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Navigatori Class Destroyers

by Giulio Poggiaroni

The Regia Marina Navigatori Class Destroyers were constructed between 1928 and 1929. Twelve vessels served during World War Two, with only one surviving the conflict.

Class Origin

After the Washington naval treaty of 1922, the Regia Marina and the French Marine Nationale began a series of new ship constructions to counter each other’s latest vessels.

Antonietto Usodimare and Antonio da Noli in port during the late 1930s.

Antonietto Usodimare and Antonio da Noli in port during the late 1930s. Image: Public Domain.

The appearance of the large Jaguar and Guepard class French destroyers between 1924 and 1928 led the Regia Marina to develop new ship classes to counter the threat. For starters, the creation of the Giussano class cruisers provided Italy with a light cruiser able to hunt down the French vessels. Secondly, the intended construction of a new Esploratore scout cruiser derived from the Leone design. This plan led to the birth of the Navigatori class.

The Regia Marina required these new vessels to have a top speed over 40 knots and an armament powerful enough to deal with French opponents. General Giuseppe Rota of the Navy Engineering Division (Genio Navale) was assigned the task.

Armament

The main armament included 6x120mm guns (Ansaldo mod. 1926) placed in three twin mountings. The initial AA armament consisted of four Breda heavy machine guns and two Vickers-Terni mod 1915 (pom-pom gun). The 120mm guns had AA capabilities by using specific shells, although not designed for that role. Finally, 6x533mm torpedo tubes in two triple mountings completed the ship’s armament. The Navigatori class did not possess mine or depth charge capabilities.

Propulsion

The solution for the high-speed requirement included pairing four Yarrow boilers to run two independent turbines. It was a unique solution for light cruisers of the time, thus requiring two funnels.

Navigatori Class Production

Twelve ships of the class were ordered and laid down between 1927 and 1928, with all of them being completed by early 1931. The ships bore the names of famous sailors and seamen of the past, specifically: Alvise da Mosto, Antonio da Noli, Nicoloso da Recco, Giovanni da Verrazzano, Lanzerotto Malocello, Leone Pancaldo, Emanuele Passegno, Antonio Pigafetta, Luca Tarigo, Antonietto Usodimare, Ugolino Vivaldi, and Nicolò Zeno.

Ship Builder Laid Down Launched Completed
Alvise da Mosto CNQ of Fiume 22 August 1928 1 July 1929 15 March 1931
Antonio da Noli CT at Riva Trigoso 27 July 1927 21 May 1929 29 December 1929
Nicoloso Da Recco CNR Ancona 14 December 1927 21 May 1929 29 December 1929
Giovanni da Verrazzano CNQ of Fiume 17 August 1927 15 December 1928 25 September 1930
Lanzerotto Malocello CN Ansaldo of Sestri Ponente 05 October 1926 14 March 1929 18 January 1930
Leone Pancaldo CT at Riva Trigoso 7 July 1927 05 February 1929 30 November 1929
Emanuele Passagno CNR Ancona 09 October 1927 12 August 1929 10 March 1929
Antonio Pigafetta CNQ of Fiume 29 December 1928 10 November 1929 01 May 1931
Luca Tarigo CN Ansaldo of Sestri Ponente 14 July 1927 09 December 1928 16 November 1929
Antoniotto Usodimare CN Odero of Sestri Ponente 01 June 1927 12 May 1929 21 November 1929
Ugolino Vivaldi CN Odero of Sestri Ponente 16 May 1927 09 January 1929 06 March 1930
Nicolò Zeno CNQ of Fiume 05 June 1927 12 August 1928 27 March 1930

Sea Trials and Modifications

However, during the first sea trials, serious flaws were revealed in the ship’s design. Specifically, stability was precarious, and 10 out of 12 vessels received modifications. The beam increased by a meter, and the original bow replaced by a “clipper” bow. The superstructure was reworked, reducing the overall height and placing a lighter mast. Two lighter twin mountings replaced the original torpedo tubes.

Modification of the class. The top image is the initial design and the bottom is the final design.

Modification of the class. The top image is the initial design and the bottom is the final design. Image: Public Domain.

Following these modifications, the quality and combat-worthiness of the Navigatori class improved. Nevertheless, heavy criticism ensued because of their reduced capabilities. The top speed of 43.5 knots in trials now only reaches a maximum of 32 knots. This speed was now considerably inferior to their counterparts of the Marine Nationale.

