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Italian Naval Bases

By Cristiano D'Adamo

As documented by the Historical Bureau of the Italian Navy (Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare or U.S.M.M.) during the period 1924-1925, several organizational aspects of the Regia Marina assumed a more definitive aspect. By simply looking at the organizational structure and the means available, the Regia Maria was thought to be perfectly capable of dealing with a variety of scenarios. In 1935, Admiral Cavagnari (the head of the Italian Navy) declared to the lower house of parliament that “amongst the more pressing needs to [achieve] the efficiency of a fleet – as you know – is the infrastructure for the naval bases.” Perhaps, Admiral Cavagnari should have admitted that the Italian naval bases were not ready to assume the onerous tasks associated with the upcoming war needs.

The Regia Marina classified the various bases into various categories. Only La Spezia and Taranto were considered first class bases and equipped with a military shipyard. Naples, La Maddalena (Sardinia), Venice, Pola (Pula in Croatia), Brindisi, Leros (Greece), Tobruk (Libya) and Massaua (Eritrea) were considered bases of second class, while Cagliari, Messina, Augusta, Trapani and Assab (Italian East Africa) were of third class. Other ports, amongst them Portoferraio, Gaeta, Reggio Calabria, Palermo, Valona (Albania), Ancona, Pantelleria, Tripoli (Libya), Bengasi (Libya), Rodos (Greece) and Chisimaio (Somalia) were just considered temporary bases. It should be noted that Genoa, a large port, does not appear in the list.

La Spezia

This port received substantial upgrades in the period 1930-1934. The dry dock was expanded from 151 to 201 meters and a submarine repair depot added. Later, the base was further expanded with the construction of various depots, including some for oil fuel. The facility was also improved with the construction of a jetty equipped for the delivery of fuel oil, water and electricity.

La Spezia offered, and still does, proximity to the industrial heart of Italy (the so-called triangle which includes Genoa, Turin and Milan), good protection, but limited road access. Naturally, despite the various improvements completed during the Fascist Regime, Italy remained handicapped by the topographical reality of the country (very mountainous and with limited plains).

Taranto

Received improvements similar to La Spezia, but unfortunately a large dry dock in Mar Grande, which could have served ships up to 400 meters long, was never completed. This dry dock would have been extremely useful after the famous aerial attack of November 11th, 1940. Unfortunately, like many other infrastructures, the expected delivery date was well past the date of Italy’s entry into the war.

Naples

In 1923, the was relatively small naval shipyard was closed thus ending a tradition which dated back to the Bourbons reign. Naples witnessed several large constructions part of which are still visible (Maritime Station). Also, one must mention the construction of the San Vincenzo docks, the mooring for submarines, and the area called “Vigliena”. Naples, partially due to the existence of manufacturing facilities like the “Silurificio Italiano” (torpedo manufacturing), the firm San Giorgio and Galileo (optical and precision equipment), and the famous shipyard of Baia, always retained a predominant role in the Italian port network. Furthermore, during the war, this was a primary starting point for convoy directed to North Africa.

The principal ports were defended by complex systems not all under the control of the Navy. To this point, the land-based anti aircraft batteries were under the control of the Army, and so were most early warning systems. These were mostly made out of listening devices and spotting stations. Outside the ports, defenses included minefields usually laid out in a defensive schema and meant to stop enemy submarines. Furthermore, there were anti-ship defenses in the form of armed trained, antiaircraft batteries utilizing guns and machine guns, balloons and other devices.

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