At the turn of the last century, the Regia Marina (Italian Navy) placed a focus on modernization to the frontline fleet to keep pace with developments all around them. One initiative produced the Conte di Cavour-class which numbered three "Dreadnought-type" warships - Conte di Cavour, Giulio Cesare, and Leonardo da Vinci. The "Dreadnought" classification stemmed from the British Royal Navy's introduction of their HMS Dreadnought in 1906 - a ship that rewrote the standard for then-modern fighting vessels by way of its all-big-gun main armament and steam powerplant approach.
The Conte di Cavour-class was under construction from 1910 to 1915 and two of the three warships (da Vinci was sunk in 1916) went on to serve beyond World War 2 (1939-1945) with the last decommissioned in 1955. The class was originally drawn up as an improved form of earlier Dante Alighieri-class (which numbered just one warship) and this vessel served from 1913 until 1928.
For her part in this history, Conte di Cavour saw design work in 1908 and her keel was laid down on August 10th, 1910 by shipbuilder La Spezia Arsenale (of La Spezia). The vessel was launched to sea on August 10th, 1911 and officially completed in April of 1915. The vessel carried the name of Count Camillo Benso di Cavour (1810-1861).
The warship's original profile incorporated a two-masted approach with one fitted fore and the other aft of midships. Two smoke funnels were positioned in line at midships. Over the forecastle were two of her five total main gun turrets and another was seated at midships with the remaining two fitted towards the stern. Displacement was listed at 23,500 tons under standard load and 25,500 tons under full load. Dimensions included a running length of 577.4 feet with a beam measuring 91.9 feet, and a draught down to 30.5 feet.
Internally, there was a crew of 1,000 men that included 30 or so officer-level candidates. Power was from 20 x Water-tube boilers feeding 4 x Steam turbines outputting 31,000 horsepower to 4 x Shafts under stern. In ideal conditions, the vessel could hope to make headway at over 21 knots and reach out to 4,800 nautical miles on internal fuel.
As built, the warship carried a main battery of 13 x 305mm (12") guns, these arranged in three triple-gunned turrets and two twin-gunned turrets. There were 18 x 120mm (4.7") single-gunned emplacements as well and these were backed by 4 x 76.2mm (3") guns. Rounding out the armament suite were 3 x 450mm (17.7mm) torpedo tubes giving the vessel considerable firepower for its size.
Armor protection reached nearly 10 inches at the waterline with over 1.5" on the deck, 11 inches att he gun turrets and 11 inches at the conning tower.
Conte di Cavour was made ready for the fighting of World War 1 but managed little impact in the conflict - spending her uneventful time cruising the southern Adriatic by which point the conflict had turned mainly into a land- and air-based affair. During 1919, she made a goodwill voyage to the shores of the United States. In the immediate post-war period, her armament, equipment, and her mast structure were redone for the better. A seaplane launching/retrieval system was also installed to broaden her tactical value out in open sea.
The warship was used in support of Italian forces at Corfu in 1923 but the ship saw little action beyond that for the decade. She underwent a major reconstruction effort from 1933 to 1937 as Europe geared up for, yet another, World War. Her hull was lengthened to coincide with the changes and improve seakeeping while her machinery was of an all-new design and arrangement: 8 x Yarrow boilers were installed which fed 2 x Geared steam turbines developing around 75,000 horsepower to drive 2 x Shafts. This gave the warship improved ocean-going speeds reaching 27 knots out to a range of 6,400 nautical miles. In addition to this, her crew complement increased to 1,260 personnel. Her primary battery was now 7 x 320mm main guns in two triple-gunned and two twin-gunned turrets. There were also 6 x 120mm guns in twin-gunned mountings and 4 x 100mm Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns in twin-gunned mountings.
After all of the work, the warship was essentially an all new design with improved performance and offensive/defensive firepower fit for the times all the while retaining her armor protection and tactical/strategic value.
With the arrival of World War 2 in September of 1939, di Cavour managed to not avoid the fighting. Along with sister-ship Giulio Cesare (detailed elsewhere on this site), she partook in the ultimately indecisive Battle of Calabria against British and Australian naval units during July of 1940. She incurred some damage to her structure but survived though her fortunes took a turn for the worse when, in November of that year, she fell victim to the British torpedoes during the Attack on Taranto and sunk where she berthed. The warship was eventually refloated and taken to Trieste to enact repairs and, with the Italian surrender of September 1940, the ship was claimed by the Germans (but never brought back into the war again). An Allied bombing raid then sunk her again in early-1945.
With the end of World War 2 in 1945, the warship was stripped of her usefulness and ultimately scrapped in 1946 bringing about an end to her sailing tenure.