The design of a modern battleship for the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) began about 1930 under the supervision of Umberto Pugliese. This design lead to the construction of the first modern battleship by a major naval power after the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which was the Littorio Class. This design was to adhere to the Treaty limitations of 35,000 tons. The battleships were to be fast, and as with all Italian warships, known for their extreme speeds.
The main gun armament was not to be the treaty set limit of 16in., but limited by Italy’s production capabilities of 15in. ammunition. For torpedo protection, a revolutionary design concept of a cylindrical void, design to absorb detonations, ran the length of the armored citadel, below the main hull armor belt. By the time of the laying down of the keels, the design tonnage was in excess of 40,000 tons, clearly violating Treaty standards.
Littorio and Vittorio Veneto were laid down in October of 1934. In May of 35, the Italian Naval Ministry began preparing for a five-year naval building plan that would include 2 battleships, 3 aircraft carriers, 12 cruisers, 16 destroyers & 60 submarines and smaller ships. In December 1935, Admiral Cavagnari proposed to Mussolini that, among other things, two more of the Littorio class be built in an attempt to counter a possible Franco-British alliance. If these two countries combined forces, they would easily outnumber the Italian fleet & it battleship strength. Mussolini postponed his decision, but later authorized panning for the two battleships Impero and Roma in January 1937.
Funding for the two new Battleships Impero (Empire), and Roma (Rome) was finally approved in December of 1937. While Impero was to be a repeat of the Littorio design (never to be completed) the Roma was to be an improved version.
Roma’s keel was laid down by the Italian shipbuilder Cantieri Riuniti dell ‘Adriatico on September 18th 1938; about four years after the two original, and four months after Impero. Yet, the Roma had many improvements made to her design. The bow was noticeably redesigned to give Roma additional freeboard. Partway into contrsuction, she was also modified on the basis of experience with Vittorio Veneto, so that she had a finer stern at the waterline. Her AA armament was also equipped with 32 rather than 24, 20mm (0.79in)/65 caliber Breda light AA guns. Placement of her anti-aircraft directors was altered fro that on the Littorio’s, as well as some of the superstructure platforms.
This may be an interesting note to some, about Roma’s main guns. Each mount weighed in at 1,758 tons for the entire rotating assembly, guns and armored turret. The guns were 15in by 50 caliberes and were a very high velocity rifle, at 2,854 ft per second. This however resulted in a very short barrel life of 110 – 130 rounds, about, or less than half that of other nations guns. The shell was also very heavy, 1,951lbs for the armor piercing rounds, which gave it a very good penetrating power, only surpassed by the Japanese 18.1in gun. The loading of the shells was done at 15 degrees, so with each firing the gun barrels were returned to that elevation to reload and then back to the firing elevation. For this reason the rate of fire was at 1.33 rpm, slow by international standards. The guns were also able to elevate to +35 degrees, and depress to -5.5 degrees; giving a max range of 26.25 miles, which was exceptionally far. Yet, they were able to train and elevate at a rate of 6 degrees per second, slow by international standards.
She was finally launched on June 9th 1940, just one day before Italy declaring war on France and Britian.
Joining the Fleet
After just over two years of fitting out, the RM Roma was commissioned into the RM on June 14th 1942. She arrived in Taranto on August 21st and was assigned to the Ninth Naval Division. Although Roma to part in training exercises and was moved to various bases including Naples and La Spezia, in the next year, she did not go on any combat missions as the Italian Navy was desperately short on fuel. In fact, by the end of 1942, the only combat ready ships in the Navy were the three Littorio’s. The other battleships were placed in reserves due to the fuel shortages. When combined with a lack of capable vessels to escort the capital ships, the combat potential of the Italian Navy was virtually non-existent.
On December 6th 1942, Roma was transferred with Vittorio Veneto, and Littorio from Taranto to La Spezia, where she became the flagship of the RM. They stayed there for through the first half of 1943 without going on any operations.
During this time, La Spezia was attacked many times by Allied bomber groups. Attacks on the 14 & 19th of April 1943 did not hit Roma, but an American raid on June 5th 1943, severely damaged both Vittorio Veneto and Roma.
B-17s carrying 2,000lb armor-piercing bombs damaged the stationary ships with two bombs each. Roma suffered two near misses on either side of her bow. The starboard-side bomb hit the ship but passed through the side hull and into the water before exploding. Roma began to take water through leaks in frames 221 to 22, an area of about 32 square feet, & through flooding on the bow to frame 212. The 2nd bomb missed but exploded in the water near the hull. Leaks were discovered over a 30 sq. ft area, from frames 198-207. Approximately 2,350 long tons of water entered the ship.
Roma was damaged again by two bombs in another raid on June 23 to 24th. One bomb hit the ship aft and to the starboard of the main rear battery turret and destroyed many staterooms. The second bomb landed atop the rear turret itself, but suffered very little damage due to its armor protection. Despite the hits, the Roma suffered no serious damage, but she was moved to Genoa for repairs on July 1st. Once completed, she returned to La Spezia on the 13th of August.
