships, integrating the latest technology by Insp. Eng. Giuseppe De Luca, which designed them at first as regular broadside ironclads but later changed the design. De Luca later worked on the Principe Amedeo class (Principe Amedeo, Palestro (1871)).

The transitional ship was the Affondatore, a 1865 turret ram which missed Lissa by a few hours and was modernized two times until decomm. in 1907, then depot ship in WWI. The first and last centra Battery ironclads of the Italian Navy were the two Principe Amedeo class (1871) designed by Guiseppe de Luca and the first to be entirely built and completed in Italy, over nine to ten years:Laid down in 1865 they were completed in 1874-75. They survived until 1902-1910 in a mastless, modernized form. For details, return to check the (future) Italian Navy 1870 & Italian Navy 1890 for a more detailed review with specs.

No ship was laid down from 1865, in the rush of the war with Austro-Hungary, and 1873, this time with steam-only turret ships, in three series: 1873, 1876 and 1881.

Italian Barbette ironclads

Duilio class (1876)

Caio Duilio, Dandolo

A concentrate of innovations: Caio Duilio was the lead ship of the namesake class of ironclad turret ships, built for the Italian Regia Marina in the 1870s. The name recalled Roman Admiral Gaius Duilius. The Duilio was started in January 1873, launched in May 1876, and completed in January 1880. The class also comprised the Dandolo, and both replaced the sail and steam Principe Amedeo-class ironclads (1865), both missed the battle of Lissa. The Duilio class was designed by Cuniberti, and the first Italian steam-only ones. Strategically, they fitted with Italy’s large naval expansion program pitted against Austria, compounded by new possibilities offered by the opening of Suez Canal in 1869.

Italia class (1880)

Italia, Lepanto

italian lepanto engraving

The Italia class comprised two ironclad battleships of the Regia Marina, built between the late 1870s and early 1880s. They were designed by famous engineer Benedetto Brin, which took a radical approach on protection design to profit overall speed, with an exceptionally extensive internal subdivision. Combined with their very large 17-inch (432 mm) guns, they were quite singular vessels which soon attracted the attention of admiralties around the world, notably the Royal Navy, and are now considered “proto-battlecruisers” my many specialists.

They however only served for about thirty years, and had uneventful careers. In the Reserve Squadrons for the last decade they served as training maneuver ships, Lepanto being fully converted into a training ship in 1902 and was discarded in 1915. Italia was modernized in 1905–1908, but also becoming a training ship. They briefly saw action in the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12 off Tripoli. Italia was still active as a guard ship during World War I, but converted into a grain transport in 1917.

Ruggero di Lauria class (1884)

Ruggiero di Lauria, Francesco Morosini, Andrea Doria

The Ruggiero di Lauria class were the next ironclad battleships built for the Regia Marina and a return to the more reasonable Duilio class, as essentially improved versions, with new, lighter and faster breech-loading guns, better armor protection, more powerful machinery. They were designed by Giuseppe Micheli, which criticized Benedetto Brin, making a difference here.

Construction however was very slow, and if it started in 1881, they were completed ten years after, at the time the first pre-dreadnought battleships were built by all nations. Obsolescent, they saw little service, spending time alternating between Active and Reserve Squadrons, and conducting training exercises. They were removed from service after 18 years, in 1909 and up to 1911.

Francesco Morosini ended as target ship, Ruggiero di Lauria became a floating oil tank, Andrea Doria a depot ship, in service during World War I. Andrea Doria was even re-enlisted as local guard ship and then returned to her oil storage duties after 1918, BU in 1929. Ruggiero di Lauria survived until …1943 as a depot ship, sunk by allied bombers and her wreck was salvaged in 1945 for BU.

Italian Pre-dreanoughts Battleships

A ship of the Regina Margherita class

Re Umberto class (1888)

Re Umberto, Sicilia, Sardegna


In 1883, the first two ships of this class, Re Umberto and Sicilia, were authorized in parliament by the Finance law. They had been designed by Benedetto Brin, then president of the naval projects committee. In 1885, the parliament also decided to vote for the construction of a third ship, the Sardegna, in order to create a complete squadron.

The latter had the first triple expansion machines and small tubes cylindrical boilers. She was almost 1,000 tons heavier, and two meters taller. In common, they had several unique characteristics: Three funnels, two of which were in tandem, main guns in raised turrets-barbettes forward and aft, with a lower caliber (343 mm versus 430 on the previous Ruggero di Lauria), but they fired twice quicker, and had a better arc of fire, instead of the old school echelon. The hull was therefore significantly longer, but remained low. Sardegna was the first to be equipped with the Marconi Wireless telegaphy system. Italy had quite an advance in this field, giving the fleet amazing tactical flexibility.

In 1912, Re Umberto reached the end of her career and she was used as supply ship, at anchor in Genoa. Striped in May 1914 she ended as a supply ship in La Spezia from June 1915. But she was reactivated in December 1916, converted into a port defense battery, located in Brindisi then towed to Valone. In 1918, she was converted for a final assault on the Austro-Hungarian wel defended port of Pola, where she was planned to lead the way like an expandable bulldozer, followed by 40 MAS, just armed with eight shielded 3-in (76 mm) and many 240 mm Howitzers, fire towers and bow blades. A “spec ops” ships before the British own vessels at Oostende. Towed to Venice for this raid planned at the end of October, the whole operation was canceled with the armistice. She was stricken in 1920.

Sicilia was reformed in July 1914, but resumed service as a supply ship in Taranto, and then a workshop until the end of the conflict. She was stricken in 1923 and BU. Sardegna became flagship of the North Adriatic fleet based in Genoa until November 15, 1917. Then, she was sent to Brindisi, used as a coastal battery with just a secondary armament redced to four 3-in (76 mm) and three 0.5 in heavy machine guns. On July 10, 1918 she was transferred to Taranto, then left in 1919 for Constantinople where she remained until 1922. She was stricken in 1923 and later sold for BU.

Author's illustration of the Sardegna
Author’s illustration of the Sardegna


Displacement: 13,600 T – 15,430 FL
Dimensions: Length 130,7 m (428 ft), Beam 20,4 m (67 ft), Draft 8.84 m (29)
Propulsion: 2 shafts TE engines, 18 boilers, 22 800 hp, 23.3 knots.
Armor: Deck 19 mm
Crew: 185
Armament: 12 x 76 mm, 2 x 450 mm TTs.

Ammiraglio di St Bon class (1897)

Amiraglio di Saint Bon, Emanuele Filiberto

Filiberto guns firing

In response to the prohibitive cost of the Re Umberto class, Admiral de Saint Bon, then Minister of the Navy, proposed a new type of economical battleship. He died in November 1892 when specifications had been prepared, and Benedetto Brin who took over as interim chief engineers, passed his work to Vice-Admiral Racchia. Her took over the project and made changes, notably to name the led ship by honoring Amiraglio di Saint Bon. Construction started in July 1893 at the shipyards and arsenals of Venice. Emanuele Filiberto was started in October the same year at the shipyards of Castellamare.

They were launched in April and September 1897, and entered service even before their completion, in February and September 1901. For once, with a quick and efficient construction. Filiberto, which funnels were taller, was however riddled with issues and only operational in April 1902, so 10 years after its design, and once again, these were already obsolescent at the very start of their career. She also diverged by her tertiary armament, comprising six 76 mm, and eight 47 mm.

These two battleships had clearly reduced dimensions and tonnage (5,000 tons less) and 10 inches (254 mm) main guns instead of 13.4 in (343 mm) and corresponding lighter armor. A compromise between battlecruisers and battleships, but with low speed. As a result, they were deemed of little use. Their freeboar was still low and problematic in heavy weather, although the turrets were raised enough. These guns were of a new Ansolda model which proved very successful however.

In 1911-13 they received six searchlights around the funnels and central mast. In 1914, they were scheduled for retirement and demolition in 1915, but Italy’s entry into the wa changed this fat and St Bon served as a coastal defense battery, then as AA defense ship in April 1916, until November 1918 in Venice. Filiberto was converted into a troop transport at the end of 1917, also heavily modified and camouflaged. Eventually both were stricken in 1920 and sold for BU.

amiraglio di st bon 1900
Author’s illustration of the Di St Bon in 1900
emmanuele_filiberto 1917
Author’s illustration of the Emanuele Filiberto in 1917


Displacement: 9,650/9,940 t standard, 10,000/10,500 T FL
Dimensions: 111,8 x 21 x 7,70/7,20 m.
Propulsion: 2 shafts TE, 12 Cyc. boilers, 13,500/14,300 hp. 18 knots.
Armor: Belt 250, Deck 68, CT 250, tutters 250, battery 150 mm
Crew: 565
Armament: 4 x 254, 8 x 152, 8 x 120, 8 x 57, 2 x 37, 4 x 450 mm TTs.

Regina Margherita class (1901)

Regina Margherita, Benedetto Brin


The two ships of the Margherita class, were the first really large, modern Italian battleships, designed in 1898 by Benedetto Brin, former admiral and chief engineer, now Minister of the Navy. They had to be powerful and fast, even if it meant sacrificing some protection. The basic armament had to be extremely imposing, with in addition of their 12-in battery, not less than twelve 8-in guns (203 mm). But the death of Brin during design put an end to these developments. Chief Engineer Ruggero A. Micheli returned to a more reasonable caliber. The concept will however be kept and applied to future Regina Elena class.

These ships, although poorly protected, were actually 2 knots faster, more manoeuvrable, and held the sea well thanks to their high freeboard. The symmetry they represented between the bow and the stern were intended to deceive gunners and submariners on the real direction of the ship at low speed. In terms of powerplant, the gain in speed was paid in a simplification of the boilers, which all burned coal, abandoning the previous mixed system. Started in 1898-99, launched in 1901 and completed in 1904-1905, they came to a premature end during the Great War: Margherita was struck by two mines laid by UC14 on December 11, 1916 off Valone, and Brin was sunk by an explosive charge laid by Austrian combat swimmers in the port of Brindisi on September 27, 1915.

Author’s illustration of the Benedetto Brin in 1914


Displacement: 13,215 t, 14,737t PC FL
Dimensions: 138,65 x 23,84 x 9 m
Propulsion: 4 turbines, 28 Niclausse/Belleville boilers, 21 800 shp, 20,1 Kts.
Armament: 2×2 305, 4x 203, 12x 152, 20x 76, 2x 47, 2x 37, 2 MGs, 4x 450 mm TTs sub
Armor: Barbettes 152, Battery 152, belt 152, turrets 203, deck 80 mm
Crew: 812

Regina Elena class (1904)

Regina Elena, Roma, Vittorio Emmanuele, Napoli


The last Italian pre-dreadnought battleships were arguably the best, and precursors of the Dreadnought. They were in effect, “semi-dreadnougts”. The minister of the navy in 1899, Giovanni Bettolo, asked chief engineer of naval constructions, Vittorio Cuniberti, for a design of armoured cruiser, 8,000 tons initially, uniformly armed with twelve 8-in (203 mm) guns.

His theory of a powerfully armed, fast protected ship went a long way, the plan for a new battleship class for the Regia Marina gave him the opportunity to apply his principles. The latter was a very fast battleship, 13,000 tons, also more powerfully armed than many of its contemporary among pre-dreadnoughts. Cuniberti personally prepared another more ambitious design of a 17,000 ton ship, armed with twelve 305 mm guns, but refused as too ambitious by the minister. Cuniberti was nevertheless authorized to publish his project of “monocaliber ship” in Jane’s magazine in 1903, not lost by Jackie Fisher back in UK, and only conformed his past intuitions.

The genesis of the Regina Elena, which was to lead to the construction of four vessels in all to constitute a powerful squadron, was therefore a compromise between armored cruiser and the latest specifications of the ministry: It was capable of reaching 21-22 knots thanks to 19,000 to 21,000 shp, much higher than its contemporaries. If it remained a pre-dreadnought by the choice of two 12-in only (in single turrets at that !) its secondary artillery was particularly powerful, with the initially planned Brin’s twelve 8-in (203 mm).

The great difference between the two calibers also made it possible not to confuse the water plumes on impacts, which made it possible to correct fire, unlike the British Nelson which adopted the larger 11 in (234 mm) caliber. However, one can wonder about the use of single and not twin turrets which largely dinimished the overall potential of the design. They could have been the best pre-dreadnought in the world. In general, these ships were applauded by the Admiraltie at the time potential adversaries of Italy were France and Great Britain. Cuniberti deeply influenced Lord Fisher who pushed the Admiralty to start building the HMS Dreadnought, in particular to prevent competing navies from doing it first.

Author’s illustration of the Regina Elena


Displacement: 12,550/12,660 – 13,770/13,914 Tonnes FL
Dimensions: 144,20 x 22,40 x 8,6 m
strong>Propulsion: 2 shaft VTE, 28 Belleville boilers, 19,300/21,900 ihp, 21-22 knots.
Armament: 2 x 305, 12 x 203, 16/24 x 76, 2 x 450 mm TTs sub
Armor: Belt 250, Decks 68, Blockhaus 250, turrets 250, battery 150 mm
Crew: 565

Development of Italian Dreanought Battleships

Cuniberti design (1899)

cunberti armored cruiser design

Cuniberti’s famous armored cruiser design. The main turrets carried 203 mm (8-inches) guns, interestingly, in single, lighter wing turrets, and four twin, including two wing amidship. At the time this ship was designed in 1899-1900, the context was not favourable on a budgetary level for massive Naval spendings. But Vittorio Cuniberti design was nevertheless the first “all-big-gun” fighting ship. In addition to this impressive main battery of twelve guns, this cruiser could reach 22 knots while being protected by 6 in (150 mm) of armor.

However it is still not clear if the idea was initiated by the minister of the Navy, Giovanni Bettolo (under the Pelloux II government), or if Bettolo was informed of Cuniberti’s ideas, then decided to offer him a chance to submit his design for a possible approval of the parliament. The parliament rejected the design as too costly. But Cuniberti compromised and obtained the design in 1901-1902 of the Regina Elena class “semi-dreadnoughts”. The original 1899 project was authorized for publications, and ended in a Jane’s article of 1903. It was not the “bright idea” that inspired Fisher to start its own plans, but just a confirmation of what was already in the air on this topic. The Battle of Tsushima in 1905 seemed however to inflex some of these ideas and renew with closer range battles and the importance of secondary artillery, but Fisher kept his course.

Spanish Battleship Proposals (1907-08)

Another line of development leading to the Dante Aligheri was a serie of proposals made to answer an International request by the Spanish Government to design their own first modern battleships, of the dreadnought type. Previously Spain only had the obsolete, 1890s, french-built Pelayo (1887) and a collection of modernized ironclads. The war of 1898 and crushing defeat of the armamda woke up the government and parliament about the importance of a modern and well-trained, well supplied navy.

Although Spain ultimately adopted the Vickers design for the 1912 España class, the initial Italian proposals shed a light on possible alternatives to the Dante:

Tavola B design, Battleship Ansaldo to be built at Cartagena (1907), with all twin turrets, pretty close to the final design.

1908 Tavola C design by Cuniberti (22,000 tons, 12/305mm in two triple turrets, one twin amidships, 21,25 knots.)

Russian Battleships Proposals (1908-1909)

Below are three Ansaldo proposals for Russia, all three of a 23,000 tonnes, triple turret configuration battleship.
Ansaldo Design A Ansaldo_1908_RusBB_21650t Ansaldo Design C

All three were prepared by Guiseppe Tavola, chief engineer at Ansaldo in 1908.

-Design A (left) was a 23,000 tonnes standard, 176m x 28m x 8,15m, 21knots, armored with 203mm/102mm Upper belt, 102mm decks, 256 mm CT, 51 mm ASW longit. bulkheads and armed with 6×3 305mm, 16×1 120mm Casemated Guns.
-Design B (middle) was a 21.650 tons project, 167m x 27m x 8,15m, 21,25 knots, same armor but 4×3 305 mm Cannons
-Design C (right) was a 22.000 tons project, 178m x 27m x 8,15m, same speed, same armor and armament but different configuration.

This leaves quite a grasp of what the Italians could have produced of not budget constrained to a specific tonnage. The “A” proposal would have, with no less than 18 12-inches guns, be a serious adversary for anything else at the time, but perhaps HMS Agincourt and her 14 guns. But the all-axial solution was nevertheless seductive in that no firepower was wasted in batteline broadside fire. The final Italian design was nowhere near these protection figures, with at best 250 mm on the belt, 280 for the CT, but 22.8 knots, which was better than many BBs of the time. The Austro-Hungarians with their Tegetthof still choose to take the engineering risk of having four triple superimposed turrets, less of bravado than forced by the size of the Yard’s basin. And the Italians, seeing the path recoignised beforehand, followed suite with the Cesare class.

Argentina Proposals (1908)

A Progetto Ansaldo dated 1908 for Argentina (US Yards were eventually chosen for the Rivadavia class). Reminsicent of the Gangut/Dante with its triple turrets at deck level, and minimalistic superstructures, but unlike the Dante, five turrets for fifteen guns, including two in axis and two in echelon. The aft turrets had raised barbettes for better arcs of fire. Twelve secondary guns in casemates.

Also there was a small metal model preserved at Fondazione Ansaldo, Genoa, likely also a proposal for the Armada de Argentina. Specs shows a much smaller vessels, length of 136m, 24.20m beam, draught 8.2 m, 16,100 tons standard displacement, 19 knots, 4 shafts, range 5,000 nm armed with eight 305mm/50 in twin turrets, 20x100mm/50 in casemates, protected by a main belt of 230 mm, upper belt of 180-150-100mm, 250 mm main gun barbettes, and turrets 250mm (front) 150mm (rear), main deck 38mm.

WWI Italian battleships in 1915

Dante 1913

Dante Alighieri, named after the most famous Florentine poet (born 1265), was also the first Italian Dreadnought battleship. Dante followed the Regina Elena class of 1907, and thus was “late to the party”, but innovating as the world’s first battleship with triple turrets, making for a total of twelve 12-in guns. She was thus the most powerful battleship in the world when she came out. The Russians had their own Gangut class inspired by an Ansaldo design, very similar to the Dante, and the Austro-Hungarians were not long to buikt their on, but risking superfiring turrets (Viribus Unitis). Plans had been drawn up by chief engineer, admiral Edoardo Masdea, assisted by Antonino Calabretta, who also fitted her for the first time with four propellers. Dante was also innovative as having eight secondary guns in twin turrets, rather than all in casemates.

The three-year wait, late construction was explained on one hand, to budget constraints as per the other Regina Elena class still completing, and on the other hand benefiting from a meticulous study. Dante was designed a bit like a prototype for following classes. The main turret layout in the axis, was deemed inadequate, but the “all triple” configuration was later corrected with the Giulio Cesare class superfiring and mixed twin/triple turret solution. The vast majority of small defensive guns were on the turrets roof and four on the deck.

Superstructures were minimalistic, narrow to allow the greatest clearance and arc of fire for the amidship turrets notalby, both in chase and retreat. The superstructure decks were stacked close to the forward funnel. Dante was laid down in Castellamare di Stabia, in June 1909, launched in August 1910, completed in January 1913. She was therefore the only operational dreadnought of the Italian Navy in 1914. Capable of 23 knots she was also the faststed in the Mediterranean until the Queen Elisabeth class were deployed. But this speed was paid in armor, sensibly weaker.

Dante Aligheri made only four sorties without notable events during the Great War. As early as 1913, she tested a Curtiss reconnaissance seaplane, and in 1915 had her old 3-in (76 mm/40) replaced by for sixteen 40 mm/50, including four AA. In 1923 she was further modified by the addition of a tripod mast, rear funnels shortened as her masts. She served mainly as a training ship, scrapped in July 1928. As a prototype she could not have been grouped into a division.

dante aligheri
Author’s illustration of the Dante in 1914


Displacement: 19,552 – 21,600 T. PC.
Dimensions: 168 x 26,6 x 8,8 m
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines 23 Blechynden boilers, 32,200 hp. 23 knots.
Armament: 3×3 305mm, 20x 120mm, 13x 76 mm, 3x 450 mm TTs.
Armor: Belt 254, Decks 40, CT 305, turrets 254, battery 98 mm
Crew: 981

Cavour class (1915)

Guilio Cesare, Conte di Cavour, Leonardo Da Vinci

Conte di Cavour
After the Dante Alighieri, which served as a prototype, a class of first three units was defined by Edoardo Masdea at the beginning of 1910. The specifications always included 305 mm pieces (while in Great Britain we were preparing to switch to 343 mm), but for an authorized tonnage of 23,000 tons, and a speed of 22 knots. The lessons learned from the Dante helped to redefine the plans for these battleships. The first difference was the abandonment of the layout of the central turrets to distribute them in forward and rear echelon, with a single piece remaining in the center, in accordance with contemporary designs. The originality of the Italian concept was to mix triple and double turrets, the latter superior to lighten the efforts of the framework, for a total of 13 pieces, which was superior to all the dreadnoughts built so far, except for the Sultan Osman I, future HMS Agincourt, with its 14 pieces, at the time Turkish order from English shipyards. In 1910, indeed, the sounds of boots were heard in the Balkans, and the sublime door was the most likely potential adversary.

The second particularity of the Guilio Cesare was to return to the solution of barbettes for all the secondary armament (abandonment of the double turrets), picked up in the center, on a reinforced diamond battery easier to protect a priori, and requiring large ranges of hull clearance. Then, the two pairs of chimneys were replaced by two high chimneys framing the central turret, and on which were grafted the successive walkways, also supported on two tripod masts, another originality of the design. The tertiary armament, composed of 19 pieces of 76 mm instead of 13 still took place on the turrets, and 6 on the bridge. The armor of batteries and bridges were reinforced, that of the turrets increasing to 280 mm. The originality had been to design a large blockhouse with walls 280 mm thick, protecting the command and the firing center by the same structure.

The Conte di Cavour was started in La Spezia in August 1910 – June and July for the and Giulio Cesare and the Leonardo da Vinci, at the Ansaldo (Genoa) and Odero (Sestri Ponente) shipyards, launched in August and October 1911, and commissioned on May 14 and 17, 1914 for the Cesare and the Da Vinci, April 1, 1915 for the Cavour. All three were therefore operational when Italy declared war on the Central Powers. These units then formed the first line division, the spearhead of the Italian fleet. But their rare exits from Taranto where they were all three based, to be able to intervene against a possible exit of the Austro-Hungarian fleet from the Strait of Otranto, were without notable facts, although they participated in bombing raids. Four pieces of 75 mm AA were added during the war, and the Da Vinci sank following sabotage by Austrian divers, who had succeeded in forcing the harbor of Taranto, on August 2, 1916. She was refloated in 1919 but finally demolished. The other two were recast twice, and participated in the Second World War.

Guilio Cesare in 1916
Author’s illustration of the Guilio Cesare in 1916


Displacement: 23,000- 24,250 T. FL
Dimensions: 176 x 28 x 9,3 m
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 20 Blechynden mixed boilers, 32,200 hp. 23 knots.
Armament: 13x 305mm, 18x 120mm, 19x 76 mm, 3x 450 mm TTs.
Armor: Belt 254, Decks 111, CT 280, turrets 254, battery 127 mm
Crew: 1237

Andrea Doria class (1916)

Andrea Doria, Caio Duilio

Doria 1917

Based on the plans of the three Giulio Cesare, two new dreadnoughts were approved in 1911 and designed by Chief Engineer and Vice-Admiral Giuseppe Valsecchi: These were the Andrea Doria and Caio Duilio, started at La Spezia and Castellamare in February and March 1912, launched in March and April 1913 and completed on 10 May 1915 for the Duilio (thus before Italy entered the war), and March 1916 for the Doria.

Very similar to the Cesare from which they borrowed the essential, they differed however on many points: Their secondary parts passed to the caliber 152 mm and were less numerous, distributed at the front and the rear of the hull, with low ranges to better respond to abeam attacks from torpedo boats and destroyers. Their chimneys were largely raised, the front tripod mast passing in front of the chimney, the central turret was lowered to improve stability, (as well as the deepened hull) and their shielding of turrets and reinforced battery. Finally they received from the start 6 pieces of 76 mm AA of caliber 50. Their power and their speed were slightly lower.

During the war, the two buildings were based in Taranto, forming the 2nd line division, playing a mainly deterrent role. They were hardly active in the war, flying only two sorties. After the war they received faster 76 mm 40 caliber AA guns and 2 40 mm Vickers Bofors. In 1925, they received a Curtiss reconnaissance seaplane, and a catapult for the latter in 1926. They were completely overhauled and rebuilt between April 1937 and October 1940, even more radically than the Giulio Cesare, and their career during the Second World War world was much more active. They were both removed from the lists in 1956, after forty years of service…
Caio Duilio

doria illustration 1917
Author’s illustration of the Doria in 1917


Displacement: 23,000- 24,730 T. FL
Dimensions: 176 x 28 x 9,4 m
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 20 Blechynden mixed boilers, 30,000 hp. 21 knots.
Armament: 13x 305mm, 16x 152mm, 19x 76 mm, 3x 450 mm TTs.
Armor: Belt 254, Decks 98, CT 280, turrets 280, battery 130 mm
Crew: 1237

Caracciolo class (1916)

Francesco Caracciolo, Marcantonio Colonna, Cristoforo Colombo, Francesco Morosini

launch caracciolo

The last class of dreadnoughts designed before the war in Italia was the Caracciolo, started in 1914-15. They were radically new ships, much faster and powerfully armed. They showcased the new generation of fast battleships also, born after the Washington treaty. But because of the war, they were never completed.

When the Washington Treaty was ratified in 1923, it put an end to an industrial and military escalation that had begun in 1914, towards faster and better armed ships. Italy was no exception to the rules. In 1916, the last dreadnought to enter service, the Andrea Doria, was fitted with only 12-in guns and a top speed of 21 knots.

