The heavy attrition of the convoy wars in the Mediterranean Sea of 1941 and 1942 had cost the Regia Marina dearly in terms of merchant ships and escorts. The Italian destroyer forces were especially hurt. With a huge number of Italian and German troops fighting in North Africa, the mission of resupply for those troops could only be accomplished through the use of merchant ships under escort of Italian warships. The Italian destroyer forces were especially hard hit. Allied air power had been a significant problem but the greatest threat, that had caused the most damage, were the Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers that operated out of Malta. They would sortie from the island fortress almost nightly and attack axis convoys bound for North Africa, like wolves against a flock of sheep. Not only had the lambs, the merchant ships had suffered grievous losses but also the shepherds, the Italian destroyers and other escorts had been pummeled.
What was needed were great numbers of new escorts that could be built quickly and cheaply. New destroyers would take some time to build and would require larger crews and more resources than some types of smaller escorts. The Spica Class of torpedo boats, built in the late 1930s had proven useful as inexpensive escorts but by 1942 one-third of the class had already been lost. The high command for the Regia Marina decided that the navy needed quantities of a new, improved Spica Class and set their designers on that task. The Spicas mounted three 3.9-Inch guns, four 17.7-Inch torpedo tubes and eight 13.2mm heavy machine guns as their armament. The small 640-ton (standard) ships produced 19,000 shp and were capable of 34 knots when new. This armament was examined and it was decided that the new class would change the basic mix from the preceding design. The new design was the Ariete Class of torpedo boat.
The armament fit for the new design reflected the changes in warfare that had manifested themselves by 1942. The gun power of the Spicas was too light for them to have much of a chance against the destroyers of the Royal Navy that were raiding the Italian convoys, not to mention the British cruisers. Since most action occurred at night at close ranges, the Italians saw the torpedo as the great equalizer. Therefore the designers emphasized the torpedo fit for the new design at the expense of gun power. The Ariete Class were larger boats than the Spicas, 274-feet in length versus the 263-feet of the Spicas and heavier, 745-tons (standard) 1,110-tons (full load) versus the Spicas’ 640-tons (standard) 995-tons (full load) but carried only two 3.9-Inch guns rather than the three such weapons carried by the earlier class. However, the torpedo fit was boosted in the new design with six 17.7-Inch tubes over the four of the earlier class. The air threat had increased and the Italian Navy, as well as every other navy, had seen that machine guns were too small and had too short of range to make effective close AA weapon systems. For the new class the 20mm cannon was selected as the prime short range AA system and the Ariete Class was given ten of them on each ship. For their missions of escorting slow merchant ships, extremely high speed was not necessary. Although the machinery for the new class was more powerful at 22,000 shp, because of the increase in size and weight of the Ariete Class, top speed was 31.5-knots, which was fast enough to mix it up with British destroyers and cruisers.
Because of their size, the Ariete Class could be called escorts but they had much greater speed than those allied ships that were normally classified solely as escort ships. They were significantly smaller than standard destroyers and destroyer escorts, so this designation didn’t quite fit. With this design the Italian Navy used a term that had developed in the late 1800s in the world’s navies, the torpedo boat.
The torpedo boat had been emphasized by the French Navy and others in the 19th century as an economical alternative to heavy, expensive cruisers and battleships. They were characterized by a fairly high speed, minimal gun armament but a significant torpedo armament. They were fairly small, inexpensive so that they could be built in numbers and emphasized night torpedo attack. They had largely disappeared as a type by the First World War because of Jackie Fisher’s solution to the torpedo boat, the torpedo boat destroyer, soon shortened to destroyer, that had much greater size than torpedo boats, speed to catch torpedo boats and much greater gun power to destroy torpedo boats that the new type would catch. As a bonus they also carried torpedoes, so most navies stopped building torpedo boats and began destroyer programs. However, the characteristics of a new design needed by the Italian Fleet , were almost exactly the characteristics of the early torpedo boats. Economical, fast construction of large quantities of these boats was needed. Heavy torpedo armament to be used as the prime surface fighting system of the class primarily in night engagements, a fairly high speed to close with and attack the enemy with the torpedoes and minimal gun power, which was sacrificed in favor of torpedo armament, were all characteristics of the Ariete Class as they had been with the torpedo boat designs of a half century earlier.
The Italian Navy planned to build 42 of the class spread out in yards in the west coast and east coast. However, Italian industrial capacity was in such a dire straight by this time that only 16 were laid down. On July 15, 1942 six alone were laid down in the Ansalado yard in Genoa. On March 6, 1943 the first of the class, Ariete, was launched. On August 5, 1943 the Ariete was completed. Of course the Italian Armistice occurred the next month and Ariete steamed in her brand new, fresh from the builders state, to Malta with the rest of the ships of the Regia Marina. As soon as Italy signed the armistice the German Army moved south to fill the vacuum in the Italian peninsula. The Germans also seized all of the incomplete ships that were in the Italian yards on the slips, that included 15 incomplete Ariete Class torpedo boats.
