The Giulio Cesare (1911/1914)

Dreadnought battleship GIULIO CESARE running trials in 1915

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Giulio Cesare (shown above in 1915) marked a further step in dreadnought evolution for the Italian navy. The layout problems posed by the Dante were solved elegantly by the mixed double-and triple-turret disposition, with the addition of superfiring positions fore and aft. The three ships of this class added a fifth turret amidships, similar to the British Iron Dukes and their many derivatives. Their guns, too, were British: thirteen Elswick Pattern "T" 12"/46. The Cesare's guns were manufactured by Armstrongs' Italian affiliate, Pozzuoli of Naples, while the Leonardo's were actually made at Elswick. The Cavour's were manufactured at Vickers' Italian partner, Terni. Delayed delivery on the guns stretched the build time of all three ships.

The turrets on all the Cesare class ships were hydraulically operated. The three turrets mounted closest to the deck were all triples; the superfiring turrets were both twins. With improved protection and higher-horsepower turbines, the three ships in the Cavour class achieved gains in all three battleship variables: firepower, horsepower, and protection. All this and good looks too: a symmetrical and very powerful profile: Superfiring pairs of turrets fore and aft leading up to widely separated funnels grouped with modern-looking tripod masts,* and the amidships "P" turret enthroned in the center. As befit a battleship named for the great Roman soldier-statesman Julius Caesar, an Art Deco eagle figurehead was splayed across the prow of the Cesare (below); its flat, decorative styling was much better integrated into the look of the ship than most earlier battleship figureheads. This was, after all, the high noon of Futurism in Italian art and literature, with its attendant glorification of raw power, militarism, and machinery.

*MODELERS' NOTE: In the photos these masts sometimes appear to be four-legged tripods, but in fact the fourth "leg" is a long cargo boom.

Plans & Specifications

Plan of dreadnought GIULIO CESARE (1911)

Specifications for the Cavour class, as built:
Dimensions: 552' OA x 87' x 28'4"  Displacement: 23,088 tons standard; 25,086 tons deep laden. Armament: (13) 12"/46 cal M1909 (2x2, 3x3), (18) 4"/50 cal, (and 16) 3"/60 cal guns, (6) 3"/40 cal AA guns; (3) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor type: See Note. Belt: 9.8"/5.1"/3.1". Turrets: 11" face, 9.4" sides, 3.3" roof. Barbettes: 12"/5.1". Casemates: 5.2"/4.3". Conning Tower: 11"/3.9" main, 7.1" secondary. Deck: 3 decks of ½" to 1.6". Fuel capacity: 1,000 tons of coal normal; 2,500 tons maximum. Propulsion: (20) coal-fired boilers*; (4) Parsons steam turbines developing 31,000 hp, geared to quad screw. Speed: 21.5 knots. Range: 4,800 nm @ 10 kts. Crew: 44 officers and 850 men.

As reconstructed:
Dimensions: 611'6" x 87' x 34'2"  Displacement: 28,800 tons std; 29,100 tons deep laden. Armament: (10) 12.6"/44 (2x2, 2x3), (12) 4.7"/50 (4x3), (8) 3.9"/47, (8) 37 mm/54, and (12) 20mm/65 AA guns. Armor: 1" deck protection added. Otherwise unchanged. Propulsion: (8) oil-fired boilers; Parsons type steam turbines developing 93,000 hp, geared to twin screw. Maximum speed: 28 kts. Range: 3,100 nm @ 20 kts. Crew: 1,236.

* Boiler Note: The Cesare had Babcock boilers. The other two were boilered by Blechynden.
* Armor Note: Cavour: Terni type; Cesare: Midvale type/Bethlehem Steel; Leonardo: Midvale type/Midvale.

Plan of dreadnought GIULIO CESARE (1911)

Metric specifications, as built:
Dimensions: 176.1m OA x 28m x 9.4m  Displacement: 23,088 tons standard; 25,086 tons deep laden. Armament: (13) 305 mm/46 cal M1909 (2x2, 3x3), (18) 120 mm/50 cal, and (16) 76 mm/60 cal guns; (6) 76mm/40 cal AA guns; (3) 450 mm torpedo tubes. Armor type: See Note. Belt: 249/130/96mm. Turrets: 280 mm face; 240 mm sides; 84 mm roof. Barbettes: 305/130 mm. Casemates: 130/110 mm. Conning Tower: 280/100 mm; main, 180 mm secondary. Deck: 3 decks of 41/12.7 mm. Fuel capacity: 1,000 tons of coal normal; 2,500 tons maximum. Propulsion: (20) coal-fired boilers; (4) Parsons steam turbines developing 23,117 kW, geared to quad screw. Speed: 39.8 km/hr. Range: 8,890 km @ 18.5 km/hr. Crew: 44 officers and 850 men.

