Tag Archives: Bergamini

Battlewagon in the anti-ship missile age, 29 years ago today

While primitive guided bombs and missiles were fielded in WWII (see = the U.S. Navy’s SWOD-9 Bat and the sinking of the Italian battleship Roma in 1943 by an air-launched Fritz X) it wasn’t until the P-15 Termit (NATO: SS-N-2 Styx) was developed by the Soviets in 1958 that a reliable surfaced-launched anti-ship missile was fielded. Soon answered in the West by the Swedish Saab Rb 08 and Israeli Gabriel in the 1960s, then by more advanced platforms such as Exocet and Harpoon, such weapons replaced coastal artillery batteries as well as surfaced-launched torpedos as the principal means for asymmetric forces to effect a “kill” on a capital ship.

Likewise, the age of the dreadnought and large all-gun-armed cruiser was fading at the same time.

The four Iowa-class fast battleships were mothballed in 1958 (but, of course, New Jersey would be brought back for a tour in Vietnam while all four would be returned to service in the 1980s for the Cold War– more on that later) while the British retired HMS Vanguard in 1960 while the Soviets had gotten out of the battlewagon biz in the late 1950s after their Italian trophy ship Novorossiysk (ex-Giulio Cesare) blew up and their circa 1911 Gangut-class “school battleships” finally gave up the ghost. The French held on to Jean Bart until 1970, although she had been in reserve since after the Suez affair in 1956.

With that, it was no surprise that when the quartet of Iowas was reactivated in the 1980s to play a role in Reagan’s 600-ship Navy, they were “modernized” with 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from eight funky four-shot armored box launchers as well as 16 Harpoon anti-ship missiles in place of some of their WWII-era retired AAA gun mounts. In a nod to the facts, the missiles all out-ranged the battleships’ gun armament.

Fast forward to the 1st Gulf War and Mighty Mo, USS Missouri (BB-63), chunked 28 Tomahawks and 783 rounds of 16-inch shells at Saddam’s forces while dodging a Persian Gulf filled with naval mines of all flavors– as well as the occasional anti-ship missile counterfire.

16-inch (410 mm) guns fired aboard the battleship USS MISSOURI (BB-63) as night shelling of Iraqi targets takes place along the northern Kuwaiti coast during Operation Desert Storm. Date 6 February 1991. Photo by PH3 Dillon. DN-ST-91-09306

As for Missouri, the Iowas were not able to carry Sea Sparrow point defense launchers as they could not be shock-hardened to deal with the vibration from the battleship’s main guns, so they had an air defense provided by soft kill countermeasures such as chaff, decoys, and ducks; along with a quartet of CIWS 20mm Phalanx guns and five Stinger MANPAD stations– meaning a modern anti-ship missile would have to be killed either by an escort or at very close range. Good thing the Iowas had as much as 19.5-inches of armor plate!

While closing in with the enemy-held coastline to let her 16s reach out and touch someone on 23 February 1991, Missouri came in-range of a battery of shore-based Chinese-made CSS-C-2 Silkworm anti-ship missiles. One missed while the second was intercepted by Sea Darts from a nearby screening destroyer, the Type 42-class HMS Gloucester (D96). The intercepted Silkworm splashed down about 700 yards from Missouri.

USS Missouri under Attack by Iraqi Silkworm Painting, Oil on Canvas Board; by John Charles Roach; 1991; Framed Dimensions 28H X 34W Accession #: 92-007-U
Official caption: “While providing gunfire support to harass the Iraqi troops in Kuwait in preparation for a possible amphibious landing, USS Missouri (BB-63) was fired upon by an Iraqi Silkworm anti-ship missile. By the use of infrared flares and chaff, the missile’s guidance was confused. It crossed close astern of Missouri and was engaged and shot down by HMS Gloucester (D-96).”

The AP reported at the time:

Royal Navy Commander John Tighe told reporters two Sea Dart missiles were fired by the Gloucester less than 50 seconds after the ship’s radar detected the incoming Iraqi missiles at about 5 a.m.

Tighe said one Sea Dart scored a direct hit, destroying the Iraqi missile. He said a second missile launched by the Iraqis veered into the sea.

The commander said allied airplanes subsequently attacked the Silkworm missile launch site. He said that while he had not received a battle damage assessment, he was ″fairly confident that site will not be used to launch missiles against the ships again.”

Missouri did take some damage that day, from CIWS rounds fired by the escorting frigate USS Jarrett (FFG-33), which had locked on to one of the battleship’s chaff clouds and opened fire. One sailor was wounded by 20mm DU shrapnel.

Today, battleships left the Naval List for the final time in 1995 and all that made it that far are preserved as museums. The missiles, however, endure.

