"On 2 August the newly constructed battleships Littorio and Vittorio Veneto entered service. They were the splendid products of the Navy’s best designers and of Italian master workmanship. At that time they were probably the best battleships in the world, not so much for their firepower as for the technical improvements which had overcome those hundred and one problems that must be solved to make a great ship fully effective." (The Italian Navy in World War II, 1957, by Commander Marc’ Antonio Bragadin, at page 32)
Before World War One Italy was allied with Germany and Austro-Hungary and considered France as her most likely opponent. Accordingly her naval construction programs were centered to counter French moves. Her first three dreadnought designs centered around the 12-inch gun. With Dante Alighieri of 1909 Italy was first to create a design featuring the triple gun turret. In 1910 three more battleships of a much improved design, the Cavour Class, consisting of Conte di Cavour, Giulio Cesare and Leonardo da Vinci. In 1912 two more ships were ordered to a slightly improved design, the Duilio Class, consisting of Caio Duilio and Andrea Doria. With the last two Italy chose to stay with the 12-inch gun in spite of the fact that Great Britain had moved on to the 13.5-inch as main armament. There were two basic reasons for this: her likely opponent France still built her ships with that armament, as well as did neighbor Austro-Hungary and Italy did not have the necessary infrastructure to prepare a heavier weapon and did not want to delay construction to do so. The next design leaped from the 12-inch to the 15-inch gun in main armament. The four ships of the Francesco Caracciolo Class were laid down in 1914. However, when Italy entered the war on the side of the allies all work on these heavily gunned ships was stopped and ships were cancelled in 1916.
Italy suffered one loss to her dreadnought fleet during the war. Late in the night of August 2, 1916 a fire developed near the aft magazine of the da Vinci. The captain ordered the magazines flooded but before that could occur the magazine blew up. The ship capsized in shallow water. Thought was given to raising her but it was decided that it wasn’t worth the effort. After the war Italy did not have the finances to start new construction and saw no problem with her allowance of battleships under the terms of the Washington Treaty. Under the treaty she could start a new 35,000-ton battleship in 1927 with another following in 1929. The Regia Marina still eyed France as the most likely opponent and wanted numbers rather than size. With the allowable tonnage it was thought wiser to build three smaller 23,000 ton battleships armed with the 13.5-inch gun. This was subsequently amended to each ship carrying six 15-inch guns with the appearance of a much larger version of the cruiser Pola. However, the appearance of the French Dunquerque upset the apple cart and Italian designers went back to the drawing board. Now the admirals wanted two 35,000-ton ships rather than the three smaller ships.
Initially the 16-inch gun was chosen for the main armament but again Italy found that she could not produce the desired ordnance. Since she had produced a 15-inch gun for the cancelled Caracciolo Class, that gun was adopted for the new design. The final design far exceeded the 35,000-ton treaty limit. At 40,724-tons, the pair of Vittorio Veneto and Littorio were the heaviest battleships laid down since HMS Hood to be completed. In the late 1920s the Regia Marina had built heavy cruisers over the treaty limit and lied about their true displacement so it was an easy matter for them to do the same with these twins. As with the earlier cruisers the navy did not want to sacrifice any design requirement to come within the treaty limits. Both ships were laid down on October 28, 1934.
In spite of the excess tonnage, the Italian design did sacrifice one key attribute, range. Operations were really not anticipated outside the Mediterranean and therefore the class was never expected to wander too far from an Italian port. A comparison of the ranges of the last battleships to be built upon resumption of modern battleship construction reveals the following: Vittorio Veneto – October 1934, 128,000shp 30 knots, 4,580nm at 16 knots: Richelieu – October 1935, 150,000shp 30 knots, 5,500nm at 18 knots: Bismarck – July 1936, 163,000shp 30 knots, 8,410nm at 15 knots: King George V – January 1937, 110,000shp 28.5 knots, 15,600nm at 10 knots: Yamato – 150,000shp 27.5 knots, 7,200nm at 16 knots: North Carolina – October 1937, 121,000shp 28 knots, 15,000nm at 15 knots. With less than a third of the range of the USS North Carolina the class was clearly limited in the event of Atlantic operations. The ships had four shafts with both Littorio and Vittorio Veneto exceeding the design 30 knots on trials. This is hardly surprising as the ships were not fully loaded. Littorio hit 31.29 knots on 137,649shp on 41,122 tons while Vittorio Veneto was slightly faster at 31.43 knots on 132,771shp on 41,471 knots.
