Italian Ships and Navy during the Great War
Written by Erminio Bagnasco & Achille Rastelli
Review by Steve Backer

Navi E Marinai Italiani nella Grande Guerra, first published in 1997, examines the Italian Navy of the First World War with the same extensive treatment that the earlier Navi E Marinai Italiani nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale, Italian Ships and Navy during the Second World War, did for the Regia Marina of 1940-1945. (Click for Review) Physically the title has larger dimensions (8 1/2  x 11 vs 7x10) than the WW2 title but is shorter (199 pages v 391 pages) However, those 199 pages are packed with unique photographs depicting all of the ships and facets of life in the Italian Navy from 1914 to 1919. The photographic coverage extends into 1919 by showing the fate of the Austro-Hungarian Fleet and the appearance of various Italian ships immediately after the war. The forte of this volume, as was true with the WW2 title, is the exhaustive photographic coverage of the subject.

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The title is divided into two major parts. Part One, comprising 50 pages, relates the operations of the Regia Marina during the war, and Part Two, comprising 135 pages, is chiefly composed of a photographic study.

Part One, the history portion, starts with a full page map of the Area of Operations, the Adriatic Sea, from the Island of Corfu in the southeast to Venice in the northwest, with an insert at double scale of the eastern shore from Trieste to Zara. The historical portion begins in August 1914 describing the Anglo-French operations against the Austrian Fleet in the Adriatic, while Italy was neutral. When I did a review of the WSW SMS Zenta, (Click for Review), I never discovered which ship sank that Austrian cruiser on August 16, 1914, other than that it was a French battleship. The answer was right here in Navi E Marinai Italiani nella Grande Guerra. It was the French dreadnought, Jean Bart. On May 24, 1915 Italy entered the war on the side of the allies and again faced the fleet of her old nemesis, the Austrian Kaiser und Konig (K.u K.). Found in this first section is the complete Order of Battle of the Austrian Fleet in August 1914 (pages 22-23) and the Italian Fleet in that same month (pages 27-28). There is also a three page general chronology of World War One from June 28, 1914 to June 28, 1919. This presents the significant actions in all theaters of the war, from the naval actions of Coronel & the Falklands off of South America to the gigantic land actions, such as the Brussilov offensive on the Eastern Front.

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The 50 pages of history come before the photographic study of Part Two but is lavishly illustrated as well. Some pages in this first part are composed entirely of photos. There are 99 photographs in the First Part, averaging two photos per page. All text is in Italian but the chief attraction is the photographs. 

Austrian & Allied Warships are Covered
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Part Two presents a comprehensive photographic study, presented year by year. In total there are 343 numbered photographs, each of which has a paragraph describing the history behind the photograph.

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Part Two starts with a two-page listing of the principal naval events in the Adriatic (59-60). The following 19 pages contain 64 photos with text, taken in 1915. Included in this section are a series of photographs showing the loss of the Italian predreadnought, Benedetto Brin, which sank because of a accidental magazine explosion in harbor. Concluding this portion is a one page Fleet organization as of May 24, 1915 (p 80).

Loss of the Benedetto Brin
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The listing of principal naval events of the Italian Navy in 1916 take three pages (81-83), followed by 49 photos presented in 17 pages. The one page Italian Fleet organization is as of November 15, 1916 (p 101).

Camouflage in the Adriatic
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There are 2 ˝ pages of principal naval events for 1917 (102-104), followed by 31 pages of photographs from that year. The 101 photos of this section capture the advent of camouflage in the Adriatic and the proliferation of monitors and floating batteries, as well as coverage of major fleet units. The section concludes with the fleet organization as of March 31, 1917 (p 138).

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The principal naval events of 1918 cover two pages (139-140). The 42 pages that follow, cover 1918 and the dénouement of 1919. In these 129 photos, the small boats of the MAS squadrons come to the fore. There is a natural emphasis on their spectacular successes against the Austrian dreadnoughts, Szent Istvan, sunk June 10, 1918 by MAS 15, and Viribus Unitis, sunk November 1, 1918 by Italian special operations divers using a semi-submersible, called the "Mignatta". The 1919 photographs portray the surrendered Austrian Fleet, salvage of sunken warships and selected shots of Italian warships after the conclusion of the war. The final fleet organization listing is of November 1, 1918 (p 183-185) (The fleet organization lists for each year, also include supporting British and French warships, based in Italian ports.)

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The title concludes with a series of special tables. Two pages (p 187-188) portray the final disposition of the Austro-Hungarian Fleet. For each ship that was turned over from Austro-Hungary to another power, from cruisers down to river monitors and yachts, the table records the type of ship, Austrian name, acquiring country and new name. As an example, the Austrian river monitor Inn became the Romanian river monitor Basarabia. There is one page covering the German fleet units acquired by Italy. (p 189) One page covers Italian Fleet losses during the war broken down by type, name, date and cause. (p 190) Austria losses are covered in the same fashion in the next table. The last table covers Italian merchant ship losses in the war. The tables portion includes an additional five photographs. There is an extensive two page bibliography and five page index.

Post War Photos
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As with the title on the Regia Marina of World War Two, this volume does have color plates. Each of the four plates is a two-page fold out. However, visually they are less interesting than the colorful plates in the WW2 volume. Only the destroyer Orsini sports a camouflage scheme.

Four Two-Page Color Plates are Included
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With close to 450 photographs packed into 199 pages, plus color plates, Navi E Marinai Italiani nella Grande Guerra is a feast for the eyes. Where else will you get this degree of coverage on this topic at a very reasonable price? Knowledge of the Italian language is not needed to truly appreciate the great value of this book.

As with the WW2 volume, I purchased my copy from La Libreria Militare of Milan, Italy. Priced around US$30, (the same as the WW2 title), this book is a bargain by any measure. La Libreria Militare has a web site at and e-mail address of