The thing about naval books is they have to be big. They can’t be small because the scale thing is important. If other reference books, say, on trucks or even tanks came in this size you could be forgiven for thinking they were a tad OTT and they usually fetch up in A4 format, but your ships they can only come in full scale riveted coffee table iron splendour. You could put legs on the corners of this one and serve brunch off it. It is magnificent.

Better still this tome is all about the Regia Marina and it is a thing of such beauty it reminds me of a silver blue Lancia Gamma Coupé I knew and loved. We used to rally it (I was the navigator – it belonged to my mate Mike, now in Dorchester, he will not be reading this) and managed a third and fifth place much to the chagrin of men who owned Escorts and Mantas on our local club racing scene in the south-east. They did not approve.

But the thing about the Gamma Coupé was, if you turned on the radio, the windows would open. Much like the car the Regia Marina had niggles and was not ready for the war Mussolini jumped in to. It was a little ‘all fur coat and no knickers’ as they used to say about some ladies where I grew up. It hadn’t developed enough radar, many ships lacked anti-aircraft gunnery and it had been too obsessed with matching its long term rival France to think about the real big fish in the Med; the RN. The author explains how the Italians had eschewed naval aviation and hadn’t considered aircraft carriers being of use in the confines of the Mediterranean, a fatal strategic error. The war came too early for the Italian Navy and the tragedy is it was a made up of lovely ships crewed by fine men and it wasn’t a fascist organisation at all, it was monarchist. But stuff happens and it certainly rained down on the Regia Marina in spades.

The author and his friend Erminio Bagnasco make a point of telling us this is the first major work of its kind in English. I am certainly no expert, but I can tell you that this sumptuous work is a joy from first to last. We may joke about those Italian cars of the seventies and eighties running beautifully, looking gorgeous but having dodgy electrics – but in this book it all looks fantastic, reads well and you turn the pages at your own pace. Perfection!

I cannot get over the quality of the photo archive and the way it has been used here. The colour camouflage schemes section with artwork by Paola Zaio is excellent. There is stuff on uniforms and flags and we get a who’s who on naval figures in addition to all the obvious meat and drink on the ships and classes and naval establishments etc, etc. This book is an absolute joy. It would be great to see comparable books like this on similar navies. If I was pressed to make a top ten of my books of the year, this would be in it, without a doubt.

Mark Barnes
A Reference Guide to the Regia Marina 1930-1945
By Maurizio Brescia
Published in hardback by Seaforth Publishing £40.00
ISBN: 978 1 84832 115 1


Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.