The Loss of Szent Istvan


After receiving word of the Italian declaration of war on the evening of May 23, 1915, Admiral Haus sailed from Pola with the largest Austro-Hungarian naval force to put to sea during the war. His plan was to attack the Italian east coast, hoping to disrupt Italian troop movements to the front and to inflict an early blow against Italian morale. Haus’ bombardment force consisted of the 12 dreadnoughts and battleships, the armored cruiser Sankt Georg, the cruiser Novara, five destroyers, and 29 torpedo boats. Haus conducted a carefully planned attack on a number of targets in this opening engagement and dispatched several strike groups from the main bombardment fleet. Zrinyi and two torpedo boats bombarded the railway facilities at Senigallia, temporarily severing the coastal rail line; Radetzky and two torpedo boats attacked the railway near the mouth of the Potenza River; Sankt Georg and two torpedo boats bombarded Rimini; finally Novara, a destroyer, and four torpedo boats attacked the Porto Corsini naval base near Ravenna. The rest of the bombardment force, including Viribus Unitis, Tegetthoff, Prinz Eugen, Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand, Erzherzog Karl, Erzherzog Ferdinand Max, Erzherzog Friedrich, Habsburg, Arpad, Babenberg, four destroyers, and 20 torpedo boats, targeted the port and military facilities at Ancona. The bombardments went off without a hitch and all of Haus’ battleships were back in Pola before midday on May 24. Here Babenberg opens fire on the the Cantiere Liguro Anconitano shipyard in Ancona.

The last major operation involving Austro-Hungarian battleships in World War I has its roots in a naval mutiny that broke out aboard several of the larger ships stationed at Cattaro on February 1, 1918. On February 3 the three Erzherzog-class battleships sailed into the Bocche and demanded the surrender of the mutineers, who were also threatened with bombardment from the coastal batteries and other ships in the port that had remained loyal. The mutiny ended with over 800 sailors dismissed from the service. Some of the blame for the poor morale throughout the fleet due to months of inaction fell upon Flottenkommandant Admiral Maximilian Njegovan, who was relieved of duty after the mutiny. Linienschiffskapitän Miklos Horthy de Nagybanya was selected personally by Kaiser Karl I to replace Njegovan, primarily because of his proven aggressive spirit. Horthy, commander of the cruiser Novara, had led a successful cruiser raid against the Otranto Barrage in May 1917. If anyone could instill an aggressive and driving spirit into the fleet, Kaiser Karl believed that Horthy was the man for the job.

Horthy had an arduous task before him. Not only did he have to address the poor morale through the navy but he also had a smaller battle fleet to command than had his predecessors. Budapest was in shipyard hands, having a Skoda 380mm L/17 howitzer mounted in place of her forward main turret. Monarch and all of the Habsburg-class battleships had been decommissioned, freeing their crews for use in the growing U-boat and naval aviation arms. The ships of the Erzherzog Karl class had been assigned to Cattaro as guard ships to take the armored cruisers that were decommissioned in the wake of the mutiny. This left the ships of the Radetzky and Tegetthoff classes as the core of the battle fleet stationed at Pola. It took Horthy some time to become acquainted with managing fleet operations so nothing large scale was immediately planned, but the new commander felt more action was critical to raise morale throughout the fleet. By late spring 1918 Horthy was ready to undertake an aggressive action with his capital ships, with the same élan with which he had led his cruisers in battle the previous year. This would be the first major operation for the fleet’s battleships since the bombardment of Ancona in 1915. On June 8, 1918 Horthy steamed out of Pola with Viribus Unitis and Prinz Eugen, followed a day later by Szent Istvan and Tegetthoff. After rendezvousing with the Erzherzog Karls out of Cattaro, Horthy planned to lay in ambush with his battleships north of the Otranto Barrage after several of his cruisers and destroyers made a hit-and-run raid against the line and enemy shipping. He hoped to welcome pursuing Allied cruisers into the waiting embrace of his battleships.

On the opposite side of the Adriatic in the early evening hours of the 9th, the Italian torpedo boats 15 OS and 18 OS left Ancona, each towing an MAS boat, MAS 15 and MAS 21. The MAS boats had orders to search throughout the night for targets off the Dalmatian coast along the main Austro-Hungarian supply route between Fiume and Cattaro. In command of the MAS boats was Lt. Luigi Rizzo, who was eager to see action. The evening patrol passed without incident. Shortly before 0300 on the 10th, Rizzo ordered his MAS boats to proceed to the rendezvous point with the torpedo boats. At 0315 Rizzo spotted a rising cloud of smoke astern and ordered his boats to reverse course to investigate. What he found greatly excited him. Rounding Sansego Island at a leisurely 14 knots were two Austro-Hungarian dreadnoughts and their escorts. Rizzo, aboard MAS 15, ordered full throttle and the boats headed for the dreadnoughts. At 0325 the MAS boats sped through the Austro- Hungarian escort screen and fired their torpedoes. Aboard Szent Istvan the sea seemed calm; visibility was good except to the west, where the view was hampered by a slight haze. At 0330 a muffled explosion was felt along the starboard amidships of the dreadnought, followed by a second only moments later. The lookouts quickly scanned the horizon for enemy vessels but nothing could be seen. They then saw torpedo boat TB 76 altering course and firing shots from its bow gun. Beyond the water spouts of TB 76’s shots they spotted two MAS boats speeding off in the distance. The Szent Istvan had been struck by two torpedoes from Rizzo’s MAS 15. Within minutes the MAS boats dropped depth charges to ward off TB 76 and soon accelerated out of range of the torpedo boat’s guns. Rizzo had just earned himself a second medaglia d’oro al valor militare.

Shortly after the torpedoes struck, Linienschiffskapitän Heinrich Seitz ordered the ship’s turbines stopped. The aft boiler room had flooded and water began to leak into the forward boiler room after the explosions had ruptured the main bulkhead between the two rooms. A list of 10º to starboard developed but was brought back to 7º through counter-flooding. Captain Seitz signaled the Tegetthoff to prepare to take the crippled Szent Istvan in tow, but Tegetthoff had broken away at full speed on a zigzag course. The torpedoes fired from MAS 21 missed the dreadnought, causing her captain to order evasive action. There were several false sightings of periscopes by the jittery lookouts, followed by shots fired into the empty sea. This frantic search for phantom submarines went on for over an hour. After counter-flooding, Captain Seitz ordered Szent Istvan’s turbines back on and, creeping along at 4.5 knots, set a course for Brgulje, on the coast. In the lower decks the damage control teams were having difficulties containing the flooding. Water began leaking into the forward boiler room and adjacent ammunition stores. Bulkheads were failing to hold the force of the water to the extent that rivets were beginning to shoot out of their holes. Attempts to shore up the leaks with collision mats and hammocks failed and eventually the forward boiler room flooded. Soon all of the boilers were out except for two on the port side and these did not generate enough power to keep the pumps working. Again the dreadnought came to a halt. As a result of ineffective underwater protection, poorly constructed bulkheads (most likely due to the Danubius yard’s inexperience in building large warships), and the loss of the pumps, water continued to spread to other compartments.

