Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Fáa di Bruno, a Quarter-Dreadnought

Have you ever heard of an Italian monitor?

Here's one, called by Rt. Hon. Sir Percival Poppycock, KCIE, Vice Commodore of the Royal Tasmanian Yacht Squadron "one of the ugliest warships ever" (I'm sure many of us would subscribe to this point of view). The monitor is the subject of enlightening article published @ cityofart.net, reproduced here with some minor additions from Navypedia and SteelNavy:

As the storm clouds of WWI gathered in 1914, Italy laid down the first 2 of 4 anticipated superdreadnoughts armed with eight 15" guns each -- the Caracciolo class -- which would (on paper at least) surpass the British Queen Elizabeths.

Shortly after Italy entered the War in late 1915, these ships were canceled; none of the hulls was more than 5.5% complete, but at the Ansaldo armory a number of the great guns were well along in manufacturing. At the time, Italy's ally Great Britain had started building a small fleet of bombardment monitors: lightly armored, mobile vessels mounting one twin turret of large-calibre guns. Early in 1916 it was decided to construct Italian monitors and floating batteries and arm them with the 150-ton 15"/40 cal. Model 1914 guns left over from the canceled battleship order.

In 1915 the Regia Marina (Italian Royal Navy) mounted two of the 15-inch/40 guns that were to be mounted in the Francesco Morosini, one of the Caracciolo class, on a hull designed for a crane ship. This 1,452-ton vessel was launched in 1915 and named Alfredo Cappellini. She sank on November 16, 1917 when she wrecked off Ancona. Another monitor was soon written off too.

Fáa di Bruno, the third monitor, was purpose designed by a qualified marine architect Rear Admiral Giuseppe Rota; but it too was a patchwork of ill-assorted salvaged components. The ship resembled a floating shingle: an 89' x 182' rectangle with a 7' tall peak down the middle, its monotony broken by the outsize turret, the observation/navigation house on its tripod legs, and an industrial capped exhaust pipe for the motors. After the blunt, square front of the barge proved to create excessive water resistance when under way, a crude triangular 'prow' was welded to the forward end to improve handling.

For protection she had 9½ feet (2.9 m) of concrete around the exposed parts of the hull and corners of the deck, plus a light coat of conventional Krupp cemented (KC) armor on barbette, deck, and turret, nowhere thicker than 4½ inches (110 mm). The turret could train at least 161 degrees in either direction; the guns were especially modified to elevate 30 degrees, giving a range of 29,850 yards -- just short of 17 miles (27.3 km) -- at extreme elevation. The guns could also depress 5 degrees. This turret was a unique, open-topped model with a curved, armored canopy overhead. This provided an unusual degree of ventilation for the gun crew, but little protection against flying shrapnel.

The ship's weakest aspect was her engines: two gasoline engines salvaged from old torpedo boats. At best they could develop 465 HP working together -- sufficient to propel the barge at 3 knots. Ordinarily she moved with assist from a tug or towboat or both, in order to make her a faster-moving target. With a vast expanse of metal deck, she had a number of hatches for access and egress, and for loading supplies. Two small cargo cranes assisted in loading supplies and ammo. Ventilation below decks was said to be poor, but crews did not live aboard on a permanent basis.

Built at the Venice Navy Yard, the monitor was completed in July 1917. In the final phase of WWI she was used to bombard Austro-Hungarian troop positions around the Adriatic, with the expected results. She would anchor at a distance from the target area and buoys would be set out to mark bearings for the guns.

Although there was a tall spotting platform on stilts aboard the barge, she relied on spotting from aircraft or observers ashore to correct her aim. Like many of her fellow monitors and artillery-toting barges, the Fáa was set aground by a severe blow in November 1917 and not salvaged until nearly a year later.

Named for the legendary captain of the Re d'Italia, killed in battle at Lissa (and namesake of the famous priest and mathematician), the barge was based at Venice during WWI. She remained as a commissioned warship in the Regia Marina until 1924, at which time she was discarded and left to the seagulls and barnacles in a disused corner of the Venice lagoon.

Many years later when Mussolini joined Hitler in the Second World War, it seemed a good idea to refurbish the old monitor and bring her back into service (she did, after all, mount eight AA guns). So the old barge was given a fresh coat of paint, renamed Floating Battery GM-194, and towed around the Boot of Italy and all the way up the Tyrrhenian Sea coast to Genoa. There she joined the city's chorus of AA defenses, spitting fire in many an air raid, until the Italians capitulated and changed sides in 1943.

After capitulation of Italy she was captured by German troops and commissioned by Kriegsmarine as monitor, renamed Biber. Additional ship ends increased ship length from 56 to 130m, also full ship was camouflaged, taken massive false superstructure in place of turret and false funnel instead of battle mast.

The Fáa - GM-194 - Biber was surrendered in May, 1945. She was scrapped soon after the war.

Specifications for the Fáa di Bruno:

  • Dimensions: 182'1" x 88'7" x 7'3"
  • Displacement: 2,854 tons.
  • Armament: (2) 15"/40, (4) 3" AA; (2) 40mm AA.
  • Armor: Belt - 9'6" concrete; deck: 1.57" Krupp Cemented (KC); barbette: 2.4" KC; turret: 4.3" KC.
  • Propulsion: (2) Thornycroft MTB motors developing 465 IHP, shafted to twin screw.
  • Maximum speed: 3 knots.
  • Crew: 169 (8 officers, 161 enlisted).

Metric specifications:

  • Dimensions: 55.5m x 27m x 2.2m
  • Displacement: 2,854 tons.
  • Armament: (2) 381mm/40; (4) 76mm AA; (2) 40mm AA.
  • Armor: Belt: 2.9m-thick concrete; Deck: 40mm Krupp Cemented (KC); barbette: 60mm KC; turret: 110mm KC.
  • Propulsion: (2) Thornycroft MTB motors developing 465 IHP, shafted to twin screw.
  • Maximum speed: 5.56 km/hr. Crew: 169 (8 officers, 161 enlisted).

Artwork by Aldo Cherini.

Views: 3920


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Comment by lord_k on April 21, 2011 at 10:07am
Sir Percival is great. His Big Bad Battleships are highly recommended.
Comment by Lawren H.B. on April 21, 2011 at 9:51am
Interesting. Good article.
Comment by lord_k on April 21, 2011 at 7:57am
Armed barges (river monitors) were much more successful.
Comment by Twizard on April 21, 2011 at 7:55am
This reminds me a bit of the armed barges with T-34 tank turrets which the Soviets used in WW II.

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