For some reason I was expecting an in- depth analysis of the fascinating political and strategic issues surrounding the Italian Navy in the 1930's, but this book, though written by a noted naval historian, does not really attempt that. This is what it claims to be, a 'Reference Guide', best used in support of other books dealing with naval history. It is most notable for its superb collection of period photographs, hundreds of them, mostly previously unpublished.
The text is rather short- the historical background to the 1930's occupies just three pages. It does though makes some important points. The very extensive rebuilding of the old Cavour and Andrea Doria class battleships did not overcome their essential weaknesses and cost so much money that more useful construction was endlessly delayed: Italy built no new cruisers in the second half of the decade and completion of the new Littorio class battleships was protracted.
There were many technical issues. The obscession with high speed resulted in unreliability and poor endurance. Heavy guns were mounted too close together: they had excessive velocity and thus gave poor accuracy. The author is uncritical of the controversial pugliese side defensive system, but he notes that although Italian ships were excellent in many ways the lack of advanced development, especially in radar and electronics generally, put the navy at a disadvantage in battle.
Naval organization was bureocratic and relations with the Regia Aeronautica were disastrously bad. If convoy operations to north Africa were not very successful that had as much to do with lack of unloading facilities as with enemy action. The Italian author understandably defends the navys personnel with the comment that 'the Regia Marina earned the respect of its enemies and the gratitude of the entire Italian nation'- sadly neither statement (especially, as it happen, the second) is really true. Wartime operations are briefly covered in a 'time- line' fashion without much critical comment.
'Miscellaneous warships' occupy the same space as battleships (12 pages) so detail given about the more important ships is necessarily limited. There are some nice side profile drawings, but no plan ones. However, If you are interested in such subjects as underwater assault craft (with which the Italians were very successful) these are well described and illustrated and we are reminded that Italy had many destroyers and a huge submarine fleet.
This is a glossy, well produced large- format book and it covers a huge amount of ground, from dockyards and ships to uniforms and decorations. Given that so much space is given to photographs, overall a very good job is done, but really the best reason for buying it is for those photographs.
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