Starting in 1935, the Italian Fascist government had eliminated the division of roles and responsibilities at the highest level of the armed forces by nominating Benito Mussolini minister or the Army, Air Force and Navy and thus giving him total control over these institutions.

“Palazzo Marina’

The highest hierarchy within the Navy which used to be called “Ufficio del Capo di S.M.” was renamed in 1936 “Ufficio di Stato Maggiore” (High Command Office) and was organized in three units:

  • Information (I)
  • Operations and Training (OA)
  • Mobilization, Defense, Services (MDS)

And four inspectorates:

  • Artillery and ammunitions (IAM)
  • Submarine Weapons (IAS)
  • Naval Engineering (ISGN)
  • Naval aviation (IAV)
  • Historical Bureau and Procurement

All units and inspectorates were led by an admiral with the sole exception of Naval Aviation which was under the command of a general from the air force.  As early as 1938, when a looming war against the British Empire appeared inevitable, the 1st Office (Operations and War Plan) was reorganized in what was a precursor of SUPERMARINA. Before the beginning of the conflict, in May 1940, the government decreed a reorganization of the Navy command into:

  • Operational Group (SUPERMARINA)
  • Units and Inspectorates (MARISTAT)

Specifically, SUPERMARINA responsibilities were defines as:

  • Give general directive regarding naval warfare.
  • Issue general operational orders.
  • Disseminate information regarding naval activity
  • Disseminate information regarding enemy naval activity.
  • Designate the commanding officer at sea.
  • Coordinate the strategic activities at sea of detached units.
  • Promote, under established rules, the participation of ARMERA (independent air force), Italian North Africa High Command (A.S.I.), and the Aegean High Command for both activities organized by itself and or emergencies.
  • Promote, based on individual or ongoing  agreement s, the participation of the allied air force (Germans)

SUPERMARINA included as part of its operation group:

  • The Chief of Naval Operations along with his flag officer and designated personnel
  • The Vice Chief of Naval Operations along with his flag officer and designated personnel
  • Four assisting admirals along with their flag officer and designated personnel divided in
    • Head Operation unit.
    • Head plans and operations.
    • Officers assigned to the “Comando Supremo” office.

SUPERMARINA was the telegraphic denomination for this office, and, during the conflict, it quickly became a household name due to the many mentions in war bulletins. SUPERMARINA operated, more or less, in the same manner during the whole conflict. Shifts lasted 12 hours and the change of officer on duty took place at 8:00 PM and 8:00 AM.  After the morning change of guard, a small report was presented to the new officer and forwarded to the head of the Navy and also ‘Comando Supremo’. At 11:30 AM all admirals met under the presidency of the Vice Chief of Naval Operations (Adm. Edoardo Somigli until December 10th, 1940 and then Adm. Inigo Campioni, and eventually Adm. Luigi Sansonetti) to review the situation and issue orders which had to be approved by the Chief of Naval Operations  .

Naval operations, including the position of ships, were tracked on a very large map of the Mediterranean though the use of push pins (some authors refer to ship cutouts).  Each type of unit was represented by a different type of pin. If the precise position of the units were not known, a new position was estimated based on previous direction and speed. The positions were regularly updated and included know enemy and neutral vessels.

This operational center was located within the building which still houses the Ministry of the Navy along ‘Lungotevere Flaminio” (Along the river – Tiber- in the Flaminio neighborhood).  In addition to the primary area, the Navy had constructed a secondary one in the basement in expectation of aerial bombardment which never materialized. In fact, the ministry was too close to the Vatican to even consider such a reckless action.  When Rome was declared an open city (August 14th, 1943), SUPERMARINA was relocated in Santa Rosa (La Storta) where the Italian Navy hosted its radiotelegraphy operation center located in subterranean bunkers.

This new temporary command center was only 20 km north of the city along the ancient Cassia road and was temporarily housed above ground in specially built barracks.  This office closed definitively on September 12th following the Italian surrender. By then, although it had lost its operational functions, it was the only functioning Italian high military command post having similar organizations, SUPERAEREO and SUPERESERCITO, already disbanded.

Throughout the conflict, SUPERMARINA was directly in control of most naval operations in line with Italian military naval doctrine which called for a highly centralized command post.  Lack of operational freedom for the commander at sea was often the reason for a very conservative conduct and, as in the case of Matapan, resulted in terrible losses. SUPERMARINA, despite the capillary organization, lacked the intelligence insight the Royal Navy and the direct line of communication and collaboration with both the other branches and the German allies.  To overcome this last deficiency, SUPERMARINA positioned German coordination officers aboard the larger units of the Italian fleet.

