A Navy torn apart by a civil war

The Spanish Armada was one of the strongest second-rank navy in Europe by 1925, with a stray of new ships constructions authorized by the naval law of February 1915 but ordered after the war. With three battleships, about ten cruisers (althought most were obsolete, but two brand new heavy cruisers in construction) fifty plus destroyers and torpedo boats and a dozen submarines, a seaplane carrier, minelayers and numerous gunboats, this was a force to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, political turmoil following a radical change of regime in Spain with the arrival of the leftist Republicans to power provoked a deep political shift that would result ultimately in a rebellion led by Franco and a bloody civil war that would scar forever the country’s history and which consequence was far reaching, not only for Europe at that time but up to these days. Some wounds are not healed up yet. With the active support of the future axis powers, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, Franco’s rebellion ultimately became victorious and a reactionary regime was set in place which lasted until 1975.

Spanish Civil War ships

On the naval front, the Armada was at first in the hands of the Republicans, which had a considerable advantage and could blockade the Nationalists, notably around Gibraltar, preventing them to ship forces from Africa. However the capture of Ferrol Naval yard was a turning point as it brings with it in Nationalists hands (and not without a fight by loyalist Republican crews), a battleship, several cruisers, destroyers and submarines which could in turn direct their own blockade on the Republicans. This ensured several naval clashes, first for the control of Gibraltar and later, coastal cities or the seizure of the Baleares. Despite a last-ditch victory at Cape Palos in March 1938, and amidst internal political divisions between Republican groups, and conditioned support of Soviet aid, and no help from the Democratic western powers but through International brigades, war was soon lost and hostilities ceased in April 1939. Many Republican ships were scuttled or Interned in France or North Africa.

During WW2, Franco’s regime remained carefully neutral, despite Hitler’s pressure to take on Gibraltar. On paper, the fleet was still considerable and many new constructions were ordered in 1944, which were completed after the war, as well as rebuilding on some older ships.

A new page, but also a portral on the mid-XIXth Century, is open. The American civil war was not only a defining moment in the history of the United States but also the most devastating conflict of American history per capita (Compared to WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam). It was largely fought on land, but naval aspects played a very important role, if not decisive, for the Union to win the war against the “rebels”.

USS Cairo

Whereas the Union started badly on land, accumulating defeats, the overwhelming superiority of the Union Navy over the Confederate Navy, created from scratch with a core of available seaworthy vessels, allowed a blockade strategy, and later riverine warfare in order to complement the push of Union armies through the Mississippi river system. This twin strategy eventually precipitated the end of the Confederacy by severing communication and supply lines, not only around the coast but in the hinterland as well.

But the American civil War had a significant stray of innovations in naval warfare that drew attention of European observers. Before the war, the Union fleet stayed away from recent developments such as the first sea going ironclad, but soon the Confederate conversion of a captured, badly burnt federal Frigate, the Merrimack, into the steam-only ironclad Virginia set the stage for a naval race such as the world has never seen before. The Union replied with the world’s first monitor, and the Confederacy devised a way to dispense mines (called by then “torpedoes”) in large numbers and using truly original early “torpedo boats”, basically spar-torpedo, semi-submerged vessels such as the “Davids”.

HL Hunley

From this to fully submerged, the step was soon taken, and with the HL Hunley sinking the Frigate Hartford, the conflict “invented” submarine warfare. The Union soon replied and both side would compete in submersible designs until the end of the war, opening a brand new chapter, not only in riverine warfare (Battle of the James river were true naval battles), but on naval warfare as well, International observers not loosing a peg of the Hampton Road epic duel between two modern ironclads.

The Italian cold war navy

Part of the cold war section, a new page is launched this month, about the Marina Militare. New regime, new era, the Italian Republic, postwar Navy was built with bits of surviving ships from the Regia Marina, with series of MDAP transfers from the US and Royal Navies. Via the Marshall plan also, the Italian naval industry was able to raise from its cenders, with in time, world conglomerates like OTO-Melara or Selenia. Shipyards were also subsidized for export and part of the Italian arsenal was widely exported, from the 76 mm fast gun to the Otomat anti-ship missile, and doing well on the export market for electronic as well.

