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the Armstrong Whitworth            guns on that island. Following the   In October 1877 General John
        manufacturing company and its      opening of the Suez Canal in 1869,   Lintorn Arabin Simmons was invited
        armaments division the Elswick     Malta had occupied a key strategic   to join a Royal Commission
        Ordnance Company, commenced a      position in the Mediterranean. The   appointed to inquire into the
        project to build a 100 ton gun. He   new Italian guns were of concern to   condition and sufficiency of the
        believed that in the time it took to   the Royal Navy because Francesco   means provided for the defence of
        design and build such a massive    Crispi, an Italian statesman ranked at   the more important seaports within
        gun, other countries, particularly   the time with Bismarck, Gladstone   the Colonial Possessions.
        France, would build an even larger   and Salisbury and a driving force in   After considering the defences at
        gun. He hoped to leapfrog ahead    the Italian reunification of 1871 had   Malta, he asked for four guns
        with a gun so large that it would take   called Malta ‘Italia irredenta’,   identical to those on the Duilo and
        many years for other engineers to   ‘Unredeemed Italy’, in other words,   Dandolo, calculating that a shore
        develop a better and larger design.   he considered that Malta should be   battery was more stable and could
        The Royal Navy rejected the 100 ton   part of the now unified Italy.  achieve more accuracy and range
        gun as too heavy and too expensive.  The situation at Malta highlighted a   when situated at a high elevation
        Armstrong was not deterred,        problem all the naval powers had.   than guns mounted on naval ships. It
        especially when, in 1874, the Italians   Warships are at their most vulnerable  was decided to use the four surplus
        commissioned twelve of his new     when in harbour restocking on fuel,   guns that Armstrong had designed
        design. They were to be fitted to   coal in those days, food, water and   and built for the Italians, that being
        three new battleships of the Duilio   ammunition. It is therefore essential   the fastest, simplest and least
        class. It would make them the most   that the harbours are well protected.   expensive option. (In 1884 Simmons
        powerful ships in the world. As it   The Royal Navy responded to the   was appointed Governor of Malta.)
        transpired the Italians could only   potential Italian threat by asking   Meanwhile, Gibraltar equally
        afford to build two of these monster   British arms manufacturers for a gun   strategically positioned controlling
        ships, the Duilio launched in 1876,   capable of penetrating 36ins of steel   the entrance to the Mediterranean
        and Dandolo, launched in 1878.     at 1000 yards. Manufacturers       and hence all shipping that had left
        The new guns immediately gave the   submitted designs for guns weighing   the Suez Canal bound for the
        Italian Navy superior firepower over   163, 193 and 224 tons. Apart from   Atlantic and shipping intending to
        the Royal Navy’s HMS Inflexible    the enormous expense, the time it   use the canal bound for the Far East,
        which was being built in 1874 and   would take to bring them into service  asked for some big guns as well.
        more worryingly, would allow the   would be many years. In 1877 the   Malta lost two of its weapons to
        Italian ships to bombard Malta whilst   problem was considered crucial.   Gibraltar.
        staying out of range of the 12.6ins   Duilio was undergoing sea trials.               continued >>



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