Battle of Gotland (July, 2, 1915)

Lake Tanganyika
Reichsmarine vs Russian Navy

Fire on the Baltic

The fact that the Baltic did not saw naval major battles like Heligoland or Jutland don’t have to mask the myriad of naval actions that occurred in this war between the Russian Navy -albeit reduced after the crippling losses of 1905 in this theater- and the powerful Reichsmarine, that kept the bulk of the Hochseeflotte facing the north sea, waiting for opportunities to engage the Royal Navy.

This battle of Gotland, also called Battle of Åland Islands occurred nearby one of the largest island (if not the largest) of the baltic sea, the fortress guarding Swedish east coast. These already seen (and will see) many other clashes between German and Russian ships, but also testified of age-old clashes between Russians and Swedes in the past. This was a serious gun battle between cruisers of many types from both sides, the Germans loosing eventually the Albatross, and the Russian retiring with two badly damaged armoured cruisers.

Blueprint of the SMS Albatross

The day before the battle of Gotland, Kommodore Johannes Von Karf had been ordered to anchor a vast minefield off the Aäland Islands, closing the Gulf of Bothnia. He departed with the minelayer cruiser Albatross (frigate captain Fritz West), escorted by the armoured cruiser Roon, and the SMS Augsburg, Lübeck, as well as 12 destroyers. Following Odensholm’s action on 26 August, the Russians seized the codebooks and signals from the Hochseeflotte, and thus intercepted messages, enabling them to know the squadron’s exact departure. On the 2nd, a force comprising the armoured cruisers Admiral Makaroff and Bayan, assisted by the cruisers Oleg and Bogatyr sailed from Saint-Petersburg under the orders of Rear Admiral Mikhail Bakhirev in the hope of intercepting it. This force was joined and assisted by a British submersible.

SMS roon (1907), this class preceded the Scharnhorst and was strongly related

On the morning of the 2d, the German fleet was mooring mines in front of the Aaland Islands, when the black plumes of the Russian squadron were spotted. Immediately the operations in progress were abandoned, and the ships turned and headed south. However, the time to carry out the maneuver, the Russian cruisers were at gun range, and the slowest cruiser, SMS Albatross was catch and fired upon. The ship only had a few 88 mm pieces to oppose 203 and 152 mm guns on the Russian cruisers. This resembled quickly therefore to a real execution. However, the Roon and two light cruisers replied, but the duel of artillery was not conclusive. The two fleets advanced in parallel, heading south, and arrived off Gotland when Von Karf was informed of the arrival of two other armoured cruisers, the Prinz Heinrich and the Prinz Adalbert, which just sailed to the rescue. The balance was about to swap in favor of the Germans.

The minelaying cruiser Albatross failed after her fight against the Oleg and the Bogatyr.

The Russians for their part, brought out the Rurik, one of the most powerful armoured cruisers in the world, assisted by the destroyer Novik, no less formidable. They just set sail at the time the news of the clash off the Aaland Islands, and force-steamed south-west in an attempt to cut off Von Karf’s retreat. The threat was very serious, and the battle began to swap again, and this time, taking on a disastrous scale for the Germans. The Albatross, caught by the Oleg and Bogatyr, was severely hit, her machines partially drowned, drifting, silenced, crippled, and eventually ran aground on a sand bank off Gotland. Meanwhile Von Karf from his flagship Admiral Roon, was attacked by the Bayan and Makaroff, being hit several times and severely damaged. Getting the news of the arrival of the Rurik Von karf decided to break off the fight and retreat south-east towards Königsberg.

Russian cruiser Bayan

The two German armoured cruisers which came to reinforce, just informed of Von Karf’s decision to retreat, decided to head south, but the Prinz Adalbert was intercepted by British submarine E9 waiting in ambush, and was torpedoed. She survived thanks to the promptness of her crew, clogging the leaks with Makaroff slippers, and thus avoiding the entire engine room being submerged. The cruiser dragged herself to the coast and ran aground on a sand bank off Danzig. She would be later towed and repaired, but shortly after her return in service, on 23 October, she will be torpedoed once again, this time by E8, and sent to the bottom for good.

Russian Cruiser Oleg

In the end, Russian losses were difficult to evaluate but it is clear that the Bayan and Makaroff received some hits. The exact balance of the Russian side remains mysterious. In any case, the verdict was severe for the Germans, who, without ever suspecting being spied on or capable to explain the sudden arrival of the Russians to this point, lost the Albatross, which they never attempted to tow. Her surviving crew reached the boats in good order, sailing to the coast of Gotland (Sweden), and from there rejoined Germany afterwards. The Albatross was towed to be broken up later in 1921. The Germans were also deprived of the Roon and Prinz Adalbert, in repairs for long months. Worst still, mines of the Aaland Islands were quickly raised dredged by the Russians. So in the end, we have to see this battle of Gotland as a Russian tactical and strategic victory (three ships eliminated and a minefield).

Cruiser Minin (1866)

The oldest cruiser worldwide ?

The Minin (Минин) was still in service in 1914. By that time, she was 48 years old, and by the time the war ended, get passed half a century. Yet she was not a museum ship, but fully active the whole time for the Russian Empire. Fact is, she was started in 1863 as a sister ship for the Kniaz Pozharsky, an ironclad. But contrary to the former, she was redesigned as a turret ironclad as the broadside ironclad genre was already obsolete. In this first configuration she looked as a three-masted ship, but with a low-freeboard, as HMS Captain, the idea being water was a protective barrer by itself (and the Captain still had not sink by that time), proving how far this hull concept was dangerous. Bacause of these modifications, the Minin was eventually launched at Baltic Works, Saint Petersburg in 1869 but completed in 1878, nine years after a complete reconstruction ! “Minin” was named after Kuzma Minin, a famous figure of the Russian renaissance, helping Pozharsky against the Poles at Moskow.

Design of the Minin

In its original configuration, she was a 95 m wooden ship with a hull sheathed with copper to reduced biofouling. She was propelled by a vertical compound steam engine, single propeller and a dozen coal cylindrical boilers. This gave 5,290 hp (3,940 kW) for a 14.5 knots top speed, for what she carried 1000 tons of coil, reaching about 4200 nautic miles. Fully rigged, she can reached as much as 4 knots, and complement steam power by sail. In this case, the funnel could even be lowered to reduce drag.

Original protection comprised a belt 6–7 in thick (152–178 mm) and a deck 1 in (25 mm) with wrought iron. Her armament then comprised four 8-inch (203 mm)/22 cal., twelve 6-inch (152 mm)/23 cal. and four 87-millimeter (3.4 in) rifled breech-loading guns. In 1899, her armament was modified for the third time (out or six), with the same four 203-мм/30, but only six 152-мм/45, six 75-мм/50, eight 47-мм/44, four 37-мм/23, four 7,62-мм MG and two 64-mm saluting guns. In 1909 shorty after her total second reconstruction, she had ten 152-мм/45, six 75-мм/50, eight 47-мм/44, four 37-мм/23, four 7,62-mm MG.

1912 Complete Rebuilding as Ladoga

She was refitted in 1887, which prolongated her use until 1906. In 1906 however she was demoted from cruisers of the 1st rank to training ship. In 1908 she was refitted as a floating mine warehouse. In 1909 she was renamed Ladoga in to free the name for more modern ships. In the fall, she was enlisted in the Baltic detachment of minelayers. But it’s only in October 27, 1912 that she emerged, converted as a minelayer (battery deck rails, outboard stern slopes), new boilers produced by the Black Sea Mechanical and Boiler Plant. Her rigging was reduced to 2 pole masts, and crucially the armament was down to just four 47-millimeter (1.9 in) guns. Everything on board was modified to handle and carry 1000 mines.

Service in WW1

Ladoga in her new assignation participating in laying the great mine barrier of the Gulf of Finland in 1914. She performed several other missions and was eventually sunk in the Baltic on 15 August 1915. The irony was she sank one the mines previously laid by German minelayer submarine SM UC-4. She was blown up on a mine placed near the island of Ere which dug a hole in the bow on the port side. As a result of a rapid flooding of the boiler room, a boilers explosion followed, after which the ship sank, but fortunately only 5 crew died.

Specifications (As Ladoga, 1914)

Dimensions (L-w-h) 90 x 15 x 7.7 m 295’x 49′ x 25′
Total weight, fully loaded 6,200 long tonnes
Armament 4x 3.4-inch (86.4 mm), 1000 mines
Armor Belt: 6-7in (152-178 mm) Deck: 1 in (25 mm)
Crew 500 officers and sailors
Propulsion 1 shaft VTE, 12 cyl. boilers, 5300 ihp (3900 kW)
Speed (road) 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)
Range 6000 nm (11,000 km; 6,900 mi) @9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph)


Minin in 1887

Minin after being rebuilt as a minelayer in 1909-1912

Sources (Russian)
Naval Warfare, 1815-1914 By Lawrence Sondhaus
Conways all the word fighting ships 1860-1905

WW1 Japanese Destroyers

Japan (1898-1919)
About 180 ships

A newcomer in destroyer design

WW2 Japanese destroyers were certainly among the world’s most powerful since the Fubuki in 1926. Just like Russia showed the way in 1910 with the Novik, Japan was at the forefront in destroyer design, with speed, firepower, and aggressive tactics matching over-the-top torpedoes like the deadly “long-lance”. The prewar models were rather small, high seas TBs, while from 1917, Japan launched in a frenzy dozens of large oceanic destroyers. This story started very early on, like many other nations, with torpedo-boats. In August 1914, 62 destroyers were in service, all classes confounded.

Destroyer Momo in the Mediterranean, 1917. src: Roads to the Great War – blogger

From 1879 to 1895

The first contract on behalf of the IJN was awarded as early as 1879. Because of previous events, little funds, only small series of modest ships could be ordered at a time. The first four were built at Yarrow, dismantled, shipped and reconstructed at Yokosuka, and retired in 1899. What followed was the experimental armoured TB Kotaka in 1885 and about 40 TBs followed from 1885, coastal Yarrow types (50t and 25t), then Japan turned to France and ordered 35m types and Normand 34m types (1894). All has been discarded prior to ww1. Larger Schichau types were later also ordered. The 54t type, 3rd class TBs were the first Japanese-designed ones, in all 26 boats all operational when WW1 began, for coastal defence.

Destroyer Katsura at Brindidi 1917
Destroyer Katsura at Brindisi, 1917. Colorized by Irootoko Jr. alias Atsushi Yamashita

Japanese early destroyer design

At last in 1900 the Ten Years Programme put a plan for dozens of new TBs but also ordered 23 destroyers.
The following classes consisted in the Ikazuchi (6), Murakumo (6), Akatsuki (2), Shirakumo (2), Harusame (7), Asakaze (32), Umikaze (2), Sakura (2), and three ex-Russians. These ships were 275 to 375 tonnes, 63 to 69m long, 5.96 to 6.57m of width, 1.56 to 1.83m of draught, 29 to 31 knots and the same armament of 2x 12 pdr, 4x 6pdr and 2 18 in TTs (450 mm).

Ikazuchi were basically Yarrow ships (like the Akatsuki), Murakumo were from Thornycroft, while the Harusame were all Japanese, after a modified Shikarumo design. Their machinery was still very Thornycroft-esque in style. These 1st generation destroyers were all scrapped in 1920. But the second generation was far more interesting and for the most, was in service in the whole interwar and for many, WW2 as well.

Ikazuchi class (6 ships, 1899)

Yarrow-built, completed 1898-1900. Comprised the Akebono, Ikazuchi, Inazuma, Niji, Oboro and Sazanami. 305 tons, 6000 hp, 31 knots. Few participated in the great war: the Niji, scarcely received and perhaps badly maneuvered by her crew was carried by her own speed and ran aground on a reef. She was salvaged and broken up in 1900, following her only sortie. Ikazuchi was in Tsushima and survived the Russian fire, saw his boiler explode in 1913 and was lost. The Inazuma crashed into a schooner near Hakodate in 1909 and sank it. The Sazanami was also the victim of an accident in 1913. Only the Akebono and Oboro participated in the great war. They became tankers in 1918 and were removed from the lists in 1921.

Murakumo class (6 ships, 1898)

Thornycroft boats, 275 tons (63 x 5.9 x 1.7m), fitted with more powerful machinery to reach 30 knots for 5800 hp. The class Comprised the Murakumo, Shinonome, Shiranu, Usugumo, Yugiri and Kagero.
They were practically built at the same time as the Ikazuchi at Yarrow. They were differentiated by smaller dimensions and a reduced displacement of 305 to 275 tons, and less power available. The Shinonome was hit hard by the first typhoon that almost caused its destruction, but was repaired and lost in another typhoon in 1913. The Murakumo survived the same typhoon in 1909. The Yugiri was almost destroyed in Tsushima, but all participated in the Great War and were removed from the lists between 1921 and 1927.

Akatsuki class (2 ships, 1899)

Virtually repeats of the Ikazuchi, but with boilers giving extra pressure, for 6500 hp (500 hp gain) and 31 knots. 363t boats, same lenght and width but greater draught. Akatsuki and Kasumi were launched and completed 1901-1902.

