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Da Barbiano Class Light Cruiser

Alberto Di Giussano, Venice in 1935
Alberto Di Giussano, Venice in 1935
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Ship Builder Laid Down Launched Completed Fate
Alberto Di Giussano Ansaldo, Genoa 29-Mar-28 27 Apr 30 5 Feb 31 Lost 13 Dec 41
Alberico Da Barbiano Ansaldo, Genoa 16-Apr-28 23 Aug 30 09-Jun-31 Lost 13 Dec 41
Bartolomeo Colleoni Ansaldo, Genoa 21-Jun-28 21-Dec-30 10-Feb-32 Lost 19 Jul 40
Giovanni Delle Bande Nere Castellamare di Stabia 31-Oct-28 27-Apr-30 Apr 31 Lost 1 Apr 42

Displacement: 5,110 tons/5,191 tonnes (standard); 6,844 tons/6,953 tonnes (full load).
Length: 555ft 6in/169.3m (oa); 525ft/160m (pp).
Beam: 50ft 10in/15.5m; Draught: 16ft 9in/5.1m (mean).
Machinery: 2-shaft Belluzzo geared turbines; 6 Yarrow-Ansaldo boilers.
Performance: 95,000shp=36.5kts; Bunkerage: 1,150 tons oil fuel.
Range: 3,800nm at 18kts.
Protection: 20mm deck, 24mm main belt, 23mm turrets, 40mm CT.
Guns: eight 6in (4x2); six 3.9in (3x2); eight 37mm (4x2); eight 13.2mm (4x2).
Torpedoes: four 21in (2x2). Aircraft: two, one catapult. Complement: 507.

Design

The construction by France in 1923/26 of the 2,100-ton contre-torpilleurs armed with five 5.1in guns forced the Royal Italian Navy to consider countermeasures which eventually included a class of large destroyers or Scouts (Esploradi, the Navigatori class) and a large Scout of cruiser size. The latter sacrificed almost all protection for speed and superior gunpower vis-a-vis the Contre-Torpilleurs.

The hull was of mixed transverse and longitudinal construction, relatively lightly built and having a raised forecastle deck extending about one-third of the length, in the manner of a destroyer. It was also given a pronounced tumblehome. Over the machinery spaces, the side plating was of a chrome-nickel steel 25mm thick, and in the way of the magazines 20mm, which extended from just below the waterline to the upper (armoured) deck, which was itself 20mm thick. This citadel was closed off by forward and after transverse armoured bulkheads of 20mm. Inside, between the longitudinal bulkhead which extended from the forward to the after magazines, was an 18mm splinter protection longitudinal bulkhead. The weight of the armouring, at 584 tons, represented about 11.3 to 11.5 per cent of the standard displacement.

The machinery, a two-shaft steam turbine installation, was arranged on the unit principle, the two forward boiler rooms serving the starboard turbine while the after boiler room served the port shaft. The designed power of 95,000shp was considerably forced on trials, up to 123,479shp in the case of Da Barbiano, resulting in some very fast and misleading speeds being achieved (42.05kts although only for about 30min). Part of the reason for this was the policy of the Italian Government of the day, which paid a premium to the builders for every knot above the ship's contract speed. Not unnaturally, the builders took every advantage of this and often forced machinery beyond safe limits. Eventually the practice was stopped. These artificial speeds bore no resemblance to service speeds.

The main armament comprised the 6in (152.4mm)/53 Ansaldo 1926-pattern gun in four twin turrets. This gun, with its high-velocity design (900m/s), proved unsatisfactory in combination with the close barrel spacing and single cradle in an over-light gun house structure. The projectile weight was 47.5kg, and the magazine stowage was 1,800 shell, 1,960 cartridge. The secondary armament was concentrated between the funnels in three twin mountings, one each to port and starboard and one on the superstructure, sited on the centreline. The guns were the 3.9in (100mm)/47 OTO 1927 pattern, using a 13.8kg fixed round, 336rpg being provided. Light AA consisted of the 37mm/54 in twin mountings sited on the after end of the hangar roof and on the after superstructure, together with four twin MG mountings, two forward and aft. Only two twin banks of tubes were shipped, but a total of eight torpedoes was carried. An aircraft installation was provided, comprising an explosive Magaldi-pattern catapult on the forecastle and a large hangar in the base of the bridge structure. Two aircraft could be accommodated, initially the Cant 25 AR and later the Ro43, both floatplanes. All ships except Di Giussano were fitted for minelaying.

Bartolomeo Colleoni prewar
Bartolomeo Colleoni prewar
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Modifications

Initial experience in Di Giussano on trials demonstrated poor stability, so the tripod main mast had to be removed and, in addition, the after rangefinder had to be landed. Sea damage incurred by high speeds in heavy seas also led to the hull having to be strengthened. In 1938/39 the 37mm were landed and replaced by four twin Breda 20mm/65; otherwise there were few modifications to this class, as all had been lost by the spring of 1942.