The armor scheme for the pair incorporated the uniquely Italian Pugliese cylinder system. This system had been previously used on the rebuilds of the older battleships and used a hollow steel cylinder twelve ½ feet in diameter. The cylinder ran the length of the armored citadel of the ship and served as a shock absorber against torpedo hits. In theory the cylinder would absorb the shock of torpedo damage and crush before the shock reached the inner armored bulkhead. The class carried a respectful scheme of armored protection. The disposition was somewhat odd in that the external belt was only 70mm in thickness with the main belt of 280mm located inboard from the side by 250mm. The external belt was designed to decap AP shells before they reached the main belt. The belt ran from the front of A barbette to the end of X barbette with 210mm transverse bulkheads connecting the side belts, forward and aft. Turret armor was 350mm on their faces and 200mm on the sides. Barbette armor was 350mm above the deck and 280mm below. Even the secondary turrets had an impressive 280mm of armor on their faces. The central conning tower tube was a tapering structure that extended uo through all of the levels of the forward superstructure. At the lower levels the armor here was only 60mm but from there key levels had up to 250mm of armor.
All of the armament was of new design. The 15-inch guns were not repeats of those built for the Caracciolo but a 1934 Model 15-inch/50 built by Ansado for the Littorio and OTO for the Vittorio Veneto. The 6-inch/55 secondary guns were also apportioned between the two manufacturers. The Ansaldo Model 1934 equipped the Littorio and the OTO Model 1936 equipped the Vittorio Veneto. These were designed for surface combat and not DP work, although they did have special AA barrage rounds. Antiaircraft defense was surprisingly extensive for the time and particularly impressive when compared against the USN and RN designs. Heavy AA came in the form of twelve 3.5-inch/50 guns mounted singly in turrets flanking the superstructure. Light AA comprised twenty Breda 37mm/54 guns in eight twin and four single mounts and sixteen 20mm Breda 20mm/65 guns organized in eight twin mounts.
On unique feature of this class was the break at the extreme aft to the low quarterdeck. For one thing that limited blast damage from the guns of X turret, which was also limited by the high X barbette. As originally proposed there were to be two catapults amidships with hangars but this was declined. Then a truly visionary proposal was made. Why not use the low quarterdeck to operate six La Cierva autogyros, which was an early form of the helicopter. That too was ditched in favor of a conventional single catapult with two, then three Meridianali RO.43 floatplanes. By 1942 one Ro.43 in Littorio was landed in favor of loading a wheeled Re.2000 fighter and Vittorio Veneto landed two of the floatplanes for two of the land fighters. Given the deteriating aerial situation it was decided that it would be better to have the limited "fire and forget" protection of the non-recoverable fighters, rather than scout floatplanes.
As ambitious projects, the first pair were slow in building. Almost three years passed from them being laid down to being launched in the summer of 1937. Also in 1937 two more of the class, slightly modified, were ordered as the Roma and Impero, both of which were laid down in 1938. The initial pair were just completing when Italy jumped into World War Two with Vittorio Veneto completed on April 28, 1940 and Littorio completed on May 6, 1940 after almost six years in construction. Vittorio Veneto had actually been first used for machinery trials in October 1939. She joined the fleet at Taranto on May 15, 1940. Neither ship was made fully operational until August 2, 1940.
