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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Length||351 ft (107 m)|
|Beam||33 ft 6 in (10.2 m)|
|Propulsion|| 2 Geared Steam turbines |
|Speed|| 30-38 knots |
Dependent on year and modification.
|Range||3800 nm (at 15 knots)|
|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)
Giorgio Giorgerini, La Guerra Italiana sul mare: la marina tra vittoria e sconfitta 1940–1943, Edizione Mondadori (2001).
Maurizio Brescia, Cacciatorpediniere Classe “Navigatori”(1995).