History of the Roma
Roma, named after two previous ships and the city of Rome, was the third Littorio-class battleship of Italy's Regia Marina (Royal Navy). The construction of both Roma and her sister ship Impero was due to rising tensions around the world and the navy's fear that only two Littorios, even in company with older pre-First World War battleships, would not be enough to counter the British and French Mediterranean Fleets. As Roma was laid down almost four years after the first two ships of the class, some small improvements were made to the design, including additional freeboard added to the bow.
Roma was commissioned into the Regia Marina on 14 June 1942, but a severe fuel shortage in Italy at that time prevented her from being deployed; instead, along with her sister ships Vittorio Veneto and Littorio, she was used to bolster the anti-aircraft defenses of various Italian cities. In this role, she was severely damaged twice in June 1943, from bomber raids on La Spezia. After repairs in Genoa through all of July and part of August, Roma was deployed as the flagship of Admiral Carlo Bergamini in a large battle group that eventually comprised the three Littorios, eight cruisers and eight destroyers. The battle group was scheduled to attack the Allied ships approaching Salerno to invade Italy (Operation "Avalanche") on 9 September 1943, but the news of the 8 September 1943 armistice with the Allies led to the operation being cancelled. The Italian fleet was instead ordered to sail to La Maddalena (Sardinia) and subsequently to Malta to surrender to the Allies.
While the force was in the Strait of Bonifacio, Dornier Do 217s of the German Luftwaffe's specialist wing KG 100—armed with Fritz X radio-controlled bombs—sighted the force. The first attack failed, but the second dealt Italia (ex-Littorio) and Roma severe damage. The hit on Roma caused water to flood two boiler rooms and the aft engine room, leaving the ship to limp along with two propellers, reduced power, and arc-induced fires in the stern of the ship. Shortly thereafter, another bomb slammed into the ship and detonated within the forward engine room, causing catastrophic flooding and the explosion of the number two main turret's magazines, throwing the turret itself into the sea. Sinking by the bow and listing to starboard, Roma capsized and broke in two, carrying 1,393 men—including Bergamini—down with her.
The Birth of the Guided Bomb and the Death of the Battleship
Along with many of the principal units of the Italian fleet—including Vittorio Veneto and Italia (the ex-Littorio)[N 3]—the cruisers Eugenio di Savoia, Raimondo Montecuccoli, and Emanuele Filiberto Duca d'Aosta, and eight destroyers—Roma sailed from La Spezia with Adone Del Cima as captain and also as the flagship of Admiral Carlo Bergamini on 9 September 1943, a day after the proclamation of the 1943 Italian armistice. The group was later joined by three additional cruisers from Genoa, Luigi di Savoia Duca degli Abruzzi, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and Attilio Regolo.
On that same day, the fleet had been scheduled to sail towards Salerno in order to attack the Allied ships sailing to invade Italy as part of Operation Avalanche; the proclamation of the armistice on 8 September, however, had led to the cancellation of this operation. As German forces in Italy launched Operation Achse, Admiral Bergamini was ordered to leave La Spezia, in order to prevent the fleet from falling in German hands, and reach Allied-controlled ports. Due to Bergamini's initial reluctance to bring his ships to Malta (not knowing the details of the armistice and what would be the fate of the fleet once in Allied controlled ports) and to initial plans for the transfer of Victor Emmanuel III, his court and the government from Rome to La Maddalena (the destroyers Vivaldi and Da Noli sailed from Genoa and La Spezia, heading for Civitavecchia, for this purpose), the initial destination was La Maddalena, a naval base in Sardinia. Once at La Maddalena, Bergamini would receive further orders (to proceed to Malta) from Admiral Bruno Brivonesi, naval commander of Sardinia, as well as some documents regarding the conditions of the armistice for the Navy. The transfer of the king to La Maddalena was cancelled, however (he instead fled towards Pescara), and when the fleet arrived off La Maddalena, German troops had occupied that base to transfer their troops from Sardinia to Corsica, therefore the stop at La Maddalena was also cancelled and Supermarina ordered Bergamini to head for Allied-controlled Bône. The fleet then changed course, but when Germany learned that the Italian fleet was sailing towards an Allied base, the Luftwaffe sent Dornier Do 217s armed with Fritz X radio-controlled bombs to attack the ships. These aircraft caught up with the force when it was in the Strait of Bonifacio.
The Do 217s trailed the fleet for some time, but the Italian fleet did not open fire upon sighting them; they were trailing the fleet at such a distance that it was impossible to identify them as Allied or Axis, and Bergamini believed that they were the air cover promised to them by the Allies. However, an attack upon Italia and Roma at 15:37 spurred the fleet into action, as the anti-aircraft batteries onboard opened fire and all ships began evasive maneuvers. About fifteen minutes after this, Italia was hit on the starboard side underneath her fore main turrets, while Roma was hit on the same side somewhere between frames 100 and 108. This bomb passed through the ship and exploded beneath the keel, damaging the hull girder and allowing water to flood the after engine room and two boiler rooms. The flooding caused the inboard propellers to stop for want of power and started a large amount of arcing, which itself caused many electrical fires in the aft half of the ship.
Losing power and speed, Roma began to fall out of the battle group. Around 16:02, another Fritz X slammed into the starboard side of Roma's deck, between frames 123 and 136. It most likely detonated in the forward engine room, sparking flames, and causing heavy flooding in the magazines of main battery turret number two and the fore port side secondary battery turret, and putting even more pressure upon the previously stressed hull girder. Seconds after the initial blast, the number two 15-inch turret was blown over the side by a massive explosion, this time from the detonation of that turret's magazines.
This caused additional catastrophic flooding in the bow, and the battleship began to go down by the bow while listing more and more to starboard. The ship quickly capsized and broke in two. According to the official inquest conducted after the sinking, the ship had a crew of 1,849 when she sailed; 596 survived with 1,253 men going down with Roma. According to naval historian Francesco Mattesini, who cites the research of Pier Paolo Bergamini, the son of Admiral Bergamini, around two hundred men from Bergamini's staff were aboard Roma, and were mistakenly not included in the official inquiry. These men increased the total number aboard to 2,021 and the total fatalities to 1,393. In her 15-month service life, Roma made 20 sorties, mostly in transfers between bases (none were to go into combat), covering 2,492 mi (4,010 km) and using 3,320 tonnes (3,270 long tons; 3,660 short tons) of fuel oil in 133 hours of sailing.