The pair quickly made two quick sorties accompanied by three of the older battleships and numerous smaller ships. On August 31 as part of five battleships, ten cruisers and 34 destroyers, they set off to intercept British warships "Operation Hats" "Thus five battleships, the Littorio, Vittorio Veneto, Cesare, Cavour, and Duilio, took to sea with 10 cruisers and 34 destroyers. The Italian naval forces were at that moment were in magnificent condition as to effectiveness, readiness for action, and fighting spirit." ." (The Italian Navy in World War II, 1957, by Commander Marc’ Antonio Bragadin, at page 33) However, due to poor reconnaissance missed contact after coming within 100 miles of the British Alexandria force and returned to port the next day. Four weeks later as part of a force of five battleships, eleven cruisers and 23 destroyers they sortied on September 29 to intercept the British Mediterranean Fleet which was supporting two cruisers taking troops to Malta. Again they returned to port the next day after no contact was made. Vittorio Veneto was at Taranto with the rest of the fleet on the night of November 11, 1940 when British Swordfish scored a spectacular success against the Italian fleet. She was lucky and was not damaged. Littorio was not so lucky as she took two torpedoes. One hit forward on the starboard side and one aft on the port side. She had significant internal flooding and her bow settled on the bottom of the harbor. She was docked on December 11, 1940 and repairs lasted until March 11, 1941.
Battle of Cape Teulada
Although Campioni still continued towards Naples, Admiral Somerville also did not press the action. The 3rd Cruiser Squadron made contact with the immobile Lanciere and towed her to safety. The fleet returned to Naples. One area that was abundantly clear was the contrast between the British and Italian aerial support of naval units. The Fleet Air Arm as represented by Ark Royal was integral to the British naval operations. The response was almost instantaneous to the naval commander. On the other hand the Italian aerial-naval cooperation was hapless. Although Campioni had immediately requested aerial attacks on the British force and fighter protection, it did not arrive until the end of the day, long after it was needed, even though the engagement was very close to the Italian airfields on Sardinia. The request for support had to overcome layer after layer of inertia as it wended its way through the Italian airforce bureaucracy.
Over the night of January 8 through 9, 1941 RAF bombers attacked the fleet in Naples. Veneto but was not hit but Cesare was, leaving the Veneto as the only serviceable battleship. Because of the attack and this situation she was moved north to La Spezia as an escort for the damaged Cesare. Operating from here she, along with other units, made two sorties south, both without contact.
Gavdos and Matapan
It didn’t take long for the Fleet Air Arm to come to the aide of the British cruisers. At 1100 six Swordfish from HMS Formidable were sighted and maneuvered to attack positions. At 1115 they bored in to attack the Veneto. "By 1115 the British torpedo planes had maneuvered into an attack position, and the Vittorio Veneto, at the very moment that its guns were about to reap the harvest of their fire, was forced to maneuver to defend itself against this new threat." ." (The Italian Navy in World War II, 1957, by Commander Marc’ Antonio Bragadin, at page 89) The Vittorio Veneto seemed to have a charmed life. She had never been damaged. She was at Taranto and was untouched from the famed British night attack. Other bombing attacks missed and she didn’t receive a scratch at Teulada. Again the British failed in their attempt to harm the Veneto as all torpedoes missed. However, it did allow the British cruisers to break contact and escape. Under aerial attack and with none of the promised air support materializing, Iachino set course for Taranto at 1130. Throughout the day the Italian force was subjected to British air attack but there was still no damage. At 1520 the charmed life of the Vittorio Veneto was about to end. She was subjected to a combined bomber and torpedo bomber attack. As the Italian anti-aircraft guns engaged the level bombers, three Swordfish came in at water level from the stern. "Passing close to the Vittorio Veneto, the three planes changed their courses simultaneously and launched their torpedoes from three directions against the battleship. One plane was shot down, but the great hull of the Vittorio could not be swerved in time to escape the torpedo which the plane had launched from a very short distance away. The screws on the port side took the blow." ." (The Italian Navy in World War II, 1957, by Commander Marc’ Antonio Bragadin, at page 89-90) The Veneto temporarily went dead in the water. Her port side propellers were damaged and she also took on over 4,000-tons of water. After ten minutes she got underway again and slowly increased speed to 20 knots on starboard shafts alone on her way back west to Taranto 420 miles away, which she reached in the afternoon of the next day.
