Garibaldi Class Armored Cruisers (1894-1905)
decorative motif
Armored cruiser GEN. BELGRANO on trials

Built by Orlando at Leghorn (Livorno), a recently acquired subsidiary firm of Ansaldo, the 1897 General Belgrano was one of the four Garibaldis sold into Argentine serice. She and two of her sisters -- Pueyrredón and Garibaldi -- mounted single 10" guns fore and aft. The fourth cruiser, the San Martín, had two twin 8" turrets.

Narrative -read on.    |    Specifications    |    Photos    |    Later Classes    |    Builder

Argentine Ships    |    Spanish Ship    |    Japanese Ships    |    Pisa Class Photos    |    Decline

The Garibaldi class were some of the most distinctive and popular armored cruisers of the high pre-dreadnought era (above, the Varese on her way to a naval review). Between 1894 and 1902 ten cruisers were purchased by four different countries: The first five by the Italian Navy, four more by the Argentine Navy, two by the Japanese, and one by the Spanish Navy. The design proved a profitable signature product for the Ansaldo Yard in Genoa. The lead ship's name honored Guiseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882), the iconic Italian patriot and freedom fighter who inspired the liberation movement against Austrian rule in the mid-19th century. At left below, he is seen landing at Marsala in 1860, commencing the critical push for Italy's independence and national unification -- the Rissorgimento. Garibaldi had strong ties to the sea and held a master's certificate in the British merchant marine -- dead useful for running arms and men to the insurgency during the long struggle to forge a nation.

Patriotic allegory of Garibaldi as LiberatorGaribaldi class ships' selling point was that they packed impressive firepower onto a modest-size platform; this dictated a relatively short and wide-built hull. Equipped with a prominent ram and cruiser stern, decorated with a frosting of bronze "scrambled egg" decoration at the bow, the hull had a moderate tumble-home shape amidships. The ships' layout was symmetrical with one prominent central mast, in the time-honored Italian manner. There were two widely spaced funnels: the engine room was sandwiched between the two boiler rooms. The lead ship had Niclausse boilers and Maudslay engines, while Ferrucio and Varese had Bellevilles and engines by Hawthorn Leslie.

Two barbette positions (fore and aft) housed the big guns, with a box battery on the main deck holding 3-5 more secondary guns per side; four sponsons on the hull hung over the waves and accommodated more intermediate guns such as 6" or 5.5". The design was made to be customizable; ships could be enlarged anywhere from 6,500 to 7,700 tons. The main armament varied from four 8", to one 10" and two 8", to two 11" guns. With a 6" armor belt and maximum speed of 20+ knots, the Garibaldis were competitive with other armored cruisers of the decade. They packed a lot of firepower in a compact package, but had sufficient speed to run from heavier forces; arguably, they may be considered as precursors of the battlecruiser or "pocket battleship" concept. In combat their ability to take and mete out punishment was proved beyond doubt, as was their ability to survive even when exposed to the fire of pre-dreadnought battleships. The ships purchased by Japan were originally laid down for Argentina in 1902, but sold under duress when the border dispute with Chile came under international arbitration. The largest and most robust of the class, and also the latest built, these two went into service early in 1904; the Kasuga differing from her sister in bearing a single 10" gun forward with two 8's aft on an additional 360 tons' displacement, an arrangement previously used on three of the four Argentine navy Garibaldis. This setup was favored by Italy as well, while the Spaniards opted for two 10" guns, but sent their ship to war before the big artillery could be installed.

Plans and Specifications

Schematic of the Garibaldi class ships

Specifications for the Garibaldis (Nisshin:):
Dimensions: 366'6" OA x 61'6" x 24' LWL: 357'. Displacement: 7,698 tons standard. Armament: (4) 8" (2x2), (14) 6" (152mm), (10) 3.2" QF guns, (6) 1.85" guns; (2) Maxim MG; (4) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Terni type. Belt: 150/70mm (5.9"/2.76"). Barbettes 5.9"/3.94". Casemates 5.2"/4.3". Conning tower: 5.5". Deck: 1.5"/1". Athwartship and longitudinal screens in battery: 2". Fuel capacity: 650 tons std; 1,200 tons maximum. Propulsion: (2) inverted vertical triple-expansion engines developing 13,500 HP, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 20 knots. Range: 5,500 nm. @ 10 kts. Crew: 600. Cost: ~£600,000 at 1895 valuation.