However, the British had just introduced their five Queen Elisabeth class into service, armed with 381 mm guns and capable of 23 knots. Aware of this delay, and like Germany with the Bayern class, the Italian Admiralty wanted a new battleship project on the table in 1914, intended to retake initiative, notably over The Royal Navy (then a potential adversary). Studies were conducted by Chief Engineer Rear Admiral Edgardo Ferrati. The first plan envisaged a ship armed with not less than twelve 381 mm (15 in) in four triple turrets, and twenty 152 mm (6 in), which combined with their speed, made them the world’s most powerful battleships.

But this first draft project was far too ambitious for the means of the navy, and was revised down considerably. The second project had twin, not triple turrets, resulting in ships closer to the Queen Elisabeth. Among its specificities, this new project also adopted the 6-in as a secondary caliber, and 102 mm (4 in) for dual-purpose guns, instead of the old 76 mm (3 in) on turret’s roofs, plus 40 mm Breda AA guns as well as a significant reinforcement of armor and torpedo armament, and loss of speed.

The keel of the lead vessel, Francesco Carracciolio was laid at Castellamare di Stabia in October 1914, and construction was well underway, while three other keels (Cristoforo Colombo, Marcantonio Colonna, and Francesco Morosini) were laid at Ansaldo, Odero, and Orlando in March and June 1915. But once the war had broken out, it seemed impossible to complete them, as the demands on personnel and equipment were so great.

The priorities of the Admiralty were then to mobilize its means for the construction of light vessels, more economical and faster to build, and the maintenance/repair of active ships. Construction of the four giants was suspended in March 1916. Caracciolo, whose entry into service was initially scheduled for 1917-18, would have displaced almost 10,000 tons more than the previous Dreadnoughts and being capable of 28 knots, doubled as battlecruisers. They constituted the world’s first examples of “super-dreadnoughts” such as those built in all shipyards in the late 1930s.

When the cancellation occurred, 9,000 tons of the carracciolo’s hull had been assembled. At the end of the war, the question of this hull arose, and a shipowner, the “Navigazione Generale Italiana”, proposed a commercial conversion, paying for the completion, so she was launched eventually in October 1920. Nevertheless, the project did not materialize, and the hull was dismantled. For the others, the dismantling was also quickly carried out, all the more easily as little metal had been assembled. The artillery was either used on Isonzo Front’s wartime Italian monitors in 1917-18, including the famous Faa’ di Bruno, or recycled (re-cast).

Author’s illustration of the Caracciolo


Displacement: 31,400t, 34,000t FL
Dimensions: 212 x 29.6 x 9.5 m
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons Turbines, 20 Yarrow boilers, 105,000 hp. 28 knots.
Armament: 4×2 381mm, 12x 152mm, 8x 102mm, 12x 40mm, 8x 533 mm TTs sub
Armor: Belt 303, Deck 40, CTs 400, Turrets 400, Battery 220 mm
Crew: 185

Ferretti’s tandem turret Designs (1916)

Ferretti's tandem turret Designs

Ferretti’s 10/381 “quintuple turrets” battleship design was only known by a proposal, to succeed the Carraciolo class. The original drawing were published in ”Warships of the first battle line” in “Transactions of the International Engineering Congress” of 1916. The design showed a “Kearsage style” pair of triple turrets, with fixed twin turrets above, for a total of ten 381 mm guns plus 12 secondary guns in triples turrets fore and aft, and a powerful AA which was quite avant-gard at the time. Not much is known about the fate of such design. The twin stage turret was already proved a bad idea due to loading concerns, plus stability issues because of the topweight.

General Edgardo Ferrati Designs (1915-1919)

Rear Admiral and General of naval engineering Edgardo Ferrati was the designer of the Caracciolo class battleships, first designed in 1913. It was proposed in two occasions to convert the ship in an aircraft carrier like HMS Argus and later a revised vessel in 1921 with an island superstructure, and then a total conversion in a merchant ship. Revised specs for 1919: 31.400 tons, 34.000 FL, 29,6 m beam, height 13,75 m., 9,50 m draught and 1800 t. oil, same output for a 8,0000 miles range with 1,800 oil tons.

During the development of the Caracciolo there was an initial first design proposal, somehow similar to the final model, but the initial design oassed through three series of possible variants called F,D and G. These projects were fairly similar in an evolutive process, with the F series as first variant, then D and eventually G, the last one. They were all “super-dreadnought” battleships with the same main artillery, but many alternative turret proposals to play with the armour scheme and secondary battery plus always the same 28 knots top speed. What made them remarkable -although technologically still a stretch, and problematic in some ways, was their quadruple configuration.

Design F, was the lighter of all variants, with just two quad turrets and for secondary guns eight turrets with dual 170 mm guns, and 24 single mounted 102 mm guns, plus the usual 533 mm torpedo tubes battery (8). Output was planned at 55000/75000 HP for 25~27 knots. Armour was light, battlecruiser standards, with 270 mm at best. The sub-variant was repowered to reach 95000~115000 Hp, for 31 knots, making her an obvious battlecruiser.

Design D: 3×4 381mm, 16 dual mounted 152 mm guns, 20 single mounted 102 mm

Design D bis: same, but 12 dual mounted 170 mm guns

Design D1: same and back to 16 dual.

Design D2: 12 dual again or not at all (only the 20 102 mm).

The D series was similar to the F but with a larger armament and more outptut: Three quadruple 381 mm gun turrets and same secondary armament. 65000-85000 HP estimated for 25~27 knots, same armor layout as the “F” series.

Design G: The largest, on paper 37,000 tonnes battleships, so before Washington limitations. The G class were still lightly protected by just 50 mm of deck armor. They were supposed to carry no less than sixteen 381 mm guns in four triple turrets, all superfiring (the same as two Queen Elisabeth class put together). Same guns, but with with an improved reloading system for 2 rpm and 830 m/s. Secondary artillery in eight twin turrets with 170 mm guns (7 inches), twenty-four dual-purpose 102 mm guns and later 40 mm AA guns.

In 1915, that was quite impressive by any standard, but of course, budgetary-wise, totally unrealistic. All these plans are stored at the USMM (Italian Navy Historic Office) today. They were published, along with the associated data, to the Bollettino d’Archivio, Dic. 1988 by A. Rastrelli. All in all, quad turrets were rejected on three points: The turret weight (and structural problems), the famous case of “all eggs in the same basket” hit, and massive dispersion. The French did not have such preventions.

Read more/Src

Gardiner, Robert, ed (1979) Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1865-1905 & 1906-1921
Clowes, W. Laird (1905). The Naval Pocket-Book. London: W. Thacker & Co.
Ordovini, Petronio, Sullivan “Capital Ships of the Royal Italian Navy, 1860–1918 Part I.

Italian Monitors (1915-1918)

WWI Italian Monitors

Regia Marina, 14 Monitors:
Alfredo Capellini, Faa’ di Bruno, Montfalcone, Monte Santo class, Monte Cucco, Vodice, Carso, Pasubio, Monte Grappa class, Padus

Another class used by the Italians during WWI, often overlooked, are Monitors: Fourteen of them indeed served on a localized front barely a few miles in lenght: The northern adriatic sea gulf of Trieste. There, long range artillery can cover many miles inland, and -as it was hoped- disrupt the front eneough to allow a breakthough through Austro-Hungarian lines. In the end, monitors never matched the Italian high command expectations and the “Italian verdun” ended badly at Capporetto.

Pounding Inland is our profession

The Italian monitors in WW1 is a rarely seen subject of study, but it shows another aspect of naval warfare that is often overlooked – and yet vital, when possible, to land operations: Naval support. At an age of long-range artillery, carrying heavy artillery by land was probematic: Train was the obvious choice, due to its heavy loads capabilities, and modularity. However it’s dependent to a fixed target (the railway) and therefore can be located and blasted with ease by the enemy. Heavy artillery (about 200 mm or 8 inches and more) is hard to pull and tow on land due to ground pressure, although some examples existed or tracked heavy tractors in 1917, they were a few. On a river, when it existed, towing a barge with heavy guns was another option, but in range of the field artillery on the other shore. But in some theaters of operations, the sea was close to the frontline, so the next option were gunboats and monitors.

That was the case in several occasions during WWI. The most obious was the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 when the French and Royal Navy bombarded Turkish fortifications and brought support during the land offensives. The other example would be the Flanders coast (Belgium and Holland) as German lines were so close to the coast. The British built a healthy number of minitors of their own which looked like battleships in miniature. That’s a subject we will cover soon. But the third good example, almost forgotten today, was the Italian Northern front, in Venetia, north of the Adriatic.

HMS Terror. British Monitors were also engaged for a time on the Isonzo front, for discutable results, despite better optics and FCS, and aerial spotting.

A local necessity: The Venetian Front

Map of the Isonzo front, and area of operations of the monitors

There, the Austro-Hungarians had a network of fortifications and trenches close enough to the coast to allow sea-borned artillery support. Although the Italians lacked the industrial capabilities of Great Britain, the Regia Marina had fourteen Monitors in action along the coast in 1918. The most famous of these were the “Faa’ di Bruno” and Cappellini, the closest perhaps to British Monitors, but many others were smaller converted vessels, which came in all types and manners of configuration. They came late in the war, in 1916-1918 and operated for a short time, really tightly linked to their mission, and if most were converted or rebuilt, some were designed and built specifically for their task, notably at Venice Naval Yard, closer to the action. Most were either converted back in civilian roles after the war, or just scrapped in the early 1920s. Were they successful ? That’s a matter to debate. The weather in Venetia was strongly influenced by the Alps and if certainly less foggy and damp than off Belgium, it was still temperate. Thanks to this, visibility was generally good, allowing aviation to do a better job at spotting enemy targets for the italian monitors.

Monitors in local operations

Riverine operations on the Isonzo

Wether it was called the Venetian or more commonly “Isonzo Front” from the river which was often a natural barrier and defensive line, this particular place of the Italian front was stuck between mountains and sea. What was called the “battle of the Isonzo” was rather a protracted campaign, often associated with Verdun in its attrition nature, and comprising in reality a serie of battles between 1915 and late 1917. The Isonzo Front comprised indeed 12 battles between the Austro-Hungarian and Italian armies, spent mostly in modern Slovenia and Italy, along the Isonzo River, eastern sector of the Italian Front. It really started in June 1915 and ended in November 1917: The defeat of Caporetto ended the whole campaign, at the central powers advantage. But thee Italians won three battles, the Austro-Hungarians three. This really was the addition of German troops and intensive re-training and re-equipment of the Austro-Hungarians by the Germans that turned the tables.

On a small part of the front, a coastal area of about 15 miles at best to the mouth of the Isonzo, and the gulf of Trieste, the northeastern point of the adriatic. There, Monitors could trech targets far inland, and they were requested by the army to hit various objectives along the front, notably fortifications, fuel and ammunition depots, open artillery batteries, railways lines and depots, etc. These Italian monitors were designed specifically to meet three main criteria:

  • Being able to carry heavy, long range artillery, up to 30 km.
  • Being stable gun platforms
  • Being shallow-draft vessels to operate very close to the coast.

To meet these criteria, engineers (Notably R.Adm. G. Rota and G. Pruneri) preferred river barges, with a very large beam ratio, or 1/2 or 1/4. They had both a very low freeboard acting as extra protection as exposing little hull over the waterline, shallow draft to be beached if necessary, and very stable gun platforms. However carrying and operating heavy artillery meant a lot of recoil, so a system of anchors was used to have them firmly grounded. Since most had their guns fixed in position to simplify their installation, only having elevation, it was necessary to winch up and down the anchor chains to have the whole ship oriented towards the target. Needless to say they had no protection nor defensive armament, although they did not need for example ASW protection. Their low freeboard made them difficult targets for submarines, but any field artillery could knock them out. In service they were called “Pontoni Armati Monitore”. The “armati” meant some were armoured, but figures are difficult to know, outside Cappellini and Di Bruno. For the Mont Grapp class it was allegedly 40 to 110 mm, probably armoured plates around the gun.
Most were stricken in 1924, but their fate is difficult to pinpoint. Most probably were converted back to civilian uses, a few survived in various roles until WW2.

Alfredo Cappellini (1915)

Alfredo Cappellini at sea

Alfredo Cappellini was built based on an opportunity: When the 381mm/40 guns originally manufactured for the suspended battleship Francesco Morosini of the Caracciolo-class became available. Construction was indeed suspended in 1916 after going well, but new priorities were decided to spare manpower and resources. These guns were originally from Ansaldo-Schneider, and eight of them were now on stocks. Italian engineers from Ansaldo pressed to reuse these guns to help on the Isonzo Front searched and found the ideal platform: The floating crane GA53. This vessel displaced 1,452 long tons (1,475 t), and had a length between perpendiculars of 36 meters (118 ft 1 in), 18 meters (59 ft 1 in) in beam, and 2.4 meters (7 ft 10 in) draft. Speed not being a priority, this heavy duty barge had a vertical double-expansion steam engine (VDE), rated for 265-indicated-horsepower (198 kW). On sea trials, after modifications were completed, the barge renamed Alfredo Cappellini () reached a top speed of 3.76 knots (7.0 km/h; 4.3 mph) down to 3.5 knots in usual service to spare her engine.

Modifications included the gun turret being constructed, unarmored to avoid stability problems, around the main guns. The only protection were two anti-torpedo nets in case an austro-hungarian submarine closed in. Her main guns could elevate to 20° while the turret could traverse 30° to either side, so 60° total. This limitation helped speeding up construction and were not necessary for her new role anyway. These mains guns, the largest in use in the Regia Marina and on this front, fired a 884 kg (1,949 lb) armor-piercing shell at 700 m/s (2,297 ft/s), up to 27,300 m (89,567 ft) at maximum elevation. Of course these shells would only be used against fortifications, but HE shells were carried for unprotected ground targets as well.

Previously launched in 1915, Alfredo Cappellini was completed at the Orlando Shipyard (Livorno) on 24 April 1917, commissioned four days later. She was a bit “late to the party” however, brought in action during the Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo, in August 1917. With the more recent Faà di Bruno and British monitors HMS Earl of Peterborough and HMS Sir Thomas Picton, she shelled Austrian positions (with little effect as it was later discovered). She was eventually wrecked on 16 November 1917, off Ancona and never repaired.

Main guns being loaded in place at the yard (src Mediatheque_architecture_patrimoine, CC)

⚙ Alfredo Cappellini Specifications

Displacement 1,452 long tons standard
Dimensions 36 x 18 x 2.4m (118 x 59 x 7ft 11in)
Propulsion 1 shaft VDE, 1 boiler 265 ihp (198 kW)
Top Speed 3.5 knots (7.0 km/h; 4.3 mph)
Armament 2x 381mm/40 (15 in)
Armor None
Crew 30?

Faa’ Di Bruno (1916)

Faà di Bruno was certainly the most impressive Italian monitor in WWI. Like Alfredo Cappellini, she was built when the Cannone navale da 381/40 from the suspended Caracciolo-class battleships were available. Her guns were built by Ansaldo-Schneider were specifically manufactured for the Cristoforo Colombo. Engineers however, unlike for the previous Alfredo Cappellini looked for a suitable existing hull (the floating crane GA-43, laid down on 10 October 1915 and launched in january 1916 in venice), which was comprehensively modified. The final monitor Faa’ Di Bruno (after a famous Italian Mathematician) displaced 2,854 long tons (2,900 t). Faà di Bruno was designed by Rear Admiral Giuseppe Rota as a self-propelled barge (she was slab-sided, with a flat bow and stern).


Her length between perpendiculars was 55.56 meters (182 ft 3 in), with a beam of 27 meters (88 ft 7 in) and 2.24 meters (7 ft 4 in) draft. What made her design unique was the modification of her dlanks and deck, using a prismatic shape. The deck was sloped downwards, facing incoming shells, and the freeboard was very low on the water, which acted as a passive protection. The recipe was not new, but typical of monitors developed since 1861

Faà di Bruno was powered by two surplus Thornycroft vertical triple-expansion (VTE) steam engines. They came from discarded torpedo boats. She was given a single Kess boiler, which provided steam to the two VTEs for a total as rated, of 465 indicated horsepower (347 kW). She made sea trials in July 1917, reaching a top speed of 3.31 knots (6.1 km/h; 3.8 mph), brought back to 2.5 knots (4.6 km/h; 2.9 mph) in service. Like typical monitor her deck surfae was bare, with just a main “semi-turret” and a navigation bridge placed behind, on a prominent tripod mast. Faà di Bruno’s carried a complement of 45 officers and enlisted men.

Faà di Bruno’s hull, in addition to its prismatic shape, was added a concrete cofferdam, 2.9 meters (9 ft 6 in) thick, strapped to her hull. Her deck armor was 40 millimeters (1.6 in), peaking 7 feet (2.1 m) over the freeboard level. The open-topped turret was tailored for this ship, only covered by an armored dome. The walls were 110 mm (4.3 in) in thickness, with a three layers sandwich, while the barbette below was 60 mm (2.4 in) thick. Of course, it was not intended to deal with enemy battleship shells, but only with aerial bombs and field guns shells, which were HE and lower velocity.

Her semi-turret, was designed to hold a relatively tall barbette supporting a cradle for the twin Cannone navale da 381/40 guns. They could elevate +15° and traverse 60° total, like Cappelini. They fired the same ammunition, either a 884 kgs (1,949 lb) AP shell (muzzle velocity 700 m/s), or HE shells. Unlike Cappelini, the threat of aviation was taken in consideation, also helped by the larger hull, and she received four 76.2 mm/40 (3 in) Ansaldo AA guns. The latter fired a 6.5 kg/14.3 lb HE shell at 700 m/s. This was completed also by two single mount, water-cooled 40 mm/39 (1.6 in) Vickers-Terni 1915/1917 light AA guns firing 0.91-kg (2 lb) shells at 622 m/s.


Faà di Bruno in 1917

The largest Italian monitor was launched on 30 January 1916. She was commissioned on 1 April 1917 and her first action was during the 11th Battle of the Isonzo in August 1917, with Cappelini and other vessels (see above), but with little effect overall. Hit by a storm she was driven ashore and damaged, but not salvaged for almost a full year. The war ended and she coukd have beein scrapped at this point. In fact she was mothballed and not stricken from the Navy List until 13 November 1924. However she was never broken up. When World War II started, she was converted back as the floating battery GM 194, towed from Venice to Genoa, remaining there for the rest of the war. The Royal Navy bombarded Genoa on 9 February 1941 and GM 194 started to fire… and stopped after three shots: One of the British bomb’s shrapnel cut electric cables providing power to her guns mounts and systems. See in 1943. She was captured by the Germans after the Italian armistice, which for some time planned her conversion back to a monitor named “Biber” in 1944, before turning her to the Marina Nazionale Repubblicana She was scuttled in Savona in 1945, and this time scrapped for good.

Faà di Bruno’s right gun being lifted in place. The flanks were protected, but the turret was open top, and a upola was placed above. It solved the fumes evacuation problem as well as ventilation for the gun crew.

381mm shells

Internal scheme of Faà di Bruno in 1917

biber 1944
1944 German planned conversion of the ship as the sea-going monitior “Biber”: Two pontoons were to be added to improved seaworthiness.

⚙ Faa’ Di Bruno Specifications

Displacement 2,854 long tons standard
Dimensions 55.56 x 27 x 2.24m (182 x 88 x 7ft 4in)
Propulsion 2 shafts VTE, 1 boiler 465 ihp (347 kW)
Speed 3.31 knots (6.13 km/h; 3.81 mp)
Armament 2x 381 (15 in), 4x 76.2 mm (3 in), 2× 40 mm AA guns
Armor Deck: 40 mm (1.6 in), turret: 110 mm (4.3 in), barbette: 60 mm (2.4 in)
Crew 45

Montfalcone (1917)

Montfalcone 1917
Montfalcone 1917, extract from the video (end of the article)

The need for more hulls to put on available guns, conducted Italian engineers to adapt captured ships. A good example was the Austrian barge Montfalcone, captured in June 1915 on the Isonzo River after scuttling, refloated, and towed at SAVINEM yards in Venice to be converted. Although more 381 mm guns were available (they will end also in the two Monte Santo class and the Monte Grappa, see later), having these guns mounted in a structure and service them was problmatic due to their weight.

For smaller hulls, the twice lighter 12-inches, when available, was a better option. By 1917, many old Italian pre-dreadnoughts has been relegated to second-line roles and often disarmed. Their 12-inches landed on railways or fortifications, but three 12-inches were reused on monitors. In the case of Montfalcone, it was a 305 mm/46, long-barrel model recuperated and married with an older 17-in mounting, elevating to 30°. The final result was a 500 tonnes barge with a 1/2 ratio, surprisingly faster than others thanks to her two Polar diesel engines: She reached 6 knots. Details are scarce about her service, starting on 11 June 1917. She was scrapped in 1921.

Quick specs: 525 tonnes standard, 24 x 14 x 2m (79 x 46 x 6 feets), 2 diesels 400 bhp, single 12-in (305 mm) gun.

Monte Santo class Monitors (1917)

Monte Santo, Monte Sabotino
Monte Sabotino
1986 drawing of the Monte Santo

Two very similar ex-Austrian barges captured on the isonzo river and rebuilt on slightly different specs: Sabotino measured 37.5 x 8.6 x 1.9 m and displaced 66 tonnes instead of 62 originally. Both were rebuilt under supervision of rear admiral Giorgio Pruneri. They were both launched again at SAVINEM, Venice, but completed for the second (Sabotino) at CNR Ancona, and actually launched a month earlier than her sister ship in February 1918. Operational details not known. Both were stricken in 1924 but Santo was converted as an AA floating battery with six 3-in/40 AA and possibly still around in WW2.

Quick specs: 570 tonnes standard, 37.1 x 8.6 x 1.9m (79 x 46 x 6 feets), 1 diesel Tosi 350 bhp 6 kts, single 15-in (381 mm) gun.

Monte Cucco (1917)

monte cucco
Monte Cucco in 1917

Monte Cucco was the ex-Austrian barge Nedda captured at Montfalcone in 1915. She was totally rebuilt at SAVINEM in Venice NyD, launched on 30 January 1917. She was based on a design prepared by possibly by G. Pruneri and entered service on 11 september 1917. Combat records unknwown. She was discarded in 1924.

Quick specs: 440 tonnes standard, 33.7 x 8.7 x 1.4m (110 x 29 x 5 feets), 1 diesel 250 bhp 6 kts, single 12-in (305 mm)/40 gun.

Monte Cucco's gunners
Monte Cucco’s gunners (also from youtube)

Vodice (1917)


An ex-Austrian lighter captured at Montfalcone in 1915, and totally rebuilt on a design prepared by naval engineer, rear-admiral Giorogio Pruneri. She was given a 12-inches gn from a discarded rep-dreadnought. The conversion was one in Venice NyD and she was launched again in September 1917, commissioned probably in early 1918. Reconrd and fate unknown, on the navy lost she was stricken in 1924 like most of the Italian monitors of that era.

Quick specs: 440 tonnes standard, 33.5 x 8.7 x 1.4m (109 x 29 x 5 feets), 1 Fiat diesel 250 bhp, single 12-in (305 mm) gun.

This is the “Valente”, not reported in Conways but caracteristics are the same as Vodice, so perhaps some confusion here.

Another photo of Vodice/Valente, note she is camouflaged.

Carso (1917)

Carso at sea, with two 19 cm (8 inches) cruiser guns

Ex-Austrian barge captured at Montfalcone in 1916, totally rebuilt at SAVINEM in Venice NyD.
Compared to the others she was perhaps the most seaworthy and the only one with two single guns fore and aft, from a former armoured cruiser. These guns had an elevation of 28°. Carso was completed on 3 August 1917 and saw some service before the end of the war (record unknown), she was mothballed and stricken in 1924.

Quick specs: 360 tonnes standard, 36 x 9.5 x 1.2m (118 x 31 x 4 feets), 2 Polar diesels 300 bhp 7 kts, 2x 7.5-in/45 (190 mm) guns.

Pasubio (1918)

Pasubio in 1918.

Pasubio was an ex-Austrian lighter captured in June 1915 at Montfalcone and rebuolt at Venice NyD by rear admiral Giorgio Pruneri with a forward cruiser guns. Maximal elevation of her 6-in guns was 25°. She was launched on 10 march 1918 and performed perhaps a single shelling mission. She was mothballed after the war and stricken in 1924, fate unknown but likely reconverted in her former civilian role.

Quick specs: 225 tonnes standard, 20.5 x 7.6 x 1.7m (67 x 22 x 6 feets), 1 diesel FIAT 250 bhp 7 kts, two 6-in/50 (152 mm) gun.

Monte Grappa class Monitors (1918)

Monte Grappa, Monte Cengio, Montello, Monte Norvegno

Monte Cengio
Monte Cengio after the war

At the end of the war, in order to continue the shelling of supplies and infrasttructures along the austro-Hungarian coast, a further were built, and not adapted like former vessels, to carry and operate the remainder of the 15-inches 40 calibers of the suspended Carracciolo class battleships. They were all built at Castellamare di Stabia, launched in September, November and december 1918 for the first three and May 1919 for the last, Monte Novegno, so none was ready when the war ended. Apart perhaps some firing tests, they were all mothballed and discarded in 1924. Both the first (Cengio) and last (Novegno) however were recycled as torpedo-tersting barge and served as such for most of the interwar. Their fate is unknown.

Quick specs: 575/633 tonnes, 40 x 10 x 1.7m (131 x 32 x 5 feets), 2 shafts diesels c700 bhp 7 kts, single 15-in (381 mm) gun.

