After developing an effective fleet destroyer design with the four-strong ‘Maestrale’ class and four-strong generally similar but more powerfully engined ‘Oriani’ class, which were launched in 1934 and 1936 respectively, the Italian navy ordered an eventual 19 units of the ‘Soldati’ class as 12 in 1936 (Alpino, Artigliere, Ascari, Aviere, Bersagliere, Camicia Nera, Carabiniere, Corazziere, Fuciliere, Geniere, Granatiere and Lanciere) and seven in 1940 (Bombardiere, Carrista, Corsaro, Legionario, Mitragliere, Squadrista and Velite), thereby creating the largest destroyer class ever ordered for the Italian navy.
The ships of the first group were contracted to the Cantieri Odero Terni Orlando’s yard at Livorno, the Cantieri Navali Riuniti’s yards at Ancona and Palermo, and the Cantieri del Tirrero’s yard at Riva Trigoso: the destroyers were laid down in 1937, launched in 1937 and 1938, and completed during 1938 and 1939, while the ships of the second group were contracted to the Cantieri Odero Terni Orlando’s yard at Livorno and the Cantieri Navali Riuniti’s yard at Ancona: the destroyers were laid down in 1940 and 1941, launched in 1941 and 1942, and completed, with the exception of Squadrista and Carrista, in 1942.
More of the same
As designed, these destroyers were no more than repeats of the ‘Oriani’ class vessels, with machinery of the same type but slightly improved efficiency for a speed of 34 or 35kt, but there were subsequent armament alterations which created a number of subvariants. In the first group, a 4.72-in (120-mm) L/15 starshell gun was mounted on the platform between the two triple banks of torpedo tubes except in Carabiniere which carried a fifth but single 4.72-in (120-mm) L/50 main armament gun to complement the four other such weapons that were carried in two twin mounts. This latter arrangement was adopted for all the ships of the second group except Velite, which had the starshell gun. In the course of 1941 and 1942, Ascari, Camicia Nera, Geniere and Lanciere of the first group also had a 4.72-in (120-mm) L/50 gun fitted in place of the starshell gun.
War operations quickly revealed that the specified short-range anti-aircraft armament of 12 0.52-in (13.2mm) machine guns in four twin and four single mounts was hopelessly inadequate in both range and hitting power, and the machine guns were gradually supplanted by twin and single mounts for 20-mm cannon, initially eight in four twin mounts but by 1943 10 to 12 such weapons. During 1942/43 the still greater threat posed by Allied aircraft was reflected in the fact that in Carabiniere, Granatiere, Legionario, Fuciliere and Velite the after torpedo tube mount was replaced by one of two single 37-mm L/54 anti-aircraft cannon, and Fuciliere and Velite also had their starshell gun replaced by another 37-mm L/54 AA cannon. A second director was mounted abaft the funnel in Alpino and on the after superstructure in Carabiniere, Ascari, Aviere and Lanciere, but this was removed from all the vessels in 1940/41.
Two depth charge throwers were initially fitted, but the threat of British submarines in the Mediterranean meant that this was soon increased to four throwers. Velite and Fuciliere were fitted with Gufo radar, and Legionario was upgraded with a German radar equipment.
Poor AA armament
The destroyers of the ‘Soldati’ class saw widespread service in World War II, proving capable of efficient operation with the fleet and in company with torpedo boats, and also revealing themselves to be capable of absorbing substantial combat damage without loss. As suggested above, the primary weakness of the class, as with the majority of pre-war destroyer classes, was wholly inadequate defence against air attack.
Three of the ships were lost in air raids, Alpino at La Spezia on 19 April 1943, Bersagliere at Palermo on 7 January 1943, and Geniere which sank in Palermo harbour on 1 March 1943 after a bomb had damaged the dry dock in which she was under repair. Artigliere was sunk on 12 October 1940 by gunfire and torpedo attack by the British heavy cruiser York and light cruiser Ajax, and Corsaro was sunk on 9 January 1943 after hitting two mines, and Ascari on 23 March 1943 after hitting three mines, in both cases off Bizerta. Aviere and Bombardiere were torpedoed by the British submarines Splendid and United, on 17 December 1942 off Bizerta and 17 January 1943 off Marettimo respectively. Lanciere capsized in a storm on 23 March 1942 some 120 nm (220 km) to the east of Malta after the 2nd Battle of Sine. Corazziere was scuttled at Genoa on 9 September 1943 at the time of the Italian armistice with the Allies, but was later refloated by the Germans and lost on 4 September 1944 in an air raid.
Squadrista (renamed Corsaro in July 1943) and Carrista were incomplete and seized by the Germans in September 1943 and renamed TA 33 and TA 34 respectively: the former was towed to Genoa, where she was lost in an air raid on 4 September 1944, and the latter, whose bow and stern had previously been cannibalised to repair other ships of the class, was broken up.
The majority of the vessels which survived to the end of the War in 1945 were then transferred as part of Italy’s war reparations. Artigliere (ex-Camicia Nera) and Fuciliere were transferred to the USSR on 21 February 1949 and 17 January 1950 to become Z12 and Z20, which were discarded 1958, and Legionario, Mitragliere and V elite were transferred to France 15 August 1948, 15 July 1948 and 24 August 1948, thereupon becoming Duchaffault (discarded in 1954), Jurien La Gravière (discarded in 1956) and Duperré (discarded in 1961). Carabiniere and Granatiere were retained in Italian service and converted into anti-submarine vessels in 1953/54. The two ships were discarded in January 1965 and July 1958 respectively.
‘Soldati’ class destroyer (first series as built)
Displacement: 1,650 tons standard and 2,590 tons full load
Dimensions: length 350 ft 1 in (106.7 m) overall; beam 33 ft 4 in (10.15 m); draught 10 ft 4 in (3.15 m)
Machinery: three Yarrow-type boilers delivering steam to two Belluzzo or Parsons-type geared steam turbines delivering 48,000 shp (35780 kW) to two shafts
Performance: speed 38 kt; range 2,200 nm (4075 km) at 20 kt with 517 tons of fuel
Complement: 165 as designed and 206 for war service
Armament: four or five 4.72-in (120-mm) L/50 guns in two twin mounts and one single mount, 12 0.52-in (13.2-mm) anti-aircraft machine guns in four twin and four single mounts, six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in two triple banks, two depth charge throwers, and provision for up to 48 mines