It was the day of big guns: Italy ran to 100 tons, England to 81 tons, and France to 75—all pieces of 16 to 17 inch calibre.
The situation was thus:—
(1) France mounting a number of small guns in addition to the heavy pieces, in high freeboard ships.
(2) England and Italy concentrating armour amidships in low freeboard vessels with unarmoured ends after France had adopted the secondary battery.
(3) Russia, the amateur of all naval constructing nations, evolving a type that foreshadowed the Dreadnought of 1904-5.
(4) Other nations marking time or copying more or less obsolete plans.
Then, suddenly, Italy startled the world with the Italia, designed about 1877-78, an enormous vessel without any side armour whatever, with the four most powerful guns in existence and speed as a tactical feature of the design—a cruiser with a battleship's armament.
No nation followed up the idea, though England in the Collingwood has been accused of exaggerating its defects without securing its advantages.
The ease with which the Italia's unarmoured sides could be attacked by small guns was so obvious that the small gun immediately began to have a universal vogue. Though British design reverted to the Devastation idea in the Victoria and Trafalgar, both designs had small guns as a feature and the cult of the quick-