At 0520, when Tegetthoff had returned from its wild goose chase, Szent Istvan signaled its sister ship to arrange a tow as quickly as possible. Her list to starboard continued to increase and eventually the casemated secondary batteries slipped below the waterline. The crews worked furiously to prepare a tow but at 0538 Szent Istvan began to lurch to starboard and the tow line had to be cut. The order to abandon ship was given as Tegetthoff backed away. The crew lined up in an orderly fashion on the sloping deck, some jumping into the water. At 0605 Szent Istvan made its final death roll and capsized. Captain Seitz and the ship’s senior officers were thrown off the bridge and a number of sailors scurried on to the keel as the ship rolled over, many injuring themselves on the sharp barnacles on the hull. At 0612 the dreadnought slipped beneath the waves. Four officers and 85 sailors were killed by the explosions or went down with the ship and the rest of the ship’s crew were rescued by Tegetthoff and the escorts. When word of the attack on Szent Istvan reached Admiral Horthy, he decided to abandon the operation against the Otranto Barrage, the element of surprise having been lost. Not knowing that Rizzo had happened upon Szent Istvan by pure chance, Horthy was convinced at the time that the Italians knew of his movements and believed that they had dispatched submarines and MAS boats to attack his forces. By the morning of June 11, Horthy’s remaining dreadnoughts had safely returned to Pola. Thus ended the last major fleet action conducted by the k. u. k. Kriegsmarine.



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.


The Italians in Roman armies

South Italic warriors, c. 400BCE, art by Giuseppe Rava

Semper populum Romanum alienis rebus arbitrio alieno usum; et principium et finem in potesta tem ipsorum, qui ope sua velint adiutos Romanos, esse.

The Roman people had always employed the property of other peoples with their consent; the decision to provide assistance, both the beginning and the end, was under the control of those who wished the Roman people to enjoy their aid. (Livy 32.8.14)

The Romans relied heavily on the resources of their Italian allies, as the Senate informed Attalus II of Pergamum in 198 BCE in the passage above (all dates BCE unless otherwise noted). Of course there was a significant difference between the façade of willing, even eager, assistance the Romans promoted and the reality of allied support. In the centuries in which Rome rose from one among many Italian communities to hegemon of the peninsula, the story of the peoples of Italy in Roman armies is one of gradual integration and subordination. Roman armies in the fourth century and earlier resembled other Italian armies of the day. An important aspect of early Italian warfare was military cooperation, facilitated by overlapping bonds of formal and informal relationships between communities and individuals. Over the third century and culminating in the Second Punic War, the Romans organized their Italian allies into large conglomerate units that were placed under Roman officers. At the same time, the Romans generally took more direct control of the military resources of their allies as the idea of military obligation developed. The integration and subordination of the Italians under increasing Roman domination fundamentally altered their relationships. By the late second century, the Italians were vestiges of past traditions that no longer fitted into a changing world, resulting in growing feelings of discontent and eventually outright rebellion. Italian military resources were key to the growth of the Roman empire, but over time the balance of power changed the fundamental military relationship of the Romans with the other peoples of Italy.

Early Italian warfare

Italy prior to the Roman conquest, ending ca. 265, was a land divided amongst hundreds of communities constantly in conflict, often at war, with one another. The narrative of early Roman history is dominated by annual wars with neighbors, while the great men of Rome were nearly all warriors. The evidence that survives in the literary record is naturally one sided, focusing on the supposedly inevitable rise of Rome to hegemon of Italy. Where Italians come into the narrative is secondary, as opponents or supporting characters in a Roman tale. Despite the limitations of the sources, what survives reveals the Italian foundations of the Roman army’s reliance on allied soldiers. While warfare was common there was also an important aspect of cooperation, which is important when looking at the nature of military interaction in Italy. Both the contentiousness and cooperation shaped how the Italians fit into Roman armies and the eventual growth of empire.

The fluid and chaotic nature of community interactions is clearly demonstrated in the events from 343 to 338, the First Samnite War and the great Latin War (Livy 7.32?8.14; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.307?311). Around the year 343, the Samnites launched attacks from the central Apennines on the Sidicini in northern Campania, who in turn called upon the nearby people of Capua for help. After suffering defeat at the hands of the Samnites, the people of Capua persuaded the Romans to abandon a previous treaty with the Samnites and enter the war on their side. The Romans brought their Latin allies with them. After three years of fighting, the Romans and Samnites concluded peace to the dismay of the Latins, Campanians, and Sidicini who jointly decided to continue the fight against the Samnites (and supposedly attack Rome afterwards). In response, the Romans and Samnites, so recently enemies, joined forces and together defeated the forces of the Romans’ former allies in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius (Livy 8.8.19?11.2; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 15.7.3). After two more years of fighting, the Latins were put down and “given” full Roman citizenship, the Campanians became Roman allies with civitas sine suffragio, and the Sidicini became Samnite allies. These developments occurred over about five years. It is hard not to be impressed by the ease with which the Italians of the central Apennines created and abandoned their alliances when deemed profitable or useful. Such a chaotic environment made alliances and military cooperation of significant importance for the survival of Italian communities. By pooling military resources together, smaller communities were able to protect themselves and larger communities could project their influence abroad.

The communities of Italy were tied together in a complex web that facilitated military cooperation. In the plains cities were common, while in the mountains looser tribal organizations existed. Trade routes linked the peninsula, with goods flowing across community boundaries. While a number of different languages existed in Italy prior to the Roman conquest (such as Latin, Oscan, Umbrian, Etruscan) linguistic and material evidence suggests close interaction of peoples regardless of linguistic differences (Adams 2003, 112?183). Many Italian communities throughout the peninsula worshipped at common shrines, which formed the basis for religious associations called nomina (Cornell 1995, 294?299; Bradley 2000, 62?77; Isayev 2007, 31? 41; Alföldi 1965, 119). On an individual level the elites of Italian communities intermarried and maintained ties of hospitality such as the Fabii in Caere (Holloway 1994, 71?72; Livy 9.36). The various communities of Italy were a diverse group in many ways. Nevertheless, they were able to cooperate effectively with each other militarily through the connections that existed.