The Marina Militare was also able to successfully modernise and completely rebuilt four cruisers in the course of 15 years, jumping on the bandwagon of missile ships quite early. Meanwhile, was what necessary for the Italian economy to grow was there, and resurfaced on the navy budget, with a considerable numbers of specialized frigates an corvettes, and a more reasonable ten attack submarines.

Superb color photo of the Andrea Doria, one of the most emblematic class of cold war cruisers in the Mediterranean. Src: Unknown. Retreived by Denis Fillon on

The Italian cold war navy was perhaps the only one in Europe, and Japan, to focus on helicopter cruisers, with three interesting ships and a near-aircraft carrier operating the ubiquitous Harrier. With growing ambitions of the Soviets in the Mediterranean from the Black sea, Italy came at the forefront of NATO’s defence in the adriatic (facing the bulgarian and yugoslav fleets) and the central Mediterranean. A task which was shared by France, with which numerous common programs took hold in the 2000s, such as the large, versatile stealth frigates Orrizonte (FREMM).

ww2 Turkish fleet
An overview of the Turkish fleet in 1939-45 in the new “real thing” style.

The Turkish Navy in the interwar and up to 1945:

In this new page we place a light on one of the rare neutral navies in such contested and strategic sector: Turkey. A corridor between three continents and cradle of cultures and civilization, once the head of the immense Ottoman Empire, Turkey was not spared by the first world war, having chosen the side of the central powers.

After treaties disarmed the country, the old regime was toppled over by Kemal Atatürk, which nationalist regime seek influence and support towards Germany and Italy (proving destroyers and submarines during the interwar), before relations cooled again in the latter part of the 1930s (after all, Italy was at war with Turkey before and during WW1). The country turned towards the British and veered from 1942 more ostentatiously towards the allies, courted since 1941 even from USA which proposed to extend the lend-lease program. Eventually Turkey declared war on Germany in February 1945.

A mixed, small, but capable and relatively modern fleet.

The Turkish fleet was an interesting mix of old local-built cruisers used as schoolships, the last German battlecruiser, modernized in the 1930s (Yavuz, ex-Goeben), About ten modern German and Italian submarines and four modern Italian destroyers to constitute a task force with Yavuz, plus dozens of mineleayers, ranging from al converted vessels of the 1880s to famous tugs like the deadly Nusret and simple launches.

The rapprochement towards the West, became an evidence due to the strategic position or Turkey, courted by Germany to ensure netrality when launching Operation Barbarossa, and a way for UK to prevent Germany to divert panzerdivisions in the middle east where BP’s precious petrol fields were located. This traduced by a large array of British acquisitions, which was after all the usual provider for Turkey before WW1: Four destroyers, and in total until 1945 25+ patrol launches and MBTs and four submarines. Just like in WW1, requisition killed off this plan and only part of the ships ordered made it to Turkey and served with the Turkish flag witg deliveries starting in 1942 and 1944-45.

And now the what ifs.

Turkey on the axis side

-What if Turkey joined the axis during ww2 ? Before Operation Barbarossa, such a fleet could have launched an operation on Cyprus, settling an old account with Greece and depriving UK of a precious base, from where it could operate against British and French interests in the region, which were many. However it would have not hampered convoys, which came from the west by the southern route of Sicily, and the eventuality of an amphibious assault was unlikely for Turkey which was ill-prepared for the task, unless helped by the Italians (…).
After Barbarossa in 1941, however, the Turkish fleet could have seriously hurt Soviet interests in Crimea, deploying minefields, probing the area and disrupting convoys with submarines, and prey on installations and convoys with its “task force” around the Yavuz.
Operations could also include a precious help to the Romanian Navy in landings or evacuations. However this is an agressive stance and it’s possible also th Turkish fleet would have been just stationary at Istambul to prevent any passage through the Dardanelles.

Turkey on the allied side

-What if Turkey joined the allies early in the war ? Perhaps on one part, RN ships ordered could have joined sooner the fleet, and the addition of Lend-Lease in 1941-42 would have provided more ships, notably destroyers, perhaps even a cruiser or two. The RN did no lacked second-rate modernized ww1 era cruisers by that stage to distribute to her allies.

