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THE ITALIAN ARMY IN WWII

W.W. TURNBOW

BACKGROUND AND PREPARATIONS


a. The Italian armed forces were faced with a conflict between theories of
employment. They had historically been structured for deployment in the mountainous
terrain found in Italy and her immediate neighbors. These forces were forced to adapt
themselves to a colonial role, and, even more conflicting, to the “War of Rapid Decision.”
These theories mixed about as well as oil and water, and Italy lacked the industrial power
and the raw materials to field forces able to meet all these needs. She even lacked the
means to be a major power in a modern industrial war.
b. All Italy’s plans and preparations had been made for war against Germany/Austria,
France, and Yugoslavia. Industry and trade had traditional ties with Britain, France, and
the U.S. This was so prevalent that the geography section of the officer’s qualifying exam
(tests prior to consideration for promotion) included the border areas with France,
Switzerland, Austria, and Yugoslavia. The characteristics of the armies of these nations
were also covered. Africa was ignored.
c. One faction of the army wanted an alpine oriented army. In a 1937 conference on
the future of armor, a ranking general said, “The tank is a powerful tool, but let us not
idolize it; let us reserve our reverence for the infantryman and the mule.” This group saw
“Men, our indisputable resource,” not machines. They came close to the philosophy of
French Col. de Grandmaison and believed in “mind over matter.” This meant that the
solution for any tactical problem was a mass of infantry.
d. Architect of the mechanized concept was Gen Federico Baistrocchi (CoS during
Ethiopia. Gen Alberto Pariani succeeded him. This faction developed an innovative
theory of manuever warfare in restrictive terrain. The “La Guerra di Rapido Corso” was
adopted as doctrine in 1938. These men then found themselves in charge of an army that
was not organized, equipped, or trained for the type of warfare envisioned. They found
themselves in charge of an army wherein a large percentage of senior officers opposed
the accepted doctrine. They also found themselves in charge of an army with its reserve
officers lacking any training and experience in the new doctrine.

DOCTRINE
A. General—A “war of rapid decision” was intended. Its chief features were supposed to
be—
1) Celeri divisions, designed for exploitation and reconnaissance.
2) Tank brigades, designed for penetration, encirclement, and exploitation.
3) Motorized divisions, designed for rapid manuever over a wide range and for the
reinforcement of mechanized or fast moving units. This new doctrine emphasized that
surprise, speed, intensity, sustained action, and flexibility of plan allowing for unforeseen
contingencies were the basic factors for a successful action.

B. Main policies—In an effort to obtain the requirements for victory, the Italian combat
effort was to become predicated upon the following policies:
(1) Enormously increased firepower.
(2) Opposition to hostile fire by combined fire and movement.
(3) Direction of fire mass against the sector of least resistance to achieve rapid
penetration and to permit subsequent flanking movement.
(4) Simultaneous fire and movement with supporting artillery fire to neutralize enemy
effort.
(5) Substantially independent exercise of command except as regards reserve
employment and artillery support.

C. Comparison of doctrines—Italian doctrine denied manuever at division level and


instead expected manuever to be controlled by corps and armies. This was even more
unusual because great stress was placed on manuever and initiative by lower units.
Earlier doctrine placed its trust in numbers. Doctrine proclaimed the absolute primacy of
the infantry, but did stress the necessity of infantry-artillery integration. Armor was
envisioned as an infantry support weapon. Light tanks were to operate with horse cavalry
squadrons. The new idea of the decisive war, a war of manuever using flanking attacks
rather than frontal assault, pointed toward major changes in the future. The concept was
one of rapid advance by truck or bicycle-borne infantry hordes, backed by road-bound
artillery and 3.5-ton tankettes.

D. DOCTRINE A 1938 circular signaled the adoption of this doctrine of high-speed


mobile warfare as the official strategic and tactical concept of the Italian army. La
Guerra di Rapido Corso (the war of rapid course) would be a war of manuever, using
what Liddell Hart had called the strategy of the indirect approach. The army would
manuever against the flank of the enemy. Mechanized and airborne weapons would be
important aspects of war. Exploitation by motorized forces would follow the use of the
maximum mass available to break the enemy line. Weaknesses of equipment and fuel
would prevent this doctrine from being fully effective.

