Warship Wednesday May 28, The Great Italian Count

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday May 28, The Great Italian Count

Italian battleship Conte di Cavour on maneuvers, 1938 with sistership behind

Here we see the pride of the 20th Century Royal Italian Navy (the Regia Marina), His Majesty’s battleship Conte di Cavour. Named after the first Prime Minister of a unified modern Italy, Camillo Paolo Filippo Giulio Benso, Count of Cavour, of Isolabella and of Leri, who was also the first Italian Minister of the Navy, the ship was to be the Regia Marina’s notice to all that the country was a legitimate naval power.


The good Camillo Paolo Filippo Giulio Benso, Count of Cavour.

The good Camillo Paolo Filippo Giulio Benso, Count of Cavour.


Laid down 10 August 1910 at the La Spezia Arsenale, she was the lead ship of a class of new dreadnought-style ships for Italy. With a 25,000-ton displacement, 577-foot length, and 21-knot speed, she was comparable in size to battleships of the day. Equipped with good British Parsons steam turbines, and 20 boilers, she was reliable underway. Her armament of a baker’s dozen 12-inch guns, was designed with the help of Armstrong Whitworth and Vickers.


These were arranged in an odd five turret plan of three triple-gun turrets and two twin-gun turrets, was formidable while her 5-11 inches of locally made Terni cemented armor (crafted from U.S. steel and nickel) was sufficient for all but close combat from the most modern battleships.

3621C_RN_Conte_di_Cavour_1911_foto_Falzone_Collez- Ernesto-Burzagli-1930

At the time she was constructed, Italy’s biggest rival in the Med was France, who had just built a series of Courbet-class battleships of some 25,000 tons with up to 11-inches of armor, a 21-knot speed (also powered by British Parsons steam turbines), and 12x12-inch guns– which could be why the Italians insisted on having 13!


Delayed by the Italo-Turkish war, she took nearly a half decade to complete, being commissioned 1 April 1915, just in time for Italy’s entrance into World War One– as an ally of France. Nevertheless, she spent that war as the flagship of the Navy, calmly waiting for the Austrian fleet to sortie out into the Adriatic, which never happened. Two sisters, Leonardo da Vinci and Giulio Cesare would soon follow her down the ways although da Vinci suffered a catastrophic accidental magazine explosion in 1916 that destroyed her.

When the war ended, Cavour was something of a happy ambassador, embarking King Emmanuel III and his family on occasion and conducting extended sorties to the United States . She did however fire her guns in anger during the 1923 Corfu Incident, in which her tertiary battery bombarded the island during an Italian occupation. You see good old Mussolini was in power by then, and looking for trouble.

Laid up from 1927 until 1937 at Trieste (recently seized from the scraps of the Austrian empire), Cavour was extensively rebuilt under the orders of Generale del Genio navale Francesco Rotundi.

Italian battleship Conte di Cavour on maneuvers, 1938

When she emerged from this decade of slumber, she had a thoroughly new look, as well as a new power-plant of eight superheated Yarrow oil-fired boilers (fueled by Libyan oil wells Italy had wrested away from the Ottomans in 1911). This made the old ship new aging, extending her range by a factor of 50 percent while increasing her speed to over 27-knots at a full clip. To accommodate the weight of more armor, the center triple 12-inch turret was removed, bringing her broadside down to 10 guns rather than 13. She was recommissioned 1 June 1937.

Soon, Mussolini had her clocking in to pay for all the recent improvements by covering the Italian invasion of hapless Albania in 1938. That same year, the Cavour served as the reviewing stand for both the chubby Benito and his stubby homie Adolf in a grand review of the Regina Marina at Naples.


Conte di Cavour, with the Duce and Hitler on the stern in Naples watching the torpediniera Cassiopea pass close in review.

Conte di Cavour, with the Duce and Hitler on the stern in Naples watching the torpediniera Cassiopea pass close in review.

When Italy entered WWII on the side of Hitler in 1940, both Cavour and her similarly rebuilt sister Cesare were soon mixing it up with the British Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet with the two trading long-range shots with HMS Malaya and HMS Warsprite at the Battle of Punto Stilo.

This uneventful combat was to be her greatest moment, as the Brits soon decided to make sure the Italian surface fleet was marginalized.

Then late on the night of 11 November 1940, a group of just 21 British Swordfish torpedo bombers penetrated the Italian anchorage at Taranto and sank Cavour along with three other battleships with well-placed torpedoes. Note that this was a full year before Pearl Harbor.



'Taranto Harbour, Swordfish from Illustrious Cripple the Italian Fleet, 11 November 1940′ by Charles David Cobb. Painting in collection of National Museum

Taranto Harbour, Swordfish from Illustrious Cripple the Italian Fleet, 11 November 1940′ by Charles David Cobb. Painting in collection of National Museum




She spent the rest of the war in a state of salvage and repair but was never returned to service. During this time first the Germans then the Americans captured the derelict ship which was finally scrapped in 1946.


Note the center turret

Note the center turret

(As built)
Displacement: 23,088 long tons (23,458 t) (standard)
25,086 long tons (25,489 t) (deep load)
Length: 176 m (577 ft 5 in) (o/a)
Beam: 28 m (91 ft 10 in)
Draught: 9.3 m (30 ft 6 in)
Installed power: 30,700–32,800 shp (22,900–24,500 kW)
20 × Water-tube boilers
Propulsion: 4 × Shafts
4 × Steam turbines
Speed: 21.5 knots (39.8 km/h; 24.7 mph)
Range: 4,800 nmi (8,900 km; 5,500 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 31 officers and 969 enlisted men

3 × triple, 2 × twin 305 mm (12 in) guns
18 × single 120 mm (4.7 in) guns
14 × single 76.2 mm (3 in) guns
3 × 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes


Waterline belt: 250–130 mm (9.8–5.1 in)
Deck: 24–40 mm (0.9–1.6 in)
Gun turrets: 280–240 mm (11.0–9.4 in)
Barbettes: 230–130 mm (9.1–5.1 in)
Conning towers: 280–180 mm (11.0–7.1 in)


....and no center turret

….and no center turret

(after reconstruction)
Displacement: 29,100 long tons (29,600 t) (deep load)
Length: 186.4 m (611 ft 7 in)
Beam: 33.1 m (108 ft 7 in)
Installed power: 75,000 shp (56,000 kW)
8 × Yarrow boilers
Propulsion: 2 × Shafts
2 × Geared steam turbines
Speed: 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph)
Range: 6,400 nmi (11,900 km; 7,400 mi) at 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph)
Complement: 1,260

2 × triple, 2 × twin 320 mm (12.6 in)
6 × twin 120 mm (4.7 in)
4 × twin 100 mm (3.9 in) AA guns

Armor: Deck: 166–135 mm (6.5–5.3 in)
Barbettes: 280–130 mm (11.0–5.1 in)
Aircraft: 1-2 Macchi M.18 seaplanes


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