In particular, cooperation relied heavily on the generally similar militaristic societies of Italy. Roman militarism is well understood and quite obvious in their historical accounts (Harris 1984). However, the Romans were hardly unique in their bellicosity in the peninsula (Eckstein 2006, 118?147). Fortifications blanket Italy (city walls and hill forts). Artwork commonly depicted warfare as a motif, while ritualistic burials included military goods. Indeed, an individual’s position in society relied heavily on military accomplishments. A stark example of this comes from the story of P. Horatius Cocles, who single-handedly defended the only bridge over the Tiber from enemy invaders, earning praise from his fellow citizens. However, despite the reputation he achieved, a severe hip wound taken during the fight left him lame, which ended his ability to participate in war and thus precluded any future military commands or political offices (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 5.25.3). The story of Horatius, although undoubtedly embellished, is a stark example of the importance of warfare in Roman society. While we lack such stories from the traditions of any other Italian people, the material record (burial goods, burial frescoes, pottery) and the historical record of constant warfare suggest a similar outlook.

Formal and informal relations between communities and individuals made cooperation possible. Formal treaties (foedera) existed between communities that included mutual defense clauses in addition to various legal clauses. The foedus Cassianum stated “let [the Romans and Latins] assist each other with all their forces when either is attacked,” and forbade assisting foreign enemies (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 6.95.2; Cornell 1997, 299?301). Less formal agreements existed as well, including indutiae (truces that were mostly used in Etruria), sponsiones (personal guarantees), and the religious ties of nomina, although the military implications of these relationships is unclear. These less formal arrangements could become formal treaties under the right circumstances (Crawford 1973, 1?7). In addition, personal social relations were important especially in terms of military cooperation. Within communities, prominent individuals could maintain personal bands of warriors such as those described in the Lapis Satricanus (Stibbe 1980; Smith 1996, 235?237), the Fabii at the Cremera (Livy 2.48.8?10; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 9.15; Richard 1988, 526? 553, contra Welwei 1993, 60?76), and Numerius Decimius in the Second Punic War (Livy 22.24.12). These warbands could be led to the support of foreign individuals or communities with whom their leaders had personal relations. In 327 Samnite military assistance to Neapolis was described as “some individuals with private ties of friendship (?d??? e?? a) . and friends of the Neapolitans who are helping that city by their own choice” (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 15.8.4). Likewise, Etruscan assistance to Veii, which was being attacked by the Romans, was limited to young men with personal ties to the Veientes without any official support or condemnation from their home cities (Livy 5.17.9). Military cooperation among the Italians relied on the complex web of formal and informal relationships that linked communities together in diverse ways.

Cooperation in tactical situations was also made possible by a similar panoply of arms and armor as well as approach to warfare. Italian arms and armor showed a good deal of local variation, but generally indicate a similar style and approach to warfare. From the fifth century onwards, Italian armor suggests an emphasis on individual combat in battle. Helmets came in a variety of styles variously inspired by Celtic influence in the north and Greek influence in the south (Paddock 1993). Despite local variations, these helmets shared an open face and uncovered ears that did not hinder the wearer’s sight or hearing, indicating the importance of situational awareness. Body armor consisted of heart-protectors, triple-disc breastplates, and chainmail depending on the region, while shields were generally oval in shape and somewhat smaller than their Greek equivalents (Stary 1981). These forms of armor allowed freedom of movement, relying on personal mobility for protection rather than Greece’s heavy bronze that provided superior protection but inhibited movement. Mobility and space trumped heavy armor and dense formations. Weaponry likewise suggests an importance on individual combatants. The peoples of Italy seem to have preferred a certain kind of weapon (e. g. swords in Latium, spears in Samnium), but many regions also indicate variation of weapons within a single population (different types of spears, swords, axes) (Stary 1981). Ultimately, weapon choice was likely personal. Polybius confirms this disparity of arms and armor, albeit within larger age groups of Roman armies (Polyb. 6.22?23; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.703? 706). Where the individual is emphasized over the group, personal variations had less of an impact. Common arms and armor, as well as approaches to warfare, facilitated the military cooperation of the peoples of Italy.

Military cooperation was made possible by a common military culture in Italy and served an important function in the survival and expansion of communities. Domination of the peninsula ultimately came down to who could best utilize allied military resources through formal and informal relationships. The fourth and early third centuries witnessed a brutal series of wars that engulfed the peninsula in a constantly shifting set of alliances among communities. Although Rome’s wars naturally dominate the narrative, there were many others, many of which did not involve the Romans. Throughout these conflicts, exploitation of military alliances proved vital but alliances were often fleeting. An important aspect of Roman success in the wars of Italy was their attempts to solidify control over their allies’ military resources, by incorporating many allies as full or partial citizens into Rome’s military structure (Livy 8.14.1?12; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.538?571). By the middle of the third century the Romans managed to solidify their hegemony through warfare, colonization, citizenship extensions, land seizures, aristocratic relationships, and treaties. At its heart, though, Roman domination of Italy was built on preexisting military and political systems of the peninsula. The Italians remained autonomous Roman allies who continued to provide military assistance through the ancient systems of cooperation that had long been in place. Roman hegemony, however, fundamentally altered the balance of power in Italy and would, in time, result in a subordination and integration of the Italians into a Roman military and political system.

The Italians in the Roman military system

There was an inherent similarity of Italian styles of warfare in the peninsula, which facilitated the cooperation of Romans and their Italian allies. In time, this cohesiveness allowed the development of a more sophisticated organization of Rome’s allies into larger units (alae) under Roman officers (prefects). Better incorporation and control of their allies allowed the Romans to use them very effectively in conquering and maintaining an empire.

Although the command structure used by the Romans with regard to their Italian allies is difficult to determine due to a general poor survival of evidence, there is clear evidence of greater levels of control in the third and second centuries. Before the Punic Wars, there is little indication of well-defined command structures over allied forces in Roman armies. Livy twice mentions prefects of the allies in the mid-third century, but only as part of stock phrases (Livy 8.36.5; 10.35.5; Oakley 1997? 2005, 2.749?750). That is not to say that Roman commanders were never placed over units of Italian allies (e. g. Sp. Nautius in 293, Livy 10.40.8; Frontin. Str. 2.4.1), only that there is no evidence of a regular position. With the domination of Italy by the Romans, however, a new Roman command structure developed. The exact timeline of this development is hazy, but by the Second Punic War Roman officers known as prefects of the allies (praefecti sociorum) are to be found commanding groups of Italians. These officers represent a level of command and control for Roman generals, making tactical control more effective, as well as representing the growing formalization of Roman domination of their allies. Italian commanders were apparently subordinated below these officers and appear less often in the sources. Polybius indicates that the prefects were a fully integrated part of the Roman command structure (6.26?40; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709?723). They were appointed at the discretion of Roman generals. Twelve men were appointed to this position, six per ala (legion-like units of allies), which corresponded to the number of military tribunes in citizen legions (Ilari 1974, 128). Prefects of the allies could be used as special commanders of small detachments of allied forces, a few infantry cohorts or cavalry turmae (Livy 24.20.1; 27.41.7; 40.31.3?6; Sall. Iug. 77.4). However, in those instances where alae functioned as independent operational units similar to legions, they did so under legates as opposed to prefects.