COMBINED ACTION
A primary element of the Italian doctrine was the combined employment of various arms,
particularly infantry and artillery. Italian infantry was designed to be used in small, flexible,
highly maneuverable units of great firepower. Each forward echelon, upon achieving a
breakthrough was followed by reinforcements for purposes of exploitation. Mobility and
maneuverability comprised the fundamental characteristics of Italian artillery. Closely allied to
the artillery’s mission to support the infantry were the secondary missions of engaging in
counterbattery firing and of providing antitank protection. Cavalry manuever was mounted, but
combat could have been mounted or dismounted. Mechanization of the cavalry resulted in
increased mobility and firepower. This added, for the first time, the element of fire mass to the
common cavalry missions of reconnaissance and exploitation. Italian engineers, although armed,
were more concerned with normal engineer functions and less concerned with combat than in
other modern armies. Chief features were: fast moving divisions, designed for exploitation and
reconnaissance; tank brigades, designed for penetration, encirclement, and exploitation, and
motorized divisions, designed for rapid movement over a wide range and for the reinforcement
of mechanized or fast moving units. Surprise, speed, intensity, sustained action and flexibility of
plan allowing for unforeseen contingencies were seen as the basic factors for a successful action.
Staff studies and war plans laid very little stress on the defensive, the assumption being that an
offensive against its soldiers was a remote possibilities. It was discovered that applying theories
was somewhat more difficult than developing them. Organization was, however, based upon this
“Rapid Decision” doctrine.

RECONNAISSANCE AND INTELLIGENCE


Intelligence was a relatively neglected aspect of operational planning, and commanders in the
field tended to make insufficient use of intelligence resources. Until 1941, the army failed to
recognize the need for specialized reconnaissance units to ensure surprise, to avoid it from the
enemy, and to find opportunities to exploit. Italian units lacked armored cars with radios to keep
commanders appraised on the locations and activities of enemy units. Air Force reconnaissance
support was poorly coordinated.

SECURITY
The Italians aimed at security through offense and penetration. Intelligence, camouflage,
and similar means of attaining security were regarded as preliminaries to offensive
penetration. Security measures were not merely supposed to guard against surprise by the
enemy, but were also supposed to be so planned as to enable the Italian commander to
inflict upon the enemy a surprise of his own. Italian leaders were urged not to let security
measures betray them into undue caution, which might slow up the forward drive of an
action. On the contrary, daring was thought to be quite as important as security.
Nevertheless the Italians kept a somewhat greater distance between the advance guard
and main body than the German did.

MEETING ENGAGEMENTS
A. General—Meeting engagements, as distinct from mere preliminary engagements
or patrol activities to test the enemy’s strength a and determine his weak points,
were regarded by the Italians as a matter of rapid aggressive action. It was
believed such engagements would occur only in the case of relatively small
forces, for Italian military theory denied the possibility of surprise in modern
warfare, at least on any considerable scale. The Italians ‘did not admit that a
sudden and unplanned clash could occur between sizable forces.” In other words
they expected proper reconnaissance to always reveal the presence of large enemy
units.
B. Doctrine—The Italians believed that their system successfully combined the best
features of both French and German tactics. It was supposed to provide for “both
conceptions—planned collision and swift and precise intervention with decidedly
aggressive behavior.” The commander was urged to “take the initiative in
operations and attack with decision, seeking victory in swiftness of movements in
direction, in immediacy and power of impact.”

ATTACK AND PURSUIT


Italian ideas of attack and pursuit were much like those of any other modern army, though the
emphasis placed on the offensive almost recalls the pre-1914 doctrines of the French Colonel de
Grandmaison. The 1940 Italian doctrine provided that the attack was to be recklessly pressed,
was never to halt, and was to “overcome the resistance with continuity of effort.” Initiative,
violence and audacity were urged. As for the “continuity of effort,” one Greek tactical authority
with much experience in the Albanian campaign against Italy declared that an obvious
characteristic of all Italian attacks was their extreme brevity and the failure of officers rather than
men to follow through. It became almost a proverb in the Greek army that an Italian attack was
certain to flag after the first 20 minutes. A Greek unit, which had successfully sustained an
attack for that length of time usually, felt that it had for all practical purposes already won. This
was not, of course, what the Italian tacticians had taught. “The Italian military doctrine of the
present,” wrote Major Umberto Mescia in 1939, “reaffirms the reasoning which was Caesar’s
and Machiavelli’s; the offensive, because only the offensive can bring victory. There is a return
to the Roman concept, to the Latin and Italian spirit, because those qualities which bring success
—a sense of responsibility and the willingness to meet danger—are particularly Italian, manly in
courage and daring in spirit, ready to overcome difficulties. To take the offensive means to
attack, to go forward, to force one’s will on the enemy, and in this direction, the mental, moral,
and material preparation of all is turned toward an ever greater formation of the offensive
consciousness.” The actual performance of the Italian Army often fell somewhat short of this
high standard.

DEFENSE
The Italian teaching was that a commander should concentrate his firepower on
such a position whenever it is encountered. It was the Italian view that such action
imposed on the commander merely a temporary pause in a “position of arrest”---a
mere lull in his sustained offensive movement. Otherwise, Italian tactics discouraged
any assumption of a static position.
When the Italians were compelled to assume the defensive in a position of resistance, they hoped
to resume the offensive at the earliest possible moment—a doctrine common to most armies.
“Defense does not mean giving up the resumption of movement as soon as possible.” The main
line of resistance was removed as far as possible from the enemy’s artillery fire, and the Italians
endeavored to establish a “ zone of security” with a depth ranging from 2000 to 3500 yards. In
this area, utilizing all footholds that the terrain may offer, they organized holding positions.
These delivered long-range fire, especially along the easiest routes of penetration, with a view to
wearing the enemy down before coming to grips with him.