Padus (1918)


This small ex-austrian barge, captured at Montfalcone in June 1915 was converted to carry a 6-inches gun (152 mm) 40 caliber at SAVINEM in venice. She was commissioned in 1917, but lost on 7 November the same year after running aground near Caorle, never repaired and scrapped afterwards.

Quick specs: 95.5 tonnes standard, 28 x 4.8 x 0.9 m (91 x 16 x 3 feets), 2 FIAT diesels 200 bhp 8.5 kts, single 6-in (152 mm) gun.

Read More/Src

unknown 12-in monitor
Unknown monitor (1986 illustration)

Gardiner, Robert (toim.): Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1906–1921. Lontoo, Englanti: Conway Maritime Press, 1985.
Fraccaroli, Aldo: Italian Warships of World War 1. Lontoo: Ian Allan, 1970. ISBN 1-7110-0105-7.
Buxton, Ian (2008). Big Gun Monitors: Design, Construction and Operations 1914–1945 (вид. 2nd revised and expanded). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press
Ordovini, Aldo F.; Petronio, Fulvio; et al. (December 2017). “Capital Ships of the Royal Italian Navy, 1860–1918: Part 4: Dreadnought Battleships”. Warship International.
Trawick, Henry P.; Wiltering, John H. Jr. (2010). “Italian Monitor Faa di Bruno”. Warship International. Toledo, OH: International Navy Research Organization.
Clerici, Carlo; Robbins, Charles B.; Flocchini, Alfredo (1999). “The 15″ (381mm)/40 Guns of the Francesco Caracciolo Class Battleships”. Warship International.

Alfredo Cappellini underway – Note her former floating crane identifier is still visible.

WW1 Italian Submarines

WW1 Italian Submarines

Italian NavyItaly (1892-1918) – 80 submersibles

An introduction: Italian Submarines in WW1

Italy during WWI operated no less than 21 different types of submersibles, from midgets to 1200 tonnes cruisers. In addition to most being built in the peninsula, some were also purchased abroad, like the H class built in Canada. This lineage started with the 1892 Delfino, a pioneering experiment, and went on until 1919 for some models. On the technological plan, Italy made famous its Laurenti Double-hull construction scheme, which was copied abroad, to the point the Royal Navy did purchase Laurenti boats for evaluation.

During the great war, no less than 68 submarines were operationally used, including the British/Canadian W, S and H types, as compared to the 22 that were operational in August 1914. Although it was less than the British or the US which had far superior industrial capabilities, or Germany, which bet its strategy on U-Boats past 1916, this force dwarfed the Austro-Hungarian navy and own submarine force, only 27 units strong. But this small force scared admiral Paolo Taon Di Revel enough to not risk his precious capital ships into the Adriatic, answering by mines, floatplanes, gunboats, MAS-boats and… submarines; They were thought of great value there, and spent indeed a large part of their operational service in this reduced theatre of operations of quiet and crystalline waters. This was a not so quite area of operations though, as the Regia Marina lost seven of them in operations. But their presence nevertheless confined the Austro Hungarian navy to a severely fortified and well-guarded Pola, which was thought impenetrable to submarines, but not to “special crafts” such as the Grillo. But that’s another story.

Glauco class at Brindisi, 1918

A technical definition of Italian Submarines

Italy started early on with submarines, much earlier than the Austro-Hungarians, but not as early as pioneers such as the Spaniards, French and Germans which in the late-middle of the XIXth Century already experimented with primitive models. It all started with the Delfino, the result of naval engineer Giacinto Pullino’s inspired researches. She had a petrol engine for the surface and electric motor for diving, and was completely rebuilt in 1904, and took her part in the great war.

Ansaldo Sestri Ponente NyD
Ansaldo Sestri Ponente NyD

Naval Yards:
RN Delfino was built at La Spezia, which became the main naval yard for submarines. There, submarines were built at the main Royal naval yard and arsenal, or at the Fiat-San Giorgio facilities at Muggiano, Venice Naval Yard (a few ones), Ansado, Sestri Ponente (in Genoa) and Orlando Leghorn, Odero, Sestri and Vickers Terni (also at La Spezia). Odero, Fiat-St Giorgio and Orlando merged in 1927, giving the birth of OTO (Odero-Terni-Orlando), still a major European player in naval systems. A few submarines were also built at Tosi, in Taranto.
Contrary to the Royal Navy, the Japanese Navy, or Austro-Hungarians, Italy did not feel the need to purchase its first models abroad. The country had the engineers and know-how for a home-grown submarine technology. The only exceptions were a single model, RN Atropo, built in 1912 at Germaniawerft in Kiel when Italy was allied with the central Empires. She was ordered in 1911 with Italian specificities to test ideas as well as evaluating German technology at the time. The other exceptions were transfers from the entente power this time, of ‘W’, ‘S’ and ‘H’ types to bolster the submarine force during the war.

Fiat San Giorgio Yard in Muggiano, adverstising postcard showing Laurenti’s Hvalen. Src odf about the muggiano yard

The Italians were less inclined to research underwater performances, choosing the more conventional approach of the French and Germans related to submarine design, meaning designing a submersible torpedo boat. Performances when submerged were inferior to that in surface, in a ratio generally of 12/8 knots, while electric power was at least 50% inferior to diesel power for surface operations. In general, FIAT was trusted with the diesel engines, while Ansaldo provided electric motors (or rarely, Savigliano). They were exceptions of course, diesels were also swapped for petrol engines, generally FIAT, but Thornycroft models were used on some boats, Atropo having Krupp diesels and AEG electric motors, or Velella or the Medusa class, MAN diesels, the Nautilus class Sulzer diesels. Tosi yard also rarely delivered diesels, in the case of the “N” class. The “B” class midgets of 1916 had an Itala petrol engine (standard from a car manufacturer) which basically was an auxiliary power as most of the power came from electric motors on the three midget classes (see later).

Plan of the Medusa in 1911, showing the location of the Diesels
Plan of the Medusa in 1911, showing the location of the Diesels. Src

Cesare Laurenti, “father of Italian submarines”

cesare Laurenti Special mention should be given to the designs of engineer Lt. Cdr. Cesare Laurenti.
Major of the Naval Engineers, graduated in naval and mechanical engineering at the Royal Naval School of Genoa on 7 June 1892, Cesare Laurenti was assigned in 1903 to the Royal Arsenal of Venice. In 1892 he became the director of technical experiments for the first Italian submarine, Delfino, driven by a battery-powered electric motor, designed by Giacinto Pullino. His contribution to the design in 1902-1904 was to add a gasoline engine, allowing a large surface cruising range, recharging batteries while underway. A scheme which was novel at the time.

His first serial project was the Glauco class of 1903. His goal was to built the first Italian serie of operational submarines, although still semi-experimental in nature. They were not very successful, but this first step made Laurenti, which designed new submarines until well into the interwar a bit of the “Italian father of submarines”. With time, his models emphasises hull’s strength to dive deeper, which brought him to develop his trademark double hull design, now a staple of submarine construction for a century.
Laurenti was frequently sent abroad to study hulls and engines for submarines and became a “dottore” on the subject, having great influence over the design of Italian submarines during this era.

The submarine Ballila in 1915
The submarine Ballila in 1915 Src

He had indeed dedicated himself with great passion to the studies of submarines since the 1890s. His lobbying for the construction of these models in the Regia Marina and frequent publications in naval reviews stimulated the officers of the Regia Marina into believing this new type of warfare and its promises. In 1905 he became the Technical Director at the Muggiano shipyard of La Spezia, designing the revolutionary Foca, the following Medusa class, the Argonauta and mass-built wartime F-class, well suited for the Adriatic. He also built some in UK, the latter taking the opportunity to test his designs (S class). Laurenti would also direct the construction of submarines sold to other navies, like the Japanese. Their main features were always a strong double hull, internal compartments and plenty of power. He for example designed in 1909-10 the USS G-4 for the US Navy.

Other engineers of the time were G. Pullino (Delfino’s engines), Virginio Cavallini (the largest Italian submarines), Edgardo Ferrati (Italian midgets) and Curio Bernardis, probably the most famous Italian submarine designer after Laurenti. He created notably the first Italian minelayer submarines, the X2 class, and went on designing a large part of Italian interwar models.

Blueprint of Balilla

Armament of Italian submarines

Deck guns became a thing only from the Pullino class in 1913, the most common during the war being a 76 mm/30 AA, placed aft on the deck. Exception to this were larger submarines, which had two of them, or mixed caliber. For torpedo tubes, these were invariably the 450 mm model (17.7 in), since the refit of the Delfino in 1902. When Italy started to built submersibles again in 1925, they swapped to the international caliber of 533 mm (21 inches), and bow and stern tubes.

Submarine Zoea
Submarine Zoea

-3-inches/40 (76 mm)
-3-inches/30 AA (76 mm)
-57 mm (12 pdr)
-37 mm (6 pdr) both: Vickers Terni
-450 mm (17.7 in), standard for all Italian submarines
-356 mm (14 in) models (Delfino)

Read More/Src

Gardiner, Robert, Conway’s all the world’s fighting ship 1906-1921
Il Sommergibile “Giacinto Pullino” in navigazione (1916)

Prewar Italian Submersibles

Delfino (1892)

submarine Delfino

The very first submersible of the Italian Navy. Dates are foggy about the laying down and launch. 1892 is the generally accepted date, or 1892-95, down to 1889-1890. Completion is certain, 1892. It was designed at first by Engineer Inspector Giacinto Pullino, the design was at first known as the “Delfino-Pullino”. Her sea trials took place in La Spezia Naval Yard (if records are right) on 29 April 1892, with a commission on the 1st of April (1896).

Whatever the case, she was given three propellers, one in the horizontal axis and two in the vertical. What is important is its design was completely modified by Cesare Laurenti in 1902. She was made shorter while a petrol engine was added for accelerate diving and surface navigation. Her kiosk was also enlarged, and she was rearmed, from two 14-in to the standard 17.7 in tube. Despite her experimental nature, she did served in WWI.

Delfino, after her refit in 1904.

-Displacement: 95/107 tons – Post-refit: 102/113 tons
-Dimensions: 24.6 x 2.8 x 2.7 m. – Post refit: 24 x 2.8 x 2.5 m.
-Machinery: One Electric motor. Post-refit: +1 shaft petrol motor. 130/65 bhp, 6/5 knots.
-Armament: 2x 14 in (356mm) TTs. Post-refit: 1x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT.
-Crew: 1 officer, 7 sailors. Post-refit: 2+8.

Glauco class (1905)

Glauco, Narvallo, Otria, Squalo, Tricheco
Small submarines designed by Cesare Laurenti, semi-experimental as some modifications were introduced along their construction. Notably their torpedo tubes: RN Glauco had three, the rest two. They were all built in Venice Navy Yard, launched between 1905 and 1909. They were given two shafts FIAT or Thornycroft for Otaria and Trichero. But in any case, these engines were not reliable and a source of danger. Emanations of petrol easy to ignite. For diving they had two Savigliano eletric motors combining 170 hp. They served for harbour defence at Brindisi and Venice and were discarded in 1916 (Glauco), and 1918 for the others.

Glauco class

-Displacement: 95/107 tons – Post-refit: 102/113 tons
-Dimensions: 24.6 x 2.8 x 2.7 m. – Post refit: 24 x 2.8 x 2.5 m.
-Machinery: One Electric motor. Post-refit: +1 shaft petrol motor. 130/65 bhp, 6/5 knots.
-Armament: 2x 14 in (356mm) TTs. Post-refit: 1x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT.
-Crew: 1 officer, 7 sailors. Post-refit: 2+8.

Foca (1908)


This unique submarine was designed by the FIAT-San Giorgio Yards, a development of the Glauco, and first submarine with three shafts and propellers and three sets of FIAT petrol engines for a total of 800 bhp, allowing a top speed of 16 knots, making her the fastest Italian submarine in service. She was launched on 8 September 1908. On 26 April 1909, she suffered an engine explosion which set fire on her fuel tank while testing its powerplant in Naples. The fire became so fierce she was deliberately sunk in the hope to recover her later. She was indeed refloated and towed to la Spezia she was repaired and the powerplant completely changed. The central shaft was eliminated and the new engines developed 600 hp for 160hp underwater, 12/6kts in surface/dive in 1910. This painful experience definitely ruled out pretol engines in the Regia Marina. Foca was in limited harbour service in WW1 and was discarded in 1918.

-Displacement: 185/280 tons – Post-refit: ?
-Dimensions: 42.5 x 4.2 x 2.6 m.
-Machinery: 3 shafts petrol 800 hp, 2 Siemens Electric motors 600/160 bhp, 16/6 knots.
-Armament: 2x 17.7 in (457mm) TTs.
-Crew: 2 officers, 15 sailors

Medusa class (1911)

Argo, Fisalia, Jalea, Jantina, Medusa, Salpa, Velella, Zoea.

Designed by Eng. Lt. Cdr. Cesare Laurenti at FIAT-San Giorgio yards, they were the first Italian diesel submarines. They required long trials for design adjustments and were built in various yards: Argo, Jalea, Medusa, and vevella in Fiat-San Giorgio, Fisalia and Zoea in Orlando, Leghorn and Salpa, jantina in Riuniti Yards in Muggiano. They were launched between May 1911 (Velella) and August 1913 (Jalea) and therefore had only a few month of training before WWI broke out. The first, Velella, had a provisional machinery: MAN diesels and Siemens electric motors. Until 1915 they had some more time for adjustments and constituted a true success, widely used during the war. They were very good seaboats including underwater, agility and stability. Jalea was sunk by a mine in the gulf of Trieste on 17.8.1915, while Medusa was sunk off Porto di Piave Vecchia in northern Adriatic by the German UB15, maskeraded as the Austrian submarine U11. Zoea was beached on 26 November 1917 by storm at Rimini, she was salvaged by the Tug Ciclope to be repaired and assisted by Italian TBs. She was towed to Venice in 1st Dec. to be repaired, and resuled service until 1918. Argo at the same time was converted as an assault submarine to fice Pola by using forgmen to cut out the nets and barrages at the entrance. All remainder subs were stricken in 1918.

-Displacement: 248-252 surf. 305 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 45.1 x 4.2 x 3 m.
-Machinery: 2 shafts FIAT diesels, 2 Savigliano electric motors. 650/300 bhp 12/8 kts
-Armament: 2x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT, 4 torpedoes
-Crew: 2-3 officers, 19 sailors.

Atropo (1912)

This single submarine was ordered in Germany, then an ally. German data was 237/318t, contractual speed was 12/7.3 kts and her pressure hull was very strongly built, making her the deepest-diving Italian submarine at that point. She also had a very good surface speed and a range to match. The Italians refined in particular her outer casing shape and lines very similar to a torpedo boat, as requested by the RN. Atropo was launched at Germaniawerft on 22.3.1912 and served actively during WW1, stricken in 1919.

-Displacement: 231 surf. 320 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 44.5 x 4.4 x 2.7 m
-Machinery: 2 Krupp diesels, 2 AEG Electric motors, 700/200 bhp, 14.75/8 kts, Range 1300 nm/12.5 kts or 40 underwater at 8 kts
-Armament: 2x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT, 4 torpedoes.
-Crew: 2 officer, 12 sailors.

Nautilus class (1913)

Nautilus, Nereide.

These were the first models designed by Engineer Lieutnant Commander Curio Bernardis, a well-known submarine designer in the interwar. He created torpedo-boats capable of diving under water basically, and originally they were to have three torpedo tubes, with one installed on the deck, but it was never mounted. Both were launched at Venice Naval yard in April and July 1913 and were in service when WWI broke out. Nereide service life was rather short: She was sunk on 7 August 1915 near Pelagosa island by the Austrian submarine U-5. Nautilus was discarded in 1919.

-Displacement: 225 surf. 320 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 40.9 x 4.3 x 2.7 m
-Machinery: 2 shafts Sulzer Diesels, 2 Ansaldo electric motor 13.2/8 kts
-Armament: 2x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT, 4 torpedoes.
-Crew: 2 officers, 17 sailors.

Pullino class (1913)

Giacinto Pullino, Galileo Ferraris.
These two boats built at La Spezia and launched in July and November 1913 were deigned by Eng. Lt. Cdr Virgilio Cavallini for deep-diving. They were able indeed to reach 50 m underwater and was strongly armed with six torpedo tubes and several guns. In fact they were the first Italian subs with deck guns. They were also the largest submarines, although still classed as “small submarines” (piccolo sottomarino). Giacinto Pullino was sunk on 1.8.1917. She ran aground during the night of 30 to 31 July 1916 at Gadiola island off Suarnaro, sabotaged by her crew as she was to be captured by the Austrians, she sank when in tow to Pola, and was raised on 28 February 1931 by the Italian Navy to be scrapped. Ferraris was beached during the night of 27-28 November 1917 at Magnavacca during a storm. She was salvaged in January 1918 but in such a poor state she was never repaired and stricken in 1919.

-Displacement: 345 surf. 405 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 42.2 x 4.1 x 3.7 m
-Machinery: 2 shafts FIAT diesel 2 Savigliano electric motors.
-Armament: 6 x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT, 2 bow, 2 stern, 2 external, 57 mm, 37 mm deck guns
-Crew: 2 officers, 19 sailors.

Argonauta (1914)

A single, small submarine designed by Cesare Laurenti at the FIAT-San Giorgio Yards, la Spezia. She was basically an improved Medusa, with additions requested by the Russian Navy which ordered her in 1912 as Svyatoy Georgi. Among others, she had a second periscope, better motors, retractable horizontal rudders, and a signalling gear. However after WWI broke out, a young Lieutenant took possession of the boat, just launched since July. By then she was called N°43 in the yard. The officer with a small group of volunteer intention was to sail her in the Adriatic and sinking Austrian shipping, whereas Italy was still neutral, hoping to force the country to war. As the boat was near Corsica she was stopped by French Authorities and escorted back to Italy. When the country entered the war she was purchased from the Russian government and renamed Argonauta. She served until 1928, quite a long service for a submarine of this generation.

-Displacement: 255 surf. 306 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 45.1 x 4.2 x 3 m
-Machinery: 2 shafts FIAT diesels, 2 Savigliano Electric motors 700/450 hp, 13.5/8.8 kts, range 950 nm/12 kts
-Armament: 2x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT, 4 torpedoes.
-Crew: 2 officers, 22 sailors.

Wartime Italian submersibles

F class (1916)

F-1 – F21.

This was the largest class of Italian submarines of the Regia Marina during the war. Small, coastal subs well suited for the adriatic as they could patrol over 1600 nautical miles, they were designed by Laurenti, built in part in San Giorgio yards in La Spezia, Orlando Leghorn and Odero Sestri. F1 was launched on 2.4.1916, F21 in May 1918. The yard previously built for the Brazilian Navy the F1-F5 launched in 1913-15 and the Regia Marina was pleased by the design and ordered a serie of 24 boats. They dive faster, had two periscopes, a gyrocompass, a Fessenden submarine signal gear, and a deckgun, 3-in (76 mm) 30 caliber AA but only carried four torpedoes. They were agile, and designed to prey on opportunity targets in points of known Austrian sorties.
Of the original order, F19-21 were sold to Portugal* and F-22-24 to Spain** while the RN ordered three boats in replacement, F19, 10, 21(ii). F8 sank in trials at La Spezia on 14 February 1917, refloated and back in service by September. F14 which was sunk, rammed by accident by the destroyer Missori during an exercize off Pola in 1928. She was raised and BU. All boats were stricken in the 1920s up to 1935.
*Foca, Golfinho, Hidra
**A1-A3 or Monturiol and Garcia

F-class submersibles
-Displacement: 262 surf. 319 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 45.6 x 4.2 x 3.1 .
-Machinery: 2 shafts FIIAT diesels, 2 Savigliano Electric motors.
-Performances: 670/500 bhp, 12.5/8.2 kts, oil 12 tons, range 1600 nm at 8.5 kts or 80 nm submerged
-Armament: 2x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT, 4 torpedoes, 1 x 76 mm/30 AA gun.
-Crew: 2 officers, 24 sailors.

S class (1915)

S1, 2, 3.
The HMS S1

These were Italian-designed boats by Laurenti in San Giorgio Yds, built in UK. They were modified by Scott’s Shipbuilding & Engineering co. of Greenock. S1 was launched on 19.5.1915, followed by S2 in September, 20 and S3 on the 26. They repeated the design of the Argonauta with modifications. They served for a year in the Royal Navy before transfer for evaluation and were all stricken in 1919. Specifications as the British S class.

W class (1916)

W1 – W4.
Four boats designed by Arsmtrong Withworth at Newcastle on Tyne, all launched in August 1916 and transferred to Italy. After they were received, a 3-in gun/30 DP was added on their deck. They had poor manoeuvrability and their diesels were unreliable in service. This was the first pair, but the second had not such problems and was quite active in the Adriatic, making numerous war cruisers and sinking Austrian ships. W4 was lost presumably to a mine off cape Rodoni, 4-6 August 1917 and the remainder were stricken in 1919.
Specifications: As British W class, see WWI British subs page

H class (1916)

H1 – H8.
In total contrast to the former W class, these eight boats were ordered by the Italian government to the Electric Boat company of Montreal, Canada and were excellent boats, handy and reliable. This class was also en export success, used by numerous navies. They had very poerful eletric motors allowing for an excellent speed and agility underwater, a characteristic typical of these types. They were also the deepest-diving boats in the RN, at 80 m. It was generally about 50 m for most Italian-built models. but this was of little use in the shallow waters of the Adriatic. They were also fast-firing, able to fire two and reload two other torpedoes in five seconds. No deck gun in WWI but one was installed after the war which service was long and extensive, including WW2. H5 was sunk in error by HMS H1 in southern Adriatic and identification became “HB” for all, in particular for the British and French operating there.
Specifications as British H class. This career in WW2 is out of this scope, just mention H6 sank in Corsica by the Germans after the armistice and H8 by the Luftwaffe in La Spezia.

N class (1917)

N1 – N6.
Small submarines designed by Curio Bernardis, they were improved Nautilus, with a greater displacement, better powerplant, and a deck gun, 3 in/30 DP as usual. Six were built, the first four at Ansaldo, Sesttri and the remaining pair at Tosi in Tarento, some missing the end of the war, launched between September 1917 and September 1918. The Tosi boats were different, faster at 13.56 knots on surface, 7.94 knits underwater, and had a better radius of 750 nm at 12.5 knots, or 1485 nm at 9.5 knots and 17 nm submerged at 7.5 knots, 120 at 2 knots. Construction was slow due to the lack of material available and even more after the end of the war as they were no longer needed. They served until 1928-35.

-Displacement: 277 surf. 363 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 45.8 x 4.2 x 3.1 m
-Machinery: 2 Shafts diesel Sulzer, 2 electric motor.
-Armament: 2x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT, 1x 3-in AA
-Crew: 2 officers, 21 sailors.

X2 class minelayer subs (1917)

X1, ex UC1, X-1 – X-2
X3 as completed
X3 as completed

The Italians operated an ex-German submarine during WWI: UC 12, a minelayer type from AG yard in Bremen, launched in December 1916, transferred to the Austrian navy as U24 with a German crew, ans sank on 16 march 1917 off Tarento, presumably hitting one of her own mines. She was raised by the Italian Navy and rebuilt/repaired in tarento Naval yard under the supervision of Bernardis, renamed X1. She was commissioned at the end of 1917 and served until the end of the war and was stricken in 1919.
Her particulars were: 171.2/184 tonnes, 33.6 x 3 x 2.7m, 1 shaft Sulzer diesel, Siemens-Schuckert eletric motor, 80-80/175 bhp, 6/4.5 knots, carryong 6 mine tubes for 12 mines and a 3-in deck gun.
This model led curio Bernardis to propose to the Italian admiralty copies of the design to mine the entrance of Pola. They were named naturally X2 and X3, built in Ansaldo Sestri and launched in April and December 1917 on a larger scale. The “X” signified “minelayer” as a denomination. The mine laying system was copied but the rest of the boat was mostly of Italian design. The mine compartment was enlarged, so she carried nine tubes (three more) for a total of 18 mines of the Italian AE1916/125t type. They also had a deck gun of the standard type and in 1918 were fitted with external cage TTs mounted on the main flooded trunk. They were however slow and lacked agility but stayed in service until 1940. They were both laid up on 16 September 1940.

-Displacement: 403 surf. 467 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 42.6 x 5.5 x 3.1 m
-Machinery: 2 shafts Sulzer diesels, 2 Ansaldo Electric motors
-Performances: 650/325 bhp, 8.2/6.3 knots
-Armament: 9x mines tubes, 18 mines, 3-in deck gun
-Crew: 2 officers, 20-23 sailors.

Alfa class Midget subs (1913)

Alfa, Beta.
Alfa July 1913
Small boats built in secret in Venice to survey and guard the harbour entrance. They eventually never entered official service after passing their sea trials. Both were built and launche din venice NyD in 1912-13. They were stricken in 1945-16.

-Displacement: ? circa 10 tons
-Dimensions: 6 m long, 76 cm diameter
-Machinery: 1 electric motor, 8 knots surface
-Armament: Unknown
-Crew: Unknown

A class midget subs (1915)

A1 – A6.
Small boats designed by Eng. Vice admiral Edgardo Ferranti a La Spezia NyD. They were made for the defence of Adriatic harbours such as Venice, Ancona and Brindisi and modular enough to be dismounted and transported by rail. As submarines however they were disappointing, slw and with a poor endurance, and fixed periscope. The class comprised the A1 (launched 17.1.1915) to A6 (11.2.1916), and all were stricken in 1918.

-Displacement: 31.2 surf. 36.7 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.2 x 2.3 m.
-Machinery: 1 electric motor 40/60 hp, 6.8/5 kts
-Armament: 2x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT in external cradles
-Crew: 1 officer, 3 sailors.

