South American Navies:
Argentina’s Armada

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
January 2016

Note: The Second Great War is our alternative history setting in which the First World War ended with a negotiated peace that allowed the great empires – Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia and Ottoman Turkey – to survive for another generation’s war. Our Second Great War at Sea books tell the story and present new scenarios from this war that never happened waged by fleets that never were. South American Navies extends the story in a special limited-edition expansion set for the out-of-print Cone of Fire, available only to the Gold Club.

As the Second Great War setting makes its way to South America with the cleverly-named Second Great War at Sea: South American Navies, we find Argentina fielding both a powerful fleet and aggressive policies calling for its use. Tied to Fascist Italy by trade and by alliance, Argentina’s stake in the growing conflict is based on her massive export trade with France and Italy.

The Second Great War, as we explained in an earlier installment of Daily Content, is about trade and economics as much as it is about nationalism. The Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey) have built a prosperous tariff-free zone, as has the British Empire with its own Dominions. France and Italy have built a less successful grouping of Fascist and Fascist-inclined states. Argentina has firmly aligned herself with the latter, and her leaders believe – mistakenly - that Brazil has tied herself to Imperial Germany. Argentina strikes first in September 1940, bringing war to the Southern Cone.

Argentina’s Armada has looked to Italian shipyards to help it achieve a technological edge over the Brazilians. Brazil has more battleships, so Argentina has tried to even the score with more modern ones.

The pride of the Armada are the two modified Vittorio Veneto-class fast battleships built in Italy in the late 1930’s. They have larger secondary batteries than their Italian near-sisters, with 15 as opposed to 12 six-inch guns. And they have an increased anti-aircraft battery. They’re also somewhat larger ships, to accommodate this additional weaponry. They are fast, well-protected, and well-armed with nine excellent Ansaldo-made long-barreled 15-inch guns. No Latin American ship can match them.

Note: That sample should have a secondary gunnery of 6.

Following the example of their Italian allies, the Argentines have also sent their three older battleships to Italy for complete reconstruction along the lines of the older Italian battleships. The Rivadavia class were impressive warships when built in the United States, but lacked the speed and durability of modern fast battleships. The rebuilding was intended to correct those flaws.

As with the Italian battleships, the Argentine dreadnoughts lost their two wing turrets, reducing their main armament from a dozen heavy guns to just eight. The eight 12-inch (305mm) guns were replaced by eight 12.6-inch (320mm) guns, supposedly created by re-boring the old barrels but actually manufactured new by Ansaldo (the subterfuge made necessary by naval arms limitation agreements). They are much better weapons than those they replaced, with a range only slightly less than that of the fine 15-inch rifles of the Garibaldi class.

The ships have been lengthened to help increase their speed, and given massive new power plants to drive them at 29 knots. Replacing the amidships “wing” turrets are four triple mounts for six-inch guns, plus a large array of anti-aircraft guns. Internally, they have the Italian Pugliese torpedo-defense system, and improved internal subdivision. They are practically new ships, but with their relatively weak main armament, they are substantially less capable fighting units than the big Garibaldi class.

Attracted by easy credit and low prices, the Argentines have also purchased a pair of fast armored cruisers from Ansaldo, the so-called “pocket battleships.” They carry six 10-inch guns, can make a very high speed and have a long range, all of which makes them very suitable for commerce-raiding missions. In the event of a war involving European powers, they would allow Argentina to project her power all the way across the broad South Atlantic.

During the 1930’s the Armada attempted to build a more balanced fleet than had been true at the time of the First Great War, seeking modern cruisers and destroyers as well as battleships. A pair of Ansaldo-built scout cruisers came as part of a package deal with the two fast armored cruisers. The scout cruisers have long range but are relatively lightly armed, with a half-dozen six-inch guns and six torpedo tubes. Their prime function is to use their seaplanes to scout for enemies, and to aid in this mission most of the aft deck is clear of weapons and other equipment to facilitate aircraft handling. And the Argentines also use them to lead their new destroyer flotillas.

To support the fast battleships, Argentina ordered eight boats of the Italian Navigatori class in 1930. These are large destroyers with a heavy armament of six 4.7-inch (120mm) guns, and like most Italian-designed warships a very high speed. They differ slightly from their near-sisters in carrying a uniform armament of six 21-inch torpedo tubes, unlike the mixed torpedo battery of the Italian boats.

Argentina ordered six more destroyers in 1938, this time of the Soldati class. They are not as large nor as powerful as the Navigatoris, but a better-rounded design well-suited for many duties. These boats carry four 120mm guns, as well as six torpedo tubes. Along with the destroyers already present in Cone of Fire, that gives Argentina more than two dozen modern destroyers.

Rounding out the additions to the Armada are a pair of Italian-built airships, very similar to the Italian airship Baracca found in The Habsburg Fleet. Argentina has a long history of airship operation, and these additional eyes of the fleet are very useful in the broad waters of the South Atlantic. They each carry scouting aircraft, and can attack on their own as well.

Together with the ships and aircraft from Cone of Fire, these additions give Argentina a fast and modern fleet, to offset the firepower of Brazil’s fleet of rebuilt old battleships. And all of the ship pieces in South American Navies also sport new drawings; these are some fine-looking toys indeed.

Don’t wait to put South American Navies on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before it's gone forever!

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold loves running.