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The Littorio class

In the years immediately following the First World War, on the basis of the Washington Treaty of 1922, there was a period of "naval vacation" during which not only were no warships built, but also, again on the basis of this treaty, they demolished some units in service or under construction, as Italy did with the four battleships of the Caracciolo class, one of which was already launched and the others set up.

After this period of stagnation, when the construction was finally resumed, an interesting phenomenon occurred in that, instead of building new battleships, almost all the navies proceeded to modernize more or less extensively those built in the years from 1908-1910 onwards. In general, the engine system was changed on all these ships, consequently modifying the funnels and sometimes the number of propellers. On many the main armament was changed and on almost all the secondary one to make it more suitable for anti-aircraft tasks, with consequent modification of the superstructures; on all the units were installed the modern central for the direction of the fire and the catapults for the launch of reconnaissance aircraft.

Was it out of a universal desire for peace, brotherhood among peoples and social justice, that the Washington conference opened on August 11, 1921? Or was it for economic convenience that the major nations of the world gathered around the table to discuss for the first time an agreement that would put an end to the arms race? This is not the right place to deepen such an analysis. The fact is, however, that at the end of the First World War the economies of the states that had participated in it were somewhat disrupted. The naval programs, therefore, were influenced by it, also due to the fact that the severe economies ended up weighing more on military spending.

At the same time it was realized that the application of the war experiences recommended a new increase in the tonnage of the battleships, in order to be able to couple a significant offensive power with adequate protection, both against the submarine threat and against the aerial offense. . This however resulted in an increase in the cost of the new units and in heavy burdens, therefore, for everyone, if the race between the main maritime powers was restarted.

In particular, the problem was at the heart of England, which feared a resumption of emulation to the detriment of its position towards competing navies.

The Washington conference did not end with a negative balance; the economic convenience, rather than the belief in the goodness of the agreements, meant that numerous technical difficulties could be smoothed out, through the determination of types of ships whose requirements, born of compromises, certainly did not satisfy the qualified environments, but were accepted because all the marinas would be on an equal footing with regard to new buildings.

The Washington treaty decided in particular the abandonment of the shipbuilding programs until 1931, the limitation of the standard displacement of the units of this category to 35,000 tons and that of the caliber of their  artillery_cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ main  in 406 mm.

These were rather severe limitations, which when the time came, weighed heavily on the design of the new battleships, because they forced the builders to sacrifice some essential qualities of the battleships in order to remain within the limits of the established displacement.

We have already seen in the first two volumes of this series, how Italy emerged favored by the Washington treaty, which assigned it parity with the French Navy in terms of liners and which allowed it to immediately put them in the yard for a total of 70,000 tons. This clause, however, remained a platonic political and prestige victory, but which was not taken advantage of. Moreover, the period of "naval vacation" that the London conference, in 1930, postponed for another five years, and the momentary prevalence throughout the world of the criterion that large ships had set down and above all the construction of fast cruisers should be taken care of, of thin ships and submarines, meant that the maximum reconstruction effort of the Italian Navy was oriented precisely on these types of ships. After all, the Italian naval policy was aimed at seeking complete parity with France, a parity that we already theoretically possessed as regards battleships. In this field it was sufficient to wait for the armored ship to age, to respond ton against ton  to each setting of  new unit.

In order not to be taken aback and to put to good use the years spent in the construction of liners, in the meantime, studies and projects went on.

We will logically omit to talk about projects and achievements in the field of modernization of the old dreadnoughts still in service, a subject dealt with in great detail in the first two issues of the series, dedicated respectively to the "Conte di Cavour" and "Duilio" class battleships, while we will try to thoroughly analyze the studies, programs and achievements in the field of new buildings.

The trend that has been making its way in all the European navies, in the first ten years of vacation advent of the medium tonnage battleship, clearly less than 35,000 tons. provided for by the Washington Treaty.

The clause that allowed Italy to build battleships at any time for a total of 70,000 tons, and the need to have at least three of them, in order to allow them to rotate and always have two in armament, oriented the studies by the Ship Projects Committee on a type of battleship with a displacement of 23,000 tons, a speed of about 28-29 knots, a maximum armor of 320-330 mm. and a main armament of six 381 mm guns. arranged in three twin towers. While the projects for this type of ships were studied and improved with continuous modifications, studies were not neglected also for battleships of the maximum tonnage with armament of six 406 mm guns, speeds of 29-30 knots and armor of about 350 mm.

In 1930 the London Conference extended the "naval vacancy" until 1936, but at the same time rejected the British proposal to significantly reduce the tonnage limit of battleships. This naturally caused all the projects elaborated up to then to fall to our competent bodies.

