THE NAVIES OF THE WORLD. VI.—THE ITALIAN NAVY.
[To THE EDiTOR OP " SPECTATOR." J Stn,—Italy is always included amongst the great naval Powers in Parliamentary Returns and discussions. Ever since the kingdom of Italy came into existence the great importance attaching to sea power has been recognised by her rulers, and large expenditure has been incurred on the war fleet even at times when the financial conditions were difficult. In 1860, when the battle of Lissa took place, the Italian Fleet was much superior to the Austrian in numbers and types of ironclad ships ; but the thorough preparation and organisation of the Austrian Fleet, the high 'spirit of its personnel, and
above all the leadership of Tegethoff, prevailed over material disadvantages, as similar qualities have prevailed again and again in warfare. Italy has never forgotten the lesson taught at Lissa, and it has influenced all subsequent naval administration.
Italian shipbuilders were famous and experienced long before England possessed a Royal Navy. Henry VIII.
Invited some of them to this country when he began the systematic construction of a war fleet. This ancient tradition has been maintained, and no Navy has shown greater originality and boldness in design since the use of armour began more than fifty years ago. In Italy it is possible for a certain number of naval officers and naval constructors to become Members of Parliament without relinquishment of office ; and this fact has undoubtedly increased the interest and value of naval debates as well as influenced naval policy. Amongst these official Members, Benedetto Brin has played the greatest part, serving his country as Director of Naval Construction, Minister of Marine, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. An accomplished naval architect and a keen student of foreign achievement, he exercised exceptional Power on Italian warship-building during many years; and to him and his able successors in the office of Director of naval Construction must be largely attributed the excellent types that have been produced. His grateful countrymen have marked their appreciation of his services by giving his name to a powerful battleship launched about seven years ago.
Italy showed the way in the construction of battleships of large dimensions and extremely high speed, armed with very heavy guns, by laying down in 1877.78 the ' Italia' and Lepanto,' four hundred feet in length, of about fourteen thousand tons displacement as originally designed, and nearly sixteen thousand tons as completed, the speed being eighteen knots. These ships carried four seventeen-inch one-hundred- ton guns, protected by nineteen-inch armour; there was no vertical armour on the sides, but a strong steel deck pro- tected the vitals, and the maintenance of buoyancy and stability was entrusted to minute water-tight subdivisions and water-excluding material placed above the protective deck. At that time the largest British ship building was the 'Inflexible,' three hundred and twenty feet in length, of eleven thousand four hundred tons, and fourteen knots speed, carry- ing four eighty-ton guns. Whatever opinion may be held as to the wisdom of the Italian authorities in making a great experiment, there can be no question as to their courage, or as to their successful accomplishment of the plan they considered of supreme value to the national defence. The geographical position of Italy and her physical configuration lmpose certain exceptional conditions on her Fleet, and these conditions have been treated as paramount in their influence on warship design. High speed as well as large coal-supplies are prominent amongst these essential features. Similar con- siderations, supplemented no doubt by financial limitations, Caused the Italian authorities to enter upon the construction Of the modern type of armoured cruisers, in which they also were ere pioneers. Equal courage and resource have been shown In the design •and construction of small swift cruisers, destroyers, torpedo-boats, and submarines, constituting a defensive flotilla auxiliary to the sea-going fleet. In the adoption of improved types of guns and explosives, in the use of steel armour, in the utilisation of oil-fuel, and in many •
other directions, Italy has played a distinguished part.
There has also been a concurrent development of ship-yards, engine and steel works, armour and gun factories, and other establishments on a scale which has enabled Italy not merely t°3 meet her own requirements, but to build and arm warships tOr foreign countries. The Government has given great encouragement to private enterprise, and in this way has overcome difficulties arising from the inferiority of Italy to other countries, so far as is possible in view of her comparative Poverty in coal and iron. Amongst Italian-built warships of bought years are the armoured cruisers Nieshin ' and Kasuga,' uought by Japan when war was obviously inevitable. These vessels did excellent service at Port Arthur and in the battle of Tsushima.
Mention must also be made of the fact that the whole naval policy of Italy has been based upon a settled plan of campaign, which for a long period was largely influenced by the con- sideration of a poSsible conflict with France, whose navy was greatly superior in force. Consequently the construction of the Fleet has been accompanied by the provision of fortified naval bases at points of great strategic importauce,—Spezzia, Maddalena (in Sardinia), Taranto, and elsewhere. Very large expenditure has been bestowed on these shelters for the Fleet, and great ability has been shown in their design and arma- ment. The whole system of coast defence has also been most carefully studied and efficiently organised.
At the present time the Italian Navy includes eleven modern battleships afloat, two of which are incomplete ; their aggregate displacement approaches a hundred and thirty-six thousand tons. Ten armoured cruisers are built or building, their aggregate displacement being nearly sixty thousand tons ; the oldest of these vessels was launched sixteen years ago. Four are still incomplete. Last year the Minister of Marine proposed the construction of two battleships, each exceeding eighteen thousand tons in displacement, designed to carry ten or twelve twelve-inch guns and to have a very high speed (twenty-two to twenty-three knots). One of these vessels is actually in progress, and the other will probably be proceeded with this year. In addition to this armoured fleet, Italy possesses a number of small swift cruisers and a powerful torpedo flotilla, which includes seventeen destroyers less than twelve years old, about a hundred and twenty-five torpedo-boats of various classes, and six submarines.
During the last ten years the total sum voted in the Naval Estimates of Italy has varied from about £4,600,000 to £6,300,000. Of these amounts from £300,000 to R490,000 must be deducted for expenditure on coast defences and on the mercantile marine in making comparisons with British estimates. Since the year 1900 the expenditure on new construction has varied from rather less than one million to about one and three-quarter millions. The weak spot in Italian naval administration consists in the disproportion between the annual vote for new construction and the total liability on incomplete ships. The period of construction of individual ships is consequently lengthened inordinately, and an undue proportion of current expenditure is represented by vessels in various stages of progress, but of no value for active service. Italy does not stand alone in this respect, but she is one of the most striking illustrations of a policy which is certainly objectionable. It may be due in part to frequent changes in the Ministry of Marine. Each occupant of that post naturally desires to have his name associated with the commencement of some new type ; but if effect is given to that desire, while no corresponding financial provision is made, the result must be most unsatisfactory. Italy has proved this to be true. Armoured vessels which were launched in 1905 are still incomplete. It is the custom in Italy to launch ships at a much earlier stage of construction than is the custom here ; but after allowing for this difference in practice, it cannot be doubted that it would be wiser for Italy to con- centrate expenditure on the more rapid completion of a less number of ships. The traditional friendship between Italy and Great Britain, and the important influence which the existence of a powerful Italian Fleet must exercise upon the mainte-
nance of our position in the Mediterranean, make it a matter of time highest importance that Italy should not decline from her position relatively to other Mediterranean Powers, or lose the place that has been so hardly and honourably earned amongst the war fleets of the world.—I am, Sir, Fte.,
W. H. WHITE.