Sometime in the third century Roman generals began organizing the allied forces drawn from other Italian communities into larger units, alae. There are some indications of groupings of allied groups in Roman armies before the Punic Wars (Livy 10.43.3; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 20.1.5). However, it was not until the Second Punic War (218?201) that they are firmly attested and appear regularly thereafter. The close timing with the appearance of prefects of the allies is likely not a coincidence, as both the officers and units were closely intertwined. However, it is difficult to push this interpretation too far as sources for the early third century are quite poor and generally preserve little specific information regarding Italians in Roman armies. The alae comprised smaller cohorts drawn from allied communities and were commanded by local leaders. As a whole, the alae were similar in size to legions and could serve a similar tactical function (e. g. Livy 25.21.6; 27.1.8?13; 31.21.1?7; 35.5). In fact, in his description of the Battle of Magnesia Livy refers to the alae as legions (37.39.7; Briscoe 1981, 347). Together, the prefects and alae created a more effective system for the Romans to exploit the military potential of their allies.

The most detailed description of the Roman Republican army, including weapons, armor, command structure, castrametation, and, most relevantly here, an overview of the Italian allies as they served in Roman armies, comes from Polybius (6.19? 42). The army was divided into three lines of heavy infantry (the triplex acies) divided into age groups plus smaller numbers of cavalry and light infantry. The Italians, who had shared a common panoply prior to the Roman conquest, were organized similarly, and Livy says that at the Battle of Mt. Vesuvius in 340 the Latins fought in the same triple line (8.8; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.475?476). While no doubt anachronistic, the description is consistent with the similarities of warfare in early Italy and at the later battle at Magnesia in 189 where the Italians were organized along the same lines as the Romans (Livy 37.39.7?8). Each line was further divided into smaller subunits. For Roman infantry, these units were the maniples made up of about 160 men, three of which were grouped as a cohort. Italian infantry seem to have been organized solely in cohorts of about 500 men, or at least only cohorts are in evidence. Polybius says that the number of allied infantry coincided with the Roman infantry with three times the number of cavalry (6.27.6?9; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709; cf. Vell. Pat. 2.15.1?2).

It seems that the two alae were typically deployed on the flanks of the two legions in a consular army (Polyb. 6.26.9; Livy 37.39.7?8). The alae, however, were not always placed on the wings, but could be deployed as needed. The Italian allies no longer formed cooperative groups, but fully formed tactical units that could undertake a variety of roles. In 181 the propraetor Q. Fulvius Flaccus in Spain deployed the left ala into an ambush position against a force of Celtiberians (Livy 40.31; cf. Frontin. Str. 2.5.8). Here not only was the ala acting completely separately from the main Roman force, but it also functioned as the core to which 6,000 Spanish auxiliaries could be attached much as the Roman legions had done for allied Italian forces. Of course, not all, or even most, Roman generals used alae so creatively, but the integration of the Italian allies was an important development in Roman warfare that created a potentially more efficient fighting force.

Beyond the alae, the allies were also grouped into a unit called the extraordinarii. Before the alae were organized, the extraordinarii were chosen by the prefects of the allies from the best men of the Italian soldiers, about 2,000 infantry and 600 cavalry (Polyb. 6.26.7?9; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709). They were then subdivided into four cohorts of infantry and ten turmae of cavalry. While Roman armies were on the march, Polybius (6.40.8) says that the extraordinarii were either deployed in the van or the rear depending on where attacks were expected. They seem to have had no regular position in the battle-line, being deployed as needed and providing a flexible force of good soldiers (Pfeilschifter 2007, 34; Livy 40.31.3; Polyb. 10.39.1).

The Italians had become fully integrated into the Roman military system by the end of the third century. They were incorporated into the camps that Roman armies regularly constructed, although the exact details are difficult to ascertain (Polyb. 6.27? 32; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709?716; Dobson 2008; cf. Rosenstein 2012, 93?100). The extraordinarii occupied a place of distinction near the general’s tent. Non-Italian allies camped separately. With regards to rations, Polybius (6.39.15) says that the allied infantry received the same rations as the Roman infantry, and the cavalry about onethird less than the Roman cavalry, which were given as a gift. The provision of rations can be associated with the growing disparity in relative power between the Romans and their Italian allies. In Roman eyes, it was the duty of their allies to march alongside Roman citizens across the Mediterranean, but at the same time, as with any good master, it was the duty of the Romans to care for their subordinate allies while on campaign.

The many campaigns in which the Italians participated alongside the Romans also had an impact on the complex process of cultural interchange. To be sure, units were apparently separated by ethnic groups into units and in camps (Pfeilschifter 2007; Rosenstein 2012). While fluency may have been rare, there is no reason to think that this segregation prevented passing knowledge of Latin among allied soldiers. Certainly, in those instances of discontent among soldiers, Roman citizens and Italian allies showed solidarity and cooperation (Livy 28.24.13; 40.35?36). Nevertheless, many regions in Italy show at least familiarity with Latin that must have been supported by military interaction. The Abruzzi tribes of the central Apennines were among the most common allies in Roman armies, among them the Marsi who claimed that no Roman army had ever achieved a triumph over them or without them (App. B Civ. 1.46). The earliest example of Latin used outside of Latium (in this case influenced by local Oscan), dated to the third century, comes from this area (ILLRP 7). On the other hand, the Paeligni, another Abruzzi people commonly referenced in Roman armies, show little influence from Latin in the inscriptional evidence as early as their neighbors (Bispham 2007, 5). The impact of Latin on the various languages of Italy in general reflects the same complexity of influence, adaptation, and resistance (Bispham 2007, 4?5; Benelli 2001, 7?16; Mouritsen 1998, 77?81). While other factors were at play, common military service based on centuries-old traditions of military cooperation made cultural exchange among the peoples of Italy possible.

Albrecht Friedrich Rudolf Dominik, Archduke of Austria (1817–1895) and the Battle of Custozza

Austrian field marshal, victor over the Italians in 1866, and leading military figure of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Albrecht Friedrich Rudolf Dominik, second Duke of Teschen, was born in Vienna on August 3, 1817. He was the eldest son of Archduke Charles of Austria, the only Austrian general to defeat Napoleon, in the Battle of Aspern-Essling (May 21–22, 1809). Charles encouraged his son’s inclination toward the military. Although Albrecht suffered from a mild form of epilepsy, it did not adversely affect his military career.

At age 13, Albrecht was commissioned a colonel in the Austrian 44th Infantry Regiment. Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky was his chief military adviser. Albrecht was named Generalmajor in 1840, Feldmarschall-leutnant in 1843, and General der Kavallerie in 1845. As commander of forces in Upper Austria, Lower Austria, and Salzburg, he had charge of troops in Vienna at the onset of the Revolution of 1848. On March 13, his men fired on the crowds in an effort to restore order. Although his troops were able to secure the city center, they failed to win control of the outer districts. Albrecht was himself wounded in the fighting. Following the resignation of Austrian chancellor and foreign minister Klemens von Metternich and the formation of an armed student guard, Albrecht ordered his troops to their barracks.