Smaller version specifications (Cristobal Colón): Displacement: 6,840 tons. Dimensions: Length: 328' Beam: 59.7' Draft: 24' Speed: 20 kts. Designed armament: (2) 10" (2x1), (10) 6-inch, (6) 4.7-inch guns; (4) 17.7" torpedo tubes.

Ships in class: Garibaldi Ferrucio Varese Nisshin Kasuga Cristobal Colón San Martín Remo Gen. Pueyrredón Gen. Belgrano.

Metric Specifications:
Dimensions: 112m x 18.75m x 7.3m LWL: 357'. Displacement: 7,698 tons standard. Armament: (4) 203mm (2x2), (14) 152mm, (10) 80mm QF guns, and (6) 47mm guns; (2) Maxim MG; (4) 450mm torpedo tubes. Armor: Terni type. Belt: 150/70mm (5.9"/2.76"). Barbettes 150/100 mm. Casemates 132/109.3 mm. Conning Tower: 140 mm. Athwartship and longitudinal screens in battery: 50 mm. Deck: 38/25 mm. Fuel capacity: 650 tons std; 1,200 tons maximum. Propulsion: (2) inverted vertical triple-expansion engines developing 10,067 kW, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 37 km/hr. Range: 10,186 km @ 18.4 km/hr. Crew: 600. Cost: ~£600,000 at 1895 valuation.

Smaller version specifications (Cristobal Colón): Displacement: 6,840 tons. Dimensions: 100m x 18.2m x 7.32m. Speed: 37 km/hr. Designed armament: (2) 254 mm (2x1), (10) 152 mm, and (6) 120 mm guns; (4) 450 mm torpedo tubes.

Profile and top view of the Garibaldi class ships

A Garibaldi Gallery

Armored cruiser VARESE on review
The Varese steams proudly through a naval review.

GARIBALDI steaming out from Genoa to a marine ceremonial

GARIBALDI pants to the finish in her trials, 1894

Garibaldi on trials (lower photo) and on review (upper). The class was a showcase product for G. Ansaldo & Co. of Genoa. This ship was sold to the Argentine navy, where she served s the General Garibaldi. A namesake of this ship subsequently was produced for Italy. She later sank the Turkish ironclad Avnilla and several gunboats at Beirut during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12, before being herself torpedoed and sunk in 1915.

Armored cruiser FRANCESCO FERRUCIO on review

Francesco Ferrucio was one of the three Garibaldis in the Italian fleet (five were ordered, but two of these later sold to Argentina). In the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12, she was squadron-mate to the second Garibaldi in the Beirut bombardment and joined her in shelling the Dardanelles forts as well.

Argentine Garibaldis

The pampa republic of Argentina is more closely identified with the Garibaldi class than any other country except their native land of Italy. The reason was personal and political: Ferdinando Maria Perrone, an Italian financier and industrialist living in Buenos Aires, belonged to the Genoese clan that controlled Ansaldo. When Argentina was ready to buy a pair of warships in the mid-Nineties, he smoothed the way and made it possible for the Argentines to purchase their first of three pairs of Garibaldis. As a measure of Perrone's clout in Italy, the original Giuseppe Garibaldi was part of the deal, supplied rather abruptly after having mustered into the Italian fleet. Ansaldo provided Italy an eponymous cruiser to replace the one sent to South America. A second pair followed two years later, and a third was ordered in 1902 under the names Rivadavia and Moreno, completed as the Japanese Nisshin and Kasuga after sustained international pressure forced Argentina to cancel her order. In 1904 Perrone returned to Genoa and the leadership of Ansaldo. Within fourteen years, with the help of wartime government contracts, Perrone had grown Ansaldo into an industrial and financial powerhouse employing 80,000 in ten megaplants dotted throughout northern Italy.

