Translate in your language!

Monday 11 May 2015

WARSHIPS OF THE PAST: Giuseppe Garibaldi cruiser of the Italian Navy

Written by D-Mitch

Colorized photo of Giuseppe Garibaldi cruiser in the '60s
Giuseppe Garibaldi was an Italian Duca degli Abruzzi-class light cruiser, the latest evolution of the light cruisers Condottieri class, that served in the Navy of the Kingdom of Italy (Regia Marina) during World War II. The ship was named after the Italian general and politician and nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi who played a large role in the history of Italy. The cruiser was laid down in 1933 and completed in 1936. She was commissioned in 1937. The 12,000t cruiser was initially armed with ten (10) 6in (152mm) guns in two triple and two twin turrets, a variety of medium and light guns, six (6) 533mm torpedo tubes while she could carry up to four (4) IMAM Ro.43 reconnaissance single float seaplanes that were launched from ship's two catapults. Active with the Italian Navy (Regia Marina) during World War II, she participated in numerous operations. Along with her convoy escort duties, shore bombardment and British convoy interception, she was present at Punto Stilo/Calabria. She missed the Battle of Cape Matapan, having been detached to Brindisi immediately before. On July 28, 1941 she was torpedoed by the submarine, HMS Upholder, and returned to port with 700 tons of water. With the Italian Armistice, she sailed to Malta in September 1943. Except for a very brief period of time on anti-blockade runner duties, she spent the remainder of the war in transport and training duties.

Giuseppe Garibaldi and Americo Vespucci in 1968
Giuseppe Garibaldi with her initial armament in 1945
After the war, the ship was retained by the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) and modernized with minor changes of the armament and a radar. She was decommissioned in 1953 and it was about to be scrapped when in 1956, Italy decided to convert the ship into a guided missile cruiser following in that way the United States Navy conversions of WWII gun cruisers (Baltimore, Cleveland and Oregon City classes) to guided missile cruisers, warships with the main task to provide air-defence to the fleet. The reconstruction which was completed in 1961, included a complete overhauling of the superstructure, while the hull kept its original dimensions. The new ship was named flagship of the Italian Navy in 1961 as it was Italy's most powerful ship that time. 

Click to enlarge and save the image to view the details: Giuseppe Garibaldi cruiser. High resolution image here.
Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1938
Photo: unknown
Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1963
Photo: Paolo Bonassin
The armament was radically altered: a RIM-2 Terrier missile launcher that replaced the two 152mm turrets aft (one twin and one triple) made Giuseppe Garibaldi the first missile cruiser in Europe! The first test launch of a Terrier missile took place during the first post-cruise ship reconstruction in the United States. The launch of a "Terrier" by the Giuseppe Garibaldi occurred on November 11, 1962 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was the first launch of a missile by an Italian warship. The previous artillery was replaced by four new 135 mm/45 caliber guns in two twin turrets and eight new OTO Melara 76mm /62 caliber Type MMI cannons in single gun turrets, four each on port and starboard sides. Electronics included several radars and fire control systems. Later, in 1968, her 135mm/ 45 caliber guns were replaced by 135mm/53 caliber guns.
Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1963
Photo: Augusto Nani
Giuseppe Garibaldi launching a Terrier missile
Detail of the armament
Photo: Augusto Nani

The Terrier SAM launcher of the cruiser

Polaris missile tubes of Garibaldi

Launching test of Polaris
Italian cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi
Giuseppe Garibaldi carried the same twin-rail Terrier anti-aircraft missile-mount fitted to USN cruisers of this period. But unlike other ships of the US Navy, she retained her guns. There was an additional feature, however, that distinguished her from any other ship ever constructed. She was designed and constructed to carry nuclear ballistic missiles! Four missile tubes (8 meters long) were fitted in her stern, specifically designed to carry the UGM-27 Polaris intermediate range nuclear ballistic missile. This feature obviously caused quite a stir among the naval powers. The Polaris fittings were experimental and Garibaldi was never armed with the Polaris. Despite the successful launching tests, the US never provided the missiles, due to political convenience. Instead the Italian government set to develop an indigenous missile, called Alfa, with a successful program, officially halted by the Italian Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ratification and failure of the NATO Multilateral Force. However, three more Italian Navy cruisers (Andrea Doria class and Vittorio Veneto) were "fitted for but not with" two Polaris missile launchers per ship.

Giuseppe Garibaldi in Genova (1963)
Photo: Augusto Nani
Giuseppe Garibaldi in Taranto (1961)
Photo: Paolo Bonassin
Garibaldi in New York (1962).
Photo: Don Bodron
Garibaldi in New York (1962)
Giuseppe Garibaldi in Taranto (1967)

The four tubes for equal number
of Polaris ballistic missiles
The Polaris launchers
The cruiser originally had a top speed of 35 knots, but was reduced to 30 knots with the abolition of two of the eight boilers when she converted to carry Terrier missiles. The after funnel (the ship had originally two) was also removed. With the removal of two boilers and the consequent decrease of power there was also a reduction of fuel consumption, bringing the autonomy of the vessel to 4500 miles at a speed of 18 knots, while in consequence of the modifications to the hull and to the various accommodations onboard the endowment maximum fuel fell slightly to 1,700 tons of fuel oil. The role of flagship of the fleet would have been covered, twenty-four years later, carrying the same name and the same pennant number, the light carrier / cruiser aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi. The ship after its reconstruction remained in service for just a decade while the whole project to carry Polaris proved useless and expensive. Because of its short service following the reconstruction, the ship was in a fit state to its use as a museum ship, given also its great history; in addition to having participated in the Second World War, she was the first European missile cruiser, the first surface combatant (and sole) in the world to be prepared for the launch of ballistic missiles, and the first great Italian unit of post-war period, representing, in effect, the first decisive step of the Italian Navy towards a slow but steady process of modernizing its units, its operational and logistical structures. Unfortunately, the ship never became a museum and the decision was taken to retire the ship mainly for economic reasons.

Giuseppe Garibaldi arrives in Taranto
after her reconstruction
View of the cruiser's armament and electronic equipment
Giuseppe Garibaldi under demolition


The end of the cruiser in 1979

The experience of Garibaldi's crew, was invaluable to the new missile cruiser helicopter carrier Vittorio Veneto to whom the Garibaldi ceded the role of flagship of the fleet. The cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi served until February 20, 1971 when she was retired and her personnel transferred to the cruiser, Vittorio Veneto. On September 24, 1978 she was sold for scrap. The two battle flags that the unit has received are stored in two caskets to the Sanctuary of the Flags of the Vittoriano.

The three guided missile cruisers of the Italian Navy, Caio Duilio, Andrea Doria and
Giuseppe Garibaldi
in formation


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    1. Thank you sir. I took some time to reply because I was improving the article with more information and photos as well as an improved modified photo.
      You have an excellent blog btw!

  2. Interesting information. My father was USN Liaison Officer on Garibaldi from Sept. 1962 to December 1962 during the testing of missile system in Puerto Rico. He was Assistant Operations Officer for Destroyer Flotilla Six Staff serving under RADM J. W. Ailes, III.

    1. Any photos to share with us? You can reach me at