The Italian ‘Liberty’ Ships

Background

Well not quite. While these were modern vessels built to a standardised design, the number completed shows quite well the challenge that Italy faced in terms of economic capability when compared with the USA. 

Thanks to the excellent Miramar Ship Index (no longer open access), I was originally able to ID a few key merchant vessels supplying North Africa which were built to what appears to be a quite standardized design. The below has been amended to integrate the comments by Dili and Lorenzo below and is now a much more thorough record of these ships.

Mario Roselli 1942

Mario Roselli in 1942. Wikipedia.

Constructing Modern Merchants

From 1939, the Riunito Adriatico shipyard at Monfalcone produced a number of standardised, fast merchant vessels of about 6,330/6,830 tons for foreign and Italian clients, which were taken over by the Sidarma shipping company in Fiume.  Many of these vessels were involved, and quite a few of them lost, on the trip to North Africa.  Many of them were named after historic figures, such as former Doges of Venice (Sebastiano Venier), or more recent Italian heroes, such as Fabio Filzi. A total of 36 vessels in eight sub-classes were constructed on a number of yards. These added ca. 250,000 GRT to the capacity of the Italian merchant marine. Many of them were running on efficient F.I.A.T. diesel engines that gave them a speed of 15 knots. The classes are below:

Gino Allegri Class:

  • Gino Allegri
  • Mario Roselli
  • Reginaldo Giuliani
  • Fabio Filzi
  • Carlo Del Greco

Monginevro Class:

  • Monginevro
  • Monviso
  • Monreale

Napoli Class:

  • Napoli
  • Ravello
  • Lerici
  • Valfiorita
  • Ombrina
  • Unione

Nino Bixio Class:

  • Nino Bixio
  • Luciano Manara

Orseolo Class:

  • Andrea Gritti
  • Sebastiano Venier (not to be confused with the first Sebastiano Venier sunk on 9 Dec 41, the former Dutch Jason – see this link)
  • Vettor Pisani
  • Marco Foscarini
  • Francesco Barbaro
  • Marco Foscarini 2
  • Andrea Gritti 2 (Class namesake was catched outside Med and was a blockade breaker.)

Poeti Class:

  • Ugo Foscolo
  • Alessandro Manzoni
  • Vittorio Alfieri
  • Vincenzo Monti
  • Alfredo Oriani
  • Niccolo Tommaseo
  • Gabriele D’Annunzio
  • Giacomo Leopardi

Rosolino Pilo Class:

  • Rosolino Pilo
  • Agostino Bertani

Sestriere Class:

  • Sestriere
  • Ines Corrado
  • Caterina Costa

Poeti1444title15

Poeti sub-class Ugo Foscolo 1:700 Model. Steelnavy.com

 

Employment and Fate

The vessels played a significant role in supplying the Axis forces in North Africa, and many of them were lost plying the North Africa route, with some of them surviving only a few months, and others not even making their first journey. The fate of some of the vessels (list by no means complete) below – for all of the merchants lost on the North Africa route, please see this post:

  • Pietro Orseleo (completed 1939, outside the Med in June 1940, sunk off Lorient 1943 – named after the Doge of Venice 991 – 1009)
  • Vettor Pisani (completed 1939, was set afire by British planes while carrying supplies including fuel to Benghazi on 24.7.1942, towed near Argostoli where she sank in shallow waters and was further damaged to recover the cargo. She was then refloated in 1951 and rebuilt in 1952. Broken up 1971 – named after a 14th-century Venetian admiral)
  • Andrea Gritti (completed 1939, sunk by a/c torpedo attack by No. 830 Squadron FAA (see this source even though some sources claim a/c bomb) with 347 killed while transporting troops, 3 September 41, off Sicily – named after the Doge of Venice 1523 – 1538)
  • Marco Foscarini (completed 1940, hit by a/c bomb and beached off Tripoli, 27 May 41 – named either after the Doge of Venice 1762 – 1763 or the commander of a Venetian galley at the Battle of Lepanto, or both)
  • Francesco Barbaro (completed 1940, sunk by s/m torpedo off Navarino, 27 September 42 – named after a 15th century Venetian humanist)
  • Fabio Filzi (first of the ships with a 500t increase in displacement, completed 1940, sunk by s/m torpedo off Taranto, 13 December 41 – named after an Italian 1st World War hero executed as a traitor by the Austrians)
  • Carlo del Greco (completed 1941, sunk by s/m torpedo off Taranto, 13 December 41 – named after an Italian 1st World War hero who died when his submarine engaged Austrian submarine U-5 under command of (the) Ritter von Trapp in 1915)
  • Gino Allegri (completed 1941, sunk by s/m torpedo off Benghazi, 31 May 42 – – named after an Italian 1st World War pilot)
  • Reginaldo Giulani* (completed 1942, hit by a/c torpedo off Benghazi, 4 June 42, and scuttled 5 June 42 – name provenance: a military chaplain who was killed during the 1936 Italo-Ethiopic war and was awarded the MOVM See at this link.)
  • Mario Roselli (completed 1942, captured by the Germans after the armistice and sunk by British aircraft in Corfù harbour on 10-11 October 1943, with the loss of 1,302 of the around 5,500 Italian POWs on board. She was refloated after the war and rebuilt with a new name, “Alpe”. Broken up 1972 – name provenance unknown to me)

*confusingly, an Italian submarine completed in 1940 carried the same name.

11 thoughts on “The Italian ‘Liberty’ Ships

  1. There are more. Note that some classes are loosely named. Classes varied by size but the arrangemnts and structure were very similar.15-16kt speed.

    Gino Allegri Class:Gino Allegri,Mario Roselli,Reginaldo Giuliani,Fabio Filzi,Carlo Del Greco
    Monginevro Class:Monginevro,Monviso,Monreale
    Napoli Class:Napoli,Ravello,Lerici,Valfiorita,Ombrina,Unione
    Nino Bixio Class:Nino Bixio,Luciano Manara
    Orseolo Class:Andrea Gritti,Sebastiano Venier,Vettor Pisani,Marco Foscarini,Francesco Barbaro,Marco Foscarini 2,Andrea Gritti 2 (Class namesake was catched outside Med and was a blokade breaker.)
    Poeti Class:Ugo Foscolo,Alessandro Manzoni,Vittorio Alfieri,Vincenzo Monti,Alfredo Oriani,Niccolo Tommaseo,Gabriele D’Annunzio,Giacomo Leopardi
    Rosolino Pilo Class:Rosolino Pilo,Agostino Bertani
    Sestriere Class:Sestriere,Ines Corrado,Caterina Costa

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    • Hello, a correction: the “Mario Roselli” did not “survive the war”. She was captured by the Germans after the armistince and sunk by British aircrafts in Corfù harbour on 10-11 October 1943, with the loss of 1,302 of the around 5,500 Italian POWs on board. She was refloated after the war and rebuilt with a new name, “Alpe”.

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  2. Also, I found another case similar to the Mario Roselli, although less tragic: the “Vettor Pisani” was set afire by British planes while carrying supplies (fuel, if I remember correctly) to Benghazi on 24.7.1942, towed near Argostoli where she sank in shallow waters and was further damaged to recover the cargo. She was then refloated in 1951 and rebuilt in 1952.

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  3. My father always said he arrived in Australia from Malta in 1938 in an Italian liberty ship. But you state that they did not start building them till 1939. How do I find out the name of the ship he arrived on as next year the family will celebrate 80 years in Australia, though our father passed away in 2003 at the age of 89 years.

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    • Hi Paul

      I am using the moniker ‘liberty ship’ a bit liberally. The term didn’t exist until 1941 or so when the US built the standardised merchant design.

      http://www.usmm.org/libertyships.html

      As for finding out which vessel he arrived on, I would presume the Australian national archives should hold shipping records, but it maybe almost impossible to find more information without having some more detail, e.g. which day and where he landed.

      All the best

      Andreas

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