The first Italian ‘Super dreadnoughts’
The last class of Italian dreadnoughts conceived before the war was the Caracciolo class, started in 1914-15. They were radically new battleships, much faster and heavily armed: They presented the new generation of ‘super dreadnought’ condemned by the Washington treaty, inaugurated by the Queen Elisabeth class a year before. Because of war priorities, none will be completed. But the class was given a name: Carracciolo.
General Ferrati ‘F’ 1915 initial proposal for a quadruple turrets battleship SOURCE
When the Washington Treaty was ratified in 1923, it put an end to an industrial and military escalation started in 1913, towards even faster and better-armed dreadnoughts. Italy was no exception to the rule. In 1916, her last dreadnought to enter service, the Doria class, was only equipped with 12-in guns and limited to 21 knots. But the British had just unveiled their five Queen Elizabeth, armed 6-in guns (381 mm) and capable of 23 knots, burning oil for better range. Conscious of this fact, the Italian admiralty ordered a study as early as 1914, on a new project of battleship intended to give some parity with to the Royal Navy (then a potential adversary, as Italy rather at first leaned towards the central Empires). This study was conducted by Chief Engineer Rear Admiral Edgardo Ferrati.
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The first plan included a battleship armed with no less than 12 guns of the same caliber, 381 mm (16-in) distributed in four triple turrets; In addition 20 6-in barbettes guns (152 mm), which would have made them if completed in 1917, the most powerful warships in the world. But this project was visibly too ambitious for the means of the Regia Marina’s limited budget, and was scaled down. The second project was based on classic twin turrets, resulting in a more classic 8-16-in equivalent of the QE. Among its specificities, the adoption of the 6-in (152 mm) as a secondary caliber, and 4-in )(102 mm rather than 3-in (76 mm) for QF guns mounted on the turrets, and 2-pdr (40 mm) rapid fire anti-aircraft mounts were wise, avant-garde choices. Finally a very significant reinforcement of armor overall and a revised torpedo armament distribution completed the picture.
The keel of the first ship was laid in Castellamare di Stabia in October 1914 and construction went on well, while three other keels (Cristoforo Colombo, Marcantonio Colonna, and Francesco Morosini) were laid in Ansaldo, Odero and Orlando yards respectively in March and June 1915. But as soon as the war broke out, it seemed impossible to complete them, due to the lack of manpower and resources. After a while construction was halted entirely.
New priorities of the Admiralty leaned towards the construction of lighter units, more economical and faster to build, and the maintenance and repair of existing units in heavy service. The construction of the four Caracciolo was officially suspended in March 1916. The Caracciolo herself whose commissioning was originally scheduled for 1917-18 was still an impressive ship on paper, with 10,000 tons more than previous Dreadnoughts and an unrivalled top speed of 28 knots, better than mmost battle cruisers. They were the first examples of “super-dreadnoughts” which construction was suspended for years after the war and resumed shortly before WW2. However the treaty of Washington limited the Italian Tonnage, this excluded the completion of the new battleships, however the path taken was not to convert the completed hull as an aircraft carrier, as France did with the Bearn. The Admiralty was rather conservative towards the idea of using carriers.
When the official cancellation occurred, 9000 tons of the Carracciolo hull had been assembled already. At the end of the war, the issue of this hull came up, and a ship owner, the “Navigazione Generale Italiana”, proposed a reconversion and purchased it. The hull was finally launched in October 1920. Nonetheless, the project was not realistic and was dropped afterwards. The hull was dismantled and the steel resold. For the others, the dismantling was also done quickly, as little material had been assembled. The precious artillery of these battleships however has been made already and was used on the Italian monitors of 1917-18 including the famous Faa’ di Bruno.
Launch of the Caracciolo in October 1920
Whatif photo of the caracciolo SOURCE
Déplacement: 31 400 – 34 000 T. FL
Dimensions: 212 x 29,6 x 9,5 m.
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 20 Yarrow boilers, 105,000 cv, 28 knots
Armor: Belt 303, Decks 40, Blockhaus 400, turrets 400, casemates 220 mm,
Armament: 8 x 381 (4×2), 12 x 152, 8 x 102, 12 x 40, 8 x 533 mm TTs sub.
Caracciolo – author’s illustration
John Gardiner Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1905-1921