Argentine cruiser SAN MARTIN, stern quarter view, underway
The San Martín underway in stern quarter view, one-half of the second pair ordered by Argentina.

Armored cruiser GENERAL BELGRANO, color advertising illustration

The first General Belgrano was one of the four Garibaldis sold to Argentina. She is seen here is a collector card sponsored by a French chocolatier. The artist has added a gingerbread fringe on the bridge that was not present in the prototype. Another view

The Cristóbal Colón


One of the most famous Garibaldis met a sad end in battle. Originally to be the second Giuseppi Garibaldi in the Italian fleet, Cristóbal Colón was purchased by Spain on the eve of the Spanish-American War. She was to have been armed with two 10" guns in single mounts, in addition to ten 6" guns in sided batteries. But she was bundled off to war, willy-nilly, with her 10" guns uninstalled, voyaging transatlantic to Cuba with the squadron of Adm. Ernesto Pascual de Cervera.

Group shot: Officers of the COLON, 1898

In this view from the U.S. Naval Historical Center collection, Colón's officers gather for a portrait on the foredeck of the new command. The empty shield for the forward 10" mounting gapes just behind them. Though the big guns might not have saved the ship altogether from the pitiless fate that awaited her, they would at least have granted a chance of hitting back before meeting her doom.

COLON completing, 1898
Colorized photo of the ship completing in Italy.  Enlarge

CRISTOBAL COLON profile, copyright 2012 by Cyber Ironclad
Profile of the Cristóbal Colón, courtesy of Cyber Ironclad.   Enlarge

Early on the morning of July 3, 1898, Adm. Cervera ran his squadron -- four cruisers and two destroyers -- through the blockade at Santiago de Cuba. They were annihilated by the waiting Americans. After being hit repeatedly, Colón, fleeter than her sisters, had nearly outdistanced the blockaders, running some 48 miles from the harbor's mouth, when her small store of Cardiff steam coal ran out and the stokers commenced shoveling inferior brown coal onto their grates. Steam pressure dropped, allowing the battleship USS Oregon to bustle up under forced draft and loose 13" ranging shots at extreme range. The shells bracketed the ship's wake, close enough that her captain turned into shore and struck his colours, meantime ordering the crew to open the sea-cocks. As the tide receded, Colon rolled onto her beam-ends as her guns impotently tracked the sky. Anxious to take home a trophy ship, the Americans refloated her, but the hulk broke tow and foundered on the way to the States for refit.

CP|OLON wrecked on the coast of Cuba, 1898

Full account of the Santiago battle - by Walter Millis. Lavishly Illustrated

The Japanese Garibaldis

Japanese armored cruiser KASUGA

Nisshin and her sister Kasuga (above) were built for Argentina at Ansaldo, originally to be named Rivadavia and Moreno. But when Argentina canceled delivery in 1903, they were hastily purchased by Japan on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War. Kasuga followed the Italian pattern by mounting a single 10" (254mm) gun forward and two 8" aft: her single gun forward is very evident in the shot above. Schematic Sister Nisshin carried twin 8" turrets fore and aft (203 mm).

When completed, the two cruisers were sailed out to Japan by picked British Navy crews to discourage unwanted attention from marauding Russian forces. After mines rubbed two battleships from the Japanese roster, Nisshin and Kasuga replaced them in the Japanese battle line during the Battle of the Yellow Sea (Aug. 1904) and the following year at the Battle of Tsushima. At Tsushima, Nisshin engaged the battleship Osliabya. Nisshin was hit several times and had one of her 8" gun barrels sheared off by a direct hit, but stayed in the fight despite a flooded bunker and several casualties. The ship returned to the Mediterranean during WWI, serving as a convoy escort and lead ASW vessel for a Japanese contingent based at Malta. In 1936 she was designated as a target; was finally sunk by 18" shells from the superbattleship Yamato in 1942.

Japanese armored cruiser KASUGA in home waters
Kasuga's bow 10" gun stands out well in this view shot in Tokyo Bay, 1907.

Japanese armored cruiser NISSHIN on maneuvers
Nisshin on maneuvers, c. 1904.