Shirakumo class (2 ships, 1901)

Japanese design, slimmer and lighter (thus faster) than the following design (see below). Comprised the Shirakumo and Asashio.

Harusame class (7 ships, 1901)

These first 100% Japanese destroyers were derived from the Shirakumo class, which only counted two ships. The class comprised the Shirakumo and Asashio. Both were Japanese-designed, still with some British influence. The Shirakumo were 342 tonnes, 65.8m long 6.34 m wide, whereas the Harusame were substantially larger and wider, while keeping the same draught and different engines. However performances of the former were better, their VTE engines (extra boiler) being able to develop 7000 hp for a reduced weight (33 tons less).

Externally they shared the same silhouette: Long, slim hull with a front turtleback, small platform above the armoured conning tower with the 12 pdr gun and backup bar, command and observation devices. The two single tubes were behind the serie of four funnels squared by the four 57 mm guns while the 75 mm was at the rear end;
Armament comprised the standard two 60mm (12 pdr, four QF 47 mm (6pdr) and two 457 mm torpedo tubes. The class launched 1902-1905 and completed from 1093 to 1905 comprised the Arare, Ariake, Fubuki, Harusame, Hayatori, and Murasame.

In 1905 they all fought in Tsushima. The Harusame was severely damaged by Russian fire and managed to survive. She was lost in 1911 in a typhoon. Hayatori was blown up on a mine during the blockade of Port Arthur. So 5 the units left participated in the Great War, being subsequently deleted from active lists in 1922-24-25.

2nd class destroyer Isononome.

All these 24 ships were active (home waters) and retired from service in 1920. They mostly built knowledge and expertise from these different designs that help creating a larger, second generation destroyers.

Harusame specifications
Dimensions 69.2 x6.57 x1.83 m
Displacement 375 T FL
Crew 55
Propulsion 2 shafts VTE engines 6000 hp
Speed 29 knots (55.58 km/h; 34.53 mph)
Armament 2x 12 pdr, 4x 6pdr, 2x 18 in TTs (457 mm).

Asakaze class (32 ships, 1905-1907)

IJN Ushio at Vladivostok
IJN Ushio at Vladivostok

Still 1st generation destroyers, they were the first mass-produced Japanese destroyers. They looked very much like copies of the previous Harusame, as part of an “emergency plan”, 1904 special war programme ordered in June, September 1904 and 1905. Following this, there were attempts to devise oceanic types, but budget and time constraints had the Navy adopting a double standard, with medium (2nd class types) like these ones, fit for coastal water. They indeed participated in WW1 as a defence fleet and were all broken up in 1923-1930, some being converted as minesweepers in between.

The Asakaze were substantially larger than the previous ships, displacing 381 tonnes for 450 at full load, 72 m long, but only lightly larger (4 cm), and the same draught. They derived from a previous Thornycroft design. They had two shafts with 4-cylinder vertical watertubes engines, four Kampon boilers which produced a total of 6000 hp, and the same 29 knots as above. Armament was heavier, with improved guns, two 3.1 in/40 (80 mm), and four 3.1/28 calibers, and like previous classes, two single 457 mm (18 in) centerline torpedo tubes. Complement was also larger, 70 men.

For the first time, Yokosuka could not fulfill the order, which was passed to civilian yards, gaining experience in that area. But because this was a first, some yards had troubles getting the construction right in time, and meny of these ships were launched in 1906, as the design was already obsolete. Ships that were rearmed as minesweepers get two 4.7 in/45 guns and two 3.1in/40 guns for earlier classes.

Asakaze specifications
Dimensions 72 x6.6 x1.83 m
Displacement 381 T FL
Crew 70
Propulsion 2 shafts VTE engines 6000 hp
Speed 29 knots
Armament 2x 3.1/40, 4x 3.1/28 in, 2x 18 in TTs (457 mm).

Umikaze class (2 ships, 1911)

This was the first oceanic class of destroyers designed and built in Japan, at Maizuru NyD and Mitsubishi (Nagazaki) Naval yard. This design call D-9 were ordered in 1907 as a “proof of concept” in modern standards, but they were only launched in 1909, their blueprints being redrawn and modified in between. First, they were given powerful turbines, Parsons designs built by Mitsubishi, three of them, each one connected to a single shaft, the lot fed by 8 Kampon boilers, for a whooping total of 22,500 hp, enough to reach 33 knots. These were mixed boilers, so 250 tons of coil and 178 tons of oil were stored on board, which gave a range of about 2700 nautical miles at 15 knots.

Complement was double than previous ships, and armament comprise two light cruiser size 4.7 in guns (120 mm) of 40 calibers, and five 3.1 in (80 mm)/40, and two twin 457 mm (18 in) TTs on the Umikaze, whereas Yamakaze had three single tubes. They were delivered only in March 1910 and January 1911 due to delays or delivering the turbines. Their armament was reduced when converted as minesweepers in 1930. Both were stricken in 1936 and broken up. The design was expensive and the next oceanic class was scaled down.

Umikaze specifications
Dimensions 98.5 x8.5 x2.7 m
Displacement 1030/1150 T FL
Crew 140
Propulsion 3 shafts Turbines, 8 boilers 20500 hp
Speed 33 knots
Armament 2x 4.7in, 5x 3.1 in, 4x 18 in TTs (457 mm).

Wartime Production

The war production was not at the level of those of the RN and the USA: In the 10 Kaba, succeeded the 4 Momo, the 6 Enoki, the 4 Isokaze, the 2 Urakaze, the 2 Tanikaze. 28 destroyers in total. All saw the conflict. On the other hand, the 1918 plan tried to catch up with the allied navies, seeing the construction from 1919 to 1924 of the Minekaze, Momi, Wakatake and Kyokaze classes, all impressive oceanic destroyers that will actively participate in WW2.

Sakura class (2 ships, 1914)

Sakura at Sasebo, Taisho, 1918
Sakura at Sasebo, Taisho, 1918

The Sakura inaugurated a new category of “second class” destroyers, more economical than the “first class”. They were clearly out of the initial program, including only ocean-going ships of the Umikaze type (1910), and were commissioned mainly for budgetary reasons. The Sakura and the Tachibana were thus lighter than 400 tons, but also less slower.
They were good compromises between the coastal destroyers of the Asakaze type and previous ones coming from Yarrow and the ambitious Umikaze. They were followed by the Kaba class in 1915, 10 heavier units of 60 tons with a larger draft.

Sakura specifications
Dimensions 83,6 x 7,3 x 2,3 m
Displacement 665t – 850t T FL
Crew 92
Propulsion 3 shafts, 3 VTE, 4 kampon boilers, 9500 hp.
Speed 30 knots
Armament 1x 4.7in, 4x 3.1in, 4x 18 in TTs (457 mm).

Kaba class (11 ships, 1915)

Kaba departing departing Ryojun, 1925
Kaba departing departing Ryojun, 1925

When the was broke out, Japan had only two modern destroyers for oceanic deployment, the Sakura and Tachibana, so the government approved the Emergency Naval Expansion Budget FY1914 and ten more destroyers had to be built in 8 different civilian yards with conventional coil boilers and VTE engines (also to speed up things) rather than turbines. They were indeed laid down in the end of 1914 and launched in early 1915, completed just 1-2 month after and all named after trees.
This Kaba class was so successful that the French ordered 10 more for their own fleet in the Mediterranean, the “Arabe”, all named after peoples living in French colonies. All the Kaba were all removed from service in the 1932.

Arabe type destroyer, 1917
Arabe type destroyer, 1917

Kaba specifications
Dimensions 83,6 x 7,3 x 2,3 m
Displacement 665t – 850t T FL
Crew 92
Propulsion 3 shafts, 3 VTE, 4 kampon boilers, 9500 hp.
Speed 30 knots
Armament 1x 4.7in, 4x 3.1in, 4x 18 in TTs (457 mm).

Urakaze class (2 ships, 1915)

Urakaze at Wuhan, China in 1930-1933
Urakaze at Wuhan, China in 1930-1933

Urakaze and Kawakaze were built in Yarrow, a first since the beginning of the century. They were designed to test new 533 mm torpedo tubes and oil-fired turbines. The kawakaze was, however, awarded by the British government to the Italians even before its completion. The name will be carried by the second building of the Tanikaze class in 1918. The Urakaze, ordered in 1912, saw its construction delayed and it will be finally delivered only in 1919. It will serve a long service until 1936, and its hull will be cast by a US Navy aircraft in 1945.

Urakaze specifications
Dimensions 87,2 x 8,4 x 2,4 m
Displacement 907t – 1089t FL
Crew 120
Propulsion 2 shafts, 2 Curtis turbines, 3 Yarrow boilers, 22 000 hp
Speed 30 knots
Armament 2x 4.7in (120), 4x 3.1in (80), 4x 21 in TTs (533 mm).

Isokaze class (4 ships, 1916)

Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze on patrol in Yangzi River, China
Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze on patrol in Yangzi River, China

The Isokaze class included the Isokaze, Amatsukaze, Hamakaze and Tokitsukaze. They were launched and completed in 1916-17. They were ranked first-class destroyers, and derived from the 1910 Umikaze, as “squadron leaders.” They were much heavier (400 tons) and larger, and gave up their secondary artillery for two additional TTs. In 1935, they were all removed from the lists and broken up in 1936.

Hinoki at Wuhan
Hinoki at Wuhan

Isokaze specifications
Dimensions 96,9 x 8,5 x 2,8 m
Displacement 1227t – 1570t FL
Crew 128
Propulsion 3 shafts, 3 Parsons/Curtis turbines, 5 kampon boilers, 30 000 hp
Speed 33 knots
Armament 4x 4.7in (120), 6x 18 in TTs (457 mm).

Momo class

The four Momo (Kashi, Hinoki, Yanagi, Momo), completed in 1916-17 were built in parallel to the Isokaze, with some specific characteristics for the second-class destroyers they were, compared to the Kaba and Sakura. They were the first to showcase an inverted curved bow, specifically Japanese, whose ice-breaking vocation is not an obvious fact, especially turbines and triple torpedo tubes.They were sent to the Mediterranean until 1919 and then served until 1935. The Kashi was transferred to the marine epoch of the Mandchuko under the name of hai Waei in 1937 and returned to service in Japan in 1943 under the name Kali, before being blasted in Okinawa. The Yanagi was used for training and was broken up only in 1947. The six Enoki (Enoki, Nara, Kuwa, Tsubaki, Maki and Keyaki) were derived from it closely and were launched and finished in 1918. They were slightly heavier and more powerful. They were removed from the lists in 1932 and 1938 for two of them, transformed into minesweepers.

Momo specifications
Dimensions 58,8 x 7,7 x 2,3 m
Displacement 875t-1080t T FL
Crew 110
Propulsion 2 shafts, 3 Curtis turbines, 4 kampon boilers, 16 000 hp
Speed 31.5 knots
Armament 3x 4.7in, 3x 7.7mm MGs, 6x 18 in TTs (457 mm).

Enoki class (6 ships, 1918)

Kuwa in trials in 1918 off Yokosuka

All named after trees, these six destroyers were part of the FY1917 emergency procurement budget, bound to operate in the Mediterranean. They were all laid down in 1917 and completed in 1918, built in Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, but also Kure, Sasebo and Maizuru naval arsenals. They were virtually repeates of the previous Momo (same blueprints) but were modified with a new bow and better armour. In general experience dictated their hull to be strengthened to handle heavy seas. For propulsion their relied on proven Brown-Curtis geared steam turbine engines coupled with mixed-fired boilers. Armament was also identical to the Kaba, with three QF 4.7 inch Gun Mk I – IV guns and triple TT banks. Due to their very late arrival, these ships were never deployed in their intended destination and instead spent their career near the Japanese home islands. Two were converted as minesweepers in 1930. They were all retired in 1934-36.
Specs are near-identical to the Kaba.

Kawakaze class (2 ships, 1918)

Tanikaze (谷風 “Valley Wind”)

The large destroyer leaders (Kawakaze, Tanikaze, named after winds) were built in Maizuru and Yokosuka, as part the IJN ‘8-4 Fleet Program’ FY1915. Basically they were escort vessels for the new Nagato class battleships and Tenryū class cruisers. One of the two was funded by the Italian government after reception of the Kawakaze (now Audace). These were large ships (1600 tons fully loaded), roomy enough to fit a set of two large shaft steam turbine fed by 4 boilers producing 34,000 ihp (25,000 kW) total, enough to reach a blazing 37.5 knots (69.5 km/h) speed. Armament also comprised the new new Type 3 120 mm 45 caliber naval guns and also new 533 mm three double launchers and AA armament of two 6.5 mm machine guns. Both missed ww1 as Kawakaze was completed in November, 11, 1918 and the second 30 January 1919. They served in the interwar until 1934-35.