B class midget subs (1916)

A1 – A6.
B class midget sub
This was an improvement of the A type, designed by Vice Admiral E. Ferrati and tesying two types of motors, one petrol and one electric in order to improve surface navigation and range. They were also given true hull-mounted tubes. Harbour defence types, with modular construction and rail-transportation capability. The class originally comprised B1 to B6 but the laest three were cancelled in 1917. B1 was launched in 8.7.1916 and B3 on 25.11.1916. They were discarded in 1919.

-Displacement: 40t surf. 45 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 15.1 x 2.3 x 2.5 m.
-Machinery: 1 Itala petrol engine, 1 Savigliano electric motor
-Performances: 85/40-60 hp, 6.9/5 kts range 28 nm 6.9 kts or 9 nm submerged.
-Armament: 2x 17.7 in (450 mm) TTs
-Crew: 1 officer, 4 sailors.

Micca class large subs (1917)

Pietro Micca, Angelo Emo, Luigi Galvani, Loerenzo Marcello, Lazzaro Mocenigo, Torricelli

At some point during the war, the Admiralty expressed the need for larger submarines, since fro the beginning focus has been on cheap, small and coastal models well suited for the Adriatic. But in late 1916 the need for Mediterranean, long range and better armed models began to surface. This led to ahe creation of a committee for new ships in cooperation with the Engineer Liuetennant Virginio Cavallini to relaunch the construction of a 1914 project of large submarines. They were authorized in mid-1917 for the first, Pietro Micca, and five other will follow. Completion took time and even Micca was not operational when the war ended. None took part in operations, and construction dragged on due to the lack of resources in 1917. Galvani and Laorenze were launched in 1918, Marcello, Mocenigo and Emo in 1919. They were originally laid down in venice NyD in June 1914 but their hulls were dismantled and three new hulls laid down at La Spezia under the same names. They had six TTs, four in the bow, two in the stern, but two more were initially planned, placed on the deck on an external rotative mount like French TTs. They soon gained a poor reputation due to their unreliable FIAT diesels and lack of agility, but recoignised for their great endurance as planned. In 1923 they were partially rebuilt and modernized and stayed in service a few more years, between 1928 and 1937 (Mocenigo). Galvani still existed when WW2 broke out. She was mothballed at La Spezia, then towed to Leghorn to be dismantled in the summer of 1941.

Appearance of the Pietro Micca – from da “I sommergibili italiani” di Paolo M. Pollina – USMM – 1963, per g.c. Sergio Mariotti. SRC

-Displacement: 842 surf. 1244 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 63.2 x 6.2 x 4.2 m.
-Machinery: 2 shafs FIAT(Tsi for Torricelli) diesels, 2 Ansaldo(or Savigliano) Electric motors.
-Performances: 2600-2900 bhp/1300-1800 bhp for 11kts/10.9 kts, oil 60 tons
-Armament: 6x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT, 1x 3-in/30, 1x 3-in/40
-Crew: 4 officers, 36 sailors.

Balilla Medium sub (1916)

Ballila started as an order from the Germans before the war in 1913. The boat swould have been named U42 if delivered, but she was requisitioned during construction in June 1915 and launched in August at FIAT-San Giorgio Yard or La Spezia. She was given the powerplant later used for the larger Micca boats. Under her new name Balilla, she was one of the best design ever produced by the yard, ans also one which saw one of the most epic fighting action at sea during the war. RN ballila was sunk in the Adriatic, north west of the famous island of Lissa, during a surface artillery duel with the Austrian TBs 65F and 66F.

-Displacement: 728 surf. 875 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 65 x 6 x 4.1 m
-Machinery: As Micca, except 2600-1600/900 hp, 14/9 kts
-Armament: 4x 17.7 in TTs (2 bow, 2 stern, 7 torpedoes), 2x 3-in/30
-Crew: 4 officer, 34 sailors.

Pacinotti class submersibles (1916)

Pacinotti, Guglielmotti.
Launch of Pacinotti at the FIAT-San Giorgio Yard
Launch of Pacinotti at the FIAT-San Giorgio Yard.

The requested German design interested the admiralty which decided to modify it for its own service. And so was born the Pacinotti class at the same yard in La Spezia. They had only three bow TTs (and two stern) but were generally similar to th U42/Ballila design. Both were launched in 1916, March (Pacinotti) and June (Guglielmotti). The latter during her maiden voyage was spotted by HMS Cyclamen, an ASW sloop, which took her for an U-Boat (undertandably). She was gunned and sunk NW of Carpaia island on 10.3.1917, and finished off by ramming. This went far beyond the occasional “friendly fire” and the British ship persisted on the poor boat, which crew was unable to prove its identity. The truth was discovered way later. Her sister ship Pacinotti did not stayed long in service, she was stricken in 1921, but considered overall a good boat. From 24 March to 4 September 1917 she operated in the northern Tyrrhenian Sea, to defend trade links routes in that area and carried out a total of 13 missions between La Maddalena, Livorno and Portoferraio, spending 926 hours at sea. On 7 September 1917, she was deployed to Sicily under orders of the island’s Marine Command. She was used for anti-submarine patrols, making ten missions along the coast of Lipari, Ustica, Palermo, Messina, Trapani and Favignana, operating together with the Malamocco, a large unarmed sail and steam boat of 300 GRT, acting as a bait for enemy subarines. On December 20, 1917 she returned to La Spezia, and undergone maintenance work lasting until February 1919. She was used for training at La Maddalena, from February to June 4, 1919.
See also (iT)

-Displacement: 710 surf. 869 tons sub.
-Dimensions: As Ballila
-Machinery: As Micca but 1100/900 bhp 14.6/10.24 kts, 3000 nm/12kts
-Armament: 5x 17.7 in (450 mm) TT, 2x 3-in/30.
-Crew: 4 officer, 35 sailors.

Provana class submersibles (1917)

Andrea Provana, Agostino Barbarigo, Giacomo nani, Sebastiano Veniero

This class of medium to large boats (their almost reached 1,000 tonnes submerged) was the fruit of the collaboration between the celebrated engineer Laurenti and Lt. cdr Cavallini. The four boats were laid down in October 1915 but construction dragged one due to the lack of resources. They were launched between November 1917 (Barabrigo) and September 1918 (Nani) and completed after the war has ended. For the first time, they experimented a new management of batteries, in four watertight compartments under the horizontal deck than ran all the lenght of the vessel. They had quite a powerful powerplant and were ver fast for their day, reaching 10 knots submerged. They could dive to 50 m, but dive fast, and were agile underwater. Nevertheless, the design was not repeated in the interwar. They were discarded in 1925 (Veniero, sunk off Cape Passero due to a collision with SS capena), 1928 or 1935 (Nani). The Provana was not entirely scrapped as her conning tower section was saved and exhibited at the 1928 Turin naval show.

The Conning tower of the Provana, still preserved in Turin
The Conning tower of the Provana, still preserved in Turin

-Displacement: 762 surf. 924 tons sub.
-Dimensions: 67 x 5.9 x 3.8 m
-Machinery: 2 FIAT diesels, 2 Ansaldo electric motors.
-Performances: 2600/1400 bhp, 16/9 knots
-Armament: 6x 17.7 in (450 mm, 8 torpedoes) TT, 2x 3-in/40
-Crew: 4 officers, 36 sailors.

WW1 Italian Cruisers

WW1 Italian Cruisers

Italian Navy Regia Marina (1886-14) approx. 29 cruisers

Foreworld about ww1 Italian cruisers

Italy started with a motley collection of ships in 1861, coming from an array of regional Royal navies. There will be a fully-blow post about Italian ships in 1870. After a serie of corvettes, starting in 1869, the third, Colombo, was clearly registered as a “cruiser-sloop” and therefore is seen like the forerunner as the lineage. However we will not dwelve in detail into these, as only two were still active in WW1, as partially armed training ships, and sailing, steel-hull vessels. Engineers like Micheli, Vigna and the famous Brin worked on these designs, mostly from Venice. Their machinery, rarely developed over 3500 ihp, served as auxiliary; The earlier ships had them removed entirely.


It’s in 1876 that was launched the first Italian torpedo cruiser, Pietro Micca. She was followed by Tripoli, the Goito and Folgore, Partenope classes, partially in service when WW1 broke out. in fact, only for were semi-active, retained in harbour duties or as minelayers.

Note: Torpedo Cruisers of the Italian Navy has been partially reviewed there already, the post will be enhanced.

From Protected to Armoured cruisers

The next chapter of this story is about Italian Italian Protected cruisers, steam-only steel ships built in classes: The Agordat, Bausan, Etna class, Dogali, Piemonte, Umbria class (‘Regionali’), and Calabria. As other navies, the Regia Marina from there jumped to the next step: Armoured Cruisers, but still built its last protected ships for colonial duties, Libia (1912) and the Campania class (1914).

Piemonte in the 1880s

The first was Marco Polo, followed by the much larger Pisani class, and the excellent Garibaldi class (on which we will delve deep). From there, the Regia Marina designed its last and best armoured cruisers, short of semi-dreadnought (Cuniberti was a proponent of the type), Pisa and San Giorgio classes, before from 1910 building scout cruisers, the Nino bixio class and Quarto. There were the last before WW1 broke out and from there, naval construction was all but stopped for smaller ships. Next would be post-Washington designs, now in rivalry with France.

Nino Bixio

A point about …Italian Dispatch Vessels

Also sometimes associated, but much older and not retained in service by WW1, were a serie of wooden dispatch vessels, rarely assimilated to cruisers. The Sesia, Esploratore (paddle steamers, 1863), Vedetta (iron sloop), Staffetta (1876), Rapido (1876), Barbarigo class (1879), Messagero (1885), Archimede class (1887). Their common denominator was a powerful steam engine and little rigging; Their 1000 tonnes assimilated them to sloops and gunboats rather than cruisers and they were specifically built to bring dispatches to larger -supposedly slower- ships. An sold tradtion going back to fast cutters, over-rigged schooners bringing communications between ships of the line.

avviso Galilei

The last however are interesting and they were still around in WW1: The Archimede class.
Archimede and Galileo Galilei were built at Venice DyD as steel dispatch vessels, the first since the Barbarigo class in 1879. Both were designed by Carlo Vigna, with a very elongated hull (9/1 ratio) of 70 x 8 x 3.75 m. They displaced 772-776 tonnes light, 886-950 fully loaded, propelled by a single VTE steam engine, four cyl. boilers, 1384/1411 ihp and 12 knots (15.9 knots on trials). They were armed with four 4.7 in/24 guns.

Their crew varied from 74 to 104 in peacetime and wartime. Both were completed in 1888 and received in 1895-97 two 57 mm and 2x 37 mm revolver to deal with torpedo boats. In 1906 Galilei was given new four 57 mm/43 and one MG. Complement was reduced in 1906 and she was reduced to harbour duties in 1913, discarded and scrapped in 1916. Her sister ship Archimede was discarded in 1907 and used afterwards as an harbor powder hulk until the 1920s when she was discarded. In Italian they were called “avviso”, which is almost the same as the French “aviso”, related to carry “avis” (dispatches).

Giorgios Averoff, built in Italy, based on the Pisa class and flagship of the Greek Navy for half a century (colorized by irootoko JR)

Origins of Italian Cruisers

The steam corvette Caracciolo, launched on January 18, 1869, in Castellammare di Stabia, Italy, from L’Illustrazione Italiana, Year XVLII, No 20, May 16, 1920.

Italy became independent and unified in 1861, and the Navy was created by decree 17 March. It is generally admitted Italian cruisers took back their lineage into the wooden corvettes ordered by the new government. These “corvettes” were about 1500-2700 tonnes whereas Frigates of the time were around 3000-5000 tonnes, and ships of the lines started at this level. These Corvettes discarded before WW1 were Pisani, Colombo, but the others were still around in 1907 (Caracciolo, Columbo (ii)), and Gioia, Vespucci went through the war and until the 1920s as training vessels.

-Caracciolo (1869): Ordered in 1864, laid down 1865 at Castelammare di stabia, this fully-rigged corvette was designed by the General inspector and chief engineer Guiseppe Michelli. She was first named Brillante, but this was changed to Caracciolo in 1869, before the was completed in July 1870.
She displaced 1553 tonnes for 64.30 x 10.94 x 4.97 m, propelled by a single shaft reciprocating steam engines with four cyl. boilers, for 973ihp and 9.2 knots over 960 nm. She was armed by 6 x 160 mm ML.
From 1875, she became a torpedo engineers TS and was modernized in 1893-94: Her powerplant was removed and she was rearmed with two 75 mm and four 57 mm guns, and before that as TS she carried a single 15-in TT.

Vettor Pisani (1969): Started two years later in 1867 at Venice as Briosa but completed in 1871, designed by the same engineer, she was heavier and carried six 4.7 in, two 75 mm, two 57 mm, and two 37 mm guns. She displaced 1676 tonnes, for dimensions of 65.10 x 11.84 x 5.28 m, a machinery by Guppy of Naples with 2-cyl boilers which developed 1004 ihp, enough for 9.76 knots. In 1879 she was reconstructed and from 1885 became a cadet TS at Leghorn.

Cristoforo Colombo (1875): Still a wooden corvette, fully rigged as a barquentine, Colombo was designed by superstar engineer Benedetto Brin, also built at Venice DyD. Machinery came from Penn of London, and as defined in the blueprints and admiralty papers of the time, as a a “sloop-cruiser”, with a radical increase in size, armament and speed. She was armed with QF 4.7 in BL guns, and later had a single 14-in TT. Her machinery produced 3782 ihp thanks to six boilers, so she reached 16 knots, twice than former Corvettes. She is considered by experts as the first true Italian cruiser, and she was discarded in 1891 with little changes.

Flavio Gioia (1881): This was the first Italian steel corvette, designed by Eng. Inspector Carlo Vigna and larger than the Colombo. She was built at Castellamare di Stabia. She was fitted with Penn machinery, single shaft HR, 8 boilers, 4156 ihp for 14 knots, and armed with eight 149 mm, quite an increase in capabilities, completed by three fast-firing 3-in guns. There was in addition a sloped sizes protective deck and cellular layers. Completed in 1883, she was used as a TS in 1893n with just four 4.7 in/40 guns and two 14-in TTs, and went through WW1. After 1920 she was discarded, but kept as TS for boys at Naples as CM181, until 1823 when she was sold for BU.

Italian_corvette Amerigo Vespucci

Amerigo vespucci (1882): By the same engineer and at Venice, still a steel corvette. Her machinery came from Ansaldo, one shaft HR, 8 boilers and 3340 ihp for 13.66 knots on trials. This was rather disappointing as 14 knots was targeted. Armed as the Gioia, with a protective deck and cellular layer, in 1893 she was converted as a Training ship armed like the Gioia. She was only discarded in 1928.

Cristoforo Colombo (ii) (1892): The second cruiser of the name was built at Venice under supervision of Benedetto Brin, as a barque-rigged, steel corvette lightly armed to be used as a station ship in the red sea. Displacing 2713 tonnes, she measured 76.40 x 11.30 x 5.69 m, and had a single reciprocating shaft, 6 boilers, her engine was rated for 2321 ihp, enough for 13 knots. She was lighty armed, with just eight 4.7 in/40 guns (later six) and two 75 mm. Her hull was copper-sheated. Completed in 1894 she served until March 1907.

Italian Protected Cruisers

The first of these was built in UK, to have a state of the art example of the type. She was designed as a TB hunter but failed in this task. The following Etna class were rather small and slow and fare little better in this area, and most were discarded when WW1 broke out. The remainder served in menial duties.

Giovanni Bausan (1883)

Giovanni Bausan

Giovanni Bausan was a protected cruiser designed and built by Sir W G Armstrong Mitchell & Co.’s Elswick in UK, as Italy did not have experience in protected cruisers yet; Giovanni Bausan entered service in May 1885, the first ship built for the Italian fleet and the basis for other designs built in Italy such as the Etna class. Intended as a “battleship destroyer” armed with tow 10-inch (254 mm) guns to defeat other cruisers, she was slow and not ideally armed for her primary task and had some design flaws making her unfit for the task at head.

Giovanni Bausan was frequently deployed abroad and covered landings during the conquest of Eritrea in 1887–1888, as flagship, also taking part later in the Venezuelan crisis of 1902–1903 and the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912. She covered there landings on the coast of North Africa. In 1914 however, the old cruiser was too slow to follow the fleet and was relegated to secondary tasks. At first she was a distilling ship, a seaplane depot ship, she ended completely disarmed and mothballed, then sold in March 1920.


Displacement: 3,082 long tons (3,131 t)
Dimensions: 85.3 m x 12.8 x 5.6 m (280 x 42 x 18 ft 6-in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts compound-expansion steam engines, 4 × Scotch marine boilers, 6,470 ihp (4,820 kW)
Performances: 17.4 knots (32.2 km/h; 20.0 mph), Range 3,500 nautical miles/10 knots
Armor: Deck: .75–1.5-inch (19–38 mm)
Crew: 13 + 254
Armament: 2 x 10-in/30 (254 mm), 6 × 5.9-inch (150 mm)/32, 4 × QF 6-pdr, 2 × QF 1-pdr, 3 × 14-in (360 mm)

Etna class (1885)

Etna, Stromboli, Vesuvio, Etorre Fieramosca

Etna was the only survivor of a class of four protected cruisers dating from 1885-1888. Designed by Carlo Vigna, they were based on the Giovanni Bausan of 1883. They were originally armed with two 254 mm guns, 6 of 152, 5 of 57, 5 of 37, 1 Revolver, 2 machine guns and 2 to 3 torpedo tubes. In 1900 they were rearmed with 1 gun of 75 mm and 4 TLT, then in 1907-1909 (Not for the Stromboli and the Fieramosca, decommissioned at these dates), their 254 mm guns, two of 152 mm were removed, and we added 2 pieces of 120mm, while there were only 2 pieces of 47, 2 of 37 and 2 TLT left. The Vesuvio was decommissioned in 1911, before the first Balkan war, while the Etna was converted into a training ship and served as such from 1907 to 1914. At the time of the war, she was assigned as port coast guard, after having served as a floating HQ, then a supply ship and finally a HQG for the entire Italian fleet, in Taranto. It was not demolished until 1921.

Author’s illustation of the Etna class


Displacement: 3390t, 3700t. FL
Dimensions: 91.4 x 13.22 x 5.8 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts DE, 4 cyl. Boilers, 7200 hp. 17 knots.
Armor: Deck 30 mm, Blockhouse 13 mm
Crew: 321
Armament: 4 x 152, 2 x 120, 2 x 47, 2 x 37 mm, 2 x 450 mm TTs.

Dogali (1885)

Dogali was a one-off experiment, designed by the British naval architect William Henry White and built at the Armstrong Whitworth shipyard at Elswick. She had the distinction of being the first warship equipped with triple-expansion engines. Originally she had been ordered by the Greek Government under the name of Salamis, but the latter could not afford her, and she was resold after completion to Italy, renamed after the Battle of Dogali. Armed with six 5.9 in (120 mm) guns she could reach a top speed of 19.66 knots (36.41 km/h; 22.62 mph) on trials, becoming one of the fastest cruisers at the time.
Her career was rather bland however: She visited the United States in 1893 (World’s Columbian Exposition). In 1908, the ship was sold to Uruguay and renamed 25 de Agosto and later Montevideo. In 1914, the cruiser was withdrawn from service, but she was not disposed of until 1932 when she was sold for scrap.


Displacement: 2,050 long tons (2,080 t)
Dimensions: 76.2 x 11.28m x 4.42 m (250 x 37 x 14.5 ft)
Propulsion: 2-shaft TE engines 17.68 knots, Range 4,000 nmi/10 knots
Crew: 224–247
Armament: 6 × 152 mm, 9 × 57 mm, 6 × Gatling guns, 4 × 356 mm TTs
Armor: Deck: 50 mm, CT 50 mm, Gun shields: 110 mm

Piemonte (1888)

Piemonte 1889
RN Piemonte was designed at the request of the Italian government, which wanted to strengthen the fleet in the event of a new war against Austria. The order was placed at the Armstrong-Elswick shipyards. Chief engineer Philip Watts took the opportunity to test a new configuration, equipping this ship, much larger than the Dogali (ordered three years earlier from the same yard), with a full provision rapid-fire artillery, a world’s first. But the optimism or placing six 6-in (152 mm), six 4.9-in (120 mm), and ten 57 mm undermined her stability and was reduced in 1891. Piemonte kept howevr two 6-in, ten 4.9 in and six 37 mm guns and in 1913, the last 6-in guns were deleted and light weaponry was revised again (see specs sheet).

Her overall protection was good, but not complete. She lacked in particular a double bottom hull, and ballasts were missing at the level of machinery. Piemonte was one of the oldest cruisers in service with the Italian Navy in 1914: She had been launched in 1887 and completed in 1889. Her heyday came in 1911, after a series of brief engagements against the Turkish Navy on January 7, 1912, off Kunfida in the Red Sea, when she defeated a Turkish flotilla made up of no less than eight Turkish gunboats and an armed yacht. She had no other such favorable occasions during the great war as she served mainly as an escort. She was decommissioned in 1920.

Author’s illustration of RN Piemonte in 1912


Displacement: 2443t, 2500t FL
Dimensions: 97.83 x 11.62 x 4.86 m
Propulsion: 2 mach. VTE, 4 boilers, 13,000 hp. 22.3 Knots
Armour: Blockhouse 76 crew, 190 turrets, 76 deck, 52 mm shields
Crew: 310
Armament: 10 x 120, 6 x 57 mm, 2 x 37 mm, 2 x 305 mm sub TTs.

Umbria class (‘Regionali’ class) (1891)

Umbria, Lombardia, Etruria, Liguria, Elba, Puglia
Etruria in the Hudson 1909
In 1887, chief engineer Edoardo Masdea designed a series of lightweight protected cruisers intended to perform various roles in an economical manner. The first, Umbria, was started in 1888 in Orlando (Chantiers Leghorn), and the others, Lombardia, Etruria, Liguria, Elba and Puglia from 1889 to 1893 in Castellamare, Ansaldo (Genoa), and Taranto for the last. They were launched between 1890 and 1898, and put into service in 1894-1901. The Puglia, whose construction took place over eight years, was totally outdated. They turned out to be too cramped, lacking in protection, speed, autonomy … As and when they were partially disarmed or rearmed. Their basic artillery consisted of four 6-in (152 mm) including two in tandem on the forecastle and aft, eight 57 mm QF, two 37 mm QF, 2 Maxim machine guns and 2 torpedo tubes.

Their career was long enough, but not as cruisers: RN Umbria was sold to Haiti in 1911, renamed Ferrier and sank at sea, Lombardia became a submersible supply ship in 1908, as Etruria in 1916 (which sank at anchor in 1918 due to the accidental explosion of an ammunition barge). In 1911, RN Liguria became an observation balloon platform, as was Elba in 1913, converted the following year into a tanker and seaplane transport. RN Puglia was rearmed as a minelayer with seven 3-in guns (76 mm), on 37 mm, one 40 mm AA in July 1916. All were struck off the lists in 1920-23 and scrapped.

Author’s illustration of the Regionali class


Displacement: 2250-2690 t, 2410-3110 t. FL
Dimensions: 88.20 x 12.10 x 5.45 m
Propulsion: 2 shaft VTE, 4 cyl. Boilers, 7677 hp. 19.8 knots.
Armor: Crew Deck 76, Shields 114, Blockhouse 76 mm
Crew: 278
Armament: 6 x 120, 6 x 57, 2 x 37, 1 MG, 2 x 450 mm TTs.

Calabria (1894)

RN Calabria was designed in 1891 by the chief engineer Edoardo Masdea (who later signed the two Vettor Pisani). The admiralty specifications demanded a colonial vessel halfway between a cruiser and a gunboat. Recognizable by her classic masts and single funnel this stocky vessel was launched at La Spezia shipyard in 1894 and commissioned in 1897. Her hull made extensive use of zinc plates and wood (for tropical use and to combat heat and rust).

Calabria’s range was 4,730 km at 10 knots average (2,500 nautical miles). Her original armament included four 6-in (152 mm) of 40 caliber, four 5-in (120 mm) 40 caliber, eight 37 mm 20 caliber rapid fire guns, 2 Maxim machine guns and two side torpedo tubes. Rearmed in 1914 she was obsolete as a fleet cruiser, and actually used as a colonial station in North Africa. In 1921, she was rearmed again and permanently reclassified as a gunboat with a singl 6-in (152mm), six 5-in (120 mm), eight 57 mm, two 37 mm, one 40 mm AA. She was struck off the lists in 1924.

Author’s illustration of the Calabria

Specifications (as built)

Displacement: 2450t, 2660t. FL
Dimensions: 81 x 12.7 x 5 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 4 cyl. Boilers, 4260 hp. 16.4 knots
Armor: Deck 51, Blockhouse 51 mm
Crew: 250
Armament: 6 x 120, 6 x 57, 2 x 37, 1 MG, 2 x 450 mm TTs.

Agordat class (1900)

Agordat, Coatit
Agordat WW1
RN Agordat and the Coatit were started in Castellamare in 1897 and designed by Nabor Soliani as “scouts” – (esploratori). Launched in 1899 and put into service in 1900, they differed in the height of their funnels, those of the Agordat being two meters higher. They also had two masts originally, but in 1910 the front mast was removed. The two ships therefore served as reconnaissance vessels in 1914-18, not giving satisfaction due to their poor speed and range. In 1919, RN Coatit was rearmed with two 5-in (120 mm) and classified as a minelayer, while RN Agordat was rearmed with two 5-in (120 mm), eight 3-in (76 mm) and re-classified in 1921 as a gunboat. Both were reformed in 1920 and 1923, and sold for BU.

