Italian Battleships (Was Bismarck Thread) -1 reply

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MaurizioDS

I don't spend enough time here

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9th October 2003

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#1 16 years ago

Hi All,

Work has suddenly gotten very busy, so my time to research and contribute posts has been cut back a bit. I really wanted to answer Witch Hunter General's last post properly, as it was very well thought out, and worthy of a detailed reply, but time got scarce, and I wanted to address his and shebangsthedrums' thoughts on Italian battleships. I also thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce these fine vessels to those who aren't aware of their existence. I ask patience from those of you who consider what I am about to type to be old news, for the sake of those who haven't yet had access to this info.

The Italian navy basically had two types of "battleships" in WWII; one type that was nothing more than reconstructed, improved WWI ships, and a second class, which were designed from scratch in 1934.

The reconstructed vessels amounted to what was essentially a waste of metal. They did nothing particularly well, were gravely deficient in terms of armor protection with respect to ANY modern warship of either battleship, or battelcrusier designation, and packed guns and fire control which probably did not impress or frighten anyone ;r . They were created more as a stop-gap measure to counter the French building of the battlecruisers Dunkerque and Strasbourg (superb vessels) , without agitating the political climate that existed at the time, regarding capital ship construction (1932-'34). Politically speaking, the Italians found it easier to either build battlecruisers, or support the conversion of the WWI vessels, rather than building "treaty" battleships, a philosophy which would soon change. In hindsight, they would have been far better off building a pair of projected 26,500 ton, 343mm main battery armed battlecruisers than working on the WWI ships. But then again, hindsight truly is 20/20.

By 1934, work was in progress to develop a new class of ships which was not to be limited by any specific treaty. Originally, the Italians opted for 16" guns on this new class, but the engineering firm of Ansaldo countered with a remarkably potent 15" (381mm) weapon which would be lighter, more accurate, and deliver a higher rate of fire. It was ultimately chosen over the 16" option. Along with the novel main battery, General Inspector of the Engineering Corps Umberto Pugliese designed in 1930 a unique underwater protection system that consisted of a pair of hollow, concentric cylinders running underwater along the entire length of a ship's citadel, designed to absorb the water hammer and blast from torpedo hits. The cylinders were supported by an extremely strong infrastructure, assuring that the force of the torpedo explosion would indeed be spent in deforming the cylinders (the path of least resistance), rather than the rest of the ship. This system was tested on the old tanker Brennero, and the results were so promising, that the system was immmediately ordered to be incorporated into both the new design, and the renovated battleships, despite the fact that the older, narrower beams significantly compromised the effectiveness of the system. In the case of the new class, engineers had the luxury of designing the rest of the hull around the Pugliese System, and it proved to work perfectly (more specifics in a few paragraphs).

On 25 July, 1937, the first of the new Littorio class ships, the Vittorio Veneto, was launched at Trieste, was completed on 28 April, 1940, and officially entered service on May 1st. She was the first new Italian battleship comissioned since 1916, and was joined by her sisters Littorio on 24 June, 1940, and Roma on 14 June, 1942. There was a fourth Littorio class, the Impero, which was never completed, and ended up being vandalized by the Nazis (something they did oh, so well) at the end of the war.

Since these ships had such active carreers, I won't get into their service records. I will compare them to their contemporaries, discuss the compromises the Italians made in their implementation, and try to identify the plusses and minuses that resulted from those compromises.

The first thing that strikes one about these ships is their armament. As I discussed in another post, I believe that a battleship's ability to hit and disable its target is its absolute prime function. These ships were designed with just that philosophy in mind, as while their armor was just adequate for their size, their hitting power was disproportionate, devastating, and absolutely peerless. Specifically; Despite their modest maximum elevation of 35 degrees, the 50-calibre 381mm (15-inch nominal diameter) Model 1934 main gun on the Littorio class, had greater range than any other gun ever mounted on any naval vessel (until the 11-inch bore-reduction liners increased the range on the New Jersey's guns to 100,000 yards in the 1970's, allowing them to fire "special" shells to greater distances). Comparing them to the Yamato's 18.1-inch monsters, the Italian 381 mm could project a shell out to 50,900 yards at 35 degrees elevation, while the Japanese 45-calibre 460mm Type 94 could "only" send its shells out to 45,600 yards at 45 degrees elevation. At 30,000 yards, the Type 94 could penetrate 360mm of vertical armor, while at 30,621 yards the Model 1934 could ventilate 379mm of vertical armor. Further, in a stroke of innovation, Ansaldo fabricated a "Compromise" shell that, while it had only about half the penetration of the AP variety, it packed a 1,400 lb. wallop of TNT after it penetrated. HE shells were nothing new, but up to that point, even major caliber HE ordnance had very limited armor piercing ability, and AP shells never carried much more than a 20-40lb TNT burster charge. Being that at 20,000 yards the Model 1934 had nearly 80% more hitting power than the British 14-inch guns mounted on the KGV class (the Italian 381 could penetrate 509.4mm of armor, while the British 45-calibre 356mm Mark 7 could only penetrate 284.5mm at 20,000 yards, both with AP shells), a well contemplated use of the COM shells could yield the same devastating effect as landing a large bomb * INSIDE * a ship's vitals, since it stood nearly as good a chance at armor penetration as the AP ordnance on the KGV class.

