Tag Archive | Regia Marina

Warship Wednesday, May 22, 2019: The Defiant Bicyclist

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off 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, May 22, 2019: The Defiant Bicyclist

Il sommergibile Enrico Toti 2

Here we see the Balilla-class diesel submarine Enrico Toti of the Italian Regia Marina around 1933, dressed to impressed. Although many of Il Duce’s undersea boats met grim ends at the hands of the Allies in World War II and had little to show for their career, Toti had a much higher degree of success on both accounts.

While British, American and German submarines are given a lot of press for their storied achievements during the conflict, it should be noted that Italy was no slouch in the submersible department, historically speaking. The first Italian “sottomarino,” Delfino, was designed by marine engineer Giacinto Pullino at the La Spezia Navy Yard back in 1889, predating John Philip Holland’s designs for the U.S. and Royal Navy by a decade.

Over the next four decades, the Italians produced more than 100 subs, including some for the King of Sweden, the Kaiser of Germany and the Tsar of Russia, while in turn adopting a modicum of contemporary British designs to learn from. During World War I, the Italian submarine force counted some of the few Allied “kills” in the northern Adriatic when the Regia Marina’s F-12 torpedoed the Austro-Hungarian U-boat SM U-20 in 1918. Importantly, after the war, Italy received the relatively low-mileage German Type UE II long-range submarine SM U-120 as reparations, which the country’s designers apparently learned a good deal from.

In 1927, with an increasingly fascist Italy on track to build the fourth largest navy in the world, Rome ordered a new class of four Balilla-class “cruiser” type submarines, large enough to operate independently in the Indian Ocean and around Italy’s African colonies which at the time included Italian Somaliland and Eritrea on the strategically important (Red Sea/Suez Canal) Horn of Africa.

The country’s first post-WWI submarine design, the big Balillas went 1,900-tons and ran 284-feet long, capable of making 17-knots in a surface attack. Capable of diving to 400 feet– which was deep for subs of the 1920s, they could travel 13,000 nm on their economical diesel engines. Able to carry 16 torpedoes for their six tubes as well as a 120mm deck gun, the design rivaled the U.S. Navy’s later Porpoise-class subs (1900-tons/289-feet/18-knots/16 torpedoes) of the early 1930s, which in turn was the forerunner of the USN’s WWII fleet boats. A fifth Balilla was constructed for Brazil, which in turn triggered Argentina to order three later Cavallini-class subs from Italy in the 1930s

Built by OTO at Muggiano, largely side-by-side, Italian Navy sisters Balilla, Domenico Millelire, Amatore Sciesa, and Enrico Toti were all in service by 1928.

Balilla class member Domenico Millelire, note her conning tower-mounted short-barreled 120mm gun. This was later replaced by a longer gun mounted on the deck.

All the vessels were named after famous Italian heroes:

Balilla was the nickname of one Giovanni Battista Perasso, a Genoese youth who is credited with a revolt against the Austrians in 1746.

-Millelire was an officer in the Sardinian Royal Navy who reportedly gave the first defeat to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1793.

Sciesa was an Italian patriot hung by the Austrians in 1851.

As for Toti, the namesake of our sub, he was a one-legged bicyclist who was allowed to join the elite Bersaglieri in the Great War and was killed by the Austro-German forces at the horrific waste that was the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo in 1916, famously throwing his crutch at the enemy lines and remaining defiant to the last.

The 1 October 1916 cover of La Domenica del Corriere, a popular 20th Century Italian weekly newspaper famous for its cover drawings akin in many ways to the American Saturday Evening Post, on Toti’s deed

The class soon engaged in a series of long-range peacetime cruises, waving the Italian tricolor around the globe. Boston photojournalist Leslie Jones documented Balilla off the Boston lightship on her way to Charlestown Navy Yard in May 1933.

Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

Note how large the sail is on these boats. Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

In September 1933, Toti, in conjunction with her sister Sciesa, set sail from La Spezia to circumnavigate the African continent East-to-West, passing through the Suez, and calling at Mogadishu, Chisimaio, Mombasa, Zanzibar, Dar-es-Salaam, Diego Suarez, Lourenço Marques, Durban, Cape Town, Walvis Bay, Lobito, São Tomé, Takoradi, Dakar, Praia, Las Palma, Gibraltar and Barcelona before making it back to Italy in February 1934. In short, visiting every important British, French, Portuguese and Spanish port in Africa and the Med.

Il sommergibile Enrico Toti

In 1934, the class was updated with a more modern 120mm/45 cal gun (from the old 27cal weapon) mounted on the deck rather than the conning tower, while Breda M31 13.2mm twin machine guns on innovative pressured disappearing mounts replaced the older Hotchkiss singles.

Images of Toti in March 1935, showing her new configuration, via Association Venus :

Deck mounted 120mm gun

Images of the internals of WWII Italian submarines are hard to come by

At sea, note the new conning tower profile

One of the few pictures I’ve ever seen of the twin submarine mount Breda M31 AAA machine guns. It could reportedly telescope in and out of the pressure hull like a periscope.

Starting in 1936, Toti and her sisters became heavily involved in the Spanish Civil War, semi-secretly supporting Franco’s forces without any (published) successes.

When Mussolini finally joined WWII proper in June 1940, just in time to deal a death blow to France, the Balilla class were no longer the best subs the Italians had in their fleet, as a staggering 150~ follow-on large submarines were either in commission or on the drawing board. With this, the four Balillas were largely relegated to training use although they did undertake a few war patrols early in the conflict. Toti was the only one that was successful.

Just after midnight on 15 October 1940, off the Italian central Mediterranean town of Calabria, Toti, commanded by LCDR Bandino Bandini, encountered the British Royal Navy T-class submarine HMS Triad (N53) at a distance of about 1,000 meters.

HMS Triad (N53)

Toti, like the British sub, was operating on the surface and moved to close at flank speed, managing to hit Triad with her 120mm deck gun as the vessel was submerging. RN LCDR George S. Salt, the skipper of Triad, went to the bottom with the vessel’s entire 52-man crew. Salt and Triad did not go down without a fight. Her own deck gun hit Toti‘s pressure hull and injured two Italian sailors, while a torpedo from the British boat reportedly came within just a few feet of her opponent.

Once Bandini and the crew of the Toti made it back to port, they were celebrated as heroes. After all, they had sunk a British submarine (and would be the only Italian boat to do so, although HM Submarine Force would scratch 17 Italian subs). However, there would be enduring confusion over just which RN ship they should be credited for. The Italian press was initially told it was HMS Perseus (N36), a British Parthian-class submarine which in fact would only be sunk by an Italian mine in the Ionian Sea on 6 December 1941.

A 22 October 1940 Domenica del Corriere cover depicting Toti’s deck crew splashing a British submarine in a night action, incorrectly identified as Perseus.

For decades, both the Italians and the British mistakenly thought Toti sank the submarine HMS Rainbow (N16), which had actually been lost off Albania at about the same time after she struck a submerged object.

It was only in 1988 that Triad, which had been listed as missing for 48 years, was positively tied to the Italian boat that sunk her. In a twist of fate, Triad‘s lost commander was the father of British RADM James Frederick Thomas George “Sam” Salt, who was captain of the destroyer HMS Sheffield during the Falklands when that ship was lost to an Argentine Exocet– the first sinking of a Royal Navy ship since WWII. The junior Salt was only six months old at the time of his father’s disappearance in the Med.

By 1941, the obsolete Balillas were removed from frontline service. Of the quartet, Millelire and Balilla were soon hulked and used as floating battery charging vessels. Sciesa was disarmed and hit by an air attack in Benghazi in 1942 while running resupply missions to the Afrika Korps then later scuttled in place as the Americans advanced on the city.

Toti, true to her past, remained more active than her sisters.

From March to June 1942 she carried out a reported 93 training missions at the Italian submarine school of Pula, which saw her very active.