As reconstructed:
Dimensions: 186.4m x 28m x 10.4m  Displacement: 28,800 tons std; 29,100 tons deep laden. Armament: (10) 320 mm/44 (2x2, 2x3), (12) 120 mm/50 (4x3), (8) 100 mm/47, (8) 37 mm/54, and (12) 20mm/65 AA guns. Armor: 24 mm deck protection added. Otherwise unchanged. Propulsion: (8) oil-fired boilers; Parsons type steam turbines, developing 69,350 kW, geared to twin screw. Maximum speed: 53 km/hr. Range: 5,741 km @ 37 km/hr. Crew: 1,236.

Ships' Histories

The Cesare joined the fleet in 1913 amid patriotic rejoicing: Italy had four dreadnoughts in service before France's first one was finished, and three more building. A first in battleship engineering, the class all was driven by geared turbines, allowing the turbines to run at their most efficient speed and the props to spin at their [far lower] most efficient rate. Turbine gearing was universally adopted on new warships built between the world wars, but pre-WWI there was insufficient gear-cutting capacity to equip all the world's dreadnought engines this way, so direct drive remained standard. When Italy joined the war on May 23, 1915, a severe coal shortage soon followed -- a shortage shared by its chief antagonist, Austria-Hungary. Italy's dreadnoughts performed a few bombardments early in the War but, giving the lie to the Futurists' bluster, the ships mostly sat out WWI in Taranto, the main Italian fleet base. Sister ship Leonardo da Vinci was destroyed by a magazine explosion at Taranto in November 1916, bringing the Regia Marina's dreadnought roster down from six to five ships; sabotage was suspected. Leonardo was raised in 1921 but never repaired; instead her hulk went to the wreckers in 1923.

World War I Era Photos

CONTE DI CAVOUR at sea off Brindisi

Cesare's sister ship the Conte di Cavour cruising off the coast of Montenegro. This shot nicely shows the casemate mountings for the secondary weapons along the side. Click here to see how the secondary battery was rearranged in the ships' 1933-37 modernization.

LEONARDO DA VINCI clearing the swing bridge at Taranto
Leonardo da Vinci clears the swing bridge at Taranto: the Ponte Girevole, built 1887.

Noontime shot of CESARE anchored at base
Giulio Cesare at base at Taranto. Note futuristic eagle on bow.

Distant shot of Italian battleship formation steaming offshore
Giulio Cesare leads a sweep by the Italian battle fleet, 1918.

Later History

In 1922, Benito Mussolini took power in Rome and his militarist posturing soon dictated the direction of Italy's foreign policy. Mussolini used Giulio Cesare to bombard shore in the Corfu Incident of 1926, in a typical example of fascist bullying of weaker states. This particular episode of muscle-flexing came in response to Italian nationals being killed in Greece. In the 1920s, all of Italy's remaining dreadnoughts were converted to oil fuel. After serving faithfully for 16 years, the Dante Alighieri was scrapped under the Washington Treaty in 1928. That left four legacy dreadnoughts in the Regia Marina.

During the mid-Thirties, all these prewar ships were extensively rebuilt, as permitted under the terms of the Treaty. Italy was also building a new generation of warships in the buildup to WWII; but the old ships were so thoroughly reinvented as to constitute a new battleship division on their own. Cavour and Cesare were gutted amidships, receiving new engines that increased their horsepower to 93,000. They were now twin-screw ships, with a new, longer clipper bow that lengthened them by 35 feet (10.3m). These changes made them 28-knot ships. The ships' guns were re-bored to 12.6"/44 cal, and new 135mm thick armored decks were installed. The midships turret was removed, bringing the main armament down to ten guns. The four remaining turrets were converted from hydraulic to electric operation. The secondary armament was reworked, migrating to the weather deck in four 4"/47 twin turrets; AA armament of eight 37mm and twelve 20mm was added. Thus (although still under-gunned by British standards), the Italian ships achieved impressive gains in firepower, protection, and most specially in speed: all without impacting Italy's narrow quota for new construction under the Washington Treaty. One holdover from the original rig was the tripod mainmast, studded with director fire-control stations and searchlight platforms, and markedly taller than the sculptural, streamlined control tower forward.

