The Roma was the last in the line of battleships built by Italy. The country had produced some remarkable and often innovative battleship
designs ever since unification of the Italian States in mid 19th century. In the 1880s Italian battleships
Italia and Lepanto, equipped with
huge guns with high speed for the time but with minimal armor caused concern even with the Royal Navy. At the start of the 20th century
Italian designs often introduced new concepts. The
Regina Elena class first laid down in 1901 was an early prototype of a fast battleship
but she sacrificed armor and gun-power for her high speed of 21-knots. With
Dante Alighieri of 1909 Italy was first to create a design
featuring the triple gun turret as well as having secondary guns mounted in turrets. She too was designed for higher than normal speed at
23-knots. Although not all designs were physically attractive, Italian battleships were often known for their physical beauty. The
RN Roma
of World War Two has to stand as one of the most attractive and graceful battleships ever constructed.

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, starting with the
Dante Alighieri. 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 happened, 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. She was refloated but only for scrapping. 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 Dunkerque 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 designed 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 at 41,471 tons.
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 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. These nine guns fired a shell weighing 1,951 pounds. The maximum
elevation was 35 degrees, which gave the guns a maximum range of 46,216 yards. 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. They fired a shell of 110
pounds and had a range of 28,150 yards. 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. In common with other navies, as the war progressed, additional 20mm AA guns were added.
Roma
completed with twenty-eight 20mm guns placed in twin mountings. There were also variations in the superstructure and the shape of the
bow in
Roma, that distinguished her from her two sisters. The bow of the Roma had a greater sheer than her two sisters, giving her a greater
freeboard and making her the most attractive of the three ships completed in the class. She also was equipped with only one anchor on the
starboard, instead of two found in
Vittorio Veneto and Littorio.
One 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. The Re.2000 fighters carried by the battleships were a special long-range variant.
They were wheeled and could not be recovered after launch. Given the deteriorating 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.

By 1937 the political situation in Europe had grown much worse. Mussolini had ordered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and withdrawn
from the League of Nations. When the
Vittorio Veneto was designed, she was aimed to counter the French Dunkerque and Strasbourg. Now
the Regia Marina had to worry about the Royal Navy as well. To the Italian admirals the two new battleships and four rebuilt battleships
were not sufficient to counter the likely French and British opposition in the Mediterranean. More new battleship construction was needed.
The
Vittorio Veneto design was slightly modified for two new battleships, Roma and Impero. Both were laid down in 1938, four years after
the first pair, and were named to connect Mussolini’s Italy with the ancient Roman Empire, as well as with the fact that the King of Italy
had also been given the title of Emperor of Ethiopia. Roma was laid down on September 18, 1938 and launched on June 9, 1940. Since Italy
had entered World War Two on the side of Germany, it was decided to complete the
Roma but to suspend completion of Impero, which
had actually been launched earlier on November 15, 1939. Although the first pair saw significant action in the Mediterranean Theater,
mainly as victim of British air attacks, the
Roma was not completed until June 14, 1942. By that time the Regia Marina was far less active
due to critical fuel shortages.
Roma was made fleet flagship but because of the lack of fuel and the dominance of the Royal Navy by the
summer of 1942, she made only 20 sorties but saw no combat against the allies. Her sole action against the allies was to be damaged in an air
attack in two attacks in June 1943. On June 5, 1943 two bomb hits caused extensive damage forward and the ship took on 2,350 tons of
water. On June 23
Roma was hit by another two bombs. However, damage was minimal on this occasion and there was no flooding
experienced.

With the Italian armistice of September 1943,
Roma led the Italian Fleet to Malta with Admiral Carlos Bergamini on the bridge. At first the
Italian fleet headed towards Salerno in the hopes that the Germans would think that it was going to attack allied forces headed there. Then
the Italians changed course towards Malta but the Germans discovered the Italian plans and immediately ordered air attacks on their former
partner. The allies had agreed to provide air cover for the Italian fleet’s voyage to Malta. So when aircraft appeared on the horizon, they
were thought to be the promised allied fighters. On September 9, 1943, while in the Straits of Bonifacio,
Roma was attacked by German
bombers armed with a new breakthrough in technology, the guided missile. Eleven Do 217 bombers from KG 100 were armed with the new
SD-1400X Fritz X glider bombs. These weapons had been used before and had hit
HMS Warspite and USS Savannah but had not sunk a
ship. The radio-guided bomb averaged 30% hits within 15 feet of the aiming point. Each missile weighed over 3,000 pounds and had an
explosive charge of 660 pounds. The first wave of bombers missed at 15:37 but another wave came in shortly before 16:00. Two of these
optically and radio guided missiles struck
Roma. The first struck her amidships. It passed through and exploded under her keel. This hit
caused significant structural damage to the hull and flooded one engine room and two boiler rooms. This knocked out the two center shafts
and
Roma fell out of line as she slowed. Because of her lower speed she was an easier target for the next strike. The second hit at 16:02 was
near the bridge and B turret. The magazine for B turret detonated, blowing the huge turret off of the ship and into the sea beside her. The
tower bridge sagged forward and to starboard because of the massive destruction of the support in the hull underneath. In this, the
superstructure of stricken
Roma went through the same process that caused the bridge of USS Arizona to sag forward when her forward
magazine detonated from a bomb hit.
Roma capsized, broke in two and sank soon afterwards, claiming Fleet Admiral Bergamini and 1,254
sailors. Of the crew, 596 were saved. (The bulk of the history of the RN Roma is from;
Battleships, Axis and Neutral Battleships in World
War II
1985, by William Garzke, Jr. and Robert Dulin, Jr.; Battleships of World War Two 1998, by M. J. Whitley; Warship Volume I, The
Littorio Class
1977, by Aldo Fraccaroli)
My initial impression of the Trumpeter 1:350 scale RN Roma is very favorable. The detail is very and the fit for the parts that I did fit for
photography, the upper and lower hulls and decks were good. Of course the proof of the fit is found in the actual building, especially of the
superstructure. Since the
Roma is so beautiful, this a kit that won't sit in the closet gathering dust. The included photo-etch is minimal but it
does have the most important parts for photo-etching. However, dedicated full photo-etch sets and super-detail sets should not be long in
arriving. Considering the fairly low price, especially from
Pacific Front/Freetime Hobbies the Trumpeter Roma is a no-brainer acquisition.