Italian Obsolete Cruisers

Cruiser Taranto (ex Strassburg)

“Ovunque un raggio della gloria d’Italia”

The Strassburg was launched in Wilhemshave (Germany) in 1911 along with three more units (Magdeburg, Breslau, Stralsund) which made up a class of large explorer. These units were the first in the period to have armor in the form of a vertical belt of 60 mm, a horizontal protection of 50 mm, and a double hull for underwater protection. The power plan included 16 boilers, both coal and fuel oil-fired, and power was distributed over two axles. The original armament included twelve 105/45 mm built by Krupp and four 500-mm torpedo launchers. During World War I, the Kaiserliche Marine altered the ship’s configuration replacing all guns with seven 150/45 mm and two 88/45 mm, but leaving the torpedo launchers. Three of the 150 mm guns were place aft, one forward and one on each side. Four were astern, one to each side of the mast, one immediately astern of the mast and one further down. This layout was, for the time, optimal making for a robust and well-armed ship. The Strassburg was included in the list of ships to be transferred to Italy as part of war reparations, and it was delivered in Cherbourg (France) on July 20th, 1920.

The ship underwent some repair work and alterations; the 88 mm guns were removed and replaced by two 76/40 mm. Later, the torpedo launchers were completely removed. In 1929 the ship, renamed Taranto, was reclassified as a cruiser and began an intense period of activity including several cruises, station duties in the Red Sea, and visits to ports in Spain and Albania. In 1935, the Taranto entered the shipyard for new and more extensive modernization work. The two foremost boilers were removed, along with their corresponding funnel, thus reducing power to 13,000 HP and speed to 21 knots. In addition, the ship was equipped with some antiaircraft guns.
At the beginning of the hostilities, the Taranto already obsolete and heavily worn out, was assigned to the defense of the port of Taranto. After the invasion of Greece, the unit was engaged in numerous bombardment missions along the Adriatic coast, and some mine-laying activities. In 1941, when the invasion of Malta appeared imminent, the unit was to participate to the landing operations, but the mission, for several reasons, never took place. In 1942 the ship war removed from service and on September 9th 1943 was scuttled to avoid capture by the Germans. The Taranto was later salvaged to be utilized as an obstruction near the outer jetty, but after 31 years of service, its carrier was ended by Allied bombing.

Cruiser Bari (ex Pillau)

“Signum victorie victoriam teneat”

The cruiser Bari, part of war reparations from Germany, was delivered to Italy on July 20th, 1920. The ship was originally built for the Russian Navy by the Schichau shipyard of Danzic. At the outbreak of World War I, the ship was incorporated in the German Navy and named Pillau. When delivered to the Regia Marina, the ship was equipped with eight 150/45-mm guns in shielded single mounting and two 88/45-mm guns.
After a few minor changes, the unit was used until 1934 as a training vessel. Later, the Regia Marina decided to transform the ship into a “colonial” cruiser. The six coal-burning boilers were removed along with the foremost funnel. The space was used to build a new oil bunker and more comfortable quarters more suitable for the tropical weather the ship was operate in. Anti-aircraft defenses were augmented with the installation of a few machineguns. At the end of the alterations, the ship was transferred to the Read Sea where it operated until 1937 when the newly built Eritrea replaced it. After her return to Italy, the ship remained under repair until the outbreak of war when it was assigned to the defense of Taranto.

On October 25, 1940, the unit became the flagship for the special naval force engaged in operations against Greece. Here, the Bari was utilized for mine laying and naval bombardment against the Adriatic coast where her German-built guns proved quite effective. In 1941, when the invasion of Malta appeared imminent, the unit was to participate to the landing operations, but the mission, for several reasons, never took place. In 1943, in an attempt of improving convoy escort, the Regia Marina studied a transformation project, which would have equipped the Bari with eight 90-mm guns and several machineguns. While in Livorno to install eight 37/54 mm and eight 20/70-mm guns, the Bari was sunk during an Allied aerial bombardment.

Armored Cruiser San Giorgio

“Tutor et ultor”

Having entered service in 1910, the cruiser San Giorgio saw action in three wars, the Italian-Turkish war, World War I and World War II and, following her sinking, she was awarded the Gold Medal. This ship was the last representative of an older generation of ships, the armored cruisers, the predecessors of the heavy cruisers. She entered service in 1910, and after World War I, was used as a target ship along with her sister ship San Marco. Although when she entered service she was very modern, she was, by World War II, obsolete and no improvement could have made the ship capable of confronting the modern cruisers.

The principal shortcoming, in addition to lack of speed and an antiquated fire control system, was undoubtedly the weak horizontal armor which had been designed to protect the ship against naval guns and could not protect her against aerial bombs. Also missing was any anti-torpedo protection, but the 254 mm and 190 mm guns were still usable, as was her vertical armor.

San Giorgio in 1916

When, in 1937, it was decided to modernize the ship, the Regia Marina opted to transform her into a large monitor for the defense of the African ports. Six boilers were removed, while the remaining eight were modernized, converting them from coal to fuel oil. The two most rear funnels were removed and all guns, excluding the larger 254 mm and 190 mm, were removed. The 76-mm guns were replaced with 100/47 in four twin-shielded mountings installed on specially built platforms near the deckhouse. All minor armaments and the torpedo launchers were also removed.

San Giorgio in Tobruk

When the ship was sent to Tobruk for the defense of the port, an additional twin gun was installed in front of the aft turret of the 254 mm gun, along with several machine guns of both the 37/54 and 20/65 model. Once in Tobruk, the ship’s deck was covered with a layer of sandbags to partially remedy her limited horizontal armor. She also received additional machine guns. After her arrival on May 1940, the ship was fenced in an anti-torpedo netting system. On June 28th 1940, the ship’s antiaircraft guns mistakenly shot down the plane of Italo Balbo, who died in the incident.

The wreckage of Italo Balbo’s plane

From June 12, 1940 the ship remained in a state of full alert 322 times in 212 days. On January 21, after having delayed the incoming British advance into the town rejecting a tank formation using her larger caliber, the ship was condemned to self-destruction. At 4:15 a.m. on January 22, 1941, while British troops had already entered Tobruk, several explosive charges were detonated, thus scuttling the ship. The glorious ship was savaged in 1951 and, while flying the Italian flag on her mast, she was being towed back to Italy when a temporary leak-stopper failed, causing her to sink about 140 miles from Tobruk on July 20th.