Albrecht took part in the subsequent effort to suppress revolutionary outbreaks against Austrian rule in northern Italy. Commanding a division under Radetzky, Albrecht played a key role in the victory over Italian forces led by King Charles Albert of Sardinia in the Battle of Novara (March 23, 1849). During 1851– 1860 Albrecht was governor of Hungary. The Italian War of 1859 passed him by as he was then in Berlin, engaged in a fruitless effort to secure an alliance with Prussia.

With war with Prussia looming, in mid-April 1866 Albrecht was appointed to command the South Army rather than the forces against Prussia. Here he faced onerous odds: 75,000 Austrian troops with 168 guns against 200,000 Italians with 370 guns. Yet Albrecht won a decisive victory over the Italians led by General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora in the Battle of Custozza (June 24, 1866).

The charge of the 13th Regiment of Austrian Uhlans.

Battle of Custozza (June 24, 1866)

The Southern Army of the Habsburgs was made up of many fine regiments. The Archduke commanded barely 75,000 troops against a foe of 200,000 equipped with more than twice the amount of artillery he could muster. As his orders to his army upon declaration of war noted, this disparity in numbers was not at all intimidating: `Soldiers!’ he exhorted them. `Never forget how often this enemy has run away from you!’

Ably advised by his chief of staff, General John, the Archduke Albrecht waited for Marmora’s army to cross the Mincio. Albrecht hoped to disrupt Marmora’s army so as to render it incapable of uniting with another Italian army advancing from the south under Cialdini. To keep Marmora in check while holding Cialdini under observation required some forced marches across the northern Italian plains in scorching heat. Neck scarves and a proliferation of sun- protective materials punctuated the white tunics of Albrecht’s infantry, while his cavalry abandoned their heavy costume and headdress to adopt lighter blouses and, in the case of his lancers, soft caps. By the time the morning of the 24th dawned, the Imperial Royal Army had divested itself of all its Alpine kit and had come to resemble increasingly a lightly armed skirmishing force which, but for the absence of the colour of khaki, might have been recognisable on the North West Frontier a generation later.

Risking serious disruption had he been faced by a more energetic opponent, the Archduke wheeled his forces west to occupy the high ground around Villafranca. His V corps under Rodichad conducted the most punishing night march to Sona but neither Italian skirmishers nor cavalry patrols disturbed their deployment on the hills around Custozza. To the surprise of the Austrians, these hills had not been seized by the Italians. Only around the high ground east of Vallegio did the Italians blunder into the Austrians at 6 a. m. As Marmora rode up to the small eminence of Monte Croce shortly after dawn, he was staggered to see an entire Austrian corps (Hartung IX) moving towards him in three columns less than two miles away. The Italians were about to be swept back to their Mincio crossings in great style. With improvisation, Marmora hastily assembled a defence, ordering two divisions to march up to Villafranca where Albert’s wing was lightly defended by an Austrian division under Ludwig Pulz. As this deployment began, the quixotic opportunities which war affords the alert and energetic mind came into play.

Pulz was under strict orders to `maintain only contact’ with the Italian III Corps under Della Rocca. He was therefore mildly surprised to see four squadrons of his lancers, mostly Poles from Galicia under their colonel Rodakowski, line up in formation, lower their lances as their colonel drew his sword and gallop towards the Italian infantry in the early morning light. Pulz had expected the horsemen to be on a reconnaissance. With the feathers in their caps catching the sun and the pennants of their lances fluttering in the wind, the lancers’ charge threw up a huge cloud of dust.

As Rodakowski galloped forward, he was joined by seven more squadrons of lancers, which had been assigned to watch the Verona road. This breakdown in discipline was at first interpreted as a sophisticated feint. Pulz explained to a puzzled staff officer watching the scene unfold that, despite Edelsheim’s heroic charge at Solferino, there was no real precedent in the Austrian army for the charge of a single light cavalry brigade towards two infantry divisions supported by artillery and twenty squadrons of heavy cavalry.

Pulz, looking on, heard artillery and infantry volley fire open up in response to Rodakowski’s charge and felt compelled to support his horsemen, so he advanced with what was left of his cavalry. 2 Another 300 horsemen thundered off. As an impetuous cavalry commander, Rodakowski had engaged the Italian infantry at their weakest point, the gap between the two divisions, and had succeeded in disrupting some of the Italians. But the majority of the Italian infantry had seen the threat in good time and had formed square. With withering volley fire they had easily repulsed the attack, which cost Rodakowski half his command. As the lancers wheeled around it looked as if they were facing the same fate that had overtaken Edelsheim at Solferino and Lord Cardigan at Balaclava, twelve years earlier.

Some, perhaps no more than a troop, of Rodakowski’s lancers had penetrated beyond the infantry. Their appearance, however brief, had a stupendous effect on the excitable Italian troops milling around the supply wagons to the rear of Della Rocca’s troops. The Italians, promptly fearing being ridden down by enemy horse, excitedly took to their heels. The panic gathered momentum and infected even the Italian reinforcements marching up to support Della Rocca. Suddenly a horde of riderless horses and fleeing Italian infantry began to charge back towards the Mincio, where they imagined safety awaited them. By 9 a. m., the bridge at Goito was a mass of fugitives screaming that the `Tedeschi’ (Germans) were coming to slaughter them.

The front line of Della Rocca’s troops held firm but the Polish charge had a demoralising effect on them and they dared not advance for fear of an Austrian counter- attack, even though this sector of the Austrian line was thinly held and could not have withstood a vigorous push by the two Italian divisions.

Rodakowski’s charge, as brilliant (and indeed more effective) as that of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, was a poor start to the battle for the Italians. Albert’s rather thin left wing was the Achilles heel of the Austrian deployment that day and could have proved the beginning of severe problems for the Austrians had it been correctly evaluated and exploited by the Italians, something Rodakowski’s 500 men had rendered impossible.

Elsewhere the battle, though less dramatic, was also not developing as the Italians had planned. On the Austrian right, an Italian division under Cerale was caught in the flank by an Austrian infantry brigade under Eugen Piret containing several `crack’ grenadier battalions and some skirmishing Croats well concealed in the woods on the Italians’ other flank. Within minutes the Italians were fleeing again back to the Mincio, offering only stubborn resistance at the village of Oliosi where repeated attacks by the Austrian grenadiers were repulsed with heavy loss for nearly an hour.

