British Battleship vs Italian Battleship: The Mediterranean 1940-41

Published on
February 9, 2020
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Mark E, Stille
Other Publication Information
Pages: 80, Softbound
Product / Stock #
Osprey Duel Engage the Enemy Series 101
Company: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site

Mark E. Stille, a retired Commander of the U.S. Navy, and is a prolific writer and enthusiast for WW2 naval history – over 40 Osprey titles. Paul Wright painted the ships on the cover and in the text. Alan Gilliland illustrated the maps, ship profiles and armaments. Maurizio Brescia provided many of the photographs.

This book is in the Duel (Engage the Enemy) series from Osprey Publishing (#101). Here is Osprey’s description of the Duel Series: “Duel is an innovative series of books from Osprey that conveys a complete picture of machine-on-machine action from design and development through to combat, with a thorough analysis of all the human, tactical and technical elements which ultimately decided who triumphed in clashes of men and their war machines. First-hand accounts of individual engagements place you in the midst of the action, whether dogfight, tank battle or submarine hunt. An array of technical drawings, photographs and full-colour digital illustrations, including "gun sight views," depict the key aspects of these machines in wartime. Ideal for modellers, wargamers and military history enthusiasts of all ages.”

You get a 9.75 X 7.25 inches size paperback book with eleven sections. You get a full-page, full color painting of the HMS Ramillies, six color illustrations of ships and main batteries, three maps of battles, one-page features of each overall commander, 50 B&W photos (most not seen before), and 7 tables/diagrams. Most pages have a photograph or illustration, making this book an easy read with eye-catching visuals. Most photos appear to be presented for the first time. The prose is easy to follow and efficient.

This book is focused on the clashes of the ultimate naval weapons of the time – battle fleet actions dependent on big-gun battleships. The period 1940-1941 in WW2 had not yet seen naval air take over the mantle of capital ships from battleships yet. Strategy and tactics revolved around the armored steel goliaths, determining the fate of battles, and ultimately, the war.

Although the Mediterranean naval campaign has been dealt with before, this book focuses on actions where battleships actually shot at each other, or came close to it. Mark Stille distills the essence of the opposing battleships with an Introduction, Chronology, Design & Development, Strategic Situation, Technical Specifications, The Combatants, Combat, Analysis, Aftermath, Bibliography and Index sections.

In a book this size, it gives enough technical details and history to have a good feel for the times. Mark Stille gives excellent interpretations of why the battles turned out the way they did, without getting into a tedious, minute-by-minute timeline of action. These battles were usually confused, long-lasting and indecisive. Mark Stille also debunks many wartime propaganda axioms that have persisted for too long. He outlines how the Italians were not averse to a fight, but were constrained by poor command, low fuel stocks, their own air force and the need to keep their fleet in being. Both sides sought actions, but weather, poor reconnaissance, and the inevitable fog of war resulted in more near misses of actions instead of actual shooting events. I also feel that Mark Stille gave excellent accounts of the featured battles, being fair to each side. Interestingly, during this period the Italian Navy gave a good account of itself, in spite of what other historians have written – they accomplished their strategic outcomes more often than the British. On the other hand, the British had several spectacular victories, which garnered more praise.

The time period covered was the only time that big-gun fleet actions not subjugated to airpower were possible in the Mediterranean theatre. That is the focus of this book and was conveyed very well.


This book appeals to battleship lovers (who isn’t?) and covers some actions not well represented in a clear, fair manner. It also delves into the realities that decide battle more than gun sizes or ship speeds. Mark Stille’s insights gave cogent explanations to the results, explaining why history turned out the way it did. I enjoyed this book on an almost forgotten topic.


  • Figure 1: Front cover of British Battleship vs Italian Battleship. The Mediterranean 1940-41, Duel Series 101.
  • Figure 2: Back cover of British Battleship vs Italian Battleship.
  • Figure 3: One of the maps illustrating ship movements, this being the Battle of Calabria.

Thanks to Osprey Publishing & IPMSUSA for the review copy!


Add new comment

All comments are moderated to prevent spam

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.