A study has been made of fatigue and fracture in zinc bicrystals. It is shown that cleavage cracks are nucleated, both under tension and as a result of fatigue, in regions of multiple slip adjacent to grain boundaries at stresses below those for crack nucleation in single crystals. The nature of crack penetration through the boundary is observed as a function of orientation across the boundary. Low angle tilt boundaries are barriers to crack propagation, increasing effective surface energies for crack propagation by 1.6–2 times. Twist boundaries, due to the tearing that accompanies penetration, can result in a twelvefold increase in effective surface energy. Nonbasal cleavage is associated with a twinning mechanism, and an even higher surface energy is required to propagate a crack into a crystal oriented for this type of cleavage. The results carry the implication that, in the absence of surface defects, fatigue, failure in polycrystalline zinc is nucleated at the first internal grain boundary and not at the surface.