The Austrian Stosstaktik, so disastrous in the Swiepwald two weeks later, proved more successful against the Italians, though almost as costly. Sirtori’s division fell back under the pressure of the Austrian bayonet charges but inflicted heavy casualties on Bauer’s brigade (660 of Bauer’s men fell in less than fifteen minutes as they advanced).

Nowhere this day did the Austrian frontal attacks prove as expensive as at Monte Croce, where two Austrian brigades from IX Corps (Hartung) were virtually annihilated as they attempted to dislodge well dug- in Italian infantry under Brignone. More than 2,500 Austrians were lost in these poorly executed and coordinated attacks, which fizzled out owing to lack of reinforcements.

By 10 a. m. the crisis of the battle had arrived for the Austrians. Everywhere along their line they had failed to seize any strategically important ground and their numbers were dwindling. A concerted push by the Italians, who were fighting well, would unmask the deficiencies of the Archduke’s command and his weakness in numbers, with potentially catastrophic results for the Habsburg army.

After nearly three and a half hours of intense fighting, the Austrians had shown aggressive spirit and it was this which finally demoralised the Italians. Despite their strong defence of Monte Croce, Brignone’s troops began to panic because the Austrians simply kept re- forming into new lines, advancing again: white- coated troops with bands playing and bayonets lowered. Riding `to safety’, on Marmora’s advice, the Italian King instantly saw his troops’ weakness and tried to reinforce them, but to no avail. The Brignone line broke after the fourth assault by the Austrians and the sight of the tall Hungarian grenadiers advancing put even their rearmost lines to flight.

As Marmora rode to try to rally Brignone’s men, he noticed that the nearby heights of Custozza also appeared to be occupied by white- coated troops. These were the soldiers of Böck’s brigade, Romanians, often decried as unreliable but advancing in good discipline. The Italian reinforcements came up, and an Austrian brigade under Scudier, which had advanced up the heights of Custozza, panicked and withdrew rapidly (an act for which their commanding officer Anton Scudier would be court- martialled after the war).

Scudier’s precipitate withdrawal opened a small but dangerous gap in the Austrian centre, which could have been exploited with serious consequences had not Rodic’s corps stormed the Monte Vento and Santa Lucia heights. There, the Austrians discovered evidence of Italian atrocities committed against some captured Jaeger troops, two of whom had been stripped naked and beaten to death before being hanged with leather from their uniforms.

Rodic’s men, notably Piret’s brigade supported later by Moering, neutralised the effects of Scudier’s withdrawal. Custozza became a fragile point d’appui for the Italians. Flanked on either side by Austrians, they withdrew at around 3 p. m. Panic, the greatest enemy of the Italian army that day, took hold across Marmora’s front. Sensing his moment, the Archduke now ordered a grand envelopment but, as Pulz rode towards Villafranca, he found thousands of Italians laying down their arms without a fight as Della Rocca began withdrawing. Everywhere the Italians were breaking, with the exception of the few brave men who had filled the gap vacated by Scudier – and they were about to be ejected by three Austrian brigades. Only the valiant Granatieri di Sardegna saved Italian honour that day, withdrawing in perfect order around 5 p. m. The battle ended after the Austrians brought up a couple of batteries to blow to bits any remaining Italian defenders of Custozza who lingered.

As the Archduke Albert surveyed the scene from the heights he saw a vast shattered Italian army in headlong retreat. Later historians and some of his own officers have severely censured him for not ordering an aggressive pursuit but this was not the Habsburg tradition, as we have seen. Albert, like his father before him, knew that the dynasty could never afford to take the risk. Those who criticise Albert for `timidity’ miss the point. This was not how the Habsburgs waged war, especially, in Albert’s phrase a `defensive war’.

Victory was really concerned with honour and could only be tactical because Venetia had already been surrendered to all intents and purposes. Moreover, to effect a crushing pursuit Albert would have needed fresh troops. The Austrian casualties were high. Nearly 9,000 Austrian dead and wounded, including some 400 officers, lay scattered around the battlefield.

Many of the survivors had been in action without interruption for more than 18 hours. Without exception they had fought bravely against an opponent who enjoyed significant numerical superiority. (In the event the absence of the Italian Cialdini’s corps somewhat evened the numbers out.) In the blistering heat of those June days on the north Italian plain, many of Albert’s troops were utterly exhausted. Some had died of heatstroke; many others were dehydrated and ill. V Corps under Rodic was the only force capable of conducting a pursuit, but to what end? One Italian army was crushed; it did not need to be destroyed. Moreover, like his father, Albert had a realistic view of his strategic gifts and knew that he was no Napoleon.

Any advantage that might have accrued to Austria by this victory and that of Count Wilhelm Friedrich von Tegetthoff over the Italians in the naval Battle of Lissa (July 19–20) was more than offset by the Austrian defeat in Bohemia in the Battle of Königgrätz (July 3). Although Albrecht was named Oberkommandeur (commander in chief) on July 10, 1866, Feldzeugmeister Ludwig von Benedek’s crushing defeat at Königgrätz prevented further military action against Prussia, and Austria was forced to conclude peace with both Prussia and Italy. Albrecht’s victory remained the one bright spot for Austria in the land war and was accorded an eminence that it did not perhaps deserve.

Albrecht continued as Oberkommandeur until 1869, when Emperor Franz Josef I assumed that position. Albrecht then became Generalinspekteur (inspector general), holding that post until his death and carrying out an extensive reform of the Austro-Hungarian military establishment based on the Prussian model. In 1869 Albrecht published Über die Verantwortlichkeit im Kriege (On Responsibility in War).

Extremely conservative in his political views, Albrecht also advocated preventive war against Italy and, following the 1878 Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, urged military action to secure additional Balkan territory to include Salonika. Albrecht was advanced to Feldmarschall in March 1888. He was also made Generalfeldmarschall in the German Army in 1893.

Albrecht continued in his posts until his death at Schloss Arco in the Tirol on February 18, 1895. There is an equestrian statue of him in Vienna near the entrance to the Albertina museum (his former city residence of the Palais Erzherzog Albrecht, which houses Albrecht’s extensive art collection). A conservative and even reactionary figure in many ways, Archduke Albrecht was primarily a bureaucrat rather than a field general but nonetheless carried out important reforms in the Austro-Hungarian Army that helped prepare it for its great test in World War I.

Further Reading

Kann, Robert A. A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1526–1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

Marek, George R. The Eagles Die: Franz Joseph, Elisabeth, and Their Austria. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.

Palmer, Alan. Twilight of the Habsburgs: The Life and Times of the Emperor Francis Joseph. New York: Grove, 1994.

Rothenburg, Gunther E. The Army of Francis Joseph. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1976.

Milan Commune (1097— c. 1240)

Foot Berrovieri

Company of the Carroccio


In the wake of the Patarine struggle, the various factions tried to develop a more inclusive government. The archbishop continued to be the nominal leader, but power gradually passed into the hands of laymen. The commune (commune civitatis), first mentioned in a document of 1097, consisted of a popular assembly and an executive council composed of consuls elected from the city’s three factions—capitanei, valvassores, and cives.