Momi class (21 ships, 1919)

Ashi of the Momi class
Ashi of the Momi class

These are included in this post and not the following because they has been ordered before the end of the war, part of IJN’s 8-4 Fleet Program FY1918, the lead ship Momi being laid down at Yokosuka on 23 January 1918. Most were launched however from 1919 to 1921 and of 28 ships planned (all named after flowers) 7 were cancelled, 10 scrapped. Most served for the whole interwar and for a few, WW2 (many were decommissioned or converted for other uses in 1940, seen as obsolete). They were built at Yokosuka but also Kure, Fujinagata, Ishikawajima, Kawasaki and Uraga.

They were virtually repeats of the cheap and simple Enoki second-class destroyers, comparable in some ways to Royal Navy corvettes. Their main trade feature like German destroyers was a lengthened forecastle with a break forming immediately forward of the bridge giving protection to the forward bank of torpedo tubes. They used three Kampon oil-fired boilers, and light turbines of the Parsons, Brown-Curtis, Escher Wyss & Cie Zoelly, Mitsubishi, but Kampon turbines for most Consequentely these ships developed 21,500 hp (16,000 kW), enough for their 800 tonnes to reach 36 knots. Their career will be seen in detail in ww2 IJN destroyer post, but in short, 11 were lost in action.

Tsuta as converted as a fast landing ship transport in 1943, notice the Daihatsu barge and modified stem.


Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

Gazelle class cruisers

Germany (1898)
Ten ships 1898-1902

The first modern light cruisers

The Gazelle class has been often dubbed as the “first modern light cruisers”. They had indeed all the trademark of the type and formed the basis for Germany of a long lineage which will go straight through ww1 and the interwar, and culminated with the KMS Nürnberg in 1937. The Gazelle were started from 1898 to 1902 at Germaniawerft (3 ships), Weser (4), Dantzig Dyd (Thetis), and Howaldswerke (Undine) and launched between March 1898 and December 1902. The class comprised the Gazelle, Niobe, Nymphe, Thetis, Ariadne, Amazone, Medusa, Frauenlob, Arcona and Undine, all in service between June 1900 and January 1904. Their fate varied heavily, but three were lost in action in ww1.

SMS Hela

Origins and inspiration: From aviso to light cruiser

Precursors has been an aviso (sort of fast, slim gunboats for colonial service), Hela (1895), Gefion, a unique cruiser-corvette or 3rd rate cruiser (1893), Meteor class avisos (1888), Wacht class (1887) while the Greif (1886), Blitz class (1882), Zieten (1876) were composite ships. The SMS Gefion was probably the greatest inspiration for the Gazelle, with a rather tall hull and ten 105 mm guns. Interestingly, she was reduced as an accommodation ship from 1916 and converted as a merchantmen in 1920, so bad was German shipping then. She not very successful as a frail, light and narrow military ship would be for that purpose. The term “aviso” is French, meaning a “dispatch vessel”. This originated as a kind of small, light, very fast ship that passed admiral’s detailed orders to specific ships of the line while in battle, since signals then would be hard to catch amidst the explosions and smoke. The term was kept as a tradition well into the end of XXth Century (through the cold war) but had little meaning in a modern context. Corvettes and Frigates replaced them.

SMS Undine launch in 1902
SMS Undine launch in 1902

Design of the Gazelle

These so-called “4th class” cruisers were in fact defined as good compromises between fast, large colonial gunboats (avisos) and squadron scouts. They had some similarities with the Hela (1895), but their stern was raised to form a forecastle, and their armament was markedly reinforced. Instead of the few 88 mm, a battery of 10 pieces of 105 mm to deal with TBs and destroyers, like the Gefion. They were also better protected with an armoured deck, but used the same powerplant than the Hela. In the end, these ships were well armed and able to assume their role of destroyers hunters, wile being able to deal with opposite cruisers. The Gazelle were also recognizable at their two funnels, and their old fashioned rams. However the lead ship, SMS gazelle differed in two points from her sister-ships: She has a bow TT and above water side TTs, while the others had only submerged TTs. Not only that, but she also had her charthouse placed between her two funnels, whole the others had it in front of the forefunnel.

SMS Niobe launch


The main protective deck was 50mm (2in) amidships. The deck otherwise was 20 to 25 mm (0.79 to 0.98 in). Construction of the hull comprised transverse and longitudinal steel frames, and wooden planks covered with Muntz metal (to prevent fouling) up to a meter above the waterline. Twelve watertight compartments and a double bottom for 40% of the length prevented flooding.

SMS Undine at full speed


The Germans thought lighter 105mm were best suited due to their rate of fire to deal with TBs and destroyers rather than the usual 6-in gus found previously on those kind of ships. This was not either the too light battery of 88mm guns found on the Hela. These ten 10.5 cm SK L/40 guns were placed fore and aft in pairs (4) then followed six in sponsons, the further aft and rear being enclosed. Their range was 12,200 m (40,000 ft) and they were supplied with 100 rounds each. There were also ten machine-guns and two 450 mm (17.7 in) TTs with five torpedoes in reserve.

SMS Niobe in 1902


Gazelle, the lead ship differed from the others in having 2 shafts, 2 triple expansion engines for 6,000 ihp (4,500 kW). The others’s triple expansion engines developed 8,000 ihp (6,000 kW). Speed for the first was 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h; 22.4 mph), and the others 21.5 knots (39.8 km/h; 24.7 mph). Their range was 3,560 to 4,400 nmi (6,590 to 8,150 km; 4,100 to 5,060 mi). Although agile these ships tended to roll severely, being wet and to suffer from lee helm after modernization.

SMS Niobe at Kiel in 1903


All ships served either, or in succession as fleet reconnaissance force, and on foreign stations. by 1914 they were in reserve due to their age. Gazelle has been reconstructed in 1905-1907 and Arcona in 1911-1912 but with apparently little change. Earlier ships were used for coastal defence with reduced crews. In 1916, they were in second-line duties or even disarmed. Arcona was used as a minelayer (200 mines).


The Ariadne participated in the Battle of Heligoland in August 1914 and was sunk there. The Undine was torpedoed in the Baltic by the E19 and the Frauenlob sank during the Battle of Jutland, torpedoed by the cruiser HMS Southampton.

Post War Career

The Gazelle was broken up in 1920, but the others survived for a while. The Nymph, Niobe and Amazon were completely rebuilt (new clipper prow, 500 mm TTs) and served until 1931-32, the first being sold to the Yugoslavs, renamed Dalmacija in 1925 and then was captured by the Italians in 1941 and renamed Cattaro. She was then used with a new armament of 6x 8.5 in Skoda guns and 6×20 mm Breda guns until 1943. Form then on she was recaptured by the Germans and used a short time before being transferred to the puppet Croatian regime, and back again German control when she was sunk by British MTBs 276 and 298 in the Adriatic in 22/12/1943. Nymphe was struck off in 1931 but Amazone went on as an accomodation huk until 1954, while Medusa and Arcona were taken in hands for rebuilding as Flak ships in 1942. In this new configuration they had five 105 mm AA, 2×35 mm and 4×20 mm guns. They survived the war and were eventually broken up in 1948.

SMS Amazone in 1903

SMS Frauenlob in Kiel canal

Nice lithography of the Gazelle in 1902

Ex-Niobe (Dalmacija) in Yougoslav service

Amazone and Hipper at Blohm & Voss in 1939

SMS Ariadne at Heligoland in 1914

SMS Amazone at anchor


The Gazelle class on wikipedia
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

Gazelle class specifications

Dimensions 105 x12.2 x5.4 m
Displacement 2916/3013/3130t/t FL
Crew 249-259
Propulsion 2 shafts, 2 VTE engines, 6 boilers, 8500-9000 ihp
Speed 20-21.5 (Niobe 22) knots
Range 4400 nmi at 19 knots
Armament 10x 105 mm, 8x 8mm MGs, 2x 450mm TTs.
Armor Decks 20-25 mm belt 50 mm


Illustration of the SMS Gazelle by the author, as built in 1901.

Hawkins class cruisers (1917)

United Kingdom (1920)
Hawkins, Frobisher, Effingham, Cavendish, Raleigh

First and last heavy cruisers of ww1

In 1914, the Royal Navy aligned dozens of cruisers of the old 3rd, 2nd and 1st rate, protected and armoured, but after the launch of the Dreadnought in 1906, production focused on light cruisers, and this lineage would go through ww1 and beyond. Operations showed however the need for a more heavily armed cruiser type designed to counter German commerce raiders and be posted in far away overseas stations to deal with 170 mm-armed German cruisers (like Von Spee’s Scharnhorst class). Too late for ww1 (the five cruisers were completed 1917-18 for the first two, but operational in 1919), they inspired the model of heavy cruiser defined by the Washington treaty in 1922, had a quite active career in ww2, famously named after Elizabethan corsairs. They also inspired a new type of Interwar “colonial cruiser” known collectively as the “County” class.

HMS Effingham in 1940.


The main attention and focus turned to artillery as everything revolved around it, with an original combination of 190 and 102 mm pieces as designed. Efforts were made to boost their autonomy, for a final displacement of 9000 tons. In their final drawing in 1915, they were also able to face any cruiser of the time thanks to no less than seven 7.5-inch (191 mm) Mark VI guns under masks, distributed along the axis, with two side ones Almost in the center, for a six guns broadside. This was still a far cry to the next evolution (eight 8 in guns) but the path was there. They rendered obsolete armoured and protected cruisers overnight by using fuel instead of coal and were much faster. A new generation of cruisers, that would serve actively in the interwar, but still appeared as “ancestors” in 1939.

Brassey’s naval annual 1923


There were significant differences between the ships at the end prior to ww2. However their uniform design included a radical armament of only heavy pieces and light dual-purpose ones for some (with TB in mind as well as aircraft). In detail, these were all to be equipped with seven 7.5-inch (191 mm) Mark VI guns in single mounts CP Mk.V, eight × QF 12-pounder (76 mm) 12 cwt Mk.II guns in single mounts P Mk.I, four QF 3-inch (76.2 mm) 20 cwt Mk.I guns on single mounts HA Mk.II and two submerged and four fixed surface 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes.
They reached 31 knots thanks to four geared steam turbines fed by eight Yarrow oil-fired boilers, which developed a total of 70,000 shp (52,000 kW) although Frobisher and Effingham had Brow-Curtis ones, the former being fitted with two coal-fired boilers (removed 1929) for a total of 60,000 shp (45,000 kW). All the ships but Effingham (see later) were rearmed at completion by three QF 4-inch (102 mm) Mk.V guns in single mounts HA Mk.III or four QF 3-inch 20 cwt Mk.I guns on single mounts HA Mk.II (Hawkins), four QF 3-inch 20 cwt Mk.I guns on single mounts HA Mk.II and two QF 2-pounder (40 mm) Mk.II guns on single mounts HA Mk.I.

Protection was modeled on previous classes, albeit thicker, up to 76 mm. This comprised a main belt up to 2.5 in (38–64 mm) forward
and 3 in (76 mm) amidships, 2.25–1.5 in (57–38 mm) aft, and for the upper belt 1.5 in (38 mm) forward, 2 in (51 mm) amidships. The Upper deck was protected by 1 to 1.5 in (25–38 mm) over the boilers and the main deck was protected by 1 to 1.5 in (25–38 mm) armour thickness over the engines and 1 in (25 mm) over the steering gear.
All 190 mm Gunshields were 2 in (51 mm) thick at the front, 1 in (25 mm) top and sides.

HMS Vindictive as completed as an hybrid aircraft carrier with a capacity for six reconnaissance aircraft. She was briefly armed with four 7.5 in guns and six 12-pounder guns but in 1923 was converted back as a cruiser, only retaining a forward hangar and instead of ‘B’ gun a crane and catapult were fitted. Fleet repair ship in 1940 she was damaged by an airborne “Dackel” torpedo off Normandy. Repaired she served as a destroyer depot ship (reserve 1945, BU 1946).

The interwar

HMS Raleigh was lost on an unclassified reef of the Labrador coast in 1922, and the Vindictive was transformed into an hybrid aircraft carrier and converted as a fast supply ship in 1935. The other five ships were modernized in 1936-38, but it was planned to disarm them, but that was suspended when international tension grew. Their underwater torpedo tubes were removed, their old 76 mm AA pieces were replaced by four 102 mm quick-firing guns and ten 40 mm Bofors in quadruple and single mounts plus nine single 20-mm Oerlikon pieces.

They received even more AA guns during the war, plus were equipped with a type 273 centimeter radar, a 286 type aerial surveillance radar antenna, and a 275 electronic fire control systems. The Frobisher additionally received two types 282 For its Bofors mounts. The latter was also freed from her side 190 mm guns in favor of additional 102 mm guns in twin turrets. Their combined heaters went to oil only and their boilers were replaced by more modern models. Most of these ships has been used for escorting convoys. Effingham, for her part, was rebuilt in 1937: Her engine was modernized, chimneys truncated into a single one, artillery replaced by only 152 mm quick firing pieces under masks, three of which were superimposed on stepped gangways. In this configuration she was a bit in a way the prototype of the future “Dido” AA cruisers.

