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Italian battleship Roma (1940)
Italian battleship Roma (1940) starboard bow view.jpg
Career (Italy)
Name: Roma
Namesake: Rome
Operator: Regia Marina
Ordered: 1937[1]
Builder: Cantieri Riuniti dell'Adriatico[2]
Yard number: 1223[3]
Laid down: 18 September 1938[4][N 1]
Launched: 9 June 1940[3][4]
Commissioned: 14 June 1942[3][4]
In service: 21 August 1942[5]
Fate: Sunk 9 September 1943[4]
General characteristics
Class & type: Littorio-class battleship
Displacement: 37,820 long tons (38,430 t; 42,360 short tons) light[5]
40,723 long tons (41,376 t; 45,610 short tons) standard[5]
43,797 long tons (44,500 t; 49,053 short tons) normal[5]
45,773 long tons (46,508 t; 51,266 short tons) full load[5]
Length: 787.728 ft (240.099 m) oa[6]
734.070 ft (223.745 m) pp[6]
Beam: 108.104 ft (32.950 m) maximum beam[6]
106.408 ft (32.433 m) waterline beam[6]
Draft: 34.252 ft (10.440 m) @ 45,473 long tons (46,203 t; 50,930 short tons)[6]
Propulsion: 8 Yarrow boilers, 4 shafts, 138,035 shaft horsepower[7]
Speed: 30 knots (35 mph; 56 km/h)[7]
Range: 3,920 nautical miles (7,260 km) at 20 knots (37 km/h)[7]
Complement: 1,920[7]
Armament: 3 × 3 381 mm (15.0 in)/50 caliber Model 1934 guns[8]
4 × 3 152 mm (6.0 in)/55 Model 1934 guns[8]
12 × 1 90 mm (3.5 in)/50 anti-aircraft guns[8]
20 × 2 37 mm (1.5 in)/50 guns[8]
32 × 20 mm (0.79 in)/65 guns[8]
6 × 1 8 mm (0.31 in) guns[8]
Aircraft carried: 3 aircraft (IMAM Ro.43 or Reggiane Re.2000)

Roma, named after two previous ships and the city of Rome,[N 2] was the third Littorio-class battleship of Italy's Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy). The construction of both Roma and her sister ship Impero was planned due to rising tensions around the world and the navy's fear that two Littorios and the older pre-First World War battleships were not enough to counter the British and French Mediterranean Fleets. As Roma was laid down almost four years after the first two ships of the class, some small improvements were made to the design, including additional freeboard added to the bow.

Roma was commissioned into the Regia Marina on 14 June 1942, but a severe fuel shortage in Italy at that time prevented her from being deployed; instead, along with her sister ships Vittorio Veneto and Littorio, she was used to bolster the anti-aircraft defenses of various Italian cities. In this role, she was severely damaged twice in June 1943 from bomber raids on La Spezia. After repairs in Genoa through all of July and part of August, Roma was deployed as the flagship of Admiral Carlo Bergamini in a large battle group that eventually comprised the three Littorios, eight cruisers and eight destroyers. Their stated intent was attacking the Allied ships approaching Salerno to invade Italy (Operation "Avalanche") but, in reality, the Italian fleet was sailing to Malta to surrender following Italy's September 8, 1943 armistice with the Allies.

While the force was in the Strait of Bonifacio, Dornier Do 217s of the German Luftwaffe's Kampfgeschwader 100—armed with Fritz X radio-controlled bombs—the pioneering deployment of any sort of unpowered, free-fall precision-guided munition in military history—sighted the force. The first attack failed, but the second dealt Italia (ex-Littorio) and Roma much damage. The hit on Roma caused water to flood two boiler rooms and the after engine room, leaving the ship to limp along with two propellers, reduced power, and arc-induced fires in the stern of the ship. Shortly thereafter, another bomb slammed into the ship which detonated within the forward engine room, causing catastrophic flooding and the explosion of the #2 main turret's magazines, throwing the turret itself into the sea. Sinking by the bow and leaning to starboard, Roma capsized and broke in two, carrying 1253, including Bergamini and the ship's captain Adone Del Cima, down with her.

