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For generations ingenious Italian naval minds have made their mark as innovators of always interesting and frequently quite practical naval design and construction. This technological skill has blended with their seamen’s inborn desire of combat missions where individuals or small groups can fully exploit surprise and daring in operations involving small craft and special weapons. The results have been apparent in both World Wars.
In World War II the surface and underwater special weapons units of Italy’s Tenth MAS (Special Assault Units) Flotilla sank over one-quarter of a million tons of shipping, including two battleships, a cruiser, and a destroyer. Trained at La Spezia, Varignano, Leghorn, and in the Serchio River, they achieved a record far more enviable than that of the Italian Navy’s main fleet units. Italian smaller vessels also had considerable success against British submarines, destroying at least seven.
Although the operations of these smaller forces were not decisive (and no one expected them to
be) they cannot be called eccentric, since they very logically were directed against enemy shipping in the strategic center of the Mediterranean. While Allied attention more generally was focused upon the Italian fleet Goliaths, the stealthy, fast Davids occasionally struck a crippling blow, as against Alexandria. Italy did not follow up or could not coordinate aggressive main fleet action with these assaults, and thereby lost opportunity to achieve more influential results. But special naval weapons and craft are as old as history, and Italy’s main naval achievements in World War II definitely were in these fields. The implications for the future are obvious. Study by Italian naval administrators of the causes of the relative successes of these smaller warriors and application of these lessons wherever consistent with the requirements of a ready navy will produce greater maritime power.
(Editor’s Note: For Part I see page 812, July, 1955 Proceedings. For a first-hand account of Italy’s successful attack on the British naval units at Alexandria, see page 126 this issue of the Proceedings.
During World War II Italy commissioned only five large destroyers, two of which are shown in the top photograph. The Legionario (foreground) is shown with German radar which her onetime ally had provided. The Artigliere (rear) was one of the “Soldiers” class of 1938-39 and was transferred to Russia after the war. The middle photograph shows the Quintino Sella, of less than 1000 tons. She was torpedoed and sunk by the Germans as she attempted to flee from Venice in 1943. The Turbine, lower, was seized by Germany in 1943, recommissioned the TA14, and later destroyed by British air bombing in 1944.
I he corvettes Ape (top) and Urania (bottom) are both members of the Gabbiano class of which there are 22 units in service today. Capable of making fifteen to seventeen knots, these anti-submarine vessels are both attached to the Italian Navy s ( ommand School. In the center photograph is the destroyer Oziane which was built before the war# fought in the Battle of Cape Matapan (1941), and was one of the first Italian warships to serve with the All*®* after the Italian armistice in 1943. r
More fortunate than some eighty of their fellow subs, these three ships were not sunk during the war. No. 1 shows the Vorlice, one of the class of mother ships which carried piloted torpedoes to Alexandria. No. 2 is the Benedetto Brin, one of an older class built in the 1930’s. No 3 is the ttfluhans^n 1945
hundred tons, mounted three 16-inch tubes, and made about eight knots submerged. This craft was captured by the Germans but retaken by the ltaha •
Top photograph shows the pocket submarine CB-12, one of sixteen launched before Italy’s surrender. Built by the Caproni works near Milan, several of these thirty-tonners operated against the Russians in the Black Sea. The middle submarine, rusting at La Spezia in 1946, is the transport type. A “first” for the Italians, this type had a cargo capacity of 610 tons. Only two were commissioned and both were destroyed on their first war cruise. The bottom scene is of the Grongo in 1943. Designed to transport piloted torpedoes, she was never completed but was scuttled to prevent the Germans from seizing her in 1943. They managed to refloat her but Allied air attacks ended her career in 1944.
The Aretusa, built in 1938 and recently converted to an anti-submarine frigate, is shown in No. 1. No. 2 is the venerable Italian monitor Faa’ di Bruno in Genoa early in 1943. Built during World War I, she mounted two 15-inch guns and made between three and four knots. No. 3 is a stern view of the corvette Camoscio with her effluent depth-charge launchers.
“'y r.taly’s (Motoscafi anti-Sommergibili) were her most successful naval craft of both World Wars. At the beginning of the second war Italy had 65 of this type, but the majority were obsolete. She built only 26 43 knots 6 C°n iCt 'aC1 displaced ajout ^8 tons, carried two 18-inch torpedoes, six depth charges, and could exceed
„,7?'eAn?.et shows.W/l .S' 555 at sea in 1941. This type had a seventy-foot length, a fourteen-foot beam, and made p to 47 knots. Still another type carried a 600-pound explosive charge in its bow and was steered into the target^ the pilot jumping overboard at the last moment.
HMS Manchester was sunk off Tunis by an Italian Coastal craft of this type. MS 72 was one of sixteen laid down during the 1940-43 era. Displacing sixty tons, she carried two 21-inch torpedo tubes and made 33 knots at top speed. Here she is shown at La Spezia in 1948.
The Buccari is here shown a few months before she was scuttled in 1943. During the three years of Italy’s war at the side of Germany, Italian ships laid more than 11,000 mines between Sicily and Tunisia In December, 1941, Britain s Malta-based Force K ran into an Italian minefield off Tripoli and lost the cruiser Neptune and a destroyer, and had Iwo other cruisers seriously damaged.