Strange….Exotic….Bizarre….all of those adjectives fit the Faa di Bruno. On October 16, 1914 the Regia Marina laid down their first super-dreadnought, the Francesco Caracciolo. This ship and her three sisters were designed to significantly surpass the Royal Navy Queen Elizabeth class. Displacing 31,400-tons normal, they would carry eight 15-inch (381mm) guns at a maximum speed of 28 knots. However, as with other European navies, battleship construction was suspended when Italy joined the allies against the Central Alliance. Construction on Caracciolo was suspended in March 1916 with 9,000-tons worked into the hull. The other three ships of the class were laid down in 1915 but only Cristoforo Colombo progressed significantly with these three. In March 1916 Colombo was suspended with 5.5% of total construction done. However, some of the 15-inch guns ordered for these ships were too close to completion for suspension and were delivered. Now the Regia Marina had 15-inch/40 guns but no battleships in which to mount them. What to do? It would be a shame to let those big guns collect dust. Of course! The RN had already descended into monitor madness. Why not follow their lead?
In 1915 the Regia Marina mounted two of the 15-inch/40 guns that were to be mounted in the Francesco Morosini, one of the Caracciolo class, on a hull designed for a crane ship. This 1,452-ton vessel was launched in 1915 and named Alfredo Cappellini. She sank on November 16, 1917 when she wrecked off Ancona. On January 1, 1916 the Regia Marina launched their second large monitor, however, this vessel was designed by Engineer Rear-Admiral Giuseppe Rota specifically to be a monitor. This was no converted crane ship but a very unique design optimized to carry two 15-inch/40 guns that were to be mounted in the Colombo. In appearance and design, the Faa di Bruno, as she was named, was unique.
The hull was a rectangle with a high prominent crown down the centerline. Surrounding all four sides, since the bow was 27m in width and matched the 27m width of the stern, was concrete cofferdam 2.9m in width, which provided armor. A ship armored with a ten-foot belt of concrete certainly has to be considered odd. The deck was given 40mm of armor with the curved barbette receiving 60mm of armor. The turret had a total of 110mm of armor. The guns were capable of 15 degrees elevation and could be trained 30 degrees to starboard or port. The Faa di Bruno was built by the Venice Navy Yard. The ship was commissioned on July 23, 1917.
This floating barge was fitted with two old engines salvaged from discarded torpedo boats. With two engines the Faa di Bruno had two propeller shafts but the combined power was a meager 465ihp. With 27m wide bow presenting a significant degree of water resistance and with two small, old engines trying to shove the 2,854-ton ship through the water, the Faa di Bruno was capable of a blinding maximum speed of 3-knots. Oddly enough, in August 1864 the Confederate Navy chose not to send out the ironclads CSS Huntsville and CSS Tuscaloosa with the CSS Tennessee for the Battle of Mobile Bay because of their slow speed of three knots. This odd historical tidbit really has nothing to do with the Faa di Bruno, other than their same top speed, since the Italian ship did see action. For the last 16 months of World War One, Faa di Bruno was used to bombard Austro-Hungarian army units and positions.
After the war ended the Faa di Bruno was kept in the navy for six years. In 1924 she was stricken. However, the Faa di Bruno was not scrapped. Between the wars she remained a rusting hulk but in 1940 it was decided to dust her off and recommission the monitor. Even at her best, her motive power was abysmal and the 16 years of being a rusting hulk had certainly not helped her speed. So it was decided that she would be a port guard ship. Renamed GM194, the former Faa di Bruno, was a floating battery guarding the port of Genoa. She served in this capacity from 1940-1943.
The Regia Marina Faa di Bruno
The centerline crown runs the length of the ship and from end on, the design appears to resemble a low angled roof of a building. The centerline is dominated by the large barbette amidships, which presents a graceful curved profile, rather than the more common vertical profile. The top of barbette flares outward for a shallow apron. At the stern there is a small pilothouse with a tapered stack at the rear. The pilothouse has good window and door detail. The small stack is odd and appears to be slightly tapered. It almost resembles a factory stack. Of course with only 465ihp, no large stack is needed. After all you can purchase an automobile with more horsepower than this ship possessed.