Warship Wednesday, March 2, 2016: Fritz and the short career of an Italian battlewagon

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: March 2, 2016 Fritz and the short career of an Italian battlewagon

Here we see the Littorio-class battleship (corazzata) Roma, the pride of the WWII Regia Marina and last flagship of Admiral Carlo Bergamini. While her 15 months of service to Mussolini’s Italy was uneventful, she ended her days with a bang.

Although the modern Italian Navy saw little service in the first few decades of the 20th Century– primarily being used in an uneventful blockade of the Austro-Hungarian fleet in World War I and a few skirmishes with the Turks before that– the admirals in Rome had a twinge of panic in the 1930s when the French laid down new, fast battleships for service in the Med.

To augment the Regia Marina’s four modernized Conte di Cavour (29,000-ton/10×12.6-inch guns) and Andrea Doria-class (25,000-ton/13×12-inch guns) World War I battleships, four new fast battleships of the Littorio-class (Littorio, Vittorio Veneto, Roma, and Impero) were envisioned with the first laid down in 1934.

These ships, which if you squint and look at them from a distance look a lot like the U.S. North Carolina-class battleships which followed just after, were beautiful, modern vessels.

With a full load displacement pushing 50,000-tons, they carried nine 381 mm/50 (15″) Model 1934 guns in three triple turrets guided by distinctive “Wedding Cake” Fire Control Directors and were  capable of firing a 1,951-pound AP shell to a maximum range of a staggering 46,807 yards– and keeping it up at 1.3 rounds per minute.

Her 381 mm (15.0 in)/50 cal guns were tested to nearly 50,000 yards in experiments on land.

Her 381 mm (15.0 in)/50 cal guns were tested to nearly 50,000 yards in experiments on land.


While the Littorios were reasonably fast, capable of 30 knots, they achieved this by using thin armor (just 11 inches in belt and much less on deck) which put them at risk against other large battleships (or significant aircraft-dropped ordnance) though below the waterline they used the innovative Pugliese torpedo defense system, a 40mm armored bulkhead blister outer hull over a 15-inch liquid-filled void. Although the Pugliese wasn’t ideal, the Soviets copied it for their last battleship class and the Littorios survived no less than four serious torpedo attacks during World War II (though air attack is another story).

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The hero of our sad tale, Roma, was the third and last of the class to be completed (Impero was canceled, her unfinished hulk ultimately sunk as a target). Laid down 18 September 1938 at Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico in Trieste, when WWII came less than a year later, work slowed on Roma and she was only completed on 14 June 1942.

Roma upon commissioning

Roma upon commissioning

Gunnery trials

Gunnery trials

Upon completion

Upon completion

Roma was Beautiful on the inside too it would seem - rather lavish officer’s quarters.

Roma was beautiful on the inside too it would seem – rather lavish officer’s quarters.

Commissioning. She would never be this beautiful again

Arriving at Taranto on 21 August, she was assigned to the Ninth Naval Division, though with the general lack of fuel experienced in all of the Axis countries by that stage of the war, she rarely went to sea.

In November, with the Americans landing in North Africa in Operation Torch, all three Littoros were moved from Taranto to Naples to lay low. The Americans quickly found them, however, and after air attacks Roma and her two sisters were moved to La Spezia where, for the next several months, they endured near-weekly air attacks that left all of the ships bruised and battered though unbroken.

Soon after commissioning she was given a distinctive camo pattern

Soon after commissioning she was given a distinctive camo pattern

In all, over a 15-month period, Roma spent a grand total of just 130 hours underway under her own steam.


Her deck fore and aft had red and white diagonal stripes

As Rommel was defeated in North Africa and the Allies began landing on Sicily in July 1943 during Operation Husky, the Italian fleet at La Spezia consisting of the three Littoro sisters, a few cruisers and eight destroyers was put under the command of Admiral Carlo Bergamini, who chose Roma as his flag. An old-school surface warfare officer, Bergamini had picked up a silver medal in 1918 during the Great War while the gunnery officer of the cruiser Pisa, and commanded the Italian battleship division from the deck of Vittorio Veneto during the Battle of Cape Spartivent– which was about the closest thing to an Italian victory over the Royal Navy during WWII.

Then in September, the Allies began Operation Avalanche, the invasion of Italy proper. This led Bergamini, under orders from the new Italian government who sought an armistice with the Allies, to take his fleet across to La Maddalena in Sardinia where King Victor Emmanuel III was setting up new digs, thus keeping the flower out of navy out of German hands.

The only thing was, the Germans weren’t a fan of that plan, as the Allies jumped the gun and announced the secret Italian armistice on the radio in Algeria on 8 Sept.

The Italian battleship roma anchored, ca., 1942

Battleship Roma, date unknown

Battleship Roma, date unknown

Slipping out in the predawn hours of 9 Sept, Bergamini’s fleet, joined by three cruisers from Genoa, made for Sardinia and just after dawn saw Allied planes observing their movements– but not attacking. Then, around 1340 that day came the news the Germans had seized La Maddalena, leaving Bergamini in a pickle as he cruised through the narrow Strait of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia.

