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Giuseppe Garibaldi: Europe’s Mighty Smallest Aircraft Carrier Beckons Exploration

Giuseppe Garibaldi was the first aircraft carrier ever built for the Italian Navy, and the first Italian ship to allow fixed-wing aircraft operations.

In the service of the Italian Navy, there is a rather special warship, the Giuseppe Garibaldi. She is classified as an anti-submarine light carrier, the main role being the center of the anti-submarine warfare group.

After World War II, following the theory of asymmetric confrontation with the West, the Soviet Union invested heavily in submarine fleets. In response to the threat of Soviet submarines, Western nations have invested heavily in anti-submarine warfare vessels.

The Italian Navy also had its own anti-submarine warfare ships, the helicopter cruiser Andrea Doria and her sister Caio Duilio, both of which were commissioned in 1964. However the Andrea Doria class cruiser was only has a displacement of 6,500 tons, and their modest rear deck supports only up to four Sea King anti-submarine helicopters.

The Vittorio Veneto helicopter cruiser was later added in 1969 with greater displacement. By the early 1980s, the Giuseppe Garibaldi light aircraft carrier was born as a replacement for these helicopter cruisers.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was the first aircraft carrier ever built for the Italian Navy, and the first Italian ship to allow fixed-wing aircraft operations. Giuseppe Garibaldi aircraft carrier, hull number 551, laid down on 26 March 1981, launched on June 11, 1983, built by Fincantieri Monfalcone at Monfalcone shipyard on Trieste Bay.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was officially commissioned on September 30, 1985, and served as the flagship of the Italian Navy until the larger carrier Cavour appeared in 2004.

With a standard displacement of 10,100 tons and a full displacement of just over 13,000 tons, the Italian Navy Giuseppe Garibaldi is even smaller than many other amphibious assault ships, such as the US Wasp class, which displaces 45,000 tons.

The Italian light carrier has a length of 180.2 m (591 ft), a beam of 33.4 m (110 ft) and a draft of 8.2 m (27 ft). Her name is named after Italy’s 19th-century General Giuseppe Garibaldi.

In terms of design, the appearance of Giuseppe Garibaldi is quite similar to the traditional aircraft carriers. On the starboard side is the island superstructure, which is arranged with two separate masts.

The flight deck is finished by a 6.5-degree ski-jump ramp to improve the short takeoff capacity of the Harrier jet. There are six points marked for helicopter operations.

The hangar is quite modest in size with a length of 110 m, width of 15 m and height of 6 m. It can accommodate 12 anti-submarine warfare helicopters such as the SH-3D or EH 101, or 10 AV-8B Harrier II and one SH-3D anti-submarine warfare helicopter. It can also accommodate CH-47C helicopters if necessary. The flight deck and hangar are connected via two lifts, one on the front and one behind the island superstructure.


The heart of the Giuseppe Garibaldi aircraft carrier are 4 Fiat combined gas and gas LM2500 gas turbines built under license from GE, offering a sustained power of 81,000 horsepower, driving two shafts. Along with that are 6 diesel engine generators generating a total of 12,550 horsepower.

The ship can reach a maximum speed of 30 knots, a range of 7,000 nm at a speed of 20 knots. Giuseppe Garibaldi’s crew consists of 550 men, which can add 180 for Fleet Air Arm and 100 command and control personnel.


In terms of armament, Giuseppe Garibaldi is equipped with two eight-cell Mk.29 octuple launcher for Sea Sparrow or Selenia Aspide surface-to-air missiles, are installed on the roof decks at the forward and stern end of the main island. These missiles which provide short range point defence against threats from aircraft and missiles, both sea skimming and diving.

To cope with close-range threats, there are 3 Oto Melara Twin 40L70 Dardo guns. One gun is installed on the gun deck at the stern of the ship and two are installed, one each on the port and starboard gun decks at a lower level than the flight deck.

For anti-submarine warfare, Giuseppe Garibaldi was fitted with two 324 mm triple torpedo tube launchers, one on each side of the ship. It is capable of firing Honeywell Mark-46 or A290 torpedoes.

Initially, in response to surface threats, Giuseppe Garibaldi was equipped with four Otomat Mk 2 anti-ship missiles. These missiles were removed in 2003 to improve the helicopter deck and install additional satellite communications equipment.

The ship also has many countermeasures including two SCLAR twenty-barrel launchers for chaff, decoy, flares, or jammers, the SLQ-25 Nixie and SLAT anti-torpedo systems and electronic countermeasure systems.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was also involved in the 2011 military intervention in Libya. In total, until the end of the mission in Libya, the eight Italian Navy AV-8Bs flying from the carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi dropped 160 guided bombs during 1221 flight hours.

Currently, Giuseppe Garibaldi is still in service of the Italian Navy. It should be noted that, despite its very small size, this is still a true aircraft carrier, that is, it is capable of receiving  short take-off and vertical-landing jets without requiring additional reinforcement. This means a lot to the Italian Navy in the context that they are about to be handed over F-35B.

As planned, a new landing helicopter dock named Trieste is being completed. It is expected to replace the Giuseppe Garibaldi around 2022. It seems that Giuseppe Garibaldi’s time is running out.