Author’s illustration of the Agordat class in 1914


Displacement: 1340t, 1292t FL
Dimensions: 91.6 x 9.32 x 3.6 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts TE, 8 Blechynden boilers, 8,300 hp. 23 knots.
Armor: Deck 19 mm
Crew: 185
Armament: 12 x 76 mm, 2 x 450 mm TTs.

Libia (1912)

This cruiser was originally ordered by Turkey who wanted a sister-ship to Hamidieh, entrusted in 1910 to Elswick-Ansaldo in Genoa. But if it was started in 1907, its construction was suspended and resumed at the time of the first Bakan war, for the benefit of Italy this time. Renamed Libia, it was launched in November and completed in March 1913. It took part at the end of the Second Balkan War, then in the Great War, as an “esploratori” (scout) although its speed was a handicap for this role. During the conflict, he received 3 pieces of 76 mm AA. Finally, its 152 mm guns were withdrawn in 1925. It was classified as a “cruiser” in 1929, and withdrawn from service after its many years of station, mainly as a colonial cruiser in Africa, in 1937.

Libia crusier


Displacement: 3760t, 4466t. FL
Dimensions: 111.8 x 14.5 x 5.5 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts TE, 16 Niclausse boilers, 11,500 hp. 23 knots.
Armor: Deck, CT 100 mm, shields 76 mm
Crew: 314
Armament: 2 x 152, 8 x 120, 8 x 47, 6 x 37 mm, 2 x 450 mm TTs.

Campania class (1914)

Campania, Basilicata
rn campania

The Campania class was two small protected cruisers, Campania and Basilicata, last ships of that type as they were replaced by light cruisers. This class was tailored for overseas colonies, based on the Calabria. They both had limitations due to their design and an eventful career. In addition of colonial duties, both ships served as training ships for naval cadets. They were small, just 76.8 meters (252 ft) long, 83 m overall for a beam of 12.7 m and 5 m draft and displaced 2,483 tons standard, 3,187 long tons fully loaded. They had one funnel and two pole masts with spotting tops. The crew comprised 11 officers and 193 sailors plus 100 cadets, and their officers and support staff.

The ships’s propulsion consisted of two VTE steam engines fed by four coal-fired, cylindrical fire-tube boilers, trunked into a single funnel. Output varied from 5,001 ihp for 15.7 knots to 4,129 ihp (3,079 kW) on Basilcata (15.5 knots). Their cruising radius was 1,850 nautical miles (3,430 km; 2,130 mi). They were armed with six 6-in (152 mm)/40 in single mounts, shielded, on the forecastle, stern, and broadside in sponsons; They fired AP/HE shells at 690 mps, and this was completed by two Ansaldo 3-in (76 mm) low-angle QF plus three 76 mm/40 AA, two 47 mm and two machine guns. Armor was limited to a 25 mm (0.98 in) armored deck, 50 mm walls of the conning tower.

Rare fact, both has been built in the same slipway and therefore were launched the same day. They served in Italian Libya, making uneventful careers. Basilicata on 13 August 1919 however had a boiler explosion as she was moored in Tewfik, southern Suez Canal. She sank and was raised for BU by September 1920. Campania became a gunboat, with two 6-in guns removed and became a full-time training ship in 1932 until March 1937, stricken and sold.

Author’s illustration of the Campania


Displacement: 2480t, 3190t. FL
Dimensions: 76.8 x 12.7 x 5 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts TE, 4 Cyl. boilers, 5,000 hp. 15.5-15.7 knots.
Armor: Deck, CT 50 mm, deck 25 mm
Crew: 214 (+150 cadets and staff)
Armament: 6 x 152, 5 x 76, 2 x 47, 2 MGs.

Italian Armored Cruisers

ara garibaldi class san martin
ARA San Martin, one of the export cruisers of the Garibaldi class, a stunning success. The usual exporter champion was the British Elswick (Vickers Armstrong) yard.
In all, Italy only fielded ten armoured cruisers until the trend faded out after the launch of the dreadnought: The prototype Marco Polo (1892), the two Pisani (1895), the three Garibaldi (1897) (and built 7 more), the two Pisa (plus the Greek Salamis) and the two San Giorgio. This was little compared to the French Navy, more so compared to the British Royal Navy, but sufficient while facing Austria-Hungary. There are reasons while this was the case: Smaller budget, and no real utility compared to other navies with large colonial empires, which used their armoured cruisers as substitutes for battleships on distant stations and escort, while they also could be used as hunters to prey on merchant traffic while negating any cruiser escort or taking place in a regular battle line (like British ones). In a general sense, the confines of the Mediterranean asked for lighter, smaller ships. Nevertheless, the design advantages was well understood, so much so that the success for the Garibaldi class on the export market, not a small feat at that time, were due to the fact the ships were still reasonably large but perfectly balanced between the firepower, speed and armor, while offering a better bargain than the costlier British or French vessels.

Marco Polo (1892)

marco polo, the first italian armoured cruiser
Marco Polo in 1917 at Castellorizo

The Marco Polo was the first Italian armoured cruiser, designed by chief engineer Carlo Vigna in 1889, and started in January 1890 in Castellamare di Stabia. She was based on the Etna, but larger and theoretically faster, without however 10-in (254 mm) guns. Instead she had 6-in (152 mm) guns supplemented by an important 120 mm QG guns battery. But this choice led to several criticisms, and the Marco Polo was generally considered to be too lightly armed for her class. In addition, her predicted speed of 19 knots was never reached and she remained as slow as Etna.

In 1911, she was partially disarmed: Keeping her six 6-in (152 mm) guns in a classic lozenge arrangement, one on the forecastle, another at the rear, and the other four on the flanks in open casemates, but sacrificed six 120 mm guns on the original ten, six 57 mm guns on 9, and four TTs instead of five. She took part in the great war, without notable facts, and was taken in hand in 1917 for a conversion as a troop transport. She came out modified under the name of Cortellazo, at the same time as Zenson ex-Carlo Alberto, on April 4, 1918. In October 1920 she would be renamed Europa, but was retired, reactivated in 1921 under the name of Volta and eventually discarded and scrapped in 1922.

Marco Polo
Author’s illustration of the Marco Polo in 1914


Displacement: 4500, 4820 t. FL
Dimensions: 106.50 x 14.57 x 5.88 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 4 cyl. Boilers, 10,660 hp. 17.8 knots
Armor: Belt 150, blockhouse 150, shields 45, deck 30
Crew: 480
Armament: 6 x 152, 4 x 120, 6 x 57, 2 x 37, 2 Howitzer, 2 MG, 4 x 450 mm TTs.

Vettor Pisani class (1895)

Vettor Pisani, Carlo Alberto
RN Vettor Pisani 1895 in 1912
These two armored cruisers succeeded the unique Marco Polo. Critics concerning the latter (Weak Armament and armor) led engineers under the direction of Edoardo Masdea to design much heavier vessels (7,000 tons at full load against 4,800 to house a battery of twelve 8-in (152 mm) instead of six).

Despite everything, they remained deprived of heavy guns unlike those which equipped other contemporary ships. Started in 1892 at La Spezia and launched in 1895 and 1896, they were completed in 1898 and 1899. The two cruisers differed by their masts, the Pisani having a single central mast while the Carlo Alberto had two masts in order to be used for the first tests wireless Marconi telegraphy in open sea, carried out in 1902 and crowned with success.

Italian armored cruiser Carlo Alberto anchor

From 1907, RN Carlo Alberto served as a training ship for torpedo boats and gunners, and from 1910 returned to its role as initial cruiser. In 1917 after a service without notable facts, it was taken in hand for reconversion in transport of troops. On April 4, 1918 he was renamed Zenson and resumed service until 1920. Vettor Pisani for his part had a career also without notable facts during the great war and was struck off the lists in January 1920.


Displacement: 6400-6600t, 7000-7100 t FL
Dimensions: 105.70 x 18 x 7.20 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 8 cyl. Boilers, 13,220-13,250 hp. 19 knots.
Armor: Belt 150, CT 150, shields 45, deck 30; Crew 480
Armament: 12 x 152, 6 x 102, 14 x 57, 6 x 37, 2 Howitzer, 2 MGs, 4 x 450 mm TTs

Garibaldi class (1899)

RN Garibaldi, Ferucio, Varese – Exports: ARA Garibaldi, Belgrano, Pueyrredón, San Martin, IJN Nisshin, Kasuga, Spanish Colon
ARA San Martin
ARA San Martin, one of the export versions of the Garibaldi class – colorized by irootoko Jr.

These Italian cruisers-battleships were among the best of their time: They were built in more than 10 units, and sold to Argentina, Spain, Japan. Italy kept three of these ships: The Varese (launched in 1899), the Garibaldi (1899) and the Francesco Ferrucio (1901). Designed by the chief engineer Edoardo Masdea in 1893, they combined elements that were to make their success: Speed, powerful armament, and satisfactory protection given their measured proportions. In short, they were very versatile and in their place within the line fleets, conceived as the perfect intermediaries between heavy cruisers and battleships. In addition, they were built quickly (4 years against 6 to 9 for French ships) and at a lower cost than other European shipyards. It was the first major export success for Italian military shipbuilding.

The ships of this class, as well as those sold abroad all saw fire: The only Spanish Colombo was sunk during the battle of the bay of Santiago de Cuba, then hardly delivered, the two Japanese Kasuga saw the fire at Tsushima, and the four Argentine General Garibaldi class ships (the first dating back to 1895) a civil war. As for the three Italian ships, they were in combat during the great war, and only the Garibaldi (Italian) was sunk, torpedoed by the U4 on July 18, 1915. Varese was used as a training ship from 1920, put to retirement in 1922 and demolished in 1923 while the Ferrucio suffered the same fate from 1924, and until 1934. She then served as a floating barracks before being struck off the lists in 1930. The Garibaldi class is yet to be covered in a dedicated post.

Author’s illustration of the Garibaldi in 1914


Displacement: 7235t, 7929t FL
Dimensions: 111.75 x 18.25 x 7.10 m
Propulsion: 4 shafts VTE, 24 boilers, 14,000 hp. 20.2 Knots.
Armor: Belt 190, CT 190, turrets 190, deck 30, shields 51 mm
Crew: 510
Armament: 1 x 254, 2 x 203 (1×2), 14 x 152, 10 x 76 mm, 2 Maxim MG, 4 x 450 mm TTs.

Pisa class (1907)

Pisa, Amalfi
Pisa at Derna 1912

These two buildings were designed in August 1904 by engineer Giuseppe Orlando on the model of the Regina Elena, in a reduced version. They were started in Orlando, Leghorn, and Odero in Sestri Ponente in February and July 1905, launched in September 1907 and May 1908 and put into service in September 1909, six years after their conception. They were still inferior to the battle cruisers that had appeared at the same time. RN Amalfi’s career was cut short during the conflict as it was sunk by UB14 (U26 under Austro-Hungarian flag) on ​​July 7, 1915 in the north of the Adriatic. This was a German submersible operating under the Austrian flag because officially the Kaiser was not yet at war with Italy. RN Pisa for her part received a front mast, and her tertiary artillery was modified for fourteen 76 mm and six 76 mm AA guns. In 1921 she was relegated to coastal defense, then became a training ship. A Macchi M7 reconnaissance seaplane was added in 1925, and it later she served as a training ship for naval lieutenants. She was withdrawn from service in April 1937.

Author’s illustration of the Pisa in 1914


Displacement: 9832t, 10,600t. FL
Dimensions: 140.5 x 21 x 7.1 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 22 Belleville boilers, 20,000 hp. and 23.6 knots.
Armor: Belt 200, Deck 130, blockhouse 180, turrets 160-130 mm
Crew: 687
Armament: 4 x 254 mm (2×2), 8 x 190 mm (4×2), 16 x 3-in (76 mm), 8 x 47 mm, 4 MGs, 3 x 450 mm TTs.

San Giorgio class (1907)

San Giorgio, San Marco

The Pisa had not given any satisfaction (they were nevertheless replicated to a copy for Greece under the name of Giorgios Averoff, and the latter was still in use in the fifties) and the engineer Edoardo Masdea was entrusted with the task of improve them while keeping their hull. The plans were thus definitively established while construction had already been launched in Castellamare di Stabia in July 1905, then in January 1907 for the second when the hold was released. This process saved time. The two ships were launched in reduced offset, in July and December 1908, and accepted in July 1910 and February 1911.

Their main innovation was to raise a forecastle in order to improve seakeeping, housing, but also redistributing machinery, giving these two groups of funnels, lowered following sea trials. RN San Marco was equipped with a completely different machinery, since she was given two Parsons turbines fed by 14 Babcock & Wilcox boilers and mixed heating (coal/oil), and San Giorgio kept the classic classic triple expansion machines.

Less powerful, the latter was barely slower, half a knot. These two ships took part in Balkans was of 1912-13, then the great war. In 1916 a front mast was added to them, while their light artillery was increased to ten standard 3-in (76 mm) and six AA guns. After the war, San Marco was still in use until 1931 before being converted into a radio-controlled target ship, captured at La Spezia by the Germans in September 1943, then scuttled at the end of the war, refloated and BU in 1949. RN San Giorgio was completely rebuilt to serve as a training ship before ending her career scuttled at Tobrouk in January 1941.

san giorgio firing

San Giorgio
Author’s illustration of the San Giorgio in 1914


Displacement: 10,167 t, 11,300 t
Dimensions: 140.8 x 21 x 7.3 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 14 Blechynden dual fuel boilers, 19,600 hp. and 23.2 knots
Armor: Belt 200 mm, Deck 50 mm, Blockhouse 254 mm, Turrets 200-160 mm
Crew: 705.
Armament: 4 x 254 (2×2), 8 x 190 (4×2), 18 x 76, 2 x 47, 4 MGs, 3 x 450 mm TTs sub.

Italian Scout Cruisers

Nino Bixio class (1911)

Nino Bixio, Marsala
nino bixio

Two “Esploratori” (scouts) were started in Castellamare on February 15, 1922, the Nino Bixio and the Marsala. They had been designed by Guiseppe Rota and we expected high speed from them, which was ultimately disappointing in practice. Only the second managed to “touch” the contractual speed, 27.5 knots, but due to a specification setting the power at 22,500 hp. Their move much larger than expected in the end was largely responsible. They were launched in December 1911 and March 1912, and commissioned in May and August 1914, too late for the Second Balkan War, but early enough for the Great War. They experienced machine reliability problems and were not as active as, for example, the Austro-Hungarian units of the Admiral Spaun class. As a result, they had no notable action to their credit and were struck off the lists in 1927 for Marsala and 1929 for Bixio.


Displacement: 3,575t standard – 4,141t. FL
Dimensions: 140.3 x 13 x 4.1 m
Propulsion 2 shafts TE, 14 Blechynden boilers, 22,500 hp. 26-27 knots.
Armor: Deck 38 mm, CT 100 mm
Crew: 296
Armament: 6 x 120, 6 x 76, 2 x 450 mm TTs, 200 mines.

Quarto (1911)

RN Quarto was the third Italian modern scout cruiser in service in 1915, a light protected cruiser intended as scout by the Regia Marina. She was started in 1910 at Venice NyD as an alternative to the Nino Bixio class and were arguably better at all accounts. She traded speed for protection but still was well armed, and moreover Quarto was a reliable gun platform and seaworthy. She was used extensively during the war and her career went on long after the war. However in WW2, she was used as a blockship. However already during the war, cheaper “flotilla leaders” were orefeoored over cruisers, notably the the Poerio, Mirabello and Leone classes.

Quarto conways


Dimensions: 131,6 m x 12,8 m x 4,1 m (432 x 42 x 13 fts)
Displacement: 3,281 t standard, 3,441 tonnes FL
Crew: 12 + 311
Propulsion: 2 shaft Parsons turbines, 10 boilers, total 25 000 hp
Speed: 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph)
Range: 2,300 nmi (4,300 km; 2,600 mi) @ 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Armament: 6 × 120 mm (4.7 in), 6 × 76 mm (3 in), 2 x 47 mm, 2 × 450 mm (17.7 in) TTs, 200 mines
Armor: Deck: 38 mm (1.5 in), Conning tower: 100 mm (3.9 in)

Cruiser prizes (1919)

italian prize cruisers

Technically these cruisers should not been studied in this post, as they are a consequence of WWI and did not participated in this war under Italian flag. But rather served for the whole interwar, giving however precious technical updates to Italian engineers for designing the 1920s generation of light cruisers:
Taranto: This was the ex-SMS Strassburg of the Magdeburg class, a recent ship (1911) designed by Hans Bürkner, rearmed during the war with seven 150 mm (instead of the original twelve 105, a bit light for her 5500 tonnes), and refitted with new mixed boilers. She was acquired in July 1920 but not commissioned before 2 june 1925 as Taranto. The main guns were unchanged byu renamed 149mm/43 and the original 88 mm AA replaced by Italian 3in/40 AA. Tarento also operated a Macchi M7 seaplane from 1926 and from 1931 a Cant 24R. In 1936 she was taken in hands to be converted for colonial service (see the WW2 section).
Brindisi class: This is called a “class” because there were two ships of the same type, acquired on 19 September 1920: SMS Holgoland and Saida, renamed Brindisi and Venezia respectively. These fast Austro-Hungarian scoutsn, related to the Admiral Spaun class has been the nightmares of the Italians in the Adriatic and now they changed hands. The guns were called in Italian nomenclature the 100mm/47 and from 1917 they had been fitted with a single 66 mm AA gun, replaced by a 37 mm Breda AA gun in Italian service. They were recommissioned on 7 june 1923 and 5 July 1921 respectively. See the WW2 section for more.
Ancona: The ex-SMS Graudenz was acquired in June 1920. She was an improved Graudenz class vessel launched in 1913, rearmed with seven 15cm/45 guns, and underwent significant changes during the interwar at Tarento: Her coal capacity was increased as well as oil capacity (1280 and 1520 tonnes in wartime). She was recommissioned in May 1925 and in 1926 carried a M7 ter seaplane, and in 1928 her forecastle was rebuilt and the bow lenghtened to mount a catapult for the seaplane. She was stricken in 1937.
Bari: The ex-SMS Pillau acquired in July 1920 had a complicated history. She was ordered and designed in Schichau, home of German TBs and destroyers, by the Russian Imperial staff, to serve as light minelayers for the baltic. Recommissioned on January, 21, 1924 she was refitted and later rebuilt in 1934-35 for colonial duties. Six boilers and one funnel removed, oil tanks enlarged for 4,000 nm at 14 knots; power reduced to 21,000 hp, 24.5 knots, and shortened remaining funnels, and in 1939, she had six 20 mm/65 and six 13.2 mm MGs added. See the ww2 section for more.

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Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1865-1905 & 1906-1921

San Giorgio class Cruisers (1907)

San Giorgio class Cruisers (1907)

Italian Navy Italy – Regia Marina San Giorgio, San Marco

Cuniberti’s cruisers

The San Giorgio class were a counterpoint to the previous unsatisfactory Pisa class. The latter impressed enough the Greeks however to become the Giorgios Averoff, flagship of the navy, with a very long career. Engineer Edoardo Masdea was entrusted with improving the design, but on the same hull, to ease construction and speed.

A bit of context: Before Pisa, the last armoured cruisers deployed by Italy were also among the most successful, but they dated back ten years (1896) and naval tech went fast in between. The export successes of the Garibaldi class kept the yards busy, so much so that construction of replacement took more than expected. In between, naval circles discussed the next generation of armoured cruisers, and among them, Vittorio Cuniberti was one of the most influential thinker.

San Marco in Brindisi
San Marco in Brindisi

Vitorrio Cuniberti About Vittorio Cuniberti

Born in Turin, Cuniberti joined the Genio Navale in 1878, rose through the ranks as Major general in 1910. He was also a friend and close collaborator of Benedetto Brin, and both worked in 1899 on the Regina Elena-class battleships. To this day, he is best known for an article on Jane’s Fighting Ships, edition 1903, advocating the concept of “all-big-gun” fighting ship. He envisaged a “colossus” with just one gun caliber, preferably 12 inch, although he also argued that an armored cruiser with the same principle and only 10-in caliber would be a very serious proposition. He also made clear a 12-inch proof protection was unavoidable, while small calibre would have no effect on his design.

Ideally, he wanted twelve large caliber guns, to offer a 3x advantage on any battleship of the time. He also dreamed that a full squadron of six “colossi” would rule out any fleet, even three times its number, and that his proposition could only fit a “navy at the same time most potent and very rich” (so the Royal Navy, German or French navies). He would propose it, but without illusions, to the Italian government, later declined for budgetary reasons, but the latter allowed Cuniberti to post hi concept in Jane’s Fighting Ships.

Published before the Battle of Tsushima which vindicated his ideas, the article nevertheless had a tremendous influence in all admiralties. In particular at that time, a certain John Fisher, worried about the rapid rise of the Hochseeflotte. He stated himself later that Cuniberti’s dream battleship was “tailored for the Royal Navy”. One one hand, the Empire needed a wide fleet to protect it, a task current capital ships could not do, unless replaced in the Home Fleet by a “cheaper” alternative (taking the place of three). It appealed to the parliament, and was able to give an edge on the Kaiserliche Marine. In the end, Admiral Sir John Fisher worked on the HMS Dreadnought with great fervor, adding many of his own ideas, notably parsons turbines, also quite a revolution. Launched in 1906, HMS Dreadnought would change naval history.

Plans were thus definitively established while the construction had already been started at Castellamare di Stabia in July 1905, then in January 1907 for the second, when the hold was free. This process saved time. The two ships were launched in July and December 1908, accepted in service by July 1910 and February 1911. Their main innovation was to raise their forward deck by a level, in order to improve seaworthiness. Compartimentation, but also redistributed machinery spaces improved ASW passive protectuon, also giving them two distinctive pairs of funnels, lowered after the tests. They looked like the Dante Aligheri from afar.

Design of the San Giorgio class

Propulsion of the San Giorgio class

The two armoured cruisers were designed for a top speed of 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph), but varied between ships as both tested different machinery types for evaluation. San Giorgio had two shafts mated on TE steam engines and Blechynden boilers inspired by the previous Pisa class. They were rated for 19,500-indicated-horsepower (14,500 kW). San Marco however had four shafts mated to license-built Parsons steam turbines for the first time in the Regia Marina. They were fed by Babcock & Wilcox mixed-fired boilers (coal/oil), working at 210 psi (1,448 kPa; 15 kgf/cm2). Total output was superior, 23,000 shp (17,000 kW), but on paper both ships were specified to reach their design speed of 23 knots, San Giorgio reaching 23.2 knots, San Marco a bit faster at 23.75 knots in sea trials.

The difference was mire about consumption: San Marco’s turbines were gluttons, providing a range of 4,800 nautical miles (8,900 km; 5,500 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) or 2,480 at 21.25 knots while for San Giorgio these figures were 6,270 nm and 2,640 nm respectively. This posed a problem if the were intended to operate together, in the same unit, as often in the Regia Marina.

Armament of the San Giorgio and San Marco

Main armament: Four Cannone da 254mm/45 A Modello 1907 in twin turrets for and aft, electrically powered. They had an arc of fire of 260° while the main 10.0 in guns fired 204.1 to 226.8-kilogram (450–500 lb) armor-piercing (AP) shell at 870 meters per second (2,850 ft/s) in muzzle velocity. Their mount had a maximum elevation of +25°, allowing a theoretical range of 25,000 meters (27,000 yd).

Secondary armament:

Both armoured cruisers had four twin turrets on the broadside, eight Cannone da 190/45 A Modello 1908 in all, in electrically powered turrets. They were placed amidships. They had a reduced arc of fire of 160°, and the modello 1908 were licenced copies of the Armstrong Whitworth 7.5 in model which fired the same 90.9-kilogram (200 lb) AP shell at 864–892 m/s (2,835–2,927 ft/s). The mounts also elevated +25° roviding a range of 22,000 meters (24,000 yd), so only three yards shy of the main guns. It was obvious that the main and secondary guns were intended to fire at the same time on the same target, inspired by Cuniberti’s principle of 12 heavy guns. But instead of six twin turrets with 10 in guns, which would have been quite heavy, 8-in guns were chosen instead to fit on the broadsides. The only problem was the relatively close size of the water plumes, creating some confusion for the spotters. A common problem for these “semi-dreadnought” generation of ships in 1905-1909.

Tertiary armament:
The two San Giorgios were provided 18 quick-firing (QF) 76 mm/40 (3.0 in) guns. Eight were mounted in hull’s embrasures and the other half higher up in the superstructure. To complete these, both cruisers had a pair of QF 40-caliber 47 mm (1.9 in) guns, used also as saluting guns. As usual at that tie, torped tubes were also provided, three submerged 450 mm (17.7 in) models.

Protection of the San Giorgio class

Apart from the interior layout used on the Pisa, and extra compartimentation for the machinery, there was no significant improvement. The armored belt had 200 mm (7.9 in) thick plates amidships, reduced on both ends to 80 mm (3.1 in). It was 2.2 m (7 ft 3 in) high, including 1.5 m below the waterline o stop torpedoes. The armored deck was composed of 50 mm (2.0 in) thick plates for the flat section, with possibly sloped sides. The conning tower had 254 mm (10 inches) thick walls. The main gun turrets’s faces were also covered with sloped 10-in armour, 200 mm on the sides, and the secondary turrets had 160 mm (6.3 in) sides and faces.

