Italian battleship Giulio Cesare
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Giulio Cesare after reconstruction
|Laid down:||24 June 1910|
|Launched:||15 October 1911|
|Completed:||14 May 1914|
|Commissioned:||7 June 1914|
|Decommissioned:||18 May 1928|
|Motto:||Ad quamvis vim perferendam|
|Recommissioned:||3 June 1937|
|Decommissioned:||15 December 1948|
|Struck:||15 December 1949|
|Fate:||Given to Soviet Navy 4 February 1949|
|Name:||Novorossiysk (Russian: Новороссийск)|
|Acquired:||4 February 1949|
|Commissioned:||6 February 1949|
|Fate:||sank 29 October 1955, scrapped 1957|
23,088 tons standard, 25,086 tons full load
28,800 tons standard, 29,100 tons full load
168.9 – 176.1 m
168.9 – 186.4 m
20 boilers, 4 shafts, 31,000 hp
8 boilers, 2 shafts, 93,000 hp
21.5 knots (41 km/h)
28 knots (53 km/h)
4,800 miles at 10 knots
3,100 miles at 20 knots
13 × 305/46 mm
18 × 120/50 mm
16 × 76/50 mm
6 × 76/40 mm
3 × 450 mm torpedo tubes
10 × 320/44 mm
12 × 120/50 mm
8 × 100/47 mm
8 × 37/54 mm
12 × 20/65 mm
10 × 320/44 mm
12 × 120/50 mm
8 × 100/47 mm
30 × 37/67 mm (12 × 2, 6 × 1)
Giulio Cesare (Italian for Julius Caesar), motto Caesar Adest was a Conte di Cavour-class battleship that served in the Regia Marina in both World Wars before joining the Soviet Navy as the Novorossiysk. Her keel was laid down on 24 June 1910 at Cantieri Ansaldo, Genoa. She was launched 15 October 1911, and construction was completed 14 May 1914.
World War I and Interwar years
Giulio Cesare had no active missions during World War I. In 1923 she attacked the Greek island of Corfu, as a reaction against the killing of Italian representatives in Ioannina. She was later renovated. From 1928 to 1933 she was used as an artillery training ship, then went into the yards for extensive modernization.
Between 1933 and 1937 she was completely rebuilt, changing her silhouette and increasing her combat capabilities. Length was increased by 10.3 metres, and she was given new armoured decks and new propulsion machinery that uprated her to 93,000 horsepower (69 MW), and allowed a speed of 28 knots (52 km/h).
World War II
During the Battle of Punta Stilo on 9 July 1940, Giulio Cesare was hit by a 15 inch (381 mm) shell as HMS Warspite set the record for naval gunnery against a moving target at well over 24,000 metres (26,000 yards).
Activity after Punta Stilo
On 17 November 1940, Giulio Cesare took part of a naval force which sailed to intercept Operation White, a British attempt to transfer fighter aircraft to Malta; seven pilots and nine warplanes were lost when the Italian Navy presence forced a premature take-off from the aircraft carrier HMS Argus. She was later assigned to covering convoys, participating in the First Battle of Sirte, until 1942, when she was sidelined because of fuel shortages. In 1948, Giulio Cesare was ceded to the Soviet Union as compensation for war damages.
The Soviet Navy recommissioned the battleship as the Novorossiysk (Новороссийск). Novorossiysk was based at Sevastopol since July 1949, serving as a flagship of the Black Sea Fleet and later as a gunnery training vessel. On 29 October 1955, the Novorossiysk was moored in Sevastopol Bay, 300 meters (1,000 feet) off the shore in front of the Naval Hospital. At 01:30, an explosion estimated to be the equivalent of 1,200 kilograms of TNT under the bow of the ship pierced all decks from the bottom plating to the forecastle deck. In the forecastle deck there was a hole which measured 14×4 meters in size. The damage area extended 22 meters from the bow to the aft.
The ship sank slowly from the bow, capsizing at 04:15, 2 hours and 45 minutes after the explosion, and disappeared beneath the waves 18 hours later. The capsizing resulted in the death of 608 sailors, most of whom were staying in the ship's compartments. It became the worst disaster in Soviet naval history. Because of the politics of the Cold War, the fate of the Novorossiysk remained clouded in mystery until the late 1980s.
