Smarting from its defeat at Lissa, Italy constructed some of the largest, fastest, most technically interesting battleships in the world at the time. Caio Duilio and Enrico Dandolo (completed in 1880) were the first warships to be protected by all-steel armor; Italia and Lepanto (launched between 1880 and 1883) were the first all-steel battleships. These four ironclads carried no side armor; their designer, Benedetto Brin, argued that no such protection could be realistically applied against the great shells of the time. Part of the protection for Italia and Lepanto consisted of cork-filled cofferdams; the ships were designed, uniquely, to carry no less than a full infantry division. But the four guns of these great ironclads could fire one shot apiece about every 15 minutes, raising a very real question of their fighting worth. Their main guns, mounted in two en échélon turrets, gave, in theory, ahead-fire, but the real possibility of blast damage made this advantage problematical. The turrets were protected with no less than 17 inches of armor plate, some 25 percent of the ships’ weight. Other Italian ironclads continued this pattern, but the value of all were lessened, like those of France, by their slow construction times (Duilio and Dandolo, for example, took seven years to construct) and firing rates. Further, the Italians had to buy their main guns, armor, and engines from British firms, and their iron and steel from the French. At the time, however, the two monster warships were considered the most powerful battleships in the world. Yet in the long run, the en échélon arrangement of the turrets was a technological impossibility, for reasons noted above. Such mountings might have provided, at least in theory, more or less fore-and-aft firing arcs for the main guns around the masts, but Brin’s battleships carried no masts and sails and were, in fact, the first oceangoing capital ships, after the Devastation class, to dispense with this impedimenta. Brin’s more lasting contribution to the Italian Navy probably lay in the spearheading of a wholly Italian industrial metallurgical and mechanical basis for future construction. It could also be argued that with their high speed and light armor protection, Brin’s creations might be termed the first battle cruisers (or perhaps battle cruiser/troop transports).


Name: Caio Duilio
Namesake: Gaius Duilius
Laid down: 6 January 1873
Launched: 8 May 1876
Completed: 6 January 1880
Fate: Hulked, 1909

General characteristics

Class and type: Caio Duilio-class ironclad battleship
  • Normal: 10,962 long tons (11,138 t)
  • Full load: 12,071 t (11,880 long tons; 13,306 short tons)
Length: 109.16 m (358 ft 2 in)
Beam: 19.74 m (64 ft 9 in)
Draft: 8.31 m (27 ft 3 in)
Installed power:
  • 8 coal-fired boilers
  • 7,711 ihp (5,750 kW)
Propulsion: Two compound steam engines
Speed: 15.04 knots (27.85 km/h; 17.31 mph)
Range: 3,760 nmi (6,960 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 420
  • 4 × 17.7 in (450 mm) guns
  • 3 × 14 in (360 mm) torpedo tubes
  • Belt armor: 21.5 in (550 mm)
  • Turrets: 17 in (430 mm)
  • Deck: 1.2 to 2 in (30 to 51 mm)

Benedetto Brin, (1833-1898)

Italian naval administrator and engineer; considered the father of the modern Italian navy. Born on 17 May 1833 in Turin, Benedetto Brin in August 1853 became a naval engineering cadet with the Sardinian navy at Genoa. The following year, Count Camillo di Cavour arranged a two-year graduate assignment for Brin in Paris, at the prestigious École d’Application du Génie Maritime, which proved a turning point in his professional life.

Brin was then posted to the naval shipyard at Foce; he also taught naval mechanics at the Royal Naval School in nearby Genoa. His association with the Orlando brothers, who were building some of the first iron-hulled ships, added to his shipbuilding experience. In 1863 Brin was named the navy minister’s consultant on naval construction, and in 1867 he reported to the High Council of the Italian navy as a division chief, using the office to further study the work of pivotal naval design theorists such as Stanislas Dupuy de Lome, Louis de Bussy, Edward J. Reed, Nathaniel Barnaby, and William H. White.

In designing a powerful new warship for an Italian navy still smarting from its defeat in the Battle of Lissa in 1866, Brin fixed on some basic elements: a main armament consisting of four large-caliber cannons in two armored turrets diagonally distributed amidships; essential vertical armor protection of the central citadel, with extensive secondary protection; and an internal compartmentation capable, most importantly, of keeping the ship afloat despite severe damage. This formula would dictate development of the new battleships Caio Duilio and Enrico Dandolo. When the Duilio went to sea in 1880, it was the most striking and powerful ship of its kind in the world, incorporating unmatched levels of offensive and defensive capability, plus unprecedented speed.

Brin’s warship innovations continued with the development of the larger battleships the Italia, the Ruggiero di Lauria, and the Re Umberto, as well as smaller vessels like the Garibaldi-class armored cruisers, the destroyer types Tripoli, Folgore, and Partenope, and the ram Fieramosca. Many of these designs anticipated foreign developments by 10 years or more.

Appointed undersecretary of state for the naval ministry by Admiral Simone Antonio Pacoret de Saint Bon, Brin succeeded him as naval minister during 1876-1878; he also served in the same post during 1884-1891 and 1896-1898. In his second term he oversaw the organization of a new Italian mechanical and metallurgical industry that included steelworks, gun foundries, and torpedo factories capable of supplying shipyards with domestically produced steel and components. Brin established the Royal Naval Academy at Livorno in 1881, and he was promoted to inspector general of naval engineering; he inaugurated construction of a new model test basin for shipbuilding research at the La Spezia naval arsenal.

Benedetto Brin oversaw an unprecedented naval renaissance that for a brief period in 1895 placed Italy third among world navies. He died in Rome on 24 May 1898.


Brin, Benedetto. La Nostra Marina Militare. Rome: Bocca, 1881.

Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani. Vol. 14. Rome: Istituto Enciclopedia Italiana, 1972.

Ferrante, Ezio. Benedetto Brin e la Questione Marittima Italiana, 1866–1898. Rome: Rivista Marittima, 1983.