Brassey’s naval annual 1921 San Giorgio scheme


Conway’s rendition of the San Giorgio (via navypedia)

Displacement: 10,167 t, 11,300 t. FL
Dimensions: 140.8 x 21 x 7.3 m
Propulsion: 2 shaft VTE, 14 mixed boilers Blechynden, 19,600 hp. and 23.2 knots
Protection: Belt 200, Deck 50, Blockhouse 254, Turrets 200-160 mm;
Crew: 705.
Armament: 4 x 254 mm (2×2), 8 x 190 mm (4×2), 18 x 76 mm, 2 x 47 mm, 4 ML, 3 TLT 450 mm Sub.

St Giorgio
Author’s illustration of the San Giorgio

Read More/Src

Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1906-1921
Attilio, Dagnino (December 1911). “Italy’s First Turbine-Driven Cruiser, the San Marco”.:
Beehler, William Henry (1913). History of the Italian-Turkish War
Brescia, Maurizio (2012). Mussolini’s Navy: A Reference Guide to the Regina Marina 1930–45
Campbell, John (1985). Naval Weapons of World War II.
Fraccaroli, Aldo (1970). Italian Warships of World War I.
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One. Barnsley
Halpern, Paul S. (1994). A Naval History of World War I.
Marchese, Giuseppe (February 1996). “La Posta Militare della Marina Italiana 8^ puntata”.
Rohwer, Jürgen (2005). Chronology of the War at Sea 1939–1945: The Naval History of World War Two
“San Giorgio: Incrociatore corazzato”. Storia e Cultura: La nostra Storia: Almanacco storico navale
Sicurezza, Renato. “Il Regio Incrociatore Corazzato San Giorgio”.
Silverstone, Paul H. (1984). Directory of the World’s Capital Ships.
Sondhaus, Lawrence (1994). The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 1867–1918
Stephenson, Charles (2014). A Box of Sand: The Italo-Ottoman War 1911–1912

A career spanning 30 years and five wars

These two units participated in the Balkan conflict and then in the Great War. In 1916, they were fitted with a front mast while their light artillery increased to ten standard 76 mm and six 76 mm AA in replacement of standard ones, and one torpedo tube was removed. San Giorgio participated at least to five wars: Italo-Turkish, WW1, Colonial wars, Spanish Civil war, and WW2. As per the Washington’s treaty limitations regulations, both were at least partially disarmed, with some armour removed and the powerplant downgraded. San Giorgio was mostly famous for her rôle in the siege of Torbrouk.

San Giorgio

Prewar career

San Giorgio stranded in 1913

San Giorgio was named after Saint George, the patron saint of Genoa. She was built at Regio Cantieri di Castellammare di Stabia in July 1910 but ran aground on a reef off Naples-Posillipo a month after, badly damaged. She took 4,369 tonnes of seawater flooding, her boiler rooms, magazines and lower compartments were completely submerged. To refloat her, ships and barges with cranes came to removed her guns, turrets, conning tower and even paet of her armour. Then divers installed pumps and injected air into the hull. She was ultimately refloated and conducted for repairs in the nearest yard, and was still so during the Italo-Turkish War. However she left the yard to join the fleet in June 1912. By February 1913, she made a cruise in the Aegean Sea, stopping at Salonica and ran aground again in November 1913 in the Strait of Messina, fortunately she had only light damage but her captain was dismissed.

San Giorgio firing during the Italo-Turkish war
San Giorgio firing during the Italo-Turkish war

Wartime career

On 23 May 1915, Italy was at war and the armoured cruiser was in Brindisi. The Austro-Hungarian fleet made a night shelling raid on the coast, notably Ancona, and they will return in mid-June, but Admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel had San Giorgio and other cruisers at Brindisi, and deployed them as a deterrent. They departed for Venice, and during the trip, Amalfi was sunk by a submarine, but this did not prevented San Giorgio to shell Durazzo on 2 October 1918, notably sinking a Austro-Hungarian cargo and and damaged two more. This was her only significant participation to the war, as she was kept safely in Venice for most of the conflict.

Interwar career

San Giorgio was the flagship of the Eastern Squadron until 16 July 1921 (Istanbul), relieved by the scout cruiser Brindisi, and departed for Far East. In 1924 she carried Crown Prince Umberto on his tour of South America, acting as the royal yacht. She departed Naples on 1 July 1924 but because of the second Tenente revolt in Brazil, she was diverted to Argentina, Buenos Aires on 6 August and three days later her crew participated in a military parade. She also visited Chile, then sailed to Montevideo, Uruguay, arriving on 5 September, and then Bahia in Brazil, and back home 18 September.

She was assigned to the Divisione Navale del Mar Rosso e dell’Oceano Indiano (Read Sea and Indian Ocean) from 1925. There, she covered Italian operations in Somaliland. From 1926 to From 1930, there was nothing notable. She was based in Pola as a training ship for cadets. In 1936, she was sent to Spain to protected Italian interests due to the Civil War. She went back home in 1937 and the admiralty decided to modernize her. She she was reconstructed until 1938 as a dedicated training ship for naval cadets at the Arsenale di La Spezia, according to the Washington treaty limitations:
Reconstruction 1936-38
First, six boilers were removed, remaining eight were converted to fuel oil. Top speed fell to 16–17 knots and the two pairs of funnels was truncated into a single one. The old 76 mm/40 guns were replaced by eight brand new 100 mm/47 in four twin turrets, placed either side of the funnels. Torpedo tubes were removed and a light AA was added, six Breda 37mm/54 in single mounts, and twelve Breda 20 mm Modello 35 autocannons in twin mounts. A t last, she received two twin 13.2 mm (0.52 in) Breda Modello 31 heavy machine guns. Superstructures were revised as well as the interior compartimentation to house the cadets ad their instructors.

San Giorgio after reconstruction in 1938
San Giorgio after reconstruction in 1938 – Conway’s

When the war broke our, Italy envisioned its priorities, among others grouping the Regia Marina to face the French Navy. This urged the use of less important vessels to guard colonial outpists and less important sectors. Thus it was decided to send San Giorgio to Tobruk in early May 1940, acting as a floating AA battery to protect the harbour. For this, a fifth 100mm/47 gun turret was added on the forecastle, plus five more twin 13.2 mm Breda HMGs. Italy declared war on Britain on 10 June and the former attacked Tobruk, notably with a British naval force comprising the light cruisers Gloucester and Liverpool. They shelled the port and soon targeted San Giorgio. Damage was light, but the Royal Air Force then intervened, and Blenheim bombers from three Squadrons bombed Tobruk and one fell on San Giorgio. Damage was more serious but the ship kept its offensive capability. On 19 June, the submarine HMS Parthian entered Tobrouk and fired two torpedoes at San Giorgio, which however detonated before hitting the ship, making the British wonder if the Italians had submerged defenses rather than malfunctions. And it was the case. As in WW1, San Giorgio was mounted her torpedo nets, which protected her for no less than 39 torpedoes, most launched by Swordfish planes.
After having bad luck in her past, San Giorgio became the reverse. This was not to last however.

San Giorgio in May 1940
San Giorgio in May 1940

San Giorgio was a crucial part of anti-aircraft defences of Tobruk, bringing a density of fire that was appreciable to deter British air raids. Between June 1940 and January 1941, these attacks went one and on the long run, San Giorgio’s crew would proudly claim 47 enemy aircraft down or damaged. Eventually as Operation Compass took place, Commonwealth troops besieged Tobruk in January 1941. San Giorgio still had her main guns, and they could be turned on approaching British tanks, however she was not deployed as AA cover was preferred, but she was seaworthy and as the fall of Tobruk became evident, local naval commander Admiral Massimiliano Vietina requested fro Supermarina in Rome the ship to leave, avoiding destruction or capture. However the C-in-C in Libya, marshal Rodolfo Graziani, opposed it, notably to maintain morale, and this was endorsed by the Italian Supreme Command.

The AA crew of RN san Giorgio at Tobrouk in 1941

This decision sealed the fat of San Giorgio in Tobruk. She will fire on the attacking land forces until the city fell and her magazines were empty. On January 22 at noon, the armoured cruiser’s crew disembarked and a formed small scuttling party (Captain Stefano Pugliese). They blew up San Giorgio magazines and were soon taken prisoner, but a few which managed to escape on a fishing boat with San Giorgio’s war flag. At Rome, the crew and the ship was awarded the Medaglia d’Oro al Valor Militare and her actions during the siege of Tobruk were well publicized by the propaganda. Her hulk was recommissioned by the RN in March 1943 (HMS St Giorgio) as a stationary repair ship until 1945 and her was refloated in 1952, sinking on her way to Italy for demolition.


Italian cruiser San Giorgio scuttled at Tobruk 1941

San Marco

San Marco as built in 1911
San Marco as built in 1911
San Marco was named after the famous Patron Saint of Venice. She was built at Regio Cantieri di Castellammare di Stabia (Bay of Naples), completed on 7 February 1911. She soon took part in the Italo-Turkish War, starting on 29 September. San Marco was in the 2nd Division, 1st Squadron and was assigned on 1 October, escorting Italian transports bound to Derna in Libya in October with RN Napoli and the older armoured cruisers Pisa and Amalfi.
When Pisa shelled the city’s barracks and a fort, then a truce was sent in, but repelled by a volley of fire and San Marco and the other cruisers opened fire, reducing the town to rubbles in 30 minutes, and covering later a landing party, after shelling beach for two hours. She went on supporting troops at Benghazi in December 1911 and by mid-April 1912 was in the Aegean Sea, attempting to lure out the Ottoman fleet without success, then shelling the Dardanelles. By May 1912, San Marco supported landings on Rhodes and was back home on 20 September.
San Marco at Brindisi on 13 December 1916

San Marco evaluated shipboard seaplanes operations in 1914, based at Brindisi the next year in May. After the night raid on Ancona and by June, she was sent by Admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel in Venice, but the ships became mostly inactive after the loss of Amalfi. San Marco however took part in the bombardment of Durazzo on 2 October 1918.

On 21 September 1923, San Marco carried to Taranto the corpses of the Boundary Commission killed on Corfu on 27 August and in October she carried back troops from Corfu to Brindisi. On 16 March 1924, she saluted King Victor Emmanuel III in Fiume, taking part in a commemoration of its annexation by Italy and later escorted Crown Prince Umberto (onboard her sister ship San Giorgio) during his South American tour.

As for the Washington’s treaty limitations she was disarmed and converted into a radio-controlled target ship in 1931–1935. She had only four oil-burning Thornycroft boilers (top speed 18 knots, 13,000 shp (9,700 kW)) and started her new career. During a naval review for Adolf Hitler in the Bay of Naples in 1938, she was used as a target by RN Fiume and Zara. During WW2 she remain in this state, but was captured by the Germans after the Italian capitulation when occupying La Spezia in September 1943. She was later sunk in the harbor as an obstruction and was formally stricken from the List on 27 February 1947, BU in 1949.

San Marco in La Spezia in 1945

WW1 Italian Destroyers

WW1 Italian Destroyers

Italian Navy Italy (1896-22) 52 ships

From Torpedo boats to destroyers

Development of Italian torpedo boats had a lot to do with its immediate Adriatic neighbour and rival, Austria-Hungary. Indeed it’s a subject of the Empire which in the late 1860s and early 1870s developed for the first time a new kind of naval “mine”, self-propelled, later called torpedo due to its shape. The contraption pioneered by Luppis was further developed by Thornycroft, the local branch of the British manufacturer. The first torpedo boats started to replace old spar-torpedo launches in the 1870s and in 1875 thanks to new propulsion systems, gradually took its place into the maritime arsenals.

Italian Torpedo Boats

Alcione class TB
Alcione class TB blueprint

The young Italian Navy, shaped after the independence, was not long to understand the advantages of the torpedo. The first Torpedo boat in service was the Nibbio (1878), a
Thornycroft-built vessel. She was later reclassified as a 4th class boat named 1T in 1886, and was discarded in 1904.

Fourth class Italian TBs

She was followed by other prototypes and small series ordered from other British yards:
-Avvoltoio (1879): Yarrow – 25 tonnes, 26.2 x3.3 x 0.95 m, 1 shaft VTE, loco boiler, 420 ihp, 21.3 knots, armed with two 14-in TTs, crewed by ten.
-Sparviero class (1881): Yarrow – 39 tonnes, 30.43 x 3.81 x 1.49, 1 shaft VR loco boiler 620 hp 22.5 knots, same plus one 25 mm twin-barreled Hotchkiss gun (Sparviero, Falco)
-Aquila class (1881): Thornycroft – 34.5 tonnes, 29018 x 3.28 x 1.47 m, 1 shaft VDE, 475 ihp 20 knots, armed as Sparviero (Aquila, Gabbiano)
Deserving a special attention was the first Italian built TB, called the Clio, built at Orlando in 1882.
The boat was designed by engineer director Luigi Borghi. This fourth class TB was stored aboard thr capital ship Duilio, which acted as mothership. The boat was 30 tonnes, 23.35 x 3 x 1.53 m, with a shaft TER and loco boiler, 250 hp for 18 knots.
Yet Italy ordered a whole serie of fourth class boats to Thornycroft, Odero, Orlndo, Pattison, and Guppy in 1882-85:
-Aldebaran (28 boats), Euterpe (14), Mosca class (4). All these coastal boats were renamed in the 1885-86 period and discarded in 1907-1910.

After a budget restrained forced vacancy, the admiralty ordered larger 2nd class models in order to carry out exercises with the fleet:
These were the four Ya class boats, two built in UK in Yarrow in 1894 and two in Italy at Venice Nyd in 1895.
Specs: 108.5 tons, 41.18 x 4.27 x 1.54 m, two shafts VDE, 2 loco boilers, 164 ihp, 22-26 knots. Armed with two 37 mm/25/20 Revolver guns, 3-4 14-in TTs.

Schichau 3rd class Torpedo boats:

Perhaps reflecting a change in policy of the Italian governments, leaning towards the central Empires, a large number of third-class TBs were ordered in 1886-1895. They were all discarded before 1914.
-19 of the Type 78 tonnes (39.84 x 4.8 x 2 m), 1 shaft VDE loco boilers 902-1080 ihp 21-22 knots
-26 of the same built by Odero. Rated power around 1100 ihp.
-12 of the same, by Cravero.
-2 Naples type (Guppy). same as the others, but experimental.
-16 of the same, by Pattison. Rated for 1082 ihp.
-18 of the same, by Ansaldo. Rated for 1079 ihp.

First class TBs:

From 1888, the admiralty resolutely aimed at giving the fleet sea-going ships. The first five were a class of 5 boats ordered at Schichau in 1888.
The Aquila group were 137 tonnes boats, 47.6 x 5.1 x 2.2 m, 2 shafts VDE, loco boilers 2180 ihp, 24 knots, armed with two 37 mm revolver and three 14-in TTs.
In 1898, Ansaldo built the Condore, entirely Italian, a 138 tonnes 48 m long, with two 37 mm/25 Revolver guns and two TTs, and the Pelicano, ordered in 1899 to Odero, but much larger. The Pelicano was a 181 tonnes FL vessel, 48.7 x 5.7 x 1.53 m boat propelled by two shafts VTE and three Blechynden boilers, for 2740 ihp, 21 knots. Armament as the former.
The admiralty then ordered five years later in Schichau a serie of new torpedo boats, larger, faster and better armed.

PN-65 and MAS-15 in the Adriatic.
Italy operated alongside destroyers, no less than 93 torpedo boats, and 403* MAS-boats of all types. This was quite a deterrent force for the Austro-Hungarians.

*Based on the numeration until 1918. 19 were cancelled.
The six Sirio class (1905) displaced 206 tonnes, for 51 x 6 x 1.6 m. They were propelled by two shafts VTE fed by Schultz-Thornycroft WT boilers for a top speed of 25.5 knots (3100 ihp). They were armed by three 47 mm/40 QF Krupp guns and three 17.7 in TTs.
The same year, four ships of the Pegaso class were ordered to Pattison in 1905. They were very similar except the armament of two Vickers 57 mm/43 guns (3 pdr), one 47 mm/43 (2-pdr) and three 17.7 in TTs.
Apart the Aquila class discarded in 1912-14 the others saw service during the great war.
Before and during the war, many other modern torpedo boats were built:
-14 Pegaso class boats (1906) – 216 tonnes, 50 x 5.3 x 1.7m, 2x VTE boilers 2900 ihp 26 knots
-4 Orione class boats (1906) – 220 tonnes, 52.6 x 6 x 1.5m, 2x VTE boilers 2900 ihp 25 knots
-36 PN class boats (1911-13) – 120 tonnes, 42.5 x 4.6 x 1.4m, 2x VTE boilers 3200 ihp 27 knots
-35 PN serie II (1916-18) – 170 tonnes, same, 2x VTE boilers 2700 ihp 27 knots
-2(6) PN serie III (1918) – 195 tonnes, 45.7 x 4.6 x 1.7 m, 2 turbines, 2 boilers 3500 ihp 27 knots

Early Destroyers

The first Italian destroyer was elaborated about the same time as the other Nations: This was the 1898 Fulmine, possibly inspired by the Spanish Audaz.

The Fulmine (“lightning”) was designed by the general inspector of the Naval Engineering bureau, Ernesto Martinez. It was inspired by British and German high seas TBs of the time. This ship allowed local shipbuilding industry to reach a new level of expertise, but the end product as a result was mediocre: Only the armament was a good fir, whereas the frail hull had many structural problems and the projected top speed of 26.5 knots was never reached.

The Italian destroyer was only a serial prototype, a testbed to apply ideas and techniques, not intended for long term service. This was reserved for the next six boats of the Lampo class of German construction, and the Nembo and Soldato, which built on regular improvements. In the years following her completion, the Fulmine underwent many armament changes, and after several exercises ended for the formula of a single 76 mm/30 gun forward (3-in) and three 57mm/43 (12-pdr) QF guns and the 356 mm torpedo tubes on axial posts. Before 1910, she was used by the physicist Domenico Pacini for a series of experiments on air ionization.

Fulmine aft

Despite this semi-experimental state, the Fulmine did saw active service during the Italian-Turkish war. On April 10, 1912, she teamed up with the armored cruisers Carlo Alberto and Marco Polo, and the the auxiliary cruisers Città di Siracusa and Città di Catania plus the torpedo boat Alcione as an escort and distant cover for them to shell the city of Zuara. The latter was indeed known as an arrival point for clandestine hardware and war material for the Turkish Ottoman army. This was followed by a fake landing simulated by the steamships Sannio, Hercules and Toscana.

When the great war broke out, the Fulmine was aggregated temporarily to the Fifth destroyer squadron comprising boats of the Nembo class, notably the Borea, Turbine, Espero and Aquilone. She was however in limited service in 1915 as Italy entered war with the entente. Considered as obsolete,
the Fulmine carried out escort duties and ASW patrols near the coast. She was discarded in May 1921, a nice performance for a 1890s prototype.



The next classes were much more refined. The Lampo class for example was German-built in order to take more ideas about future domestic developments. The Schichau design was typical of the Hocheseetorpedoboote, including a turtleback forecastle and a ram bow. They had however British Thornycroft boilers and could reach 2000 nautical miles at cruising speed. But they were very fast at 30 knots, which was their main advantage, were strongly built and thus should take on heavy weather, something the Fulmine could hardly do. But the reality showed this was not the case. They were rather poor seaboats. Armament varied among ships, but ended about the same as Fulmine. They served actively during the Italo-Turkish war and patrolled along the coast of Africa, Italy, the Thyrrenian sea with the 6th Destroyer Division, and were discarded in the early 1920s.

The next class, Nembo, also six vessels, were a product of the Pattison shipyard of Naples, based on a British Thornycroft model and reflecting the “Thirty-knotter” style of British early destroyers. They had no forecastle but a turtleback forward deck, displaced 380 tonnes, were 63 m long, and reached 30 knots with VTE engines. They could also be fitted for minelayer. Their career reflecting the Lampo class, and three were lost in action during the great war.


The Soldati class was much posterior to the first two, of superior tonnage and armament, but as the cost as speed. They were studied and built by the Ansalso Yard at Genoa. The admiralty wanted a Nembo type back to 28 knots, therefore they were called the “nembo modificati tipo 28 nodi“. They burnt coal, displaced 412 tonnes fully loaded and reached 28.79 knots in trials but their main advantage was their armament: Four 3-in/40 guns and three 17.7 in (450 mm) torpedo tubes, plus fitting to carry ten mines. This configuration was so successful the previous Nembo were rearmed that way. They burnt coal in their three Thornycroft boilers and the output was 6000 ihp (on trials they reached 6392 ihp). Normal speed was 28 knots, 28.5 as designed. In practice to reach 400 nautical miles this as back to 23.5 knots. The class comprised the Artigliere, Bersagliere, Corazziere, Garibaldino, Granatiere, and Lanciere for the first group, launched 1906-07.

The second group consisted of three boats from the same yard, launched 1909-1910. Apart oil burners they were identical, with a top speed of 29.11 knots on trials. The class comprised the Alpino, Fuciliere and Pontiere. Like the previous classes they were all reclassed as torpedo boats. Only one was lost, Garibaldino in July 1918 during the night at Villefranche, rammed by accident by the HMS Cygnet. Another one was ordered by China, as Ching Po, but requisitioned and purchased by the Italian government in 1912. The Ascaro had mixed boilers and she was the last stricken, in 1930.

The first fleet destroyers

Aquilone class DD blueprint
Aquilone class DD blueprint

The real revolution came with the “I” class (for Indomito). This was a brand new serie of six 770 tonnes vessels all fitted with a true forecastle, more in line with the new fleet destroyers of the decade. The Indomito class were the forerunners of a long serie of “tre tubi” “tre canne” or “three-pipe” ships, which lasted until the Palestro/Curtatone class of 1919-23. Many of these were still active when WW2 broke out, reclassed as destroyers. The six vessels were launched in 1911-13 at Pattison of Naples.

Destroyer Espero
Destroyer Espero

They enjoyed a radical upgrade in armament thanks to their large size: One 120 mm/40 (4.7 in) gun on the forecastle, four 3-in guns, but two axial 450 mm TTs. The large size mostly was used to accomodate large engines, with a total output of 17,600 ihp, enough for a top speed of 35.8 knots. For Italian destroyers they were a landmark in design and enjoyed a considerably long career: Of the six ships of this first class, one was sunk in 1915, another in 1916, three made it to 1937 and one in 1944, changing hands.

RN Impetuoso of the Indomito class (1913)

Other yards soon were ordered the same designs: Orlando with the Ardito and Audace (four ships). With wartime, emergency saw the construction of eight ships (and not six), the improved Pilo in 1915, built Odero, Sestri, but two, ast Pattison. The main difference was the removal of the 120 mm gun, replaced by four 76 mm in all, and four TTs, on single broadside mounts. They all took part in both WW1 and WW2 (but Nievo, stricken in 1938).

Wartime ‘three pipers’

In 1916, the admiralty received a very unusual, large destroyer at 1170 tonnes FL, originally built for Japan as Kawakaze by Yarrow and resold to Italy, renamed Intrepido and then Audace. She replaced the first of the name and was also active during WW2.

The last “three pipers” were the classes Sirtori (4 ships from Odero, 1917) and eight La Masa class (1917-18) from the same yard, 770-850 tonnes vessels derived from the Pilo class, and finally the “Generale” class started before the end of the war, launched in 1921-22 and completed until 1923. They were improved versions of the latter, six vessels also built at Odero. A firth serie was planned but finally cancelled. In between at Orlando, Leghorn, the admiralty wanted an improved “Audace” (not the British vessel!), reaching a displacement of 1076 tonnes fully loaded.

san martino
San Martino (Palestro class)

Characterised by a taller hull, more seaworthy, and two funnels, they were launched in 1919-1920 and therefore only participated in WW2. The four Orland-built Curtatone class were virtually repeats of the Palestro class, but larger, at 1214 tonnes FL. On trials they reached 33.6 knots, but this was down to 32 standard. They were better armed, introducing for the first time triple banks of torpedo tubes, still of the light 450 mm model. In WW2 they served as torpedo boats.

Generale Antonio Cantore
Generale Antonio Cantore

Italian flotilla leaders

Like for other fleets, the need for flotilla leaders appeared clearly in 1912 and the admiralty ordered several models to different yards over a long period of time. As a result three very distinctive classes: The three Perio class, from Ansaldo were powerfully armed, 1216 tonnes, 32 knots leaders well armed with six 102 mm guns and four TTs.

Started before the war they were completed in 1915 and active during WW1 (one sunk, two discarded in 1938). In 1914, a new serie was started for Romania. They were larger, built at Pattison of Naples, and with three-funnels. The Aquila class will comprise the Aquila, Falco, Nibbio and Sparviero were requisitioned in 1915 while in construction and renamed (former names Vifor, Viscol, Vartez and Vijelie). Two were completed in 1917 and saw little service, one in 1918 and one in 1920. Two were resold to Romania, two served until 1939 and were transferred to Spain as an help to the Nationalist Fleet (see the respective sections).

Destroyer Pantera
Destroyer Pantera, of the Leone class. In service after the war, this was one of the most powerfully armed destroyer in the Mediterranean (before the French heavy destroyers comes in).

Meanwhile, planned as soon as 1913 the 5,000 tonnes “esploratori” designed by Nabor Soliani evolved into unarmored 2000 tonnes light scouts laid down in 1914. They were named Mirabello, Carlo Alberto Racchia and Augusto Riboty, launched in 1915-16 and completed in 1916-17. Probably the best Italian destroyers of WW1 by far. One was lost in 1920 on a mine near Odessa, while supporting the white Russians, the two others participated in WW2 (one lost). Reaching 1784 tonnes standard and 1972 fully loaded, the Mirabello class were heavily armed and very fast, worthy of small scout cruisers. The Riboty was unique as having a single QF 6-in gun (152 mm) and seven 102 mm guns. This was an attempt to make them more in line with scout cruisers.