The Italian fleet actually saw more action in the early years of the Second World War than in all of the First (see WWII Picture Gallery). At the Battle of Punta Stilo (July 9, 1940) Giulio Cesare engaged in a long-range gunnery duel with British units. One of her salvos caused damage to a pair of British destoyers. In turn, Cesare sustained damage from a 15" shell fired by a grizzled veteran of the Battle of Jutland, HMS Warspite, from a distance of more than 26,000 yards. On November 27, 1940 the ship was involved in the battle with Force H (including HMS Hood). Performing convoy escort duty as Allied armies pressured the Axis presence in North Africa, the ship participated in the First Battle of Sirte. In 1941 the ship sustained bomb damage from three near misses in an air raid on Naples. 1942 found the Regia Marina in suspended animation for lack of fuel, and the following year the Allies invaded Italy and Mussolini was overthrown. Cesare played no further rôle in the war, but was ceded to the USSR as war reparations in 1946.

CESARE under the Hammer and Sickle, early 1950sRenamed Novorossisk after the Black Sea port, she became the flagship of the Soviet Black Sea fleet and was used for gunnery training. While in port at the main base of Sevastopol, the ship suffered a mysterious but catastrophic explosion on the night of October 29, 1955, and capsized a bit more than two hours later. 608 were killed in the Red Navy's worst-ever disaster; the cause has never been definitively proven. One colorful theory is that vigilante Italian frogmen blew the ship up in a dramatic act of revenge. (Like the Navy Seals -- a source of the Blackwater praetorian guard in the present-day U.S. -- the MAS demolition experts formed an elite corps in Mussolini's fascist state.) While it appeals to the conspiracy-minded, this theory suffers from a lack of supporting evidence. The theory posited by the Russian government is that the ship somehow set off a magnetic mine left over from the Nazi occupation: also an implausible-sounding explanation. A very thorough mine recovery program did take place directly after the sinking.

The Andrea Doria Class (1913/1915)

The CAIO DUILIO making speed, dramatic photo from 1917
The Duilio at speed, 1917.   Enlarge    De Pinto Donazione/Alinari Archives, Florence

Specifications    |    World War I Photos    |    World War II Photos    |    Links    |    Cesare Class

The 1915 Caio Duilio (shown above on her trials) was the consummation of dreadnought technology in the WWI-era Italian navy. These two ships were improved Cavours with the same main armament mounted in a near-identical configuration. Differences: the secondary armament was up-gunned to 6". Also, the Dorias' forecastle deck stepped down abaft the forward funnel; the aft 6" were a deck lower than the forward guns. The earlier class had a step down also, but it came abaft the redoubt, whose aft margins ran diagonally between the beams and "X" barbette (the aft superfiring twin); the Cavours' secondary 4" guns thus were all housed on the same deck. Whereas the Cavours had a diamond-shaped redoubt amidships with deep cutouts in the hull to accommodate forward fire from the 4" guns, the Dorias mounted their aft casemate guns further aft, abreast the X and Y 12" turrets. Otherwise the layout was very similar, with a periscope-like conning tower, two huge funnels widely separated and grouped with the masts, and the amidships or "P" turret inserted between the funnels. The main armament was the Vickers Mark "G" Model 1909 12"/46, manufactured at Vickers' Puzzuoli facility. Turrets were hydraulically powered.

ANDREA DORIA under steam, 1915In the Thirties, the ships were completely reworked, much like the Giulio Cesares: they received long, shark-like clipper bows and were entirely re-boilered and re-engined, gaining 6 knots of speed; their 12" guns were re-bored and relined to 12.6". Their four remaining turrets were converted from hydraulic to electric operation. As with the Cesare class ships, the tripod mainmast was the only original element retained, soaring high above the new, streamlined control tower. The secondary armament migrated from casemates to turrets: two triple 5" abreast the conning tower, with five 90 mm singles per side following them along the side of the superstructure.

