Tropic of Capricorn:
Argentine Cruisers and Destroyers
Note: 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.
In our last installment, we looked at the capital ships of the Armada of the Republic of Argentina, as seen in Second Great War at Sea: Tropic of Capricorn. This time, we’ll look at the smaller units.
This isn’t quite the Argentine Navy of the history we know: in our Second Great War alternative-history setting, Woodrow Wilson brought a negotiated end to the First World War at the end of 1916. That left the post-war world economy far healthier than that of our time-line (known as “reality”), and prevented the devastation of South America’s resource-based export economies. Argentina and Brazil entered the 1930’s far wealthier than they did in reality, able to build far more powerful military establishments. And then use them against each other, starting in 1940.
The Argentine fleet of this world is similar to that of our own, but larger and more powerful. We looked at its heavy ships in our first installment; this time we discuss Argentina’s cruisers and destroyers.
Coast Defense Ships
The real Armada still operated two very small, aging coast defense ships in 1940. Libertad and Independencia had been laid down in 1890 and designed for use both in coastal waters and on the big rivers of northern Argentina. They remained in service until 1947 and 1948, respectively (and for another two decades as mother ships for Coast Guard pilot boats in the Rio de la Plata delta) but in this setting they’ve been replaced by much larger, very modern ships built in Italy to plans developed by the Ansaldo combine for Sweden.
The new ships have a main battery of six 11-inch guns, good armor protection and reasonable speed (25 knots) that make them useful high seas warships, though no match for real battleships. They lack the range to make really good convoy escorts without support from oilers.
Note: We used this design in Sea of Iron, and it appears again in The Cruel Sea (in Russian colors) and The Habsburg Fleet (under the Italian flag). It’s one of my favorite drawings in the series.
Argentina ordered a pair of “export” cruisers form the Italian Orlando shipbuilding combine in 1926, taking delivery in 1931. Almirante Brown and 25 de Mayo were based on the Trento class heavy cruisers, but downsized to lower their cost. In place of the eight 8-inch (203mm) guns of their Italian model the Argentine ships had six .5-inch (190mm) guns.
The ships proved unsatisfactory in all respects but one. They were small and cramped, at 6,800 tons, and only made 32 knots when new compared to 36 knots for the Italian Trento. They had scanty protection. But they were affordable, despite the Great Depression and the collapse of Argentina’s lucrative beef exports to Britain.
By the early 1950’s, the Argentines were studying proposals to convert the two cruisers into light aircraft carriers. Nothing came of those plans, and both were scrapped in 1962.
Both of these ships appeared in Cone of Fire, and we included them in Tropic of Capricorn as well. It could be debated that a wealthier Argentina would have ordered full-sized Trento-class ships instead of these weak compromises, but they were purchased before the 1927 slide in commodity prices began to weaken Argentine government revenue.
Tropic of Capricorn gives Argentina a second pair of Italian heavy cruisers as well. Santissima Trinidad and Pueyreddon are full-sized ships, copies of the Zara class. That gives them far better protection than the two older cruisers, better armament and much better protection – the Italian designers achieved outstanding protection for the class by blatantly ignoring treaty limitations, and Zara displaced much more than her stated 10,000 tons.
Unlike the two older ships, which were not true “heavy cruisers,” the two newer heavy cruisers are eligible for the new heavy cruiser gunnery rule in Second World War at Sea’s Second Edition rules, which allows them to fire at a greater range than other secondary guns (chiefly meaning the six-inch guns of light cruisers and some battleship secondary batteries) with a small chance of doing additional damage.
These two cruisers were never actually ordered by Argentina, but seemed a logical follow-on for the disappointing 25 de Mayo class. Given the political and economic ties between Argentina and Italy (even stronger in our new setting) and the Italian practice of offering discount prices and easy credit to attract foreign orders (a policy left unchanged in this alternative reality) this would have been a likely purchase for the Armada.
The Light Cruiser
Unhappy with their original pair of Italian-built cruisers, the Argentines of the real world turned to Britain for their next ship, despite tension over trade disputes (Britain locked out Argentine beef to give preference to Canadian and Australian producers). La Argentina, ordered in 1934 and delivered in early 1939, took the place of a projected third unit of the 25 de Mayo class. She was an enlarged version of the small British Arethusa class light cruisers, displacing only slightly less than 25 de Mayo.
Designed as a training ship, La Argentina could accommodate 60 naval cadets alongside her usual crew. She had nine six-inch guns, compared to six in Arethusa, a fairly low top speed (30 knots) and minimal protection. During the Second World War (the real Second World War) she saw active service on neutrality patrols, reverting to the training role afterwards. She soldiered on, training cadets until 1972.
In the real world, Argentina began her fleet modernization in 1926, buy two newly-built destroyers from the Spanish Navy that had been built in Spain to a British design. Pleased with their purchases, the Argentines then ordered three more near-sisters from the British yard Samuel White. These were big destroyers for the time, classed as “leaders” by Britain’s Royal Navy, displacing 1,600 tons and carrying five 4.7-inch (120mm) guns and six torpedo tubes. They could make 36 knots, and numbered among the world’s most effective destroyers when new. All five served untilt he early 1960’s.
Argentina ordered seven similar, but more modern, destroyers in 1936, a design based on the British G-class. They were slightly smaller than the earlier destroyers, with one less gun but two more torpedo tubes. They could make 35 knots, and received some minimal modernization after the Second World War. They continued in Argentine service until the early 1970’s.
Those dozen boats actually existed, but since the Second Great War setting grants the Argentines a number of heavy ships they desired but never obtained, they need additional destroyers to support them. And they get eight more of them: four big Navigatori-class boats and four somewhat smaller but better-balanced units of the Soldati class. All are Italian-built and would have been available to the Argentines had they been in the market for additional 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.