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Notes: Designed to be better balanced ships than the preceding TRENTO class (which had traded armor for speed), the ZARA class heavy cruisers were well received by the Italian Navy. While they were drawn up as "treaty cruisers" (with a 10,000-ton weight limit), it was soon realized that to meet the design parameters, they would be over the treaty weight limit. Some attempts were made to reduce the weight; torpedo tubes were omitted, belt armor was reduced, a smaller superstructure was built, lighter-weight machinery was used, and instead of a flush deck, the hull was cut down one deck from a short distance behind the "B" barbette aft. Despite these efforts, the class came in at over 1,500 tons over treaty limits.
Provided under the 1930-31 Program, POLA was originally classed as a light cruiser, then as a "armored cruiser" (to distinguish her from the TRENTO class), then finally as a heavy cruiser. As built, the armor weighed 2,700 tons -- nearly three times the armor of the TRENTO class. On trials, POLA reached a speed of 34.2 knots. A fixed catapult for her aircraft was mounted on the forecastle, while their hangar was beneath the forecastle. POLA differed from her sisters in having an enlarged bridge structure which extended aft and fared in to the forefunnel, and no "flutes" in the forecastle side plating. In the late 1930's, the two aft 3.9" gun mountings, the 40mm, and the 12.7mm guns were removed and replaced by 8-37mm (4x2) and 8-13mm MG (4x2). During a 1940 refit, two 4.1" / 15 cal. guns were mounted abreast the conning tower for use as starshell guns.
On 27 March 1941, POLA sailed with elements of the Italian Navy in an offensive sweep of the Eastern Mediterranean. However, British reconnaissance had detected their movements, and Royal Naval forces were deployed to intercept them. British aircraft attacked the Italian forces throughout the day with some minor successes An attack by ten aircraft from the FORMIDABLE nearly half an hour after sunset scored a single torpedo hit amidships on the POLA, and soon she was dead in the water. Her sister ships ZARA and FIUME and their four accompanying destroyers were sent to assist POLA. As FIUME was making ready to tow POLA, they were surprised by British forces under the command of Admiral A. B. Cunningham. Completely surprised upon being illuminated by spotlights from British destroyers, the battleships WARSPITE, BARHAM and VALIANT opened fire with their 15" guns at ranges as little as 3,000 yards. ZARA and FIUME were hit with the first salvos (absorbing four and five hits respectively), and were not even able to return fire. Only the report of Italian battleships closing prevented Cunningham's battleships from finishing off their targets. For some reason, POLA was not fired upon. But dead in the water, surrounded by British forces and with no prospect of help, POLA's captain ordered her scuttled. POLA was boarded by members of the crew of the British destroyer JERVIS, who rescued 258 members of POLA's crew. Finally, the JERVIS and the NUBIAN each fired a single torpedo at the POLA, which blew up and sank.