Italy’s ww2 seaplane carrier
De Facto naval rivalry between France and Italy was traduced on an almost ship-to-ship basis: To the Giuseppe Miraglia, first Italian seaplane carrier modified as such in 1923, answered the French Commandant Teste, which was larger and built as a dedicated ship in 1929. The Miraglia was the product of the heavy use of seaplanes in WW1 for reconnaissance and attacks. Their use in combination with the fleet predated the use of radars. The French already experimented the cruiser Foudre as such before the war and showed the concept was more interesting than using a forward screen of destroyers or light cruisers for such role. Seaplane just were faster and covered much more area, plus they were perfectly suited for the sunny Mediterranean which allowed long range visibility.
Miraglia at Tarento
A precursor: 1915 seaplane carrier Europa
According most sources, Italy in ww1 only operated one seaplane carrier/tender: The Europa. This 6400 tonnes British ship (8500 fully loaded) built in Glasgow in 1895 as SS manila (4134 grt) was renamed Salacia in 1898 and until 1911. She became German (name unknown or, same) and in 1913 she was purchased by Italy and renamed Quarto (later dropped to free a cruiser name). The Regia Marina purchased her in 6 February 1915 and converted her as a seaplane carrier. She was recommissioned as the Europa in October, 6, and could operate in this new capacity up to eight seaplane carriers. However in practice this was reduced to two fighter and two reconnaissance types. In the end she was also fitted as a submarine tender. She was stricken and broken up in 1920 but bring some extremely valuable operational experience to the Italian Navy.
Conversion of the Miraglia
This experience was not lost to the admiralty which, soon after the war, thought about a new ship based on a faster, more modern and roomier basis. Therefore on 5 March 1921 the new Italian State Railway Company Città di Messina, a train ferry, already showed large hangars and could be a prime candidate for conversion. She was launched on 20 December 1923 and soon after, requisitioned by the Regia Marina and towed to La Spezia Nyd and arsenal for completion. It seems however that the ship, almost complete in 1925 (undergoing trials ?) capsized during a storm, was salvaged and repaired by Umberto Pugliese (Cernuschi, Enrico and Vincent P. O’Hara. in Jordan, John (2007). Warship 2007). She was completed for good and commissioned 1 November 1927.
Design of the Miraglia
The ship, as completed was 5,400 tonnes normal, and 5,913 tonnes fully loaded, for a length of 121.22m, a beam of 14.99m, and a draught of 5.82 m. She was propelled y two shafts, 2 Parsons steam turbines fed by 8 Yarrow oil-firing boilers (oil 430 tons) with 16,700 shp and a speed of 21 knots (39 km/h).
Her Complement was 16 Officers, 40 NCOs, and 240 sailors and air crews including pilots. Her armament comprised four 102mm/35 Schneider-Armstrong guns Model 1915 fore and aft in open sponsons, twelve 13.2mm MGs, and her protection consisted in an armoured belt 70mm thick, and a deck 80mm thick. She has a forward and aft hangars covered by a flight deck which served for prelaunch maintenance of aircraft. The two axial catapults were located fore aft too. Planes had to be lifted through the hangar roof on platforms to the flight deck.
Her namesake was a WW1 Italian airman and marine officer that illustrated himself in many dangerous recce missions, awarded by six medals included the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare. He died in 1915 while testing a seaplane Macchi L 1746. His death was celebrated by poet Gabriele D’Annunzio.
According to navypedia.org her first air complement was of 20 planes, M.5, M.7, M.18, P.6, small and four large seaplanes.
Later she carrier 17 seaplanes of the same type (a large fraction of which could be bring on deck simultaneously), which were launched by 2 steam catapults. Gantries helped recuperate these but this operation required calm weather, as they were loaded through side doors and bring into the hangar. This later air complement was composed of Macchi M.18 seaplane fighters/recce, and the last of IMAM Ro.43.
About the Macchi M18: A pusher biplane flying boat with unstaggered wings of unequal span braced by Warren truss-style struts. The version used by Giuseppe Miraglia was the M.18AR with folding wings. The plane could reach 187 km/h (116 mph) thanks to its Isotta Fraschini Asso 250, 186 kW (250 hp). Service ceiling was 5,500 m (18,000 ft) and range about 1000 km. Armament comprised a fixed bow Vickers 7.7mm MG and four light bombs carried underwing.
About the IMAM Ro.43 Idro These 1935 seaplanes became the main recce floatplanes of the Regia Marina, carried onboard all cruisers and battleships and stationed in many bases. Much more powerful, they relied on a Piaggio P.X R. 9-cylinder radial engine, 522 kW (700 hp), to reach 300 kph (162 knots, 186 mph) and her range was 1,500 km (590 nm, 678 mi) with a service ceiling of 6000m. Constructed with steel tubes and wood covered by soft alloy and fabric. Wings can be folded. The Ro.43 could carry a small payload in its main float, but no bombs. These were armed with a couple of 7.7 mm machine guns in the nose. 193 were built in all, in service in 1940 and until 1943.
The Miraglia in operations
The first years were spent testing launching and recuperating planes. Intensive tests on catapults led to many adjustments. Miraglia participated first in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. After 1937 she was also deployed to assist the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. When Italy declared war on France in 1940, the Miraglia operated as aircraft transport, performing training duties in home waters. After the Armistice she sailed to Malta for internment, just as the rest of the Italian fleet.
Now on the allied side, she replaced temporarily MTB depot ship HMS Vienna bombed and heavily damaged by the Luftwaffe in Bari, December, 2, 1943. After the war she was used to repatriate Italian POW. She ended as a barrack ship/workshop at Taranto. She was eventually sold for scrapped and be broken up in 1950, not converted back as a civilian ship.
Other Italian developments in aircraft carriers also includes the famous Aquila (“eagle”), a conversion of the trans-Atlantic passenger liner SS Roma which began in late 1941 at the Ansaldo shipyard in Genoa. However she was still not completed when the armistice was signed. We will see her later in an extensive article.