Full account of the Battle of Tsushima

Japanese armored cruiser NISSHIN builder's plate
Nisshin's builder's plate was pierced by a Russian shell at Tsushima.

Japanese armored cruiser NISSHIN at the Battle of Tsushima
Recreation of the Battle of Tsushima: Nisshin has fired an 8" broadside; the smoke is just clearing away.

The Pisa and San Marco Classes, 1909-1914

Italian Armored Cruiser PISA
The Pisa in Venetian waters near the close of her career, in 1932.

Already by 1905, the most advanced countries were building much larger and better protected armored cruisers, and Italy responded with the Pisa class and the contemporaneous San Marco class, an incremental improvement over the Garibaldis, mounting four 9.2" and eight 7.6", all in twin turrets laid out in a hex disposition. Beam turrets were widely spaced, sponsoned slightly over the waves, and most unusually for this period, the hull was without "recesses" or cutouts to permit widened fields of fire for the guns. The Pisa class ships had three funnels, a flush deck, and originally stepped only one mast, abaft all of the funnels (schematic, and photos below). By 1917 the need for a smoke-free fire director station led to the placement of a foremast near the bridge as shown above, greatly improving the ships' appearance; searchlight platforms were mounted high on the forward funnel and at the same height on the mainmast. The Pisa and Amalfi completed in 1909, their sister Georgios Averof, built by Orlando of Leghorn for the Royal Hellenic Navy, was delivered the following year. Averof commissioned in time to fight as the feisty Greek flagship in the First Balkan War. Under Adm. Pavlos Kontouriotis, she delivered two convincing naval victories for Greece, with plodding support from the three 20-year-old Hydra class battleships.

Italian armored cruiser AMALFI when new
The Amalfi -- here in single-mast rig -- was sunk by the Austrian sub UB-14 on July 17, 1915.   Enlarge

The up-gunned San Marco and San Giorgio also appeared in 1910, armed with eight 8"/45 and four 10"/45 guns originally set in a homely four-funnel layout with raised forecastle and stepped-down quarterdeck. An outthrust foredeck served as a pedestal for the for'ard guns, while the sides were severely recessed to provide a shooting alley for the secondary guns on either beam. The Giorgio used conventional triple-expansion engines, but her sister was engined with steam turbines; both vessels had Blechynden boilers, and could do better than 23 knots. Armor plans were similar in the two classes, except that the San Marcos carried a full 10 inches on the conning tower -- about one-third more than their predecessors. The later ships also carried their turrets in a hex disposition, but with the wing turrets close together compared to the Pisas; the main turrets were of an improved model. The forecastle had a hull recess on either side, permitting axial fire for the foremost 8" turrets.These two classes of ship were only four or five years old when the Great War broke out. Although armored cruisers played a part in the world conflict, it was not an enviable one. The type was being eclipsed by the dreadnought battlecruiser even before the guns of August ushered in the Great War. The reason is easy to find: When faced with battlecruisers, the armored cruisers found themselves outgunned, out-engined, and outdated. This was demonstrated several times over, most cogently at the 1914 Battle of the Falklands and the Battle of Jutland. At the Falklands, 27-knot battlecruisers swiftly overtook 23-knot armored cruisers and brought their 12" guns into play while the cruisers were still outranged. And the British already had four battlecruisers capable of 28+ knots, armed with 13.5" guns, and 32-knot ships with 15" guns abuilding. No armored cruiser afloat could withstand a confrontation with one of these wonder ships. After the spectacular sinkings of several armored cruisers at Jutland, the type was largely recognized as obsolete, and no new vessels of the kind were ordered. Of course, several dreadnought battlecruisers also blew up and sank at Jutland, leading the British to increase armor on existing ships and add protection to battlecruisers then building. But these Jutland victims were taken out by other dreadnoughts, principally Reinhard Scheer's battlecruisers, not by older forms of warship. Four armored cruisers -- three British and one German -- were among the death toll from the great battle, blown to bits by concentrated dreadnought gunfire.

