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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And, as already shown off in the above details of her parasite torpedo boat, there are some very nice scale models on public display.
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
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.
PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.
I’m a member, so should you be!