Meanwhile the years passed and the moment when, albeit within the limits of the treaties, the world navies would face the problem of rebuilding their battleships was approaching.

For Italy, the decision matured a couple of years in advance: in fact, in 1931, 1st Germany  had launched  la_cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-136badd battleship  pocket Deutschland, and France, direct antagonist, had responded in 1932 by setting the first of the two 26,000 ton Dunkerque and Strasbourg. standard and 8 330 mm guns. The reaction of our government was not long in coming; in application of the principle desired and obtained in Washington of parity with France, and under the pressure of the politics of prestige and strength pursued by Mussolini, the construction of the first nucleus of two battleships of maximum displacement was decided. They were the first two Washington battleships in the world.

These two, set up in October 1934 with the names of Littorio and Vittorio Veneto, were later joined by two others: Rome and the Empire, set up in 1938, following the deterioration of relations with France and Great Britain due to the company Ethiopian and Spanish Civil War.

The nucleus of the most beautiful, successful and powerful liners of our Navy from its foundation to today, therefore began to take shape on paper in 1932. The Navi Projects Committee was in fact charged with preparing the construction plans for two large battleships_cc781905-5cde -3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ in which all the best qualities of a modern battleship were combined, both as regards the comparison with foreign units, both as regards the technique of materials and the most advanced construction concepts.

Forty years later we can certainly affirm that the work was completed in an excellent way, also because, by a fortunate coincidence, in those years the engineer Umberto Pugliese reached the rank of Inspector General of the Naval Engineers, to whom the direction of the project was in fact entrusted. He had spent his entire career continuously perfecting his studies relating to new shipbuilding. In the Arsenals and in the Technical Offices he had collaborated in the construction of the new military ship, making a contribution of studies, almost always accepted and applied, on the strength of the structures, on the stability, on the various elements relating to the efficiency of all on-board services. Already in 1912, destined for the Ship Projects Committee, he had collaborated in solving the most varied problems regarding the design of the "Caracciolo" class battleships; the four great units whose construction, at the end of the First World War, was interrupted and no longer continued, also in relation to the subsequent Washington Treaty.

During the same conflict, the greatest merit was having studied and developed an underwater defense system, which was subsequently realized, after tests and trials on models on an increasing scale, adopting it in the construction of the two tankers Brenner (1921) and Tarvisio (1928).

When it came to transforming the "Conte di Cavour" class battleships, the Navy decided to equip them with underwater protection. Two large structural models  were carried out to test their behavior in the face of the increased bursting power of the torpedoes. One of these was of a type similar to that adopted by the American and British navies, with counter hulls, the other was of the "Pugliese" type, which the author himself adapted to the increased offensive power and the needs of an armored ship. And it was precisely this last structure, with a decompressor cylinder, that was recognized and declared as the most efficient, even though it had a significant saving in weight.

It was with this almost thirty years of experience that the Pugliese General, in 1932, faced the resolution of the large number of new problems that arose, particularly to a Navy like the Italian one, which for about twenty years had not built large battle units.

Every part of the "Vittorio Veneto" project, architectural qualities, structural strength, organic protection, propulsion, outfitting, etc., is largely permeated with innovations scrupulously studied by the designer and happily applied.

We will analyze the most important ones, in the following pages, during the detailed technical description of the four superb units.

For the final project it took about two years of studies and experiences.

Once the construction contracts with the Ansaldo Shipyards of Genoa Sestri and CRDA of Monfalcone had been stipulated, the Ship Projects Committee, following a resolution of 26-30 July 1934, ordered that the two companies, in order to determine a profitable emulation to achieve the best results, they carried out further studies in order to perfect the hull lines to be adopted. Given that it was not possible, given the qualities required, to remain within the limit displacement, indicated by the Washington Treaty at 35,000 tons, the Undersecretary of the Navy authorized an excess, to be kept secret, of about 3,000 tons. In fact, the studies were conducted on a displacement that reached 40,000 tons.

Scale models were built to test at the Rome tank. In the comparative tests the hulls studied by Ansaldo gave better results, while in the tests with the towed model the type of hull presented by the CRDA clearly prevailed.

Considering the problem from various points of view, the Pugliese General, also relying on the opinion of the General of the Naval Engineers Rota, president of the National Tank of Rome, who had followed the tests of the different hulls with particular care, ended up choosing the one suggested. by the company CRDA

The construction of the two large units could begin.


Archive: Franco Cestra

"Italian Ships in World War II"

Battleships of the Vittorio Veneto class

Bizzarri Editions - Rome


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