In her 15-month service life, Roma made 20 sorties, mostly in transfers between bases (none were to go into combat), covering 2,492 mi (4,010 km) and using 3,320 tonnes (3,270 long tons; 3,660 short tons) of fuel oil in 133 hours of sailing.[10]

Background[]

For additional information, see Littorio-class battleship

The Italian leader Benito Mussolini did not authorize any large naval rearmament until 1933. Once he did, two old battleships of the Conte di Cavour class were sent to be modernized in the same year, and Vittorio Veneto and Littorio were laid down in 1934. In May 1935, the Italian Naval Ministry began preparing for a five-year naval building program that would include four battleships, three aircraft carriers, four cruisers, fifty-four submarines, and forty smaller ships. In December 1935, Admiral Domenico Cavagnari proposed to Mussolini that, among other things, two more battleships of the Littorio class be built to attempt to counter a possible Franco-British alliance—if the two countries combined forces, they would easily outnumber the Italian fleet. Mussolini postponed his decision, but later authorized planning for the two ships in January 1937. In December, they were approved and money was appropriated for them; they were named Roma and Impero (English: Empire).[1][2]

Laid down nearly four years after Vittorio Veneto and Littorio, Roma was able to incorporate a few design improvements. Her bow was noticeably redesigned to give Roma additional freeboard; partway into construction, it was modified on the basis of experience with Vittorio Veneto so that it had had a finer end at the waterline. She was also equipped with 32 rather than 24, 20 mm (0.79 in)/65 caliber Breda guns.[11][12][N 3]

Construction and commissioning[]

Roma's keel was laid by the Italian shipbuilder Cantieri Riuniti dell'Adriatico on 18 September 1938 and she was launched on 9 June 1940. After just over two years of fitting-out, the new battleship was commissioned into the Regia Marina on 14 June 1942. She arrived in the major naval base of Taranto on 21 August of the same year and was assigned to the Ninth Naval Division.[2]

Roma's forward triple 15-inch (381 mm) 50-caliber gun turrets.

Although Roma took part in training exercises and was moved to various bases including Taranto, Naples and La Spezia, in the next year, she did not go on any combat missions as the Italian Navy was desperately short of fuel. In fact, by the end of 1942, the only combat-ready battleships in the navy were the three Vittorio Venetos because the fuel shortage had caused the four modernized battleships to be removed from service. 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 6 December she was transferred with Vittorio Veneto and Littorio from Taranto to La Spezia, where she became the flagship of the Regia Marina. They remained here through the first half of 1943 without going on any operations.[14][15]

During this time, La Spezia was attacked many times by Allied bomber groups. Attacks on 14 and 19 April 1943 did not hit Roma, but an American raid on 5 June severely damaged both Vittorio Veneto and Roma. B-17 aircraft carrying 908 kg (2,002 lb) armor-piercing bombs damaged the stationary battleships with two bombs each. Roma suffered from two near hits on either side of her bow. The starboard-side bomb hit the ship but passed through the side of the hull before exploding. The ship began taking on water through leaks from frames 221 to 226—an area covering about 32 square feet (3.0 m2)—and through flooding from the bow to frame 212. The second bomb missed but exploded in the water near the hull. Leaks were discovered over a 30 sq ft (2.8 m2) area ranging from frames 198 and 207. Approximately 2,350 long tons (2,630 short tons; 2,390 t) of water entered the ship.[16]

Roma was damaged again by two bombs in another raid on 23–24 June. One hit the ship aft and to starboard of the rear main battery turret and obliterated several staterooms, which were promptly flooded from broken piping. The second landed atop the rear turret itself, but little damage was suffered due to the heavy armor in that location. This attack did not seriously damage Roma or cause any flooding, but she nevertheless sailed to Genoa for repairs. Roma reached the city on 1 July and returned to La Spezia on 13 August once repairs were complete.[2]

Loss[]

The magazine of Roma's number two 15-inch (381-mm) turret explodes on 9 September 1943.

Along with many of the principal units of the Italian fleet—including Vittorio Veneto and Italia (the ex-Littorio)[N 4]—the cruisers Eugenio di Savoia, Raimondo Montecuccoli, and Emanuele Filiberto Duca d'Aosta, and eight destroyers—Roma sailed from La Spezia as the flagship of Admiral Carlo Bergamini on 2 September 1943.

The original orders were to attack, in a "last mission", the Allied naval forces supporting the landings expected in the south-western coast of the Italian peninsula, as their concentration had been sighted in the morning of September 8, between Palermo and Naples. Admiral Bergamini was not informed by the Italian Navy Command (Supermarina) that the Armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces has been signed, in great secrecy, at Cassibile, on September 3, but was ordered not to sail until he received further orders, as it had been learned that the Allies wanted to proclaim this armistice that very afternoon. After the broadcast, from Algiers, of the proclamation of the Armistice by General Eisenhower, Admiral Bergamini was informed that, conforming to the clauses of the Armistice, all the Navy's surface units had to be transferred to Bona, Algeria. Reluctant to accept the Armistice arrangements, Admiral Bergamini obtained instructions from Supermarina to sail for Maddalena, in the north of Sardinia, where he would receive other orders if necessary. As the Fleet, now joined by three cruisers from Genoa, Duca degli Abruzzi, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and Attilio Regolo, steamed west of Corsica and prepared to enter the Strait of Bonifacio, Admiral Bergamini was warned that the Germans had occupied Maddalena.[18]

