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Wednesday 7 December 2016

WARSHIPS OF THE PAST: Elli cruiser of the Royal Hellenic Navy

 Written by D-Mitch

Elli, cruiser of the Royal Hellenic Navy (1951)
In 1947, Greece accepted from Italy the cruiser Eugenio di Savoia, a Condottieri class light cruiser of the Italian Navy (Regia Marina,  the Navy of the Kingdom of Italy) as a World War II reparation for Greece. The new warship renamed Elli, to honor the Elli light cruiser that was sunk by the Italian submarine Delfino while the cruiser sat at anchor near the Greek island Tinos, before the outbreak of the Greco-Italian War on 15 August 1940. The ship was commissioned into the Royal Hellenic Navy (Βασιλικό Πολεμικό Ναυτικό) in 1951 and had a very short career. The 186-meter cruiser was the longest warship ever served with the Hellenic Navy and the largest surface combatant after WWII. However, the largest ever Greek warships were the two per-dreadnought battleships of the Mississippi class, Kilkis and Limnos, that had a full displacement approximately 14,500tons at full load. It should be mentioned that today's Hellenic Navy largest warship is the logistic support ship Prometheus that has a displacement of about 14,000tons and length of 146 meters.

Elli, cruiser of Royal Hellenic Navy in 1951
Elli, during her official commission (1951)
Elli, during her official commission (1951)
The article contains more than 70 (!) photos and the most accurate and complete information about the ship, which in Greek service, very little is known about its equipment and history. Unfortunately, the photos are not of high resolution, so it was really difficult to distinguish the equipment on the vessel and to analyze it better. Moreover, this article was another example where the researcher should be responsible for evaluating all his sources with criticism, and to not rely entirely on the online sources, but to report only the credible information based on careful judgment of the reliability of information. Yet, despite all these issues, I hope I did a good job and you will enjoy the article!

Beautiful aerial view of Eugenio di Savoia. By OctavianAvgvstvs
Eugenio di Savoia and Duca d'Aosta
Eugenio di Savoia in high speed
The Eugenio di Savoia cruiser was part of the fourth group (of the total five groups consisted of twelve vessels) of Condottieri class light cruisers, also known as the Duca d'Aosta class, a class of very fast and elegant cruisers but lightly armored. The vessel was commissioned on 16 January 1936. As results of the pact between Franco and Mussolini during the Spanish Civil War, on 13 February 1937, the ship went into action off the coast of Barcelona, Spain, bombarding the city and causing 18 deaths. Later, the cruiser joined the 7th cruiser division and went on a circumnavigation of the globe with her sister ship, Emanuele Filiberto Duca d'Aosta, in 1938-39, returning to La Spezia in March 1939. During World War II she fought in the Battle of Punta Stilo (also known as Battle of Calabria, 1940), the Operation Harpoon (1942) - the battle in which she crippled HMS Bedouin (F67), and the Operation Pedestal (1942). The ship was hit during an air strike carried out by Liberator bombers while berthed in Napoli on 4 December 1942. Τhere were 17 dead and 46 wounded among the crew. Two other cruisers of the class, Raimondo Montecuccoli and Muzio Attendolo were badly hit and the latter sunk. After the armistice in 1943, she was used as a training ship at Suez. After the end of the war, in 1951, the cruiser was transferred to Greece (see following photos) under the terms of the Italian Peace Treaty to compensate Greece for the sinking of the previous Elli light cruiser in 1940 thus the ship was named also Elli.

Τhe light cruiser Elli, that was sunk by the Italian submarine Delfino in 1940
The sister of Elli, the Emanuele Filiberto Duca d'Aosta, was given to Soviet Navy. She was first renamed as Stalingrad, then as Kerch and served with the Soviet Black Sea Fleet until she was stricken on 20 February 1959 and scrapped in the 1960s (possibly 1960).

King Paul aboard Elli (1951)
Raising the Royal Jack (1951)
Queen Frederica aboard Elli (1951)
Sailors at the bow saluting (1951)
The old flag of the Elli (I)
Raising the flag (1951)

Raising the flag (1951)
View of Elli during her service in the Hellenic Navy
View of Elli during her service in the Hellenic Navy (1951)


The royal couple (1951)


The ship, theoretically, as the most powerful vessel in the Greek fleet of that era, and having large and luxury compartments, became immediately the flagship of the Royal Hellenic Navy (1936-1973) and held this role until 1964.

Greek sailors and in the background Elli
The cruiser Elli (Eleftherios Velizelos foundation)

The cruiser Elli, from stem-to-stern


The general characteristics of the Duca d'Aosta class was a displacement of approximately 10,670tons at full load, length of 186.9m, beam of 17.5m, maximum speed of approximately 37 knots and a range of only 890n.m. at maximum speed and 3,900n.m. with the speed of 14 knots. The ship's armor was 35 mm on the deck, 70 mm on the  main belt, 90 mm on turrets and 100 mm on conning tower. The crew was between 600 to 570 men after WWII with the removal of the catapult amidships, the two IMAM Ro.43 aircrafts, weapons, fire control systems, radar etc.

