Mark Stille is a retired Commander of the US Navy and has written a succession of books for Osprey Publishing on naval topics. He continues as an intelligence analyst at the Pentagon. New Vanguard 182 covers Italian battleships of World War Two, an obscure topic. Like other Osprey books, an in-depth treatment is not given, but an excellent synopsis of design, characteristics and history of each ship is presented.
Italian battleships at the start of World Ward Two (June 1940 for Italy) consisted of two classes of four obsolete World War One vintage battleships that were all modernized in the 1930s. While much criticism has been expressed for spending time and resources on old hulls instead of new builds, these ships gave the Italian Navy an interim force to counter French capital ships in the Mediterranean. Just before World War Two broke out, news of new French capital ship classes spurred building four ships to a new design, using lessons learned from the modernizations – the Littorio class. Only three battleships of this class were put into service, and were regarded as powerful units.
In November 1940, British Swordfish carrier torpedo aircraft surprised the Italian battleships at anchor in Taranto harbor, effectively keeping one old battleship from returning to action (Conte di Cavour) and helping to even the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean for the British. Importantly, this raid gave the Japanese an idea that germinated into Pearl Harbor. Until 1942, Italian battleships were active in sweeps, escorting convoys to North Africa and raids on Allied shipping. They were repeatedly damaged by torpedoes, shellfire, and aircraft bombs and just as repeatedly repaired and put back into active service. After 1942, fuel shortages kept the battleships out of action. When Italy capitulated in September 1943, its remaining battleships steamed to Malta to surrender to the Allies. Along the way, German aircraft used radio-guided glide bombs hit the brand new battleship Roma twice, causing an ammunition explosion that destroyed and sank the ship. Allied payback kept Italian battleships languishing in the Suez Canal or in training roles until after the end of the war. Amazingly, no Italian battleships except for the Roma were sunk in action in spite of extensive activity.
Given my last name, I have become an arm-chair specialist of the Italian Navy in World War Two, and I have several Italian language tomes on different classes as well as any other references I could find. This book stacks up well for its size and delivers a lot of information in a quick and easy read. This book has many black-and-white photographs, some seldom seen, and whole-page color illustrations of each class, along with a two-page illustration showing internal arrangements in a cutaway drawing, in addition to two other color paintings (one of which is reproduced on the front cover). The book provides a basic history of each ship arranged by class, plus action histories. For a book of this size, a credible job is done in getting out important information. There are a few inaccuracies in the book, most notably the Figures on Pages 9 and 11 that misidentified the 3.5 inch antiaircraft turrets of Littorio as being 4.7 inch.
This book is an excellent primer for those interested in learning about Italian battleships of World War Two. It is not in-depth, but all the basic information is summarized. The photographs and illustrations are somewhat helpful to modelers, but are not detailed enough to follow as guides. The large number of photographs and illustrations are welcome and keep this book engaging. I think of this book as Eye-Tie WW2 BBs Lite. I look forward to New Vanguard editions on other Italian warship classes.
Thanks to Sara Batkie of Osprey Publishing for the review copy!
above: Front cover of Italian Battleships of World War II showing an air-launched guided bomb (Fritz) dropped by a German Do-217 about to hit the Roma which ended in her dramatic destruction on the way to surrendering to the Allies in September 1943.
Image 1: Back cover of Italian Battleships of World War II.
Image 2: Illustration of modernized Italian battleships Caio Duilio (top) in 1942 and Andrea Doria (bottom) in 1941. Italian battleships were known for elaborate camouflage schemes.
Image 3: Illustration of the namesake of the final Italian battleship class, Littorio, in 1942.
Image 4: Cutaway illustration of midships internal arrangement of Vittorio Veneto showing the Pugliese underwater protection system. A water-filler cylinder was intended to absorb the shock of torpedo and shell hits without disturbing internal compartments. In practice, the system worked but often produced serious flooding. Italian battleships were among the most often damaged and repaired ships of World War Two.