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)

Marco Polo (1892)

Italy (1883)
Armoured Cruiser

The First Italian Armoured Cruiser

The Marco Polo was the first Italian armoured cruiser. She was designed by chief engineer Carlo Vigna in 1889, and laid down in January 1890 in Castellamare di Stabia but was closely based on the Etna class cruisers. She was modified during construction as an armoured cruiser she was larger and theoretically faster, but without the heavy 254 mm artillery pieces of the Etna. Instead her 152 mm pieces were complemented by a large 120 mm battery. But this choice led to several criticisms, and the Marco Polo was generally considered too lightly armed. In addition, her expected speed of 19 knots was never reached and remained as slow as the Etna.


The ships was longer than the Etna at 106.05 meters (347 ft 11 in) oa versus 283 ft 6 in (86.4 m), wider at 14.67 m (48 ft 2 in) vs 13 m (42 ft 6 in), and the draft was deeper for about 8cm. Overall displacement was 4,583 t (4,511 long tons), much heavier than the Etna class at 3,474 long tons (3,530 t). Propulsion used two vertical triple-expansion steam engines fed by four Scotch marine boilers which produced 10,000 indicated horsepower (7,500 kW) versus 7,480 ihp (5,580 kW). Consequently top speed was rated (in theory) as much as 19 knots versus 17 which was a real progress, but in reality 17.2 knots was the most common figure, as she did 17.8 knots (33.0 km/h; 20.5 mph) at best by overheating its boilers and producing 10,663 ihp (7,951 kW). Radius was 5,800 nautical miles (10,700 km; 6,700 mi) versus 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi) at 10 knots.

The armament seen the deletion of the heavy 254 mm pieces in favor of a concentrated battery of six 152 mm/40 (6.0 in) guns in single mounts which the Etna had already, for a secondary battery of ten rapid-firing single 120 mm (4.7 in) guns. The light battery was about the same, eleven 57 and 37 mm versus ten Hotchkiss revolver guns on the Etna. Its 100 mm (3.9 in) armored belt only stretched to the middle of the ship, starting and ending under the fore and aft ammunition wells. Gun shields and conning tower were protected by 51 mm of armour. Only the deck was protected on the Etna at 1.5-inch (38 mm).

Marco Polo as completed, from


Marco Polo was launched on the Royal Shipyard in Castellammare di Stabia on 27 October 1892, entering service on 21 July 1894, four years after being laid down. Her first long trip was Greece in 1897, but she departed the next year for the Far East on 26 January, visiting through the Yang Tse Nanking, Hankow, Shanghai, then Japan and back to Shanghai. She was back to Naples on 20 October 1899 and then returned to China. On her way back in 1907 she visited Zanzibar, Mogadishu, and Massawa in Eritrea before arriving at Taranto. She stays there until armament modification in 1911.

She was partially disarmed: She kept six 152-mm pieces (in a classic lozenge arrangement, one on the forecastle, another on the back, and the other four on the flanks in open casemate.), sacrificing six 120 mm guns out of the original ten, six 57 mm pieces out of nine, and four TTs out of five. Then she was affected to the 2nd Division of the 1st Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet, soon placed under the Duca di Abruzzi command, she patrolled to spot Ottoman Ships. She stopped an Austro-Hungarian ship on 5 October 1911 off San Giovanni di Medua, and the boat sent to board her was quickly fired upon by an Ottoman coastal artillery. Marco Polo replied for 45 minutes and silenced the battery, but this triggered a diplomatic tempest.

She was then affected to the 4th Division of the 2nd Squadron operating off Libya and later she shelled Homs in support to Italian landings and later on April 1912 together with Carlo Alberto, shelled Zuara. She made later a sortie with the 4th Division against the Ottoman fleet in the Aegean Sea, but never found it. By default she and other ships bombarded the entrance to the Dardanelles on 18 April. She was later back in Libya, and later helped to capture Misrata. On 25 February 1913 she returned to the Far East, visited Kobe in August 1914, was back to Shanghai in December, was later sent in Yemen and returned to Naples in March 1915. By then she was considered obsolete.