Enrico Toti submarine at the submarine school in Pula

She was then was used for four short-run supply missions across the Med to Italian forces in North Africa, landing her torpedoes and instead carrying some 200 tons of medicine and high-value materials as well as transferring most of the diesel fuel in her bunkers ashore for use by panzers and trucks.

Enrico Toti returns to Pola June 42, note her newly supplied camo scheme applied to run supplies to Italy Via Lavrentio/WarshipP reddit

Submarine blockade runners in North Africa: Enrico Toti (left) with the smaller Bandiera-class submarine Santorre Santarosa (in the center) and the Foca-class minelaying submarine Atropo (right) in Ras Hilal, Libya on 10-7-42. Of these, Santarosa would be grounded and scuttled in place 20th January 1943 while Atropo would be used to supply isolated British forces in the Dodecanese after the 1943 armistice and scrapped after the war. Via Lavrentio/WarshipP reddit

By April 1943, Toti was hulked and used to charge batteries, a role she continued through the end of the war.

The Italians lost over 90 subs during the war, almost one per week, with little bought with their loss. This figure is made even more considerable once you figure the Italians were only an active Axis ally from June 1940 to Sept 1943. By 1945, the country could only count about a dozen semi-submersible vessels and most of those had been laid up/disarmed for months.

On 18 October 1946, Toti was retired for good, along with the last of the Italian submarines. You see, the Regia Marina was dissolved with the end of the monarchy and the Treaty of Paris in 1947 banned Italy from operating submarines. With that, Toti and the last few Italian boats were scrapped or given away to victorious Allies as war reparations.

Jane’s 1946-47 edition does not list Italy with a single submarine of any kind.

Italy, with her navy rebranded as the Marina Militare, was only allowed out of the Treaty restrictions after the country joined NATO in 1949, effectively refraining from submarine operations until 1954 when the Gato-class submarines USS Barb (SS-220) and USS Dace (SS-247) were transferred to Italian service, where they became Enrico Tazzoli and Leonardo da Vinci, respectively. Through the 1970s, the Italians went on to acquire nine former WWII U.S. fleet boats.

The first of a new class of domestically made Italian submarine since WWII was laid down in 1965 by Fincantieri and commissioned in 1968 with the name of one of Italy’s most succesful boats, Enrico Toti (S 506). She went on on to provide nearly 25 years of service to the Italian Navy, much of it during the Cold War spent keeping tabs of the Soviet Mediterranean Fleet

This newer Toti has been preserved at the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan since 2005.

The latter Toti, via the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan

Today, the Italian Navy fields eight very modern SSKs of the Todaro and Sauro-classes, with two more of the former on order.

Italian submarine Salvatore Todaro (S 526) passing the Castello Aragonese di Taranto by Alberto Angela

Specs:
Displacement: 1464 tons (1927 submerged)
Length: 284 ft.
Beam: 26 ft.
Draft: 15 feet.
Operating depth 100 m
Propulsion:
2 4,000 hp Fiat diesel engines, twin shafts
2 Savigliano electric motors, 240 cell battery
Submerged speed, max: 9 knots
Surfaced speed, max: 17 knots
Range: 3,000 miles at 17 knots or 13,000 nm at 7 knots; 8 miles at 9 knots underwater
Crew: 5 officers, 47 enlisted. Given as 77 in wartime.
Armament:
(1928)
1 120mm/27cal Mod. 1924 gun (150 shells)
2 single Hotchkiss 13.2 mm machine guns
6 torpedo tubes (4 front, 2 rear) of 533 mm, 16 torpedoes
4 mines in dedicated tube
(1934)
1 120mm/45cal Mod. 1931 gun (150 shells)
2 twin Breda M1931 13.2mm machine guns on disappearing mounts (3000 rounds per machine gunner)
6 torpedo tubes (4 front, 2 rear) of 533 mm, 16 torpedoes
4 mines in dedicated tube

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

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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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Italians discover long lost cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere

Commissioned 1 January 1931, the Giussano-class light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere (John of the Black Bands) was a sleek warship of the Regia Marina, though not quite up to the same quality as her three sisters.