In the meantime, the Luftwaffe had sent Dornier Do 217s under the command of Bernhard Jope armed with the Fritz X radio-controlled bomb from airfields in the South of France (Nimes-Garons or Istres) to attack the ships. The German aircraft caught up with the force off the Island of Asinara.[15][19][20]

A grey missile sitting on a light-colored floor

A Fritz-X radio-controlled bomb

The Do 217s trailed the fleet for some time, but the Italian fleet did not open fire upon them. The aircraft were trailing the fleet at such a distance that it was impossible to identify them, and Bergamini believed they were the air cover promised to them by the Allies. At 15:37 the aircraft attacked. All ships began evasive maneuvers and fired their anti-aircraft batteries. Italia was hit on the starboard side underneath her forward main turrets, while Roma suffered a starboard hit between frames 100 and 108. This bomb penetrated clean 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 caused the inboard propellers to stop for want of power and started a large amount of arcing, which itself caused electrical fires in the aft half of the ship.[21]

Losing power and speed, Roma began to fall out of the battle group. Around 16:02, another Fritz X slammed into the starboard side of the Roma's deck, between frames 123 and 136. It most probably detonated in the forward 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.[21]

This caused additional catastrophic flooding in the bow, and the battleship began to go down by the bow while listing more and more to starboard. The ship quickly capsized and broke in two. Roma had a crew of 1,849 when she sailed; 596 survived and 1,253 men went down with her.

At the first news of the attack on the Italian warships, Supermarina requested Malta to provide air escort, but all Allied planes were covering the Salerno landing, and the Italian fleet, which was now under Admiral Da Zara, was ordered to proceed to Malta. The cruiser Attilio Regolo, three destroyers and an escort vessel rescued the survivors of the Roma and went on to Port Mahon, in the Balearic Islands.[22] When the Italian Fleet arrived in Valletta, Malta, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham sent the following message to the Admiralty: "Please to inform your Lordships that the Italian battle fleet now lies at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta."

Wreck discovery[]

The sunken vessel was found in June 2012 by the underwater robot 'Pluto Palla,' designed by Italian engineer Guido Gay. It was discovered about 30 km (19 mi) off the northern coast of Sardinia at a depth of around 1,000 m (3,281 ft). On 10 September 2012 a memorial ceremony was held on an Italian frigate over the spot where Roma went down. Giampaolo Di Paola, himself a former naval officer and now the defence minister, at the ceremony described the dead sailors as "unwitting heroes who found their place in history because they carried out their duty right until the end".[23]

Notes[]

  1. The Miramar Ship Index gives a slightly later date, 22 September 1938.[3]
  2. In Latin and Italian, the city's name is Roma. Italian pronunciation: [ˈroːma]. While nominally the battleship were named for the ships and the city, Whitley claims that the name was also motivated by symbolism; when together, the choice of "Roma" and "Impero" (English: Empire) for the new battleships was meant to commemorate the King of Italy's crowning as the Emperor of Ethiopia in 1936 after the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.[9]
  3. Whitley states that Roma was completed with 28 20 mm guns and the other two were originally equipped with 16, but Garzke and Dulin give 32 and 24.[12][13]
  4. Littorio had been renamed on 25 July 1943, soon after the fall of Mussolini and the Fascist Party.[17]

Footnotes[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Knox, Mussolini Unleashed, 20
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 404
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Search results for "6114073", Miramar Ship Index
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 404 and 428
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 428
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 430
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 434
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 432
  9. Whitley, Battleships of World War II, 171
  10. Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleship, 410
  11. Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 418–419, 426, 428
  12. 12.0 12.1 Whitley, Battleships of World War II, 171–172
  13. Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 418–419
  14. Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 392 and 404
  15. 15.0 15.1 Whitley, Battleships of World War II, 178
  16. Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 392, 403–404
  17. Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 403
  18. Commander Marc'Antonio Bragadin,The Italian Navy in World War II,1957, pp.310-318
  19. Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 405
  20. Wade, A Midshipman's War, 225
  21. 21.0 21.1 Garzke and Dulin, Axis and Neutral Battleships, 407
  22. Commander Marc'Antonio Bragadin,The Italian Navy in World War II,1957, p318
  23. Squires, Nick (13 September 2012) "Massive Luftwaffe plane wreck 'found off Sardinian coast'". The Telegraph.

Bibliography[]



Coordinates: 41°9′28″N 8°17′35″E / 41.15778°N 8.29306°E / 41.15778; 8.29306

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