The design was so successful that the admiralty decided in 1918 to plane a second class, even larger: The Leone class. Five were ordered, two cancelled and three completed. They were launched in 1919-21 and completed 1920-23, displacing 2,300 tons, ten meters longer, larger, armed with eight 120 mm (four twin mounts) whereas the previous class has eight 102 mm in single mounts, and triple tropedo tubes, capable of 33 knots. They served for the interwar and WW2 (See details below) based in Massawa, Eritrea and fought during the East African campaign (where they were lost).

Augusto Riboty in 1942
Augusto Riboty in 1942

Armament of Italian destroyers

102 mm/35 (4″) Schneider-Armstrong Model 1914-1915
Was used in destroyers of the Pilo, Audace and Diana classes. Based on a British design, with vertical sliding breech block mechanism. Adopted in 1917. Gun Weight 1.2 tons (1.22 mt). 7 rpm, firing a AP 33.7 lbs. (15 kg) or HE 30.3 lbs. (13.74 kg) shell at 2,461 fps (750 mps).

102 mm/45 (4″) Schneider-Armstrong Models 1917/1919
Used on the Generali, Palestro, La Masa, Sirtori classes and for the M1919 on the Mirabello and Curtatone classes. This was a copy of the Vickers 4″/45 (10.2 cm) Mark V, used in single and twin mountings and vertical rather than standard horizontal sliding breech block. The gun weighted 2.364 tons (2.327 mt), fired an AP 35.3 lbs. (16 kg) or HE 30.3 lbs. (13.74 kg) shell, at a muzzle velocity of 2,789 fps (850 mps).

120 mm/45 (4.7″) Schneider-Canet-Armstrong Model 1918
Used on the Leone, and 1920s classes Sauro, Turbine and Sella. In service by 1919. Weighted 9,600 lbs. (4,354 kg), 7 rpm, firing an HE 48.5 lbs. (22 kg) or AP 51.0 lbs. (23.15 kg) shell at 2,460 fps (750 mps). The 1924 Vickers-Terni model was capable of 2,789 fps (850 mps). The final 1926 OTO model had the same performances.

76.2 mm/40 (3″) Ansaldo 1916 and 1917
Based on the British 3″/40 (7.62 cm) Armstrong 1916/1917. Standard as dual purpose on some Italian destroyers and many auxilaries. Designed in 1893, imported from Elswick and then licence-built. Many (730) were also used on a standard AA mount. Weighted 0.6 tons (510 kg), fired an Italian-manufacture HE 14.3 lbs. (6.5 kg) or AA 13.3 lbs. (6.0 kg) shell at 2,231 fps (680 mps for the HE) and 2,264 fps (690 mps) for the AA round. Lfe of the barrel was around 2500 cycles. A good crew can fire at 15 rpm.

Little is known about WW1 Toredo models used by Italy.
By caliber we know there were three in service:
305 mm (12-in): 1890s 3,4th class torpedo boats
380 mm (14-in): 1890-1900 3,4th class torpedo boats
450 mm (18 in): 1900s late torpedo boats and destroyers.
This changed from 1925 with the adoption of the standard 533 mm (21 in) type on the Sella class and following. See ww2 Italian destroyers

The Italians used Thornycroft models built in Italy, of 380 and 450 mm. Many destroyers were rearmed in the interwar by the 53.3 cm (21″) Si 270/533.4 x 7.2 “M” modello. This model weighted 3,748 lbs. (1,700 kg), was 23 ft. 7 in. (7.200 m) long, and carried a 595 lbs. (270 kg) warhead of TNT. powered by a Wet-heater engine, it can speed up to three settings:
4,400 yards (4,000 m)/46 knots
8,750 yards (8,000 m)/35 knots
13,100 yards (12,000 m)/29 knots
This model was built in Naples (Silurificio Italiano) and was later declined into a 48 knots, 38 knots and 30 knots setting mode as used in WW2.
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WW1 Italian destroyers in action

Due to the losses of destroyers during the war it’s safe to assume at first glance Italy did engaged its destroyers in action many time over. Despite a relatively inactive opponent, the Austro-Hungarian Navy, and this story started against Turkey in 1912. Let’s have a look on losses statistics now, 9 destroyers:
-Borea 1917, Nembo 1916, Turbine 1915 (Nembo class)
-Cesare Rosarol (1918)
-Garibaldino (Soldati class) 1918
-Impetuoso 1916, Intrepido 1915 (Indomito class)
-Audace(i) 1916
-Benedetto Cairoli (La Masa) 1918
A bit off-frame: Carlo Mirabello (1920) three TBs class Sirio/Pegaso: Scorpione, Serpente, Perseo, 36 PN (1918).

Italian Ammunitions and mines

Results of Italian destroyers were linked to the shift to a local production. Foreign guns and shells performed well, but when the latter ran out, domestic production took over. The result was less favourable to the locally-made ones, wic often failed to detonate or were less accurate, even though the Italian gun direction equipment was of ingenious design and technically well made.
Other innovations were taken in account on torped boats and destroyers alike quite soon, mines, invented and perfected with a system of automatic depth-setting for moored models, credited to Lieutenant Giovanni Elia. They were put to good use in the Adriatic during the war.

Operations against Turkey (1911-12)

The war against Turkey (29 September 1911) gave the opportunity to Italian destroyers to shine in several occasions. They escorted many troopships, a daunting task as 30,000 troops were carried in 55 transports from the peninsula to Libya. Italian destroyers had their chance to prove their aggressive spirit in actions such at Prevesa (September 1911), Santa Maura in the Ionian Sea, and on the Syrian coast, or in the Dardanelles on 16-19 April 1912, and in the Red Sea. They protected the flanks and rear of bombardment fleets off Tripoli and carried and landed troops on 5
October 1911. The same marine troops would later seize Homs, Derna and Benghazi. Destroyers were seen in the 1912 occupation of Rhodes and the other Dodecanese islands.

From an uneasy alliance to war with the entente in 1915

The 1882 Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary was a rocky one, especially between Italy and Austria, and the 1913 Naval Convention signed in between the three provided for the three
fleets to collaborate in the Mediterranean in case of war. In that case an Austrian admiral was to be designated combined commander. However this was on paper. In reality Italy and Austria competed openly for naval supremacy in the Adriatic. Italy designed ships to answer those of Austria rather turned towards French and British ones. In the end, Italy was extremely anxious to seize from Austria the areas of Trieste and Trentino, which weighted much in their decision to turn to war against their old alliance members.

Italian destroyers in the first world war

On 24 May 1915, Italy had a numerous fleet with an active personnel of 40,000 and seek from the beginning to sit her domination of the Adriatic. The main problem was the coast was not friendly to deep-water ports. It was rather flat and shallow. Apart Venice there was pretty much nothing as far as Ancona and then Taranto, at least for large vessels. Vast projects were carried out to make Brindisi capable of accepting large ships, but these ports were vulnerable to Austrian attack from the sea as shown by naval bombardments sweeps made in a single day from port to port. This lack of deep water harbors explained why the Italians preferably deployed destroyers, TBs and light ships in the area, or shallow-draught monitors.

The Adriatic east coast featured innumerable islands, with deep waters helping much the Austrian ships to shelter in secluded refuges, and then appear unexpectedly on the open sea. Although Italy had laid down good, modern destroyer classes since 1910 (the 6 Indomito in 1910-11, the 4 Ardito and Animoso in 1912, the 8 Pilo in 1913-14), and the 39 very successful coastal torpedo-boats of the PN, OS, AS and RM types, the Italian Navy found itself short of light warships in the surface war with Austria and against the U-boats in the Mediterrancan.

The Italian battlefleet, to which had been added a few obsolescent British battleships, did gain supremacy in the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, so Italy did not continue building the 4 Caracciolo class super-dreadnoughts, instead devoting her shipyards to building scouts, destroyers, torpedo-boats and submarines.
This construction programme was, unfortunately, restricted by the scarcity of steel, bronze and other materials. As partial compensation for the lack of light ships, the 4 scouts of the Vifor class (building or completing at Naples for the Rumanian Navy) were requisitioned.

The 4 Leone class ships were ordered, but could not be laid down, apparently for the lack of steel, while the 4 Sirtori class destroyers were laid down along with the 8 La Masa types. The 4 Palestro, the 4 Curtatone, the 6 Generali and a further 6 destroyers were also ordered, not one of which (of these 20 destroyers) could be laid down during hostilities. Precedence was given to smaller vessels: a further 30 coastal torpedo-boats were built, while work on a further 10 had to be abandoned.

Also during hostilities no fewer than 63 submarines were launched. But the most Italian torpedo carrier of this period was the MAS boat, of which as many as 299 were built, designed to act as torpedo-boats and for attacking submarines. Up to the end of the war, a further 50 USA-built Mas boats also entered service; these were larger but slower. They were numbered past 450. Dozens more were commissioned after the Armistice, both of the Italian type (fast and light) and of the American type, built in US and Italian yards.

Italian merchant traffic by then was extensive: 684 steamers worth 1,035,815 tons net and 517 sea-going sailing ships (210,814 tons) in 1916. For their escort 47 fishing boats, built in Japan and acquired and armed in 1916-17 were used for escort, but classified as vedette boats, and distinguished by the letter ‘G’ (for ‘Giappone’). To help land operations near the coast with Austria and shell enemy positions, notably around Carso, and Hermada, a number of monitors and self-propelled floating batteries were built or converted. They armed with medium and large-calibre guns up to 15-in, those requisitioned for the cancelled Caracciolo class super dreadnoughts in construction.

To defend Venice threatened by the Austro-German advance in October/November 1917, lighters and barges including some captured ex-Austrian ones and self-propelled and even unpowered floating batteries were converted and armed. This mostly happened at Venice Navy Yard. They fought gallantly in the canals and in the lagoon east of Venice. Furthermore, 57 minesweepers has been laid down, many commissioned in wartime. The fasterst and 16 modern merchant ships were also requisitioned and armed as cruisers, while 13 were converted to hospital ships. Tugs, fishing boats, patrol boats, small steamers were also requisitioned and armed to serve as auxiliary escorts, minesweepers and gunboats. The 1915-1918 cost Italy 8 destroyers and 6 torpedo-boats in addition to 3 battleships and 4 cruisers, 267 aircraft and 7 airships. The end of the war did not prevented the construction of 1 scout and 6 destroyers, and construction restarted for 2 flotilla leaders and 10 destroyers as steel and manpower shortages were no longer there.

War Prizes

As compensation for her own war losses, Italy demanded a Tegetthoff class battleship and one of the Radetsky class to replace the sunken battleships Leonardo da Vinci and Benedetto Brin. It did not obtain the two battleships, but was able to get 3 ex-German light cruisers, 3 ex-German and 9 ex-Austrian destroyers, while 2 small ex-Austrian torpedo-boats (110 tons) joined the Italian Customs Guard.

In addition, 62 ex-Austrian and 17 ex-German auxiliaries and minor vessels were commissioned in the Italian Navy. One oiler, of the 17 German ships, was built under the War Reparation account,
laid down after the war (in 1922) and commissioned in the Italian Navy as Urano; 2 tugs of the 62 Austrian ships found incomplete at Trieste were completed after the war for the Italian Navy. No former U-boats were maintained in working order: in fact, all the U-boats (13 ex-Austrian and 10 ex-German) allotted to Italy after the end of the war were scrapped.

-Premuda (ex-V116)

Premuda in Venice

The Vulcan-built 1917 destroyer, launched in March 1918 was a 2555 tonnes vessel, quite impressive compared to usual Italian destroyers. This was one of the Grosse Torpedoboote class built late in the war, transferred to Italy at Cherbourg. The Italians made some alterations to the design: They discarded the 600 mm torpedo tubes and replaced them by German-built 500 mm tubes. Also they added two twin mount Breda 13 mm AA. The ship was also modified to carry up to 40 mines. She was at first classed as a scout (espoloratori) and then destroyer in 1938. Before that she served with the cadets as a schoolship, had her TT replaced by 17.7 in Italian tubes, and a 4.7 in/15 light howitzer was installed on board in 1932. She was stricken on the first January 1939, well before the war began.

-Cesare Rossarol (ex-B97)
Cesare Rossarol

The Blohm & Voss Hamburg destroyer B97, three-funnelled, derived from designs derived from the Russian Novik originally made by Germany for Russia, was also a suitable war prize for Italy. She was also transferred at Cherbourg in 1920, and became an esploratori (scout) due to her size and range, and then destroyer in 1924. Four 105 mm/45 German guns replaced the lighter 8.8 cm guns. Her fore funnel was raised and while the original ship was able to reach 35 knots on paper, on new trials in 1923, at 60% power, the Rossarol reached 26.3 knots. Her top sea speed was around 30 knots. In 1931, her original 500 mm TTs were replaced by Italian 450 mm models. The aft boiler was removed, and a Sperry Gyro-stabilizer added. The next year, Rossarol was used as an experimental ship and disarmed, but in 1935 she was rearmed again and pressed in regular military service. She was however discarded in January 1939.

Ardimentoso (Ex-S49)
A typical hochseetorpedoboote, built at Schichau, and also transferred at Cherbourg. She was recommissioned in 1929 but her TT armament was replaced by Italian 17.7 in tubes, in side mountings and from 1931 she served as a training ship, being stricken in January 1939.

Fasana class destroyers (Ex-Tátra)
Tátra class

Probably the best prize of all for the Regia Marina were seven ex-Tátra class destroyers: The three originals (one lost) and the four of the improved second serie. These were certainly the best Austro-Hungarian destroyers by far, reaching 33 knots, with a long range and heavily armed. However knowing that these ships would be offered as war prize, the former crews did not maintained them and they were in poor condition when transferred. So much so that Tátra (renamed Fasana) and Balaton (Zenson) were never commissioned and stricken in 1923. The four others were renamed Muggia, Pola, Cortelazzo, Grado and Montfalcone and served with new Italian twin mounts 17.7 in TTs, two 6.5 mm Breda AA MGs. Muggia was lost off Hea Chu island on the coast of China in 1929 while the others were stricken in 1937-39. From 1929 they were classed as torpedo boats.

Conclusion: Italian interwar destroyers

destroyer Sella

Italy reached the end of the war with about 450,000 metric tonnes (France 700,000 tonnes), so after the signing of the Washington treaties of 1921/1922, the allocated tonnage was good news for Italy by obtaining parity; The scope of naval rivalry then changed towards France instantly. In light forces and submarines, Italy did not obtain parity with France however, even though at first France appeared willing to agree to this. In 1922 the destroyer Quintino Sella was laid down, the first unit of the 1922/1923 naval programme; the first since the end of the war.

Read More – Src

Navi da guerra | R. N. Fulmine 1898 | cacciatorpediniere
La Guerra Italo Turca – Betasom – XI Gruppo Sommergibili Atlantici
Forum Eerste Wereldoorlog :: Bekijk onderwerp – Regia Marina Italiana, 1914-1915
Franco Favre, La Marina nella Grande Guerra.
Beehler, William Henry (1913). The History of the Italian-Turkish War
Chesneau, Roger; Kolesnik, Eugene M (1979). Conway’s All The World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905.
Fraccaroli, Aldo (1970). Italian Warships of World War 1.
“Lampo”. Purnell’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Modern Weapons and Warfare.
// Fulmine, Cacciatorpediniere
// Domenico Pacini,
the forgotten pioneer of the discovery of cosmic rays

Nomenclature of Italian destroyers

Fulmine (1912)

The Fulmine was the first Italian destroyer, and one of the few existing in 1898. It was designed by Chief Engineer Ernesto Martinez in 1896, started in 1897 and in service in 1900. Experimental, it did not give full satisfaction. His hull too low was harmed in heavy weather, its speed lower than expected (26.5 knots expected, 24 painfully reached the tests). Its initial armament consisted of 5 pieces of 57 mm and 3 TLT of 305 mm, too ambitious. In 1901, it passed to 1 piece of 76 mm, 3 of 57 mm and 2 TLT. The fulmine having a short radius of action (800 nautical at 15 knots), it took part only by far in the war of the Balkans and did not see much the fire during the great war. It was demolished in 1920.



Displacement: 293 t – 337 t FL
Dimensions: 62.17 x 6.41 x 2.30 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4 Blechynden boilers, 4729 ihp, 24 knots.
Crew: 48
Armament: 1 x 76, 3 x 57 mm, 2 x 305 mm TTs.

Lampo class (1899)

In 1899, the Italian Navy ordered six destroyers from the German shipyard Schichau-Werke of Elbing, in Prussia. The design was typical of Schichau hochseetorpedoboote, with a raised turtleback forecastle, as well as a ram bow and two funnels.
60.00 metres (196 ft 10 in) long (62.05 metres overall) for 6.50 metres (21 ft 4 in) wide they Displaceed 315 and up to 348 long tons fully loaded.

Powered by two triple expansion steam engines fed by four Thornycroft water-tube boilers for a total output 6,000 ihp (4,500 kW) they reached 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) as design, around 31 on trials. Coal provision gave them an endurance of 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km; 2,300 mi) at low cruising speed.

The Lampo, Freccia, Dardo and Euro were armed with a 76 mm (3 in)/40 forward gun, firing 5.9 kg (13 lb) shells to 9,850 metres, at 15 rpm plus five 57 mm/43 guns. Strale and Ostro had an uniform battery of six 57 mm guns and two 356 mm (14 in) torpedo tubes. Laid down in 1899-1900 they were completed in 1900-1902. Fast on trials at 31 knots (57 km/h; 36 mph) seaworthiness was so poor they barely ran at 25 knots in service.

During the Italo-Turkish War Freccia ran aground in a storm off Tripoli by 12 October 1911, and the others operated along the coast of Libya, and Dodecanese. When WW1 broke out, the class was part of the 6th Destroyer Division in Libya. They were modified for minelaying, but were used as escorts off North African and in the Tyrrhenian Sea, fitted with depht charges for ASW patrols. Disposed on in 1922, they were stricken gradually starting in November 1924.


Displacement: 315 long tons (320 t) normal/348 fully loaded
Dimensions: 60.00/62.05 m oa x 6.50 m x 2.60 m
Propulsion: 2 VTE steam engines, 4× Thornycroft boilers, 6,000 ihp (4,500 kW)
Speed: 31 knots (57 km/h; 36 mph), Range: 290/2,000 nmi at 12 knots
Complement: 59
Armament: 1 × 76 mm, 5 × 57 mm/43, 2× 356 mm (14 in) TTs

Nembo class (1901)

RN Turbine before refit.

In 1899 the Pattison shipyard of Naples received its order for destroyers and submitted a blueprint which was accepted. They were the first destroyers of the yard, and in stark contrast to the previous Lampo class. Indeed they were based on a Thornycroft Thirty-knotter destroyer, such as HMS Stag.

The six Nembo class (Nembo, Turbine Aquilone, Borea, Zeffiro, Espero) measured 64.0 metres (210 ft 0 in) long overall by 5.94 metres (19 ft 6 in) in width for a 2.29 metres (7 ft 6 in) draft. They displaced 325 long tons (330 t) and up to 380 long tons (390 t) fully loaded. Unlike the German design of the Lampo, they had three Thornycroft boilers feeding two triple expansion steam engines for a total output of 5,000 indicated horsepower (3,700 kW). This power was passed on two propeller shafts for a total of 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph). They also had a slightly raised turtleback forecastle, and two widely spaced funnels.

They diverged in armament: The Nembo and Turbine had a 76 mm (3 in)/40 gun (5.9 kilograms (13 lb) shell, range 9,850 metres (32,320 ft) 15 rpm) plus five 12-pdr (57 mm/43) guns, and two 356 mm (14 in) torpedo tubes. The other four had five 12-pdr but this freed space for four 356 mm torpedo tubes. On trials, these destroyers were capable of reaching 30.2 knots (55.9 km/h; 34.8 mph) on average, but in practice, fully loaded, this was down to 27 knots and far less in heavy weather.

Nembo and Turbine were finally rearmed in 1905 to match the torpedo armament of the others. In 1908 they were al taken in hands in drydocs for refitting of their powerplant, with new oil-fired boilers. Their appareance was altered as a result, with three funnels rather than two. The increase of oil storage resulted in a range of 330 nautical miles (610 km; 380 mi) at 25 knots and up to 2,200 nautical miles (4,100 km; 2,500 mi) at economical speed of 9 knots. Also the armament was altered again, with the 12-pdr disposed of in favour of four 76 mm/40 guns but less TTs, just two 450 mm (18 in), compensated by the larger caliber.

RN Espero
RN Espero before refit (1905)

The six destroyers participated actively in the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912, fitted for minelaying (10–16 mines). Three were lost in action during WW1 and the survivors saw a boiler removed, also with a funnel and a 76 mm gun to make them lighter. They were reclassified as torpedo boats and discarded in 1923.


Displacement: 315 long tons (320 t) normal/348 fully loaded
Dimensions: 60.00/62.05 m oa x 6.50 m x 2.60 m
Propulsion: 2 VTE steam engines, 4× Thornycroft boilers, 6,000 ihp (4,500 kW)
Speed: 31 knots (57 km/h; 36 mph), Range: 290/2,000 nmi at 12 knots
Complement: 59
Armament: 1 × 76 mm, 5 × 57 mm/43, 2× 356 mm (14 in) TTs

Soldati class (1906)

These light vessels, of the “high seas torpedo boat” type of this time, derived from the Nembo but designed to rech 28 knots and more. They were designed by Ansaldo in Genoa, the specialist in light units. The first six ships of the series (Artigliere, Bersagliere, Granatiere, Corazziere, Garibaldino, and Lanciere), burned coal and had Thornycroft boilers. They initially had a short mast that was raised when they received the wireless telegraphy.

The second group included AIpino, Fuciliere and Pontiere, walking on oil and launched in 1909-10. They had the typical defect of units of this generation, poor behavior in heavy weather and limited autonomy. They all survived the war except the Garibaldino, which sank in July 1918 following a nightly collision with HMS Cygnet. Their disarmament took place in 1923-29, but by 1921 they had been reclassified as torpedo boats.

Soldati class
Author’s profile of the Soldati class

Displacement: 394-424 tons FL
Dimensions: 65 x 6 x 2 m
Propulsion: 2 shaft VTE, 3 Thornycroft boilers, 6000 hp, 28-29 knots.
Crew: 55n.
Armament: 4 x 76 mm, 3 x 450 mm TTs, 10 mines.

Indomito class (1912)

Defined by the admiralty as a new generation of destroyers, equipped for the first time with turbines, the Indomito were designed by engineer Luigi Scala from Pattison in Naples. This drawing was so successful that it gave rise to a long line of “cane” (three pipes) until the early twenties, including no less than 5 classes very similar. In addition to their turbines, giving them 35 knots and more, they were 350 tons heavier and better armed than the old Nembo and Soldati. Only their armament in torpedoes (two tubes) was considered insufficient and strengthened thanks to the installation of two twin banks.

Short stern rails were also fitted for the boarding of 10 mines. Their oil capacity was also increased, and the Impetuoso was sunk on July 10, 1916 by U17 in the Strait of Otranto and Intrepido on December 4, 1914 near Valona by UC14. In addition to these 6 buildings, the Ardito and Ardente were launched in 1912 in Orlando, Leghorn, bringing the class to 8 units. In 1929 they were reclassified as torpedo boats. The Insidioso participated in the second world war and was sunk in 1944, the others being erased in 1937.

Indomito class
Indomito class destroyers


Displacement: 770-850 tonnes FL
Dimensions: 73 x 7.3 x 2.7 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts Tosi turbines, 4 Thornycroft boilers, 16,000 hp, 35.5 knots.
Crew: 79 men.
Armament: 1 x 120mm/40, 4 x 76 mm/40 DP, 2 x 450 mm TTs, 10 mines.

Ardito class (1913)

Near-copy-paste of the Indomito class, but designe by Orlando shipyards at Leghorn. In 1915 their single TTs were replaced by twin mountings whereas their deck receive rails for mines. by 1918 and up to 1920 thy received new 4-in/35 guns plus a single 40 mm/40 AA gun and two 6.5 mm Breda AA MG. Reclassed as TBs and discarded in 1931 (Ardito) and 1937 (Ardente).


Displacement: 695-790 tonnes FL
Dimensions: As indomito
Propulsion: 2 shafts Tosi turbines, 4 Thornycroft boilers, 15,730 hp, 33.4 knots.
Crew: 68 men.
Armament: As Indomito

Audace class (1914)

Audace and Animoso were made at Orlando Yard, base don Indomito design from Pattison. They tried Swiss Escher-Wyss turbines which gave no satisfaction. These were replaced later by Zoelly turbines combined to White Forster boilers. Designed for 30 knots they exceeded these figures. With 15,000 hp Audace reached 36.1 knots, the best ever performance by any Italian destroyer so far. Range was 950 nm at 14 knots down to 300 at 27 knots.

They were armed as the Indomito class and recoignisable to their two funnels. Audace sank after a collision in August 1916 in the Ionian sea with SS Brasile while secorting a convoy by night. Animoso was rearmed like other destroyers of the Indomito class in 1916, two 40 mm/40 DP but retained her original two TTs. She suffered a booiler explosion on 29 July 1921 and was paid off and stricken in 1923. See a 2 view tech drawing


Displacement: 750-840 tonnes FL
Dimensions: 75.5 x 7.5 x 2.6 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts Zoelly turbines, 4 Thornycroft boilers, 16,000 hp, 36 knots.
Crew: 75 men.
Armament: As Indomito

Pilo class (1915)

rosolino pilo
Based on the Insidioso of 1912-13, the Pilo were a complete repetition of the same design, with some minor differences: They abandoned their unique 4.7 in (120 mm) gun in favor of six 3-in (76 mm) including two AA guns, two mine rails and two twin banks for 450 mm TTs.