Along with many of the principle units of the Italian Fleet, including Vittorio Veneto, & Italia(ex-Littorio), the cruisers Eugenio di Savoia, Raimondo Montecuccoli, and Emanuele Filiberto Duca d’Aosta, and eight destroyers, Roma steamed from La Spezia as the flagship of Admiral Carlo Bergamini on September 9th 1943, a day after the proclamation of the Italian armistice with Allied forces. Joined by three additional cruisers that steamed from Genoa, Duca degli Abruzzi, Giuseppe Garibaldi, & Attilio Regolo, the fleet first steamed towards Salerno in a deliberate division to convince the Germans that they were going to attack the Allied ships sailing to invade Italy as part of Operation Avalanche. This was conveyed to the German Naval Command, but the fleet was actually bound for the Sardian port of La Maddalena in an effort to form a “Free Italian” government, ruled by King Emmanuel III, retaining the majority of the Italian fleet and claiming neutrality. Yet, when the fleet learned that La Maddalena had been taken over by the Germans, they changed course and headed towards Malta to surrender.
Germany Strikes Back
When the Germans learned of this betrayal, the Luftwaffe sent Dornier Do 217-K2s armed with Fritz-X radio-controlled bombs to attack the ships. They caught up the fleet in the Strait of Bonifacio, and the Gulf of Asinara, at about 15:10 hrs. The German aircraft trailed the fleet for some time, but the Italians did not open fire when they spotted the aircraft. The planes were so far away that it was impossible to identify them as Allied or German; the Admiral Bergamini believed that they were the air cover promised to them by the Allies.
Yet, when the attack began at 15:33, the Italian fleet opened up & began evasive maneuvers. At 15:35, the first Fritz-X guided bomb missed Italia near the stern, damaging her rudder. About 54 minutes after this, 16:29 hrs, Italia was hit on the starboard side underneath her for main turrets.
Roma was hit on the same side somewhere between frames 100 and 108 at 15:46. This bomb passed through the ship and exploded beneath the ship’s keel, damaging the hull girder and allowing water to flood the after engine room and two boiler rooms. The flooding disabled the inboard propellers and started a large amount of electrical arcing, causing electrical fires in the after portion of the ship. Losing power and speed, Roma began to fall out of the battle group. She could only do 12 knots at this point and manyof her electrically controlled systems, such as directors and gun mounts were knocked out.
(The photos above are of the 2nd Fritz-X hit on the Roma)
Around 15:52, another Fritz-X penetrated through the starboard side of the Roma’s deck, between frames 123 and 136. It likely detonated in the forward magazine but some say engine room, sparking flames and causing heavy flooding in the magazines of main battery turret number two and the fore port side secondary battery turret, and putting even more pressure on the previously stressed hull girder. Seconds after the initial blast, the number two 15-inch (381-mm) turret was blown over the side by a massive explosion, this time from the detonation of that turret's magazines. This caused additional catastrophic flooding in the forward and midships portion of the warship, and she began to go down slightly at the bow while leaning more and more to starboard. At 16:12, her starboard deck awash, the ship quickly capsized and broke in two.
As the Roma capsized, the bridge tower was seen to break away and toppled into the sea. The stern section sank within minutes, at about 16:15, while the bow section remained afloat, possibly for as long as 15 minutes. Because of the proximity of the forward magazine explosion to the bridge, there were very few survivors from that portion of the ship.
Roma had a crew of 1,948 when she sailed, only 596 survived, with 1,352 men going down with the ship.
General Statistics for the RM Roma
Length: 789.5 ft
Beam: 107.5 ft
Draft: 31.5 ft (standard load)
34.25 ft (max load)
Light: 42,360 tons
Standard: 45,610 tons
Normal: 49,053 tons
Full Load: 51,266 tons
(all weight in US tons 2,000 lbs.)
Boiler: 8x Yarrow
Turbines: 12x Belluzo
Propellers: 3 bladed, 15.75 ft. dia.
Design: 128,200 shp.
Max: 138,000 shp.
Design: 30 kts.
Max: 31.5 kts.
Max @ full load: 29 kts.
Cruising: 20 kts.
Bunkerage: 4,592 ton max
@ 30 kts:1770 kn.
@ 20 kts: 3920 kn.
@14 kts: 47000 kn.
Rudder: 1x main + 2x emergency
Main Belt: 2.75 in. + 11 in. layered, reduced to 2.35 in. forward & 5.1 in. aft
Bulkheads: 2.75 - 8.26 in.
Decks: 1.77 – 6.38 in.
Barbettes: 11 – 13.78 in.
Main turrets: 13.78 faces, 5.12 – 7.87 in. all other sides
Secondary Turrets: 11 in. faces, 5 – 3 in. sides, 5.9 – 4 in. top & back. 5.9 – 4 in. barbettes.
Conning Tower: 2.36 – 10.24 in.
Main Rangefinders: 1 – 8.86 in.
9 x 15 in./50 cal. Triple mount,
1.3 rpm per barrel, 666 shells (495 AP & 171 HE) carried.
12 x 6 in./55 cal. Triple mount,
4.5 rpm per barrel, 2,520 shells carried.
4x 4.7 in./40 cal. Single mount,
240 star shells carried
Heavy: 6x 3.5 in./50 cal. Single mount,
12 rpm, 5842 shells carried.
Medium: 20 x 37mm/54 cal. 4x single & 8 x twin mounts,
120 rpm per barrel, 30000 shells carried.
Light: 32 x 20mm/65 cal. Twin mounts,
220 rpm per barrel, 40,000 shells carried.
3 x Floatplanes (1 x Ro-43 & 2 x Re-2000)
June 1942: 1,865
(85 officers, 260 petty officers, & 1520 crewman)
September 1943: 1,948
(as above, 1540 crew + 63 (fleet admiral & flag officers))
Edited by Tanz, 19 June 2013 - 04:22 PM.