She did participated in the great war but as an accommodation ship at Venice and was taken in hand in 1917 for a conversion into troop transport, the Cortelazzo, armed in supplement with two howitzer and two heavy mortars. In October 1920 she was renamed Europa, put into reserve, then reactivated in 1921 under the name of Volta, and again placed in reserved, and finally written off and sold for scrap in 1922.


Brassey’s Naval annual depicting the general scheme of the Italian cruiser

Postcard depicting the Marco Polo

Cortelazzo 1918
Marco Polo used as the ship transport Cortelazzo in 1918 – cdts, from Conway’s Fighting ships 1906-1921

Illustration of the Marco Polo in 1914

Sardegna (1914) specifications

Dimensions 106,50 (347 ft 11 in) x 14,57 (48 ft 2 in) x 5,88 m (19 ft 3 in)
Displacement 4500 – 4820 t. FL
Crew 394
Propulsion 2 screws, 2 VTE engines, 4 cyl. boilers, 10 660 hp
Speed 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph)
Range 5,800 nmi (10,700 km; 6,700 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 6 x 152, 4 x 120, 6 x 57, 2 x 37 mm, 2 howitzer, 2 ML, 4 TT 450 mm
Armor Belt 150 mm, Decks 25 mm, CT 51 mm, shields 51 mm

Conways all the world’s Fighting ships 1906-1921
Conways all the world’s fighting ships 1860-1906

Grillo class tracked torpedo launches

Italy (1918)

Tracked MTB or amphibious tank ?

The Grillo is one of the least known Italian small craft of ww1, and for good reasons as on an operational level it did not really moved the needle. But this was one of these purpose-built mechanical contraptions that escape all classifications. General assumption is the Grillo are tracked MTBs because of the programme, construction techniques, and deployment by the Italian Navy. But in general conception it can be compared to the Japanese Type 4 Ka-Tsu. In short, it was not a tank designed to be amphibious, but rather at its core, a Motor Torpedo Boat modified with a chain of grippling hooks, track-like device, and that’s the reason it its covered here on

The Grillo in SVAN yard, venice, 1918.

Development of the Grillo

The Grillo (“Cricket”), was a MAS boat (Motorbarca Armata SVAN or ), from the SVAN yards, designed by engineer Attilio Bisio. The subject is quite interesting in itself as more than four hundreds of these were built until the end of the war, literally forbidding the Austro-Hungarian navy to leave Pola Harbour, even more after battleship Szent Istvan was sunk by one of these. The paradox is the Navy is often rather the more conservative of all arms, but in that case, was the first to introduce “tanks” in combat.

The Grillo were designated “climbing boats” or even “jumping boats” according to the initial barchino saltatore designation. They had been designed specifically by Engineer Attilio Bisio at SVAN yards to overcome harbour barrages (with Pola in mind) designed to prevent the small MAS to rush in. The goal was to produce a small serie of these crafts, that will launch their torpedoes when in, possibly by night, and then climb out the same way to safety.

In the larger picture, the Grillo registered in the change of doctrine of the Italian Navy induced by the introduction of numerous light vessels of the MAS type and the Grillo registered together with the mignatta (“leech”), and the latter Torpedine Semovente Rossetti or Rossetti self-propelled torpedo. Perhaps excessive caution from both fleets also led to this economical “small warfare” where limited means could bring maximal destruction. It was confirmed when MAS sunk the battleships Wien (December 1917) and Szent Istvan (June 1918), and even more when in November, just before reddition, battleship Viribus Unitis was sunk by a single frogman.

Blueprint, two-views of the model

Design of the Grillo

It was designed as a fast boat, all in wood, with rounded sides, and a rectangular, narrow flat bottom surrounded on both sides by rails. These comprised a serie of narrow links, with grippling hooks welded on every two of these. Drive sprockets were at the front, and large idlers were fitted up at the boat’s back, while the links circulated thanks to two more bottom wheels at the front per side, and two tender wheels at the back. The tracks rested on the bridge but were raised by the open air wheel pair at the rear which acted as manageable tension wheels.