These were 8 ships ordered at the beginning of the war, built in Odero, Sestri, and two in Pattison of Naples, with autonomy progressed thanks to new larger tanks carrying 150 tons of fuel oil, and cruise turbines, giving them a lower speed but being more resilient. They suffered no casualties during the war and were reclassified in 1929 as torpedo-boats and rearmed. They were all on duty during the Second World War.


Displacement: 770-850 tons FL
Dimensions: 73 x 7.3 x 2.7 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Thornycroft boilers, 17,000 hp, 30 knots.
Crew: 79 men.
Armament: 4 x 76 mm, 2 x 76 mm AA, 4 x 450 mm TTs, 10 mines.

Audace (ii) (1916)

This unique ship with a long and eventful career was actually an order placed by Japan at Yarrow’s English shipyard in 1915. She was supposed to be a sister-ship of Urakaze. Finally, following an agreement with Japan after the entry into the war of Italy, the Kawakaze was transferred, not yet completed, July 5, 1915, and renamed Intrepido, then launched on September 27, 1916 and renamed again Audace, second name (the first was sunk in August).

Her machines, initially delivered by Germany, were never mounted, and the ships was given a classic British propulsion. Finally, she was rearmed entirely by the Italian, quite heavily. Audace(ii) served as a test ship for the side-mounted dual torpedo banks, and gave full satisfaction in service. After 1929, she served as a San Marco radio control vessel, used as a target ship. In 1939, she was operational as a destroyer and rearmed in 1942. Captured by the Germans in October 1943 and renamed TA20 she was sunk in November 1944 during a memorable artillery duel in front of Zara (Dalmatian coast) against the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale and Wheatland.

audace class
Audace destroyer appearance by the author

Excellent documentary (in Italian) about the 2016 discovery of the wreck of the Audace in German service (TA20) and last wartime action in November 1944.


Displacement: 922 – 1170 tons FL
Dimensions: 87.5 x 8.3 x 2.5 m
Propulsion: 2 shaft Brown-Boveri turbines, 3 Yarrow boilers, 22,000 hp, 35 knots.
Armament: 2 x 102mm/30, 2 x 40 mm AA, 4 x 450 mm TTs, 10 mines.
Crew: 118 men.

Sirtori class (1916)

These four ships were designed as improved Pilos, built at Odero and operational in the course of the year 1917. Their artillery was much larger, and their torpedo tubes banks were placed on the flanks. They were active during the Great War.

In 1920 they had their 102 mm/35 wapped for /45 caliber. In 1929 they were reclassified as torpedo boats, and they served during the Second World War. They served as a model for the La Masa class destroyers launched in 1917-19, four of which were operational in 1918: La Masa, Bassini, Cairoli and Carini. The Benedetto Cairoli was the only loss “in action” after a fatal night collision with the Carini in the Ionian Sea on March 10, 1918.


Displacement: 790-850 tons FL
Dimensions: 73.5 x 7.3 x 2.8 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts Tosi turbines, 4 Thornycroft boilers, 15,500 hp, 30 knots.
Crew: 85 men.
Armament: 6 x 102, 2 x 40 mm AA, 2 HMGs, 4 x 450 mm TTs, 10 mines.

La Masa class (1917)

Nicola Fabrizi

This class was an enlargement and improvement of the Audace (i) class, laid down in 1912 and launched in 1913. Eight destroyers were ordered by the Italian Navy from Orlando on 31 December 1915, but owing to lack of steel and other materials only the first four (Palestro class) could be laid down in wartime, late in April-May 1917, and completed after the end of the war (from
January 1921 to April 1923). In 1930 their fore funnel was remarkably lengthened. On 1 October 1938 the ships were reclassed as torpedo-boats.

Immediately before World War Two, it was projected to replace the central 4in gun and the two 3in AA guns with 4-20mm MGs (1×2, 2×1), but this plan was not carried out. Confienza sank in collision with the AMC Capitano A Cecchi off Brindisi. Palestro sank off Durazzo by a torpedo from HM Submarine Osiris.

San Martino captured by the Germans in the Piraeus on 9 September 1943, recommissioned under German colours on 28 October with the designation TA 18, changed on 16 November to TA 17. Her German armament was: 3-4in/45, 6-20mm/65 MGs, 4-17.7in TT. Severely damaged at Piraeus 18 September 1944 by British bombing and sunk there by another British air raid Solferino captured by the Germans in Suda Bay (Crete) on 9 September 1945, recommissioned 25 July 1944 under their colours as TA 18, with 4-4in/4, 2-20mm/65 MGs, no TT. Sunk off Volos (Greece) in action with the British destroyers Termagant and Tuscan.


Displacement: 785-851 tonnes
Dimensions: As Sirtori
Propulsion: As Sirtori but range 2230 nm/12.5 knots
Crew: 78 men.
Armament: As Sirtori

Palestro class (1917)


An improvemnent of the La Masa class and therefore the 4th series of improved Indomitos, with only 3-4in guns, but placed in the centre line, so the broadside firepower was the same. All reclassed as torpedo-boats on 1 October 1929.

From 1939 the 2-3in/40 AA guns were replaced by 4-20mm/65 and from 2 to 4-8mm MGs. Cantore sunk by mine off Ras-el-Tin (Libya). Cascino scuttled at La Spezia. Chinotto sunk by mines, off Palermo. Montanari scuttled at La Spezia, by her own crew on 9 September 1943; rescued by the Germans, but not employed by them, and again scuttled. Wreck refloated 1949 and scuttled.

Papa scuttled at La Spezia by her crew, captured by the Germans who recommissioned her on 17 October 1943 as TA 7, but next day renamed again as SG 20. New German armament: 2-37mm/54, 16-20mm/65 or 70 MGs.
Damaged by mine 1 November 1943; sunk 6 January 1944 in Genoa harbour and towed to beach on 12 January. Hit by aircraft bombs. Wreck towed to Oneglia for blocking that harbour and sunk at its entrance, Prestinari sunk by mine off Sicily.

San Martino

Palestro class Specifications

Displacement: 875-1076 tons FL
Dimensions: 81.9 x 8 x 2.8 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts Zoelly turbines, 4 Thornycroft boilers, 18,000 hp, 31 knots.
Crew: 118 men.
Armament: 4x 102mm/40, 2x 40mm/40 AA, 2 HMGs, 2×2 450 mm TTs, 10-38 mines.

Improved INDOMITO (5th series) class destroyers
The Italian Navy ordered another class of six-700 metric tonnes destroyers from Pattison Yards, of Naples (names not yet allotted), but cancelled it by the end of the 1914-18 war.

Generali class (1918)

Generale Prestinari
Generale Marcello 1923 – Prestinari src: Agence Rol

This class, designed by Odero Yards of Sestri Ponente, was also known as the third series of the improved Indomitos, and repeated the Sirtori class with some alterations: only 4-4in guns, but 45 calibres long and differently placed 2-3in/40 AA guns instead of the 2-40mm/39 MGs. Benedetto Cairoli sank, at night, in the Ionian Sea, after colliding with her sister ship Giacinto Carini.

Agostino Bertani was renamed Enrico Cosenz on 16 January 1921. The ships were reclassed as torpedo-boats on 1 October 1929. La Farina sunk near buoy no 4 off Kerkennah Is (Tunisia), probably by mine. During the Second World War the armament was modified: Bassini, Cosenz, Fabrizi and Medici had 3 or 2-4in/45 guns, 6-20mm/65 MGs and 2 or 4-17.7in TT; Carini and La Masa
had 1-4in/45, 8-20mm/65 MGs, 3-2lin (1×3) and 2-17.7in (1×2) TT.

Bassini was sunk in Leghorn harbour by bombing. Cosenz (ex-Bertani) damaged in collision with SS Ulisse, on 25 September 1943 off Lagosta; severely damaged by German bombs; scuttled by her crew at Lagosta. Carini converted to minesweeper in 1953; stricken from the Naval List, but used for several years as a
training hulk for schools (distinctive letters: GM 517) at La Maddalena, Sardinia. Fabrizi converted to minesweeper in 1952. La Masa scuttled in Naples harbour, where she was under repair. Medici sunk in Catania harbour, by aircraft bomb; her wreck refloated in 1952 and scrapped.

‘Generali’ class Specifications

Displacement: 810-870 tons FL
Dimensions: 73.5 x 7.3 x 2.7-3.0 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts Tosi turbines, 4 Thornycroft boilers, 15,500 hp, 32 knots
Crew: 106 men
Armament: 3x 102mm/45, 2x 40mm/40 AA, 2×2 450 mm TTs

Curtatone class (1920)


Ordered by the Italian Navy on 31 December 1915, at the same time as the 4 Palestros, but, owing to lack of steel, their construction was postponed and their design – originally identical to the Palestros – was modified on the basis of the experience gained with the name ship of that class.

The Curtatone class were 4.51 m longer also for attaining a higher speed, and were fitted with twin mountings for the 4in guns and triple mountings for the TTs: These were respectively the first twin gun mountings and the first TT triple mounting aboard Italian destroyers. The first ship, Curtatone, was laid down on 3 January 1920. As for the Palestros, their fore funnel was considerably lengthened circa 1930-32.

Reclassed as torpedo-boats 1 October 1938. During World War 2, two of the 2-3in guns were replaced by 2-20mm/70 MGs and 2-8mm MGs were added. Curtatone was sunk by the explosion of one or two mines in Saronikos. In 1942-43 Calatafımi’s and Monzambano’s aft twin gun mounting was replaced by one single gun, and Calatafimi’s 6–17.7in TT were replaced by 2-2lin TT (1×2). For WW2 career see the page about ww2 Italian destroyers.

Curtatone in 1942.

Curtatone class Specifications

Displacement: 1107-1214 tons FL
Dimensions: 84.7 x 8 x 3 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts Zoelly turbines, 4 Thornycroft boilers, 22,000 hp, 33 knots.
Crew: c110 men.
Armament: 4x 102, 2x 40 mm AA, 2×3 450 mm TTs, 16 mines.

Poerio class destroyer leaders (1915)

Cesare Rossarol
Cesare Rossarol

In 1912 the Admiralty, like Great Britain, launched several classes of heavy destroyers, leaders and flotilla scouts. However, they had the classification of “scout cruisers”. The first, started at Ansaldo of Genoa, were Alessandro Poerio, Gugliemo Pepe, and Cesare Rossarol, started in June-July 1913. They were launched in August-September 1914 and completed in May-August 1915.

The Esploratori Gugliemo Pepe
The Esploratori Gugliemo Pepe

They had a powerful armament, with no less than 2 quads of torpedo tubes, but only 4 pieces of 102 mm, which was later changed into two double benches and 6 pieces. With 20,000 hp, they could sail at 31 knots. Shortly after admission to service, the Pepe was equipped with two pieces of 76mm DCA, removed in 1917 when these three buildings were equipped with two 40mm Vickers quick-fire guns. Finally in 1918 they were rearmed with pieces of 102 mm 45 calibres of the new model (instead of 35 originally).

Destroyer Teruel in Spanish service

The war had just ended in a few days when the Rossarol jumped on a mine on November 16, 1918. In 1921, they were reclassified as destroyers, which was more in line with their tonnage, and while the Pepe served as a test ship for a Sperry gyrostabilizer, the two ships were removed from the lists in June 1938 and transferred to Nationalist Spain, which actively implemented them. Renamed Teruel and Huesca, they were demolished only in 1947-49.

Illustration of the Alessandro Poerio by the author


Displacement: 1030t, 1216t. FL
Dimensions: 85 x 8 x 3 m
Propulsion: 2 shaft turbines Belluzzo, 4 Yarrow boilers, 20,000 hp, 32 knots
Crew: 129
Armament:6 x 102 mm, 4 x 450 mm (2×2) TTs, 42 mines.

Mirabello class destroyer leaders (1915)

Mirabello class destroyers
These three “scout-cruisers” were defined according to the same specifications as the previous three Poerio, but the 1913 plan provided for buildings with an autonomy worthy of light cruisers, armor and heavier weaponry, which required a tonnage increased to 5,000 tonnes.

The company Ansaldo from Geneva, appointed commissioner, worked with the engineer Nabor Soliani to design an economic compromise between a cruiser of 5,000 tons and destroyers like the Poerio. They were started in Nov-Dec. 1914 and February 1915 and put into service in August and September 1916 and April 1917. The class included Carlo Mirabello, Carlo Alberto Racchia and Augusto Riboty, classified as scout cruisers.

The Mirabello were much heavier and taller than the first, with their large hulls making it possible to build Parsons turbines and large Yarrow boilers, for a final speed of 35 knots or more at testing. They varied considerably in armament, the Racchia and the Riboty being equipped with seven 102 mm guns and a single 152 mm on their forecastle, armament copied in 1917 by the Mirabello, but abandoned for the three in 1919, because their hull was too light to accommodate such a piece of artillery and it causes stability problems.

In 1922, they saw two 40 mm AA Vickers guns installed in addition of their old 76 mm guns. The Racchia hit on a mine off Odessa, July 21, 1920, while in support to the “white” Russians, and the other two saw action during the Second World War alongside the three Leone of the same model launched in 1924, before the latter were sent in Abyssinia. The Mirabello hit on a mine 21 May 1941 off the Albanian coast, and the Riboty was rearmed twice and finally disarmed in 1951.

Illustration of the Carlo Mirabello by the author


Displacement: 1785t, 1970t. FL
Dimensions: 103.7 x 9.7 x 3.3 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Yarrow boilers, 44,000 hp. and 33-35 knots
Crew: 169
Armament: 8 x 102, 2 x 76 AA, 2 MG, 2 x 450 mm TTs, 100-120 mines.

Aquila class destroyer leaders (1917)

Originally these four destroyers had been ordered by the Romanian government at the Pattison shipyards of Naples. They wanted to oppose the fast and very well armed Russian destroyers of the Black Sea fleet. Designed by Luigi Scaglia in 1913, they were originally designed to accommodate three 4.7 in guns (102 mm) and five TTs, and make a 10 hours run at full speed. The requisition came on June 5, 1915 when the three units were under construction by the Italian government, which had chosen the side of the triple entente.

But construction was difficult because of the lack of manpower and equipment, and Aquila was launched in July 1917, Nibbio in March 1917 and Sparviero in January 1918 while Falco was delayed launched until August 1919. Finally, they entered all but the last in service in February 1918 (Aquila), July 1917 (Sparviero) and April 1918 (Nibbio). Falco was not completed until 1920. They had been rearmed with the intended three 6-in guns 152 mm to replicate to the Austro-Hungarian scout cruisers of the Spaun class, but their weight and slow rate of fire had them removed after the war. Two were sold to Nationalist Spain in January 1939 (Melilla and Ceuta) and two were purchased as intended first by Romania in July 1920 as Mărășesti and Mărăști (or Marasesti and Marastià.

Romanian scout Mărăști in the black sea

In 1920, the Nibbio and the Sparviero after being transferred to their first sponsors were quite active during WW2 in the blac sea. See the Romanian navy in WW2 for more. The Melilla and Ceuta served with the Spanish Navy in WW2 remaining neutral and making patrols, until they were discarded in 1948. A good service span for ships designed in 1913 !

Illustration of the Aquila by the author


Displacement: 1600t, 1730-60t. FL
Dimensions: 94.7 x 9.5 x 3.6 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts Tosi turbines, 5 Thornycroft boilers: 39,500 hp. 38 knots.
Crew: 146
Armament: 3 x 152, 6 x 76, 2 MG, 4 x 450 mm TTs (2×2), 24-44 mines.

Leone class destroyer leaders (1919)

Pantera - leone class

These powerful destroyers were actually considered scouting cruisers during their construction. The two Mirabello in 1916, and the three Leone in 1923. Pretty close in terms of their general conception, the Leone were much larger and heavier. The first, 2,000 tons, participated in both conflicts, and the second, of 2300 tons, only the last.

They were known in the fleet as “scouts”, and were reclassed as destroyers in 1938. They had great firepower. Both classes had 8 pieces of 102 mm and two guns of 40 mm originally. In 1938, 13.2 mm heavy machine guns were added to these ships, and in 1943 the Riboty (Mirabello class) received 20 mm guns instead of four of their 102 mm guns.

The Riboty survived the conflict and although offered to Russia in war damage, refused and BU in Italy in 1951. The Mirabello was sunk by a mine in 1941. The three Leone received a few 13.2 mm machine gun mounts and were used during the conflict although their design was old (they were designed to support the Mirabello in 1917, but their construction stopped due to a lack of resources and manpower). All three were scuttled in March 1941 in Marsawa, Abyssinia, in the end of the East African campaign.

Quarto (1911)

Quarto (1911)

Italian Navy Italy (1911) Scout Cruiser

The best Italian scout cruiser

The Quarto was the third Italian modern scout cruiser in service in 1915, when Italy went at war on the side of the entente. She was a light protected cruiser of the Regia Marina started in 1910 at Venice Admiralty NyD and often favourably compared to the Nino Bixio class. They traded speed for protection, but kept a reasonable armament, and she was a reliable gun platform, and a seaworthy vessel. Contrary to the disappointing Bixio and Marsala she was praised and used extensively during the Great war, having also a substantial career after the war, seeing WW2, but as a blockship. Her succession was represented by three “flotilla leaders” classes of 1916-1921, the Poerio, Mirabello and Leone classes, later reclassed as destroyers.

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Italian scout cruisers

Agordat class
The Agordat and Coatit (22 knots) were just too slow as scouts in 1909

There has been a tradition of scouts in the Regia Marina, called “esploratori”, already in the 1860s. These were called “dispatch vessels” and were indeed very fast mixed paddle wheels vessels designed to carry orders from the admiral to other ships or battle line squadrons in operations. But in practice they were very much used as scouts. To the old Sesia rebuilt in 1862, succeeded the Esploratore class, the Vedetta (1866), Staffetta, Rapido (1876), Messaggero (1885), Barbarigo class (1879) and Archimedes class (1887). 1880-90s torpedo cruisers were too slow, but the last scouts were the Agordat class protected cruisers in 1899 designed by Nabor Soliani of Castellamare N Yd.

They were too slow to be effective as such. These 1300 tonnes, 300 feets vessels were the only modern “scouts” of the Navy when in 1907 it was decided to study a new class of such ships at a time the new Dreadnought type required a much faster vessel. This was even more obvious with the appearance of the battlecruisers in 1909. With their 23 knots on paper, rather 21-22 in practice and almost at forced heating, the Agordat and Coatit were indeed quite inappropriate.

Italian cruiser Quarto - Postcard
Italian cruiser Quarto – Postcard

Design of the Quarto

Hull construction and specifics

The Quarto was designed by Lieutenant Commander Giulio Truccone, as a scout cruiser, the first since the 1890s Agordat class. Truccone, from the Genio Navale established specifications and the general specifications, before the design was refined and blueprints generated at the Venice Admiralty naval yard design bureau. Time had passed since the Agordat and both the Dreadnought and new British scout cruisers confirmed the turbine was the only way forward to achieve greater speeds. Truccone took an active part in the interwar with the Comitato Progretti Navi, designing successful destroyers classes.

The basic drawing was relatively simple, with a slim hull, forecastle, three heavenly spaced funnels and artillery fore and aft, and in side sponsons. She was also fitted with a pair of pole masts and two conning towers, one at each end. The hull was was 126 meters (413 ft) long at the waterline, 131.6 m (432 ft) overall with a 12.8 m (42 ft) beam and a 4.1 m (13 ft) draft. Displacement i service was 3,271 long tons (3,323 t) standard, up to 3,442 long tons (3,497 t) fully loaded and battle ready. She carried 13 officers and 234 sailors.


Due its intended role, the cursor was definitively placed on speed. The only way to achieve it was to use steam turbines instead of the classic VTEs (Vertical Tubes Steam, or piston Engines) which proved not able to deliver. So Quarto became the very first Italian cruiser to be fitter with turbines, a landmark in the Regia Marina history.

The powerplant consisted in four Parsons steam turbines driving a bronze propeller of 2.1 m diameter each. Steam came from eight oil-fired boilers and two mixed coal/oil-fired Blechynden boilers. The latter were discarded on the ling run. They were trunked into three funnels and total output as registered by the yard was 25,000 horsepower (19,000 kW) for a designed top speed of 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph). Trials saw her exceeding these figures with 29,215 ihp (21,786 kW) produced for 28.61 kn (52.99 km/h; 32.92 mph).

Quarto was about to achieve 2,300 nautical miles (4,300 km; 2,600 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph), reduced to 588 nautical miles or 1,089 km (677 land miles) at top speed. This allowed her to reach her Mediterranean destination and then race to the supposed position of the enemy, spot it and run back to safety.


As expected, Quarto’s protection was sacrificed to achieve greater speeds, consisting of a 38 mm (1.5 in) thick armoured deck above the waterline, and wall 100 mm (3.9 in) around her main conning tower.


Quarto’s armament was reasonably good, with six 120 mm (4.7 in) L/50 guns single mounts. The forecastle had two side by side, two more on the main deck further aft, two on the upper deck, behind the rear conning tower. In addition they were slightly offset, the port gun being further aft to allow greater margin when firing, not having the blast endangering the crews.
These guns were of the Pattern EE type (used also on the Dante Alighieri and Conte di Cavour, coming from by Armstrong Whitworth. They were completed by six 76 mm (3 in) L/50 guns, Pattern ZZI for close range defence. To complete this, the Quarto also carried two 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes placed in deck banks, but after commission they were replaced by submerged tubes. She was also given rails to carry some 200 naval mines, although this was never done in service.

The Quarto in action

illustration of the Quarto

Quarto was was laid down on 14 November 1909, was launched on 19 August 1911 in Venice (two years, which was relatively long) and fitted-out by early 1913 to be commissioned on 31 March 1913. Her early service was at first limited both to the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. She has been badly damaged by a fire was was long held in repairs, emerging by May 3, 1914 . Italy was neutral in August 1914, but no longer by July 1915, convinced by the Triple Entente. The Regia Marina was soon pitted against the Austro-Hungarian Navy.

However the Navy chief of staff Admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel feared the presence of Austro-Hungarian submarines in the narrow waters of the Adriatic and preferred to bar their way with minefields. Very soon, the Tarento barrage, a mixed mines and patrol ships blockading line at the southern end of the Adriatic, was set in place, with MAS boats ready to take action at a moment notice. This did not prevent raids to be mounted on Austro-Hungarian assets along the coast.

Quarto and the two Nino Bixio-class cruisers was based at Brindisi, near the barrage, and the most likely to intervene in case of an Austro-Hungarian sortie. Quarto made numerous sorties, and apparently met enemy submarines several times, which all torpedoed but failed to hit her, misjudged her speed as a result of her very shallow draft and misleading wave pattern. She became therefore the only Italian cruiser to effectively roam the Adriatic in relative impunity. In total she held 54 combat missions, plus 9 escort missions, totalling 1336 hours of navigation.

Quarto 1925
Esploratore Quarto in 1925

By December 1915, two Austro-Hungarian scout cruisers and five destroyers fell onto transports supplying the Serbian Army trapped in Albania. Quarto (Rear Admiral Silvio Bellini), assisted by the British cruiser HMS Dartmouth and five French destroyers, rushed from Brindisi. A second wave comprising Nino Bixio, HMS Weymouth and four Italian destroyers followed closely. Quarto and Dartmouth spotted and engaged SMS Helgoland, making a long-range gunnery duel. Helgoland however was faster and escaped after the fall of darkness. In May 1917, Rear Admiral Alfredo Acton took the head of the squadron, raising his mark on the Quarto. However the latter missed the Battle of the Otranto Straits having no time to steam up when the force learned of the Austro-Hungarian raid. The war ended, and contrary to the mediocre Nino Bixio class, Quarto was kept in service.

The Quarto in Varna circa 1925

In 1926–1927 she was modernized, with all oil-firing boilers and carrying a Macchi M.18 seaplane. Quarto was sent to East Asian waters in the early 1930s, replaced the cruiser Libia on station. She became the flagship of the 2nd Division Torpedo Bomber, and made numerous missions between the red sea and China.

She was transferred back to Africa, supporting the Second Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935–1936. Her old 3-in (76 mm) guns were replaced by 13.2 mm (0.52 in) Breda heavy machine guns by that time. She became the flagship of Rear Admiral Alberto di Moriondo and operated off Spain as part of the non-intervention patrols during the Spanish Civil War. On 24 May 1937 she was attacked by Spanish Republican bombers, and took near-hits as she was moored in Palma, Majorca.

By August 1938 one of her old boilers exploded. But she was repaired and remained in service before WW2 erupted, stricken on 5 January 1939. She was towed from La Spezia to Livorno, and her hull was demilitarize, and used for experiments, notably as target for the new SLC human torpedo. This was precious for setting up the Decima Flottiglia MAS, in early 1940. Three SLCs indeed successfully planted dummy explosives under her hull. By November 1940, she was targeted by MT explosive motorboats equipped with reduced charges which nevertheless caused significant damage to Quarto hull, to the point she quickly sank. However she was towed and her wreckage was used to block the entrance to the port of Livorno in July 1944.


Mussolini’s Navy a reference guide 1930-45
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

Blueprint of the Quarto
Blueprint of the Quarto

Quarto specifications

Dimensions 131,6 m x 12,8 m x 4,1 m (432 x 42 x 13 fts)
Displacement 3,281 t standard, 3,441 tonnes FL
Crew 12 + 311
Propulsion 2 shaft Parsons turbines, 10 boilers, total 25 000 hp
Speed 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph)
Range 2,300 nmi (4,300 km; 2,600 mi) @ 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Armament 6× 120 mm (4.7 in), 6× 76 mm (3 in), 2x 47 mm, 2× 450 mm (17.7 in) TTs, 200 mines
Armor Deck: 38 mm (1.5 in), Conning tower: 100 mm (3.9 in)