HMS Hawkins in the interwar

HMS Effingham

The Effingham was lost early in the war, in 1940, on a reef in Norway. But before that she had transported two million pounds of gold from the Bank of England to Nova Scotia, chased German raiders into the Atlantic, and then participated in the Norwegian campaign. Torpedoed by the U38, she survived, was repaired in record time and returned to operations, fighting in particular in Narvik. It was there that she met her destiny. For the anecdote, the map operator drawn a course so thick that it masked a reef off Navik’s passes. She struck this reef in right when racing in the middle of the night, opening an immense breach in her flanks which caused a rapid sinking. Fortunately, most of her crew escaped and swam back to shore. She was then achieved by friendly gunfire to prevent capture and reduced to the state of smoking wreck four days later.

HMS Effingham as rebuilt in 1938

HMS Frobisher

During her peacetime career, Frobisher served in India, the Atlantic and China. She had been disarmed in 1930, and served as a schoolship but was eventually modernized and rearmed between 1940 and 1942. She was sent rapidly to the Far East where the situation deteriorated and fought against the Japanese until his return in late 1943. She served as an escort in the Atlantic and provided fire support in Normandy in June 1944, covering Sword beach. She was torpedoed by night by an unidentified S-Boote in August 1944, repaired and finally partially disarmed to serve as a school ship again, a role she held until set aside, unlisted, sold and broken up in 1949.

HMS Frobisher in the Firth of Forth, 1945

HMS Hawkins

The Hawkins served in The southern Atlantic, based in the Falklands, to intercept potential German corsairs trying to pass Cape Horn. She was then sent to the Indian Ocean, where she carried out a raid on Mogadishu against Italian shipping, capturing a cargo ship. After an overhaul lasting until 1942, she was sent to the Far East to assist the Frobisher against the Japanese. Then she returned in time to participate in D-Day operations at Utah Beach. Afterwards she was broken up after the war in 1949.

HMS Hawkins in 1944

Hawkins specifications

Dimensions 184oa x18 x5.26 m (605 x58 x17 ft)
Displacement 9,750 tons Standard, 12,190 tons FL
Crew 712 or 750 as flagship
Propulsion 4 shafts and Parsons geared steam turbines, 10 Yarrow boilers, 70,000 hp
Speed 31 knots (57 km/h)
Range 5400 @14 knots (10,000 km)
Armament 7x 190mm, 3x 102 mm, 8x 76mm DP, 2 Bofors 40mm AA, 6 TT 533mm
Armor Belt 38-64 mm (1.5-2.5 in), decks & bulkheads 38-51 mm (2 in).

Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1922-1947


Frobisher in June 1944 off Normandy (author’s illustration).

HMS Raleigh at Pier D, Vancouver (prow)

HMS Raleigh at Pier D, Vancouver (side)

Raleigh sunk at Point Harbour, 1922.

French WW1 Battlecruisers

Paper projects (1913)

French what-if battlecruisers

A bit provocative in its title, this article is dedicated to French prewar battlecruisers paper projects, proposed by officers Durant-Viel and P.Gille.

These were part of the ambitious 1912 naval plan that get rid off the noxious Jeune Ecole school of thought, to concentrate on modern homogeneous classes of ships inspired by foreign navies like the Royal Navy and Hochseeflotte.

The 1912 plan was established by Admiral Boué de Lapeyrière, then minister of Marine, and included 28 battleships, 10 scout cruisers, 52 large destroyers, 94 submarines and a dozen colonial gunboats to be completed in 1920. Now this plan mentioned “battleships” and “scout cruisers” but nothing in between, although the battlecruiser concept was known since the Royal Navy introduced the Invincible class in 1909. That’s why the plan was revised in 1914 to comprise eight grands éclaireurs d’escadre which loosely translates as “large squadron scouts”. These were battlecruiser by all but name, and were planned by two officers, Pierre Gille and Durant-Viel which proposed three designs, respectively. The final versions were inspired by the Queen Elisabeth class and were more akin fast battleships than battlecruisers. Whatever the case, the war ensured these projects stayed on paper, although the budget rose from 333 million francs to 567 in 1913.

French planned battleships

France was much more advanced in dreadnoughts, in fact two classes had been planned, and the first was already on construction when he war broke out: This was the Normandie class battleships, of which only the Béarn, laid down in January 1914 and only launched after modifications in 1920, was eventually completed as an aircraft carrier due to the Washington treaty limitations. The four others, Flandre, Gacoigne, Languedoc and Normandie, has been launched in October 1914 to may 1916, but were broken up after the war.

More impressive were the Lyon class battleships which added a quadruple turret (four total) to the design and reached a 30,000 tons weight. They made in numbers and quick-firing what lacked in caliber (340 mm versus 380 to 406 mm at that stage) with a full broadside of 16 guns per ship. None of the Duquesne, Lyon, Lille and Tourville designed by M.Doyere had been laid down when the war broke out, although they had been planned to be started in late 1914 by Brest, la Seyne, St nazaire and Lorient yards. We can only dream how these could have fared in ww1, or ww2 if properly modernized like the Regia Marina did with their Cavour and Caesar class dreadnoughts.

Gille’s battlecruisers

The requirements specified by the Ministry of Marine was of a 28,000 tonnes, 27 knots, eight-340 mm armed class of ship. This led to three designs, and one by Gille, which was submitted in 1913.

Gille’s design was called “cuirassé-croiseur” instead of the reverse “croiseur cuirassé”, the usual denomination for armoured cruisers, now obsolete. This could only means the design were intended more like fast battleships like the Queen Elisabeth class, but with a somewhat lighter armour, 270 mm for the main belt here (10 in). The preliminary designs of 1912 planned ships armed with eight 340 mm total, whereas Gille’s design paralleled the new Normandie class battleships with quadruple turrets. This made for a total of 12 guns, in three turrets, the same caliber ensuring lower ammunition and maintenance costs. These 13.4 in, 15 calibers model 1912 were relatively fast-firing (2 rounds per minute), and made for numbers what they lacked in shell weight. Quadruple turret management however, if procuring advantages like a reduction and concentration of armour, was risky if it was hit. It also could be problematic in terms of dispersion.

Gilles type
Rendition (src: Rengokuy) of the Gilles type.

The hull was built as a model, and extensively tested in a pool during the design process so engineers were very confident the hull lines of the ships were to be highly efficient. However the main battery turrets being quite heavy, this impose the whole range of modifications to enhance the hull’s solidity, with heavy duty longitudinal beams and bracing, and strengthened inner and outer skins of the hull. Metacentric height was calculated as 1.03 m (same as the Lion class). The steam direct-drive turbines developed 80,000 shaft horsepower (60,000 kW), fed by 52 coil-fired Belleville boilers. In 1912 there was no prospect of using oil-fired ones yet. Each shaft was connected by a high, medium and low pressure turbine. The direct drive turbine was used for the reverse. The 340mm/45 Modèle 1912 guns were the same already made by Schneider-Creusot for the Bretagne and future Normandie class.

The arrangement was identical to the latter, with a single forward turret installed on a secondary battery superstructure, while the two aft were arranged in a superfiring position. In any case this would have given a formidable broadside of 12x 240 mm guns, four in chase and eight in retreat. This caliber for these pieces using separate charges and shell was proper to the French Navy. It was more or less equivalent to the British 343 mm developed at that stage and were find light enough to be distributed in quadruple turrets. (WW2 King Georges class which also had two quadruple turrets would use a not-so-far 360 mm caliber rather than the very heavy 381 mm). The many cancellations that followed found these spare guns converted as railway guns, and later whole turrets were used for coastal defence.

Gille’s design specifications

Dimensions 205 x 27 x 9 m (672 x 88 x 30ft)
Displacement 28,247 t. – 30,000 t FL
Crew 41+1258
Propulsion 4 propellers, 4 shaft-geared turbines, 52 coil-fired boilers, 80,000 hp.
Speed 28 knots. max. (52 km/h; 32 mph)
Range 6,300 nmi (11,700 km; 7,200 mi) @15 knots
Armament 12× 340mm/45 M1912, 24× 138.6mm M1910, 6 TTs 457 mm
Armor Belt 270, turrets 270, blockhaus 250?, barbettes 250? mm, Decks 80? mm

Durand-Viel’s battlecruisers

In 1913, some Naval College students submitted several cheaper fast capital ships with 27,500 tons in displacement to the admiralty. Lt. Durant-Viel was the only one designing a battlecruiser. He drew two designs that were studied by the Admiralty in June 1914. Durant-Viel saw his ships forming a fast division, able like a cavalry to encircle and pummel slower capital ships.

Durant-Viel type A
Durant-Viel’s type A internal arrangement scheme

Durand-Viel’s A type battlecruiser

“A” design displaced 27,500 t (27,100 long tons; 30,300 short tons) and was 210 m long for 27m wide. Thy should have been propelled to 27 knots thanks to four sets of direct drive turbines and 74,000 shaft horsepower, fed by a set of 22 mixed boilers. Normal range would have been 3500 nm, and there has been enough fuel for six hours of combat speeds. Armament relied, as above, on the trusted 340mm/45 Modèle 1912 naval gun, but also in a quad-configuration. However compared to the “heavy” Gilles design, they only had two turrets, like the future Dunkirk class, but for and aft. Secondary armament relied on the local 138.6 mm Modèle 1910 guns mounted in casemates. The forward turret, like the Normandie, was mounted on the forward casemates superstructures. It is established these smaller caliber (compared to the mainstream 152 mm/6 in) had less punch but were faster-firing.

Such large number to bear and this rate of fire were thought enough and better suited to deal with torpedo boats, while the 6-in was generally seen fit to engage larger ships altogether. As customary also the design incorporates four submerged TTs for close and personal duels. The entire protection was copied from the Normandie, but slightly thinner. The belt was 280 mm thick, as compared to HMS Lion’s 229 mm as an example.
So in general philosophy these ships would have been a bit like German battlecruisers, a bit slower (HMS Lion 27.5 knots), slightly less heavily armed (340 rather than 343 mm guns, same for secondary), but better protected. A formidable counterpart for the future Normandie and Lyon anyway.

Possible reconstitution of the Type A if modernized in the 1930s.

Durand-Viel A design specifications

Dimensions 210 x 27 x 9 m (689 x 88 x 28ft)
Displacement 27,500 t. – 29,000 t FL
Crew 1299
Propulsion 4 propellers, 4 shaft-geared turbines, 24 mixed boilers, 74,000 hp.
Speed 27 knots. max. (50 km/h; 31 mph)
Range 3,500 NM (6,500 km; 4,000 mi) @15 knots
Armament 8× 340mm/45 M1912, 24× 138.6mm M1910, 4× 450mm (18 in) TTs
Armor Belt 270, turrets 270?, blockhaus 250?, barbettes 240? mm, Decks 80? mm

Durand-Viel’s B type battlecruiser

Photomanipulation showing the Type B as she could have been in 1940.

The “B” was designed a bit as a counterpart for the projected Lyon class battleships. The main difference was a much heavier broadside with brand new 370 mm guns (nearing the projected British 381 mm adopted by the Renown from 1916). As the same displacement was kept, compensation was obtained by a reduction in the armor protection (secondary guns) and increased power. This would have consisted either of four sets of direct drive turbines (63,000 hp) or steam-geared turbines (80,000 hp), with a corresponding top speed either of 26 or 27 knots. The new guns would have fired 880 kg (1,940 lb) shells able to penetrate 300 mm (12 in) of armour at 12,700 m. The secondary battery was increased of 4 guns, for 28 total. Armour scheme was identical to the “A” design but the hull was shorter by two meters. With such armour, secondary armament (even lighter) and heavy battery no doubt these ships would have been formidable opponents for any navy of the day.

Durand-Viel B design specifications

Dimensions 208 x 27 x 9 m (682 x 88 x 28ft)
Displacement 27,500 t. – 29,000 t FL
Crew 1299
Propulsion 4 propellers, 4 shaft-geared turbines, 18 mixed boilers, 63,000 hp.
Speed 27 knots. max. (50 km/h; 31 mph)
Range 3,500 NM (6,500 km; 4,000 mi) @15 knots
Armament 8× 370mm, 28× 138.6mm M1910, 4× 450mm (18 in) TTs
Armor Belt 260?, turrets 250?, blockhaus 240?, barbettes 230? mm, Decks 70? mm

The fact is the war erupted, and in August 1914 France seeing her territory invaded had no choice but commit all manpower available to counter the onslaught. As a consequence shipyards were soon emptied and constructions halted. If that was not been the case, the Normandie would have emerged in late 1915, early 1916, the Lyon in 1917, mirroring the Battlecruisers. With such ships and former dreadnoughts of the Courbet and Bretagne, France in 1917 would have committed a modern battle fleet comparable to the Hochseeflotte rather than a collection of prototypes inherited from the “young school adventure”. We can only guess also if these ships would have been still in service at the start of ww2.

