By Mike Bennighof
In the 1920s, two types of cruiser became
the standard for world navies: the 10,000-ton
“heavy cruiser” armed with 8-inch
guns, and the “light cruiser,”
usually smaller, armed with 6-inch guns.
With those characteristics defined by naval
limitations treaties, ship designers had little
variance in their work.
The Italian Orlando combine was one of the
few conglomerates to design ships outside
the treaty standards. Italian designers focused
on the export market, seeking contracts with
foreign powers that had not signed any of
the naval treaties and so were not bound by
their limits. These “export cruisers”
were smaller than the treaty-mandated heavy
cruisers, and carried non-standard 190mm (7.5-inch)
guns. All these measures were designed to
save costs, to make the ships attractive to
less wealthy customers.
The program eventually attracted three customers.
Siam bought two small cruisers based on the
Montecuccoli-class light cruiser design.
The Soviet Union contracted the Italian firm to
design their Kirov-class “heavy”
cruisers with 180mm (7.1-inch) guns but after
negotiations to construct the lead ship of the
class in Italy, decided to build all of them
at home with Italian assistance.
Big sister: RN Trento, 1936.
Argentina, a longtime customer of Italian
yards, ordered two of these “in between”
ships in 1926 as the centerpieces of a 75
million peso naval program. Their design derived
from the Italian Trento-class heavy
cruiser, a very fast ship but one with minimal
Launched in 1929, both ships commissioned
on 5 July 1931. Almirante Brown and
25 de Mayo displaced 6,800 tons standard
and 9,000 tons at full load; Trento (built
on the same slip as 25 de Mayo) came
in at 10,300 standard and 13,300 full load.
The Argentine ships were 20 meters shorter
than their Italian semi-sister, without Trento’s
second funnel or X position (aft superfiring)
The Argentine cruisers carried six 7.5-inch
guns, and a dozen of the 100mm anti-aircraft
guns standard on Italian cruisers of the period.
They had six fixed torpedo tubes and, like
Trento, a bow-mounted gunpowder catapult
for a seaplane (unlike Trento, the
Argentine cruisers carried British- or American-made
planes during their service life).
Fighting Ships, the influential annual
publication, roundly criticized the ships.
They made only 32 knots compared to Trento’s
36, had even weaker armor protection than
the Italian ship and (though Jane’s
did not know this) the same horrific gunnery
limitations as Trento: The Oderno-Terni
190mm gun did not have flashless charges and
so could not be used at night without revealing
the ship’s position. Fortunately, the
Argentine crews did not have to learn this
tactical limitation under fire, as would happen
to three Italian cruisers in 1941. The two
Argentine cruisers did have much better cruising
range than the Italian ship.
Despite these apparent limitations, the Argentines
were well pleased with their purchases. The
cruisers made numerous good will visits to
South American ports. In 1936, 25 de Mayo
and the destroyer Tucuman sailed to
Spain to represent Argentine interests during
the Civil War — the only time Latin
American warships have exerted “gunboat
diplomacy” in European waters. The two
ships evacuated 1,825 Argentine citizens over
their five-month deployment.
Both cruisers participated in Argentina’s
1947-48 “Antarctic Campaign,”
nearly becoming involved in a gunnery action
with the British cruiser Nigeria in
late 1947. Though the cruisers remained very
seaworthy and had been well-maintained, modernization
would have been very expensive. In January
1951 Argentina acquired a pair of American
Brooklyn-class light cruisers at the
bargain price of $4 million apiece. These
ships greatly outclassed the small Argentine
cruisers, and to the horror of Argentina’s leaders, their rivals Chile
and Brazil had also been sold two of them
each as well.
ARA Almirante Brown.
Argentine naval policy for over half a century
had followed the formula “A = B+C”:
Argentine naval strength had to equal the
combined power of both Chile and Brazil. The
American sales overturned this ratio. Some
Argentine naval leaders seethed that the Americans
had mislead them. The Brooklyn class
comprised eight surviving ships in 1951, and
they expected to be granted four of them while
their rivals received two each, keeping the
precious balance of power in the Southern
Denied their sacred ratio, the Argentine
Navy instead initiated a series of design
studies for conversion of the two Almirante
Brown-class cruisers into small aircraft
carriers similar to the American Independence
class. Their hulls and machinery passed
inspection, and this use seemed more cost-effective
than installing the major systems upgrades
of the post-war world.
25 de Mayo during her Spanish
The work appeared beyond the means of Argentina’s
limited shipbuilding capacity, and in the
1950’s surplus British and American
purpose-built aircraft carriers flooded the
world marketplace. Though the Argentines burned
at the thought of depending on Anglo-American
good will for their naval needs, they eventually
abandoned the conversion plan. After inspecting
the British fleet carrier Indefatigable, the Argentines
blanched at her maintenance and refit costs
and settled for the much smaller former British light carrier
The two “heavy” cruisers, now
rapidly aging, went back to Italy in 1962
on a final voyage, and were scrapped there.
They had never fired a shot in anger, but
projected Argentine power in the Atlantic,
Pacific and Mediterranean and been accounted
as great successes by their owners.
Both cruisers appear in Cone
of Fire, in scenarios pitted against
Chilean, Brazilian, German and British warships.
Though listed as heavy cruisers (type “CA”)
they are no match for most “Treaty cruisers.”
here to order Cone of Fire!