At the constitution of the kingdom of Italy there were two national naval navies: the Neapolitan and the Sardinian.
The first, founded by Charles III, developed by Ferdinand IV (admiral JFE Acton), had been greatly decayed in the century. XIX, especially under Ferdinand II. It joined the Italian cause in 1860. The Piedmontese navy, later called Sardinian, founded by Emanuele Filiberto and decayed over the years, regained strength when Sardinia was added to the Savoy states, but its real organization took place after the return of Vittorio Emanuele I to Turin. It had been gradually increased during the reign of Carlo Felice and had participated with honor in the war of 1848-49. After Novara, Cavour felt the importance of a strong naval navy and devoted assiduous care to it: he created the naval base of La Spezia, had ships built, and gave new spirit to officers and crews.
In 1861, with the merger of the Sardinian and Neapolitan navies, the Italian navy was born, whose function proved to be fundamental in the existence of the nation, which has over 6000 km. of coasts with two large islands and an imposing merchant shipping, which receives two thirds of the raw materials necessary for its life from the sea, and which needs overseas colonies. The organic problems of the new navy were vast and arduous: men who had completely different habits, traditions and cultures had to merge into a single organism; the critical situation of the ship had to be overcome, which was then undergoing profound transformation.
The young kingdom faced the obstacles that opposed the rapid development of its warship: the personnel was reorganized, the shipping was renewed, including through orders abroad. But the brief war of 1866, which took the navy in the very delicate period of transformation, and the controversies that followed it, brought a moment of depression: around 1870 it was discussed whether it would be convenient to keep it or to provide instead for the defense of the coast with coastal batteries. . A. Riboty, S. di Saint-Bon, CA Racchia, G. Acton, A. Albini, B. Brin fought strenuously against unjustified distrust, and the navy rose again.
Minister Riboty was able to get parliament to approve his “Organic Plan for the Navy” (1871) which, together with the Saint-Bon law on the alienation and renewal of the ship (1875), constitutes the birth certificate of the navy Italian war. The renewal involved all parts of the organization: personnel, weapons and ships, ground facilities. The Naval Academy was founded in Livorno (Brin law, 1882), and the Higher School of Naval Engineering in Genoa; a rigorous selection was made, adapting men better to new weapons and new mechanical means; so the studies and the researches favored. The very large calibers, their mechanical maneuver, the ballistite, the torpedoes, the steel armor were introduced in Italy almost before in any other navy, and to produce the new war materials, grandiose factories were set up in Terni (steelworks), in Pozzuoli (artillery), in Venice (torpedoes). Brin was the worthy builder of the new navy: freeing himself from all traditions, he designed the great battleships of the line Duilio and Dandolo , true revelations for their time, the most powerful units that then sailed the seas and that brought the Italian navy to almost second place in the world. Alongside these battleships, less protected ships were built, but also more armed and faster, which could follow and support the minor exploration ships: Italy and Lepanto ., which were the prototype of the current battle cruisers. Numerous light cruisers and torpedo boats built in Italy and abroad then completed our fleet. This effort was admirable because in Italy in 1870 iron construction was only just beginning and the mechanical industry hardly existed; both were energetically developed. The existing arsenals were transformed (La Spezia, Naples and Castellammare di Stabia, Venice), the new Taranto arsenal was founded, the main shipyards and machinery factories were given great impetus (Ansaldo and Odero, Genoa; Orlando, Livorno; Guppy and Pattison, Naples, etc.), also resorting to experienced foreign organizations.
According to TRANSPORTHINT, the ground plant, thus completed in its industrial function, was integrated with adequate military squares, made necessary by the geographical and political situation of the Italian nation, which, once the tension with Austria-Hungary ceased, was decidedly oriented towards central powers (Triple Alliance, agreement with Great Britain). To the west, due to the delicacy of the coastal situation, the safety of the islands, the presence of Corsica and the North African bases, the main base of La Spezia and the secondary ones of Maddalena and Messina developed. To the south the great stronghold of Taranto was created. To the east, where the situation of the Italian coasts is also difficult compared to those facing them, the main base of Venice developed alongside the secondary ones of Ancona and Brindisi.
Throughout this period the navy always responded with dignity to the tasks entrusted to it. The African war of 1895-96, and the wave of distrust that followed, also had repercussions on the warship. Good ships continued to be built, but at a very slow pace, and the preparation of the land plant was delayed, while on the contrary this prevailed passively on the ship, while harsh and not always justified criticisms of the administration were gathering (inquest on the navy, 1903 ). Only after 1900 there was a slight recovery in construction, which received a new decisive impetus thanks to the work of Admiral Carlo Mirabello. These had as collaborators the adm. Bettolo, and the engineers VE Cuniberti, who brilliantly conceived the large ship armed with 12 12-inch (305 mm.) Guns, Dante Alighieri and Count of Cavour ).
To Mirabello Italy owes the beautiful and efficient fleet that was so famous during the Italo-Turkish war. The conquest of Libya and the Dodecanese influenced the national maritime situation, posing the problem of the communications of the new great colony with the metropolis, and that of the support points of the eastern Mediterranean (Tobruch and Leros). The budget of the Navy from 1895 to 1905 went from 102.2 million to 136.1 million, and in 1914 it was 313.5.
The outbreak of the world conflict found the Italian navy strong in spirits and ready for ships, despite the difficult conditions in which the naval war had to take place. The very different characteristics of the eastern Adriatic coast (Austro-Hungarian) and the western one (Italian) and the distance of the Italian naval bases made it necessary to block the enemy surface fleet at a distance, to which it was then necessary to add the task of barring the Austrian submarines channel of Otranto, and to protect the national traffic against underwater offenses. The losses suffered by the shipping were only partially compensated by the incorporation of a few ex-German and ex-Austro-Hungarian light units, but the changes brought about in the national maritime situation by the war and the post-war political settlement were far more remarkable. In the Adriatic the position of Italy was improved with the liberation of Istria and the stronghold of Pola, and with the disappearance of the Austro-Hungarian fleet. In the Mediterranean, on the other hand, the pre-existing balance between the various maritime powers was profoundly modified, therefore the tasks of Italian maritime defense increased, while the war had demonstrated the essential importance of the fact that the country depends on maritime imports via Gibraltar and Suez.
Unfortunately, in the immediate postwar period, the Italian navy was neglected, the shipbuilding was abandoned or slowed down, the arsenals were used for industrial production, the work of the naval bases suspended. The major armed naval force was soon reduced to four large ships, and a squadron of destroyers. At the Washington conference (1921) the coefficient assigned to Italy, calculated on the basis of the global tonnage of the liners, was very low. However, the explicit recognition of Italy’s parity with France was obtained (United States and Great Britain 5, Japan 3, France and Italy 1.5).