Over the years, the Croatian Language School has held week-long visits to Croatia at which language training has been combined with cultural tourism, and fun. These have been held at venues such as Losinj (not far from the city of Rijeka), Porec (near Pula city) and, for this year 2016 near the city of Zadar. For one of the visits, to Orebic, some of us drove out to Croatia and passed close to the Italian city of Gorizia.
These four cities, under their Italian names, Fiume, Pola, Zara and Gorizia shared something else. They had all been ceded to the Kingdom of Italy as a result of the First World War, and to celebrate this fact the Italian Navy named a class of new heavy cruisers after them. Built in the late nineteen- twenties and thirties, all four played a part in the Spanish Civil War and on the Fascist side in World War 2.
After the Croatian Language School’s intensive week in the Dalmatian islands in 2013, Jan and I took the ferry from Dubrovnik to Bari to spend a week with friends in Puglia, not far from the Italian port of Taranto. In November 1940, the British Royal Navy scored a notable victory over the Italian fleet moored in Taranto; the night attack was carried out by a squadron of out-dated Swordfish biplanes flying from an aircraft-carrier. It is known that the Japanese Navy studied the Taranto attack in preparation for their much larger carrier-borne air strike on the US Navy in Pearl Harbour a year later.
All four cruisers were at Taranto that night in 1940 and Gorizia is credited with shooting down one of the Swordfish aircraft; however all the heavy cruisers except Gorizia were sunk by the Royal Navy a few months later at the Battle of Cape Matapan. Coincidentally, Gorizia was the only city of the four that was retained by Italy after the war, but it is right that we should remember and honour the gallant sailors of that war while today studying the history and culture of the region.
Mike Forbes is a retired Royal Naval commander who lives in London with his wife. His first visit to Croatia was in the year 2000.