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Tropic of Capricorn:
Argentine Battleships

In our Second Great War at Sea alternative-history setting, the economic crisis of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s is still called the “Great Depression,” but it is far milder than that of our own time-frame and mostly confined to the United States. The economic powerhouses of Latin America have retained their momentum, and built up modern armed forces to match. In September 1940, Argentina and Brazil go to war.

That’s the premise of Second Great War at Sea: Tropic of Capricorn, the first complete boxed game we’ve produced for this alternative-history setting. It’s also the first game to include the new Second Edition rules set for Second World War at Sea.

The fleets of Tropic of Capricorn include some ships that actually did steam under their nation’s colors, but also many that did not. We included the historical fleets of Argentina, Brazil and Chile in our old Cone of Fire game (a few copies are still available); Tropic of Capricorn is a new game with many ships that didn’t actually make it into the water. Let’s look at Argentina’s Armada:

Battleships

The Second Great War setting is crafted to promote battleship action – if you’re going to manufacture a history, you might as well manufacture one that gives the players what they want. And so all of the fleets are built around their battleships.

The Armada includes three older battleships, built in the United States at the time of the First Great War. During the 1920’s and 1930’s Argentina’s fascist regime formed a tight political, military and economic alliance with Italy, and so the ships went to Italian yards for throough modernization along the lines of Italy’s older battleships.

The ships had been built with a dozen 12-inch guns in six turrets: two fore, two aft and two in “wing” positions on either side of the hull amidships. The two wing turrets were removed, reducing their main armament to just eight heavy guns, but those 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 new Garibaldi class fast battleships.

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 and quarter-century-old structure and protection scheme, they are substantially less capable fighting units than the big Garibaldi class.

Note: Argentina built two dreadnoughts in the United States, Moreno and Rivadavia, with an option for a third, Roca, which was never exercised. We’ve given Argentina her third dreadnought in Tropic of Capricorn, since that means more battleships.

Argentina has two modern fast battleships, known as the Garibaldi class, near-sisters of the Italian Littorio class. They’re slightly larger than the Italian version, with additional secondary guns (15 as opposed to 12 six-inch guns), a heavier anti-aircraft array and torpedo tubes. Italian yards offered easy credit terms and low prices, but the Argentines could afford to pay in hard currency and ordered their ships to an improved design.

They’re fast, well-protected and well-armed with nine excellent Ansaldo-made long-barreled 15-inch (381mm) guns. The Italian 381mm gun produced excellent results at trials, less excellent results in practice as the firms producing the guns were allowed to provide the ammunition for the tests. They also had an extremely short barrel life, a significant problem for the Argentines given the vast distance between their fleet bases and the factories that made the guns.

Note: Italy attempted to export the Littorio design, crafting a deal for three units to be built for Spain in Spanish yards with extensive use of Italian-supplied components. In our alternative world, with Italy looking to sell and Argentina eager to buy, this sort of arrangement would have been expected.

Large Cruisers

As was the case in other nations, Italian naval architects tested the limits of international treaties with designs for vessels falling outside the usual range of ship types. With Italy eager for foreign exchange and Argentina eager to spend her silver pesos on modern warships, it’s not much a stretch to imagine a whole series of sales.

The 1928 battle cruiser had been proposed as an alternative to the Littorio-class battleships. Italy could build 70,000 tons’ displacement of battleships and the Regia Marina intended to build two 35,000-ton ships. This alternative would have substituted three 23,300-ton ships instead.

The design sacrificed protection for speed and was based on that for the Zara class heavy cruisers. The battle cruiser carried six 15-inch (381mm) guns, and could make 29 knots. With a battleship’s main armament, it could serve in the same prestige role, particularly for a South American fleet. But as a fighting ship it had far more firepower than necessary for a commerce raider or even a “cruiser killer,” but not the protection to stand against an actual battleship.

Nevertheless, the Argentines have two of the ships, and two more of the Ansaldo-designed fast armored cruiser originally prepared for Chile. They carry six 10-inch guns, can make a very high speed and have a long range, all of which makes them far more suitable for commerce-raiding missions than the battle cruisers. 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.

Note: The 1928 battle cruisers originally appeared in The Habsburg Fleet in Italian colors, and are also in that book’s Second Edition. The “Ansaldo pocket battleship” was first seen in Horn of Africa, in Italian colors. Both of these designs were actually considered in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s but ultimately never ordered by any navy.

And those are the capital ships of the Armada of the Republic of Argentina. Next time we’ll look at coast defense ships, cruisers and destroyers.

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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.