On the afternoon of March 28, 1941, upon returning from an action in the waters of Gaudo in the south of Crete, the Italian naval team was subjected to a series of air attacks by British aircraft, both on board and on land base.
During the last attack, the cruiser On is hit by a torpedo launched from an enemy aircraft and loses contact with the rest of the formation.
The 1st Heavy Cruiser Division, of which the On, made up of cruisers Zara e River, and by destroyers Alfieri, Gioberti, Oriani e Carducci, directs in the night to help the sister unit remained immobilized.
Attacked by surprise by a much superior enemy force, the Italian units succumb to the opponent's fire. The sacrifice of Zara, Pola and Fiume, and of the destroyers Alfieri and Carducci, however, allowed the rest of the naval team to return to the base, and in particular of the battleship Vittorio Veneto, which was also previously hit by a torpedo bomber.
The encounter of Matapan highlighted the existing limitations in night combat capabilities and, above all, the dramatic deficiencies in air-naval cooperation.
The tragic event, in which more than 2300 men lost their lives, did not however compromise the operational capabilities of our naval battle forces, nor were the fighting spirit and determination of the Royal Navy scratched.