Links/sources – About the French 340 mm guns
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War I.
Le Masson, Henri (1985). “Some French Fast Battleships That Might Have Been”
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

Lake Tanganyika’s naval battles

Lake Tanganyika
Reichsmarine vs Royal Navy

Probably the strangest naval battle of ww1

Lake Tanganyika was one of the largest watery surface in Africa, as much as deep and of dynamic hydrography. Fed by several rivers this largest African Great Lake could only be compared to the American great lakes. It was a production of the Albertine Rift, western part of the East African Rift. This was the second oldest freshwater lake in the world, and the second largest by volume, plus second deepest, and the scene of probably the strangest naval battle of ww1, preceded by an epic British expedition from South Africa and through Congo.

German East Africa map in 1913

For the control of East Africa

On the strategic level, it ensured control for the Royal Navy of this very large coastal area, bordering Belgian Congo (West) and German East Africa. The Germans confidently had three ships without rivals in the whole lake, including two gunboats and a converted freighter, as an auxiliary cruiser, under the orders of Graf (Count) Goetzen. Against all odds, an eccentric London RN staff pushpaper, Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson conveyed three dismantled crafts by rail, road and river to Albertville and mounted a surprise attack, leading to two battles seeing the end of the African dreams of Wilhelm II.

German Company of Askaris

German presence and strategic assets

Gustav Adolf Graf von Götzen, former governor of German East Africa, set up a network of bases and a fleet of three ships, armed, to control the lake, meaning being able to land forces at any point of the bordering countries for reinforcement, flanking and rear actions, in no time compared to land moves. This was a most crucial strategic asset for the domination of East Africa. Deutsch-Ostafrika was colonized from 1885 onwards, eventually culminating with a grab of 384,180 square miles (995,000 km2), areas now represented as Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. A seven and a half million was governed by just 5,300 Europeans, which can pick at will in just such large manpower to develop the colonies and raise armies. Protection laid in the hands of a small 260 men Schutztruppe, assisted by more than 2650 Africans and 2700 Landsturm, reservist settlers, a bit like the antiquity’s Kleruch.

Objectives in 1914 were highlighted by the press in a popular concept of MittleAfrika which mirrored the alliance between Central powers in Europe and consisted in invading Belgian Congo, by then one of the largest colonial landmass worldwide (See German claims map, 1917). This would allow to link German colonies in the East with those South-West and west. However the German colonial Army here suffered from the same limitations than opposite forces: Troops were merely seen as an occupation force with police duties, and although well-trained, infantry was only given second-grade armaments fit for repressing indigenous insurgency: Old, black-powder Model 1871 rifle, and a few also old field guns drawn from reserves scratched to the bottom. Moreover these forces were largely spread along many outposts throughout the territory, with poor communication lines, and certainly not capable of mounting a quick offensive in force.

German claims in Africa, 1917

Gradually, objectives for newly-arrived Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck in 1911-1912, were to pin down as many allied troops as possible, preventing them to join the fight in Europe. First objective was to threaten the British vital Uganda Railway, thus drawing a British invasion force in East Africa where he can play a defensive war, and even fight a guerrilla campaign. For the Belgian Congo led by Jules Renkin, German nearby presence was also conceived as a threat, but also as an opportunity to expand controlled territories, possibly traded with the Portuguese. A victory there would be also a strong propaganda asset in Belgium, to avenge the 1914 invasion. Soon enough the Germans would take control of the Tanganiyka, and the control of the seas would triggered a naval battle.

Graf Von Goëtzen, in construction, in harbour, and blueprint. She will soon receive a very potent 105 mm QF gun from SMS Königsberg.

African Naval Battle: Rufiji Delta

Although this is a subject for another post, here are the events that saw SMS Königsberg, originally in the Indian Ocean was soon in action at the Battle of Zanzibar, sinking the old protected cruiser HMS Pegasus, and retiring soon after into the Rufiji River delta. The British Cape Squadron soon enclosed it in a blocus perimeter. The squadron was lead by an old pre-dreadnought HMS Goliath two shallow-draught monitors (former Brazilian ordered ships) and the whole affair was quickly wrapped up on 11 July 1915. Guns of the Pegasus (“Peggy guns”) were salvaged for further operations, while the crew of Königsberg did the same with the 4.1 in (100 mm) guns, quickly carried out by Schutztruppe for other operations and widely used until the end of hostilities.

German raids on the west coast

Lake Tanganyika was this giant highway for German troops right on the Congo border, laying ostensibly on the map as a contention point in all reunion of the general staff over the African theater. To escort and carry troops the Germans soon armed a fleet of three steamers and two unarmed motor boats. One of these armed steamers, the 60 t Hedwig von Wissman was given four pom-pom guns and the 45 t Kingani. First, the Wissman raided the port of Lukuga on 22 August, damaging the sole Belgian armed steamer Alexandre Delcommune. She was sunk after another raid. In November 1914, this time, British African Lakes Corporation’s steamer Cecil Rhodes was also sunk. Following this the Germans launched another raid on northern Rhodesia, which was repelled, but it was followed by other raids on British possessions and the bombardments of Lukuga. The Belgians had indeed at least two armoured shore batteries at Lukunga (they still exist today) obtained from British 12-pounder guns, armed barges and other minor crafts. The fear of these German raids was such that the Belgian steamer Baron Dhanis, stored in parts on its berth and certainly larger than the Kingani or Wissman was never assembled. The Aforementioned 12-pounder guns were given by the British to the Belgians to arm this ship.

Belgian floatplanes on the lake

British preparations

Meanwhile in London in April 1915, John R. Lee met Sir Henry Jackson at the Admiralty to discuss options. He was a veteran of the Second Boer War and knew the Germans ships and locations on the Tanganyika. Intelligence bring them the prospect of seeing this time a ship big enough to carry troops in addition to an even superior firepower: The KMS Graf von Götzen was about to be launched in the fortified port of Kigoma. Previously she was built in parts at Meyer shipyard at Papenburg, disassembled and conveyed by rail in 5000 crates from Dar-es-Salaam to Kigoma to be assembled in secret. This was a 67 m ship long (220 ft), 1,575 tons dwarving any other vessel on the lake. In response, Lee devise a plan to carry there three motor gunboats that would outrun and outmaneuver the larger German ships. Moreover they had to carry a 6,400 m (7,000 yd) range guns that would just allow them to pummel the German Ships while staying out of harm. The advantage of a small ship also was to avoid them to be carried in parts and assembled, keeping the surprise and avoiding any German attack preventing their launch. The bold plan was approved, and given to Jackson’s junior Admiral David Gamble, while Lee gave the details to his subordinate, Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson.

Belgian shore artillery, as of today.

About Geoffrey Spicer-Simson

Geoffrey Spicer-Simson was once described by Giles Folden as “a man court-martialled for wrecking his own ships, an inveterate liar and a wearer of skirts.“. He was unlikely to be given any command as being unable to pass this rank because of his repeated blunders and behaviour. He was very much put in the closet by the Admiralty, supervising the transfer of merchant seamen into the navy. However he was not devoid or resources, if not unconventional. In 1905 he indeed imagine that two destroyers would hold a steel cable between them to cut the periscopes or catch German submarines. In August 1914, his ship HMS Niger was torpedoed and sunk at Ramsgate while he was entertaining his guest on the shore. He was given by default (by the lack of officers) the command of a small ship to patrol the Gambia river. He was given this mission eventually and prepared to assemble a team of 27 men, plus the requisition of two motor boats previously built by Thornycroft for the Greek Government. When in Africa, Simson still went on with his eccentricities, wearing at all time a tiny skirt, and after his December victory, performing some sort of ritual bath twice a week in front of the locals that quickly saw in him a natural leader and went to revere him. Heavily tattooed, he was soon named “lord of the loincloth”.

Geoffrey spicer-Simson

Simson’s preparations

The small motorboats were 40-foot-long (12 m), and were small enough to be carried by rail. They would have been named cat and dog but this was rejected by the Navy, but Simson then (as a test joke?) submitted Mimi and Toutou, which was accepted (these were popular surnames, even familiar bynames in French for cats and dogs). While crews from the Royal Naval Reserve were assembled, Simson started to modify the ships: They were given a Maxim guns and a 3-pounder Hotchkiss gun, and were tested on the Thames. Extra steel linings were also fitted to protect the petrol tanks. In june, trials went on, with fire training on fixed targets at speed. This showed the guns recoil was such they needed to be solidly bolted. When all was ready, both ships were loaded in SS Llanstephen Castle as well as everything that was to be carried by rail, properly packed in crates. This included special trailers designed to carry the ships by rail.

Belgian steamer Baron Dhanis

The expedition (June-October 1915)

At the same time the British freighter departed on June 15, British Intelligence has confirmed that previously on 8 June, German Graf von Götzen was launched and prepared for trials. During the trip through the Atlantic, towards South Africa (10,000 nautical miles or 16,000 km, 17 days at sea), Simson tried to prepare the land expedition, a 4,800 km (3,000 mi) trip inland, including deep jungle, waterfalls, hostile bugs and predators, and a 1,800 m mountain range. From the Cape, all was stored on a train bound to Elisabethville, reach on 26 July. From there, all had to be discharged and placed in a convoy of carts pulled by teams of oxen and steam tractors, for a bush trip 235 km (146 mi) long to the newt railway from Sankisia to Bukama. Then at Bukama, the whole materiel and ships had to be unloaded and again placed on carts to be carried voyage down the Lualaba River. The trip on this one was again an adventurous affair, the ships and barges running aground several times, then were loaded on a Belgian river steamer on Lake Kisale and ended they voyage at Kabalo on 22 October. From there, again, the whole convoy had to be loaded on rail, to reach the outskirts of the Belgian port of Lukuga. Upon arrival, an exhausted Simson had to confer with Belgian local Commandant Stinghlamber, and naval commander Goor.

First operations

Paradoxically, the German’s position on the lake has been just considerably strengthened again with the delivery of salvaged guns from KMS Konigsberg, recently sunk at the battle of Zanzibar. These 10.5 cm SK L/40 naval guns could be manned as the rest of the crews were drawn from the merchant fleet of the Deutsche Ost-Afrika Linie. One of these Schnelladekanone or QF guns was mounted on the Graf Goetzen, an unrivalled firepower, not match by the British 3-dpr at that stage.

German crew loading a 10.5 cm QF gun from Königsberg mounted on the Goetzen.

Meanwhile, the British made preparations to operate the Mimi and Toutou. The Belgians, led by Goor, can only muster an unnamed two guns-barge of the “Dix-Tonne” type, Netta, a motor boat, and a whaler fitted with an outboard motor. Real firepower came from the shore batteries. Goor nevertheless hoped to have the Baron Dhanis in commission soon, and plan to recover and repair the Alexandre Delcommune as soon as possible. But their major asset was a pair of recently arrived and mounted floatplanes, which can be used both for observation and strafing. The Germans do not have any significant AA at that time.

HMS Fifi, ex-Kingani

Seeking to know the work advancement level on the Baron Dhanis, a potential threat for the Götzen if she was caught in port off guard, German commander Zimmer ordered the Kingani (cdr. Rosenthal) to sail for a recoignition of Lukunga. Rosenthal arrived and saw the new harbour at Kalemie where the British motor boats were just been prepared. She returned on 1st December, but was this time spotted and rebuffed by the Belgian’s shore batteries. Undaunted, Rosenthal came back at night, going as far as swimming himself to see the Belgian slipways close and personal, then ventured inland to observe Spicer-Simson’s camp. Not able to find back the Kingani while in the dark, he was caught at dawn by a Belgian sentinel and made prisoner. He however would be able to send a message to Zimmer written in urine via a contact, not reaching him however for monthes. Meanwhile the British struck.

Simson on board the Netta.

Mimi and Toutou beats the Kingani

Both ships were ready and launched on 22 and 23 of December. The 24, they had been fitted with their planned armament and fuelled, made brief trials. However on 26 December, while Simpson was conducting a religious office (following Christmas), Kingani, now led by Sub-Lieutenant Junge was spotted on its way to Kalemie. He was found himself chased by Mimi and Toutou quickly out of the harbour, and ordered to increase speed. But he was doomed from then on. Kingani’s unique six-pounder gun was forward-firing. The two motorboats soon catch her, both wings, pummeling her with their three-pounder guns while staying our of reach. After 11 minutes, Kingani’s main gun was badly hit, and Junge and two petty officers, Penne and Schwarz killed. Eventually its engine was hit too, and eventually the surviving chief engineer hauled down the colors and surrendered. Captured, the ship was towed back to Lukunga, repaired and renamed Fifi, a fitting common dog’s (Parisian caniche) name, although it could also had been also suggested by the wife of a Belgian officer that had a caged bird. By doing so, the Fifi was given the extra 12-dpr left ashore, fitted at the bow.

Simson after Kingani’s capture

Hedwig von Wissmann’s turn.