During the attack on Veneto the heavy cruiser Pola was also hit. The Royal Navy thought that they had one of the two modern Italian battleships badly damaged and at their mercy, so they closed in. British pilots had mistakenly reported multiple torpedo and bomb hits from previous attacks. Warspite, Barham and Valiant were with Formidable and moved in for a night engagement. This resulted in the Battle of Cape Matapan in which the damaged Pola and three other Italian heavy cruisers were sunk.
Because of the damage incurred on this sortie Vittorio Veneto was under repair until July 1941. On August 22 she along with Littorio, four cruisers and fourteen cruisers left to attack a Malta Convoy "Operation Mincemeat" but again no contact was made and the force returned on the 25th. The next month almost the identical force left to go after another Malta convoy, "Operation Halberd", again without result. While providing heavy support for Operation M41 of an Italian convoy to Benghazi in December Vittorio Veneto was struck by a torpedo from the British submarine HMS Urge in the Straits of Messina. Littorio was at the same time on sortie against another Malta convoy but was recalled after her sistership was torpedoed. This again put her into drydock for many months. Littorio was assigned as heavy escort for North African convoys. On December 16, 1942 she was engaged in Operation M42 and the First Battle of Sirte occurred but Littorio played no part in it. On January 3 through 6 1943 she was part of heavy escort for Operation M43. On March 21 Littorio against sortied against a Malta bound convoy and this resulted in the Second Battle of Sirte. The gunfire from Littorio severely damaged the RN destroyers HMS Havock and HMS Kingston as well as hitting the Dido Class light cruiser, HMS Euryalus. Very heavy weather broke up the engagement.
On June 14, 1942 Vittorio Veneto and Littorio were part of the force that sailed to attack the Royal Navy during "Operation Harpoon/Vigorous". Although the light forces became engaged, the Veneto and Littorio did not. While returning to port on the 16th a bomb from a B-24 Liberator struck the crown of the first turret of Littorio but failed to cause much damage. However, shortly thereafter a British Wellington put a torpedo into her starboard bow. She was repaired at Taranto in a couple of months. With the growing fuel shortage, sorties became more infrequent. Veneto’s next mission came in November 1942 with the allied "Operation Torch" landings. This amounted to changing ports from Taranto to Naples and then, after another air attack on December 4, back to the north at La Spezia, where she was joined by Littorio. Veneto was still at La Spezia on June 5, 1943 when the USAAF made another attack on the Italian fleet. This time the battleship was hit by two bombs on her portside. Because of this damage, she was transferred all of the way north to Genoa. In that same attack Littorio was hit by three bombs but apparently was not as damaged to the degree of her sistership. Littorio was renamed to Italia on June 30, 1943, after the collapse of the Mussolini government and his arrest, as the name Littorio was the name for the fascist emblem.
When Italy entered into an armistice with the allies, Vittorio Veneto was still at Genoa, which would be shortly occupied by the German Army. On September 9, 1943 she sailed with the rest of the fleet for Malta. On September 14 she was sent to Alexandria, Egypt and on October 17, 1943 to be laid up. Because of politics and limited operational resupply abilities for her armament, she was not used for allied operations like many of the smaller Italian warships were. Littorio along with the Roma were the targets of the first successful usage of the guided missile. Attacked by He-177s armed with Fritz-X radio guided missiles Roma was struck twice and suffered a magazine explosion. Italia was hit once forward of the first turret. Luckily the missile passed through the deck and out of the hull side before exploding when it hit the sea. In spite of this the hit and shock caused significant damage to the hull but at least she was not lost like the newer Roma. Italia went to Egypt with her sister.
