Regia Marina Explained

Unit Name:Regia Marina (RM)
Dates:1861-1946
Country:Kingdom of Italy
Allegiance:Kingdom of Italy
Type:Navy
Battles:Third Italian War of Independence
Seven Weeks War
Italo-Turkish War
World War I
Spanish Civil War
Italian invasion of Albania
World War II
Notable Commanders:Luigi Amedeo
Paolo Thaon di Revel
Inigo Campioni
Arturo Riccardi

The Regia Marina Italiana (Italian Royal Navy) dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) in 1861 after Italian unification (il Risorgimento). In 1946, with the birth of the Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana), the Royal Navy changed its name as it was now the Navy of the Italian Republic (Marina Militare Italiana).

Origins

The Italian Royal Navy was born on 17 March 1861 following the proclamation of the formation of the Kingdom of Italy. Just as the Kingdom was a unification of various states in the Italian peninsula, so the Regia Marina was formed from the navies of those states, though the main constituents were the navies of the former kingdoms of Sardinia and Naples. The Royal Navy inherited a substantial number of ships, both sail- and steam-powered, and the long naval traditions of its constituents, especially those of Sardinia and Naples, but also suffered from some major handicaps.

Firstly, it suffered from a lack of uniformity and cohesion; the Royal Navy was a heterogeneous mix of equipment, standards and practice, and even saw hostility between the officers from the various navies. These problems were compounded by the continuation of separate officer schools at Genoa and Naples, and not fully addressed until the opening of a unified Naval Academy at Livorno in 1881.

Secondly, unification occurred during a period of rapid advances in naval technology and tactics, as typified by the launch of La Gloire by France in 1858, and later by the appearance of, and battle between, the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia in 1862. These innovations quickly made older warships obsolete. Italy did not possess the shipyards or infrastructure to build the modern ships required, but the then Minister for the Navy, Admiral Carlo di Persano, launched a substantial programme to purchase warships from foreign yards.

Seven Weeks War

The new navy's baptism of fire came on July 20, 1866 at the Battle of Lissa during the Seven Weeks War (also known as the Third Italian War of Independence). The battle was fought against the Austrian Empire and occurred near the island of Vis in the Adriatic sea. This was one of the few fleet actions of the nineteenth century, and as a major sea battle that involved ramming, it had a profound, though with hindsight a detrimental, effect on warship design and tactics.The Italian fleet, commanded by Admiral Persano mustered 12 ironclad and 17 wooden-walled ships, though only one, the Affondatore, was of the most modern turret ship design. Despite a marked disadvantage in numbers and equipment, superior handling by the Austrians under Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff resulted in a severe defeat for the Italians who lost 2 armoured ships and 640 men.

Following the defeat at Lissa the Royal Navy made significant advances towards recovery.

Italo-Turkish War

In 1911 and 1912, the Royal Navy was involved in the Italo-Turkish War against forces of the Ottoman Empire.

World War I

Before 1914, the Kingdom of Italy built and maintained six Dreadnought battleships (Dante Alighieri as a prototype, Giulio Cesare, Conte di Cavour and Leonardo da Vinci of Cavour class, Andrea Doria and Caio Duilio of Doria Class), but they did not participate in major naval actions in World War I.

During the war, the Royal Navy spent her major efforts in the Adriatic Sea, fighting the Austro-Hungarian Navy. The resulting so called Adriatic Campaign of World War I consisted mainly of Austro-Hungarian coastal bombardments of Italy's Adriatic coast, and wider-ranging German/Hungarian submarine warfare into the Mediterranean. Allied forces mainly limited themselves to blockading the German/Hungarian navies in the Adriatic, which was successful in regards to surface units, but failed for the U-boats, which found safe harbours and easy passage into and out of the area for the whole of the war. Considered a relatively minor part of the naval warfare of World War I, it nonetheless tied down significant forces.