While Spicer-Simson was promoted to commander, receiving the admiralty and Colonial Office congratulations, the Germans could not investigate the disappearance of their ship. Both sides left the bad season pass, and only in mid-January, the Germans sent the larger Hedwig von Wissmann in recognition. Meanwhile, working at frantic pace, the Belgians were able to repair the Alexandre DelCommune, renamed vengeur (“Avenger”). Hedwig’s commander Odebrecht staying ahead of the Belgian defences had nothing worthy of a report, ordered back to Lukuga on 8 February, for a Rendezvous with Zimmer’s Götzen. She was spotted en route off Lukunga the following day, and a combined Anglo-Belgian flotilla left (without Toutou, under repairs) to intercept her. Odebrecht spotted the flotilla back and continued toward the shore, then making sharp turn to port at 09:30 perhaps to lure the flotilla towards the approaching Götzen. Fifi opened fire first but was left behind by the force of the recoil. Mimi then overpassed her, but still, she was able to catch the German ships, firing with her lighter 3-pdr until Odebrecht, having a short range stern weapon was obliged to engage in a turn to use her bow gun. Both ships engaged in a spiralling duel. Eventually Fifi’s gun jammed and was unable to fire at the German ship, that turned again and headed to the Götzen. Fifi however successfully get rid of the jamming, fired and hit Hedwig’s hull and damaged her engines, starting a fire. The situation was so bad that Odebrecht ordered to abandon ship and place scuttling charges. The crew was captured and the ship sank. For the anecdote, the ship’s German naval ensign was the first captured in WW1.

Short S327 Floatplane

Götzen fate and the end of German’s African adventure.

The flotilla returned back home when the following day, Götzen appeared offshore. However Spicer-Simson forbade an attack, pereffering to search for a ship worthy of a duel, and eventually spotted the St George on Stanleyville’s lake, which he had dismantled, carried to Lake Tanganyika and reassembled there, delaying any action to May 1916. Menawhile, a Belgian force managed to capture Kigoma and a British one secured a path toward Bismarckburg. Eventually the flotilla now counting Mimi, Toutou, Fifi and Vengeur arrived off Bismarckburg on 5 June. However the latter having a fort, Spicer-Simson decided to retire to Kituta. Simson would learn afterwards that the guns were in fact dummies, and the Germans managed to escape with a fleet of Dhows. Soon the Belgians received four British Short Type 827 floatplanes and were able to flew reconnaissance missions over the lake. Meanwhile Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck ordered Zimmer to disarm his ship for the profit of the army, receiving dummies instead. When the Belgians captured Kigoma, the Götzen was driven south of Kigoma Bay to be scuttled on 26 July by a depth of 20 m. Therefore by mid-1916, control of the lake was assured. This would not prevent the war to drag on in East Africa for two more years, Von Lettow-Vorbeck despite having smaller forces maintaining all along a masterfully executed guerilla war, pinning down as expected allied forces far from the home front. But the way the lake was secured remains a story too colorful to ignore.

Hedwig Von Wissman


Video- Documentary about the events

Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Boats

Austria-Hungary (1875-1916)

Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Boats: The torpedo invention

Austro-Hungary almost invented the torpedo: An unknown Austro-Hungarian Officer designed in the middle of the XIXth century a small boat carrying a large charge of explosives. It was remotely steered by cable and propelled by a powerful steam or an air engine in order to reach its target as fast as possible before being spotted and hit. Croatian officer Giovanni Biagio Luppis Ritter von Rammer obtained his papers and began perfecting his ideas. He devised a new floating device controlled from land, and exploding on impact. Unfortunately his one metre long, glass wings prototype steered by ropes failed miserably. His second device had a clock mechanism propeller and an explosive at the stern triggered by a pistol-like control plus cables for steering. This “Salvacoste” worked and was shown to the Emperor. However the naval commission rejected it as not precise and fast enough for operations. In 1860 Lupis retired from the navy and in 1864 he was introduced to British Engineer Robert Whitehead. The latter managed at that time the ‘Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano’ and took the idea further. He redesigned the device, renamed Minenschiff, demonstrated on 21 December 1866 with success to the naval commission which accepted it. This 355 mm, 3.35m long torpedo was the first operational ever.

Robert Whitehead inspecting damage after first trials of the 1875 torpedo.

So it should seems legitimate that the Austro-Hungarian Navy would be the first to operate ships tailored to use it. But at that stage, propulsion for small crafts was in its infancy, and torpedoes were carried by large ships, cruisers and capital ships, or more often than not, operated from land. Whitehead in the 1870s created a new company and renegotiated the copyrights to control the sells of torpedoes, an instant success with all Navies of the age. The first torpedo station was American, the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island. The first “kill” by torpedo occurred in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. This was compounded later by naval actions such as the 1891 Chilean Civil War, the 1894 Revolta da Armada and 1895 Sino-Japanese War. The first modern torpedo boats appeared in UK, a mixing of this new weapon and the turbine-driven 1897 Parson’s Turbinia. They eclipsed previous spare-torpedo vessels and VTE-propelled boats and announced the coming of age of the destroyer.

Development of Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Boats, 1875-1914

As underlined above, Torpedo Boats development practically started in Austria-Hungary, the first listed boat being commissioned as far back as 1875. What were called the I and II, prototypes. Immediately following were the III/IV all for testings, retired well before the war. The real first “serie” started in 1880, the III class and the IIa and IIb classes built either at Pola or Yarrow. They were followed by the 1884-89 I class (24 boats), IIc class (1886-88, 7 boats) and IId class (6, 1891) and the larger (120-200 tons) semi-experimental “animals” serie of 7 ships. The last one, Kaiman, was built in 1905 at Yarrow, London and was the real first ocean-going TB type ever delivered to any navy. She was followed by a serie of 24 ships until 1909, then the pre-war (1913) TB74T, wartime TB82F, TB98M, before reverting to a new coastal type, with the TBI and TBVII series.

Ships of the Tb 82 and 74 F Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Boats classes

Early series: I-IV (1875-79)

These were not however the very first torpedo boats operational in any navy. The Royal Navy indeed launched the experimental HMS Vesuvius in 1873. However the first “modern TB” was perhaps the HMS lighting in 1876, designed by John Thornycroft, which had a powerful Two-cylinder compound steam engine, giving 460 hp (340 kW)for 18.5 kn (34.3 km/h). The Austro-Hungarian boats were just in-between:
-The I (launched 19/06/1875) was built by the same designer. A 7.5 tons (10 fully loaded), 20.7 x2.61 x1.23 vessel rated for 185 hp (18 knots). She was not seagoing by any means and was even unarmed. She ended her career as a patrol boat in 1893 on the Danube.
-The II (launched 21/05/1878) was a larger 28.4 tons, 26.5 x 3.5 x 1.55m boat rated for 300 hp and capable of 18.2 knots, armed with two TTs on the bow and served by a crew of 10. She was sold in 1905.
-The III and IV were sister Yarrow prototypes, launched in September 1879. She was a 27 tons, 26.4 x 3.3 x 1.5m boat propelled by a 430 HP engine which gave 17.5 knots and carrying 2 TT on the bow. Also both sold in 1905.

SMS 15 Boa, Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Boat

SMS Natter coastal torpedo boat
SMS Natter coastal torpedo boat (cdts navypedia)

III class (1880)

These six coastal TBs were built in two groups: The first group of four were all built locally, at Pola NYd. They were launched between Dec. 1880 and Feb. 1881, 27.7 tons, 27.7 x 3.3 x 1.35m with the same engine power but better speed at 18.3 knots, carrying also two bow TTs and served by a 10-strong crew.
The second serie comprised two “leader” boats (IX-X) built at Yarrow on a much larger design, 37 tons light, 42 fully loaded. They were 31.2 x 3.69 x 1.60 m long, carrying also two bow TTs but in addition one 37 mm QF gun either Nordenflet or Hotchkiss. She was serbed by a crew of 20 and with a 500 hp engine, was capable of 18 knots.

SMS XXXIV 1889 (cdts navypedia)

SMS XXXIII 1887 Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Boat (cdts navypedia)

V class Torpedo Boats
V class Torpedo Boats (cdts navypedia)

IIB class (1883-86)

The first large homogeneous serie of 16 Torpedo Boats, all built at Pola NYd, launched between 30/08/1883 and 07/01/1886. These were still coastal at 47 tons light, 55 fully loaded, propelled by a 600 hp engine (VTE ?) capable of 18 to 19 knots and carrying the same armament as described above on the Yarrow boats that served like prototypes. All were sold between 1904 and 1909, three reconverted in targets or transports.

SMS Adler, model kit, by Thomas Simpson:

I class or “Adler class” (1884-89)

These 24 Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Boats were from three different groups.
-The Adler (Adler, Falke) were built at Yarrow, launched in Dec. 1884. They were much larger than previous ships at 95 tons light, 100 FL, 41.2 x 4.2 x 1.7 m in size, carrying as always two bow TTs but this time also two 37 mm QF guns. They were served by a crew of 22 and were given a large powerplant able to deliver a whooping 1300 hp, for 22 knots of top speed. Probably the best of their class at that time in the whole Mediterranean.

Sperber, 1/730 scale

-The Sperber, 1st class TBs, were slightly smaller, and for the first time experimentally ordered at Schichau, Elbing in Germany to keep pace with the state of technological advances there. The Sperber were 78 tons/93 tons FL 39.9 x 4.8 x 1.9m boats, propelled by 970 hp to 18.5 knots and armed the same way as above.

Rabe, 1/730 scale

-The Kuruk class was an homogeneous 1st class Torpedo Boats type ordered in three yards on Admiralty specifications and therefore identical at least on paper. These were twenty boats from Schichau (5), Pola (9) and Stabilimento Tecnico Trieste, John Thornycroft’s own company (6). They were launched between 1887 and 1889, all 78/88 tons FL, same specs as the previous Sperber, but with 1000 hp for 19 knots. Also armament configuration was different, with a fixed bow and an orientable deck TTs, and still two 37 mm QF guns. The crew was unchanged, still 16 officers and sailors.
Their fate varied a lot. The two Sperber had their boilers removed in 1905 and replaced by Yarrow modern oil burner ones. They served in WW1 and ended as war reparations to Italy. For the Kuruk serie, they all also participated in WW1 being given after the war either to italy or Yougoslavia. SMS Rabe received in 1896 brand new watertube boilers which altered her silhouette to two funnels (all others had one).

IIC class (1883-86)

-The first group (XXVII-XXXII) was built at Pola NYd between June 1886 and January 1888. These were smaller ships back to 47/55 tons, with a 600 hp engine capabe of 18 knots and the same armament as above.
-A single ship was ordered at Pola and launched in November 1887, 36.4 x 4.5 x 1.9m in size and 66/70 tons. Powered by 700 hp it could only reach 17 knots. Armament two 37 mm instead of one. Fate: Scrapped or sold before 1909. XXX resold to Danubius and reconverted, XXXII sunk as target in 1910.

IID class (1889-91)

-One ship was built at Scichau, Elbing (XXXIV), launched in March 1889, the others five were all from Pola, all launched in January 1891 on the same specs: 64 tons, 36.9 x 4.8 x 1.9 m, 750 hp, 20.3 knots, 2 TTs (bow and deck) and two 37 mm QF guns. Fate: all sold 1912 to 1915 (XXXV).

Late sea-going Torpedo Boats (1896)

These were the first true sea-going types, all between 130 and 200 tons, with top speed above 24 knots.
-Schichau first delivered the Natter (launched Feb. 1896), 166 tons, 47.3 x 5.3 x 2.8 m, 2200 hp for 24 knots. The SMS Natter had a crew of 21 and was armed with two 47 mm QF guns and three TTs centerline on deck. Deactivated 1910, war reparations to Britain resold and crapped in Italy 1920.
-SMS Viper was ordered in Yarrow, launched in January 1896. 124 tons, 44.96 x 4.5 x 2.3 m, 1900 hp for 25 knots, crew 25, same armament as above. War reparation to France in 1920 and scrapped.
-Python group: 4 ships built at Yarrow, 132 tons, 46.5 x 4.7 x 2.3 m, 2000 hp and 24.5 knots, crew 21, same armament as above. War reparations to France and Britain in 1920. From 1910 all extant boats were renamed with numbers.

Large sea-going TBs: Kaiman class (1905)

1/400 illustration of the Kaiman class by the author

First built at Yarrow, she was the lead ship of a new “major serie” of sea-going TBs. She was 203 tons, 56x 5.4x 1.5 m, 3000 hp for 26.2 knots and armed this time with four 47 mm guns in addition to her three deck TTs. The Kaiman was a lead ship in 1905 of a brand new serie, she was named herself later TB50E (E for England). The following (Anaconda) was built at Trieste (STT) and therefore called Tb51T from November 1913. In all 23 ships were delivered, launched by STT and Danubius Fiume Yd under British assistance, plans and engineering.

69F of the Kaiman class (ex. SMS Polyp)

The four 47 mm guns were were 33 calibers. The three 450 mm (17.7 in) TTs were on the deck, one single at the rear, one port and starboard just after the raised bow turtleback and direction post. They had two funnels, close together. In 1915 they received a 8mm machine gun for AA defence. These successful ships were very active in ww1, survived the war despite collision and minings, and ended as war reparations to Britain and Yugoslavia. British boats were resold and scrapped in Italy.

Tb 51 T (ex-Alligator)
Tb 51 T (ex-Alligator) after being torpedoed by French submarine Papin. She was towed, repaired and back in service.

