The torpedo boat as a type of steam warship had itís heyday at the end of the 19th Century. The Jeune Ecole (Young School) of the French Navy had promoted them as the very inexpensive answer to the overwhelming strength of the Royal Navy. They envisioned swarms of torpedo boats overcoming limited numbers of battleships and cruisers. Of course every time the mouse gets smarter, someone invents a better mouse trap. The better trap for the torpedo boat mouse was the torpedo boat destroyer, later shortened to simply destroyer. The early destroyers also carried torpedoes and more of them. Accordingly they supplanted the original torpedo boats. Destroyers are still with us today, even though their original prey, the surface torpedo boat has disappeared.
Steam powered torpedo boats were widely used during World War One but started rapidly disappearing after that war. With limited peacetime budgets, the worldís navies had to shrink. The destroyer as a type was much more versatile and efficient, so they stayed and the torpedo boat left. The name however, hung on. As destroyers became larger, some navies designated older, smaller and less capable destroyer classes as torpedo boats. Italy did this with her World War One destroyers (Click for Review of the Italian Three Pipe Destroyers by Regia Marina). The Kriegsmarine with their T boats did have a type of warship that still emphasized the torpedo over the gun. However, they were far larger than previous torpedo boats. The different classes ranged from 845 to 1297 tons standard. In size and in weapons they were analogous to the USN destroyer escort or the RN Hunt Class Escorts. The Regia Marina also built large escorts that were still styled as Torpedo Boats. As with the German designs, they were in fact destroyer escorts. Leading into World War Two, Italy built two classes of ships that were called torpedo boats. The largest of these classes was the Spica Class. There were 30 in the class. They were stated to be 600 tons displacement but really came in at 640-650 tons. This was designed to take advantage of the terms of the Washington and London Treaties that allowed unlimited numbers of vessels of 600 tons and below to be built. Concurrently with the Spicas, a larger, more robust and more capable class of "torpedo boats" was built by the Regia Marina, the four ship Orsa class.
All four, Orsa, Orione, Pegaso, and Procione, were laid down in 1936 and were completed on March 30 and 31, 1938. They displaced 840 to 884 tons standard and a whopping 1,575 to 1,600 tons full load. Their offensive strength was in their torpedo fit. They mounted two 3.9-inch (100mm) guns, eight 13.2mm AA machine guns and six 21-inch torpedo tubes in two mounts of three tubes. Capable of 28 knots, the size and versatility of the Orsas made them much closer matches to the destroyer escort than the earlier torpedo boat. They in fact were originally rated as Escort Vessels (Avisi Scorta) but were rerated as Torpedo Boats (Torpediniere). With their speed, maneuverability and range, the design proved very successful. During the war a follow-on design was introduced, the Ciclone Class was introduced. The numbers of the new class constructed is a gage to the value of the Orsas. Sixteen were laid down and fifteen of these were commissioned before the Italian armistice. Another design, slightly smaller than the Orsas was introduced, the Ariete Class. Sixteen of this class were also built but only eleven were commissioned. The small displacement Spicas may have initially had the advantage of numbers but for succeeding classes, the Orsa was selected as the pattern.
All four members of the Orsa class were heavily involved with escort duties during World War Two. None were lost to enemy action, which given the loss rate of the Regia Marina during the war, certainly says something about their abilities. Pegaso was the operational star of the group. During her career she sank three British submarines, the Upholder on April 14, 1942, the Urge on April 28, 1942 and the Thorn on August 6, 1942. To sink three submarines in a space of four months is a tribute to the design of the ship and the skill of her captain and crew. (The instructions also credit her with sinking the submarine, HMS Triumph) With the armistice Pegaso, initially escaped the German takeover but then scuttled herself on September 11, 1943. Procione could not escape and scuttled herself at La Spezia on September 9, 1943. Both Orsa and Orione survived the war to serve in the post war Italian Navy. They were not stricken until 1964 and 1965. (The bulk of this history is from Destroyers of World War Two by M. J. Whitley)
As a company, Regia Marina is not just content to rest upon its justly won laurels, it seeks to constantly improve its products and to increase its high standard of quality. Although a few other resin kits have been improved during production, I have never seen any other company go to such lengths to increase the quality of its product.
The new release of the Orsa is characterized by exacting deck detail. Capstans, breakwater detail, stack steampipes and depth charge positions have been executed with skill. The elegant oval lines of the superstructure, that appears in many Italian designs, has been captured by this model. The most striking features of the hull casting are the wafer thin shielding and quarterdeck overhang. On the original Orsa kit the Italian aerial recognition markings (red and white barber pole) was heavily delineated with lines incised on the deck. I first thought that the new version had dispensed with marking the lines on deck because I had looked at the hull a number of times without seeing any lines on the focísle. However, while writing this review, I was looking at the hull again and the light picked up a slight difference in texture in the casting of the forecastle. The new Orsa kit still has the striped lines delineated but it is done with texture rather than incised lines. These textural differences are so subtle that they are easily overlooked. Since the "barber pole" is one of the most difficult features to paint on any WW2 Italian warship model, this should readily facilitate painting this feature without marring the appearance of the kit for a solid painted deck.
There is slightly more clean up with the Orsa kit (or other kits from Regia Marina) than some 1:700 kits. There are a number of resin pour stubs or burrs along the centerline of the bottom of the kit. It amounts to about five minutes to remove these and sand smooth. The rest of the cleanup is minimal, involving slight sanding at the waterline and cleaning light flash from some of the smaller parts.
There are a total of 56 smaller resin parts found on the four resin parts runners in the Orsa kit. Not all of these parts are used. Another tenant of the Regia Marina model design philosophy is to provide to the modeler the greatest number of optional fits as possible. With almost any kit from Regia Marina, the modeler is guaranteed to have the options to construct the ship of his choice in the fit of his choice. Since there were only four ships in the class, the number of options is less than those found in the Carini, Italian Three Stack Torpediniere (Click for Review). Nonetheless at least fourteen different fits are offered for the Orsa Class, which is remarkable in its own right for a class of four ships, of which only two survived the war.
The smaller resin parts match the quality and detail as displayed in the hull casting. The deck housings, AA tubs, boats, torpedo tubes, directors, depth charge throwers, carley floats, depth charge rack, guns & mounts, paravanes, anchors and other parts are finely and delicately cast. Neither the hull nor the smaller resin parts displayed any defects, warp or breakage.