For most of the war the Italian and Austro-Hungarian navies each kept a relatively passive watch over their counterparts. The Italian fleet lost the pre-dreadnought battleship Benedetto Brin at Brindisi (27 September 1915) and the dreadnought Leonardo da Vinci at Taranto (2 August 1916) due to magazine explosion (although there were rumours of Austrian sabotage). In the last part of the war, the Regia Marina developed new, insidious weapons: the MAS boats, that sank the Austro-Hungarian battleship SMS Szent István in the Adriatic Sea on 10 June 1918; and an early type of human torpedo (Mignatta) entered the harbour of Pula and sank the Austro-Hungarian flagship Viribus Unitis on 1 November 1918. The battleship Teggetthoff (sister of the former two) was handed over to Italy as war prize in 1919.

Interwar years

During the interwar period, the Italian government decided to enhance its Royal Navy (Regia Marina) with a view to challenging the British Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet. In order to minimize contact with the more experienced British vessels, the Italian Royal Navy based its strategy on fast ships with long-range artillery. Accordingly it had new guns developed which had smaller calibers but longer ranges than their British counterparts; furthermore, in order to allow higher speeds, new Italian ships had designs with thinner armour (see, for example, Giovanni dalle Bande Nere).

In 1925, the Regia Marina ordered two school ships to be built following a design by Lieutenant Colonel Francesco Rotundi of the Italian Navy Engineering Corps, inspired by the style of large late 18th century 74-cannon ships of the line. The first of these two ships, the Cristoforo Colombo, was put into service in 1928 and was used by the Italian Navy until 1943. After World War II, this ship was handed over to the USSR as part of the war reparations and was shortly afterwards decommissioned.

The second ship of the design was the Amerigo Vespucci. The ship was built in 1930 at the (formerly Royal) Naval Shipyard of Castellammare di Stabia (Naples). She was launched on February 22, 1931, and was put into service in July of that year.

Italo-Ethiopian War

The Italian Royal Navy played a limited role in the invasion of the Ethiopia. While the Ethiopian Empire was landlocked, the navy was instrumental in delivering and supplying the invasion forces through Somali and Eritrean ports.

Spanish Civil War

At the time of the Italian intervention in the Spanish Civil War, the Royal Navy sent naval units in support of the Italian Corps of Volunteer Troops (Corpo Truppe Volontarie). Approximately fifty-eight Italian submarines took part in hunting operations against Republican naval forces of Spain. These submarines were organized in a Submarine Legion and complimented German U-boat operations as part of Operation Ursula.

Albania

In 1939, the Royal Navy supported the invasion of Albania. All ground forces involved in the invasion had to cross the Adriatic Sea from mainland Italy and the crossings were accomplished without incident.

World War II

On 10 June 1940, the Kingdom of Italy declared war on the French Republic and the United Kingdom and entered World War II. The Italians went to war with the fourth largest navy in the world. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini saw the control of the Mediterranean Sea as an essential prerequisite for exanding his "New Roman Empire" into Nice, Corsica, Tunis, and the Balkans. Italian naval building accelerated during his tenure. Mussolini described the Mediterranean as "Our Sea" (Mare Nostrum).[1]

Before the declaration of war, Italian ground and air forces prepared to strike at the beaten French forces across the border with France. By contrast, the Italian Royal Navy prepared to secure the lines of communications between Italy, Libya, and the East African colonies. The Royal Navy also prepared to attack British convoys. The Italian High Command (Commando Supremo) did not approve of the plan devised by the Italian Naval Headquarters (Supermarina) to occupy a weakly defended Malta.[2]

At the time that Italy declared war, the Italian Royal Navy consisted of six capital ships. The four most modern of these ships were being re-equipped. Only the two oldest capital ships were in a state of operational readiness. In addition to the six capital ships, the Royal Navy had 19 cruisers, 59 destroyers, 67 torpedo boats, and 116 submarines. Numerically the Italian fleet was strong but there was a large number of obsolete units and the service suffered in general from insufficient training of crews. The shortage of oil precluded extensive operations.[3]

The warships of the Italian Royal Navy had a general reputation as well-designed. Italian small attack craft lived up to expectations and were responsible for many brave and successful actions in the Mediterranean. But some Italian cruiser classes were rather deficient in armour and all Italian warships lacked radar, although the lack of radar was partly offset by the fact that Italian warships were equipped with good rangefinder and fire-control systems. In addition, whereas Allied commanders at sea had discretion on how to act, the actions of Italian commanders were closely and precisely governed by Italian Naval Headquarters.

