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The Navy in the Cold War

By 1970 the Italian Navy had reached a total of over 130,000 tons, about 70% of which represents units constructed in the previous fifteen years. The main fleet consisted of three cruisers (G. Garibaldi, Doria and Duilio) and two missile-carrying destroyers(Impavdo and Intrepido)., Further, there were 53 destroyers, frigates, corvettes and submarines, about 60% of which were new or of recent construction. Minor units consisted of 85 minesweepers, MTBs and gun-boats and about 200 auxiliary vessels. The naval air arm used landbased aircraft and helicopters flown from airfields or ships. A special combined operations force continues the traditions of the original marines and the San Marco Regiment. It consisted of one battalion of the San Marco divided among three special landing vessels (Etna, Quarto and Bafale) and was highly mobile.

The latest units to be handed over to the Navy were all equipped with automatic control devices for propulsion, defence, escort duties and submarine location, as well as air defense, for which missiles were chiefly employed. Helicopters carried aboard were particularly useful in offensive action against nuclear-powered submarines which, because of their speed and almost limitless autonomy, are now the most serious threat to sea traffic. With the modern units at its disposal, the Italian Navy was always engaged in training exercises, in collaboration with NATO and individual allies.

Apart from continuing to process of modernization and carrying out those duties relative to patrolling and safe-guarding those areas 'ntrusted to it, the Italian Navy also played a role in other affairs, such as carrying water supplies to Capri and many other small islands, protecting the fishing fleets and an answering calls for assistance. These tasks, which are not strictly the ties of the Navy, are often very complicated and call for a considerable number of vessels and crews. The twenty tankers which the Navy used for carrying water cover about 8,000 kilometers a year, transporting an average of 410,000 tons of drinking water. The protection of Italian fishing fleets, in the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, required 14 units which carried out more than 170 missions per year, for a total of 8,000 hours of navigation. There are also numerous emergency calls and local patrols. Medical assistance was supplied to local populations in naval hospitals; helicopters and small ships carried emergency patients from the islands to the mainland and a large number of amateur boatsmen are given assistance when in difficulties. Like the Army and the Air Force, the Italian Navy helped in rescue operations after the disastrous earthquake in Sicily. Valuable assistance was given by such units as Stromboli, Urania, Vesuvio, Bergamini, Aguile, Altair, Etna, Sgualo and Storione and by the helicopter squadrons. One of the outstanding achievements was the intervention at Santa Ninfa, where naval crews set up a huge tented area accomodating about 600 persons.

Training cruises were used as a means of widening the academic and professional preparation of naval cadets and crews. These are also a way of maintaining strong relations between Italy itself and Italian emigrants abroad. Among these sea-faring ambassadors are the sailing ships Corsaro II and Stella Polare which, although small, performed well. During its first Atlantic cruise, the Stella Polare was the winner of the Port Hamilton-Travemunde Atlantic Regatta.

Mention should be made of the technical and scientific activities of the Italian Navy. Specialized naval personnel were engaged in many fields and, among these, nuclear propulsion is certainly one of the most important. Following an agreement with the National Council for Nuclear Energy and the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Italian Navy assumed responsibility for the construction and operation of a vessel equipped with a nuclear reactor. The relative project called for a great deal of research, in regards to both the construction of the reactor and the improvements in the performance of the original model. The project was also important because of the advantages it may bring in producing reactors for merchant shipping at competitive costs. The vessel, planned as a "logistical support ship", was to be such that it can be used for all types of experiments likely to widen knowledge concerning the employment of nuclear propulsion on a commercial scale and will also permit the Navy to start on its program of nuclear powered units for its own specific purposes. Some interesting experiments had also been carried out on hydrofoils, including testing of a model with a completely submerged wing which has shown itself to be faster and stronger. Trials have continued with hovercraft, which promise to be useful for amphibious operations. The Navy was also experimenting with computers and data processing.

The Italian navy was responsible for defending Italian trade routes and territory, controlling choke points, and escorting NATO naval forces, all in a vital part of the Mediterranean. The number of large ships that it maintained to carry out these missions had remained almost constant for the previous 30 years. In 1980 Italy had three cruisers (which also have helicopter facilities), six destroyers and six large frigates of the Alpino and Cigno classes. In addition, since the early 1960s, she has built eight frigates of the Bergamini and Lupo class that were smaller than most of their foreign contemporaries but had many of the same capabilities.