Prior to this the Kriegsmarine Gruppe Sud that operated in the Mediterranean had been limited to small craft that could be moved by rail, such as S-Boats and odds and ends of vessels that had been captured in the occupations of France, Yugoslavia and Greece. Also included was any U-Boat that had managed to survive the passage from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean past Gibraltar. By 1943 that had become a suicide mission for any U-Boat attempting it. With the Ariete Class the Kriegsmarine had a windfall of new construction. The seizure of the Ariete Class was the largest single seizure of a homogeneous group of ships ever made by Germany.
The ships of the class were renamed with numbers as was the practice in German service with torpedo boats, rather than the Italian names. The ships became the TA 24 Class in the Kriegsmarine. The TA 24 (ex-Arturo) was the first of the boats to enter Kriegsmarine service on October 4, 1943 only weeks after the Italian armistice. The TA 27 (ex-Auriga) followed in December and another eleven boats were completed for German service between January and October 1944. Only two of the captured Ariete Class was not completed by the Kriegsmarine. Five of the boats were completed at the Ansalado Yard oat Genoa and the other eight were completed in yards on the Adriatic. The five in the west became part of the 10th Torpedo Flotilla. As completed by the Kriegsmarine, there were some differences in armament. TA 38 (ex-Spada) and TA 39 (ex-Daga) were only completed with one triple bank of torpedo tubes rather than the standard two triple banks. TA 37 (ex-Gladio) had one triple and one twin set of tubes. All received increased AA fits with 37mm and a mix of additional single, twin and quadruple German 20mm guns. TA 37, 38 and 39 received 40mm guns rather than the 37mm ones found in the rest. Some of the boats were fitted with radar.
By late 1943 the Kriegsmarine could not contest the control of the Mediterranean so the new boats were used as convoy escorts, mine-laying and coastal warfare. Their main opponents were allied aircraft and small coastal attack craft. Under constant air attack, the new torpedo boat class started to gather losses. The Ansolado boats of the West Coast were very open to air attack. On June 9, 1944 TA 27 (ex-Auriga) was sunk at the pier at Porto Ferraio as a result of bomb damage. On June 15, 1944 TA 30 fell victim to a USN PT boat. The PT Boat blew off the stern of the TA 30 (ex-Dragone) and she capsized in ten minutes. On September 4, 1944 TA 28 (ex-Rigel) was hit by bombs while she was in dry dock in Genoa and the ship was burnt out. TA 24 (ex-Arturo) and TA 29 (ex-Eridano) both went down on March 15, 1945 in action against the RN destroyers, HMS Meteor and HMS Lookout.
However, it was not much better for the eight boats in the Adriatic. The first two boats to complete there were TA 36 (ex-Stella Polare) and TA 37 (ex-Gladio). They both were immediately employed as escorts for convoys leaving Pola bound for the Aegean. In that capacity in February 1944, they encountered destroyers of the Free French Navy, as by that time, there was no Vichy France. The boats were completely outclassed by the French Le Terrible and Le Malin. Although TA 37 was disabled by a shell from the French destroyers, she was towed to safety by her companion. However, the French destroyers sank the merchant being escorted and a German ASW (UJ) boat. TA 36 went down on a mine-laying mission, when she struck a mine on March 18, 1944.
In September TA 37, TA 38 (ex-Spada) and TA 39 (ex-Daga) were transferred from the Adriatic to the 9th Torpedo Boat Flotilla in the Aegean. They had some momentary success. On October 5, 1944 TA 38 and TA 39 intercepted and sank HDML1227 and engaged the HMS Belvoir and HMS Waddon, Hunt Class destroyers. However in the next 11 days, their luck soon ran out. On October 7 TA 37 and the whole convoy that she was escorting were sunk by destroyers, HMS Turmagent and HMS Tuscan. TA 38 was lost to an air attack on October 13 and TA 39 sank because of striking a mine on October 16. Clearly operations in the Aegean were more hazardous to the class than operations in the Adriatic.
The last four, all completed in September 1944, remained in the Adriatic but that only bought them some time, not a change of fate. TA 42 (ex-Alabarda) was sunk at Venice to air attack on January 23, 1945. TA 41 (ex-Lancia) was damaged by bombs at Trieste and was not repaired. She was wrecked in May. TA 45 (ex-Spica) was sunk on April 13, 1945 to British MTBs. TA 40 (ex-Pugnale) was severely damaged in an air attack in February and scuttled on May 4, 1945. The two incomplete Ariete Class boats also received attacks. TA 46 (ex-Fionda) was sunk in an incomplete state at Fiume on February 20, 1945 and TA 47 (ex-Balestra) was damaged on the slipway and never launched.