This could lead to action being avoided when the Italians had a clear advantage. For example, during "Operation Hats" the Italian Royal Navy had superior forces at sea, but avoided the opportunity to exploit their advantage http://www.regiamarina.net/operations/hats/hats_us.htm. Italian Naval Headquarters was conscious that the British could replace ships lost in the Mediterranean, whereas Italian Royal Navy resources were limited.

The Italian Navy also lacked a proper fleet air arm. The Italian aircraft carrier Aquila and the Sparviero were never completed and most air support during the Battle of the Mediterranean was supplied by the land-based Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica).[1]

Mediterranean

In November 1940, the British attacked the Italian naval base at Taranto. The Battle of Taranto proved to be a very successful attack by carrier-borne aircraft carrying torpedoes against Italian battleships in harbor. This success provided one of the inspirations for the Japanese attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

The Allies gained the upper hand after several actions. A major defeat was inflicted on the Italian Royal Navy at Cape Matapan, where the British Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy intercepted and destroyed three heavy cruisers (Zara, Pola and Fiume; all of the same class) and two Poeti class destroyers in a night ambush, with the loss of over 2300 seamen. The Allies had Ultra intercepts, which predicted the Italian movements, and radar, which enabled them to locate the ships and range their weapons at distance and at night. The better air reconnaissance skills of the British Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm and their close collaboration with surface units were other major causes of the Italian debacle.

The most successful attack performed by the Italian Navy involved divers planting mines on British battleships in Alexandria harbour. On 19 December 1941, HMS Queen Elizabeth and Valiant were sunk in shallow water by mines planted by Italian divers. It took almost two years before both vessels could be raised and returned to active service. This action brought important strategic consequences.[4]

On the night of 19 December, Force K, comprising three cruisers and four destroyers based at Malta, became stranded in an Italian minefield off Tripoli. "Force K" had accounted for the destruction of some 60,000 tons of Axis shipping in 1941. The Cruiser HMS Neptune and the Destroyer HMS Kandahar were lost. In addition, three other ships were seriously damaged and more than nine-hundred men died. Force K was put out of action and Malta's offensive capabilities were reduced to a minimum.

This sudden series of Allied disasters allowed the Italian Royal Navy to achieve naval supremacy in the central Mediterranean. The Axis supply routes from southern Europe to North Africa were almost untouched by the British Royal Navy or its allies for several months. The Italian fleet took advantage of the situation and went on the offensive. The fleet blocked or decimated at least three large Allied convoys bound for Malta. This led to a number of naval engagements, such as the Second Battle of Sirte, the Battle of Mid-June, Operation Harpoon, Operation Vigorous, and Operation Pedestal. All of these engagements were favourable to the Axis. Despite this activity, the only real success of the Italian Fleet was the aerial and surface attacks on the Harpoon convoy. These attacks sank several Allied warships and damaged others. Only two transports of the original six in the convoy reached Malta. This was the only undisputed squadron-sized victory for Italian surface forces in World War II.[5]

However, this was only a brief happy time for the Axis. The oil and supplies brought to Malta, despite heavy losses, by Operation Pedestal in August and the Allied landings in North Africa, Operation Torch, in November, turned the fortunes of war against Italy. After years of stalemate, the Axis forces were ejected from Libya and Tunisia in just six months, their supply lines harassed day after day by the overwhelming aerial and naval supremacy of the Allies.

The Italian Royal Navy performed well and bravely [6] in its North African convoy duties, but remained at a technical disadvantage. The Italian ships relied on a speed advantage, but could easily be damaged by shell or torpedo, due to their relatively thin armour. The fatal and final blow to the Italian Navy was a shortage of fuel, which forced her main units to remain at anchor for most of the last year of the Italian alliance with Germany.