Tb-I coastal class (1909)

A class of six coastal TBs one of the three designs for a 110 tons model proposed by the Austrian Naval Technical Committee i 1905. These differed by their VTE engine or turbines arrangements. An oil-firing VTE model was preferred and chosen for blueprints in 1907, and compared to Krupp, Yarrow and Schichau designs. Danubius NYd being not able to deliver his share, only six were ordered at STT and Fiume. All six were launched in 1909. One of the good surprise of their design was their seaworthiness by gale force winds. Their armament comprised two TTs, centerline, and two 47 mm/44 calibers, one at the rear before the aft Torpedo tube and the other on a raised platform on the prow turtleback.
Two funnels, 1 shaft, 3 cylinders VTE coupled to two watertube Yarrow boilers, producing 2500 hp to reach 28 knots.
166 tons, 44.2 x 4.3 x 1.2 m in size, crew 20. They all srerved well in WW1, for escort duties, patrols and ASW warfare, even minesweeping. All but one were given to Italy and scrapped. Tb3 was used briefly until 1925 as an Italian customs boat.

Tb-VII coastal class (1910)

Tb XI, of the Tb VII class, 1/200 illustration by the author

Six ships built at Danubius, Fiume, on the same specs as before. Launched between January and May 1910, only differing from the previous class by their searchlight platform location (after the forward turret), although internally, had different boiler systems, main and auxiliary machinery and lower top speed (100 hp less) due to White-Forster boilers. Guns were also a more modern mode, 47 mm of 47 calibers rather than 44. These were Hungarian-built for the sake of politics. They also had a heavy angle of heel at high speed when turning. All six survived the war only to be given to Italy, and scrapped, but Tb7 which served briefly as a customs boat. Tb 11 was the only ship suffering a mutiny, in 1917. Her crew crossed the Adriatic and surrendered to the Italians, commissioned as Francisco Raimondo and scrapped in 1925.

Tb-74 T class (1913)

These were eight sea-going TBs, larger than the Kaiman. They proceeded from a 1910 requirement for a 275 tons TB design capable of sustaining 30 knots for 10 hours, what needed to cross the Otranto canal for attacking at down and then returning full speed to Cattaro. At that stage indeed, the blockage of the Otranto strait by the Italians was a realistic scenario. After eliminating powerplants like diesel and turbo-electric the choice fell on the turbine design proposed by STT, which secured the order. The eight ships were launched between August 1913 and August 1914. These Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Boats therefore brand new when the war erupted. As being the first small ships fitted with turbines they encountered a stray teething problems for all their career, until the crews were used to manage these. For the sake of standardization their armament stayed the same as for the Kaiman class.

Tb-81T and Tb-76T

All these Torpedo Boats were very active during the war, and all survived, after making patrols, ASW missions, escort duties, minesweeping. Four were allocated to Romania (one saw service in ww2 and was still active by 1958), the other four were Yugoslavian and after 1941, Italian, Croatian after 1943, even German, TA48 lasting until 1945.

-Displacement: 262/267.3 tonnes -Dimensions: FL, 57.8 x 5.08 x 1.5m (190 x 18 x 5ft)
-Powerplant: 2 shafts, Parsons turbines, 2 Yarrow WT oil-fired boilers, 5000 hp, 28 knots.
-Armament: 2x 66 mm/30, 2x 450mm TTs centerline. In 1914, 1x 8mm MG added. 1917: 66mm on AA mounts.

Tb-82 F class (1914)

Tb 82F
1/400 Profile of the Tb 82F by the author
Although derived from the 1910 specs, these sixteen 244 tons ships were built at Danubius Yds facilities at Porto Re and Bergudi (now Kraljevika and Brgud). They had another set of turbines (less troublesome) and two funnels instead of one. To gain the order, the yard has to lower the tag price of 10%. They were launched from August 1914 to July 1916 and were commissioned between July 1915 and December 1916. Apart diverging specs from the two previous sea-going groups they were similarly armed, and can reach 28 knots thanks to ther Danubius turbines coupled with Yarrow boiler (watertube, oil-fired) that delivered 5000 hp. The major improvement was the adoption of double torpedo tube banks, so that any ship can fire a broadside of four engines at once, a dark prospect for any battleship.

All served actively and survived the war. They were afterwards given as war reparations to Romania (three), six were sold to Portugal, three to Greece, three to Yugoslavia and after 1941, Italy and Croatia. They all served in WW2 (fate seen in the future articles about these navies).

-Displacement: 244/267 tonnes -Dimensions: FL, 58.8 x 5.8 x 1.5m (192 x 19 x 5ft)
-Powerplant: 2 shafts, AEG-Curtis turbines, 2 Yarrow WT oil-fired boilers, 5000 hp, 28 knots.
-Armament: 2x 66 mm/30, 4x 450mm TTs centerline (2×2). In 1914, 1x 8mm MG added. 1917: 66mm on AA mounts.

Tb-98 M class (1914)

Profile of the Tb98T by the author

The last Austro-Hungarian torpedo-boats were also derived from the same 1910 design concept. They were the only one actually reaching the top speed projected, 29.5 knots regular (30 forced). All were built at Cantiere Navale Triestino, Montfalcone. They were the longest of the lot and the narrowest, which perhaps explained their speed, at the price of agility. Only three ships were built, Tb98M, 99M and 100M. They shared the same armament as the previous class, including the two twin TT banks, but received a 8mm Schwartzlose AA machine-gun or assimilated. This time, they tried Melms-Pfenninged turbines, but still relied on Yarrow boilers. All three were very active in WW1 and were sold to Greece in 1920. Under their new names, Kyzikos, Kidonai and Kios, they were scuttled at Salamis Yard in 1941 to prevent captured by the Germans, Kidonai being blown up by a German plane (most probably Stuka) the day after.

-Displacement: 250/265 tonnes FL -Dimensions: 60.4 x 5.6 x 1.5m (192 x 19 x 5ft)
-Powerplant: 2 shafts, Melms-Pfenninged turbines, 2 Yarrow WT oil-fired boilers, 5000 hp, 29.5 knots.
-Armament: 2x 66 mm/30, 4x 450mm TTs centerline (2×2), 1x 8mm MG.

Late Tb 98 M class
Late Tb 98 M class Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Boat at sea

Sources, links by Joseph Hinds
Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1860-1906 and 1906-1921

Indiana class battleships (1898)

USA (1893)
Indiana, Oregon, Massachusetts

The first American battleships

In 1890 there was a transition between the “old navy” inherited from the secession war, and a “new navy” born from naval thinking, but not yet fuelled by ideas of imperialism like those professed by Alfred T Mahan. However the lack of experience in high seas battleships (the last one was the USS Dictator, a very large sea going monitor back in 1863) meant the US navy policy board started working in stages and in 1889 drawn a design for a coastal, or short range battleship, a bit similar to the units built by Germany at that time, or Scandinavian countries.

USS Indiana after 1898, in grey livery.

However, modest as it was this BB-1 (Battleship 1) was the very first piece of an ambitious naval construction plan, aiming at delivering 33 battleships and 167 smaller ships for the US Navy. It was very much recognizing by the United States Congress as an attempt to end the isolationist policy ruling US foreign relations since the end of the civil war, and the design was refused this year, but accepted the next year the building of three coast defense battleships, of which the Indiana was the lead ship. This design was very much a measure to ease Congress vote rather than a design was really pleased the Navy. It was a compromise for moderate endurance, relatively small displacement and low freeboard but ended as a ship under-protected and under-armed compared to European equivalents and as Conways put it: “attempting too much on a very limited displacement.” The problem was two close copies were built.


The 1890 order was passed on 30 June 1890 to William Cramp & Sons in Philadelphia for $3 million initially, but she costed $6 million in the end. In addition slow delivery of armour plates delayed the completion by one year and the ship was launched 28 February 1893 and completed for service on 20 November 1895, six years after the design was first drawn. The launching ceremony was an event, attended by 10,000 including President Benjamin Harrison, members of the congress and Indiana state representatives. Her sea trials began in March 1895, in ideal conditions for performances as side armor, guns, turrets and conning tower has not been installed yet. They really started in October.

USS Indiana forecastle, showing the original heavy mast, later replace by a cage mast.

Indiana’s design

The Indiana was a typical pre-dreadnought design, with two main turrets fore and aft, a central island bristling with turrets, barbettes, and lighter guns under masks, a military mast and tall funnels. The hull emphasized lateral protection, had a spur and indeed a low freeboard which meant in the North Atlantic, a wet bridge at all times. The USS Indiana displaced 10,288 long tons (10,453 t), for a Length of 350 ft 11 in (106.96 m) overall and 358 ft (109 m) at the waterline, a beam of 69 ft 3 in (21.11 m) and 27 ft (8.2 m) of draft.
She was propelled by double ended Scotch boilers, two sets vertical inverted triple expansion reciprocating steam engines directing two shafts, for a top speed of 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) and a 4,900 nmi (9,100 km; 5,600 mi) range. Her complement was 32 officers and 441 men.

Blueprint of the Oregon

Indiana’s armament comprised two twin 13 in (330 mm)/35 caliber guns, four twin 8 in (203 mm)/35 cal guns, four 6 in (152 mm)/40 cal guns (removed 1908), twelve 3 in (76 mm)/50 cal guns (added 1910), twenty 6-pounder 57 mm (2.2 in) guns, six 1-pounder 37 mm (1.5 in) guns, and four 18 inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes. Protection was made of Harveyized steel with a belt 18–8.5 in (460–220 mm) strong, turrets 15 in (380 mm) thick, 5 in (130 mm) on the hull. Conventional nickel-steel was also used on the conning tower (10 in (250 mm)), secondary turrets (6 in (150 mm)) and the deck: 3 in (76 mm).

USS Indiana (BB1)

Oregon and Massachusetts design differences

USS Massachusetts was laid sown also at William Cramp and Sons, in the second slip, one month later Indiana in June 1891. She was launched 10 June 1893 and completed 10 June 1896, the delay being the delivery of armor plates. The two were very close (same blueprints) and at the exterior, only the funnel’s height betrayed these. An interesting fact was the belt armor design was based on the designed draft, 24 feet (7.3 m) with a normal load of 400 long tons of coal on board. However it appeared that with additional weight and coal this would increase to 27 feet (8.2 m), submerging the armor belt, making it useless. The load of coal was taken in consideration in the next Illinois design by Walker policy board. The two ships had the same engine room but eight Babcock boilers including four superheaters were added in 1907 to replace older Scotch models on Massachusetts. She had a top speed of 16.2 kn (30.0 km/h; 18.6 mph) with 10,400 ihp (7,800 kW) while USS Oregon reached 16.8 kn (31.1 km/h; 19.3 mph) with 11,000 ihp (8,200 kW). USS Oregon was laid down at Union Iron Works on 19 November 1891, launched in 26 October 1893 and completed 16 July 1896.

The Indiana class in action: From 1898 to the interwar

All three battleships were the rare ones to see action in two wars, 1898 and 1917-18, separated by almost the same gap as ww1 and ww2. The war of 1898 was almost the last “romantic” war, full of dashing and bravado over, easy victory of a young nation over a crumbling old empire. Due to their very design, their contribution to the war effort in 1917-18 was limited.

USS oregon in dydock, 1898

USS Indiana

There is nothing notable before the Spanish-American war in 1898 (see details of the battle of Santiago de Cuba). She was then flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron, bearing the colors of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson. She raided the port of San Juan, bombarding it, before rallying Commodore Schley’s Flying Squadron which had found Cervera in Santiago. She arrive two days later but did not chased Cervera as being in the extreme eastern position. However she later catch destroyers Pluton and Furor when they emerged from the entrance and destroyed them. From 1899 to 1903 she alternated training exercises with the fleet before being decommissioned after a career less than 8 years. She was recommissioned three years later as dedicated training ship, having just received new modern boilers, and a cage mast replacing her ancient heavy mast. She was against decommissioned in 1914, and reactivated in 1917, for gunners training. On 31 January 1919 came her final decommission, her name being passed to BB-50 while she was renamed Coast Battleship Number 1. She ended in shallow water as a torpedo target and aerial bombing tests ship in November 1920 and her remains were refloated and sold for scrap in 1924.

USS Indiana in Drydock, 1898.

USS Massachusetts

She conducted training exercises on the eastern coast soon after completion, and in 1898 was placed in the Flying Squadron under Commodore Winfield Scott Schley. She blockaded the port of Santiago but was missing when the battle started, as she was back to Guantánamo Bay in the night to resupply. She joined Texas which was shelling the Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes, scuttled to block the entrance. After the war she spent her career with the North Atlantic squadron, patrolling the Atlantic coast and eastern Caribbean. Before her decommission she was used as a training ship for Naval Academy midshipmen in 1906. She received new boilers and a cage mast, and was back as a “reduced commission” training ship in May 1910. She then joined the Atlantic Reserve Fleet in September 1912, was decommissioned in May 1914, then back again in June 1917 as a gunner training ship. Decomm. again 31 March 1919, renamed Coast Battleship Number 2, scuttle in 1921 off the coast of pensacola, sunk as an artillery target for Fort Pickens. However as her hulk found no buyer she layed there as an artificial reef since then. Now a diver’s attraction and property of the state of Florida (Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserves).

