by Maurizio Brescia
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012. Pp. 256.
Illus., maps, diagr., tables, appends., biblio., index. $72.95. ISBN: 1591145449
A close look at the Italian Royal Navy from its creation through the end of the Second World War by a noted Italian naval historian
This is not strictly speaking a history of the Royal Italian Navy, rather it provides us with a profile focused particularly on period of the Second World War. Brescia’s treatment is increasingly detailed as he gets to the period from 1930 through 1945. He opens with an historical overview of the service from the unification of Italy in 1861 through 1939, covering the disastrous war with Austria in 1866, the more successful rematch during World War I, and the rise of the Fascist regime. He follows this with an unusually good account of the bases and shipyards that supported the navy, a subject almost always ignored in naval histories. Brescia then gives us a good overview of fleet organization and operations during the Second World War, in which the Italians did better at sea than English language accounts have been willing to concede. Then follows the meat of the book, a very large section (c. 150 pages) devoted to a detailed look at the ships, often with extensive treatment of their conception, design, construction, and service, particularly for larger units, and including numerous clear plans, diagrams, and photos. Shorter chapters follow which deal with special operations craft, camouflage, flags, uniforms (many of the illustrations in these three sections are in color), and naval aviation, plus a “Who’s Who” of personnel. Brescia does a very good job of cutting through some of the wartime propaganda still tainting the record of the Italian Navy, and armed forces in general.
A large (9½” x 11½”), extensively illustrated volume, Mussolini’s Navy, the most detailed handbook of the Regia Marina during the era of World War II available in English, is an essential work for any student of World War II at sea.