Warship Wednesday, June 10, 2020: Yes, but these go to 17 inches

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, June 10, 2020: Yes, but these go to 17 inches

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 88710

Here we see the gleaming white late 19th-century Italian turret “ironclad” (corazzata) Caio Duilio (also sometimes seen as “Gaius Duilius”) at the La Spezia Navy Yard, around the time of her completion in 1880. Important to naval history as she was the first blue-water battlewagon on Earth rigged only with a military mast rather than a sail rig, carried only stupidly enormous guns, and likewise was the first two-shaft capital ships in the Italian Navy, Duilio also had the neatest stern-launched torpedo boat– but we’ll get into that in a minute.

The Regia Marina was one of the newest navies in the world in the 1870s, having just formed in the previous decade via an amalgamation of the old Sardinian, Partenopea, Sicilian, Tuscany and Pontifical fleets. In the driver’s seat across much of three decades off and on during this early period as Naval Minister was Benedetto Brin with the blessing of Sardinian ADM Simone Antonio Saint-Bon– Italy’s Tirpitz. A trained naval engineer, Brin sought to build not only the King’s fleet but also to the infrastructure to domestically produce all the things needed for a steel navy from shipyards and engine works to armor and gun factories.

Saint-Bon and Brin’s first large scale effort was the colossal Caio Duilio and her near-sister Enrico Dandolo.

Some 12,000-tons full load, these beasts were iron-hulled with a heavy layer of French-made Creusot steel plates stacked as thick as 21.6-inches in places and backed by twice that amount of timber. With a hull separated into 83 watertight compartments, they were built to absorb damage and they had a 15-foot submerged bow wedge that served as a ram. Equipped with eight boilers driving a pair of vertical compound engines, these ships were designed to make 15 knots.

Then there were the guns.

Throughout their design and construction several armament schemes were brainstormed until it was decided to fit these leviathans with a quartet of 17.7″ (450mm) /20 calibers “100 Ton” muzzleloading rifles made by Elswick/Armstrong in England, making them the most powerful battleships of the time. These immense pieces actually weighed 103 tons but fired a 2,000-pound shell which, in its AP format, could smash through 21-inches of the steel plate of the day. On the downside, they had a short-range (6,000 yards) and an abysmal rate of fire (four rounds per hour).

Originally designed by EOC with the Royal Navy in mind, the Admiralty turned the guns down for being too heavy and cumbersome, leaving Italy as the other fleet that mounted these giant toms on a warship. In British Army, however, did later acquire six of these pieces for installation in coastal artillery batteries at Gibraltar and Malta, ironically as a direct result of the Italian purchase should they ever come to blows with the Duilio-class ships.

As Italy was at the time allied with Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, her navy’s natural enemy was seen as France and in the early 1880s the two Duilio-class ships, with their eight 17.7-inch guns, were considered capable of keeping in check the entire French Mediterranean fleet.

The transport of these huge rifles from England to Italy and their subsequent testing was avidly followed by the Italian press of the era.

100 ton 17.72-inch rifled Armstrong gun being loaded onto the Italian transport ship Europa at Newcastle England bound for Italy. One of eight such guns sold to Italy to arm the Duilio-class battleships.

In October 1876 the first 100-ton gun for the Italian Duilio-class battleships was taken over in Newcastle, named “Margherita” and shipped to Italy on the steamer Europa. This illustration shows its arrival in La Spezia later in October. The L’Illustrazione Italiana No. 54 from November 5, 1876, had an article on page 363 and this picture on page 364. The illustrator is not mentioned, but the signature says something like “Cenni”. Note the inset with the shell compared to an Italian tar. Via Wikimedia Commons

In November 1876 the first 100-ton gun for the Italian Duilio-class battleships was tested at Muggiano near La Spezia. This illustration of the gun named “Margherita” was featured in the November 12, 1876 issue of the L’Illustrazione Italiana. This picture was on page 373, with an article on page 374. The illustrator is not mentioned, but there is both a set of initials and a signature that reads something like “Canedi”. Via Wikimedia Commons