Reinforced that way, the Turkish fleet would have either patrolled along the Mediterranean sector approaching the Dardanelles, could have helped in some ways British and Greek troops in the Balkans although it’s unlikely due to old rivalry, and more likely would have been precious in disrupting the axis moves in the Black sea, which became an “axis lake” during the war, crippling the Soviet black sea fleet. The Romanian fleet was not a match for the Turks even not reinforced by the allies, and the Germans could not provide much support in the region but the luftwaffe. Turkish ships of the interwar generation however lacked AA, which balanced this superiority.

But an allied mastered black sea would have meant a possible diversionary grand scale landing on the weak flank of the German group south by the sea, seriously hurting the axis advance in this sector. Perhaps even the battle of Stalingrad would have never happened. But it’s worth noting the Soviet Navy was inexperienced and not equipped for amphibious assaults, and did not have the mastery of the skies.

But if a combined allied attack in that sector was more difficult because of the distance from the only bases available, Malta and Alexandria, it could have been unlocked if Istanbul could be used. It could have cut out the open southern rear flank of the Wehrmacht, starting with the weaker Italian and Romanian divisions, and combined with the Red Army, operating a large turning movement to the axis rear, encircling units and eventually racing towards the baltic. This would have left the Wehrmacht time to retreat in good order in Prussia, abandoning most of its Russian acquisitions. This could have deep-reaching effect on the morale of the army and a disaster of a magnitude difficult to hide to the population. The war could have ended much sooner, in 1943.


There’s a new wave of articles coming in 2019, which are all related to the cold war. As the study we made of the Chinese PLAN is ongoing, and the American and Soviet fleets are been gradually completed, we have a look on the major European fleets, the Royal Navy, Marine Nationale, Marina Militare and Bundesmarine, with only the Armada missing. All these are a work in progress except for the Bundesmarine which is the most advanced and that we present here.

Here me well: It’s not the Bundesmarine a it is today, 28 years after the fall of the USSR and the end of the “cold war”, but this study is covering the 1955-1990 gap. Indeed, contrary to other European powers, unoccupied, undivided and not a strategic zone, Germany ended in two parts, and the study here is dedicated to the Western part, under NATO umbrella and western influence. Not only the territory was larger, but the population also, and some of the heavy industries making in fine, this part more dynamic and rich. We have a tendency to consider therefore the West German navy of the time, as the “German Navy” as a whole, but USSR never lost hope to use this western outpost -east Germany- at her advantage in the Baltic. Since the country did not have the funds to create a large fleet, it was instrumentalized within the Warswaw pact to be a specialist of mine warfare. Therefore the east german popular republic navy counted only a couple of frigates, corvettes but was mostly made of minelayers and minesweepers. These were absorbed by the Bundesmarine in 1990 and scrapped after the while.

Marinenflieger F-104G Starfighters

Bremen class frigates
The Bundesmarine was created in 1955, not before, since the question of rearming Germany after ww2 was still sensible with some countries (like France). Only the pragmatism of the US staff and general Marshall, giving more weight to the prediction of Patton already in 1945, pushed for the creation of a new Army placed under strict rules (as defined by the new constitution for defensive purposes only) and also for the creation of a navy that already existed under British supervision and another name. The latter was mostly a provisional force equipped with surviving ww2 minesweepers and crews ordered to clean up the baltic of mines. A difficult, dangerous and grinding task which was done over the years in order to free trade as soon as possible. Only an healthy economy would prevent the country to fall under the Soviet influence as it was thought then, the very driving force behind the Marshall Plan.

And so the Bundesmarine was created, still hampered by some limits of tonnage for major ships and submarines, which were lifted in the 1970s and 1980s. The size of the Bundesmarine was of course far less than the WW2 Kriegsmarine, since a battleship was in tonnage the equivalent of several cruisers, therefore several destroyers of the 1960s. But it was well-balanced, with US-built or US-provided destroyers, British Frigates at first, until local industries were able in the 1960s to deliver the first large units, such as the training frigate Deutschland, the best ambassador of the Bundesmarine in the cold war. Another interesting aspect of the Bundesmarine is that its industries produced far more for export than for the domestic market. Two examples of these ate the modular MEKO frigates and German submarines, as far more were exported than used by the Bundesmarine. Deprived by treaty to any access to the nuclear energy contrary to France and UK, West Germany also developed an expertise in super-silent or even stealthy conventional submarines, trigerring a response by the USSR in the late 1980s and nowadays Russia.