Atlantic

From 10 June 1940, submarines of the Italian Royal Navy took part in the Battle of the Atlantic alongside the U-Boats of the German Navy (Kriegsmarine). The Italian submarines were based in Bordeaux, France at the BETASOM base. While more suited for the Mediterranean Sea than the Atlantic Ocean, the thirty-two Italian submarines that operated in the Atlantic sank one-hundred-and-nine Allied ships for a total of 593,864 tons.

The Royal Navy even planned an attack to New York harbour for December 1942, but this plan was delayed for many reasons and was never carried out. http://www.regiamarina.net/xa_mas/ny/ny_us.htm

Red Sea

From 10 June 1940, the Italian Navy's Red Sea Flotilla, based in Massawa, Eritria, posed a potential threat to Allied shipping crossing the Red Sea between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Initially, the East African Campaign went well for Italy. In August 1940, the threat to Allied passage of the Red Sea was increased after the Italian conquest of British Somaliland. This allowed the Italians the use of the port of Berbera in what had been British Somaliland. In January 1941, the British and Commonwealth forces launched a counterattack in East Africa and the threat posed by the Red Sea Flotilla disappeared when Italian East Africa fell.

Much of the Red Sea Flotilla was destroyed by hostile action during the first months of war or when the port of Massawa fell in April 1941. However, there were a few survivors. In February 1941, prior to the fall of Massawa, the colonial ship Eritrea and the auxiliary cruisers Ramb I and Ramb II broke out and sailed to Kobe, Japan. While Ramb I was sunk by the New Zealand cruiser Leander off the Maldives, Eritrea and Ramb II made it to Kobe. As the port of Massawa was falling, four submarines - Guglielmo, Gauleo Ferraras, Perla, and Archimede - sailed south from Massawa, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and ultimately sailed to German occupied Bordeaux, France. One or two Italian merchant ships from the Red Sea Flotilla made it to Vichy French-controlled Madagascar.

On 10 June 1941, the British launched Operation Chronometer and a battalion from the Indian Army was landed at Assab, the last Italian-held harbour on the Red Sea.[7] By 11 June, Assab had fallen. On 13 June, two days after the fall, the Indian trawler "Parvati" became the last naval casualty of the East African Campaign when it struck a magnetic mine near Assab.

Black Sea

See main article: Black Sea Campaigns (1941-44). In May 1942, at German request, the Italian Royal Navy deployed four 24 ton anti-submarine motorboats (Motoscafo Anti Sommergibile, MAS), six CD class submarines, five torpedo motorboats, and five explosive motorboats to the Black Sea. The vessels were transported overland to the Danube River at Vienna, Austria, and then transported by water to Constanca, Romania. The flotilla had an active and successful campaign, based at Yalta and Feodonia.

After Italy quit the war, most of the Italian vessels on the Black Sea were transferred to the German Navy (Kriegsmarine). By August 1944, they were ultimately captured by Soviet forces when Constanca was captured. The six submarines were transferred to the Royal Romanian Navy.

Lake Ladoga

See main article: Baltic Sea Campaigns (1939–1945). The Italian Navy operated four Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs, or Motoscafo Armato Silurante, or MAS) on Lake Ladoga during the Continuation War (1941-1944). As part of Naval Detachment K, German, Italian, and Finnish vessels operated against Soviet gunboats, escorts and supply vessels during the Siege of Leningrad between June 21 and October 21, 1942. Ultimately the Italian vessels were turned over to the Finns.

Far East

The Italian Navy had a naval base in the concession territory of Tiensin in China. The primary Italian vessels based in China were the mine-layer Lepanto and the gunboat Carlotto. During World War II, Italian supply ships, auxiliary cruisers, and submarines operated throughout the waters of the Far East. The Italians also utilized Japanese-controlled port facilities like Shanghai, China, and Kobe, Japan. The auxiliary cruisers were merchant ships equipped with guns that, while still disguised to look like merchant ships, could be used for military purposes like destroying enemy merchant ships.

Seven Italian submarines operating from BETASOM were converted by the Italians into "transport submarines" in order to exchange rare or irreplaceable trade goods with Japan. The following submarines were converted for service with the "Monsoon Group" (Monsun Gruppe): The Bagnolin, the Barbarigo, the Cappellini, the Finzi, the Giuliani, the Tazzoli, and the Torelli. The name of the Cappellini was changed to Aquilla III.