The history of these two ships is likewise quite similar to the story of the Cavour class, but perhaps less adventurous. Both vessels were extensively rebuilt in the late Thirties, like the Cavours (see specs below). Caio Duilio, named for the Roman consul and admiral Gaius Duilius, survived WWI and the first part of WWII without seeing significant action. Her task groups were sent out time and again seeking action with reported British units, but somehow never made contact. The lack of radar on the Italian ships may have had something to do with this tendency. Often they returned to port prematurely, leaving an impression of avoiding combat. There were a number of brushes with the British early in the war: harrassing their withdrawal from Crete; Cape Spartivento; Punta Stilo. On November 11, 1940, Duilio and Doria were in port at Taranto with all the fleet when British Swordfish biplanes launched a sneak torpedo attack at 2300 hours. Duilio took one torpedo in the starboard bow, tearing a 40-foot hole in her outer skin. The ship was beached for temporary repairs and eventually proceeded to Genoa for durable repairs under her own power. Back in service by May 1941, she served as flagship of several task groups covering troop convoys to Libya. In December she was at sea just prior to the First Battle of Sirte, but her group was not involved in the battle.

In 1942, the ship escorted convoys on three occasions, and sortied in an abortive attempt to intercept a British Malta convoy. By midyear, oil shortages kept the big ships confined to port. After the armistice in 1943, both Dorias were moved to Malta to keep them out of range of the Luftwaffe. Italy was permitted to keep both ships after V-E Day. Duilio served as fleet flagship for the new, more democratic Italy from 1947-1949, and both ships served as training vessels during the early Fifties. Doria was scrapped in 1956, Duilio in 1957, proving themselves two of the longest-lived WWI era dreadnoughts.

Plans & Specifications

Plan of dreadnought CONTE Di CAVOUR (1915)

Specifications for the Andrea Doria class, as built:
Dimensions: 554'4" x 92' x 28'1½"   Displacement: 22,956 tons standard; 24,729 tons deep laden. Armament: (13) 12"/46 Vickers M1909 (2x2, 3x3), (16) 6"/50, and (18) 3" guns; (6) 76mm AA guns; (3) 21" torpedo tubes. Armor: Terni type. Belt: 9¾"/4". Conning tower: 11". Turrets: 9½". Barbettes: 9½". Upper belt: 8½". Battery: 6". Deck: 1¾". Fuel capacity: 1,000 tons of coal normal; 2,500 tons maximum. Propulsion: (20) coal-fired Yarrow boilers; (4) Parsons steam turbines developing 30,000 shp, geared to quad screw. Speed: 21 knots. Crew: 1,223.

Ships in class: Andrea Doria Caio Duilio

As rebuilt in 1933-37:
Displacement: 26,434 tons standard; 29,391 tons deep laden. Dimensions: Unchanged. Armament: (10) 12.6"/44 (2x2, 2x3) and (12) 5.3" guns (4x3); (10) 3.5", (15) 37mm, and (16) 20mm AA guns. Armor: (2) 3" armored decks added, otherwise unchanged. Propulsion: (8) oil-fired boilers; (2) steam turbines developing 75,000 hp, geared to twin screw. Speed: 27 knots. Crew: 1,485.

Metric specifications, as built:
Dimensions: 169m x 28m x 8.58m   Displacement: 22,956 tons standard; 24,729 tons deep laden. Armament: (13) 305 mm/46 M1909 (2x2, 3x3), (16) 152 mm/50, and (18) 76 mm guns; (6) 76mm AA guns; (3) 533-mm torpedo tubes. Armor: Terni type. Belt: 248/100 mm. Turrets & Barbettes: 241 mm. Conning tower: 280 mm. Upper belt: 216 mm. Battery: 152 mm. Deck: 44½ mm. Fuel capacity: 1,000 tons of coal normal; 2,500 tons maximum. Propulsion: (20) coal-fired Yarrow boilers; (4) Parsons steam turbines developing 22,371 kW, geared to quad screw. Speed: 38.9 km/hr. Crew: 1,223.

