The Giulio Cesare (1911/1914)

Dreadnought battleship GIULIO CESARE running trials in 1915

Cesare Class - Read on.    |    Specifications    |    Ship Histories    |    Andrea Doria Class    |    Links

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. 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 4-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: Displacement: 23,088 tons standard; 25,086 tons deep laden. Dimensions: 552' OA x 87' x 28'4"   Armament: (13) 12"/46 cal (2x2, 3x3), (18) 4"/50 cal, (and 16) 3"/60 cal guns, (6) 3"/40 cal AA guns; (3) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp Cemented type. Belt: 3.1"/5.1"/9.8". 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". 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.

Ships in class: Giulio Cesare · Leonardo da Vinci · Conte di Cavour
* Boiler Note: The Cesare had Babcock boilers. The other two were boilered by Blechynden.

Metric specifications, as built: Displacement: 23,088 tons standard; 25,086 tons deep laden. Dimensions: 176.1m OA x 28m x 9.4m   Armament: (13) 305 mm/46 cal (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: Krupp Cemented type. Belt: 249/130/96mm. Turrets: 279.4 mm face; 238.7 mm sides; 84 mm roof. Barbettes: 305/130 mm. Casemates: 129.5/109 mm. Conning Tower: 280/100 mm; main, 180 mm secondary. Deck: 3 decks of 41/12.7 mm. 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.

Ships' Histories

The Cesare joined the fleet in 1913 amid patriotic rejoicing: Italy had 4 dreadnoughts in service before France's first one was finished, and 3 more building. A first in battleship engineering, the class were 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 war came, a severe coal shortage soon followed. 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 (below) was destroyed by a magazine explosion at Taranto in November 1916, bringing the Regia Marina's dreadnought roster down from 6 to 5 ships; sabotage was suspected. Leonardo was raised in 1921 but never repaired; instead she went to the wreckers in 1923. In the 1920s, Italy's remaining dreadnoughts were converted to oil fuel. 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.

LEONARDO DA VINCI clearing the swing bridge at Taranto
During her brief career, the Leonardo da Vinci clears the swing bridge at Taranto.

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

During the mid-Thirties, all the WWI Italian dreadnouhts were extensively rebuilt, as permitted under the terms of the Washington 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 and upping their horsepower to 93,000. They were now twin-screw ships, their hulls lengthened by 35 feet (10.3m) by fitting a new, longer clipper bow. 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. Thus (although still under-gunned by British standards), the Italian ships achieved impressive gains in firepower, protection, and speed: all without impacting Italy's narrow quota for new construction under the Treaty.

CONTE DI CAVOUR at sea off Brindisi

Cesare's sister ship the Conte di Cavour cruising off Brindisi. 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.

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 then 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 3 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 over 2 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)


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

The 1915 Caio Duilio (shown above on her trials) was the consummation of dreadnought technology in the WWI-era Italian navy. This 2-ship class was an improved Cavour class 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.

ANDREA DORIA under steam, 1915The history of these two ships is 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. Often they returned to port prematurely, leaving an impression of avoiding combat. On November 11, 1940, Duilio and Doria were in port at Taranto when British Swordfish biplanes launched a sneak torpedo attack. 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 War and after. 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 (2x2, 3x3), (16) 6"/50, and (18) 3" guns; (6) 76mm AA guns; (3) 21" torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp Cemented 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" (2x2, 2x3), (12) 5.3" (4x3), and (13) 3" guns; (15) 37mm AA guns and (16) 20mm AA guns. Armor: 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 (2x2, 3x3), (16) 152 mm/50, and (18) 76 mm guns; (6) 76mm AA guns; (3) 533-mm torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp Cemented 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 guns (2x2, 2x3), (12) 5.3" 135mm (4x3), and (13) 76 mm guns; (15) 37 mm AA guns and (16) 20mm AA guns. Armor: 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.

Gallery: Italian Dreadnoughts in World War II

CAIO DUILIO at sea in 1940

Caio Duilio following her 1937-1940 modernization shows off her updated look.


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. Though salvaged and laboriously repaired, she was out of combat for the rest of the War. Briefly captured by the Germans and then recaptured by the Allies, she went to the wrecker's torch in 1947.


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. Evidently this is from a review, judging from the number of bluejackets lining every available deck and platform.

CAVOUR and CESARE at sea in 1940

Guns at the ready, the Conte di Cavour leads the Cesare in this rare view of the Italian battle fleet making a wartime sortie. The stunning coast of Calabria rolls by in the background.