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Destroyers Of The Soldati Class

by Giulio Poggiaroni

Origin and Design

The Soldati class destroyers were the result of long design evolution in the field of light vessels that started in the 1930s. This gave the Regia Marina a numerous and reliable set of naval units able to escort the fast capital ships developed. The Turbine Class destroyers, in service since 1928, were no more considered useful for escorting the battlefleet and catch up with the fast Condottieri type cruisers. Consequently, a new generation of destroyers was developed, starting in 1930 with the launch of the Dardo class (4 ships). They were followed in 1932 by the Folgore class (4 ships). Due to flawed design choices, these ships had severe stability problems, tackled by adding extra weight to the hull and thus reducing the operational speed. These issues compromised the role for which the ships were designed, and soon new and improved ships were required. As a response, in 1934 and 1936, the new units of the Maestrale and Oriani class entered service, these ships were free of the deficiencies suffered by their predecessors and mounted a heavier AA armament and a greater installed power. However, in 1937 the Regia Marina could count on a limited number of modern destroyers (8), thus an improved version of the Oriani class was ordered, giving birth to the Soldati class.

Twelve ships were ordered, and they were named after different specialties of the Italian armed forces (Soldati means Soldiers): Alpino, Artigliere, Ascari, Aviere, Bersagliere, Camicia Nera, Carabiniere, Corazziere, Fuciliere, Geniere, Granatiere and Lanciere. By the end of 1939, all twelve units had entered service. The Regia Marina could now count on 20 modern destroyers (12 Soldati, 4 Maestrale and 4 Oriani) able to effectively operate alongside the fast capital ships. The Soldati Class destroyers were armed with two twin batteries equipped with the classical 120/50mm gun mod. 1936-1937 by OTO-Ansaldo.  This was the same type of gun mounted on all Italian destroyers (although in different versions). A 120mm howitzer firing illuminating flares was mounted on the elevated platform between the two 3x533mm torpedo tubes placements. The AA armament comprised of 4×2 20/65mm Breda autocannons and 8×13,2mm machine guns. During World War Two all the 13,2mm machine guns were taken down and replaced by 20mm and 37mm autocannons.

Launch of the Alpino

Launch of the Alpino

In 1940 the need to rely on more light vessels and the initial losses during the early months of the war led the Navy to prioritize the construction of the second series of Soldati class destroyers. These ships differed from their predecessors in a lower installed power and the improved armament, especially AA and anti-submarine. The wartime deficiencies of the Italian shipbuilding industry, coupled with the lack of skilled manpower led to the completion of only 5 out of 7 ships of the second series. These units were named: Bombardiere, Corsaro, Velite, Mitragliere and Legionario. Two other units (Squadrista and Carrista) were seized by the Germans and partially completed after 1943.

A group of Soldati class destroyers with the Artigliere in plain sight

A group of Soldati class destroyers with the Artigliere in plain sight

Operational history

The Soldati class destroyers saw action since the very start of Italy’s fatal adventure into the second world war, eight units of the XI and XIII destroyer flotilla were present at the battle of Punta Stilo/Calabria in July 1940. During the action, immediately after the flagship, Giulio Cesare was hit, they attacked the British formation with torpedoes, buying time for the main formation to retreat

The Italian invasion of Egypt in 19...
The Italian invasion of Egypt in 1940

On the 12th of October 1940, the XI destroyer flotilla (Artigliere, Aviere, Granatiere and Camicia Nera) was patrolling the Sicilian channel together with the torpedo boats Airone and Ariel. The ships were alerted by the presence of a British formation and soon a brief clash erupted (known as the clash of Cape Passero). In the middle of the night, the Artigliere engaged the light cruiser HMS Ajax hitting it with four shells. However, the returning fire disabled the Artigliere and caused a fire on board. The crippled destroyer fell prey to the British cruiser HMS York on the next day.