They sat neglected in Egypt for three years, well past the end of the year. Finally on October 6, 1946 she left for Augusta. Vittorio Veneto was given to Great Britain as a result of the 1947 Peace Treaty but the RN certainly didn’t need an Italian designed and equipped battleship. They didn’t have the money to maintain their own designs. Veneto returned to La Spezia on October 14, 1946 and was paid off on January 3, 1948 to be stricken and scrapped one month later, less than eight years from when she was first commissioned. Likewise, the same fate awaited Italia. She was awarded to the United States and was stricken on June 1, 1948 at La Spezia and soon broken up. ." (History from Battleships of World War Two, An International Encyclopedia, 1998, by M.J. Whitley; The Italian Navy in World War II, 1957, by Commander Marc’ Antonio Bragadin)
Regia Marina Vittorio Veneto
Many of modern battleship designs had rather smooth, featureless hull sides. This is certainly not true with the Veneto. In a reverse of tumblehome the hull narrows slightly as it descends from the deck towards the anti-torpedo bulge. The torpedo bulge then juts dramatically outward as this is the area that contained the pugliese crush tanks. Because of these features in the original the hull sides of the Regia Marina kit are much more dramatic than the models of most other modern battleship kits. To go with this there are other features on the hull sides. There is just a single row of portholes but there are other features on the hull sides that add relief. The bow anchor positions are somewhat unusual in that the top edge is raised slightly above the foc’sle. On unusual aspect about this kit comes with the series of three boat booms on each side of the hull. On each side there is one on the sides of the foc’sle, one on each side of Y turret and on at the quarterdeck. On each side one of the booms is resin cast into the hull but the other two are brass rods already fixed into place. On the port side the brass booms are the fore and aft ones with the Y barbette boom in resin. On the starboard side the aft boom is resin and the two forward booms are brass. In any event, whether brass or resin, the boat booms add another level of detail to the hull.
The Regia Marina kit also has a significant amount of the superstructure cast as part of the hull. This includes the barbettes, forward and aft 01 and 02 levels, both funnels and director towers. That does a number of things. It reduces the parts count, ensures that the superstructure levels are in alignment and simplifies assembly of the model. The simplification is significant in that even with this, this kit has plenty of parts and will take some time to assemble. The superstructure sides have more detail than on the hull for obvious reasons. Included in the detail are square window ports, door openings, inclined ladders on the barbettes and ventilator louvers.
Traditionally it is the deck of a model that packs the most detail and this also true with the Veneto. With this kit that detail is very plentiful right from the bow. There are all sorts of bitts, bollards, windlasses, reels, coamings and other fittings. Most of the winches and windlasses have very nice undercuts. Anchor chain is cast on the deck but it is also provided as photo-etch. Although cast on anchor chain is fine, I would prefer to use the photo-etch but I’ll have to remove the resin versions cast onto the deck to do this. Also on the foc’sle is an odd feature that looks like an athwartship catapult but apparently is a fitting used for deployment of paravanes. Another odd feature of this design is the location of the breakwater. The breakwater is a fitting that "breaks" the flow of water coming over the bow onto the deck. It helps keep the deck behind it safer for crewmen. It is almost always found on the foc’sle ahead of the first turret. With the Veneto it is located between A and B turrets. On the kit the breakwater is finely done with a series of rear face support gussets.
Although there is less deck detail amidships, this is where you’ll find the long ranks of AA gun turrets. Even here there are quite a few fittings, especially near the aft superstructure. There is a flurry of detail around the Y barbette and then it really proliferates again on the quarterdeck. Amid the gamut of winches, bitts and bollards, there is a centerline track for aircraft trolleys. Another distinctive feature found at the stern is the curving rail for support of the forward edge of the catapult. The quarterdeck is one level below the main deck and at the deck break there is some nice undercut deck, overhanging the transverse bulkhead. No defects were observed in the hull casting but it will require a moderate amount of clean-up on the bottom. There are a number of resin pour stubs to remove and it needs to be leveled with sanding. There is nothing unusual here but it will take an amount of time in part, because of the hard resin used in the kit.
