Benito Mussolini and the Fascist Party came to power in 1922 and seven years later established a one-party state. Mussolini was determined to increase the size of the Italian Navy so that it could compete with the French Navy in the Mediterranean.
By 1940 the Italian Navy had four battleships, seven heavy cruisers, 14 light cruisers, 119 submarines and 120 destroyers. The main problem with Italian ships is that they lacked effective anti-aircraft defences.
On the outbreak of the Second World War the Italian Navy was given the task of protecting North African trade and to avoid battles with the Royal Navy. The navy was fairly successful with this strategy until November 1940 when at Taranto the British sank one battleship and badly damaged two more.
At Cape Matapan in March 1941 the Royal Navy crippled Italy's only remaining active battleship. The British also sunk three heavy cruisers. Although the Italians were generally out fought by the British they did manage to sink two battleships at Alexandria in December 1941.
The Italian Navy failed to make any real impact in 1942 and after Victor Emmanuel III surrendered in September 1943, Italy's remaining ships sailed to Malta and surrendered to the Allies. A total of 904 vessels were lost and 24,660 Italian sailors were killed during the war against the Allies. After changing sides a further 4,117 were killed fighting against Nazi Germany.