BRITISH BATTLESHIP VS ITALIAN BATTLESHIP: THE MEDITERRANEAN 1940-41

Reviewed by: Dr James Bosbotinis

Having recently read Russian Battleships and Cruisers of the Russo-Japanese War, also published by Osprey, this reviewer was anticipating British Battleship Vs Italian Battleship: The Mediterranean 1940-41 to be a similarly satisfying read and was not disappointed. The author, Mark Stille, a former US Navy intelligence officer and prolific naval history writer, has produced a concise (80 pages) and highly readable account of the role of the Royal Navy and Regia Marina’s battleships in the first 18 months of the war in the Mediterranean. It features the excellent illustrations of Paul Wright and ship profiles and armament illustrations of Alan Gilliland.

Divided into nine sections covering the design and development of the British and Italian battleships deployed in the Mediterranean during the Second World War, the strategic situation, contrasting doctrine and training of the two navies, key personalities (namely, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham and Admiral Angelo Iachino), and the dynamics of the conflict at sea. This particularly focuses on the Battles of Calabria, Cape Spartivento and Cape Matapan, and the raid on Taranto. A brief analysis and discussion of the outline of the naval war up to the Italian armistice in September 1943 follows. The author stresses that the reputation of the Regia Marina as a poor fighting force that sought to avoid battle is incorrect, although he suggests that “Strategically, the Italian battle fleet was employed very conservatively…Operationally, the battle fleet was employed aggressively, as the Italians sortied whenever it had a chance to engage the British. On the tactical level, the Italians were timid” (p. 70).  Stille highlights factors such as micromanagement from the Italian Navy’s supreme naval headquarters, the lack of naval-air coordination, and a strategically defensive mindset, as constraints. The author also draws attention to the problem of salvo-dispersion affecting Italian gunnery and the relatively slower speeds of British battleships, in particular the Royal Sovereign-class.

British Battleship Vs Italian Battleship provides a succinct, yet detailed and multi-faceted discussion of the Royal Navy and Regia Marina’s battleship forces in the Mediterranean. There are a handful of minor typos, for example, on page 75, ‘German battleships’ are credited with inflicting losses on the Royal Navy in the Battle for Crete. Otherwise, the book is well-written and informative. The overviews and technical descriptions of the respective British and Italian battleship classes provides a good introduction to those ships. British Battleship Vs Italian Battleship: The Mediterranean 1940-41will particularly appeal to those seeking an introduction to the naval war in the Mediterranean, or those with an interest in battleships. At £13.99, the book is good value for money and provides an enjoyable few hours’ reading.