As was mentioned in another post, battle data tells us that the fire control on this class was superb; anyone familiar with long-range naval exchanges can attest to the difficulty of striking a cruiser at extreme ranges, as it employs violent evasive maneuvers. Yet, The Vittorio Veneto accomplished this feat, and the Littorio scored a damaging near miss on the HMS Gloucester ( I believe it was the Gloucester) at 30,000 yards during the First Battle of Sirte Gulf (17 December 1941).

Obviously, as with most matters of extreme performance, this potency came at a price; a very short barrel life of only 110-130 rounds, compared with lives of up to 350 rounds for the British 356mm Mark 7. At first glance, this may seem like a trivial matter, but unfortunately, the rebuilding of naval rifles is a far from trivial matter. Barrel fabrication must begin months in advance, the process of dismantling the turrets and replacing the rifles, in itself takes weeks, and last but not least, gunnery baselines and ballistic data have to be partially reconstructed. In short, the ship will be out of comission almost as long as it would be in the event of mild battle damage. As the ships' theatre of operations would be very limited (only the Mediterranean), this compromise was considered acceptable by the Italians, but I doubt it would have been so by any other nation.

The other question raised about this class of ships is that of the efficiency of the Pugliese system previously discussed. The truth of the matter is that the Pugliese system worked exactly as designed - provided that a torpedo struck a part of the ship that was protected by its cylinders. The Vittorio Veneto took many torpedo hits during her service, but two in particular serve to show the drastic disparity in protection received by different parts of the ship. On 28 march, 1941, the Vittorio Veneto was struck in nearly precisely the same spot as the Prince of Wales was to be, almost 9 months later, on 10 December, 1941, with the same size torpedo warhead (500 lbs.). A particularly vulnerable part of the ship was hit; the torp detonated on the port quarter above the starboard propeller, 6 meters below the waterline. The port outboard shaft broke within its thrust bearing housing, and the explosion sheared off the port outboard propeller. The whipping forces (explosive energy absorbed by the deformation of structural members of the ship bending like springs, which then snap back to their original form, releasing and reflecting the force of the original explosion back through the structure of the ship, in the form of mechanical vibration - [COLOR=Red]LOTS[/COLOR] of it) of the explosion wrought havoc; salt water entered the lubrication system for the inboard shaft, jamming its line bearings and shutting it down. The auxiliary port rudder was jammed, and the pump for the steering gear motor of the starboard auxilliary rudder was temporarily put out of action. All this without even a kiss. If that wasn't bad enough, 11 minutes later, an RAF Blenheim dropped a bomb that scored a near miss, exploding in the water near the stern, deforming the ship's side shell and riddling it with bomb splinters. This caused yet another violent whipping reaction, which put the ship's steering gear out of service, and left the ship dead in the water with about 3,750 tons of flooding in her stern. Miraculously, her crew recovered her, and managed to limp back to port. The fact that the ship had three independent, armored rudders helped her regain her steering, whereas the absence of such redundancy cost the Germans the Bismarck. :cry:

That was an example of what happened when the ship was hit outside of the Pugliese's protective boundary. Given a chance to work, it seemed to do its job. On 14 December, 1941, the Vittorio Veneto was torpedoed by the British submarine Urge, firing a torp with a 750 lb. warhead, which struck the port side-protection system abreast of the after turret. Despite the fact that the explosion tore a 13 * METER * hole in the side of the ship, and that she shipped over 2,000 tons of seawater across three main compartments of the Pugliese system, she was never in any danger of uncontrolled flooding, and the whipping response was succesfully damped.