The cause of the explosion is still unclear. The officially named cause, regarded as most probable, is a magnetic RMH naval mine, laid by the Germans during World War II. During the next two years after the disaster, divers found 19 German mines on the bottom of Sevastopol Bay. Eleven of the mines were as powerful as the estimated blast under Novorossiysk. There is, however, some doubt that the blast was caused by a mine. The area where Novorossiysk sank was considered swept of mines, and other ships had used the area without triggering the mine. Some experts estimate the maximum battery life of the magnetic mines as 9 years, and thus contend that such a mine would unlikely to trigger at the time of explosion. Another problem some experts claim is that the size of the crater (1 – 2.1 m deep) was too small for such a big mine. On the other hand, according to some research, damage to the ship corresponds to an explosion equivalent to 5,000 kilograms of TNT.
A highly questionable explanation, both for political and technical reasons, that appears (with variations) from time to time is that it was Italian frogmen who - more than ten years after the cessation of hostilities - were avenging the transfer of the formerly-Italian battleship to the USSR. Covert action by the frogmen of the former Italian special operations unit Decima Flottiglia MAS has often been surmised, and there were rumors that not long thereafter a group of Italian Navy frogmen received high military awards. Another theory states that explosives were hidden in the ship before she was given to the Russians. No evidence of sabotage has been found, though Soviet inquiries did not rule out the possibility because of the poor safeguarding of the fleet base on the night of the explosion.
Some details were provided in the statement of a former naval officer who served on Novorossiysk, retired captain and historian Oktyabr' Bar-Biryukov, retelling the story of another former Soviet naval officer, who emigrated to the United States, citing one of the frogmen participated in that covert mission (the man is known as Niccolò or Nicolò), after they met in Florida:
When italian ships were being transferred to the Soviet Union, former Xª MAS commander prince Borghese has sworn to avenge the disgrace by exploding Giulio Cesare battleship at all costs. Prince Borghese kept his word. The reward for the implementers was fabulous. The operation site was explored and well-known. Those post-war years the Soviets were relaxed, no dams at the port entry, booms were used overnight only, though not blocking frogmen anyway. The preparation took a year. The implementers were eight frogmen after wartime sabotage training at the Black Sea. On the night of October 21, 1955, an ordinary cargo ship departed an italian port and headed for one of Dnepr ports to take a load of wheat. The heading and speed were carefully picked so as to pass 15 miles off the traverse of Chersonesos lighthouse on the midnight of October 26. Having arrived at the point, the ship released a small submarine from a special-purposed hatch in the bottom, and gone its way. The submarine named Piccolo covertly reached Omega (Kruglaya) bay area, where its crew deployed a hidden storage of diving cylinders, explosives, propulsion vehicles and other stuff. In darkness they returned back to the sea, waiting for a signal. When they received the signal, the italians returned to Omega bay to their storage, got into their diving suits, took the necessary stuff and used their propulsion vehicles moving to the pier of Novorossiysk. The visibility was terrible, so worked almost by touch. They returned to Omega bay twice for explosives, hidden inside magnetic cylinders. Having finished by the sunset, they returned to the base and entered the lock of Piccolo. Being in a hurry, they left forgotten their tool bag and a spare propeller for propulsion vehicle on the sea floor. Then reached high seas to wait for their ship for two days. Plunged under the bottom of the ship, closed the hatch and pumped out the water. Three long-awaited knocks on a bulkhead told that the operation is finished.
In July 2013, Ugo d'Esposito, a former commando of Gamma group of the Decima Flottiglia MAS, a former member of the SIM and SD services and an expert in encrypted communications made an admission that commandos of the Xª MAS were in fact responsible for the explosion, after eight commandos of the Xª MAS (formally disbanded in 1945), implementing the orders of the Italian services and acting on behalf of NATO, placed bombs on the keel of the ship.
The enormous loss of life was directly blamed on the incompetent actions of her captain, Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Victor Parkhomenko. Among other underestimates of the danger to his ship, he did not know the conditions of the sea bottom, believing that the ratio between the sea depth (17 meters) and the ship's beam (28 meters) would prevent capsizing. However, the bottom was soft mud, 15 meters deep, which offered no resistance. It was also reported that the commander displayed conceit and groundless calmness during a critical situation, and had even expressed the wish to "go have some tea".
Because of the loss of Novorossiysk, the First Deputy Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the Navy Nikolai Gerasimovich Kuznetsov was fired from his post in November 1955, and in February 1956 was demoted to the rank of vice admiral and sent to retirement without the right to return to active service in the Navy. Kuznetsov was later reinstated.
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