A quick look at the poster also shows the prevalence of defensive light ships, in fact an expertise in Fast Attack Crafts, at first torpedo-armed and later missile-armed. Mine warfare was also important, since mines has been a very effective asset during both wars. Germany deployed several classes of minesweepers, while the older ones were recycled into mine hunters using the “troika” system of unguided minesweepers connected to their mothership. In the 1980 and the “new cold” in particular, it was time for the Bundesmarine to improve her participation in the defense of Norway area, barring the way to the Northern fleet in coordination with other navies in order to prevent a flanking attack by USSR. Today the specter of a war with the east is not remote, as both Russia and China are arming fast and under autocratic and authoritarian regimes.


The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes created in 1919 and confirmed in 1921 only recuperated  a fraction of the once powerful and largely intact Austro-Hungarian Navy. However the new Yugoslav Royal Navy through purchases in France, Great Britain, and after a political shift, to Germany, managed despite the 1929 crisis, to constitute a small, yet capable fleet. Unfortunately, the operations of the Balkans largely happened on land, and the fleet at Kotor was almost entirely captured on 17 April 1941 by Italian troops. Thereafter many of these ships would see service with the Regia marina, and after September 1943, with the Kriegsmarine or the Nationalist Croat navy, whereas a new free Yugoslav Navy was created.

See the Royal Yugoslav Navy in detail

Quick Overview:

Naval force of lesser rank, the Yugoslav Navy did not have less the outlet on the Adriatic of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire from which it came. In 1918, after the armistice, the Austro-Hungarian navy folded in Pola was to pass entirely under the Yugoslav flag, but the Treaty of Paris in 1920 was reworked on the authority of the Italians who did not wish the concurrence of a significant naval power in the Adriatic, and demanded that the remains of the fleet should be attributed to the victors of the war, including herself.

As a result, only minor light units were given, some of them old, others newer but of low tonnage. Thus, in 1920, the Yugoslav fleet received 12 relatively recent torpedo boats (of the Tb 74 and Kaiman Austro-Hungarian type), six of which were still in service during the German invasion of April 1941; 4 very old minesweepers, quickly scraped, and 4 river monitors. At the beginning of the year 20, she bought from Germany the cruiser Niobe which was renamed Dlamacija and 6 modern minesweepers type M.

In 1920, the situation of the young Yugoslavian kingdom started badly: Composite country born of the deliquescence of an old empire, it was in bad economic position and torn between the nationalist aspirations of the peoples composing it, in majority Serb, the latter having to contend with Croatian and Slovenian minorities. In 1922, thanks to the influx of foreign capital, the economic situation began to improve with the political stabilization of the country, but in 1929 a new deterioration began.

Yugoslav Destroyer Leader Dubrovnik. British-built, modelled after the British 1918-21 destroyer leaders. Certainly one of the most capable destroyers in the Adriatic.

The crisis prevented even the exploitation of what remained of imperial naval yards before the war. So she commanded her ships in Germany before voting for the meager budget for the construction of four new destroyers. Due to lack of funds, only the first was finally approved and built in Great Britain at Yarrow. Known as Dubrovnik, it was in its time the most powerful destroyer in the world, and remained so in 1939.

Four submersibles were also ordered, two in Britain and two in France, in 1926-27, and finally, three new smaller destroyers than the Dubrovnik also built on specific requests by French shipyards or on-site with close French supervision. At about the same time, a gunboat, which was also to serve as a Royal yacht, was ordered in Italy, and operational in 1940, the Beli Orao. The only locally built vessels (Krajlevika) were five small tankers of armed mines, originally started under the Imperial era, and completed by the Yugoslavs.