The 7,000-ton, 555-foot cruiser had a lot of speed– 37 knots– and eight 6-inch guns but had *razor thin* armor (less than an inch at its thickest) as an Achilles heel. To make it worse, the class had virtually no underwater protection at all.

When WWII came, Bande Nere managed to escape serious damage in the Battle of Calabria and follow-up Battle of Cape Spada in 1940 but hit HMAS Sydney in turn, then went on to survive another close call at the Second Battle of Sirte in 1942. As such, she was much luckier than her three sisters– Alberico da Barbiano and Alberto da Giussano, sunk December 1941, by Royal Navy and Dutch destroyers during the Battle of Cape Bon; and Bartolomeo Colleoni, sent to the bottom at Spada.

Her luck ran out on 1 April 1942 when she came across HM Submarine Urge who fired a pair of torpedoes at the Italian cruiser, one of which broke the Bande Nere into two sections, and she sank quickly with the loss of more than half her crew in 1,500m of water some 11 miles from Stromboli. In a cruel bit of karma, Urge, a Britsh U-class submarine was herself lost just three weeks afterward with all hands, most likely near Malta as a result of a mine.

Bande Nere was discovered over the weekend by the now-Marina Militare, and her crown of Savoy clearly seen on a released video.

“Over a seaman’s grave, no flowers grow.”

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018: Giuseppe, how many seaplanes you packing?

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, Aug. 8, 2018: Giuseppe, how many seaplanes you packing?

(1500×1000)

Here we see the Regia Marina’s very proud seaplane carrier, Giuseppe Miraglia, at anchor in the 1930s. A true-life example of what today would be seen as a dieselpunk aesthetic, the Italian navy views her as an important predecessor of their modern pocket carriers– Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi— today.

Italy got into the seaplane tender biz in February 1915 when they bought the aging 392-ft./7,100-ton Spanish-built freighter Quarto and, as Europa, converted the vessel to operate a half-dozen or so FBA flying boats. Taking part in the Battle of the Strait of Otranto against the bottled-up Austro-Hungarian fleet in 1917, she was discarded after the war.

Fast forward to the mid-1920s, and Italian rivals Britain and France had newer and more modern seaplane carriers (such as HMAS/HMS Albatross and Commandant Teste, the latter carrying 26 aircraft) on the drawing board. This left the Italian Navy with a need for a warship that could pack a lot of (sea)planes once again.

In 1925, Rome bought the incomplete passenger/mail steamer Citta di Messina and, sending her to the Regio arsenale della Spezia for completion, produced Giuseppe Miraglia.

The vessel was renamed in honor of Tenente di vascello Giuseppe Miraglia, an early Italian naval aviator killed in an accident in 1915 at age 27.

This guy

Early in the war, he made headlines in the country by leading his seaplane squadron over Austrian-held Trieste in a raid that was widely celebrated.

She wasn’t a giant ship, just under 400-feet long with a light draft of 4,500-tons. But Miraglia was fast enough for naval use (21 knots) and with enough room for as many as 20 seaplanes of assorted sizes.

For this, she was well-equipped with two below-deck hangars in what was to be the steamship’s holds, each equipped with catapults and cranes for launching and recovery, respectively. Inside the hangars were room for spare parts including fresh engines, a few spare aircraft in “knocked down” crated condition, tools and handling equipment.

Note her hangar arrangement fore and aft of her stack

Many of the planned staterooms which originally were meant for 1st and 2nd class passengers were completed for aircrew instead. A central ordnance magazine and avfuel storage were accessible from each hangar.

All those Macchis…

The twin hangars could each hold 5-6 Macchi M.18AR seaplanes with their wings folded while additional aircraft “parking” was available topside for a couple extra boats.

