Latent Franco-Italian naval rivalry broke out anew after the Washington Treaty, the two French 'Duquesne' class cruisers being immediately trumped by the Italian 'Trento' class with superior protection. The latter were not even completed before the French embarked on the four 'Suffren' class cruisers, whose survivability was improved a little at the cost of some speed. As it then took Italy three years to reply, predictably, with the four 'Zara' class cruisers, it would seem that the French design was acquired and thoroughly digested beforehand. In any case, the Italian units were excellent ships, with reduced power on only two shafts but with a high level of protection, whose weight took the ships beyond treaty limits.
Three of the class formed the 1st Cruiser Division at the Battle of Calabria, only a month after the outbreak of the Mediterranean war. The action proved an anti-climax, the Italian fleet disengaging immediately the flagship had been hit.
The next significant action was also their last when, near the end of March 1941, a complex set of Italian fleet movements was undertaken with the object of intercepting a British convoy near Crete. The British, aware of what was afoot, cleared the area and set a trap for the Italians but the latter, as nervous and fleet as any antelope, smelled danger and made for home. Anxious to bring the Italian battleship to account, the British used carrier air strikes to slow it sufficiently to allow their heavy ships to close. Only the 1st Division's Pola was thus stopped, however, her two running mates Zara and Fiume with two destroyers then staying to assist. Admiral Cunningham's battleships fell on them and despatched them with close-range 381-mm (15-in) salvoes at what become known as the night Battle of Matapan. With the American Astoria' and British 'Cressy' classes the 'Zara1 class thus has the melancholy record of losing three of its type in one engagement.
Specification 'Zara' class Ships in class (launched): Zara (1930), Fiume (1930), Gori'zia (1930) and Pola (1931) Displacement: 11,500-11,900 tons standard and 14,200-14,600 tons full load Dimensions: length 182.7 m (599 ft 5 in); beam 20.6 m (67 ft 7 in); draught 5.9 m (19 ft 4 in) Propulsion: Parsons geared turbines delivering 108,000 shp (80535 kW) to two shafts Speed: 32 kts Armour: belt 100-150 mm (3.9-5.9 in); deck 70 mm (2.75 in); turrets 120140 mm(4.7-5,5 in); barbettes 140150 mm (5.5-5.9 in) Armament: eight 203-mm (8-in), 16 100-mm (3.9-in) DP and eight 37-mm AAguns Aircraft: two floatplanes Complement: 830