In the late 1920s to the mid 1930s Italy constructed a series of light cruisers collectively called the Condottieri. They started as very light cruiser designs, almost in the class of destroyer leaders but mounting six-inch guns. The supreme emphasis was on speed. They had very little armor, barely under an inch in thickness at the start. As design followed design, a change occurred and each subsequent design of the Condottieri became heavier with more emphasis on armor protection, making each class more combat worthy than the preceding class. This article looks at the 4th class of Condottieri, which consisted of two ships, Emanuele Filiberto Duca D’Aosta and Eugenio Di Savoia.

Light Cruiser construction for the Italian Navy (Regia Marina) between World War One and World War Two most almost exclusively governed by the warships being constructed by France . Italy saw France as her possible adversary and designed warships in reply to French designs. The line of Italian Light cruiser designs from 1928 to 1933 illustrates this influence.

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In the mid-1920s France began construction of a series of very large destroyers of 2,100 tons and mounting five 5.1-Inch guns. In addition to designing her own large destroyers, the Italian Navy went a further step. A very light, ultra fast cruiser, which sacrificed all armor protection for great speed and strong armament was developed. The four ships of the Da Barbiano Class were laid down in 1928, launched in 1930 and completed February 1931 to February 1932. These 5,110-ton ships mounted eight 6-Inch and six 3.9-inch guns, had a maximum speed of 36.5 knots but carried no armor, except for a miniscule 24mm (1-inch) belt and 23mm on the turrets. The Da Barbiano actually hit 42 knots for 30 minutes during trials but that was in an artificially favorable environment. Since a bonus was paid to the builders for exceeding contract speed, builders would force the machinery beyond normal and safe limits during trials, resulting in artificially high legend speeds. This class, as well as subsequent classes were called Condottieri, as they were named for famous Italian captains of free agent armies that dominated Italy during the Renaissance, when the peninsula was a series of small kingdoms and principalities, as well as subsequent Italian heroes.

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In 1930 another class of Condottieri was laid down. The two ship Luigi Cadorna Class had the same size, speed and armament as those of the Da Barbiano Class. Although there was still a lack of armor, as it was the same scheme as the earlier design, these ships had a slightly greater displacement at 5,323 tons due to improved strengthening of the hull. Laid down in 1930, they were both completed in 1933.

In the following year with the third class of Condottieri, the Regia Marina finally improved the armor plan of their light cruisers. The two cruisers of the Raimondo Montecuccoli Class saw a big jump in displacement to 7,405-tons. Length also jumped from 555 feet in the prior two classes to 598 feet. The primary reason for the additional length was the increase in the power plant. To keep the ships as fast as the earlier no armor designs but to carry armor of a 60mm belt and 70mm on the turrets, a larger plant was necessary. Where the two earlier designs could achieve their 36.5 knots with 95,000 shp, the Montecuccoli Class required 106,000 shp to hit 37 knots maximum speed. However, the armament remained the same as the earlier designs. These two were laid down in 1931, launched in 1934 and completed in 1935.

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The fourth class of Condottieri continued with the trend for larger but better protected cruisers. The two ships of the Duca D’Aosta Class saw another jump in displacement to 8,317-tons, length to 613 feet and armor to a 70mm belt with 90mm on the turrets. The armament remained the same as the three preceding designs but the power plant increased to 110,000 shp to achieve 36.5 knots maximum speed. These two, Emanuele Filiberto Duca D’Aosta and Eugenio Di Savoia were laid down in 1932 and 1933, launched in 1935 and 1936 and completed in 1935 and 1936.

The changes from the preceding Montecuccoli Class were all to make the ships more stable and provide enhanced protection, hence improved survivability. Armor alone took up 1,700 tons of the 8,317-ton displacement, more than 20% of the cruisers’ displacement. The armor scheme represented a 29% increase over the Montecuccoli Class. Quite clearly the Condottieri had evolved from the early light, extremely fast but extremely frail cruisers that started the parade in the 1920s. To keep the 36knot+ speed of the earlier cruisers more powerful engines were installed. Horsepower was 110,000, up from the 106,000shp of the Montecuccoli Class.

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The gun armament remained almost identical to the preceding Montecuccoli Class, with a slight increase in heavy AA machine guns. The two cruisers were fitted with eight 6-inch (4x2) guns, six 3.9-inch (3x2) guns, eight 37mm AA (4x2) guns and twelve 13.2mm (6x2) heavy machine guns, which were four more than found in the Montecuccoli Class. However, there was another change in armament. With the preceding class there were four 21-inch torpedo tubes mounted in two twin mounts. With the Duca D’Aosta Class, torpedo strength was increased by 50% by the use of triple mountings. Additionally, the ships were outfitted to carry 100 to 185 mines. Two Ro43 floatplanes were carried for the Gagnotto catapult. They were very similar in appearance to the two cruisers of the Montecuccoli Class but could be distinguished by the funnels, which were equal size in the Duca D’Aosta Class and by the slightly heavier bridge. On trials the ships were extraordinarily fast with Duca D’Aosta hitting 37.35 knots and Savoia hitting 37.33 knots. However, in large part these high speeds were determined as a result of the standards employed in the tests. They ran light and forced the machinery above designed capacities.