By the early twelfth century, political consolidation was accompanied by military and economic expansion. To gain access to central Italy and the Adriatic, Milan attacked Lodi and Cremona; to reach the Ligurian coast, it defeated Pavia; and to secure the Alpine passes, it destroyed Como. Milan’s expansion brought it into direct conflict with Frederick I Barbarossa (r. 1155-1190), who wished to reassert direct imperial rule over Italy. Twice, in 1158 and 1162, Frederick successfully besieged Milan. The second defeat was particularly severe: Frederick ordered the demolition of Milan’s walls, gates, and towers, and the palaces of his principal enemies; moreover, he expelled the entire population, forcing them to live for four years in the suburban areas. Milan’s isolation, however, was only temporary. Growing aversion to imperial rule among the communes of northern Italy soon led to the formation of the Lombard League, whose forces defeated an imperial army at Legnano (1176). By the Peace of Constance (1183) the Lombard communes secured their de facto autonomy from the empire, while still recognizing their de jure sovereignty.

Communal liberty did not, however, put an end to Milan’s social tension. In 1198, the city’s shopkeepers and artisans formed an association known as the credenza di Sant’Ambrogio to protect their political and economic interests. Opposing them was the motta, composed of lesser nobles, wealthy commoners, and merchants; die great nobles for their part remained closely tied to the archbishop. To maintain peace and achieve political reform the Milanese increasingly resorted to the one-man rule of a foreign magistrate, the podestà. The policies introduced by the podestà included protecting the citizenry from arbitrary confiscations by the government (1205); laying the groundwork for the general assessment of properties (catasto); making commoners as eligible for public office as nobles were (1214); codifying customary law (1216); and constructing a new communal palace, or Broletto nuovo (1228). The renewed confidence of the Milanese became evident in 1220 when they not only refused hospitality to Frederick II (r. 1215-1250) as he traveled from Germany to Rome for his imperial coronation, but also opposed his coronation as king of Italy. In 1226, a second Lombard League (strengthened by papal support) was formed against Frederick II. This time the empire prevailed, at the battle of Cortenuova (1237). Within the city, the commoners, fearing reprisals from the nobility who had sided with the emperor, elected a new official—known as the capitano del popolo—to rule alongside the podestà. The first such capitano was Pagano della Torre (1240), who was already prominent as leader of the Credenza di Sant’Ambrogio and a member of the anti-imperial and pro-papal faction known as the Guelfs.


The carroccio was the standard-bearing cart, usually drawn by oxen, of the northern Italian cities. It served as a symbolic focus of patriotism and a rallying point in battle. These carts were meant to unite the divergent social groups within the emerging city-states of Lombardy and Tuscany. Their use (at least as early as 1039) paralleled and coincided with the adoption of civic patron saints and the development of the commune and an independent popolo in many cities. The main purposes of the carts were to accompany a city’s troops on campaigns, to serve as a platform for patriotic or pious harangues and for celebrations of the mass before battle, and to provide a highly visible point of reference for troops during battle. To lose a cart to an enemy was shameful, and captured carts were often treated brutally.

The earliest known Milanese cart was that of Archbishop Aribert (1039). It consisted of “a high wooden pole like the mast of a ship which was fixed to a strong wagon; at the top was a gilded apple and from this descended two ribbons of dazzlingiy white cloth, and in the center a holy cross was painted with our Savior portrayed, his arms extended,” In the later twelfth century Saint Ambrose (the patron saint of Milan) replaced the crucifix, and later still the cloth was scarlet and a gold cross replaced the apple. Three pairs of oxen drew this carroccio, which clearly embodied both ecclesiastical and civic symbolic elements. Soldiers of Cremona and Parma captured the Milanese wagon in 1149, and in 1160 imperial troops killed the oxen, captured the banner, and overturned the cart. When Frederick I Barbarossa captured Milan the next year, he seized the carroccio and ninety-four civic banners as booty. At Legnano in 1176, however, Milanese troops rallied around the carroccio, warding off defeat at Frederick’s hands. When the Milanese invaded the area of Cremona in 1213, they lost both an important battle and their carroccio; and in 1237, at Cortenuova, the Milanese carroccio, after being stripped of its ornaments and reluctantly abandoned by the Milanese army, was taken by Frederick II and sent to Cremona and then Rome, where it was displayed in the Campidoglio.

The carrocci of other cities differed in ornamental detail, but all served the same functions. The wagons, masts, and banners were carefully tended in peacetime and were ritually blessed before use. Peacemaking between rivals within a single city often occurred around the carroccio, and carrocci were exchanged when Parma and Cremona ended their hostilities in 1281. In the 1230s Fra Giovanni preached civic peace and reconciliation from the carrocci of Padua, Brescia, Mantua, and Vicenza, and from that of Verona he declared himself podesta and duke of Verona. Often, legitimate podesta took their oaths of office from the city’s carroccio, and captured cities swore submission from the carroccio of the victor.

Despite their importance in peacetime, carrocci were above all meant to bring together for battle the often fractious elements of the city-state. Both nobles and commoners guarded the carroccio on campaigns, and both were expected to fight to the death to protect it in battle.

By the early fourteenth century, with the advent of professional armies and leaders, the carroccio fell into disuse, so that the historian Giovanni Villani (1275-1348) felt it necessary to describe in detail the Florentine cart which had been captured and burned by the Sienese at Montaperti eighty years before.


The Regia Marina (Royal Italian Navy) explored various projects for adding one or more aircraft carriers to the fleet in the 1930s but took no action beyond developing a basic design for constructing a new vessel and identifying suitable candidate merchant ships for conversion. In mid-1940, as Italy prepared to enter the war as an ally of Germany, a design was prepared for a simple conversion of the fast liner Roma into an aircraft carrier, but again was deemed less of a priority than other construction and set aside in January 1941.

It took the shock of defeat at Cape Matapan (March 28, 1941), which the Italians largely attributed to effective British deployment of its carrier Formidable, to revive demands for a carrier as an urgent requirement. In July 1941 the Undersecretary of the Navy authorized the conversion of the Roma into a carrier, using the design studies of the previous year as a basis. In the event, the project became much more ambitious and required a major transformation of the relatively elderly liner into the carrier Aquila.

