Ironclad Ram Affondatore (1866)

Ironclad turret ram AFFONDATORE--Name means 'Sinker'
Affondatore, built in England for Italy 1863-66, as modernized in the 1890s. Ship survived until 1907.

Ship's History - read on.    |    Specifications    |    Photos    |    Links

The decade of the 1860s, when Italy first stood up as a nation, coincided with the ironclad revolution at sea. Italy hurried to place orders for several of the most modern warships for its new navy, which already had an abundance of wooden steam- and sail-powered warships, transports and auxiliaries. Just having a well-appointed fleet did not guarantee an effective naval force, however, as was soon borne out.

Italy's new navy reflected the recent merger of the Genoese and Venetian fleets. Old rivalries led to a confused chain of command. Perhaps the most advanced vessel purchased abroad was Affondatore, an arrow-thin, 4,000-ton ironclad ram with two Coles turrets and a good turn of speed, built at Millwall, England by Harrison's. The ship -- whose name means "Sinker" in Italian -- reached Italy just as the Third War of Italian Independence was brewing in 1866; Affondatore's paint was hardly dry when she found herself the flagship of Adm. Persano at the Battle of Lissa. At the last minute, Persano impulsively switched his flag to Affondatore from the ill-fated frigate Re d'Italia. This was a case of Persano hailing the ram alongside the lofty Re and hastily clambering down to her deck. Unfortunately, since few in his fleet saw the transfer, and it was not signaled to them, it led to Persano's effective loss of control of his forces.

RN AFFONDATORE dressed over allIt might be argued that the Re d'Italia, with her tall masts, would have made the better flagship, as her maneuvers and hoists of signal flags would have been more visible than the low-profile Affondatore. However it was, the Re's steering jammed during the battle, making her a sitting duck for Austrian Adm. Tegetthoff's famous ramming attack. As for Affondatore, unfortunately the Italians did not seem to know how to use their newfangled wonder ship. Since she was probably better than anything the Austrians had afloat that day, this was another black mark against the Italians. She spent much of the battle acting as an aviso for Adm. Persano, spreading his orders to individual ships in the confused, smoky mèlée of battle. While circling the Kaiser with the other Italian gunboats, she approached close action. Affondatore made two clumsy attempts to plant her 26-foot proboscis in the wooden Austrian ship, but failed. At some point Affondatore received battle damage that (left unrepaired in the panicky aftermath of battle) eventually sank her, fulfilling the prediction in her name, but in the wrong sense. She foundered in Ancona Harbor two weeks after the battle.

Still, Affondatore's acquisition marked a milestone for Italy. More ironclads were on the cards for the Regia Marina. Immediately, the ship was raised, refitted, and returned to duty. With a major rebuild in the 1890s (top photo), she blended in quite nicely with Italy's pre-dreadnought fleet. Affondatore served until 1907. By that time, it can be said, the ramming craze was well and truly over.

Plan and Specifications

Profile plan and top view of the AFFONDATORE

Specifications for the Affondatore:
Dimensions: Dimensions 307'9" x 40' x 20'10"    Displacement: 4,010 tons std. Armament: (2) 11" Armstrong RML (1x2); (2) 9" SB (1x2); unknown smaller sizes. Armor: Wrought-iron type. Belt: 5"; turrets: 5" side, 2" roof. Fuel capacity: 474 tons of coal. Propulsion: (8) coal-fired rectangular boilers; horizontal direct-acting engine developing 2,700 hp, shafted to single screw. Speed: 12 kts. Endurance: 1,647 nm @ 10 kts. Crew: 309 (1866), 356 (1897).

Metric specifications:
Dimensions: Dimensions 93.8m x 12.2m x 6.35m    Displacement: 4,010 tons std. Armament: (2) 280 mm Armstrong RML (1x2); (2) 230 mm SB (1x2); unknown smaller sizes. Armor: Wrought-iron type. Belt: 127 mm; turrets: 127 mm sides, 51 mm roof. Fuel capacity: 474 tons of coal. Propulsion: (8) coal-fired rectangular boilers; horizontal direct-acting engine developing 2,013 kW, shafted to single screw. Speed: 22.2 km/hr. Endurance: 3,050 km @ 18.5 km/hr. Crew: 309 (1866), 356 (1897).

An Affondatore Album

Silhouette photo of the AFFONDATORE

Affondatore as the flagship at Lissa. As she cruises past at lower left, firing her aft turret, the former flagship Re d'Italia lies on her beam ends, sinking, and the action proceeds fast and furious all round.

Silhouette photo of the AFFONDATORE

Affondatore at Ancona just after the battle. As in the plan above, note flush deck without superstructure, unadorned pole masts, location of turrets (appearing as black rectangles on plan.) The ship sank from her battle damage at Ancona two weeks after the Lissa action, but as befitted such a large and advanced warship (no doubt with a decade of payments due before she was fully owned by Italy), she was patched up, pumped out, raised, and refitted. She served the Italian navy for another 40 years.

Three-quarter view, photo of the AFFONDATORE anchored
Here is Affondatore as she appeared c. 1875.

AFFONDATORE in drydock
Affondatore in drydock. Ram and bow turret are evident from this angle, as are folded-down bulwarks.

AFFONDATORE in drydock
The iron-hulled Affondatore transformed into a pre-dreadnought, circa 1892.   Enlarge

Tegetthoff's flagship Ferdinand Max

Ramming was very much on sailors' minds in the 1860s, as the beaked warship designs of the period attest; Affondatore flubbed several attempts at Lissa. Here is the profile of Italy's arch-enemy: SMS Erzherzog Ferdinand Max, named for the Austrian Archduke placed on the throne of Mexico under a short-lived imperialist scheme (1862-1867). The scheme was orchestrated by Napoléon III of France, but it was Max (dubbed Emperor Maximilian I) who would pay with his life when it failed in 1867. Under the command of Admiral Tegetthoff, the vigorous if homely Ferdinand Max won the day at Lissa with aggressive tactics and courageous leadership. In the confused and sprawling action, Tegetthoff's ramming and sinking the Re d'Italia (below) is often cited as the key maneuver.

Persano's flagship RE D'ITALIA

Re d'Italia was an ironclad wooden frigate with a small ram attached to the stem. She and her sister Re di Portogallo were built in the United States, of unseasoned timber. Re d'Italia's fate was to be rammed and sunk at Lissa, turning the tide of battle in the Austrians' favor and starting an Italian rout.    Schematic    View under sail

Ironclad PALESTRO of 1866 at anchor: Pen-and-ink drawing, copyright by Aldo Cherini

The other victim of Teggetthoff's fury: ironclad corvette Palestro was set ablaze by point-blank broadsides from the Ferdinand Max, later exploded with great loss of life.

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