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Obsolete Cruisers

by Andrea Piccinotti


"Tutor et ultor"

Having entered service in 1910, the cruiser San Giorgio saw action in three wars, the Italian-Turkish war, World War I and World War II and, following her sinking, she was awarded the Gold Medal. This ship was the last representative of an older generation of ships, the armored cruisers, the predecessors of the heavy cruisers. She entered service in 1910, and after World War I, was used as a target ship along with her sister ship San Marco. Although when she entered service she was very modern, she was, by World War II, obsolete and no improvement could have made the ship capable of confronting the modern cruisers.

The principal shortcoming, in addition to lack of speed and an antiquated fire control system, was undoubtedly the weak horizontal armor which had been designed to protect the ship against naval guns and could not protect her against aerial bombs. Also missing was any anti-torpedo protection, but the 254 mm and 190 mm guns were still usable, as was her vertical armor.

When, in 1937, it was decided to modernize the ship, the Regia Marina opted to transform her into a large monitor for the defense of the African ports. Six boilers were removed, while the remaining eight were modernized, converting them from coal to fuel oil. The two most rear funnels were removed and all guns, excluding the larger 254 mm and 190 mm, were removed. The 76-mm guns were replaced with 100/47 in four twin-shielded mountings installed on specially built platforms near the deckhouse. All minor armaments and the torpedo launchers were also removed
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When the ship was sent to Tobruk for the defense of the port, an additional twin gun was installed in front of the aft turret of the 254 mm gun, along with several machine guns of both the 37/54 and 20/65 model. Once in Tobruk, the ship’s deck was covered with a layer of sandbags to partially remedy her limited horizontal armor. She also received additional machine guns. After her arrival on May 1940, the ship was fenced in an anti-torpedo netting system. On June 28th 1940, the ship’s antiaircraft guns mistakenly shot down the plane of Italo Balbo, who died in the incident.


From June 12, 1940 the ship remained in a state of full alert 322 times in 212 days. On January 21, after having delayed the incoming British advance into the town rejecting a tank formation using her larger caliber, the ship was condemned to self-destruction. At 4:15 a.m. on January 22, 1941, while British troops had already entered Tobruk, several explosive charges were detonated, thus scuttling the ship. The glorious ship was savaged in 1951 and, while flying the Italian flag on her mast, she was being towed back to Italy when a temporary leak-stopper failed, causing her to sink about 140 miles from Tobruk on July 20th.

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