In 1975 a navy law was passed to provide for the updating of this force; the 13,250-ton helicopter carrier Guiseppe Garibaldi was to replace two of the cruisers, two missile destroyers were to replace four units of the Impavido and Indomito classes, and eight Maestrale-class frigates were to replace the eight units of the Cigno and Bergamini classes. By 1980 the carrier and six of the frigates had been ordered, but funds were not available to begin the other four ships. Two missile destroyers of an improved Audace class with gas turbines were proposed in the latest budget.

The number of smaller surface combatants in the Italian navy declined sharply in the period up to 1980. The number of patrol escorts and light frigates has decreased from 34 to eight. A new 1000-ton class is said to be in the planning stage. The number of fast attack craft also declined sharply, from a peak of 31 to five in 1980, four of which were old. Six Nibbio-class hydrofoils were under construction.

Italy's mine force declined from a peak of 60 in the early 1960s to 34 old ones in 1980. Eight of these were being converted to minehunters, and four new minehunters of the Lerici class are under construction. In contrast, the submarine force had increased gradually over the years to the present 10 units. Two additional Sauro-class submarines were building under the navy law to replace some ex-U.S. units. The Italian Air Force had not yet made a decision concerning replacement or updating of its 18 Atlantic maritime patrol aircraft.

The NATO military leadership assigns the Italian Navy a prominent role in implementing its designs in the Southern European Theater of Military Operations. The Italian Navy in 1983 numbers 76 combat ships, including 10 submarines; 3 guided missile cruisers; 6 destroyers (four guided missile ships); 12 frigates (6 guided missile); 8 minor ASW craft; 3 landing ships (tank); 34 mine-sweepers; 6 guided missile boats; 2 motor torpedo boats; 4 patrol boats; and 10 minor landing craft. There were also more than 140 auxiliary ships and boats. Naval aviation includes 18 "Atlantic" shore-based patrol aircraft and approximately 90 helicopters of various types. Personnel strength was 44,000.

Development of the Italian Navy was being implemented in accordance with the 1975-1985 shipbuilding program, which, along wih augmenting the Navy with new ships, provides for the modernization (or decommissioning) of those in the operational inventory. Two "Sauro" class submarines, two "Maestrale" class guided missile frigates, and two "Sparviero" class hydrofoil missile patrol combatants were commissioned in 1982.

Vessels under construction in 1983 included the light ASW aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi (commissioning planned for 1985); six "Maestrale" class guided missile frigates; one "Sparviero" class hydrofoil missile patrol combatant; and four "Lerici" class minesweepers. In developing the navies of other NATO countries, primary attention was paid to commissioning modern submarines, frigates, missile assault boats, and minesweepers.

In 1985 the navy consisted of 44,500 active duty personnel and reserves totaling 221,000. The active duty navy included 1,500 men serving in naval aviation and 750 men in the San Marco marine infantry group. Conscripts, serving tours of 18 months, made up 55 percent of naval personnel. Recruits and conscripts tended to be selected from inhabitants of coastal areas. Major naval bases were located at La Spezia and Taranto. There were secondary bases located at Gaeta, Brindisi, Augusta, Messina, La Maddalena, Cagliari, Naples, and Venice.

The navy emphasized antisubmarine warfare (ASW) and relied on speed and maneuverability rather than on tonnage and massive firepower. It had a tradition of innovativeness and audacity and pioneered the use of miniature submarines, motor torpedo boats, and underwater demolitions. During World War II the navy was known for daring, unconventional tactics. In the mid 1980s the navy's more modern ships contributed to NATO capabilities in the Mediterranean.

Ships included one helicopter carrier; a general purpose aircraft carrier; four cruisers; four destroyers; 15 frigates; 10 submarines; 22 inshore, coastal, and ocean minesweepers; eight corvettes (fast patrol boats); seven hydrofoils; two landing ships (LSTs); and a number of landing craft. The two cruisers and some of the destroyers and frigates carried antisubmarine helicopters piloted by naval personnel. Most of these were light helicopters of Italian manufacture, the Agusta Bell AB 212, which is capable of carrying not only ASW sensor equipment but also ASW missiles.

