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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Though beaten at Custozza on June 24


1866 Italy and Prussia attacked Austria in concert, Italy having secured from Bismarck a pledge of Venetia in the event of victory. Though beaten at Custozza on June 24, the Italians did their part by keeping busy an Austrian army of 80,000. Moltke crushed the northern forces of the enemy at Sadowa on July 3, and within three weeks had reached the environs of Vienna and practically won the war. Lissa was fought on July 20, just 6 days before the armistice. This general political and military situation should be borne in mind as throwing some light on the peculiar Italian strategy in the Lissa campaign.

Struggling Italy, her unification under the House of Piedmont as yet only partly achieved, had shown both foresight and energy in building up a fleet. Her available force on the day of Lissa consisted of 12 armored ships and 16 wooden steam vessels of same fighting value. The ironclads included 7 armored frigates, the best of which were the two "kings," _Re d'Italia_ and _Re di Portogallo_, built the year before in New York (rather badly, it is said), each armed with about 30 heavy rifles. Then there was the new single-turret ram _Affondatore_, or "Sinker," with two 300-pounder 10-inch rifles, which came in from England only the day before the battle. Some of the small protected corvettes and gunboats were of much less value, the _Palestro_, for instance, which suffered severely in the fight, having a thin sheet of armor over only two-fifths of

her exposed hull.

The Austrian fleet had the benefit of some war experience against Denmark in the North Sea two years before, but it was far inferior and less up-to-date, its armored ships consisting of 7 screw frigates armed chiefly with smoothbores. Of the wooden ships, there were 7 screw frigates and corvettes, 9 gunboats and schooners, and 3 little side-wheelers--a total of 19. The following table indicates the relative strength:

-------------------------------------------------------------------- |Armored | Wooden |Small craft| Total | Rifles |Total w't |--------|--------|-----------|--------|----------|of metal |No.|Guns|No.|Guns| No.| Guns |No.|Guns|No.|Weight| --------|---|----|---|----|----|------|---|----|---|------|--------- Austria | 7| 176| 7| 304| 12 | 52 | 22| 532|121| 7,130| 23,538 Italy | 12| 243| 11| 382| 5 | 16 | 28| 641|276|28,700| 53,236 --------------------------------------------------------------------

Thus in general terms the Italians were nearly twice as strong in main units, could fire twice as heavy a weight of metal from all their guns, and four times as heavy from their rifles. Even without the _Affondatore_, their advantage was practically as great as this from the beginning of the war.

With such a preponderance, it would seem as if Persano, the Italian commander in chief, could easily have executed his savage-sounding orders to "sweep the enemy from the Adriatic, and to attack and blockade them wherever found." He was dilatory, however, in assembling his fleet, negligent in practice and gun drill, and passive in his whole policy to a degree absolutely ruinous to morale. War was declared June 20, and had long been foreseen; yet it was June 25 before he moved the bulk of his fleet from Taranto to Ancona in the Adriatic. Here on the 27th they were challenged by 13 Austrian ships, which lay off the port cleared for action for two hours, while Persano made no real move to fight. It is said that the Italian defeat at Custozza three days before had taken the heart out of him. On July 8 he put to sea for a brief three days' cruise and went through some maneuvers and signaling but no firing, though many of the guns were newly mounted and had never been tried by their crews.

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