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di Cristiano D'Adamo
In the period between the two world wars, Italian submarines were developed from three distinct projects: Ansaldo (O.T.O. and C.R.D.A.), Cavallini and Bernardis. While the first was a civilian project, the other two were the results of studies conducted by the Engineering Department of the Navy. The submarines "Fieramosca" and "Pisani" were the first produced from the Bernardis design. They had a simple hull with or without blisters. The "Fieramosca", built by the Tosi shipyard in Taranto in 1926, was initially equipped with a hangar to hold a hydroplane.
Despite various shortcomings of the Bernardis' design, the Regia Marina moved from the experimental phase of the "Fieramosca" to the production, in 1928, of the class "Bandiera", a direct evolution, with a few changes, of the "Pisani" class. During the period 1935-1940, the Regia Marina introduced eight new classes of submarines: amongst them the "Marcello". This class was an evolution of the "Glauco" class. Eventually, six additional boats designated Marconi Class were developed as an improvement of this class.
Compared to a German Class VII C submarine, one of the Marcellos was massive, displacing 1,060 tons versus 769. Speed between the two classes was almost similar, with the Italian vessels only marginally faster underwater. Though, mostly due to age, by the time was broke out, the original performances were no longer obtainable. Range was also similar, but the Marcello had two torpedoes (16) more than the famous u-Boat. Eventually, with some alterations, it was possible to partially increase range, but re-supplying at sea remained common.
As easily noticeable, Italian shipyards, especially in the area of submarine construction, paid the consequences of poor planning and lack of standardization. To this point, while the Germans were able to produce similar vessels with mostly exchangeable parts from different shipyards, Italian vessels used parts often peculiar to a specific class, and each class included only a limited number of boats.
The original cunning tower, very large and fully enclosed, similarly to many others Italian submarines, was later reduced on the Mocenigo and Veniero, while the periscope sleeves were reduced in size on all vessels. The Marcello class was equipped with two 100 mm, 47 caliber deck guns, 8 21 inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes (4 aft and 4 forward), and 4 13.2 mm antiaircraft guns mounted in pairs. The initial number of torpedoes, 12, was later increased to 16. Standard supplies included 300 shells for the deck guns and 3000 rounds for the machine guns.
The electric motors were produced by C.R.D.A. and were capable of 560 HP. The initial vessels received C.R.D.A. Diesel engines, while last two, built by O.T.O. in La Spezia, received FIAT capable of approximately the same output, 1500 HP. The batteries were, typical of the time, lead-acid divided in 132 compartments. There were two propellers with four blades each. The maximum operational depth of 100 meters was often surpassed without any damage.
The Marcello class included eleven vessels, two of which, the Cappellini and the Faą di Bruno, were built at a later time, but without many differences from the original nine, excluding, as already mentioned, the main diesel engines. This class should be considered one of the most successful produced by the Italian shipyards and showed very good qualities; they were fast, structurally robust and relatively maneuverable.
The Provana was lost at the very beginning of the war, rammed by a French unit, while four boats were lost in the Atlantic, and two transformed into transport submarines. Three boats, the Emo, Veniero and Mocenigo were recalled to the Mediterranean, and only one, the Dandolo, survived the war after having logged over 39,327 miles, a record for Italian submarines operating in the Mediterranean. The same boat was also credited for the sinking of the British cruiser Cleopatra on July 16thy, 1943. The most famous, and also controversial submarine of the Marcello Class was probably the Barbarigo, which, under the command of Mario Grossi, claimed the sinking of two large American warships but after the war, this was found to be mistaken.
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