Twelve additional Romolo Class blockade running transport submarines were specifically designed by the Italians for trade with the Far East. But only two of these vessels were completed before Italy quit the war. Both of these submarines were destroyed by Allied action almost as soon as they were launched.

The Armistice of 1943

In 1943, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was deposed and the new Italian government agreed to an armistice with the Allies. Under the terms of this armistice, the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) had to sail its ships to an Allied port. Most sailed to Malta, but a flotilla from La Spezia headed towards Sardinia. They were intercepted and attacked by German aircraft and the Roma was sunk by two hits from Fritz X guided glide-bombs. Among the 1600 sailors killed onboard the Roma was the Italian Naval Commander-in-Chief, Admiral (Ammiraglio) Carlo Bergamini.http://www.regiamarina.net/people/admirals/bergamini_us.htm

As vessels became available to the new Italian government, the Italian Co-Belligerent Navy was formed to fight on the side of the Allies. Other ships were captured in port by the Germans or scuttled by their crews. Few Italian Royal Navy crews chose to fight for Mussolini's new fascist regime in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI). Mussolini's pro-German National Republican Navy (Marina Nazionale Repubblicana) hardly reached a twentieth the size attained by the co-belligerent Italian fleet. [8] In the Far East, the Japanese occupied the Italian concession territory of Tiensin.

There was little use for the surrendered Italian battleships and there was doubt about the loyalties of the crews. So these ships were interned in Egypt. In June 1944, the less powerful battleships (Andrea Doria, Caio Duilio and Giulio Cesare) were allowed to return to Augusta harbour in Sicily for training. The others (Vittorio Veneto and Italia - ex Littorio), remained at Ismaïlia in the Suez Canal until 1947. After the war, the Giulio Cesare was passed to the Soviet Union.

In the Co-belligerency period, until "VE" (Victory in Europe) Day, Italian light cruisers participated in the naval war in the Atlantic Ocean with patrols against German raiders. Smaller naval units (mainly submarines and torpedo boats) served in the Mediterranean Sea. In the last days of war, the issue of whether Italian battleships and cruisers should participate in the Pacific Ocean war was debated by the Allied leaders.

There were also Italian Navy units in the Far East in 1943 when the new Italian government agreed to an armistice with the Allies. The reactions of their crews varied greatly. In general, surface units, mainly supply ships and auxiliary cruisers, either surrendered at Allied ports (Eritrea at Colombo, Ceylon) or, if in Japanese controlled ports, they were scuttled by their own crew (Conte Verde, Lepanto, and Carlotto at Shanghai). Ramb II was taken over by the Japanese in Kobe and re-named Calitea II. Four Italian submarines were in the Far East at the time of the armistice, transporting rare goods to Japan and Singapore: Ammiraglio Cagni, Cappellini (Aquilla III ), Giuliani, and Torelli. The crew of the Ammiraglio Cagni heard of the armistice and surrendered to the Royal Navy off Durban, South Africa. The Cappellini, Giuliani, and Torelli and their crews were temporarily interned by the Japanese. The boats passed to German U-boat command and, with mixed German and Italian crews, they continued to fight against the Allies. The German Navy (Kriegsmarine) assigned new officers to the three submarines. The three were re-named U.IT.23, U.IT.24 and U.IT.25 and took part in German war operations in the Pacific. The Giuliani was sunk by the British submarine Tallyho in February 1944. In May 1945, the other two vessels were taken over by the Japanese Imperial Navy when Germany surrendered. About twenty Italian sailors continued to fight with the Japanese. The Torelli remained active until 30 August 1945, when, in Japanese waters, this last Fascist Italian submarine shot down a B-25 Mitchell bomber of the United States Army Air Force.

After World War II

See main article: Marina Militare.