The tests of the 100-ton gun at La Specia continued to capture the Italian public. The experiments apparently also included putting a man into the belly of the beast, plus entertaining the numerous guests who wanted a first-hand look at what was arguably the most potent gun in the world at the time. This illustration of the gun Margherita was featured in the November 26, 1876 issue of the L’Illustrazione Italiana. This picture was on page 405, with an article on page 407-410. The illustrator is referred to as “Signore A. P.” Via Wikimedia Commons

The guns were arranged in two twin turrets, offset from each other.

Which required an interesting loading process since they were front-stuffers. Keep in mind that the rate of fire on these pieces was one round every quarter-hour.

In addition to their main guns, the battleships carried another recent invention in the form of a trio of submerged torpedo tubes for 14-inch Whitehead torpedos. These early devices could make 20.7-knots, had a range of 833 yards, and packed a 94-pound warhead. Italy would order an initial batch of 34 these tin fish, produced at Fiume, in 1879-80, then continue to buy small batches until they moved to larger diameter torpedoes in the 1890s.

One other surprise that just Duilio was outfitted for was the carry of a stern-launched steam torpedo boat, the 76-foot, 26-ton Clio. The vessel was housed, combat-ready, in an 82x13x13-foot well deck, something that was really unheard of in the 1870s.

Constructed in England by Thornycroft to a design by Italian engineer Luigi Borghi, Clio was equipped with a pair of stern-dropped 14-inch Whitehead torpedoes– the same used by the battleship’s own submerged tubes– and a 37mm deck gun. She could make 18 knots on her coal-fired locomotive boiler but was a day-runner with no accommodation for her 10-man crew. Model at the Museo Storico Navale, photos by Emil Petrinic.

Clio’s stack and mast folded to allow her to enter the battleship’s well deck.

Both ships also carried four 39-foot steam launches on their stern deck that could mount a 37mm gun and could deploy mines.


When it came to construction, both ships were laid down on the same day, 1 June 1873, with Duilio, named after Roman naval hero Gaius Duilius, having her keel laid at Regio Cantiere di Castellammare di Stabia (which today is Fincantieri) and her sister Dandolo at R. Arsenale di La Spezia with the lead ship completed in 1880 and Dandolo tarrying until 1882.

The launch of the Italian battleship Caio Duilio in Castellamare in 1876. Illustrator’s name quoted as “Piteco” via the L’Illustrazione italiana, May 28, 1876.

Detail view was taken on the ship’s starboard side amidships, looking forward sometime after 1890 as they have 37mm anti-torpedo boat guns mounted atop the turrets. Both of the ship’s twin 450mm (17.72-inch) main battery gun turrets, mounted en echelon amidships, can be seen in this view. Note the details of the opened turret port covers; the hammocks stowed around the turrets, and the “flying deck” running overhead. NH 88685

DANDOLO Photographed on the ways at the Royal Navy Yard, La Spezia, not too long before launch on 10 July 1878. Note the large opening in the hull amidships for installation of the 45 meters long, 550mm thick iron armor belt. The hull was built of iron, with wood backing for the armor. NH 88759

DANDOLO Photographed at the Royal Navy Yard, La Spezia, not too long before being launched on July 10, 1878. Here you can really see the 15-foot submerged bow. Note that the ship’s short midships armor belt-550mm thick iron 45 meters long-was not yet installed at this time. Thick wooden backing supported the armor, explaining the very deep gap in the ship’s side that can be seen here. Note the submerged bow tube for Whitehead torpedoes. NH 88684


Caio Duilio on trials. Via the Italian weekly L’Illustrazione Italiana, June 1, 1879 edition, Wikicommons

DANDOLO Probably photographed soon after completion in 1882. These ships were completed in an all-white scheme and then after 1889 changed to a black and buff. NH 88711

DANDOLO, likely in the late 1880s. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington DC Catalog #: NH 74828

While huge, impressive ships, they were something of white elephants (see what I did there?) as naval technology soon past them by, and Italy, except for mixed results in North Africa, had nothing in the way of colonial enterprises to protect. Therefore, their entire career took place in the central and Eastern Mediterranean and was spent in peacetime training exercises, regional port visits, and the like.

