The Italian Navy, the "Regia Marina", designed the Zara-class as light cruisers due to the Washington Naval Treaty, a 1922 treaty signed by five powers after World War 1 in an effort to prevent a new naval arms race, limiting the number of capital ships each could construct and restricting displacements on other types. The treaty was signed by Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States. Two of the signers, Italy and Japan, soon withdrew from the treaty to build ships without regard to the 10,000 ton displacement clause.
The Regia Marina wanted a heavy cruiser class so the light cruiser class "Zara", while still on the drawing board, was converted and upgraded as a protected cruiser design and then again enhanced to become the desired heavy cruiser class. The Gorizia, in Italian meaning "the little hill", became the last ship commissioned of the Zara-class, this on December 31st, 1931. She displaced 11,900 tons standard and 14,560 when under full load, making the four ships of her class the heaviest cruisers in operation during the upcoming World War 2. Of course neighboring France took notice of their arrival - in fact many naval experts felt the class was one of the top designs of the day due to her combination of armament and armor protection even with a reduction in speed.
Gorizia had the latest 8 x 8.0 in (203 mm)/53 caliber main guns across 4 x 25-ton turrets with two guns to each turret, two turrets held forward and two turrets held aft. The 8-inch main gun could fire an armor piercing 275lb shell out to 34,400 yards (31,500 m) at a 45-degree elevation for "plunging fire". The secondary armament consisted of 16 x 3.9" (100mm) 47 caliber AA (Anti-Aircraft) guns across 8 x dual-gun turrets - four located on the port side and four on the starboard side arranged in typical battleship fashion. Gorizia had a limited fire control system (FCS) and limited elevation so tracking incoming attacking aircraft was not as intended based on the finalized design. The transformation from bi-planes to the more agile monoplane during this period in history allowed the aircraft to have an advantage.
Armor protection on the entire Zara-class was the heaviest of all the presented cruisers of the day due to a double belt of armor measuring up to 5.9 inches (150mm) thick - this sort of configuration normally provided for the larger capital ships of the fleet. To protect against plunging fire, the Gorizia had her decks protected by 2.75" (70mm) of armor and an upper deck with an additional 20mm of armor plate. The turrets were built with 5.5" (140mm) armor protection for the main turrets and 4.7" (120mm) plate on the secondary turrets. The barbettes had 5.5- to 5.9-inch (140-150mm) of armor plate.
The catapult for her twin seaplanes was constructed along the bow deck in front of the 2 x 8" gun turrets. The Regia Marina's choice for its location was the norm for almost all of her heavy cruiser classes. All other nations generally set their seaplane catapults amidships or on the aft deck away from the critical forward guns. Some older battleships placed small catapults on top of the "C" turret on the aft deck but never on the bow deck directly in the line of fire of the main battery. Seaplanes were extremely useful for the period as they provided over-the-horizon patrolling and reconnaissance beyond that of what could be reached from observers on the tallest portions of the ship. To launch a seaplane on the Gorizia, Turret Number 1 (front most) had to be rotated 90 degrees to allow the aircraft hanger deck doors to open and expose the hanger. A derrick had to be removed from below and set up to hoist the aircraft (with its folded wings) out of the hanger and onto the catapult car for launching.
As compared to most other arraignments where the seaplane was already mounted on the catapult for a quick launch, the Italian method was a time consuming event. During the launch (or recovery) of the aircraft, the two main turret guns on the bow were restricted from firing directly forward. The first seaplane assigned on the Gorizia was the X2 Piaggio P.6, a 5,203lb (2,360 kg) two-seat bi-plane with 1 x machine gun and powered by a FIAT A.20 410 horsepower engine managing the propeller. The aircraft proved unsuccessful and was replaced after one year with only 15 of the type ever having been built. Several other floatplane types were then utilized on the vessel.