USS Massachusetts sinking in 1921

USS Oregon

She joined the Pacific Station after a voyage around South America to the East Coast in March 1898 (in preparation for war with Spain), covering 14,000 nautical miles in just 66 days. The press noted the feat buy also found it a great argument against any opponents to the completion of the Panama Canal. However she was back in North Atlantic Squadron under Rear Admiral Sampson, taking part in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba and chasing together with the cruiser Brooklyn the Spanish Cruiser Colon. She earned the nickname “Bulldog of the Navy” because of her ploughing bow, in marine slang “having a bone in her teeth”. She was afterwards refitted in New York City, then returned to the pacific, served a year in the Philippine–American War, then joined China, Wusong during the Boxer Rebellion (May 1901) and returned to drydock in the USA for an overhaul. She was back in the pacific in March 1903, was decommissioned from April 1906 to August 1911, and was placed into reserved in 1914. In January 1915 she was back in service, joining San Francisco for the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, then replaced in reserve. She was eventually recommissioned for the last time in April 1917, and escorted transport ships during the Siberian Intervention. She also was a reviewing ship for President Woodrow Wilson (Pacific Fleet at Seattle) and was retired for good in October 1919 and was transferred in 1925 to State of Oregon, starting a life of war memorial. However in 1941 given her scrap value she was sold as IX-22 and partly recycled. Her stripped hulk served as a supply barge at Guam, but in 1948 because of a typhoon, broke loose, drifted away and was recovered and resold 15 March 1956 in a shipbreaker in japan.

Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1860-1905 and 1906-1921.

Cavour class battleships

Italy (1911)
Battleships Guilio Cesare, Conte di Cavour, Leonardo Da Vinci

The new Italian Battleships

The first Italian dreadnought (the irony was the concept was Italian-born, Cuniberti thinking of a glorified, fast armoured cruiser rather than a new class of battleship, but picked up and realized by Admiral Fisher) was the Dante Alighieri (launched 1910). She was started in 1909 because Italy was then completing the last pre-dreadnoughts of the Regina Elena class, already almost a transitional ship with their powerful secondary artillery and speed.

Dante Alighieri
The Dante Alighieri, precursor and first Italian dreadnought (1910)

The Alighieri was designed by Engineer Edoardo Masdea to be literally built around its broadside, bearing four triple turrets, twelve 305 mm guns (12 in), which was the same than the contemporary French Courbet class battleships. But if this configuration allowed a full broadside, in chase or retreat this was far less (three versus eight on the latter). Therefore the next class was an attempt to remedy to this and having a more balance firepower in all situation. The Dante Alighieri (one of the rare, if only BS named after a poet) was eventually scrapped in 1928.

Back on the drawing board

In a relatively short span, Italy would design and built five battleships in two classes, based on roughly the same design. The Cavour class in that sense was almost a super-class, of which most ships entered service when WW1 has broke out. The 1916 Caracciolo design was a radical new approach in size and armament, almost a compromise between battlecruisers and battleships, a new breed soon known as the “fast battleship” quickly stopped by the Washington treaty and resumed in the 1930s.

Design of the class

Design of the Cavour

After the Dante Alighieri, which served as a prototype, the new class designed by Edoardo Masdea at the beginning of 1910 had specifications still including 305 mm pieces (while the Royal Navy was now going 13.5 in or 343 mm), but for an authorized tonnage of 23 000 tons, and a speed of 22 knots. Lessons learned from the Dante made it possible to redefine the plans. The first difference was the previous artillery centerline arrangement, now distributed in front and rear echelons, one turret remaining in the center, in accordance with contemporary designs.

The originality of the Italian concept was to mix triple and double turrets, the latter on the upper level to lighten stresses on the hull, for a total of 13 guns, which was superior to all the dreadnoughts built so far, except the Sultan Osman I, future HMS Agincourt, with its 14 pieces, still in completion at the time in an English shipyard. In 1910 there was turmoil in the Balkans, and Turkey was the most likely opponent for Italy.

Battleship Leonardo Da Vinci in Tarento
Battleship Leonardo Da Vinci in Tarento

The second peculiarity of the Guilio Cesare was to return to the solution of barbettes for all secondary armaments (while Dante had double turrets), assembled in the center, on a diamond-like battery easier to protect but requiring large beaches in the hull for these to fire aft and rear. The two pairs of chimneys of the previous design were replaced by truncated chimneys framing the central turret, and on which the successive observation bridges were fitted, supported by the two tripod masts. This was another originality of the design. Tertiary armament consisted of 19 pieces of 76 mm instead of 13, placed on the main turrets, and on the bridge.

Regia Marina in 1914-18.

The battery protection was reinforced, and the turret armour raised to 280 mm (11 in). The originality had been to design a large blockhouse with 280 mm thick walls, protecting the command and fire control in the same structure. Its belt armor comprised a complete waterline 2.8 meters (9ft 2 in) tall, of which 1.6 meters was below the waterline and 1.2 meters above. Maximal thickness was 250 mm (9.8 in) reduced to 130 mm towards the stern and 80 mm towards the bow. There was a strake of armor 220 mm thick, extending 2.3 m up to the lower edge of the main deck, and a 130 mm layer above and an upper strake of 110 mm that protected the barbettes. The decks were 24 mm (0.94 in) -with 40 mm slopes, and 30 mm thick in succession.

Cavour class - colorized
Conte di Cavour during the war at Tarento, colorized by Irootoko JR

The powerplant consisted in 20 Blechynden water-tube boilers (Cavour & Da Vinci) and 12 oil-fired and mixed-firing Babcock & Wilcox boilers (Cesare). But all had Parson turbine sets, located in the center engine room (two inner shafts) and side compartments for the outer shafts. Designed speed was 22.5 knots (41.7 km/h; 25.9 mph) not achieved in sea trials, despite having a better rated power as designed. Top speed ranged from 21.56 to 22.2 knots (39.93 to 41.11 km/h; 24.81 to 25.55 mph) at between 30,700 to 32,800 shaft horsepower (22,900 to 24,500 kW). They stored 1,450 long tons of coal and 850 long tons of fuel oil for 4,800 nautical miles range (8,900 km; 5,500 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph), and 1,000 at 22 knots. In addition three turbo generators provided 150 kilowatts at 110 volts to power the main systems before heating the engines.


The Conte Di Cavour was started at La Spezia Arsenale laid down in 10 August 1910, launched exactly one year after and completed in 1 April 1915. Entirely rebuilt in the 1930s, she participated in WW2 as well. The Guilio Cesare was laid down at Gio. Ansaldo & C., Genoa earlier on 24 June 1910, but launched later on 15 October 1911 (hence she was not the class lead ship) and completed on 14 May 1915. The third, “fogotten battleship” of the class was the Leonardo Da Vinci (the choice of a painter after a poet) laid down at Odero, Genoa-Sestri Ponente, launched 14 October 1911 and completed 17 May 1914.

Caio Duilio class
The next Caio Duilio class (1915-16) was closely derived.

Original specifications

Displacement: 23 000-24 250 T. Fully Loaded
Dimensions: 176 x 28 x 9,3 m
Propulsion: 4 propellers, 4 turbines Parsons, 20 Blechynden mixt boilers, 32,200 cv, 23 knots.
Armour: Belt 254 max, decks 111, blockhaus 280, turrets 254, battery 127mm
Crew: 1237
Armament: 13x 305 mm (12 in), 18 x 120 mm (5 in), 19 x 76 (2 in), 3 TT 450 mm SM (18 in).


All three were thus operational at the declaration of war of Italy to the central empires. These units formed the first division of the line, the spearhead of the Italian fleet. But their rare trips from Taranto, where they were all based, to intervene against a possible exit from the Austro-Hungarian fleet of the Straits of Otranto, were without notable facts, although they participated in bombing raids. Four pieces of 75 mm AA were added during the war, and the Da Vinci sank following a sabotage of Austrian divers, who had succeeded in forcing the way to Taranto on August 2, 1916. It was bailed out in 1919 but finally demolished. The two others were recast twice, and participated in the Second World War.

The most impressive battleship refit ever ?

The Guilio Cesare was launched in 1913 as a Dreadnought (monocaliber battleship). She was originally one in a serie of three sister ships (class Conte de Cavour) started in 1910, launched in 1911, and completed in 1913-14. Leonardo Da Vinci, the third in the class, was destroyed by a bunker explosion in 1916 and scrapped in 1923. In 1932-33 the remaining two ships were placed in reserve and then rebuilt in Genoa (Cesare) and Trieste (Cavour) in October 1933. This absolutely radical overhaul, led by Vice Admiral and General Naval Engineer Francesco Rotundi, included so many modifications, that the new Cesare was practically a brand new ship.

Conte di Cavour
Conte di Cavour at sea

The great refit (1931-37)

The ship was fitted with in short with new engines and boilers, new shafts (from three to two) and new propellers, oil heating, new chimneys, with performance soaring up.

-Above the deck the story was the same, engineers started with a blank page. Two new masts were erected, a new bridge superstructure, conning tower and command tower, new rangefinders and optical instruments, fire table, radio and other modern equipments.

-The artillery pieces were recast, with a caliber raised from 305 to 320mm (), and far better elevation for a greater range, whereas the turrets were completely redesigned as well.

-A secondary artillery with 6 double turrets of 120 mm () was installed, instead of barbettes.

-A brand new AA artillery was installed, with six dual-purpose twin barreled turrets of 102 mm guns (4 in) and twelve twin mounts of 37 mm (2 in), plus twelve twin 13 mm Breda heavy machine guns.

-Moreover since the ship’s hull in drydock was completely overhauled, an elongated hull with a clipper bow and new waterline was also built.

-Last but not least, a completely redesigned armour scheme, with anti-torpedo bulges and completely redesigned vertical protection (decks and engine rooms). In fact, 40% of the old structure of the hull passed through this overhaul.

Even the Warspite, Queen Elisabeth and Valiant, their only equivalents in the Royal Navy, did not went as far. But still they had a 381 mm (16 in) main battery, which at least on paper had a clear advantage over Italian vessels in sheer broadside punch, although the ratio 10/8 guns was in favor of the Italians.

Camouflaged Cavour in Trieste, 1942
Camouflaged Cavour in Trieste, 1942.

Back into service

In the end, the two ships emerged in June and October 1937 from the drydocks as part of the 1st Naval Division (waiting for the Littorio class to replace them). After a naval review in Naples Bay before Hitler in 1938, their first action was on the coast of Albania in May 1939. Then in July 1940, they took pat in the battle of Punta Stilo (undecided). The Cesare was hit in this occasion. After repair, the two ships attempted to stop convoys to Malta, without success. On November 11, 1940, both ships were attacked by the famous night raid of Fairey Swordfish in Tarento and the Cavour was put out of action for months. In fact, the Cavour was salvaged and towed to Trieste for other repairs, which were not completed when Italy surrendered in 1943. Plans for rearmament after the war never materialized and the Cavour was scrapped in 1949.

Cavour being transferred from Tarento
Cavour being transferred from Tarento

Cavour sunk at Taranto
Catastrophy: Cavour sunk at Taranto

The Cesare went on

For her part the Cesare, spared at Taranto, was back in action on 27 November, at Cape Sparivento, and later hit in Naples during an air attack in January 1941. In December she was in action again at the battle of the Great Syrta. Subsequently, it was necessary to reach Pola, then to be sent after the armistice to Tarento, but she was torpedoed by U-596 on her way in March 1944. The ship was later salvaged and repaired. In 1949, the Soviet navy was given the Cesare as war reparation, then renamed Novorrosiysk and painted in dark grey. She received a modernized AA artillery in 1953. In her new waters, she served as a training vessel on the Black Sea. Ironically in 1955, at night, the ship was again victim of the Germans, struck aloft by a drifting mine dating from the war. More than 600 sailors died, and it became the most severe Soviet Navy maritime disaster…

Caio Duilio of the near-sister Doria class
Caio Duilio of the near-sister Doria class (1940)

Novorosiysk in 1950 at Sevastopol
Novorosiysk in 1950 at Sevastopol. Notice the dark grey livery

Recoignition drawing Naval Intelligence
Recoignition drawing Naval Intelligence


Conte di Cavour class
Conte di Cavour on milatry factory
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1922-1947.

Cesare in early 1940. Colorized photo by Irootoko Jr. alias Atsushi Yamashita

Cavour specifications 1940

Dimensions 186.4 x 33.1 x 9.3m
Displacement 29,100 tonnes /29,600 tonnes FL
Crew 1300
Propulsion 2 screws, 2 reduction turbines, 8 Yarrow boilers, 75 000 hp
Speed 27 knots (40 km/h; mph)
Range 6,400 nmi ()
Armament 12 x 120mm (6×2), 4 x 100mm AA, 12 x 13mm Breda AA.
Armor Decks 135-166 mm, barbettes 130-280mm, belt 130-250mm, blockhaus 250mm.

Illustration of the Guilio Cesare by the author (scale 1/730)