Italian cruiser Marsala


Marsala was a protected cruiser built by the Italian Regia Marina (Royal Navy) in the 1910s. She was the second and final member of the Nino Bixio class, which were built as scouts for the main Italian fleet. She was equipped with a main battery of six 120-millimeter (4.7 in) guns and had a top speed in excess of 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph), but her engines proved to be troublesome in service. Marsala spent World War I based at Brindisi; she was involved in the Battle of the Otranto Straits in May 1917, where she briefly engaged Austro-Hungarian cruisers. Marsala's career was cut short in November 1927 when she was stricken from the naval register and sold for scrap, the result of her unreliable engines and drastic cuts to the naval budget.

Marsala illustration.jpg
Illustration of Marsala
BuilderRegio Cantiere di Castellammare di Stabia
Laid down15 February 1911
Launched24 March 1912
Commissioned4 August 1914
Stricken27 November 1927
FateScrapped, 1927
General characteristics
Class and typeNino Bixio class
Length140.3 m (460 ft 4 in)
Beam13 m (42 ft 8 in)
Draft4.1 m (13 ft 5 in)
Installed power
Speed27.66 knots (51.23 km/h; 31.83 mph)
Range1,400 nmi (2,600 km; 1,600 mi) at 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph)
  • 13 officers
  • 283 enlisted men


Plan and profile drawing of Marsala

Marsala was 140.3 meters (460 ft 4 in) long at the waterline, with a beam of 13 m (42 ft 8 in) and a draft of 4.1 m (13 ft 5 in). She displaced 3,575 long tons (3,632 t) normally and up to 4,141 long tons (4,207 t) at full load. She had a short forecastle deck and a pair of pole masts. Her crew consisted 13 officers and 283 enlisted men.[1]

The ship's propulsion system consisted of three steam turbines, each driving a screw propeller. Steam was provided by fourteen mixed coal and oil firing Blechynden boilers, which were vented into four widely spaced funnels. The engines were rated at 23,000 shaft horsepower (17,000 kW) for a top speed of 27.66 knots (51.23 km/h; 31.83 mph). She had a cruising range of 1,400 nautical miles (2,600 km; 1,600 mi) at an economical speed of 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph).[1]

Marsala was armed with a main battery of six 120 mm (4.7 in) L/50 guns mounted singly.[Note 1] She was also equipped with a secondary battery of six 76 mm (3 in) L/50 guns, which provided close-range defense against torpedo boats. She also carried two 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes submerged in the hull. Marsala also had a capacity to carry 200 naval mines. The ship was only lightly armored, with a 38 mm (1.5 in) thick deck, and 100 mm (3.9 in) thick plating on her main conning tower.[1]

Service historyEdit

Marsala's keel was laid down at the Regio Cantiere di Castellammare di Stabia shipyard on 15 February 1911, the same day as Nino Bixio. Work on Marsala proceeded slower than on her sister, and she was launched on 24 March 1912, where she was named for the city where Giuseppe Garibaldi launched the Expedition of the Thousand in 1860. After completing fitting-out work, the ship was commissioned into the Italian fleet on 4 August 1914.[1] Marsala was thereafter assigned to the 1st Division of the 2nd Squadron; the squadron consisted of two divisions of armored cruisers, each supported by a scout cruiser.[2]

Italy, a member of the Central Powers, declared neutrality at the start of World War I in August 1914, but by May 1915, the Triple Entente had convinced the Italians to enter the war against their former allies. Admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel, the Italian naval chief of staff, believed that Austro-Hungarian submarines could operate too effectively in the narrow waters of the Adriatic, which could also be easily seeded with minefields. The threat from these underwater weapons was too serious for him to use the fleet in an active way. Instead, Revel decided to implement a blockade at the relatively safer southern end of the Adriatic with the main fleet, while smaller vessels, such as the MAS boats, conducted raids on Austro-Hungarian ships and installations.[3] Marsala, Nino Bixio, and the cruiser Quarto were based at Brindisi during the war, where they could patrol the path from the narrow Adriatic to the Mediterranean.[4]

