World of Warships

Historical Context for the 90mm Gun on the New Italian Battleships

WorldOfWarships1 - Historical Context for the 90mm Gun on the New Italian Battleships

So, first off, I'm not commenting on the in-game weapon in any way. This is just to provide historical context for those who are interested and/or curious.

So, with that out of the way, Italian 90mm guns. Why? Well, the reason is largely that making a truely effective dual-purpose gun is quite difficult. One of the things that made the 5"/38 so exemplary during the War is that it was very effective against both ships and aircraft without being compromised in any significant way. However, designing and building such a weapon was quite difficult and required an extremely delicate balancing act. The British make for an excellent example of what I'm trying to say. Their 5.25" gun that served as the DP gun on the King George V class battleships and the Dido class AA cruisers was quite good against surface ships. Its range and muzzle velocity was greater than the 5"/38, and the shell itself hit harder. However, the shell itself was heavier, which made it more difficult to load and tired out the gun crew more quickly (bare in mind that this is still the age of hand-loading rapid fire guns), and the gun itself was heavier, which required a heavier and more powerful power-operated mount to effectively aim it (something else to bare in mind is that power-operated AA mounts were still a pretty novel thing in the early to mid-1930s when all of these systems were being designed), which generally made it less effective against aircraft. The 4.5" gun seen on the refitted Queen Elizabeth class ships (minus Warspite) and British carriers was the opposite. It fired a lighter shell, so it had a better rate of fire and was generally better against aircraft, but the shell didn't hit very hard, so it wasn't terribly useful against surface ships. The 4" gun used on Warspite had a very light shell and a good rate of fire, but its range and hitting power were so bad that it was practically useless against modern light surface ships, hence why Warspite retained a number of her 6" casemate guns. Pretty much every other DP gun used by the various waring powers fell into a similar pattern. The 5"/38 was really the only dual purpose gun of the war to get the balancing act right and be effective against one target without being compromised against the other.


The Axis powers tended to take the Warspite approach and go for a split secondary battery with dedicated anti-aircraft and anti-surface ship guns, and the Italians are no exception. The 6" guns mounted in triple turrets were intended to defend the ship from destroyers, while the 90mm guns would defend the ship from aircraft, with little crossover between the two. The 90mm fired a light shell that was easy to handle, and due to the small caliber the gun itself was rather light. This allowed for a longer barrel, in this case a 53 caliber one vs. the 5"/38's 38 caliber barrel1, which gave the gun a high muzzle velocity and a relatively flat trajectory, which simplified aiming in the days when AA guns were still optically aimed, before radar and fire control computers were a thing. Additionally, the light weight of the gun itself had another advantage. The Italians designed a very sophisticated (albeit also very fragile) gyroscopically stabilized mount for it, which was considerably easier to do due to the gun being so light and thus requiring less powerful machinery. Overall, it was a pretty solid AA gun on paper, although it was hampered quite badly in service by that fragile mount, which had a tendency to short circuit and lock up completely when exposed to salt water (can't imagine why that would be a problem on a battleship…). You can see the same thing in German and Japanese ships as well. The Germans split their batteries between the 15cm guns for anti-ship work and the 10.5cm guns for anti-aircraft work, while the Japanese had the Type 89 5" for anti-aircraft fire and the Mogami class's old 6" triple turrets for anti-ship fire on Yamato.

1: the word "caliber" refers to barrel length on this context. Basically you take the bore diameter and multiply it by the caliber to get the barrel length. It provides a handy unit-of-measure-neutral way of giving you a quick idea of whether a gun has a long or short barrel compared to another one.

So, there you have it. I hope that made sense. I started thinking about this after watching Flamu's analysis of Lepanto and his repeated criticism of the performance of the 90mm against ships. I figured some people would be curious as to why the Italians would stick such a weapon on their ships. Again, I'm not trying to comment on or justify their in-game performance, just explain the historical context of the weapon. I do hope I succeeded…

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