The four units were 16m long, 3.10m in width, with a 70cm draft. In fact the rear tensioners and front sprockets acted like toothed pulleys. The aft ones, near the obstacle to overcome, were coupled to the propulsion system. The power required quietness, and consisted of a pair of 5 hp electric motors. The hooked chains were designed to pull the vehicle over the obstruction. They were officially known as “tank marino”. The weaponry consisted in two aircraft type light 450 mm torpedoes (same as MAS) held in cradles each side of the hull. The 2 electric motors Rognini and Balbo on 1 axle, for 10 hp overall, made for a top speed of 4 knots (7,4 kph) and a radius of action of 30 mn at 4 knots, which required the boats to be towed or carried near to the action. These boats were manned by a crew of only four and were all named after jumping insects (Grasshopper, Cricket, Locust …)

Prow of the Grillo

The Attack on Pola

Already Fazana channel’s forcing action in the night between 1 and 2 November 1916, showed by having a weight to lower the metal obstruction at the mouth of the canal and let passing MAS through inspired Attilio Bisio, director Of SVAN in Venice for a boat capable of doing it by its own weight. He proposed his idea to vice-admiral, Paolo Thaon di Revel in june 1917 just when an attack on Pola was in preparation. Its entrance protection system, was multilayered and consisted of several parallel lines of metallic obstructions. Hand-held hydraulic shears could no longer overcome them. Therefore a light naval vehicle which could literally leap these protection nets forward with the same capabilities as MAS boats was all that was required. This crossing could be obtained by means of sudden changes in trim from the displacement from electric accumulators acting on the motors housed on sliding carriages underneath.

Drawing of the type

Experiments were carried out but proved to be unsatisfactory at first. A new revised designed of crawler with hooks clinging to obstructions, with hook-studded, engine-driven chains somewhat reminiscent of British Romboid tanks was initiated, gave satisfactions in tests, and resulted four boats of Grillo crafts to be built in early 1918. They knew various fates, but the lead boat was the most famous Grillo, which action proved disastrous: In the night of 13 May 1918 she was released near the entrance, approaching in perfect silence. However soon at work, the chain mechanism produced a frightful clatter which negated all the advantage the electric propulsion and the boat was quickly spotted and destroyed by shellfire before even getting over all the booms (passed four). The Cavalletta and Pulce were both scuttled and lost on on 13-4-1918, Locusta abandoned and eventually scrapped in 1920.

The Austrian copy of the Grillo, never tested.

At the end the Grillo left mitigated impressions, but impressed the Austrian navy enough to raise the Grillo and copy it at the end of the war. The idea of “naval tanks” was also shared by Great Britain that designed an amphibious tank, the Mark IX duck also in 1918.

Grillo specifications

Dimensions Length 16m, Beam 3.1m , Draft 0,7m
Displacement 8 Tonnes
Crew 4
Propulsion 2 screws, 2 electric engines, 20 hp combined
Speed 4 knots (7 km/h)
Range 30 nmi at 4 kn (7 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 2 x 450 mm torpedoes
Armor None


Re Umberto class ironclads (1883)

Italy (1883)
Re Umberto, Sicilia, Sardegna

A new kind of battleship

In 1883, the first two ships of this class, Re Umberto and Sicilia, were authorized in parliament by the Finance law. They had been designed by Benedetto Brin, then president of the naval projects committee. In 1885, the parliament also decided to vote for the construction of a third ship, the Sardegna, in order to create a complete squadron.