By May 1917, the reconnaissance forces at Brindisi had come under the command of Rear Admiral Alfredo Acton.[5] On the night of 14–15 May, the Austro-Hungarian cruisers Helgoland, Novara, and Saida and several destroyers raided the Otranto Barrage, a patrol line of drifters intended to block Austro-Hungarian and German U-boats.[6] Marsala was the only Italian cruiser with steam up in her boilers when word of the Austro-Hungarian attack reached Brindisi.[7] The British cruisers HMS Dartmouth and Bristol departed first, along with five Italian destroyers. Marsala, the flotilla leader Racchia, and three destroyers followed thereafter,[8] leaving Brindisi at around 8:30. They initially steamed east toward Valona before turning north to join Acton's forces pursuing the Austro-Hungarians.[9] Marsala briefly engaged the fleeing Austro-Hungarians in the Battle of the Otranto Straits, before Acton temporarily broke off the pursuit.[10] By around 11:00, Acton had seen Austro-Hungarian reinforcements steaming south, leading him to turn south with the two British cruisers to join Marsala's group. Having united his forces by around 11:30, Acton turned north once again to try to catch the damaged Novara, but half an hour later, the powerful armored cruiser SMS Sankt Georg had reached the scene. Unable to engage the heavily armed vessel, Acton broke off again and returned to port.[11][12]

Following the end of the war in November 1918, the Regia Marina demobilized; severely reduced naval budgets—the result of a weakened Italian economy in the early 1920s—led to further draw-downs.[13][14] Marsala's engines were plagued with problems throughout her career, which made the ship an obvious target in the effort to trim the Regia Marina's budget. She was stricken from the naval register on 27 November 1927 and subsequently broken up for scrap.[1]



  1. ^ L/50 refers to the length of the gun in terms of caliber.


  1. ^ a b c d e Fraccaroli, p. 263.
  2. ^ Pribram, p. 262.
  3. ^ Halpern 1995, pp. 140–142, 150.
  4. ^ O'Hara, Dickson, & Worth, pp. 183–184.
  5. ^ Halpern 2004, p. 20.
  6. ^ Halpern 1995, pp. 162–163.
  7. ^ Halpern 2004, p. 50.
  8. ^ Halpern 1995, p. 163.
  9. ^ Newbolt, pp. 303–304.
  10. ^ Halpern 1995, p. 165.
  11. ^ Newbolt, pp. 304–305.
  12. ^ Halpern 2004, pp. 91–97.
  13. ^ Fraccaroli, p. 254.
  14. ^ Goldstein & Maurer, p. 225.


  • Fraccaroli, Aldo (1985). "Italy". In Gardiner, Robert & Gray, Randal (eds.). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1921. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. pp. 252–290. ISBN 978-0-85177-245-5.
  • Goldstein, Erik & Maurer, John H. (1994). The Washington Conference, 1921–22: Naval Rivalry, East Asian Stability and the Road to Pearl Harbor. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. ISBN 0-7146-4559-1.
  • Halpern, Paul G. (1995). A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-352-4.
  • Halpern, Paul (2004). The Battle of the Otranto Straits: Controlling the Gateway to the Adriatic in World War I. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-11019-X.
  • Newbolt, Henry John (1928). Naval Operations. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Vol. IV (1st ed.). London: Longmans, Green & Co. OCLC 220475138. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
  • O'Hara, Vincent; Dickson, David & Worth, Richard (2013). To Crown the Waves: The Great Navies of the First World War. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-61251-082-8.
  • Pribram, Alfred Franzis (February 1920). "The Secret Treaties of the Triple Alliance". The Atlantic Monthly. Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Company. pp. 251–263.

Further readingEdit

  • Cernushi, Enrico (2022). "Esploratori of the Regia Marina, 1906—1939". In Jordan, John (ed.). Warship 2022. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. pp. 147–160. ISBN 978-1-4728-4781-2.

External linksEdit

  • Marsala Marina Militare website (in Italian)