Traffic Escort Ships and Auxiliary Cruisers

To meet the need of escorting the convoys, thus sparing ever-scarce warships, from the onset of the conflict the Italian Navy had requisitioned those merchant ships which, thanks to their characteristics, could be suitable for this service. In particular, requirements called for reduced tonnage that would still allow blue water ops, a speed of about 15 knots and the ability to serve also as fast transports.

The postal motor vessels of the Adriatica and Tirrenia shipping companies fit these requirements very well, so nearly all of them were requisitioned by the Regia Marina and registered as war ships, thereby ceasing to be civilian ships and becoming naval units. During the conflict, thirty-six ships were requisitioned as auxiliary cruisers (military designation: D followed by a progressive number), and of these as many as thirty-two were sunk, although three of them were recovered and restored to service after the war. The armistice was particularly harmful: two auxiliary cruisers were sunk and ten were captured by the Germans.

One of the four RAMBs, in this case RAMB II which served in the Orient.
(Photo Duncan)

In terms of shipping company, 14 ships came from Adriatica, 8 from Tirrenia, 3 from Fiumana, 2 from Eritrea, 2 from Istria-Trieste, 2 ex-Yugoslavian, 4 from the Regia Azienda Monopolio Banane (the banana monopoly). One of the ships from this company, Ramb III, of the most active escorts during the conflict, was captured by the Germans and used by them with the name of Kiebitz; sunk in Fiume (Rijeka) on 5 November 1944, it was retrieved by the Yugoslavs, repaired, and transformed into the presidential ship Galeh, to be used by Marshal Tito for many years thereafter.

The auxiliary cruiser Brindisi
(Photo U.S.M.M.)

Some of the ships met with a tragic fate: the Egeo was sunk on 24 April 1941, 65 miles off Tripoli, by the British destroyers Jarvis, Janus, Jaguar and Juno: hit by two torpedoes fired by the Juno, it sank in a few minutes. The cruiser Adriatico was sunk on December 1st, 1941 by the cruiser Aurora and the destroyer Lively: when she was hit by two broadsides, the order to abandon ship was given; in spite of this, the ship’s forward battery returned fire, but a third broadside blew her up. Twenty-one survivors were rescued by the Lively and sixty-six more by the Giovanni da Verrazzano, which arrived on the scene later. Other combat losses were those of the cruisers Brioni, Brindisi, and Zara.

Translated from Italian by Sebastian De Angelis