Italian battleship Giulio Cesare
Giulio Cesare (Italian for Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

), motto Caesar Adest was a Conte di Cavour-class
Conte di Cavour class battleship
The Conte di Cavour class was a battleship class of the Regia Marina in World War I and World War II.-Design:This class was the second group of dreadnoughts in the Regia Marina. The ships were designed by Admiral Edoardo Masdea....

A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

 that served in the Regia Marina
Regia Marina
The Regia Marina dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 after Italian unification...

 in both World War
World war
A world war is a war affecting the majority of the world's most powerful and populous nations. World wars span multiple countries on multiple continents, with battles fought in multiple theaters....

s before joining the Soviet Navy
Soviet Navy
The Soviet Navy was the naval arm of the Soviet Armed Forces. Often referred to as the Red Fleet, the Soviet Navy would have played an instrumental role in a Warsaw Pact war with NATO, where it would have attempted to prevent naval convoys from bringing reinforcements across the Atlantic Ocean...

 as the Novorossiysk. Her keel was laid down on 24 June 1910 at Cantieri Ansaldo, Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

. 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
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. In 1923 she attacked the Greek
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 island of Corfu
Corfu is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. It is the second largest of the Ionian Islands, and, including its small satellite islands, forms the edge of the northwestern frontier of Greece. The island is part of the Corfu regional unit, and is administered as a single municipality. The...

, as a reaction against the killing of Italian representatives in Ioannina
Ioannina , often called Jannena within Greece, is the largest city of Epirus, north-western Greece, with a population of 70,203 . It lies at an elevation of approximately 500 meters above sea level, on the western shore of lake Pamvotis . It is located within the Ioannina municipality, and is the...

. She was later renovated. From 1928 to 1933 she was used as an artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 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 meters, and she was given new armored decks and new propulsion machinery that uprated her to 93,000 horsepower
Horsepower is the name of several units of measurement of power. The most common definitions equal between 735.5 and 750 watts.Horsepower was originally defined to compare the output of steam engines with the power of draft horses in continuous operation. The unit was widely adopted to measure the...

 (69 MW), and allowed a speed of 28 knots (52 km/h).

World War II

During the Battle of Punta Stilo
Battle of Calabria
The Battle of Calabria, was a naval battle during the Battle of the Mediterranean in World War II. It was fought between the Italian Royal Navy and the British Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. The battle occurred 30 miles to the east of Punta Stilo, the "toe" of Italy , on 9 July 1940...

 on 9 July 1940, Giulio Cesare was hit by a 15 inch (381 mm) shell as HMS Warspite
HMS Warspite (1913)
HMS Warspite was a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship of the British Royal Navy. During World War II Warspite gained the nickname "The Grand Old Lady" after a comment made by Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham in 1943....

 set the record for naval gunnery against a moving target at well over 24,000 meters (26,000 yards).

Shortly before, a Cesares 320 mm salvo aimed at HMS Warspite had straddled two British destroyers, HMS Hereward and HMS Decoy
HMS Decoy (H75)
HMS Decoy was a D-class destroyer of the Royal Navy. Ordered in 1931, the ship was constructed by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company, and entered naval service in 1933. Decoy was initially assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet before she was transferred to the China Station in early 1935...

, causing some splinter damage on both of them.

Activity after Punta Stilo

Giulio Cesare was assigned to covering convoys, participating in the First Battle of Sirte
First Battle of Sirte
The First Battle of Sirte was fought between the British Royal Navy and the Regia Marina during the Mediterranean campaign of the Second World War. The engagement took place on 17 December 1941, southeast of Malta, in the Gulf of Sirte...

, until 1942, when she was sidelined because of fuel shortages. In 1948, Giulio Cesare was ceded to the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 as compensation for war damages.


The Soviet Navy recommissioned the battleship
A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

 as the Novorossiysk (Новороссийск). Novorossiysk was based at Sevastopol
Sevastopol is a city on rights of administrative division of Ukraine, located on the Black Sea coast of the Crimea peninsula. It has a population of 342,451 . Sevastopol is the second largest port in Ukraine, after the Port of Odessa....

 from July 1949, serving as a flagship of the Black Sea Fleet
Black Sea Fleet
The Black Sea Fleet is a large operational-strategic sub-unit of the Russian Navy, operating in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea since the late 18th century. It is based in various harbors of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov....

 and later as a gunnery training vessel. On 29 October 1955, the Novorossiysk was moored in Sevastopol Bay, 300 meters (1,000 feet) from shore and opposite a hospital. At 0130 hrs., 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
Forecastle refers to the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters...

 deck. In the forecastle deck there was one hole which measured 14×4 meters in size. The damage extended aft from the bow 22 meters.

The ship sank slowly from the bow, capsizing at 0415 hrs., 2 hours 45 minutes after the explosion, and 18 hours later became fully submerged. 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
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, the fate of the Novorossiysk remained clouded in mystery until the late 1980s.

The cause of the explosion is still unclear. The official cause of the sinking, regarded as most probable, is a magnetic RMH naval mine
Naval mine
A naval mine is a self-contained explosive device placed in water to destroy surface ships or submarines. Unlike depth charges, mines are deposited and left to wait until they are triggered by the approach of, or contact with, an enemy vessel...

, laid by the Germans during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. 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 place the maximum battery life of the magnetic mines at 9 years, and thus contend that such a mine would be unlikely to trigger by the time of the 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 corresponded to an explosion equivalent to 5,000 kilograms of TNT.

A more theatrical conspiracy explanation was that Italian frogmen were avenging the transfer of the formerly-Italian battleship to the USSR. Covert action by the Italian special operations unit Decima Flottiglia MAS
Decima Flottiglia MAS
The Decima Flottiglia MAS was an Italian commando frogman unit of the Regia Marina created during the Fascist regime.The acronym MAS also refers to various light torpedo boats used by the Regia Marina during World...

 has often been surmised, and there were rumors that not long thereafter a group of Italian Navy frogmen received high military awards. However, no actual real-life evidence for this hypothesis exists or ever surfaced. 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 enquiries did not rule out the possibility because of the poor safeguarding of the fleet base on the night of the explosion. The goal of covertly destroying the battleship would be a small prize compared to the risk of provoking war if discovered, so the motive of such an Italian operation is questionable and does not support these theories. There is also a conspiracy theory
Conspiracy theory
A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.-Usage:The term "conspiracy...

 that Novorossiysk was sunk by Soviet secret service divers in order to blame Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 for the sabotage as justification to take control of Bosporus
The Bosphorus or Bosporus , also known as the Istanbul Strait , is a strait that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. It is one of the Turkish Straits, along with the Dardanelles...

 and Dardanelles
The Dardanelles , formerly known as the Hellespont, is a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It is one of the Turkish Straits, along with its counterpart the Bosphorus. It is located at approximately...

, and that the plan was eventually abandoned. There is no strong evidence to support this hypothesis.

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 ooze, 15 meters deep, which offered no resistance. It was also reported that the commander displayed conceit and groundless calmness during this 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
Nikolai Gerasimovich Kuznetsov
Nikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov was a Soviet naval officer who achieved the rank of Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union and served as People's Commissar of the Navy during The Second World War....

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.

Further reading

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