As rebuilt in 1933-37:
Displacement: 26,434 tons standard; 29,391 tons deep laden. Dimensions: Unchanged. Armament: (10) 320 mm (2x2, 2x3) and (12) 135mm guns (4x3); (10) 90 mm, (15) 37 mm, and (16) 20mm AA guns. Armor: (2) 76 mm armored decks added, otherwise unchanged. Propulsion: (8) oil-fired boilers; (2) steam turbines developing 55,927.5 kW, geared to twin screw. Speed: 50 km/hr. Crew: 1,485.

World War I Era Photos

CAIO DUILIO on trials
The Caio Duilio thrashing through a chop on trials. Delayed by a wait for guns, her sister commissioned the folowing year.

CAIO DUILIO at sea in 1915
The Duilio at sea when new, in 1915. This shot makes an instructive comparison with the one immediately below.

Gallery: Italian Dreadnoughts in World War II

CAIO DUILIO at sea in 1940
Caio Duilio shows off her updated look following her 1937-1940 modernization. Enlarge

Benito Mussolini reviews his navy at Taranto
Mussolini reviews the fleet at Taranto before the War. As Italy's hopes withered on the battlefield, he never repeated the visit.

Battleship GIULIO CESARE in artistic photo-composite
The Cesare in a dramatic end-to-end view, with artistically dubbed-in clouds and non-matching light sources.

ANDREA DORIA in WW II camouflage paint
Andrea Doria's 1941 camouflage paint echoes the dazzle patterns so popular in WWI.   Enlarge

Battleship CAIO DUILIO with all turrets rotated maximum port and aft
The Caio Duilio maneuvers with her squadron, all her turrets trained aft.


The Conte di Cavour as refitted in the late Thirties, carrying the flag in the early years of WWII. The new clipper bow and streamlined superstructure add a more modern look, though she still carries only 12" guns. The ship was torpedoed and sunk in the British air attack on Taranto on November 11-12, 1940, and hors de combat for the duration.

CAIO DUILIO in 1930s
A profile view of the Cavour in her new livery, showing the elegant, balanced look of the rebuilt ship.

CONTE di CAVOUR in 1939

A detail of the Cavour's midships conning tower, showing superstructure, funnels arranged where the midships or "Q" turret had been, and arrangement of secondary armament in twin and triple turrets. Judging from the number of bluejackets lining every available deck and platform, this was taken at a review.

CONTE DI CAVOUR in 1938 - stern view
Cavour in the late Thirties.   Enlarge    De Pinto Donazione/Alinari Archives, Florence

Battleship ANDREA DORIA of 1915 with aft turrets elevated
The Doria trialing her systems in port; guns elevated, 1940.

CAVOUR and CESARE at sea in 1940

Guns at the ready, Conte di Cavour leads the Cesare in the sortie to the Battle of Calabria (called Punta Stilo in Italy). The stunning coast of Italy's boot rolls by in the background.

Battleship GIULIO CESARE at the Battle of Pta. Stilo

The Cesare reloads and evaluates her last salvo at the Battle of Calabria, July 9, 1940. Later in the engagement, the ship was hit in the fantail by a 15" shell fired by HMS Warspite at extreme range. The hit ignited ready ammo for the 37 mm AA guns. Fumes from this fire were sucked into the ventilation system, causing shutdown of about half the boiler rooms. The Cavour stepped in and covered for the wounded ship until Italian destroyers could lay a smoke screen, allowing the battleships to retire. The Italian fleet held its own in this encounter, but soon after was bested at the Battle of Cape Matapan, fought off Greece on March 27-29, 1941.   Enlarge

Battleship CONTE di CAVOUR firing at the Battle of Calabria, 1940
The Cavour firing at the British at Punta Stilo. Taken from the Cesare, the next ship ahead.

CAIO DUILIO in 1948 - stern view

The end of the Cavour, sunk in the British air raid at Taranto. Three of the six battleships present were seriously damaged, but only the Cavour was knocked out for good. The ship was raised and towed to Trieste for patching and an upgrade in AA armament, but laborious repairs were not completed before the end of the war. She was recaptured by Germany in 1943, scuttled again and recaptured by Italians fighting with the Allies. She was scrapped in 1947. Still, Italy finished the war with three out of its four legacy dreadnoughts intact, and kept two even after satisfying Stalin's hunger for war reparations. The two surviving Littorio class ships, completed 1940, were interned at Malta after Italy's surrender in 1943. They were scrapped in 1947-8.