Zagreb, one of the only three standard destroyers that made a half-flotilla led by Dubrovnik, called the 1st torpedo division in 1940. One was built in France and the two others locally under French supervision, combining czech armament, Dutch fire control systems and British powerplant.

Orders were also placed in Great Britain for 2 torpedo launchers, and 8 others in Germany on the eve of the war. These choices reflected the uncertainty of Yugoslavia’s diplomatic relations in Europe, but around 1934, the legitimate King Alexander was assassinated in Marseille by the Croatian Ustasa, and the Regent Paul, who showed his sympathies with Hitler, seemed to tip the royal house the camp of the axis, which would have been annoying for the position of the British in the Mediterranean and for the Greeks.

In March 1941, on the 27th, before the active rapprochement of the regent towards the Germans, a part of the royal family, supported by the population, chose to rise and bring to power the young Prince Pierre II, recently escaped from the Regency council installed at the Palace where he was watched. The Serb population, the majority, was indeed hostile to the Germans by tradition, turned rather towards the Russians.

Yugoslav riverine monitor Vardar. Four ww1-era monitors were in service in 1941.

Faced with Hitler’s coup as a provocation, he found the casus belli that allowed him to invade the country in order to help his Italian ally misguided in Greece since the winter of 1940. Operation “Marita” , modified to respond to a quick invasion of Yugoslavia which officially began the same day was at the beginning of April a new demonstration of “blitzkrieg” in which the Yugoslav fleet was torn between Croatian sympathies (Which came from a part of the officers and sailors) and Serbs, supporting the government in exile of Peter II. The Luftwaffe gave it to their heart’s content and almost the whole fleet was sunk or disabled in the first days.

Some ships were captured, repatriated and integrated into the Italian fleet, others escaped.

The Royal Yugoslav Navy in detail. All the classes in service in April 1941.

Composition of the fleet:

  • A cruiser, the Dalmacija. Schoolship in 1927 of the Yugoslav fleet because of her old age.
  • 4 recent destroyers: Dubrovnik (1931), and the three Beograd class (1937-38). Dubrovnik served as flotilla leader.
  • 6 torpedo boats: Formerly 74T class, (1914-16). Comparable to many coastal torpedo boats in Europe.
  • 4 submersibles, French-built Osvetnik (1928) and the British Hrabi class (1927).
  • 26 Miscellaneous:
    *Gunboat Beli Orao (1939)
    *6 Galeb class minesweepers (1918)
    *5 Malinska armed minesweepers (1931)
    *4 ex-Austro-Hungarian Riverine monitors (Sava, Morava, Drava and Vardar)
  • 10 MTB Thornycroft CMB type (2 – 1927), and Lürssen (8 – 1939).

Marinha Do Brasil was the second best navy in South America in 1939, below the Argentinian Armada but forward of the Chilean Navy. She started the South American dreadnought race before ww1 by ordering the Minas Gerais and late the Rio de Janeiro which was later requisitioned as HMS Agincourt. But in 1939 the navy was largely obsolescent. Nevertheless, in 1942, U-boats attacks on the South Atlantic reached such a level that on 22 August 1942, Brazil declared war to the Axis powers.

Indeed, Italian submarines, operating from Bordeaux, also roamed the south Atlantic. One was sunk by Brazilian vessels, as well as twelve U-Boats while the Brazilians lost just one auxiliary vessel and 32 merchant ships. In 1944 the Navy has been well reinforced by the US Navy, which installed naval bases and eventually the South Atlantic Command, transferred 8 DET-class escort destroyers (Beberibe class) and 16 PC-boat submarines-chasers (Gioana class). The British Navy transferred also six armed trawlers. Brasil also built the Marcilio Dias and Acre class destroyers at Rio de Janeiro’ Ilha das Cobras shipyards. These ships were largely inspired by American destroyers and equipped with North American artillery, firing systems and equipment but only a few really were completed before the war ended.

In all, Brazil did her fair share of operations in the battle of the Atlantic. The contribution was considerable and successful given the number of convoys protected: 614 wartime convoys, representing 3,164 merchant and transport troop ships bound to UK of Gibraltar, also supporting the Brazilian expeditionary force taking part in the campaign of Italy. 66 U-boats were attacked by Brazilian ships, twelve U-boats were sunk for the loss of just one auxiliary ship, the Bz Vital de Oliveira. The cruiser Bahia and corvette Camaquã were also lost, the first because of an accidental explosion and the second in a storm.