Destroyers Alpino and Fuciliere

Destroyers Alpino and Fuciliere

The Soldati ships were always deployed alongside the battlefleet for the rest of 1940 and the entire 1941, participating in the clashes of Cape Spartivento and Gaudo/Matapan. Progressively, they were assigned to convoy escort duties and several ships mounted a heavier AA armament and, in some cases, a sonar apparatus (ecogoniometro).

In March 1942, the Lanciere was lost during a storm, following the second battle of Sirte. That same month, the destroyer Legionario (second series of the Soldati class) was equipped with a German radar Fu.Mo 21/39 which was used for the first time during the operations of mid-June 1942 (the Axis attempt to counter Operation Harpoon).

After June 1942, the limited fuel availability forced the Navy to halt the deployment of the Littorio class battleships and the Soldati class destroyers were progressively assigned to convoy escort duties. In December 1942, the Aviere sunk while protecting the German cargo ship Ankara from the torpedo launched by the submarine HMS Splendid. In 1943 other ships were lost during the desperate attempts to re-supply the Axis forces in Tunisia or under allied bombings over Italian ports.

After serving in the co-belligerent navy, 7 out of 17 units survived the war: Camicia Nera (renamed Artigliere) and Fuciliere were handed over to the Soviet Union, Mitragliere, Velite and Legionario to France while Carabiniere and Granatiere joined the post-war Italian Navy.

Overall, the Soldati class destroyers proved to be among the best naval constructions among the ranks of the Regia Marina. They were progressively used in roles for which they were not designed for, such as escort duties. Overall they were slightly inferior compared to their British counterparts, mounting an inferior gunnery and torpedo armament. However, they proved to be robust and flexible vessels.

Class Soldati – serie I
Type Destroyer
Built 1937-1939
Displacement 2460 tons (full load)
Length 106,7 m
Beam 10.15 m
Propulsion 50,000 shp
2 Turbines
Speed 38 knots (depending on the period and on modifications)
Range 2200 nm (at 20 knots)
Crew 206
Armament (2) Twin 120 mm (4.7″) guns
1×120/15mm howitzer (firing flares)

Built 12 × 13.2 mm machine guns

Refit 4×2 20/65mm Breda autocannons

6 × 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes (4x533mm on some vessels)

34 depth charges

52 mines

 

 

 

Ship Builder Laid Down Launched Completed
Alpino CNR of Ancona 2 May 1937 18 September 1938 20 April 1939
Artigliere OTO Livorno 15 February 1937 12 December 1937 30 June 1938
Ascari OTO Livorno 11 December 1937 31 July 1938 6 May 1939
Aviere OTO Livorno 16 January 1937 19 September 1937 31 August 1938
Bersagliere OTO Livorno 21 April 1937 3 July 1938 1 April 1939
Camicia Nera OTO Livorno 21 January 1937 8 August 1937 30 June 1938
Carabiniere CNR Riva Trigoso 1 February 1937 23 July 1938 20 December 1938
Corazziere OTO Livorno 7 October 1937 22 May 1938 4 March 1939
Fuciliere CNR Ancona 2 May 1937 31 July 1938 10 January 1939
Geniere OTO Livorno 26 August 1937 27 February 1938 15 December 1938
Granatiere CNR Palermo 5 April 1937 24 April 1938 1 February 1939
Lanciere CNR Riva Trigoso 1 February 1937 18 December 1938 25 March 1939
Bombardiere CNR Ancona 7 October 1940 23 March 1942 15 July 1942
Corsaro OTO Livorno 23 January 1941 16 November 1941 16 May 1942
Legionario OTO Livorno 21 October 1940 16 April 1941 1 March 1942
Mitragliere CNR Ancona 7 October 1940 28 September 1941 1 February 1942
Velite OTO Livorno 19 April 1941 31 August 1941 31 August 1943

Sources

Bagnasco, E. (2021). Cacciatorpediniere classe “Soldati”, 1937-1965.

Giorgernini, G. (2001). La Guerra Italiana sul mare, La marina tra vittoria e sconfitta 1940-1943.

Stille, M. (2021). Italian destroyers of WW2.

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