This was Italy's second (Washington Naval) Treaty class of heavy cruisers. They were slower, and they were more heavily armored than Trento and Trieste to the extent that when one of them had mechanical difficulty and had to be drydocked outside Italy, it was found to be considerably heavier than its class's 10,000 ton limit!
Besides Zara, there were Fiume, Gorizia, and Pola - the latter having its bridge streamlined and enlarged for flagship use. The first three composed the 1st Cruiser Division.
When Italy entered the war on Germany's side on 10Jun40, it only had 2 old reconstructed battleships. Thus, in the first major fleet action, its heavy cruisers were present, but they didn't dare to stand up to British battleships like Warspite which at one point was out ahead chasing the entire Italian fleet.
In March 1941, the Italian fleet sortied south of Greece with only the powerful modern battleship Vittorio Veneto and the cruisers. Learning that Britain's battleship heavy Mediterranean Fleet had sortied from Alexandria, the Italians started to withdraw, pursued, but were then pestered by some antiquated British Swordfish torpedo biplanes. Vittorio Veneto was brought to dead stop by a single little 18" torpedo. After some time, it was able to resume sailing fast enough to escape the British, but another Swordfish attack hit the Pola, which was stopped completely and left behind in the panic and confusion.
As evening approached, Zara and Fiume were instructed to go back and try to find Pola and take it under tow. It was assumed the British were withdrawing with night approaching. However, British Admiral Andrew Cunningham was of the stuff Nelson had been made and was coming ahead with the British battleline - able to see in the dark thanks to radar which the Italians didn't have.
Thus it was that Zara and Fiume sailed obliviously into a British 15" gun ambush. The first inkling the Italians had of the British were their being illuminated by many searchlights. (Prince Philip was commanding battleship Valiant's searchlights.) Entire turrets were blown off the ships, which were soon aflame and sinking. Two escorting destroyers were also sunk, and Pola was then found and sunk by British destroyers. This overwhelming British victory became known as the Battle of Cape Matapan.
Sistership Gorizia had been unable to be at sea for the battle and so survived, eventually to be bombed out of commission for the rest of the war.
I have done a cardstock paper model ship design of the modern Italian destroyers of World War 2, but Italian Fabrizio Prudenziati (who once made the 1:1200 Grifo lead models of Italian World War 2 ships) has far surpassed anything I could ever do with his magnificent 1:200 paper models of Zara and destroyer Alfieri, FREE on his webpage at http://www.zioprudenzio.it/fok-ship.html
Now would you like to return to my home page or the main drawings page?