Marinha do Brasil
Marinha do Brasil – The Brazilian Navy in WW2

The Swedish Navy at the eve of the Great War was the most powerful in Scandinavia, after the German Imperial and Russian Imperial Navies.

Sverige class (1916)
Sverige class (1916)

Despite strong incentives and pressures from the central powers, Sweden stayed neutral all along the war, exporting its iron ore to both belligerent sides. Sweden also had a powerful coastal fleet in addition to submersibles, torpedo boats and mine warfare, some of which were recent and almost pocket dreadnoughts like the Sverige and Oscar II. Both were also well suited for shallow waters and archipelago of this area. They entered indeed in calculations on both sides, allies and Germans alike.

The only naval military intervention of Sweden was to secure the Åland Islands in February 1918, with a naval-backed occupation until April, before the Islands were ceded to the newly-independent Finns. During WW1 Sweden could enforce its neutrality policies with a force of 12 Coastal Battleships (three in construction), 10 Monitors, 7 Cruisers, 8 Destroyers, 49 Torpedo Boats, 8 Submersibles, and 9 auxiliary ships like minesweepers and minelayers.

HSwMS Fylgia (1905)
HSwMS Fylgia (1905)

The previous part has been about Swedish coastal battleships. In this second part, we see the smaller ships of the fleet, from cruisers to destroyers, gunboats and torpedo boats, submarine and miscellaneous ships. Sweden built two cruisers prior to the Great War, Fylgia, and Claes Fleming named after a famous admiral. They both were reconstructed and served actively in WW2 as well, with camouflage and neutrality white bands. The first was an armoured cruiser, Fylgia, the second a minelayer. We will see also the coastal monitors of the Berserk/Hildur Class (1872), some steam corvettes still used as gunboats, the Örnen class Torpedo Gunboats (1898), the lighter Blenda class (1874) and Urd class (1877) and HMS Edda. We also see the birth of Swedish destroyer design with the single mode, Magne and Wale, and the Ragnar and Hugins class, up to the large wartime Wrangel class.

HMS Hugin 1926
HMS Hugin 1926

But Sweden also relied on a considerable number of first and second class torpedo boats, of which all classed are treated in detail. Another very interesting aspect of the Swedish Navy was its early use and domestic development of Submarines.
First, the HMS Hajen, was inspired by the current American Holland-type designs. but then, the Admiralty ordered a double-hull Italian boat, Hvalen, built a small coastal Undervattensbaten class (1909), before settling on a proper design with the wartime Svärdfisken class (1914), Delfinen (1914), and Laxen/Aborren class (1914). With the next Hajen (1917) and Bävern class (1921), Sweden took for inspiration Germany, as these were modelled after plans from Weser.

Bävern class
Bävern class

Svenska Marinen – The Swedish Navy in WW1

A new page is currently launched on a little-know subject, the Chinese Navy in the crucial interwar years, starting with the Japanese invasion of 1932. Most of the navy was made of obsolescent cruisers (but a few) from various local provinces, and a large fleet of gunboats, both riverine and coast-capable models. Their firepower ranged from light 1, 3 or 12 pdr to 6 inch guns (152mm) and they often had AA artillery. This did not prevent them to be sunk, in a very large proportion by Japanese Aviation in 1937-38. Dozens were later refloated, repaired, renamed, somtimes rearmed and served with IJN until 1945. Many of these ships were later captured by the allies, returned to China, and many more were lost and retreived in the 1945-49 civil war, being used by both Communist and Republican Chinese until the 1970s for some. The listing spans decades from the 1890s and three books, plus many sources. I hope this is worth it, because it allows to see these forgotten ships came into the light for once. No doubt many will be in the coming years detailed through their own post with and updated informations plus highly-detailed illustrations and photos. There are four more pages waiting to depict other eras: The Chinese fleet in 1894, in 1914-18, and in 1949 (PLAGF) as well as ROCA Navy.