Modified photo (low resolution) of Elli cruiser of the Royal Hellenic Navy. High resolution image here.
The forward gun turrets
The aft gun turrets. Notice the
twin 100mm gun turret behind
The main armament of the ship consisted of four 6in (152mm) guns in two twin turrets. These guns could fire 5-8 rounds per minute in a maximum range of approximately 28,400 meters (with the original 55kg shell). The turrets were electrically powered for training and elevation as were the chain rammers. Empty shell cases were pushed by a conveyor belt forward to ports in the turret face. It should be mentioned here that these guns suffered from excessive longitudinal dispersion which was blamed on a variety of factors, some of which were a result of the light nature of the weapon itself. Its complex nature also made it hard to maintain.

The forward gun turrets of Elli in action during an exercise

The secondary armament consisted of six (6) 100mm guns in three twin gun turrets. Their rate of fire was approximately 10 rounds per minute while the maximum firing distance was 15,240 meters. Their role was dual.

The Queen Frederica and Princess Sofia saluting aboard Elli while the ship
arrives in Toulon of France (1956). You can see the 100mm gun turret,
behind the 6in gun turret in C position
Εlli's rear 100mm gun firing (1955)
Εlli's rear 100mm gun firing (1953)
Except the main guns, the ship was armed with a number of guns and heavy machine guns for the anti-aircraft role. I should mention here that the online sources based on the book of Admiral C. Paizis-Paradellis (2002) Hellenic Warships 1829–2001 are not accurate. The book reports the secondary armament of the vessel as 16 Bofors 40mm guns though this is not correct. Sadly, the Hellenic Navy website has borrowed the same information about the ship (see here). Through the photos of the ship I collected, I recognized that the ship retained the Italian secondary armament except the machine guns which I describe in another paragraph.

Eugenio Di Savoia; notice the fire control director at the rear of the forward funnel.
The ship was transferred to Greece without it (two, one at each side)
Elli in Aegean, 1951 (?)
37mm/54cal Model 1932 aboard an
Italian unknown vessel
Cruiser Elli in a dock at Syros.
Credits to Ellinis for the find!
Therefore, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the ship kept its original eight (8) 37mm guns in four twin mountings with a stabilized line of sight. This gun was the standard Italian close-range anti-aircraft weapon used on large ships during World War II. The guns used in the Model 1932 twin mounting were water-cooled with a recirculating pump. The magazines held only six rounds, but it was possible to load them sequentially and thus maintain a high rate of fire. The rate of fire was selectable:  60, 90 and 120 rounds per minute cyclic. The maximum firing range was 7,800m while the effective range was about the half of it.

Photo of Greek sailors aboard the cruiser in 1951. The photo verifies the armament (37mm gun)
The machine guns were initially eight (8) Model 1931 13,2mm in four twin turrets but those were replaced (due to the damage the ship suffered in 1942) after the signing of the armistice between Italy and the Allies on 8 September 1943, with ten (10) more modern and efficient US-made Oerlikon 20mm guns. Except the photos, the information available on the Italian Navy's official website (source), confirms my statement. Therefore, indeed Greece received the ship with that armament. The Oerlikon 20mm (0.787in) gun has a maximum firing range of approximately 4,500m (in practice up to 1.5 km) while the weapon's rate of fire is about 450rds/min (in practice between 250 to 320 rounds).

Photo of Greek sailors aboard the cruiser in 1951. The photo verifies the armament (Oerlikon 20mm)
Greek sailors and triple torpedo
launcher in the back
Mines and mine rails on Duca d'Aosta
The armament complete two triple 21in torpedo launchers for heavyweight surface-to-surface torpedoes. Originally the vessel, as the majority of Italian light cruisers, was fitted to lay mine, carrying between 100 to 140 depending upon the type. From the photos, it is clear that this capability was lost after the ship was transferred to Greece and the rails were later removed. It is unknown if there was still a provision for them in service with the Hellenic Navy. I assumed they were removed. Furthermore, when the ship was delivered, among others, two fire control systems were removed (located at  the rear of the front funnel), one EC.3/ter radar (?), the aircraft launching catapult and the two IMAM Ro.43 Italian-built reconnaissance single float seaplanes (watch a nice video of Eugenio di Savoia launching a plane from her catapult here). Some sources report that the ship had also two depth charges launching systems but I could not locate them in any photo thus I do not report them.