A pusher-style biplane flying boat, the M.18AR was one of the more successful “combat” seaplanes of the 1920s and 30s, serving not only with the Italians but with the Spanish Navy‘s early seaplane carrier Dédalo (Dedalus) during the Civil War in that country as well as against Moroccan rebels, but also with the Paraguayan Navy during the Chaco War.

The open cockpit three-seat scout bombers were the staple of the Aviazione per la Regina Marina for much of the interwar period, capable of toting a few small bombs and a 7.7mm machine gun aloft with a 300~ mile combat radius.

A flight of Macchi 18ARs with the Aeronáutica Naval Española, impressive air power for the roaring 20s.

By 1930, the Macchi aircraft were replaced largely with Cantoni 25 AR seaplanes and, after 1937, with the smaller but more modern IMAM Ro.43, which at least had a closed cockpit and two machine guns rather than just one– although carried no bombs.

Recovering an IMAM Ro.43 seaplane, the standard Italian Navy’s floatplane that flew from not only Miraglia but also all her cruisers and battleships from 1937 onward

Miraglia’s topside deck was protected by 50mm of armor to stave off air attacks not scared off by her AAA suite of a dozen Breda machine guns while a quartet of 4-inch guns could take shots at closing destroyers or torpedo boats. She had a side belt of between 70 and 80mm (sources vary).

Miraglia entered service 1 November 1927 and was used in the disgrace that was the Italo-Ethiopian War in the late 1930s to transport aircraft to the theatre.

With six Macchi seaplanes on deck, underway

Note the Macchi ready to cat. The ship carried one Gagnotto-made catapult forward…

…And another aft. Also, note the 4-inch gun under the cat on the aft stdb quarter

Italian ship GIUSEPPE MIRAGLIA. Italy – CVAN. Circa 1935. Note the seaplanes on her hangar decks. NH 111421

When WWII came, she somehow managed to not catch a British torpedo or American bomb while serving in the Mediterranean although she was present in the harbor for the raid on Taranto in 1940. She spent most of the war as a transport and test bed, rather than in operations.

Later in the conflict, the zippy little Reggiane Re.2000 Falco I “Catapultabile” monoplane, which could be catapulted off by not recovered by the vessel, made an appearance on the ship.

The Re.2000 Catapultabile (MM.8281) on a topside catapult of Giuseppe Miraglia ready for take-off, May 1942. Less than a dozen of these variants was used during WWII. The planes were planned for the unfinished 27,000-ton Italian aircraft carrier L’ Aquila but cut their teeth on Miraglia.

Following the shit-canning of Mussolini, Miraglia sailed to Malta in 1943 to be interned under British guns and served the rest of the war as a receiving ship for Italian sailors from smaller vessels.

Meanwhile, Italy’s first planned aircraft carrier– a respectable 772-foot leviathan by the name of L’Aquila (Eagle) converted from an unfinished ocean liner– was left under construction at Genoa. Although it was envisioned she would carry up to 56 aircraft, the Italian eagle was never completed and finally scrapped at La Spezia in 1952. A sistership, Sparviero, never even got that far, making Miraglia the sole Italian aviation ship fielded in WWII.

The unfinished Italian aircraft carrier “Aquila” tied up at La Spezia sometime following Italy’s surrender in WWII.

Following the end of the war, with the general disfavor of seaplanes and seaplane carriers of the time, Miraglia was retained at Taranto as a PT boat tender until 1950 when she was disposed of. Jane’s, in their often confusing 1946-47 volume, noted that she was to be refitted as a supply ship.

Giuseppe Miraglia 1946-47 Janes listing

Giuseppe Miraglia, 1946-47 Janes listing, where she was one of the few Italian ships left from WWII

Italian Naval Aviation languished for a full decade following VE-Day, only restarting on a limited scale when a few Bell-Augusta AB-47G helicopters were handed over to the Navy for shipboard service in 1956.

By 1969, Vittorio Veneto, a so-called “helicopter cruiser,” was in service, capable of carrying six SH-3D Sea Kings or larger numbers of smaller whirlybirds.