With no conventional superstructure, except for the pilothouse door all access to interior of the ship was through the deck. Accordingly there are quite a number of deck fittings. Many of theses are access hatches of square or rectangular design. There are also four small mushroom ventilators projecting from the forward deck. There are two sets of twin bollards along each side but somewhat inboard. There are six circular plates, two forward and four aft, which provide the bases for photo-etch grid platforms for six 76mm/40 AA guns. Another odd set of features is three circular indentations arranged in a triangle in front of the pilothouse. They look like wells but no parts appear to fit inside them. Without further information, it is my assumption that they are circular ventilator openings. With the hull casting, there are the remnants of the resin pour stubs on the sides of the hull that will be sanded smooth. The only other hull flaws that I saw were a couple of pinhole voids, which could be easily filled.
There are not that many other resin parts. They are however, dominated by the large turret with strange circular top. This top is wider than the turret and has supports that angle inward to the turret. The circular, mushroom turret top resting on supports above an angular turret is certainly another oddity of the design. The 15-inch guns are cast integral to the turret and have excellent blast bags. However, one gun barrel was fractionally longer than the other. Two resin runners provide the rest of the resin parts. The first runner contains two directors (A1 & A2), six 76mm AA guns (A3), two for WWII variant, two anchor kingposts (A4) and two solid anchor weights (A5). I was really puzzled by the function of the A5 parts. The instructions showed them at the end of cranes amidships. The parts resembled tapered plumb bobs and apparently are solid anchors used to prevent movement of the hull in bombardment missions. The anchor cranes are at deck edge aft of the barbette comprising another bizarre feature for this design.
The second resin runner contains the three legs for the tripod (A6). Part A7 is an AA platform mounted on top of the turret in the WWII version. There are three parts available for the control top of the tripod (A8-A10). The WWI version uses two parts, the control platform (A10) and roof (A8). However, the WWII version adds an additional level to the position. Part A10 is the lower level. Part A9 is the upper level and the roof is again part A8. There is a single ship’s boat (A11), which is set at an angle in the port aft quarter. Parts A12 & A13 posed a problem. I had to hunt the instructions to find part A12. Finally I found it in the first photo of the instructions. The parts are used in conjunction with photo-etch cable reels (F13). I have yet to find where parts A13 are located in the assembly.
The instructions for Faa di Bruno are contained on one back-printed sheet. Page one contains the history and statistics of the monitor in Italian. The middle of the page has photographic representations of the photo-etch fret and resin parts. All parts are numbered to conform to the numbers used in the assembly photographs. The bottom of the page has painting instructions for the WWI and separate WWII color schemes in Italian, as well as small profiles of both versions. The back of the page contains assembly photographs. Instead of drawings Regia Marina uses photographs to illustrate the assembly steps. For the most part this works but they are still not accurate in a couple of areas. Half the page is devoted to the WWI version. There are twelve numbered assembly steps, plus two unnumbered photographs. In addition to the omission of parts A13, the resin AA guns (A3) are incorrectly numbered F3, indicating photo-etch parts. In some cases the photographs are too small to clearly show definitive placement of parts, especially the cable reel F13/A12 assemblies in step one. What the instructions need is a good clear, full width plan view drawing. For the most part, there is no problem but the instructions could use a little more clarification. If you are building the WWII version, there another seven assembly photographs. Differences between the two versions include six 76mm AA guns on circular deck platforms for WWI, which are not present in the WWII version. However, two of the 76mm guns are mounted in an AA platform on top of the turret for WWII. As mentioned before, the biggest difference between the two versions is a single level top for WWI and a two level top for WWII. The bottom of the page contains three small photographs of the Faa di Bruno, including one from WWII when the ship wore a mottled, striped camouflage pattern. To display this pattern in a better format, Regia Marina provides a small separate sheet with two photographs in color depicting the model in her WWII camouflage scheme.
This is a small but delightful subject. The Regia Marina 1:700 scale Faa di Bruno is certainly one of the most unusual subjects currently available. Regia Marina has done their usual fine job in resin casting and presentation of a complete photo-etch fret. The instructions could have been clearer but the build of this ship is relatively simple. However, this complaint is infinitesimal compared to the joy of having this odd bird.