Giovanni Delle Bande Nere
Giovanni Delle Bande Nere
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Service

Da Barbiano served in the Mediterranean until WW2, having participated in the RItN's activities during the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1937. At the beginning of 1940 the ship formed part of the 3rd Cruiser Division on a temporary basis and attached to the 2nd Squadron, but from 10 June 1940 she joined the 4th Cruiser Division. She participated in the Battle of Punto Stilo/Calabria in July, then formed part of the distant cover for a convoy from Naples to Benghazi at the end of the month. However, on 1 September she sailed to Pola for dockyard work to fit her for use as a training ship for the Naval School. After moving to Trieste for further work, the ship finally returned to service on 1 March for training duties. It was not until December 1941 that she rejoined the 4th Division as flagship for a special operation under the direct command of Supermarina, to run supplies to the troops in Libya. She sailed from Palermo on 12 December loaded with petrol and munitions, accompanied by Di Giussano. This sortie had become known to the British, and as a result the Italian squadron was intercepted off Cape Bon by Allied destroyers in the early hours of 13 December. Sikh, Legion, Maori and Isaac Sweers fired torpedoes and engaged by gunfire, hitting Da Barbiano with three torpedoes and quickly sinking her with heavy loss of life.

Alberico Da Barbiano in May 1939
Alberico Da Barbiano in May 1939
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Alberico Da Barbiano
Alberico Da Barbiano
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Alberico Da Barbiano in Venice
Alberico Da Barbiano in Venice
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Di Giussano participated in the normal peacetime activities of the fleet in the 1930s as a unit of the 2nd Squadron, including service in connection with the Spanish Civil War. On 10 June 1940 she was part of the 4th Cruiser Division, with the 1st Squadron, and was present at the battle of Punto Stilo in July. She carried out a minelaying sortie off Pantelleria in August, and for the rest of the year acted as distant cover on occasions for troop and supply convoys to North Africa. Finally, she took part in the sortie of 12 December 1940 with Da Barbiano and was also hit by a torpedo amidships, bursting into flames and sinking a little after her consort.

Bartolomeo Colleoni served in the Mediterranean until November 1938, when she sailed to relieve Montecuccoli in the Far East. She arrived off Shanghai on 23 December 1938, and remained there until the outbreak of war between Britain and France and Germany. On 1 October, having turned over command in the Far East to the sloop Lepanto, the cruiser returned home, where she arrived on 28 October. Colleoni formed the 2nd Cruiser Division in the 2nd Squadron together with Bande Nere. Her first operation was a minelaying sortie on 10 June 1940 in the Sicilian Channel, followed by troop convoy cover duties between Naples and Tripoli in July. On 17 July the ship sailed from Tripoli, accompanied by Bande Nere and bound for Leros in the Aegean, where British activities in Greek waters were causing concern. In the early hours of 17 July, while off Cape Spada (Crete), the Italian squadron, having been reported by RAF aircraft the previous day, was intercepted by the Australian cruiser Sydney and five destroyers. During the ensuing engagement Colleoni eventually received a shell hit in the engine room which immobilised her and left her an easy target for the destroyer's torpedoes.

Bande Nere saw service in the western Mediterranean during the Spanish Civil War and then spent a period with the Training Command under the orders of the Ministry of the Navy. At the beginning of hostilities she formed the 2nd Cruiser Division together with Cadorna, assigned to the 2nd Squadron. On 10 June 1940 she laid mines in the Sicilian Channel, and in July assisted in the distant cover of troop convoys to North Africa. During the sortie to Leros with Colleoni on 17 July she engaged Sydney and scored a hit before the Australian ship withdrew, low on ammunition. The Italian ship then returned to Tripoli via Benghazi. On 4 December 1940 she joined the 4th Division under the direct command of Supermarina and took part in several troop convoy operations involving large passenger liners. These continued into 1941, when she was also involved in Italian attempts to intercept British convoy operations to Malta, as in May. In June she and Di Guissano laid mines north-east of Tripoli to deter British bombardment of the port. These were eventually responsible for the sinking of the cruiser Neptune and the destroyer Kandahar, as well as for damaging two more cruisers, Penelope and Aurora, in December. Further minelaying was carried out in July in the Sicilian Channel. On 20 October 1941 she assumed the role of flagship, Special Naval Force, until 3 January 1942, when she was attached to the 8th Cruiser Division. The following month she participated in operation K7, a combined supply convoy operation from Corfu and Messina to Tripoli, together with many other units of the fleet. In March she was part of the Italian Navy's attempt to intercept the British convoy MW10 to Malta, her gunfire damaging the cruiser Cleopatra's after turrets on 22 March. However, the ship was in need of repair as a result of the storms of 23 March, and on 1 April 1942 sailed from Messina for La Spezia, escorted by the destroyer Aviere and the torpedo boat Libra. Some 11 miles south-east of Stromboli Island the ship was hit by two torpedoes from the submarine, Urge, and broke in two before sinking.

good view of Bande Nere aircraft
good view of Bande Nere aircraft
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Bande Nere shortly after being torpedoed
Bande Nere shortly after being torpedoed
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Bande Nere sinking
Bande Nere sinking
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