Italian heavy cruiser Zara (World War 2)



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Zara was a heavy cruiser built for the Italian Regia Marina (Royal Navy), the lead ship of the Zara class. Named after the Italian city of Zara (now Zadar, Croatia), the ship was built at the Odero-Terni-Orlando shipyard beginning with her keel laying in July 1928, launching in April 1930, and commissioning in October 1931. Armed with a main battery of eight 8-inch (200 mm) guns, she was nominally within the 10,000-long-ton (10,000 t) limit imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty, though in reality she significantly exceeded this figure.

Zara saw extensive service during the first two years of Italy’s participation in World War II, having taken part in several sorties to catch British convoys in the Mediterranean as the flagship of the 1st Division. She was present during the Battle of Calabria in July 1940, the Battle of Taranto in November 1940, and the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941. In the last engagement, Zara and her sister ships Fiume and Pola were sunk in a close-range night engagement with three British battleships. Most of her crew, 783 officers and sailors, including the divisional commander Admiral Carlo Cattaneo, were killed in the sinking.

World War II

Zara on gunnery exercises in 1938
At Italy’s entrance into the Second World War on 10 June 1940, Zara was assigned to the 1st Division of the 1st Squadron, as the flagship of Rear Admiral Matteucci. The division also included her sisters Gorizia and Fiume and the four Oriani-class destroyers.[7] At the time, the division was based in Taranto; the ships were immediately sent to patrol off the island of Crete, and on 11–12 June, the ships were attacked by an unknown submarine, which the destroyers unsuccessfully counterattacked. On 21 June, Zara and the rest of the division were transferred to Augusta, Sicily to be better positioned to intercept Allied convoys in the Mediterranean. The following day, the 1st Division joined a patrol with the 2nd and 3rd Divisions, though they failed to find any Allied vessels. Zara was present at the Battle of Calabria on 9 July. On 30 July, the 1st Division escorted a convoy to Benghazi and Tripoli in Italian Libya, arriving back in Augusta on 1 August. Gunnery training off Naples followed on 16 August, and on 29 August the ships left Naples for Taranto, arriving the next day. On the 31st, the 1st Division sortied to intercept the British convoys in Operation Hats, though the Italian fleet broke off the attack without encountering the merchant ships.[6]

Zara returned to Taranto, and was present during the Battle of Taranto on the night of 11–12 November. She was undamaged during the British attack. In the aftermath of the attack, the Italian command decided to disperse the fleet to protect them from further attacks; Zara was sent to La Spezia for periodic maintenance on the 12th. The work lasted until 9 December, and she steamed south to Naples the following day. British bombing of the port four days later forced the Italians to again relocate the cruisers, sending them first to La Maddalena in Sardinia on 15 December and then back to Naples on the 19th. They stayed there for three days before proceeding to Taranto on 22 December.[6] That month, Admiral Carlo Cattaneo came aboard Zara as the new commander of the division.[8] Training exercises with Gorizia followed on 29 January and continued into the next month, when Pola joined them on 13 February. In mid March, Zara, Pola, and Fiume conducted gunnery training in the Gulf of Taranto. By this time, Pola had replaced Gorizia in the 1st Division.[6]

Battle of Cape Matapan