In the Adriatic, the Pisa, San Giorgio and San Marco acted as bombardment gunships to "soften up" Durazzo in the Allied push to retake the Austrian-held Albanian port, October 2, 1918. This was a joint operation which included a squadron of British light cruisers and minesweepers, and a swarm of American sub chasers.

Pisa and San Marco Class Photos

Italian armored cruiser PISA when new - bow view, underway
Pisa underway: bow view, with crewmen manning the side.   Enlarge

Italian armored cruiser PISA, side view, underway
Pisa in 1920: Rangefinder on pilothouse roof; 75 mm AA guns on turret roof and at bow; ship had six.   Enlarge

Italian armored cruiser SAN MARCO when new
The stokers have laid on the coal with a will to get San Marco underway: a pre-World War I image.

Italian armored cruiser SAN MARCO when new
San Marco slipping along, 1915. Differences from the Pisas will be apparent.   Enlarge

Italian armored cruiser SAN GIORGIO in WWII

Armored cruiser San Giorgio, photographed during the Second World War. On June 12, 1940, San Giorgio engaged in a gun duel with a British naval force attacking Tobruk, including the cruisers HMS Liverpool and HMS Gloucester. She was a mainstay of the defense of Tobruk over the next two years, serving as an AA gunship, and holding off a massed tank attack at the last. Scuttled as the outpost fell to the Allies, she was awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valor by the foundering fascist régime.

Decline of the Armored Cruiser

But surface ships were not the only new weapons to which armored cruisers proved vulnerable. Mines and sub-launched torpedoes accounted for their share.

GIUSEPPE GARIBALDI sinking, 1915The War was barely a month old when three older British armored cruisers were sunk in quick succession off Holland; 1,459 crewmen lost their lives. In the Med, the name ship Giuseppe Garibaldi herself was sunk by the Austro-Hungarian Navy's U-4 on July 18, 1915 (right); the French armored cruiser Leon Gambetta by her sister, the U-5, in a celebrated exploit by Lt. Georg von Trapp, also in Adriatic waters; the Amalfi, sister of the Pisa, also fell prey to an Austrian U-boat. In the British navy, most of the extant armored cruisers were retired after the War and scrapped in the early 1920s. Other navies were more thrifty: Pueyrredón and Belgrano both served in the Argentine Navy through WWII and were scrapped in 1954 and 1948, respectively -- Belgrano passing her name along to the light cruiser (ex-USS Phoenix, built 1935) eventually sunk in the 1982 Falkland Islands War by a British nuclear "killer" submarine.

Meanwhile in Italy, San Giorgio did some serious fighting in North Africa during the Forties, and the San Martín and Ferrucio held on until scrapped in 1935. They were replaced the following year by two modern 11,300-ton light cruisers of the new Abruzzi class. 33-knot turbine ships with more than the usual protection, the new Garibaldi and Duca degli Abruzzi proved to be among Italy's best warships of WWII, present at nearly every battle. Both were targets at Taranto, where the Duca took serious damage, which was repaired and the ship returned to duty, serving in the North Atlantic with the Allies after Italy changed sides. After the war the Abruzzi were at the core of the much-diminished Italian navy. They were converted to guided missile cruisers in 1953. After a radical rebuild, Garibaldi emerged in 1961 to spend a decade as flagship of the Italian fleet. She was heavily crusted with aerials and radar dishes for that duty, but retained her recognizable dashing profile. Both Abruzzi class cruisers were decommissioned in 1971 and scrapped the following year.

Logo of the Ansaldo Shipyard, Genoa

Ansaldo used its cruiser contracts to vault to first class status among Italian arms manufacturers. During the three years Italy was fighting in World War I, the value of the company's assets quadrupled as the firm branched out into gun manufacturing, munitions, steam turbines, diesel and gasoline engines, and aircraft manufacturing. Employment peaked in 1918 at 80,000. Long past the Perrone era, the company collapsed following the 1929 Crash and was bailed out by the Fascist state in 1934. The quid pro quo was control by Mussolini's thugs. As in the Great War, Ansaldo was an important supplier of munitions to Italian forces during WWII.   Company Timeline   History