Naval Bases

As documented by the Historical Bureau of the Italian Navy (Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare or U.S.M.M.) during the period 1924-1925, several organizational aspects of the Regia Marina assumed a more definitive aspect. By simply looking at the organizational structure and the means available, the Regia Maria was thought to be perfectly capable of dealing with a variety of scenarios. In 1935, Admiral Cavagnari (the head of the Italian Navy) declared to the lower house of parliament that “amongst the more pressing needs to [achieve] the efficiency of a fleet – as you know – is the infrastructure for the naval bases.” Perhaps, Admiral Cavagnari should have admitted that the Italian naval bases were not ready to assume the onerous tasks associated with the upcoming war needs.

The Regia Marina classified the various bases into various categories. Only La Spezia and Taranto were considered first class bases and equipped with a military shipyard. Naples, La Maddalena (Sardinia), Venice, Pola (Pula in Croatia), Brindisi, Leros (Greece), Tobruk (Libya) and Massaua (Eritrea) were considered bases of second class, while Cagliari, Messina, Augusta, Trapani and Assab (Italian East Africa) were of third class. Other ports, amongst them Portoferraio, Gaeta, Reggio Calabria, Palermo, Valona (Albania), Ancona, Pantelleria, Tripoli (Libya), Bengasi (Libya), Rodos (Greece) and Chisimaio (Somalia) were just considered temporary bases. It should be noted that Genoa, a large port, does not appear in the list.

La Spezia

This port received substantial upgrades in the period 1930-1934. The dry dock was expanded from 151 to 201 meters and a submarine repair depot added. Later, the base was further expanded with the construction of various depots, including some for oil fuel. The facility was also improved with the construction of a jetty equipped for the delivery of fuel oil, water and electricity.

La Spezia offered, and still does, proximity to the industrial heart of Italy (the so-called triangle which includes Genoa, Turin and Milan), good protection, but limited road access. Naturally, despite the various improvements completed during the Fascist Regime, Italy remained handicapped by the topographical reality of the country (very mountainous and with limited plains).


Received improvements similar to La Spezia, but unfortunately a large dry dock in Mar Grande, which could have served ships up to 400 meters long, was never completed. This dry dock would have been extremely useful after the famous aerial attack of November 11th, 1940. Unfortunately, like many other infrastructures, the expected delivery date was well past the date of Italy’s entry into the war.


In 1923, the was relatively small naval shipyard was closed thus ending a tradition which dated back to the Bourbons reign. Naples witnessed several large constructions part of which are still visible (Maritime Station). Also, one must mention the construction of the San Vincenzo docks, the mooring for submarines, and the area called “Vigliena”. Naples, partially due to the existence of manufacturing facilities like the “Silurificio Italiano” (torpedo manufacturing), the firm San Giorgio and Galileo (optical and precision equipment), and the famous shipyard of Baia, always retained a predominant role in the Italian port network. Furthermore, during the war, this was a primary starting point for convoy directed to North Africa.

The principal ports were defended by complex systems not all under the control of the Navy. To this point, the land-based anti aircraft batteries were under the control of the Army, and so were most early warning systems. These were mostly made out of listening devices and spotting stations. Outside the ports, defenses included minefields usually laid out in a defensive schema and meant to stop enemy submarines. Furthermore, there were anti-ship defenses in the form of armed trained, antiaircraft batteries utilizing guns and machine guns, balloons and other devices.


Ansaldo, Cerusa Voltri
Ansaldo, Sestri Levante
Arsenale Navale, La Spezia
Arsenale Navale, Napoli
Baglietto, Varazze
Breda, Venezia
C.M.A., Marina Pisa
C.N.A., Roma
Cantiere Navale Riuniti (C.N.R.) Ancona
Cantiere Navale Riuniti (C.N.R.) Palermo
Cantiere Navali “Ilva”, Napoli
Cantieri del Tirreno (C.T.), Genova-Riva Trigoso
Cantieri ed Officine Meridionali, Napoli-Baia
Cantieri Navali del Quarnaro (C.N.Q.), Fiume
Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico (C.R.D.A.), Monfalcone
Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico (C.R.D.A.), Trieste
Caproni Taliedo
Celli, Venezia
Costaguta, Genova-Voltri
Danubius, Fiume
Migliardi, Savona
Navalmeccanica, Castellammare
Odero-Terni-Orlandi (O.T.O.), Genova-Sestri Ponente
Odero-Terni-Orlandi (O.T.O.), Livorno
Odero-Terni-Orlandi (O.T.O.), Muggiano (La Spezia)
Orlando, Livorno
Partenopei, Napoli
Pattison, Napoli
Picchiotto, Limite d’Arno
Poli, Chioggia
S.A.C.I.N., Venezia
Societa Anonima Bacini e Scali Napoli, Napoli
Societa Anonima Cantieri Cerusa, Genova-Voltri
Societa Veneziana Automobili Navali (S.V.A.N.), Venezia
Soriente, Salerno
Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino, Trieste
Tosi, Taranto