Sicilia, full speed


The Sardegna had for the first time, triple expansion engine and cylindrical boilers. She was heavier by nearly 1000 tons and larger by two meters. In common, they had several unique features: Three chimneys, two of them in tandem, raised barbette/turrets at the fore and aft, a relatively low caliber (343 mm against 430 on the previous Ruggero di Lauria) but fast-firing, at twice the speed of previous gun, with in addition the abandonment of the échelon disposition. The hull was therefore much longer, but stayed low. The Sardegna was also equipped for the first time with a Marconi wireless telegraphic station. All three ships had very thin armor protection and high top speeds.


Re Umberto

Re Umberto served with the two others in the same active squadron for more than 10 years. By 1905 this squadron became the reserve squadron. In fact they were used as training ships as the Italo-Turkish War erupted in 1911.

Sardegna in dry dock

In 1912, Re Umberto career was about to end. She was used as a floating tanker at anchor in Genoa. She was badly damaged in May 1914 and after repairs served as a supply vessel for La Spezia from June 1915. She was reactivated in December 1916, recommissioned and converted into a port defense battery at Brindisi and Valone. In 1918, she were once again converted for a final assault of Pola, and was to open the way through mines and nets like a bulldozer, followed by 40 MAS. She was totally disarmed except for eight shielded 76 mm gun, 240 mm Howitzers, but also turrets and bow blades. She was towed to Venice for the raid at the end of October, but the operation was canceled with the armistice and she was struck off in 1920.

Sicilia, as built.


On her side the Sicilia was reformed in July 1914, but resumed service as a tanker at Taranto, and a Workshop until the end of the conflict. She was destroyed in 1923. However Sardegna and Sicilia supported the Italian left flank and bombarded Tripoli on 23–26 October 1911.

Sardegna starboard size


Sardegna was the flagship of the northern Adriatic fleet, based in Genoa until 15 November 1917, and was sent to Brindisi as a coastal battery, her secondary armament reduced to four 76 mm guns, and 3 heavy machine guns for AA defense. On 10 July 1918 she was transferred to Taranto and then left for Constantinople in 1919, where she remained until 1922. Sicilia was removed from the lists in 1923.


Re Umberto 13.5 in barbette

Blueprint – Brasseys 1896.

Sardegna in 1914

Re Umberto in 1918

Sardegna (1914) specifications

Dimensions Length 130,7 m (428 ft), Beam 20,4 m (67 ft), Draft 8.84 m (29)
Displacement 13,600 T – 15,430 FL
Crew 794
Propulsion 2 screws, 2 TE engines, 18 boilers, 22 800 hp
Speed 23.3 knots (xx km/h; xx mph)
Range 4,000–6,000 nmi (7,408–11,112 km)
Armament 4 x 343, 8 x 152, 16 x 120, 20 x 57, 10 x 37 mm, 5 TT 450 mm
Armor Belt 102, Deck 76, Blockhaus 300, turret 102, barbettes 350 mm

Conways all the world’s fighting ships 1860-1906

Etna class protected cruisers (1885)

Italy (1885)
Etna, Vesuvio, Stromboli, Fieramosca

The first Italian modern protected cruisers

Etna was the only survivor of a class of four protected cruisers dating from 1885-1888. Designed by Carlo Vigna and George Rendel , they were based on the Giovanni Bausan of 1883, herself largely based on a Sir W G Armstrong Mitchell & Co.’s Elswick design. Most importantly, they were built in Italian shipyards, gaining considerable knowledge in the process for these kind of ships (British exports of cruisers had been particularly successful).

Giovanni Bausan 1883
Giovanni Bausan (1883), a typical 1880s Elswick cruiser on which the Etna were based on.


Ettore Fieramosca, was slightly longer than the others at 290 feet (88.4 m). For the others normal figures were 283 feet 6 inches between perpendiculars, 42 feet 6 inches in beam and 19 feet of draft.
They had been armed originally two 254 mm guns, six 152 mm, five 57 mm, five 37 mm, 1 Revolver cannon, 2 machine guns and two to three torpedo tubes. Propellers were fed by two horizontal compound steam engines and four double-ended cylindrical boilers. They could reach on trials 17–17.8 knots (31.5–33.0 km/h; 19.6–20.5 mph).