After the end of hostilities, the Italian Royal Navy, started a long and complex rebuilding process. At the beginning of the war, the Royal Navy was the fourth largest navy in the world with a mix of modernised and new battleships. The important combat contributions of the Italian naval forces after the signing of the armistice with the Allies on 8 September 1943 and the subsequent cooperation agreement on 23 September 1943 left the Royal Navy in a poor condition. Much of its infrastructure and bases were unusable and its ports mined and blocked by sunken ships. However, a large number of its naval units had survived the war, albeit in a low efficiency state. This was due to the conflict and the age of many vessels.

The vessels that remained were:

On 2 June 1946, the Italian monarchy was abolished by a popular referendum. The Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) ended and was replaced by the Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana). The Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina Italiana) became the Navy of the Italian Republic (Marina Militare Italiana).

The Peace Treaty

On February 10, 1947, the Peace Treaty signed in Paris between the Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana) and the victorious powers of World War II. The treaty was onerous for the Italian Navy. Apart from territorial and material losses, also the following restrictions were imposed:

The treaty also ordered Italy to put the following ships at the disposals of the victorious nations United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Albania as war compensation:

The convoy escort Ramb III ultimately became the Yugoslav Navy Yacht Galeb. The Galeb was used by the late President of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Marshal Josip Broz Tito on his numerous foreign trips and to entertain heads of state.

Ships

Pre-World War I

Battleships

World War I

Battleships

Cruisers

Destroyers

World War II

Aircraft carriers

Seaplane carriers

Battleships

Heavy cruisers

Light cruisers

Aviation & Transport Cruisers

Destroyers

Leone class: 3 vessels - 2283 t, Leone, Pantera, Tigre

Navigatori class: 12 vessels - 2010 t, among which Alvise da Mosto, Antonio da Noli, Antonio Pigafetta, Antoniotto Usodimare, Emmanuele Pesagno, Giovanni da Verazzano, Lanceloto Malocello, Leone Pancaldo, Luca Tarigo, Nicoloso da Recco, Nicolo Zeno, Ugolino Vivaldi

Oriani or Poeti class: 4 vessels - 1950 t, Vittorio Alfieri, Giosué Carducci, Vincenco Gioberti, Alfredo Oriani

Soldati class: 12 vessels (divided into First Soldati or Camicia Nera and Second soldati class) - 1620 t, among which Alpino, Artigliere, Ascari, Aviere, Bersagliere, Carabiniere Corazziere, Fuciliere, Geniere, Granatiere, and Lanciere

Maestrale class: 4 vessels - 1449 t, Grecale, Libeccio, Maestrale, and Scirocco

Dardo class: 4 vessels - 1450 t, Dardo, Fraccia, Saetta, Strale

Mirabello class: 2 vessels - 1383 t, Carlo Mirabello, Augusto Riboti

Folgore class: 4 vessels - 1220 t, Baleno, Folgore, Fulmine, Lampo

Borea (Turbine) class: 8 vessels - 1092 t, Aquilone, Borea, Espero, Euro, Nembo, Ostro, Turbine, Zeffiro

Sauro class: 4 vessels - 1058 t, Cesare Battisti, Daniele Manin, Francesco Nullo, Nasario Sauro

Sella class: 2 vessels - 935 t, Quintino Sella, Francesco Crispi

Torpedo boats

Submarines

Auxiliary cruisers

See also

Sources

External links

Notes and References

  1. Mollo, p.94
  2. Piekalkiewicz, p. 82
  3. Piekalkiewicz, p. 82
  4. "Consequently, the Alexandria Fleet remained for many months without any battleships, and it was forced to abandon any further open activity. In fact, Admiral Cunningham wrote that his Fleet now should have to leave it to the Royal Air Force to try if they could dispute the control of the Central Mediterranean with the enemy's fleet.(...) In fact, it opened a period of clear Italian naval supremacy in the east-central Mediterranean." Bragadin, page 152
  5. "Clearly this was an Axis victory and a tactical victory for the Italian Navy. Part of the convoy did get through to Malta, but the British suffered far heavier losses than did the Italians and Mussolini would later personally present medals to Da Zara and some of his men for their efforts. It would be the only squadron-sized surface naval victory of the war for Italy." Greene & Massignani, page 238
  6. Blitzer, p. 151
  7. Rohwer & Hümmelchen (1992), p. 78
  8. Mollo, p. 100