In 1890, the ships would receive three 4.7″/40cal, two 3-inch, eight 57mm, and 22 37mm guns to defend against small torpedo boats.

Colorized photo of the crew of the Battleship Duilio (Italia) posed in front of one of her 17.7-inch turrets sometime in the 1890s. Note the small-caliber guns, 37mm 1-pounders, atop the turret.

Postcard of Duilio in the 1890s. Note her two 3″ stingers over the stern and two of her four 40-foot steam launches shown stowed.

DANDOLO underway in the Canal at Taranto, Italy, on 24 February 1894, bristling with small guns. Farenholt Collection. NH 66131

Italian ironclad battleship, Caio Duilio, of the Regia Marina, in Venice around 1900. By Steve Given via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/69559277@N04/16575211845

Duilio was increasingly sidelined and was withdrawn from fleet use in 1900, lingering on for a few years as the school ship Timonieri e Marò and a floating coastal defense battery until she was disarmed in 1906. Clio, her parisite torpedo boat, would be disposed of in 1903. Struck from the naval list in 1909, her superstructure was demolished and she would later be converted to a coal and oil storage hulk, dubbed GM40, and fade into history.

Her sister Dandolo would be rebuilt in 1898-1900 with new engines and be fitted with breechloading 10-inch guns in place of her massive 100-ton muzzleloaders. She would also pick up a wide array of smaller guns, seal off her bow torpedo tubes, and gain four deck-mounted 450mm tubes arranged bow, beam, and stern. She would continue in this manner through 1918, serving as a coastal defense ship during the Great War, until she was finally disposed of in January 1920.

The monicker Duilio by then had been recycled for an Andrea Doria-class battleship that served in both World Wars and was scrapped in 1957. The third Duilio was an Andrea Doria-class helicopter cruiser (C 554) that served throughout the Cold War. The fourth and current Italian warship to bear the name of Rome’s famous admiral is an Orizzonte-class destroyer (D 554) commissioned in 2008.

The original vessel endures in various series of popular period maritime art.

Duilio, Italian Navy, trade card from the “Naval Vessels of the World” series (N226), issued in 1889 to promote Kinney Tobacco Company. Via The Met

And, as already shown off in the above details of her parasite torpedo boat, there are some very nice scale models on public display.

This impressive model of the armored ship Duilio was built by Jürgen Eichardt on a scale of 1:100. It is displayed in the Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg’s exhibition on the history of the modern navies, on deck 9 of the museum.


Longitudinal Section of the Warship Duilio Italian battleship. This view shows inboard (internal) features of the ship, including half the ship’s 8 oval boilers, the hull framing outboard of the starboard (forward) twin 450mm (17.72inch) gun turret, and the large open compartment aft used to carry a small torpedo boar. This space measured 25 x 4 x 4m in size. Via Ocean Steamships 1891

Displacement: Standard 11,138 tons; full load 12,265 tons
Length: 358 ft oa over ram, 339 pp
Beam: 64 ft.
Draft: 29 ft.
Machinery: 2 double-expansion vertical steam engines, 8 oval-section boilers, 8,045 shp, 2 propellers
Speed: 15 knots designed
Range: 2,875 mn at 13 knots; 3,760 nm at 10 knots on 1,000 tons coal
Crew: 26 officers + 397 enlisted (1880) 515 (1890)
Belt 550 mm.
Bridge 50 mm.
Turrets 250 mm.
Tower 350 mm.
2 x 2 450mm/20 caliber Armstrong
3 bow 350mm torpedo tubes
(Added 1890)
3 x 120 mm
2 x 75 mm
8 x 57 mm
22 x 37 mm

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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