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The construction

The start was quick; in the two shipyards, in Trieste and Genoa Sestri, the assembly of the materials had already begun and during similar ceremonies and on the same date, 28 October 1934, the anniversary of the march on Rome, the first keel plate was laid.

The construction of the two hulls went hand in hand. There were inevitable small setbacks, always happily resolved, and generally due to problems connected with the particular large dimensions of the two ships. Among other things, both Vittorio Veneto and Littorio presented, due to the armor, an uneven weight, and this had repercussions on the airport. It was therefore necessary to support the two ships with notches arranged in a new and somewhat particular way, which caused a delay of over half an hour in the launch of the Littorio. One of these notches, in fact, the first forward to starboard, excessively loaded, was not able to be demolished until after many attempts.

The very problem of launching two vessels of that size was fraught with difficulties. The shipyards had to work hard and in the last few days without interruption even at night. Logically, only the empty hulls without side armor panels went into the sea; but they were still two metal masses weighing about 10,500 tons.

While construction was already at a fairly advanced stage, the two units were officially registered in the Naviglio Militare pictures  with the names of Vittorio Veneto and Littorio, on the basis of Royal Decree no. 1869 of 10 October 1935, published in the Official Gazette, dispensation 38.

The first to be launched was the Vittorio Veneto, which went down to sea on 25 May 1937 in the presence of the Royals of Italy; the Littorio followed her, with a similar sumptuous ceremony, on August 22 of the same year.

The echo of the applause and official speeches died away, the two units began, between the deafening noise of the  mechanical hammers and the rattling of the large self-propelled cranes, the set-up moored at the appropriate docks of Trieste and of Sampierdarena. In the latter locality, precisely for the Littorio, the Ansaldo Ship Preparation Plant was specially set up, which then remained active for about fifteen years.

During the almost three years of stay of the two battleships on the construction dock, political events of great significance for the whole of Europe had occurred in the Mediterranean. The Ethiopian campaign and the beginning of the Spanish civil conflict ended up breaking the naval equilibrium in this sea. Much of the English fleet had come to concentrate in the ports of Gibraltar, Alexandria in Egypt and Malta, while diplomatic relations between Italy, France and Great Britain itself suffered a decisive deterioration.

It was at this point that, to cope with the directives of Italian politics of those years, the decision was made to also modernize the old battleships Doria and Duilio, and to build two other 35,000-ton units. The drawings were ready; in fact it was enough to make only small changes to the Vittorio Veneto project.

The two new battleships were registered in the Naviglio Militare Boards with the names of Impero and Roma, and set up, the first on May 14, 1938 in the Ansaldo Shipyards in Genoa Sestri and the second on September 18, 1938 at the CRDA Shipyards in Trieste.

On 10 June 1940, at the moment of Italy's entry into the conflict, the four units of the class had already all left the construction yard; the last, in fact, the Roma had gone into the sea just the day before.

Littorio and Vittorio Veneto, now set up and already delivered to the Navy, were completing the development of the equipment in Taranto  e  the training of the_cc781905-5cde-3194 -136bad5cf58d_ crews. The hull of the Empire, launched on November 30, 1939, had been in Brindisi for two days. It had been towed there from Genoa to save it from possible French aerial bombardments. Roma had yet to begin the preparation.

How the war events proceeded is now well known. The Rome, in the calm waters of the port of Trieste, far from the roar of the war, could be completed in good time and delivered to the Navy on June 14, 1942. For the battleship Impero, however, things went differently: _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ moved to Brindisi as a precautionary measure, she should have stayed there for a short time, that is, for the time necessary to move the construction materials and ready-made equipment from Genoa to Trieste. Except that the need for thin and escort ships, which emerged from the first days of hostility and the difficulty in procuring the necessary materials, meant that laminates, profiles, etc. intended for this ship were used for new buildings. It therefore remained in Brindisi, practically abandoned, for the whole of 1941. In January 1942, having decided to complete it, it was towed to Trieste; but once again the difficulties caused by the bad course of the war, and which also weighed, as we have seen in the first volume, on the rearrangement of the Count of Cavour) did not allow the completion of this beautiful unit. On 8 September 1943, when the armistice was proclaimed, it was abandoned because it was unusable.


Sestri Ponente - December 1935 - The Littorio under construction

The images come from the Archive ofANSALDO Foundation of Genoa

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