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Emanuele Filiberto Duca D’Aosta was laid down in the OTO Yard in Livorno on October 29, 1932. She was launched on April 22, 1934 and entered service on July 13, 1935. She was assigned to the 7th Cruiser Division, which also included sister Eugenio Di Savoia as flag ship, Montecuccoli and Attendolo. In 1938 Eugenio Di Savoia and Duca D’Aosta were ordered to circumnavigate the world. The pair left Naples on November 5, 1938 and were scheduled to finish their voyage on July 25, 1939. During the first part of the voyage, they stopped at ports in the Caribbean, Brazil , Argentina and Chile . However, logistical problems and the war clouds deepening over Europe caused the cancellation of their mission and they were recalled to Italy before visiting the US and then striking across the Pacific. They arrived back at La Spezia on March 3, 1939. Both ships became part of the 2nd Cruiser squadron of the 7th Cruiser Division. in 1940. Between July 6 to 10 they were engaged in a sortie that culminated in the action off of Punto ( Cape ) Stilo. During the summer the pair covered convoys to North Africa . In October they took part in a sortie designed to intercept British cruisers bound for Malta , without success. The pair split company on February 16, 1941 when Duca D’Aosta was reassigned to the 8th Division. She remained with the 8th Division until November 28, 1941 when transferred to the 2nd Cruiser Division.

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Even though in different divisions, the two sisters still participated in joint operations. From April 19 through 24, 1941 off Cape Bon and on June 3, 1941 Duca D’Aosta and Savoia laid mines off of Tripoli . Between December 13 through 19, 1941, Duca D’Aosta escorted convoys M41 and M42. During this same period the Royal Navy was conducting its own operations to get a convoy to Malta . The escorting forces collided resulting in the First Battle of Sirte. On December 16 the Italian convoy, escorted by 8 destroyers, left Naples . South of Sicily was the close support force comprised of battleship Duilio and cruisers  Duca D’Aosta, Montecuccoli and Attendolo, with four destroyers. A distant support force of three more battleships, two cruisers and ten destroyers was also provided. On December 17 a German reconnaissance aircraft spotted a British convoy bound for Malta . This was misinterpreted as a force attempting to intercept the Italian convoy. Admiral Vian was commander of the British escort force and had orders to attack the Italian convoy once the tanker bound for Malta was safe. Admiral Iachino commanded the distant covering force from Littorio. He changed course to attack the British force with his force speed constrained by the 24 knots of Cesare. Contact occurred around dusk and for once the Italian Navy surprised the Royal Navy. Littorio opened up with her 15-inch guns at extreme range and Vian’s wake up call came in the form of heavy caliber shell splashes appearing around his ships. Vian sent in destroyers to attack but turned away with his cruisers and laid down a smoke screen. The Italian destroyers charged in to meet their opponents. After some exchange of fire, the British broke off and headed westward. With dropping of night and retirement of the British the First Battle of Sirte was inconclusive in that there were no material losses for either side, however, the Italian fleet had been handled aggressively with success and thwarted the attempt to intercept the Italian convoy.

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In January 1942 there was another convoy to escort and in February Duca D’Aosta went unsuccessfully against another Malta convoy. Finally in June 1942 Duca D’Aosta and Savoia again saw action. They sailed to intercept British units during the British Operation Harpoon/Vigorous. In the course of this operation Savoia with other Italian units, engaged British destroyers and HMS Bedouin was sunk. Duca D’Aosta and Savoia were anchored in the Bay of Naples on December 4, 1942 when a bombing raid of the USAAF rumbled in. Savoia received damage and was transferred to Castellamare di Stabia for several months of repairs but Duca D’Aosta was untouched. By 1943 the acute shortage of fuel oil sidelined the cruisers for prolonged periods of time but they did make an unsuccessful attempt to bombard allied positions at Palermo after the Invasion of Sicily. Unlike Savoia, which was little used after the September 1943 armistice, Duca D’Aosta actually had missions as a co-belligerent. On October 27, 1943, after a quick refit at Taranto , Duca D’Aosta along with Abruzzi and Garibaldi steamed for the Straight of Gibraltar and out of Mussolini’s Mare Nostrum and into the broad Atlantic . The Italian cruisers were based at Freetown with the mission of intercepting blockade runners. Between November 19, 1943 and February 15, 1944, Duca D’Aosta made seven cruises in the central and south Atlantic . On April 3, 1944 she returned to Italy and thereafter was employed as a transport. After the end of the war Duca D’Aosta was laid up but on March 2, 1949 she was renamed Z15 and was transferred to the Soviet Union. The Russians first renamed Duca D’Aosta as Stalingrad and then as Kerch . (Bulk of history from Cruisers of World War Two, An International Encyclopedia by M.J.Whitley; and The Italian Navy in World War II by Marc’ Antonio Bragadin)

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Combrig Duca D’Aosta
The purpose of this article is to show the modeler their first glimpse of the Combrig Duca D’Aosta. A full kit review will appear for ship as she was rebuilt for service in the Soviet Navy as Kerch , which has also been produced by Combrig in 1:700 scale. The kit of Duca D’Aosta is as the cruiser appeared as built and of course the Kerch reflects her appearance 15 years later. There are big differences between the kits. The catapult of Duca D’Aosta was landed and the secondary and anti-aircraft gun complement of Kerch is different and greatly increased over that of Duca D’Aosta.