The original Armstrong 10-inch (254 mm), 30-caliber breech-loading guns had been mounted in barbettes (open turrets) fore and aft, as customary for the 1880s. So despite their size, these ships packed quite a punch being capable of delivering 450-pound (200 kg) shells flying at a muzzle velocity of 2,060 ft/s (630 m/s).

Ettore Fieramosca off Algiers
Ettore Fieramosca off Algiers

Secondary armament was mounted in Vavasseur mountings, in sponsons. The secondary anti-torpedo armament was quite comfortable with 6-pounder Hotchkiss guns firing at 6 rpm, completed by 1-pounder Hotchkiss guns (37 mm) at 30 rpm. General disposition of the torpedo tupes were one mounted underwater in the bow and the other three were above water, but for the Ettore Fieramosca which dispensed of a TT.

Protection was interesting as they had an armoured belt with a maximum thickness of 1.5 inches (38 mm) doubled with an inner belt of cork at their waterline to absorb water if needed.

1900 Reconstruction

In 1900 they were rearmed with one 75 mm and 4 TTs, then in 1907-1909 (Not for the Stromboli and the Fieramosca, disarmed at these dates), their old 254 mm, two 152 mm were removed while two 120 mm guns were added. The remainder of her artillery were two 47 mm, two 37 mm and 2 TTs.

Etna as rebuilt, at the 1909 Hulton-Fulton Celebrations, Hudson bay, NYC


The ships had been laid down in 1884 respectively at Castellammare, Venice and Livorno shipyards. The Fieramosca was laid down in 1885 at Livorno. Launched in 1885-86, they were completed in 1887 (Etna), 1888 (Vesuvio, Stromboli), and 1889 (Fieramosca). The ships went into the Squadra Permamente (Permanent Squadron) up to 1893, visiting South and North America several times. Etna was in Red Sea (First Italo-Ethiopian War 1895–6) and the Cretan Revolt of 1898. She was also flagship of the Superior Torpedo-Boat Command in 1904.

The three other ships participated in putting down the Boxer Rebellion as part of the Eight-Nation Alliance. The Vesuvio was disarmed in 1911, before the first Balkan war, while Etna was converted into a training vessel and served as such from 1907 to 1914. At the time of the war, she was assigned as a coast guard after Serving as a floating HQ, then a tanker and finally a GHQ for the entire Italian fleet in Taranto. She was only sold and broken up in 1921.

It should be noticed that there was a second, perhaps better-known Etna class on the Internet, which was one of a never-finished class of light cruisers (1941) originally built for the Thai Kingdom. There will be an article about these too.


Etna class on Wikipedia
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1860-1905.

Etna class cruisers specs

Dimensions Lenght 91.4 m x 13.22 m x 5.8 m (283 x 42 x 19 ft)
Displacement 3390 long tons, 3700 t FL
Crew 321
Propulsion 2 shafts, two DE engines, 4 boilers, 7200 hp,
Speed 17 knots (31.5 km/h; 19.6 mph)
Range 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi) at 10 knots
Armament (Etna 1914) 2x 152 mm, 2× 120 mm, 2x 47mm, 2x 37mm, 2 TT 350 mm.
Armor Belt armor: 38 mm, Barbettes 51 mm, Deck: 30 mm, blockhaus 13 mm


Etna as rebuilt in 1914
Illustration of Etna as rebuilt in 1914

HD photo of the Etna on the Hudson Bay, 1909

Italian cruiser Etna in its 1890s black, white and sand canvas livery

Ettore Fieramosca’s officers taking the pose

Giovanni Bausan
Cruiser Giovanni Bausan

Line drawing of the Bausan. The Etna were very smiliar (after reconstruction)

Italian protected cruiser Stromboli in 1895

Caio Duilio class ironclads (1879)

