Marina Militare

The Marina Militare, old traditions and new appetites

Born from the Regia Marina in modern, post-war Italy, the Marina Militare (Litt. “military navy”) is today one of the pillars of the Mediterranean NATO’s strength, with France. Both navies are today collaborating on frigates while being at the same time fierce exporters. The Italian Navy went on innovating, capitalizing both on design traditions and tackling as well helicopter and aircraft carriers as well as cruisers and assault ships with the same enthusiasm. It is a quite versatile force, equipped to deal with ASW as well as surface and AA threats and although not provided with the equivalent of AEGIS found on Spanish destroyers, still possesses first-class electronic providers and equipment.

Modernized Garibaldi 1961

The missile cruiser Garibaldi in 1961. She was the former 1936 Duca Degli Abruzzi class cruiser, already modernized in the 1950s.

Strength at the end of the cold war

In 1990, the Italian Navy aligned a considerable fleet:

  • An aircraft carrier: Guiseppe Garibaldi (1983)
  • Three helicopter cruisers: Andrea Doria class (1962) and Vittorio Veneto (1967)
  • Four destroyers (two more launching): Impavido (1962), Audace class (1971)
  • Eighteen Frigates: Alpino (1967), Lupo (1976), Maestrale classes (1981)
  • Fifteen corvettes: Albatros (1954), De Cristofaro (1965), Minerva class (1987)
  • Ten diesel attack submarines: Toti (1967), Sauro (1976), Pelosi class (1986)
  • Three assault dock landing ships San Giorgio class (1987)
  • Ten LCVP landing crafts, Fifteen LCM, three Quarto class (1967)
  • Seven Sparviero class hydrofoil FACs (1980)
  • Twenty Aragosta class coastal minesweepers (1955)
  • Four Lerici (1982), eight more Gaeta class minehunters on order

NATO areas of operations

The Marina Militare had to operate on the two Mediterranean basins (each side of Sicilia) and the narrows of the Adriatic. In particular, their presence in Adriatic was to answer a theoretically neutral Yugoslavian navy, the Albanian Navy (with a Soviet submarine base), the Bulgarian Navy, also part of the Warsaw Pact whereas Turkey showed throughout its independence and had the Bosporus straight potentially closed to the Soviet black sea fleet.

Soviet helicopter cruiser Moskva operating with the 5th eskadra in the Mediterranean (Imperial War Museum coll.)

In fact the latter did ventured in the Mediterranean on a regular basis during the cold war. The 5th Operational Squadron went on with a collection of operational bases. However, there was never the same kind of “dangerous game” submariners in particular were accustomed for in northern waters, of strategic importance. From 1969 however, Libya became a potential threat was aligning with the Soviet block and subjected to be potentially used as a Soviet base, right at the doorstep of the Italian boot.

During the cold war, the Mediterranean was a complex theater of operations, compounded by the presence of massive Soviet airbases, with strategic bombers and naval long-range patrol planes. In 1969, they added a presence both in Libya and Egypt, considerable strategic assets for the control of the Mediterranean. The Marina Militare for air cover in the 1970s still depended on land-based aircraft.

All three helicopter cruisers were tailored for AASW warfare and the air group of the Garibaldi, made of Harriers, had from 1986, the only real naval air asset in the region, outside a comparable one by Spain (Principe de Asturias). Yet at the very end and after the cold war, and despite budget cuts, activity did not flinch as control of the EEZ and in particular immigration became the focus of the Navy.

The Regia Marina in 1945

After being part of the Axis operations until September 1943, the Regia Marina was very active, yet registering more defeats than successes, partly due to the lack of radars, adequate AA, and coordination with land-based aviation. September was a tragedy that saw part of the fleet sank by the former ally, Germany, or captured and later pressed into service either under German colors or their allies, like Croatia of the Salo Republic. The rest of the fleet, which took refuge at Malta, joined the allies and participated in many operations until V-day in Europe.

After 1945 it was assumed part of the Italian fleet was to be attributed as war prizes. A Battleship was sent to USSR, two cruiser and some destroyers to the French. However surviving ships were maintained in service like the ww1-vintage, but modernized Battleships Caio Diuilio and Andrea Doria, acting as training ships, and the cruisers of the Garibaldi class, the latter being transformed as a missile cruiser in the 1960s. Some submarines and numerous MAS-boats also assured the interim, waiting NATO-backed transfers of British and American ships, and the first local shipyards constructions, from 1950 onwards.

1949: The Marina Militare joined NATO

In 1949; Italy soon joined the organization, as UK and the US were already well embroided in the Greek civil war, a contest to see if the cradle of Western civilization was to fall too into Moskow’s orbit. Maintaining an effective Italian Navy at the doorstep of the Balkans was all too logical and desirable. Therefore not only the new regime gradually started, well helped by the Marshall plan, to rebuilt a naval force with its shipyards dependencies and related industry. Whereas a patrol force was made of torpedo boats converted to gunboats and submarines retained to battery-charge other vessels, initial prohibitions about both types of ships -and aicraft carriers- were dropped in 1952.

New 1950 naval Plan

While the Marshall plan consisted in a five-year reconstruction plan of European shipyards laid out in 1950, an early Italian plan called for a 6000 ton cruiser, two 4000 ton AA cruisers, and six versatile 2500 ton destroyers, a prototype 1500 tons ASW escort and a fleet of MGBs plus patrol crafts.
It was practical for the AA cruisers, to modernize the recent Capitano Romani ships still available, and for the two 6000 tons cruisers, modernizing the two Garibaldi class cruisers was also found more economically sound than trying to venture into new constructions.

Allied transfers

Complete Nomenclature of the Marina Militare


Work in progress…

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