Only the original Ariete and Balestra, still on the slip, survived the war. After the war she was transferred to Yugoslavia, where she was renamed Dumitor. She stayed in service until 1963. The Balestra was seized by Yugoslavian forces and completed in 1949 as the Ucka. (History from Destroyers of World War Two, An International Encyclodedia by M.J. Whitley)
The Regia Marina Ariete
As seen in the history above, only one of the 16 ships of the Ariete Class served in the Italian Navy. Many manufacturers would just provide the parts for the Ariete, since it was an Italian design. Others might opt for one version of the German TA 24 Class on the grounds that the Kriegsmarine operated 13 of the design and would accordingly provide parts for the most common design among the 13. This is not the philosophy of Regia Marina. The philosophy of Regia Marina and the owner/designer, Giampiero Galeotti, is to provide every part necessary to build the Italian Ariete or any one of the 13 German TA 24 Class boats. On top of this Regia Marina throws in another twist, the parts to model the two boats that became part of Marshall Tito’s Navy of Yugoslavia after World War Two. When you factor in all of the variations, especially among the German boats, that is an incredible number of variations, all of which alternate parts. Yet, Regia Marina does provide these options with the necessary parts. No company, no manufacturer, no producer of resin or plastic model warships gives as many options to the modeler as does Regia Marina.
For the Ariete they all share the basic hull. As with all releases from Regia Marina, the resin is a very light gray, almost white in color. This very light resin sometimes obscures fine detail in the castings but the detail is there. The hull sides are dominated by a heavy strake running down the sides. Other than the raised forecastle running the first 40% of the length of the ship, the rear 60% of the hull has a very low freeboard, which is typical of a torpedo boat design.
The detail on the hull casting is really concentrated on the deck. The forecastle has a great deal of concentrated deck detail. There is a wafer thin breakwater with marvelously thin supports. It also has some extraordinarily thin ventilator funnels. The thinness of these features, cast as part of the hull, really has to be seen to be believed. They are thinner than almost any wire. There are plenty of other fittings to complement these features. Back from there is the superstructure and prominent, streamlined, single funnel. There is some very fine detail on the bridge wings, including some extremely thin bulkheads. The stack has three well-defined steam pipes with the top of the stack partially hollowed out, although the three dimensional hollowness is fairly shallow. However, it is deep enough to convey a three dimensional illusion once the photo-etch stack grating is attached.
On either side of the stack are two really well done and difficult to execute architectural features. At the break of the forecastle, the decks on each side of the funnel have significant overhangs. Capturing the undercuts of these overhangs takes great skill but it is carried off to perfection with the Regia Marina Ariete. Not only is the overhang there but also there are hollow passageways going forward into the forecastle. To the rear of this is the torpedo mounts area. There are quite a few small, well done fittings associated with this area. On the fantail are found two deck hatches, a winch and five smaller deck fittings.
Two of the five resin runners are solely optional anti-aircraft gun mounts. The German boats had all sorts of different AA fits used in the boats that they operated. Single 20mm, twin 20mm, quad 20mm, single and twin 37mm and single 40mm Bofors mounts. The barrels are photo-etch but the mounts are resin. You select the ship you wish to model and use the correct set of optional parts.
Sheet One, Obverse – Ship’s names, Textual painting guide keyed by identifier number and Humbrol Color Number, photograph of photo-etch fret with parts identified by number and drawings of the five resin runners with all parts identified by number. The numbering of the parts on this sheet sets up the assembly which uses the assigned numbers to locate part’s positions.
Sheet One, Reverse – Large, probably around 1:500 scale, plan and profile of Ariete, with parts location identified by the numbers assigned on the front of the sheet. Color Guide for Ariete with color schemes from August 1943 and 1944 to 1949. Colors are keyed to Humbrol colors guide on the front side of the sheet.
Sheet Two, Obverse – Starts a sequence of individual assembly instructions for the German boats. Each boat is featured with a specific plan and profile for that boat, showing all of the various optional parts that were fitted to the individual boat. Featured on this side are instructions for the TA 24, TA 27, TA 28 and TA 29/30.
Sheet Two, Reverse – Continues with individual instructions for the individual German boats. One this side are instructions for the TA 36, TA 37, TA 38 and TA 39.
Sheet Three, Obverse – Finishes with the German boats. Instructions for TA 40 and TA 45. Notes are provided for TA 41 and TA 42 indicating that they used the armament scheme of TA 24 with no radar fitted. Notes are provided on the two unfinished boats, TA 46 and TA 47. Five profiles are provided showing the camouflage schemes for the different German boats.
Sheet Three, Reverse – This is devoted to the two post-war Yugoslav boats, Dumitor and Ucka. There is a large plan and profile of the Dumitor in 1963. Small profile of Ucka. Detail inset drawings of bridge and forecastle break area. Paint schemes for Ucka in 1950 and both Yugoslav boats in 1953. Photograph of Ucka.
Whether you call it the Ariete Class, or the TA 24 Class or the Dumitor Class, the result is the same, an outstanding little kit provided with all the bells and whistles. Regia Marina has provided another interesting kit on a class that has not been produced before.