Enrico Dandolo launched

Italy (1879)
Caio Duilio, Dandolo

A concentrate of innovations

Caio Duilio was the lead ship of the namesake class of ironclad turret ships, built for the Italian Regia Marina in the 1870s. The name recalled Roman Admiral Gaius Duilius. The Duilio was started in January 1873, launched in May 1876, and completed in January 1880. The class also comprised the Dandolo, and both replaced the sail and steam Principe Amedeo-class ironclads (1865), both missed the battle of Lissa. The Duilio class was designed by Cuniberti, and the first Italian steam-only ones. Strategically, they fitted with Italy’s large naval expansion program pitted against Austria, compounded by new possibilities offered by the opening of Suez Canal in 1869.

Blueprint of the Duilio, showing the short and concentrated “all or nothing” armour scheme.

The most powerful artillery in the world

The centerpiece of this Ironclad was a main battery of four 17.7-inch (450 mm) guns, then the largest ever put on a ship afloat worldwide. The following classes Italia class, (designer Benedetto Brin) were laid down in 1876, and the Ruggiero di Lauria class, (designed by Giuseppe Micheli), in 1880, all kept a powerful, unmatched heavy artillery. Originally the design was intended to carry Armstrong 35 t muzzle-loading guns. However the plans were modified several times during the lengthy construction, and eventually the largest guns that Armstrong produced, next to 60 t (59 long tons; 66 short tons) has been envisioned, but the choice fall ultimately on to the 100-long-ton (102 t) 450 mm gun proposed by the firm.

Dandolo after completion

The two turrets were placed en echelon amidships. The Armstrong guns fired a 1,905-pound (864 kg), shell at a muzzle velocity of 1,490 (to 1,670 feet per second or 450 to 510 m/s) with varying propellant charge. Rate of fire was one per fifteen minutes. This slow rate was due to handling of the large size of the guns and propellants. The ships also carried three 14 in (360 mm) torpedo tubes, each holding a 125 kg (276 lb) warhead with a 600 m (2,000 ft) range.


In 1890, Caio Duilio received three 4.7 in (120 mm) 40-caliber guns, each firing a 36 lb (16 kg) shell at 2,854 ft/s (870 m/s), and in 1900, two 75 mm (3.0 in) guns, eight 57 mm (2.2 in) Nordenfelt 40-caliber quick-firing guns, and four 37 mm (1.5 in) 20-caliber revolver cannon were also added to deal with TBs.
Enrico Dandolo was rebuilt later, in 1895–1898, and received four 10 in (250 mm) 40-caliber QF guns as main armament. They fired a 494.3 lb (224.2 kg) armor-piercing shell at 2,460 ft/s (750 m/s). Secondary battery consisted of five 4.7 in (120 mm) 40-caliber guns, sixteen 57 mm (2.2 in) QF guns, eight 37 mm (1.5 in) Hotchkiss revolver cannon, and four machine guns.


Admiral Benedetto Brin She was still capable of a top speed of around 15 kn (28 km/h; 17 mph). Both ships had a small superstructure forward, including the conning tower and a funnel, connected via a hurricane deck to a central military mast and aft superstructure, joining the second funnel. First ironclads in any navy to get rid of sails they had a crew of 420 officers and men (later 515). Both carried a number of smaller boats, but Caio Duilio also had a compartment in her stern, to house a small torpedo boat of the 26.5 t Clio class. This also was unique at that time. This gave an additional “torpedo range” well beyond the range of artillery. This TBD could also perform reconnaissance missions.

The armour was forged by French firm Schneider-Creusot. There was a steel belt armor 21.5 in (550 mm) thick at its strongest section, protecting the ship’s magazines, and machinery spaces. Central citadel and gun turrets received had nickel steel armor. Transverse bulkheads were installed, 15.75 in (400 mm) thick. The armored deck was 1.1 to 2 in (28 to 51 mm). Gun turrets had 17 in steel plate, but Enrico Dandolo’s new turrets (1898) had only 8.8 in (220 mm). The bow and stern were left unarmored, but they subdivided into a cellular “raft” to keep the ship for flooding. In fact this was a radical solution for the time as armour only protected the ships’s engines and ammunition magazines.