Italian light cruiser Emmanuele
Filiberto Duca d'Aosta

Eugenio di Savoia on route
Eugenio di Savoia carrying planes aboard

Eugenio di Savoia's catapult and planes

The stern of Elli

Nice view of Eugenio Di Savoia

Eugenio di Savoia (1938?)
Aerial view of Eugenio Di Savoia


Here, I should point out, that despite the well-known of the absence of any kind of electronic equipment on the vessel, in some photos I could recognize an SO-8 radar, similar to the one the cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi had, together with an SK-2, in the early '50s. I assume this radar was installed later, perhaps late '50s

Elli (with radar) visiting Malta
Giuseppe Garibaldi cruiser with SO-8 radar on the foremast
and SK-2 radar on the main mast, in 1952

Elli (with radar) visiting Malta

Beautiful photo of the conning tower of cruiser Elli.
You can see (closed) the rangefinder of the B gun turret.
Elli visiting Taranto, Italy
Elli cruiser


The cruiser Elli, served mainly as a mean of transport of Greek Sovereigns (something common that era in the western world) and their guests such as Marshal Tito, President of Yugoslavia (video) or Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, to different places in Greece as well as for state visits of Greek Sovereigns to Constantinople in June 1952, Yugoslavia in September 1955, Toulon, France in June 1956 (videos here and here), and Lebanon in May 1958 (video).
Haile Selassie visiting Greece; in the background the Elli

Tito and King Paul aboard Elli (1954)

Elli sailing to Libanon (1958)

Princess Sofia during a feast aboard Elli (1961)

Elli sailing to Libanon (1958)

The ship participated also in various celebrations around Greece. You can enjoy some screenshots from videos taken during various events, such as various commemorations of the Naval Battle of Elli (video of 1953 and video of 1955), the Naval Week at Faliro (video)

Commemorating the naval Battle of Elli (1953)
Commemorating the naval Battle of Elli (1953)

Commemorating the naval Battle of Elli (1955)
Commemorating the naval Battle of Elli (1955)

Commemorating the naval Battle of Elli (1955)

Commemorating the naval Battle of Elli (1955)

Commemorating the naval Battle of Elli (1955)
Commemorating the naval Battle of Elli (1955)

Naval Week, Faliro (1961)
Commemorating the naval Battle of Elli
(1962). Credits to Ellinis for the find!

The following screenshots are from a video taken during the visit of  Greek Sovereigns to Toulon of France in June 1956. The cruiser Elli, is accompanied by the Richelieu class battleship Jean Bart (she will be analyzed in depth in a future post), the most modern European battleship of that time in Europe and one of the last of their kind. You can watch the entire video from the visit here and here.

Elli sailing to France (1956)
Elli and Jean Bart (1956)
Elli sailing to France (1956)

Elli sailing to France (1956)
Elli sailing to France (1956)

The cruiser Elli was never modernized as it was considered less important than other escort ships of that time, such as the Hunt class destroyer,s but if was extensively modernized perhaps could be usefully employed mainly for naval gunfire support for amphibious operations.

Cruiser Elli with Pyrpolitis training ship, at Corfu in the '60s.
By Γ.Ζ. (George Zoumpos),
Elli during her demolition at Kynosoura of Salamis in 1973.
Photo by Trevor Jones. Credits to Ellinis from for the find!
Elli during her demolition at Perama in 1974.
Credits to Ellinis from for the find!
The ship, as it was already obsolete, had a very short career. The ship became the headquarters for the Commander in Chief of the Hellenic Fleet and thus she was moved to Souda Bay, Crete in 1959 where she was used as headquarters of the Ionian and Cretan Seas Command. Laid up in 1965, she was used as a naval prison ship. Certain naval personnel were detained there during the 1967-1974 junta because of their resistance activities. She was auctioned off in 1973 and scrapped the same year at Perama of Piraeus, Greece.

Elli, as seen from destroyer Navarino

I would like to thank a lot my friend Evangelos Tzardis for the confirmation of the armament of the ship and its condition as well as his suggestions for the EOA videos and his general support. I should mention also that the majority of the photos was retrieved from the excellent Facebook page ΠΟΛΕΜΙΚΟ ΝΑΥΤΙΚΟ. ''Ταξίδι από το ένδοξο παρελθόν στο σήμερα".

Photos & Videos:


  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.

  2. Τhe sister ship of Elli(II), Emanuele Filiberto Duca d'Aosta, renamed as Stalingrad and then as Kerch, had a bad end in Soviet Navy. She served as a training ship with the Soviet Black Sea Fleet until she was sunk on 20 February 1959 after an mysterious underwater explosion and a very bad salvage operation right after, with great loss of life... She was refloated next year and then scrapped.

    1. Thank you for your nice comments my friend Manolis! I included the vessel you mention in an article about Soviet Fleet after WWII at

    Να χαιρόμαστε τα 200 χρόνια σε 2 ημέρες!

  4. Εξαιρετική δουλειά. Μπράβο.