The choice of the catapult location was not the main defect of the design. The extra armor would reduce her speed when attempting to escape larger battleships and when attempting to overtake enemy convoys so weight savings in other areas was required. The lower superstructure was selected and torpedo tubes removed as a result. Also her freeboard was designed rather low, requiring her to reduce speed during heavy seas. The pronounced "cruiser bow" of other similar ships was also redesigned lower and this saved tons of weight. Her radar system location became another issue with the lack of a high superstructure - though become yet another weight saving measure. A number of radar placements were tried, however none had the desirable effect so the entire class was ultimately not equipped with radar at all.
The Regia Marina kept the class together after they were commissioned, assigning all to the 1st Division, 1st Squadron. Normally three of the four vessels would sortie together with the fourth rotating from reserve to allow for repairs and maintenance. On July 9th, 1940, the Gorizia was in the Mediterranean with the Italian fleet, participating in the Battle of Calabria fought near Italy. The British had 1 aircraft carrier, 3 battleships, 5 light cruisers and 16 destroyers looking for Italian merchant convoys operating in the region. The Italian fleet charged with protecting the cargo ships consisted of 2 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 8 light cruisers and 16 destroyers. The fleets found each other and moved in to firing positions that resulted in the damage the British - one light cruiser and two destroyers damaged. Comparatively, the Regia Marina suffered one battleship, one heavy cruiser and one destroyer damaged. Regardless, both sides claimed the victory.
Gorizia did not participate in the decisive Battle of Cape Matapan fought from March 27th-29th, 1941. However the battle would cast a dark shadow on the Zara-class. The Italian battle fleet went to sea to attack the British convoys. Pola was hit by a torpedo from a British plane and was stopped dead in the water. She then radioed for help and the rest of the 1st Division, including the cruisers Zara and Fiume with their destroyer screen, steamed at flank speed to the Pola's aid. Night fall fell as repairs were underway on the damaged Italian ship. The British fleet in the area, consisting of three battleships, a number of cruisers and destroyers, were equipped with radar while the Zara's were not. On a moonless night, the British ships were able to close to within 3,000 yards of the Italian flotilla undetected and opened fire - sinking 2 destroyers and the 3 Zara cruisers killing, most of their crews. At the time Gorizia was held in reserve in the naval base of Taranto when word came of the disaster that befell her sister ships.
Gorizia was involved in a number of other naval battles of the war including the Battle of Taranto (November 11th-12th, 1940) when, for the first time, torpedo bombers from a British aircraft carrier struck the Italian battle fleet which lay at anchor in the harbor of Taranto. The Italians lost 1 battleship and 2 were damaged with the British losing two aircraft. The Imperial Japanese Navy used this attack model to plan the Pearl Harbor raid against the Americans in December. The First Battle of Sirte (December 17th, 1941) was inconclusive while the Second Battle of Sirte (March 22nd, 1942) ended with British having nine ships damaged and one Italian battleship required repairs. The Battle of Cape Teulada (November 27th, 1940) was actually no true naval battle as the fleets made no contact with the British losing several aircraft to the Italian Fleet, the battle proving indecisive.
Gorizia was recalled for repairs to La Maddalena naval base. On April 10th, 1943, a British carrier attacked the base, bombing a number of facilities and further damaging the Gorizia. After the air strike, she was moved to La Spezia for major repairs. On September 8th, 1943, the armistice between Italy and the Allies was signed and the German Navy wanted Italy to turn their backs while they took command of Gorizia. The British became aware of the German plan and a mission was set to sink the cruiser. The Operation was named QWZ for an attack against the Italian cruisers Bolzano and Gorizia.
The group chosen to undertake the assault was a new British manned torpedo unit that had been joined by members of the disbanded Italian 10th Light Flotilla Manned "Maiale" Torpedo Squadron. On June 26th, 1944, the British and Italian teams moved to the port of La Spezia by a British submarine. Four manned torpedo "chariots", as the British called, were launched and entered the port, placing their charges under Gorizia's hull. The charges went off and she sank at her moorings, preventing her use by the Germans. She was not raised until after the war had ended in 1946, her hull scrapped over the next few years.
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