Italian Battleship Giulio Cesare

The Italians were somewhat slow in adjusting to the new Dreadnought ‘Big-Gun’ Battleship concept that was to dominate naval warfare up until the Second World War. Their first Dreadnought, Dante Alighieri, not being launched until August 1910 by which time the British, German and US Navies had already built up a considerable lead.

The Giulio Cesare was one of a class of three battleships (The ‘Cavour class’-consisting of the Conte di Cavour, Giulio Cesare and Leonardo da Vinci) completed from 1911. Designed by Eng-Gen Masdea in 1908 these warships improved on the Dante Alighieri by mounting thirteen 12 inch guns in five centreline turrets; Four turrets with superfiring guns fore and aft, and one triple turret amidships. The secondary turrets of the Dante Alighieri were not fitted to this class as built but the amidships battery was placed one deck higher to compensate. This armament layout unfortunately resulted in a rather overlong construction programme and by the time that these three battleships were ready for commissioning most other Navies had already adopted 13.5 or 14 inch guns as the standard main armament for their Battleship fleets. In addition, as in other Italian designs, protection and speed took second place to firepower resulting in a maximum speed of 22 Kts being only rarely obtainable.

The Leonardo da Vinci was sunk with the loss of 250 men during World War I as a consequence of a magazine explosion at Taranto harbour on the 2nd of August 1916. Refloated in 1919 she was no longer considered serviceable and was scrapped between1919-1923. The two surviving Cavours were completely rebuilt during the 1930s and entered World War II with new machinery (2-shaft geared turbines) and much improved protection. The armament layout had by now been changed to ten 12.6 inch main guns, twelve 4.7inch secondary guns, and eight 3.9 inch AA and about twenty smaller AA guns.

Conte di Cavour was sunk by Torpedo bombers ofthe Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm at Taranto on the 12th of November 1940 and was never again operational (plans in 1941 to rebuild her with a secondary battery of twelve 5.3 inch guns, twelve 65mm AA and twenty-three 20mm AA not being commenced before the Italian armistice). Giulio Cesare (later renamed Z-11) survived the war and was handed over to the Soviet Union in 1948 as war Reparations. She served in the Black Sea with the name of Novorossisk until late 1955

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