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Marina Militare - The Triple Alliance - 1882-1915

In 1882 Italy signed the Triple Alliance Treaty with Germany and Austria-Hungary. The main objective of this treaty was the defense of the coastal regions. The French threat was assumed to be an initial strike at the Italian fleet, bombardment of theLigurian and Thyrrenian coasts, neutralization of the railways followed by an amphibious landing which would cut Italy in twoand outflank the land front. The Treaty was renewed in 1891.

Admiral Giovanni Bettolo, Minister of the Navy at the turn of the century, succeeded in starting a new shipbuilding program. His plan consisted of building small, fast armored ships carrying large caliber artillery, as well as new torpedo units.

Chief Constructor of the Italian navy, Vittorio Cuniberti, started from the premise that the artillery of the future must fight at extreme ranges, where the accuracy of fire cannot be relied upon and the penetrating power of the shot is considerably reduced. Under such conditions, the medium calibers would be quite useless. In 1903 he published n "All the World's Fighting Ships Jane," under the title: "An Ideal Battleship for the British Fleet," a sketch of a battleship equipped exclusively with heavy artillery and carrying light artillery only for action against torpedo boats. It was to have a displacement of 17,000 tons and the following armament: Twelve 30.5 cm. guns in 4 double and 4 single turrets, twelve 7.6 cm. and several machine guns. Cuniberti

The movement toward an increase of the caliber and final discontinuance of medium guns began with the construction of the Italian ships Regina Margherita and Benedetto Brin. The second step in this direction was also made in Italy with the Regina Elena launched in 1904, and designed by Cuniberti. It had a displacement of 12,600 tons and the following armament: Two 30.5 cm. guns of 40 calibers, twelve 20 cm. guns and twelve 7.5 cm. guns of 45 calibers. The essential feature of this equipment was that all the 20 cm. guns on this ship were placed in double turrets, while on the Regina Margherita they were mounted in single casemates.

Whether Colonel Cuniberti's ideal battleship had anything to say to the design of the Dreadnought is known only to the Chief Constructor of the Navy, Sir Philip Watts, and his coadjutors. The principal fact to be noted in the ideal battleship, as also in the Dreadnought, which so closely resembles her, is the reversion to simplicity. In the old days of sea-warfare guns were of the same calibre, and in consequence the powder and shot could be carried with great ease, no duplication and reduplication of magazines and shell-rooms being thus required. But in the evolution of the battleship throughout all its stages this elementary principle seems to have been overlooked, and so many different sorts and classes of guns were carried as to render it necessary to make a perfect honeycomb of the interior economy of a battleship to enable her to carry all that was necessary.

At the beginning of the new century, the Triple Alliance began to weaken and appeared somewhat unreliable. Rivalry and disagreement resumed with Austria. By the end of 1905 Austria was seen again as a potential adversary, stimulating an Italian-French reconciliation. The Navy was encouraged to strengthen the coastal defense around Venice and to improve the support capability of the port of Brindisi. Joint exercises with the land forces were intensified. More attention was spent to increase the combat potential of the fleet. The lessons learned from the Battle of Tsushima (1905) led to the construction of dreadnoughts and other fleet modernization efforts. There were still many disagreements in the country and controversies over the utility of the fleet and expenses needed to improve it. Building was started on coastal armored ships and lightweight submarines designed to operate in the Adriatic. The Navy budget was increased in 1909 and in 1911 allowing the acquisition of new fleet units.

Around 1910, Italian naval preparation began to consider the difficulties associated with warfare in the Adriatic. The Adriatic's geography was a challenging factor: its shallow waters facilitated minelaying but hampered the employment of submarines; well-protected enemy coasts were close by; the Austrian fleet could move with relatively safely through the islands of the Dalmatian coast. Italy lacked bases between Venice and Brindisi; and the low national coastline made it difficult to defend. The mainstream of the Italian Navy concluded that a potential war with Austria, therefore, had to be fought on the offensive at sea. Results of the analysis fueled additional debates between the proponents of battleships and those who desired to reinforcethe coastal defenses.

In the meanwhile the Italian Navy saw extensive service in the war with Turkey (1911-1912). The main Italian flotilla was under the command of the Duke of Abruzzi. The Navy supported the successful landings of troops and took much territory. Coastal towns were shelled and blockades were maintained. Successful amphibious landings were made in Tripolitania, Cirenaica and some of the Dodecanese Islands.

After the war with Turkey, the Navy began to plan for amphibious landings along the Adriatic coastline. Plans were made and assets prepared to carry them out, taking into account the experience gained with the successful conquest of Tripoli during the 1911 war against Turkey. At Tripoli, new doctrine was developed that required the support of sailors specially trained as land fighters. These sea-going soldiers prepared the way for the follow-on landing of regular Army troops which were to be transported to the objectiveby the Navy.

Also during the war against Turkey, aircraft were used by Italy for military purposes (in Libya) for the first time in history. Chief of Staff Admiral di Revel realized the importance of aircraft in naval war and directed the Navy General Staff to study and develop this element.

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Page last modified: 26-02-2013 10:54:53 ZULU