Over the next two hours, six German Do 217K-2 medium bombers from III. Gruppe of KG 100 (III/KG 100) were seen by lookouts, each carrying what appeared to be a single large bomb. At 1530, these bombers climbed and hurled one of these oddball new bombs– that seemed to maneuver in flight– at the battleship Italia (Littorio), exploding just off her stern, damaging her rudder.

Then at 1545 a second bomber dropped a 3,450-pound, armor piercing, radio-controlled, glide bomb, which the Luftwaffe called Fritz-X, right down Roma‘s gullet.

Depiction of the Dornier Do-217M Fritz X attack on Italian battleship Roma. The glide bomb had a flare in its tail to allow the bombardier to guide it to its target from upto 5km away

Depiction of the Dornier Do-217 Fritz X attack on Italian battleship Roma. The glide bomb had a flare in its tail to allow the bombardier to guide it to its target from up-to 5km away

"End of the Roma 1943" by Paul Wright. Note the very distinctive national markings on deck. However, the flare on the Fritz-X seems a little too rocket-like as the bomb was unpowered.

“End of the Roma 1943” by Paul Wright. Note the very distinctive markings on deck. However, the flare on the Fritz-X seems a little too rocket-like as the bomb was unpowered.

The Italian battleship Roma listing after being hit by German Fritz X radio-controlled bombs launched by Do 217s, Sept. 9, 1943. Italian Navy photo

The Italian battleship Roma listing after being hit by German Fritz X radio-controlled bombs launched by Do 217s, Sept. 9, 1943. Italian Navy photo

Eight minutes later, another Fritz struck the already crippled ship, leading to a magazine explosion that killed the vast majority of her crew– including Bergamini.

Explosion aboard Roma, Strait of Bonifacio

Explosion aboard Roma, Strait of Bonifacio


Capsized, she broke in two and sank by 1615. In all, two Admirals, 86 Officers and 1264 sailors were taken down to the seafloor with the stricken flagship who had less than 3,000 miles on her hull.

The rest of the fleet carried on and eventually made Malta where they were interred under British guns for the duration of the war, later moving to Alexandria where they remained until 1947. While Roma’s sisters, Italia/Littorio and Vittorio Veneto were on paper given to the U.S. and Britain respectively as war prizes, this was largely to keep them out of Soviet hands and both were scrapped at La Spezia in the early 1950s.

On Fritz, KG 100 continued to use these amazingly destructive weapons– the first effective smart bombs and precursors to current anti-ship missiles– in attacks on the cruisers USS Savannah, USS Philadelphia, HMS Uganda and the British battleship HMS Warspite, though without sinking them. Within months, the Allies figured out Fritz could be foiled by attacking his radio waves and by the Normandy invasion had issued some of the first electronic countermeasures to the fleet to jam the German wunderweapon.

German aerial picture of the KG100 attack on Warsprite

German aerial picture of the KG100 attack on Warsprite

As for Roma, her wreck was discovered in 2012, found at a depth of 1,000 meters around 25 km off Sardinia’s coast. It is preserved as a war grave.

An Italian Navy picture of a cannon on the Roma battleship, found at a depth of 1,000 metres around 25 km off Sardinia's coast.

An Italian Navy picture of a AAA gun on the Roma, found at a depth of 1,000 meters around 25 km off Sardinia’s coast.

Bergamini in death was promoted to the rank of Ammiraglio d’Armata and two frigates, one in 1960 and another in 2013, have been named in his honor, the latest of which had top of the line air defenses against anti-shipping missiles.

Italy's first FREMM class frigate, Carlo Bergamini (F590)

Italy’s first FREMM class frigate, Carlo Bergamini (F590)


Image by Shipbucket

Image by Shipbucket

Displacement: Full load: 45,485 long tons (46,215 t)
Length: 240.7 m (790 ft.)
Beam: 32.9 m (108 ft.)
Draft: 9.6 m (31 ft.)
Installed power:
8 × Yarrow boilers
128,000 shp (95,000 kW)
Propulsion: 4 × steam turbines, 4 × shafts
Speed: 30 kn (56 km/h; 35 mph)
Complement: 1,920
3 × 3 381 mm (15.0 in)/50 cal guns
4 × 3 152 mm (6.0 in)/55 cal guns
4 × 1 120 mm (4.7 in)/40 guns for illumination
12 × 1 90 mm (3.5 in)/50 anti-aircraft guns
20 × 37 mm (1.5 in)/54 guns (8 × 2; 4 × 1)
10 × 2 20 mm (0.79 in)/65 guns
Main belt: 350 mm (14 in)
Deck: 162 mm (6.4 in)
Turrets: 350 mm
Conning tower: 260 mm (10 in)
Aircraft carried: 3 aircraft (IMAM Ro.43 or Reggiane Re.2000)
Aviation facilities: 1 stern catapult
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