Vittorio Veneto was all cruiser in the front…

But a party in the back…ITS Vittorio Veneto (C550) view from the stern with raised deck and hangar beneath.

Finally, in 1990 the Italian government placed an order for several AV-8B Harriers for use on the newly completed light aircraft carrier Garibaldi, returning the country’s fleet to a fixed-wing capability that it hadn’t seen since Miraglia steamed for exile in Malta in 1943.

Today, it is thought that the carrier Cavour will carry a squadron of operational Italian F-35Bs by 2023, almost a century after Miraglia was conceived.

Italian aircraft carrier Cavour

Specs:


Displacement, full load: 5.913 t
Length: 397.72 ft.
Beam: 49.18 ft.
Draft: 19 ft.
Propulsion: 8 Yarrow water tube boilers, 2 groups of steam turbines with Parsons type reducer, 2 propellers with three blades, 16,700 HP, 430 tons oil.
Speed: 21 knots
Crew: (196) not counting airwing, as follows:
16 officers
40 NCOs
140 enlisted
Armament:
4 x 102/35 Schneider-Armstrong naval rifles
12 x 13.2 mm Breda machine guns
Airwing:
2 Gagnotto steam catapults in bow and stern
2 aircraft hangars for 5-6 planes with folded wings (total of 11 seaplanes)
2 depots for 3 dismantled aircraft, each
17 Macchi M.18AR seaplanes (1927-30), 20 Cantoni 25 AR seaplanes (1931-36) up to 20 IMAM Ro.43s (1937-43)

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!

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.

battleship-roma-deck-guns-and-turrets-5

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.

italian_battleship_roma_by_achmedthedeadteroris

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

Roma5973planRU

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)

Specs:

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
Armament:
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
Armor:
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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Cruiser-killer HMS Urge rediscovered after 74 years overdue

When compared to the large U.S. fleet boats used in the Pacific in WWII, the Royal Navy’s 49 U-class submarines were downright tiny. At just 700-tons submerged and 191-feet oal, these boats were originally designed as coastal training subs. However, with the Italians and Germans giving the UK a run for their money in the Med, the Brits started churning these craft out in numbers.

Armed with a half dozen 21-inch tubes, they could carry 8 warshot torpedoes and a 3-inch pop gun on deck. They gave a good account of themselves, sinking a large number of Axis transports and freighters carrying much-needed supplies to Rommel and his Italian compatriots in North Africa– although they suffered severe losses of their own, with 19 U-class sisters going down during the war.

Photograph FL 3433 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 8308-29)

Photograph FL 3433 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 8308-29)

This brings us to HMS Urge. Commissioned 12 December 1940 at Vickers, she lasted 17 action-packed months during which she managed to torpedo the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto, damaging her in the First Battle of Sirte. She had better luck on 1 April, 1942 when she torpedoed and sank the 6844-ton Italian Giussano-class light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere.

The  Regia Marina's Giovanni delle Bande Nere, some 10-times HMS Urge's size, was bushwacked by the hearty British submarine with two torpedos and sent to the bottom on April Fools Day, 1942, breaking in half and taking 381 Italian sailors with her.

The Regia Marina’s Giovanni delle Bande Nere, some 10-times HMS Urge’s size, was bushwacked by the hearty British submarine with two torpedos and sent to the bottom on April Fools Day, 1942, breaking in half and taking 381 Italian sailors with her.

However, Urge went missing at the end of that month and was never heard from again.

— That is until 76-year old Belgian diver Jean-Pierre Misson, poking around off Tobruk, Libya, came across something very submarine-like. It now appears that Italian dive bombers reaped retribution for their lost cruiser.

62482464_HMS-Urge-_3295219b

The rest here

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.

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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!

WNIT_126-44_m1934_Conte_di_Cavour_pic

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_raid_map

 

'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

 

 

40-11-2

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.
Specs:

 

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
Armament:

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

Armor:

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
Armament:

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

 

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/

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.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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