Among the first ships of the “Condottieri” series, the two Cadorna class cruisers did not solve the issues of the previous Giussano class but initiated the transition towards the more optimal light cruiser designs of the late 1930s.
Early Condottieri designs
The first consistent naval construction programs began in Italy in 1923-1924, with the order of the first “Treaty” cruisers of the Regia Marina: Trento and Trieste.
After laying out these ships, the Regia Marina started to consider the construction of more numerous class ships, smaller, faster, and capable of neutralizing the large destroyers of the French Navy. We must in fact remember that in the interwar period, the Italian navy orientated its naval constructions to oppose their rivals the Marine Nationale, as France was seen as the most probable future enemy.
Thus the first “Condottieri” ships were born, with the first four units of the Giussano class ordered in the Naval program of 1927-1928. These ships were partially inspired by the experience of the Great war in the Adriatic, thus projecting the idea of a naval guerrilla to the whole Mediterranean. One year after the order of the Giussanos, funding for two more similar ships was made available and, in 1929, the Regia Marina ordered the construction of Luigi Cadorna and Armando Diaz. The design of these new light cruisers mostly resembled that of their predecessors but brought up some improvements, aimed at solving the issues already identified in the project of the Giussanos.
The Cadorna class had a much lower profile, aimed at solving stability and seaworthiness issues caused by too high superstructures (like the Giussano) and the reduced beam. The conning tower was in fact much lower and this was achieved by removing the hangar for the seaplanes (located below the command bridge in the Giussanos). The seaplanes and their catapult were placed aft of the second funnel, the Cadorna class were the first cruisers to adopt this new design feature which will be replicated in all the subsequent light cruisers of the Regia Marina.
Armament was practically the same as the Giussanos, with eight 152mm (6 inches) guns, and six 100/47 mm guns for anti-surface and antiaircraft use. Besides lighter armament like machineguns and light cannons, there were also four torpedo tubes in twin mountings and two depth charges launchers (with 104 ammunitions).
Despite the improvements, the Cadorna class still suffered from stability issues, although to a lesser extent compared to the Giussanos. One other crucial aspect was still very weak armor protection. The horizontal one (deck) reached 20mm maximum while vertical (main belt) and turret protection had a maximum of 24 mm thickness. These numbers meant that the Cadorna remained very fragile ships and this aspect led the Regia Marina to limit their combat role during WW2.
Cadorna and Diaz entered service in August and April 1933 respectively, in the interwar years they took part in naval diplomacy missions. A very famous one was a cruise to Australia and New Zealand of the Armando Diaz, commanded by the then Captain Angelo Iachino, in which the ship covered 25.000 nautical miles. In the late 1930s, both ships took part in the naval operations revolving around the conquest of Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil War.
When Italy entered WW2, the two ships were part of the IV cruiser division, together with the Alberto di Giussano and Alberico da Barbiano.
On the 7th of July 1940, the IV division joined the bulk of the Italian fleet in escorting a large convoy destined for Libya. The events that followed led to the famous battle off Calabria (known in Italy as the Battle of Punta Stilo). However, on the morning of the 9th of July (the day of the battle), Armando Diaz suffered from a boiler failure and was unable to sustain a decent cruising speed. It was ordered to abandon the formation and the Luigi Cadorna escorted it back to port. During those days, both ships repeatedly opened fire against enemy aircraft that tried to attack.
After the events of Cape Spada, the Regia Marina definitely assigned the Cadorna and Giussano class cruisers to escort or fast transport duties.
In February 1941, the Diaz escorted a convoy destined for Tripoli, together with other ships. On the night of the 24th of February 1941, the cruiser was torpedoed by the British submarine HMS Upright. Ammunition magazines exploded and the ship broke in two parts and sank in the space of 6 minutes. Of the 633 men of the crew, only 133 were rescued by the destroyer Corazziere.
The Luigi Cadorna relentlessly took part in escort and transport operations, managing to dodge air and submarine attacks across the span of 1941.
Given its obsolescence and the worsening situation of the fuel supplies, the Cadorna was moved to Pola in January 1942 to act as a training ship. The Cadorna served in this role until the summer of 1943 and were re-entered active duty and accomplished other transport and mine-laying operations. In July 1943, the ship was relocated to Taranto, joining the naval forces deployed there under the command of Admiral Da Zara.
When news of the armistice between Italy and the Allies came, Admiral Da Zara and the other superior officers at Taranto decided to respect the armistice terms and on the 9th of September, they left port and made it to Malta.
The Cadorna returned to Taranto in October and in November-December transported Royal Airforce personnel from Tripoli to Taranto. It was employed in similar missions for the rest of the war in support of allied operations.
At the end of WW2, the Cadorna was one of the four cruisers that the peace treaty left for Italy. The old cruiser entered the ranks of the post-war Italian Navy but given its obsolescence, the ship went soon to the scrapyard.
The rudder wheel of the Cadorna is preserved today in the Navy Museum of Venice.
Giorgerini, G. (2001). La Guerra Italiana sul mare, La marina tra vittoria e sconfitta 1940-1943.
Giorgerini, G., Nani, A., (2017). Gli incrociatori italiani 1861-1975, USMM (ristampa IV edizione).