The initial transport of the Afrikakorps (see this link)to North Africa went without any losses on the south-bound route until one of the last convoys saw the German merchant Herakleia sunk at the end of March. Despite this success though, it was not without losses overall. The most serious strike by the Malta-based submarines happened on 25 February 1941, when a Condottieri-class light cruiser of the early two series of six vessels went down, this time it was the Cadorna sub-class RN Armando Diaz. The first loss of a light cruiser of this class had occurred in July 1941 at the Battle of Cape Spada, when RN Bartolomeo Colleoni was sunk by HMAS Sydney.
RN Armando Diaz at Melbourne in 1934 (Courtesy Wikipedia)
The early Condottieris
By the the start of the war, the early Condottieris could be considered obsolete due to their lack of protection, and their degraded top speed, which for Armando Diaz seems to have declined from 39 knots when launched in 1932 to 31-32 knots by 1941. They were primarily to be used for convoy escort, mine-laying, and training, or indeed as transports in their own right, although da Giussano did serve in the battle fleet at Punto Stilo in 1940.
These early vessels of the Condottieri class also had construction weaknesses, and the rapid sinking of Diaz confirmed their low survivability. These light cruisers were built for high speed, with the aim to be able to chase and engage on superior terms the French ‘super- destroyers’ of the Chacal and Guepard classes. The test speed of some of the early vessels was astounding, reaching well over 40 knots (64 km/h).
The design for speed of these six early Condottieris caused them to suffer from multiple issues however, including strong vibrations, and a lack of stability due to being top-heavy. The latter ultimately required the removal of the original tripod mast behind the bridge, which was present in the first vessels. On the six vessels of the follow-on sub-classes, a completely new armoured forward structure was introduced, giving the Montecuccoli sub-class it’s very distinctive look, and the final iteration of the two Abruzzi-class light cruisers were in my view two of the finest 6″ cruisers of the war.
Sinking of Armando Diaz
On 25 February 1941, while moving south to reach Tripoli, Armando Diaz was torpedoed off Kerkenah Bank in position 34°33’N, 11°45’E by HM/Sub Upright under command of Lt. Norman, D.S.C. RN, who was on his last patrol with this submarine. Diaz was acting as distant escort to the German 4th Convoy to Libya, consisting of the German merchants Marburg, Ankara, Reichenfels, and Kybfels. On this mission she was part of the 4th Cruiser Squadron, together with the di Giussano sub-class RN Giovanni delle Bande Nere and the modern Soldati-class destroyers Ascari and Corazziere. Diaz was hit by two of the four torpedoes that HM/Sub Upright fired at her, resulting in catastrophic explosions in her magazine and boiler rooms, leading to rapid sinking. Over 500 sailors were lost with her, and only 153 men were rescued. Ascari was also near-missed, and she proceeded to attack HM/Sub Upright without results. Details on the attack can be found at this link, and in Italian at this link.
HM/Sub Upright returning to Holy Loch submarine base, Scotland, 17 April 1942, Lieut J S Wraith, DSO, DSC, RN on the left, her 1st Lieutenant on the right. (IWM A8424)
A full article on the operations and fate of the early Condottieris is under preparation.
The Diaz and Cadorna were not the first but the second class of CLs built under the Fascist regime. They were slightly better than their four predecessors in terms of protection. But Andreas does not understand their genesis. Basically, they were built to the pattern advocated by Costanzo Ciano. He considered speed to be a superior quality to armament and protection. He favored light cruisers which would have served the Regia Marina well in the Adriatic in 1915-18. He also saw such ships as what the Italian navy needed to outclass the big destroyers of the French Navy. Ciano was the man Mussolini turned to for naval advice. It took a decade for other Italian naval officers to convince the Duce to build CLs of a larger, better protected and better armed type. The three successive classes of this type culminated in the Garibaldi and Abruzzi. They are generally recognized as the best Italian warships of the interwar period and served for a good 20 years after 1945.
I understand their genesis very well. The Cadornas showed so little improvement that they can be considered as part of the initial run of six, in my view. Any distinction is highly technical, and almost irrelevant in the real world.
A qualitative shift started with the Montecuccolis, and as you say culminated in the two Abruzzis which I consider the epitome of 6” cruiser design, although one could argue that they were a lot of ship to only carry 6” main armament.
The Abruzzis were conceptually and in terms of realised potential so far away from the Cadornas that their is no comparison. They were totally different ships, other than the calibre of the main gun.
The Italian pre-occupation with speed over protection was a dangerous mistake that cost the lives of many Italian sailors.
All the best