Initially, the Regia Marina planned the Aquila (“Eagle”), as the new carrier was to be called, as bare-bones, minimum-effort conversion that would get aircraft to sea in minimal time. However, unanticipated minor problems and the navy’s understandable desire for the maximum possible capability in what might prove its only aircraft carrier led to a spiralling of new features, greater complexity, and mounting delays. To improve the hydrodynamics of the hull, increase fuel capacity, and provide the underwater protection naturally lacking in a merchant hull, large bulges were installed on either side of the hull at the waterline. The interior of the ship was completely gutted to make room for a large hanger with space for 40 airplanes, aviation stores, workshops, and accommodation for a crew of 1165 naval personnel and 243 pilots and support personnel from the Regia Aeronautica. A full-length flight deck topped the hanger, with a large island on a sponson to starboard. For protection against surface threats, the ship received eight 135-mm (5.3-in) L45 guns in single mounts along either side of the deck. Antiaircraft defense was supplied by twelve 65-mm L64 guns in single mounts along the deck edges and 132 x 20-mm L65 Breda machine guns in 22 sextuple mounts along the deck edges and fore and aft of the island. A small amount of armor—some in the form of concrete—was distributed around vital areas of the ship. On the whole, a well thought out, state of the art carrier thus emerged from all of this effort, but, as we shall see, at a fatal cost in time.

Displacement: 23,350 tons (standard), 27,800 tons (full load)

Dimensions: 759’2″ (oa) x 96’6″ x 24’0″

Flight deck: 700’0″ x 83’0″

Machinery: Belluzzo geared turbines, 8 Thornycroft boilers, 4 shafts, 140,000 shp = 30 knots

Bunkerage: 2,800 tons = 4,000 nm @ 18 knots

Aircraft: 36; some sources say Aquila’s air group would have been fifty-one Re2001’s, some of which were to be modified to carry a torpedo.

Armament: 8 x 5.3″, 12 x 65mm AA, 22 x 6-barrel 20mm AA

Complement: 1,420

The superstructure was razed completely and a large hangar 525 feet long and 59 feet wide was erected beneath the steel flight deck. The Roma’s original power plant was replaced completely with two sets of machinery originally intended for light cruisers of the Capitani Romani class, raising the carrier’s speed from 21 knots to 30 knots. The furnace uptakes were trunked to starboard into a very large stack that was incorporated into a substantial island structure. Two elevators connected the hangar and flight deck, which carried two catapults and full arresting gear. All armament was fitted on platforms sponsoned out from the ship’s side. Magazines and aviation fuel stowage were created and protected by 3-inch armor decks. To ensure stability and provide effective defense against torpedo attack, the hull was fitted with deep bulges on each side.

When Italy surrendered on September 8, 1943, the Aquila was virtually complete. The Germans seized the ship but it was heavily damaged by United States Army Air Force bombing on June 16, 1944 and a human torpedo attack on April 19, 1945. On April 24, 1945, the ship was scuttled at Genoa. After World War II the ship was raised and taken to La Spezia in 1949. Initially the Italian Navy considered refitting the Aquila for service as a carrier but this plan was abandoned and the ship broken up in 1952. In late 1942 the Regia Marina decided to add a second carrier to the fleet and began a simple conversion of the liner Augustus along the lines originally proposed for the Roma.

Slow progress on the extensive Aquila conversion and the obvious need for additional carriers led the navy to revive the idea of an austere, minimum-change liner conversion in 1942. The liner Augustus was selected for conversion as the Sparviero (“Kestrel”). It was designed to be, essentially, a large escort carrier. Sparviero was to have a continuous flight deck surmounting a simple, hull-top hanger, but no island. Torpedo bulges were fitted to the hull, but no other major modifications were considered. The air group was to be limited to 20 aircraft. Gun armament would consist of six 152-mm (6-in) single-purpose guns and four 102-mm (4-in) antiaircraft guns. With a waterline length of 664 ft (202 m), a beam of 83 ft (25 m), a draft of 30 ft (9 m), she was roughly the same size as Aquila. But her original, tired diesel machinery would give only a fraction of the earlier carrier’s power—28,000 hp on 4 shafts—and a maximum speed of only 18 knots.

When the ship, by then renamed the Sparviero, was seized by Germany after Italy surrendered only the superstructure had been razed. The hulk was scuttled on April 24, 1945, in an attempt to block the entrance to the harbor at Genoa. It was raised in 1947 and scrapped.

The air groups for these carriers were particularly well-conceived. Rather than developing the plethora of limited-production, specialist types that typified the opposing Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, the Regia Aeronautica standardized on a single type and adapted it to fulfill all the roles required of a naval strike aircraft. This would simplify the provision of spares and the training of naval pilots. It would maximize the number of aircraft that could be accommodated (51, including the deck park), and it would give the air group unparalleled flexibility. For strikes against enemy naval units, all aircraft could carry antiship ordnance, because each of the strike aircraft was capable of defending itself against combat air patrols. At the same time, in the event of an attack on the Aquila, all available aircraft could be used as fighters. There were no clumsy dive bombers or torpedo planes to be cleared from the deck in such a crisis.

For this one, multirole aircraft, the navy settled on the Reggiane Re.2001, the higher-performance, inline-engined version of the familiar Re.2000. The Re.2001 closely resembled the Re.2000 in almost all respects. But the bulky, trouble-prone Piaggio P.IX radial engine gave way to a liquid-cooled, Alfa Romeo RA.1000 RC.41a Monsone V-12, a license-built Daimler-Benz DB 601 offering 1175 hp for takeoff. At same time, the the Re.2000’s wing structure was redesigned to replace the leak- and fire-prone integral wing fuel tanks with more conventional armored fuel tanks, supplemented, when required, by a large torpedo-shaped drop tank under the fuselage. The Falco’s twin, nose-mounted, 12.7-mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns were supplemented by a 7.7-mm gun in each wing. Maximum speed increased to 339 mph (545 kmh) at 17,946 ft (5470 m) and range, on internal fuel, was 684 mi (1100 km).

Difficulties with license production of the DB 601 engine limited initial orders for the Re.2001 to only 120 aircraft. But, of these, fully 50 were Re.2001OR (Organizzazione Roma) models, specifically intended for the carrier project. The Re.2000OR incorporated strengthened landing gear and airframe components to cater to the higher loads anticipated during shipboard landings. A large, A-frame arrestor hook was fitted to the reinforced rear fuselage, and the airframe was finished in the elegant, overall pale grey-blue first seen on the Re.2000 catapult fighters. The naval aircraft retained the bomb shackle standard on land-based Re.2000 fighter bombers and could thus handle the naval bomber role. Weapons would probably have included a standard 551-lb (250 kg) demolition bomb and a special, 1389-lb (630-kg) armor-piercing antiship bomb.

While the Re.2001OR was admirably suited to the naval fighter and bomber roles, it could not fulfil the vital torpedo carrying mission as built. While bombs might cripple a ship, the torpedo was still the only weapon that could reliably strike below the waterline and sink ships. Accordingly Reggiane modified one of the Re.2001ORs (MM.9921) to carry a light torpedo as the Re.2001G. This was ready for flight tests in June of 1943, but crashed before torpedo trials could begin.