The army and air force of the Italian Military largely fell impotent when left without orders by the fleeing King of Italy in 1943. The navy was another matter entirely. The Italian Navy at the time connsisted of 206 vessels, including some very powerful vessels such as the battleships Roma and Littorio. The sheer might of the Italian navy was never more evident than by the fact that they significantly outnumbered the Allied forces assembled at Malta to accept their surrender, even after losses taken from ships scuttled, sabotaged, or sunk in the departure attempt to escape German forces.
This weight of numbers, had they been commandeered and leveraged to further prosecute the war in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, could have significantly impacted or even completely altered the outcome of the war. Indeed, the number of ships that were diverted to other tasks rather than complete the journey to Malta exceeded the number of hulls in the task force. A few submarines were in the south pacific delivering rare goods when the call to surrender came out, but of the four berthed there only one successfully surrendered to Royal Navy forces; the other three were captured and detained by the Japanese.
The fate of the ships so surrendered was mixed. A few were handed over to the Soviet Union as war reparations, while many of the smaller vessels were deployed for patrol, escort, and picket duties to great effect in the Adriatic and the Gulf of Genoa. The capital vessels were mostly left in harbours, defanged and unfueled, as a measure to prevent them from being used or captured in any significant capacity, as after the surrender their crews’ loyalties were very much in doubt. Italy didn’t declare war on Japan until mid 1945, and by the time the Allies were becoming ready to accept the major ships and their crews in their fighting forces, the war itself was already a foregone conclusion, and drawing to a close.
Loyalties were not the only complications to bringing the larger vessels of the Italian navy into the war; Italy’s ships did not carry radar, which had proven itself a vital technology at the time. Furthermore, Italian vessels were ill equipped, both by training and fuel reserves, for the long ocean voyages that would have been needed to bring them into the only major sea battles left in the war: the conflict in the Pacific. Coupled with language difficulties, it was deemed that the Italian vessels were best suited to second line duties and performance.
The Italian navy especially was left with sense of both disappointment and impotence. Their participation in either side of the conflict was far less than it could have been. Paralyzed by the politics of the homefront, a string of defeats preceding surrender, then to watch as their navy was relegated to second line or anchorage for the remainder of the war, the Italian navy did not recover for many years.