For the Italian Navy in World War 2, the battleship was still the centerpiece of its power projection in the Mediterranean while powers like the United States and Britain relied heavily on the aircraft carrier to bring the fight to the enemy wherever he lay. The first Italian carrier project was not undertaken until 1941 at which point the war was well underway. The "Aquila" ("Eagle"), ordered in 1941, was neither a purpose-built solution nor was it ever completed prior to the Italian armistice of September 1943.
Both the Kingdom of Italy and Germany would neglect the aircraft carrier in their respective navies of the period - leading to a considerable deficiency in bringing firepower to bear on the high seas. Aquila became the first, and only, aircraft carrier type to be considered / acted upon by the Italian government.
Like other carrier warships of the period, Aquila was built atop the framework of an existing ship, in this case the trans-Atlantic passenger liner SS Roma. This proved a sensible cost-effective measure to ensure the ship could be gotten into service in as short a time as possible. The Ansaldo Shipyard at Genoa was tasked with its construction which began in 1941.
Of conventional design and propulsion, the modified ship showcased a displacement of 24,000 tons under standard load and up to 28,200 tons under full load. It exhibited a running length of 772.7 feet from bow-to-stern, held a beam of 98.4 feet, and measured 23.10 feet along its draught. Installed power was from 8 x Boiler units feeding 4 x Geared-steam turbines developing 151,000 horsepower to 4 x Shafts astern. This provided the warship with a maximum speed (in ideal conditions) of 30 knots and a range out to 6,300 miles. These specifications indicated a good performing ship for the Mediterranean Theater.
Aboard was a complement of 1,420 personnel including 107 officers. Armor protection included 3.1" at the deck. Up to 50-to-60 combat aircraft were to be carried on the ship - though 35-to-45 has been accepted as more realistic due to the expected small hangar space offered by the conversion process.
Self-defense armament consisted of 8 x 5.3" (135mm) /45 caliber main guns backed by a battery of 12 x 2.56" (65mm) /64 caliber secondary guns. Up to 132 x 20mm /65 caliber Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns were planned as a last line of defense.
The Aquila was never launched nor was her construction completed to the point that the warship could be considered war-worthy. Some basic static testing was being done on her in 1943 but the progress was halted in full with the Italian surrender on September 8th, 1943. Following this, the Germans moved in to claim the hull and thus the ship began a prime target for the Allied aerial bombing campaign. On June 16th, 1944, she was damaged by aerial bombs when the Allies targeted Genoa. To further restrict her value, Italian "frogmen" loyal to the new government attacked the ship on April 19th, 1945, leaving the ship partially scuttled where she rested. This removed the hull from play and reduced the chances of the Germans being able to blockage Genoa Harbor with her remains.
With the end of the war in August 1945, the warship was finally raised in 1946 and relocated to La Spezia in 1949. There, she was scrapped in 1952 and the history of Italy's first aircraft carrier came to a rather unceremonious end.
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