While I could go on long enough to defeat even the staunchest insomniac, I think it best if I sum it up at this point. The Littorio class were excellent fighting ships that reflected a philosophy of "offense first" in their design. While their armor could be described as just adequate, and anti-aircraft abilities suffered due to mechanical problems with an otherwise ballistically excellent mount (90mm AAA), these ships, oddly enough, remind me most of the place the F-15 has in its realm; a machine that will spot you first, fire first, hit you first, and put you out of action before you have a chance to really fight back. If these ships' gunnery can prove so effective against rapidly maneuvering cruisers at extreme range, it would follow that big, lumbering battleships would prove to be even easier targets. Combine this with the fact that the Littorio class' guns had the hitting power to defeat heavy armor at long range, and it follows that they had the potential to knock out any foe, at any range except the Yamato - the Littorio class would have had to close within 16,000 yards to penetrate turret face and barbette armor. I think it's safe to say that the Littorio could absorb nowhere near the damage that the Yamato could, so there's little doubt which way that fight would have gone.....or is there? :fistpunch:

Since I've posted some things which I am sure will raise eyebrows, I figure that it's only fair that I quote my sources for my ballistics data;

Battleships Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II by William H. Garzke, Jr. and Robert O. Dulin Naval Institute Press, Anapolis, Maryland

pp. 496-497, Table C-1 "Capital-Ship Main-Battery Guns"




Witch Hunter General

Dread thinks I'm a special person

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#2 16 years ago

:bows:

about the rebuilds: you are probably right that they would be better off building some new ships from scratch. but there is another thing and why I'm not 100% in agreement with you about their worth, the fact that the british meditteranean fleet consisted mainly of the QEs and the french mainly of old wwI relics aswell. Ships that were much slower than the Italian rebuilds. If rightly used they could be of some worth in hit and run and to disrupt supplies to Malta, you probably get the picture. Of course in a straight gun-duel they would get owned by about anything, but they could in most cases avoid that. Can maybe think of them as 26000 ton armoured cruisers as far as their use is concerned....they have no place in a traditional battle-line.

The Pugliese-system: You more or less confirmed my belief, that it worked if it was put to the test. In the case of Roma they hit outside of it(guess really since I have never seen a good description of it, I know/believe the missile went straight through the ship and made a hole in the bottom, like it did with Warspite on another occasion), yet I have seen several times the loss of Roma being used as an argument against it. My belief was probably colored by this book: British Battleships of WWII by Alan Raven and John Roberts it's sort of a "bible" as far as its topic is concerned, but they did have a part of it dedicated to foreign design just to compare it with their own, although not extensive they mentioned the "pugliese" system(they didn't use the term, they just said it was a unusual system that based itself of cylinders). They claimed that it was "extensive and highly effective" and superior to their own and others. This book being what it is....very detailed and accurate, to the point of insanity(I mean, how many really care about the exact placement of antenna no. 123asfd-SOMETHING on Hood after refit number [insert number]?). So I kind of took that as a fact.

about Bismarck: I probably need to moderate my criticism of her(or "he" as the germans wanted it to be called), but there is a perfectly good reaon for it. I'm just so tired of hearing about it. Everybody(meaning average Joe with average knowledge) have heard about it, in fact it's the only ship they can name....and everybody *knows* she/he was "invincible". You could probably claim that it was able to travel through space....and they would still believe you :D It's kind of like my "hatred" towards Saving Private Ryan....but that's way off-topic.




TommyGunDaliani

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#3 16 years ago

you are talking to the master of knowledge on the italian front i know pretty much what there is to know about italy in ww2 and my favorite battleship is the roma i believe the italian navy is the most underated branch of military at the time of ww2(excluding Folgore division who was never rightfully credited with there will to fight because it was overshadowed by the blackshirt divisions will to surrender) something should be done with the italian navy in fh maybe explosive motor boats human torpedos something to jusice up naval battles




MaurizioDS

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#4 16 years ago

>>

[COLOR=Teal]about the rebuilds: you are probably right that they would be better off building some new ships from scratch. but there is another thing and why I'm not 100% in agreement with you about their worth, the fact that the british meditteranean fleet consisted mainly of the QEs and the french mainly of old wwI relics aswell. Ships that were much slower than the Italian rebuilds. If rightly used they could be of some worth in hit and run and to disrupt supplies to Malta, you probably get the picture. Of course in a straight gun-duel they would get owned by about anything, but they could in most cases avoid that. Can maybe think of them as 26000 ton armoured cruisers as far as their use is concerned....they have no place in a traditional battle-line.[/COLOR]

<<

General,

You're right, I did dis them a bit, and you're also correct that they would have served just fine as raiders. I guess I'm just so much of a Vittorio Veneto fan, that nothing else will do for the Italian navy. Thank you for the edification! :nodding:

>> [COLOR=Teal]The Pugliese-system: You more or less confirmed my belief, that it worked if it was put to the test. In the case of Roma they hit outside of it(guess really since I have never seen a good description of it, I know/believe the missile went straight through the ship and made a hole in the bottom, like it did with Warspite on another occasion), yet I have seen several times the loss of Roma being used as an argument against it. My belief was probably colored by this book: British Battleships of WWII by Alan Raven and John Roberts it's sort of a "bible" as far as its topic is concerned, but they did have a part of it dedicated to foreign design just to compare it with their own, although not extensive they mentioned the "pugliese" system(they didn't use the term, they just said it was a unusual system that based itself of cylinders). They claimed that it was "extensive and highly effective" and superior to their own and others. This book being what it is....very detailed and accurate, to the point of insanity(I mean, how many really care about the exact placement of antenna no. 123asfd-SOMETHING on Hood after refit number [insert number]?). So I kind of took that as a fact.[/COLOR]<<

The loss of the Roma was a tragic event that re-iterated the inescapable dominance of air power. I am not sure how the authors linked the Pugliese to loss of the Roma, but in any event, The 2 FX-1400s that hit her first severed her main electrical buss, with the second one landing squarely below, and behind her forward 381mm magazine - with predictable results. Amazingly, even though her "B" turret was blown 100 meters into the air, when the smoke cleared, the Roma was still afloat, with the open barbette still venting smoke and flame! Unfortunately, this did not last; she went under 4 and a half minutes later, breaking in two as she did, due to the blast, and the sudden disequilibrium in hull load/pressure from the capsize. Despite the magazine explosion, roughly 600 men survived, as the Roma gave her some of her crew below decks precious time to get topside. The majority of the deceased were in the forward parts of the ship that were obliterated when she exploded, and fortunately, probably never knew what happened. I attach an image of the Roma about a minute after she exploded, painful as it is to look at.

>> [COLOR=Teal]about Bismarck: I probably need to moderate my criticism of her(or "he" as the germans wanted it to be called), but there is a perfectly good reaon for it. I'm just so tired of hearing about it. Everybody(meaning average Joe with average knowledge) have heard about it, in fact it's the only ship they can name....and everybody *knows* she/he was "invincible". You could probably claim that it was able to travel through space....and they would still believe you :D It's kind of like my "hatred" towards Saving Private Ryan....but that's way off-topic.[/COLOR]

<<

General, now you can throw the Littorio class at those "experts", and correctly inform them that even an "Italian" battleship could have blown the Bismarck out of the water! :dropsjaw:

Thanks again for the chat! :)




TommyGunDaliani

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#5 16 years ago

i have that same pic and many more but attaching images is such a bitch




flycatcher

GF Pwns Me!

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#6 16 years ago

Tillman Franks and Johnny Horton, 1960

In May of nineteen forty-one the war had just begun

The Germans had the biggest ship that had the biggest guns

The Bismark was the fastest ship that ever sailed the seas

On her deck were guns as big as steers and shells as big as trees.

Out of the cold and foggy night came the British ship the Hood

And ev'ry British seaman, he knew and understood

They had to sink the Bismark, the terror of the sea

Stop those guns as big as steers and those shells as big as trees.

Chorus:

We'll find that German battleship that's makin' such a fuss

We gotta sink the Bismark; cause the world depends on us

Hit the decks a-runnin' boys and spin those guns around

When we find the Bismark we gotta cut her down.

The Hood found the Bismark and on that fatal day

The Bismark started firin' fifteen miles away

"We gotta sink the Bismark" was the battle sound

But when the smoke had cleared away, the mighty Hood went down

For six long days and weary nights they tried to find her trail

Churchill told the people "Put ev'ry ship a-sail

'Cause somewhere on that ocean I know she's gotta be

We gotta sink the Bismark to the bottom of the sea"

Chorus:

The fog was gone the seventh day and they saw the mornin' sun

Ten hours away from homeland the Bismark made its run

The admiral of the British fleet said "Turn those bows around

We found that German battleship and we're gonna cut her down"

The British guns were aimed and the shells were comin' fast

The first shell hit the Bismark, they knew she couldn't last

That mighty German battleship is just a memory

"Sink the Bismark" was the battle cry that shook the seven seas

: We found that German battleship was makin' such a fuss

We had to sink the Bismark 'cause the world depends on us

We hit the deck a-runnin' and we spun those guns around

Yeah, we found the mighty Bismark and then we cut her down. :