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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 1928-29 Program, ZARA 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, ZARA reached a speed of 35.2 knots. A fixed catapult for her aircraft was mounted on the forecastle, while their hangar was beneath the forecastle. 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.
ZARA entered service in October, 1931, but require several months of training before becoming fully operational. On 5 June 1932, ZARA took part in a traditional ceremony of the Italian Navy, in which she received her "battle flag" in the port of Zara. ZARA took part in a variety of exercises and cruises in the years leading up to World War II. At the beginning of the war, ZARA was the flagship of the 1st Cruiser Squadron. She took part in the Battle of Point Stilo (as known in Italy; other references refer to it at the Action of Calabria) on 9 July 1940; no ships on either side were sunk. However, during this action, Italian aircraft attacked not only their intended British targets, but also ships of the Italian Navy. As a result of these attacks, it was ordered that the forecastles of the ships of the Italian Navy be painted with white and red diagonal stripes, as aircraft identification markings.
On 27 March 1941, ZARA 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 nearly half an hour after sunset scored a single torpedo hit amidships on the POLA, and soon she was dead in the water. The ZARA (along with the heavy cruiser 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. ZARA was then hit by torpedoes by the British destroyers STUART and HAVOC, and the order was given to abandon ship. Finally, the destroyer JERVIS fired five torpedoes at the ZARA; three hit, and ZARA quickly sank. 782 of her crew perished in the action.