This “all of nothing” configuration sparked controversy when Royal Navy Edward James Reed visited the ships under construction. The new Italian Minister of the Navy, Simone Pacoret di Saint-Bon, replied during a Parliament session that such flooding event was very unlikely, as it needed all the bulkheads of the watertight compartments being HS.

Propulsion system comprised two vertical compound steam engines. Each drove a single screw propeller, and was fed by eight coal-fired, rectangular boilers, in two groups, forward and aft. Each trunked into a single large funnel. Top speed was 15.04 knots (27.85 km/h; 17.31 mph) at about 5,750 kW. New engines were installed in her 1895–98 refit, slightly more powerful, (top speed of 15.6 knots) and 8,045 ihp (5,999 kW). Range was 3,760 nautical miles (6,960 km; 4,330 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph).

Ironclad Dandolo

This Italian Ironclad was named after the 42nd Doge of Venice. The ship was laid down at La Spezia on 6 January 1873 and launched on 10 July 1878.
Its design was similar to the Duilio, with similar armour, configuration, and powerplant made of two vertical compound steam engines each driving a single screw propeller. Its first assignation were the annual fleet maneuvers of 1885, in which it served as the flagship of the 1st Division, “Western Squadron”, under command of Vice Admiral Martini. This exercise took place off Sardinia with an attacking Sqn and a defending “Eastern Squadron”, in a Franco-Italian war scenario.

Enrico Dandolo launched

This was followed by the 1888 fleet maneuvers, and the ship was later flagship of the 3rd Division of the Active Squadron for the 1893 exercises. There was a full reconstruction (1895-1898) to a new design under Inspector Engineer Giacinto Pulino supervision. The major upgrade consisted in the addition of quick-firing 10 in (250 mm) guns (in replacement to the former 450 mm battery), and she received a new secondary battery. A new engine was also fitted, but performances stayed the same.

In 1901, Enrico Dandolo joined in the 2nd Division. It was in the Active Squadron in 1902, with Andrea Doria, Francesco Morosini, three Re Umberto-class ironclads, and the new pre-dreadnought Ammiraglio di Saint Bon. In 1905 she was transferred to the Reserve Squadron, and later versed to the Gunnery School as a training ship. In the 1911-12 Italo-Turkish war, She was versed to the 5th Division of the Italian fleet (ironclads Italia and Lepanto) but saw no action. In 1913 she was sent as a guardship at Tobruk, Libya, and transferred to Brindisi and then Venice during the war. She was eventually stricken on 23 January 1920 and later sold for scrap.

Ironclad Dandolo full steam, in sea trials, 1890s.

Details of the Duilio’s central battery

Active carrer

Caio Duilio’s career was uneventful, spending her first two decades with the Active and Reserve Squadrons, in charge of training maneuvers and exercises. The Ironclad was withdrawn in 1902 and only employed later as a training ship, until 1909. At that time she was converted into a floating oil tank, renamed GM40. Its ultimate fate is unknown.


Duilio class on Wikipedia
About the Caio Duilio
About Benedetto Brin
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1860-1905.

Duilio class Ironclads specifications

Dimensions Lenght 109.16 m (358 ft 2 in), Beam 19.74 m (64 ft 9 in), Draft 8.31 m (27 ft 3 in)
Displacement 10,962 long tons (11,138 t), 12,071 t FL
Crew 420
Propulsion 1 screw, Two compound steam engines, 8 boilers, 7700 hp,
Speed 15.04 knots (27.85 km/h; 17.31 mph)
Range 3,760 nmi (6,960 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 2×2 450 mm, 3 × 14 in (360 mm) TT.
Armor Belt armor: 21.5 in (550 mm), Turrets: 17 in (430 mm), Deck: 1.2 to 2 in (30 to 51 mm)