Operational History

During peacetime, four units of the class supported the first Atlantic air cruise from Italy to Brazil led by Marshall Italo Balbo in 1930-1931. Between 1936 and 1938, the ships took part in the Spanish Civil War in support of the nationalist forces led by Francisco Franco. In 1938 they were officially classified as destroyers, ending the era of the Esploratori-type ships in the Regia Marina.

After re-classification, the ships underwent a new cycle of modifications and upgrades, which saw, among others, the improvement of the AA armament by installing new Breda 20/65 (Mod. 1935) and Oerlikon 20/70 autocannons. During the war, some vessels became equipped with depth charges for anti-submarine warfare as well as sonar.

A digitally colorized image of Nicolo Zeno in 1940. Fate of Regia Marina.

A digitally colorized image of Nicolo Zeno in 1940.

When Italy entered the war in 1940, the Regia Marina’s primary and vital objective included the daily resupply of troops deployed in North Africa. This ordeal created the so-called “Convoy War” in the Mediterranean. At this point, the twelve Navigatori ships, unable to escort the battlefleet and cruiser divisions given their inferior speed, were the best-suited units to escort transport vessels to the Libyan ports.

Robust, heavily armed, and an excellent operational range, the Navigatori class destroyers were intensively used until 1943, in the Italian effort to escort and protect the shippings vital for the Axis war effort in North Africa. Their exhaustive use during the convoy war resulted in 1,651 missions, with 571,306 nautical miles covered in 35,509 hours. Only one ship, the Nicoloso da Recco, survived the war.

Last stand of the Luca Tarigo

On 13 April 1941, the Luca Tarigo left Naples, escorting a convoy destined for Tripoli that included the Sabaudia, Aegina, Iserlohn, Arta, and Adana. Destroyers Baleno and Lampo also accompanied the convoy.

Luca Tarigo of the Navigatori Class.

Luca Tarigo of the Navigatori Class. Image: Public Domain.

Between 14 and 15 April, a storm dispersed the convoy. Once it regrouped, British reconnaissance aircraft sighted them the next day.

At 2.20 am on 16 April 1941, the convoy approached the shoals of Kerkennah off the Tunisian coast. Radar equipped destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Nubian, and HMS Mohawk from Force K initiated an ambush.

During the night action, the British destroyers immediately hit five transport vessels, along with the Destroyers Lampo and Baleno, reducing them to floating wrecks. The Luca Tarigo led the convoy when the British attacked. Captain Pietro De Cristofano immediately ordered the reverse course of the Luca Tarigo and counterattacked the four enemy destroyers.

During the attack maneuver, the Luca Tarigo received a hit under the bridge, destroying the rudder and transmission apparatus. Captain De Cristofaro was hit and lost a leg, while several other men were killed or severely injured.

Surviving officers activated the aft rudder and transmission commands, bringing the ship to a few hundred meters from the British. The fight raged on, and the Tarigo caught fire after repeated hits. The main armament was out of order, and the crew decimated.

Chief engineer, Captain Luca Balsofiore, died next to Captain De Cristofaro after reporting the engine apparatus was no longer operational.

A group of survivors, led by vessel lieutenant Ettore Besagno, reached the only operating torpedo tubes still functioning. The torpedo sub-director Adriano Marchetti aimed and launched three torpedoes. Two hit the destroyer HMS Mohawk, fatally damaging the ship. The Luca Tarigo subsequently sank, leaving 36 survivors out of 230 men. The crew of the HMS Mohawk scuttled the vessel following the two torpedo hits.

Captain De Cristofaro and Balsofiore received the Gold Medal for Military valor posthumously.

Specifications

Class Navigatori Class
Type Destroyer
Built 1928-1929
Displacement 2,693 tons
Length 351 ft (107 m)
Beam 33 ft 6 in (10.2 m)
Propulsion 2 Geared Steam turbines
4 boilers
50,000 hp
Speed 30-38 knots
Dependent on year and modification.
Range 3800 nm (at 15 knots)
Crew 224
Armament (3) Twin 120 mm (4.7") guns

Built: 2 × 40 mm pom-pom guns (2×1)
Refit: 2 x 37 mm (1.5 in) guns (2×1)
8 × 13.2 mm machine guns
6 × 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes (4x533mm on some vessels)
56 mines

Sources:

Giorgio Giorgerini, La Guerra Italiana sul mare: la marina tra vittoria e sconfitta 1940–1943, Edizione Mondadori (2001).
Maurizio Brescia, Cacciatorpediniere Classe “Navigatori”(1995).

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