The 1975 Naval Law: the Navy is reborn

(To Francesco Zampieri)
08/10/19

The 22 March 1975 the Italian Parliament approved an extraordinary loan of 1.000 billion Lire for the "Construction and modernization of naval vessels for the Navy".

It was the last act of a trial that had begun a little earlier, but which had had its decisive and positive turn with the appointment of team admiral Gino De Giorgi as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces.

Starting from the 1970, the Navy was in the throes of a severe contraction of its operating instrument: for financial reasons, the cruiser had been struck off Giuseppe Garibaldi - modernized at the end of the years, 50 became the first unit in the world capable of launching intermediate ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads - and it had been possible to build little modern ships, such as the two fighters Boldness, the prototype of future missile hydrofoils (lo sparrowhawk) and start the design of the class frigates Wolf and the first two submarines of the class Sauro.

In total, the Navy could only align 125 combat units for a total of 65.365 tons, to which were added other 30.350 tons of auxiliary ships, for a total of 96.715 tons, far from that figure (200.000 tons of water) which was deemed indispensable.

According to the forecasts of the General Staff (1973), within a decade the Navy would have lost 65.365 tons of larger combat ships; if the types of smaller ships had also been considered, the Armed Forces would have had to destroy 95.715 tons of military ships.

This incredible amount of divestitures had already alarmed the leaders and thinking heads of the Navy: in the 50 years Admiral Romeo Bernotti - one of the fathers of Italian maritime strategic thought - had insisted on the use of the instrument of the Naval Law as the only solution for guarantee the Marina adequate financial resources.

A decade later, Admiral Virgilio Spigai - Navy Chief of Staff between the 1968 and the 1970 - would have further perfected Bernotti's request, but nothing materialized until it became dominus of the Navy the admiral Gino De Giorgi. He took up the work of Bernotti and Spigai but, moreover, he had the merit of re-reading the contemporary and future geostrategic situation, of understanding what new responsibilities were being shown to the Armed Forces and of publicly calling the attention of the political class on the urgency and on the need not to extinguish the Navy.

Unlike Bernotti or Spigai, who had written and defended their ideas "in a personal capacity", Admiral De Giorgi took the risk and the burden of breaking the official silence that had up until then characterized the action of the Navy. The admiral exposed himself a lot: it was a matter of "tacking" with respect to a tradition of silences, of respect for the balance in the relations between the Armed Forces and, on the contrary, to orchestrate a cultural campaign in support of the provision that was intended to be approved.

Undoubtedly, Admiral De Giorgi gave proof of possessing managerial qualities, energy, courage and an unshakable faith in his own mission which, after all, enabled him to achieve the desired result.

Immediately after his appointment, De Giorgi began to support the reasons and needs of the Navy in all the venues where he had occasion to intervene, shifting the debate from political buildings to any forum where it was possible to plead the cause of the Navy.

The main instrument of De Giorgi's action was the publication of the White Paper of the Navy or, better, of the document entitled Guidelines and guidelines of the Navy for the period 1974-1984, whose first draft dates back to October 1973, while the definitive one in November of the same year. De Giorgi skilfully described the strategic scenario of the moment and defined with remarkable precision the predictable evolution of the same.

In short, alongside the traditional threat represented by the Soviet Union - it should not be forgotten that it was in the years of the Cold War - the growing importance of competition for the exploitation of maritime resources was clearly indicated - also by virtue of the gestation of that international legislation which then it would have resulted in the Montego Bay Convention - and the growth of capacity and ambitions of the North African and Near East Marines.

The Navy, on the one hand, should have continued to ensure the performance of its tasks within the NATO framework, on the other it would have been increasingly called upon to operate - even outside the alliance mechanisms - to defend national interests, first of all ensuring presence and surveillance of the areas of interest.

Here it is worth mentioning that, until that time, the reference area for Italian naval operations was identifiable with the central portion of the Mediterranean; with the 1973 document it began to hint at the possibility that national interest called the Navy to operate throughout the Mediterranean basin.

To do this, it was necessary to have a balanced nucleus of various types of ships which, in accordance with the Republican Navy tradition, were equipped with significant and modern capabilities throughout the spectrum of the maritime war: anti-aircraft, anti-submarine and anti-ship struggle, with this last one that took on a particular urgency, given the rapid spread of Soviet-built anti-ship missiles.

The central element of the new naval programs would have been the creation of an "all bridge" cruiser, inspired by the concepts of the Sea Control Ship - then under development in the US Navy and in the British Navy - which would have made possible the operation of the aircraft, an essential component of the "ship system", as well as an indispensable tool in the modern war on the sea.

In addition to the larger ship, the Navy claimed the construction of two more destroyers - so as to place them alongside the two Boldness - of a new class of antisubmarine frigates, derived from the type Wolf, or the future class Mistral, of supplying units to extend the operational arm of the Navy, of two more submarines of the class Sauro, of ten fiberglass minesweepers (the future class Lerici), of an amphibious unit of the LPD type and of a rescue unit (Ship Antaeus).

With ordinary funds, it would have been possible to complete the acquisition of anti-ship missiles (Otomat-Teseo), of air-to-surface missiles for helicopters (Mars), of antiaircraft missiles (Albatros) and of modernizing the Terrier and Tartar to the "Standard" version, to purchase new SADOC command and control systems for class cruisers Doria and to complete the procurement of A-184 heavy torpedoes and naphtha.

With an availability of 100 billions of lire a year for ten years, it would have been possible to avoid the irremediable decline of the Armed Forces and equip it with instruments capable of allowing it to fulfill its institutional tasks.

Admiral De Giorgi had to clash, even within the Armed Forces, with those who did not understand the opportunity to invest so many funds - 1 / 10 of the total - in the realization of the new Major Unit (the Giuseppe Garibaldi) and had doubts about the national ability to operate a credible amphibious force - for which a landing vessel with a floodable dock had been requested - also considering the size of the San Marco battalion.

De Giorgi had to spend not a little to make it clear that the maritime military instrument had to be flexible, efficient and equipped with all the capabilities that were required for modern naval warfare, without forgetting that building ships would have to operate for a long period of time and that it would have been impractical not to equip them with capabilities that, although not yet present, could have been in the future. In this sense, the possibility of acquiring, in the future, fixed winged aircraft on board could not be affected by incorrect design choices or the lack of strategic vision.

The admiral actually went even further, dreaming not only of the acquisition of 18 V / STOL aircraft (short takeoff and vertical landing) - whose ability to operate from Garibaldi it was one of the requirements for the design of that ship - but also the in-service introduction of 18 aircraft Tornado of the Italian Navy - in a similar way to what was done for the German Marineflieger - to be used in the enemy combat missions in the choke point of the Channel of Otranto and of Sicily and in the Channel of Sardinia.

Ultimately, the 1975 Naval Law constituted a measure of extraordinary importance, not only because it averted the disappearance of the Navy but also because it gave it the ability to operate in the Mediterranean - more or less "enlarged" - which 'have seen the protagonist of international events from the second half of the' 80 years onwards.

(For further information: Francesco Zampieri, 1975 the Marina is reborn. The 1975 Naval Law, Vicenza 2014, Inedibus.)

Images: Photo library of the Historical Office of the Navy / web