Further expansion of the Italian navy was limited to a great extent not only by domestic budget constraints but also by interservice rivalries, particularly between the navy and air force. This rivalry affected construction of an additional aircraft carrier capable of transporting and launching not only helicopters but also short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft such as the British Harrier. The air force argued that land based interceptor aircraft were more essential to the national defense than foreign made STOL aircraft. Because the Italian Constitution allowed only the air force to operate fixed wing aircraft, the general purpose aircraft carrier was initially designated as a helicopter carrier, but legislation was planned to allow it to operate standing take off/vertical landing (STOVL) jet aircraft as well.

As of the beginning of 1988 Italian naval forces possessed 74 warships, to include 9 diesel submarines, the light aircraft carrier "Giuseppe Garibaldi", 3 guided missile cruisers, 4 guided missile destroyers, 12 guided missile frigates, 4 frigates, 9 corvettes, 3 landing ships, 29 minesweepers, 7 hydrofoil missile boats and over 100 auxiliary vessels and boats of various purposes.

Two "Sauro" class diesel submarines (modernized variant) were being completed at sea in accordance with the ship building program. It was anticipated that they will join the fleet prior to 1989. Taking them into account, the Italian navy should have 10 submarines by 1990: Six modern "Sauro" class (built 1979-1988) and four "Toti" class. The submarine "Romeo Romei" (1952, former American "Tang" class), which is presently used as a training submarine, would be dropped from the navy.

The naval command felt that to carry out its missions, it must have 12 diesel submarines. Preparations for construction of new submarines with a displacement of around 2,000 tons were being completed for this purpose; in this case the prototype was to be laid down in the building docks in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

Two "Animoso" class guided missile destroyers (D560 "Animoso" and D561 "Ardimentoso") had been under construction since March 1986. They were to replace the guided missile destroyers D570 "Impavido" and D571 "Intrepido" built in the first half of the 1960s. The new ships, which possess rather powerful armament (an antiship missile system and two antiaircraft missile systems, one 127-mm and three 76-mm artillery mounts, two 324-mm triple-tube torpedo launchers, two helicopters, were to be used in addition to "Maestrale" class guided missile frigates together with the light aircraft carrier "Giuseppe Garibaldi." "Animoso" class guided missile destroyers were to be transferred to the navy in 1990.

The program for construction of "Minerva" class corvettes is continuing. The navy possessed two such ships, and another two will be commissioned in the near future, while four were ordered from industry in January 1987. Construction of "Cassiopeia" class escort ships intended to protect the economic zone in peacetime was to begin soon (full load displacement 1,360 tons, armament one 76-mm and two 20- mm artillery mounts, cruising range 5,000 nautical miles at 15 knots).

The L9892 "San Giorgia" helicopter landing ship dock had been transferred to the navy. Its full load displacement is 7,665 tons, its length is 118 m, its width is 20.5 m, its draft is 5.3 m, its top speed is around 20 knots, its cruising range is 7,500 nautical miles (at 16 knots), and its assault force capacity is 400 marines and 36 armored personnel carriers. An assault landing force can be landed ashore both by transport helicopters (one heavy or three medium) and by means of landing craft (up to six units). Construction of the second ship in the series was planned to be finished in 1988. Two obsolete tank landing ships (former American "Desoto County" class ships built in 1957) with an assault force capacity of up to 23 medium tanks and 550 marines would be retired from the regular navy.

Significant changes did not occur in naval aviation in 1986-1987. Introduction of new EH-101 antisubmarine helicopters into the inventory was anticipated in the early 1990s. There were plans for initially acquiring around 40 such aircraft. Replacement of shore-based Atlantic patrol aircraft was not planned for the moment: They would be modernized with the purpose of raising their combat capabilities and increasing their life.

On the whole, development of Italian naval forces would be characterized in the next few years by qualitative improvement of the ship inventory while maintaining the number of ships constant.

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Page last modified: 29-11-2015 19:01:13 ZULU