The Zoea was a submarine of the Foca-class submarine minelayers, commissioned by the Regia Marina during the late 1930s. The Foca-class submarines were improved versions of the preceding Pietro Micca Class. The Foca could transport a total of 36 mines, which they ejected through chutes in the stern.
The Zoea was laid down by Cantieri navali Tosi di Taranto at their Taranto shipyard on February 3rd, 1936.
She was launched on December 5th, 1937 and completed on February 12th, 1938.
Due to the spacious holds for mines, during the conflict it was widely used in transport missions carrying out 21 such missions.
(Italian National Archives)
On June 18th, 1940, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Giorgio Bernabò, the Zoea was the first Italian submarine to carry out such a mission departing from Naples for Tobruk with 48 tons of ammunition and returning to Taranto on the 24th. An analysis created by Lorenzo Colombo points out that more than a ton of fuel was consumed for each ton of material delivered, an unsustainable ratio.
On June 29th the Zoea was dispatched to the waters west of Alexandria to lay mines, but two of these accidentally exploded prematurely and forced the laying to be stopped; Zoea then moved south of Crete but was attacked and damaged by an aircraft, thus having to return to Taranto.
On October 10th, the boat left Taranto to lay a mines field in the Haifa area (British Palestine at the time). In a similar mission, more or less at the same time, and in the same area, the twin boat Foca disappeared. On October 21st, 1940 at around 08.25 PM near Cape Colonne (Calabria) Captain Bernabò nearly escape being rammed by the British submarine H.M.S. Parthian, Lieutenant Commander Michael Gordon Rimington, but avoid the collision thanks to the lookouts who spot the other vessel in time to allow a diversionary maneuver.
In December of the same year the Zoea is sent to Island of Leros for another transport mission. An assignment that will be repeated in April of the following year. In May, with command having been transferred to Lieutenant Enrico Lambertini, the boat is again sent to Libya and more specifically Derna. What followed was a frenetic shuttling between Taranto and Libya with the boat loaded in any possible way with valuable and extremely needed materiel.
General Erwin Rommel’s visit to the Zoea
(© IWM RML 685 For non-commercial use)
In August 1941 command is transferred to Lieutenant Commander Alberto Campanella. On the 6th the Zoea leaves for Bardia (Bardiyah) and two days later is attacked by a British Bristol Blenheim but is able to repel the attack. Upon arriving in Derna, even General Erwin Rommel is at the docks to welcome the arrival of the submarine and its precious cargo.
The Zoea after the incident that caused it to sink to the bottom of the harbor
(Photo Achille Rastelli & Erminio Bagnasco)
In Taranto the Zoea underwent modification to remove the deck gun which was unusually mounted within the conning tower structure. Here, a very unusual event took place and due to human error the Zoea sunk at its slip due to the opening of some air vents or perhaps even one of the mine hutches. After the necessary repairs, the boat will be once again ready for service in 1942 continuing the transport missions to Libya.
At the beginning of September 1943, as part of the “Zeta Plan” to counter the imminent Anglo-American landing in Salerno, it was deployed for defensive purposes in the Ionian Sea. Following the armistice, and in compliance with the instructions received, the crew surrendered to the Allies in the port of Augusta, Sicily, and from there, on September 16th, transferred to Malta where the Zoea arrived the following day. On October 13th, the boat left Malta in a group with 14 other submarines, including her sister ship Atropos to return to Italy.
In 1945 it was retired from active service for work that was never finished. After the war, it was decommissioned and then sent for demolition. During its long service, the Zoea never conducted any offensive action nor registered casualties.
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