Smaller Resin Detail
After the forward superstructure tower, the most noticeable smaller parts are the main, secondary and tertiary gun turrets. Each of the three main gun turrets has its own crown fittings from none for A, other than carley floats, to different AA positions for B and Y turrets, plus the carleys. The AA positions are cast on the turret complete with splinter shielding. Blast bags are also part of the turret castings. The four triple 6-inch secondary turrets resemble miniature main gun turrets, including twin 20mm mounts on the crowns of the forward two turrets in the 1942 fit. This is another unique feature, as I cannot recall any other battleship design that mounted AA guns on top of secondary turrets. Like the main turrets, the secondary turrets have blast bags cast on the main part. Barrels for both the main guns and secondary guns are machined steel without hollowed muzzles. The long lines of single 90mm AA turrets on their raised pedestals/barbettes dominate the amidships appearance of the model.
There are many finely cast smaller parts. Regia Marina provides an optional fit of ship’s aircraft. Originally, the ships carried two Meridionali Ro. 43 reconnaissance floatplanes. However by 1942 it was obvious to the Italian navy that the Italian airforce could not adequately protect their ships. To compensate wheeled Re. 2000 fighters were added. Autumn 1942 saw each equipped with two Ro. 43 and one Re. 2000. In 1943 Veneto carried one Ro. 43 and two Re. 2000 while Littorio kept the original arrangement of 1942. Once catapulted off the ship the fighter had limited loiter time over the ships before they had to make for an airfield but since they were basically land fighters, unencumbered with floats, it was thought that their better performance was worth their one shot nature. Two of each of the Ro. 43 and Re. 2000 are included in the kit so either ship can be equipped from 1940 through 1943. The parts for both types of aircraft are very nice, so there is no loss of detail, whichever fit that you go with. Other very nicely detailed small parts include the mounts for the twin 37mm AA guns, ship’s boats, carley rafts, gun directors, searchlights, small platforms and other fittings. There is a certain amount of light flash that will need to be removed from the smaller parts, however, this is a minor inconvenience.
Four Photo-Etched Frets
The second sheet is solely devoted to the photo-etched parts of Frets 1 & 2. This is organized in a modular format. On the front side, there are modules for capstan tops, platform supports, bow crests, main turrets, secondary turrets, aft railing & platforms, special ladder and stacks. The reverse is dominated by the drawings for the bridgework photo-etch details. Each difference in the bridge of Vittorio Veneto, Littorio and Roma is shown, along with differences based upon the year of the fit. Other modules deal with the catapult, crane & aircraft handling equipment; aft superstructure rigging; barrel support and other odds and ends.
The third sheet deals with photo-etch frets 3 & 4. Most of the material on fret 3 is self-explanatory since most of the parts are antiaircraft guns. However, there are some elevated boat supports for the amidships boat deck. Fret four is dominated by four platforms, which are attached to various levels of the bridge. There are also supports for the Ro. 43 upper wings and other smaller items. The fourth page strictly concerns camouflage schemes, differences in fits and substitutions of photo-etch for the original resin parts. Colors are listed in Italian and English and the Humbrol number is listed. The reverse shows port and starboard camouflage patterns of Littorio in 1941 and Littorio/Italia in 1943.
These instructions can present a pitfall for the unwary. With a total of eight pages, there is plenty of instructions. However, due to the size of the kit, the fact that there were differences between the Veneto and Littorio and the fact that Regia Marina provides optional parts for either ship for any fit, the instructions can be confusing without a thorough examination. Look before you leap! Study the instructions closely and be certain of parts placement before permanently attaching the part. Which ship do you want to build and for what year of fit. Check out the differences in the forward tower between the two as the upper levels varied between them. Simply know which way you are going before you start and then reconn the instructions to see what you can ignore and what parts you have to use.