PRINCIPLES OF EMPLOYMENT
INFANTRY
A. General--- The Italian ideal of the employment of infantry presupposed the
possibility of an attack undivided into principal and auxiliary actions. Supposedly
sufficient elasticity would be maintained to direct the effort to those points where
success appeared best assured upon initial contact.
B. Infantry division—The infantry division was the basic large combat unit. Its
maneuverability was sacrificed to the development of increased attack capability
and the ability to undertake deep penetration of enemy positions. It had a fixed
table of organization and was considered to be an indivisible unit. Whenever its
strength required increasing for accomplishing its mission, superior commands
were expected to assign the required additional equipment and personnel.
C. The binary infantry division organization was adopted on the eve of war. It was
born in the Ethiopian War and was to create a mobile infantry force in which one
division would fix the enemy or begin to advance and the second division would
bound forward to launch attack and/or push on. The binary infantry division was,
by doctrine, supposed to be capable only of frontal attack. Manuever was the
prerogative only of army corps. The divisions were to function as attack columns
to create and exploit any tactical opportunity. Control both of the movement of
individual divisions and of the medium caliber guns was retained by corps
headquarters. This flaw should have been realized early in the attacks against
France in 1940. Italian units dashed forward into the killing zone of French
artillery and were stopped with cruel casualties. The Army Staff misinterpreted
the failure and blamed inadequate artillery support rather than on an operational
concept that assigned to poorly trained infantry tasks of offensive deep
penetrations that no infantry in the world could accomplish in the face of an
unshaken defense. In practice, superiority of numbers only produced superior
numbers of dead, wounded or captured.
D. MOTORIZED DIVISIONS were originally formed to work with an armored
division. They also operated with the Celere divisions for strategic reconnaissance
or as a general advance guard often preceded by a light and very fast force of
motorcyclists, light tanks or other units on observation missions.

ARTILLERY

A. General—It was planned that Italian artillery be divided into echelons: the first to
operate in direct support of the infantry battalions of the first echelon; the second to act
generally as a reserve for the purpose of lateral extension of the line or depth. Depth in
echelon was sought for the purpose of increasing shock and penetration, almost to the
point of risking the maintenance of a sufficiently strong front.
B. Principles of employment---
(1) Prompt intervention in response to tactical necessities.
(2) Close co-operation with other arms.
(3) Violent action in mass and by surprise.
(4) Co-ordination of the action of the various artillery echelons in order that the
effects of fire produce the total results desired in the general concept of the battle,
with a single final purpose—that of facilitating the action of infantry.
(5) Elasticity of organization permitting not only the maneuvering of fire rapidly, but
also the following of the action and its support with the movement of the batteries,
particularly when it assumes a character of velocity.
(6) Artillery is useful only if the ammunition supply is assured.
(7) Observation is essential for artillery. This last mentioned principle was possibly
the most important, for to achieve observation at all times Italian artillery was
often situated well forward and resorted to direct laying far more frequently than
other armed forces did
C. Division artillery—The division artillery commander regulated the employment of
artillery except in counterbattery and interdiction. Decentralization of command for these
functions was designed to expedite rapid and effective action, and thus contribute to the
desired war of movement.
. D. Method of employment—The employment of artillery by the Italians was quite
normal, and the only feature worthy of note was the tendency to site the bulk of their
artillery well forward. Artillery personnel earned a reputation for good shooting and
displayed considerable courage under heavy fire or in direct attack. In many cases
artillery firing over open sights was used against attacking tank or infantry. In defensive
situations roving pieces were sent far forward of the main defense area in order to force
the enemy to deploy and to execute counterbattery fire Alpine artillerymen were highly
skilled in the manhandling of pack artillery. The highly centralized Italian artillery
actually did better than their German allies against Montgomery’s 1918 style “set-piece”
tactics in North Africa.
E. The artillery arm was spread through out the army and was classified as divisional,
corps, or army. There also existed ad hoc formations known as raggruppamenti (tactical
organizations of flexible size and mission), which had no fixed establishment.

ARMORED FORCES

A. General—The Italian armored forces originated, like those of all other nations, from
the infantry support role of the First World War. The use of armor was increased to
include armored brigades tasked with penetration in the offense and the role of a mobile
reserve to counter enemy penetrations in the defense. The development of armored
divisions by other nations encouraged the Italians to evolve the tank brigades into
armored divisions. As a result of their experience in Spain, the Italians recognized the
need for motorized infantry and ordinary infantry to follow the tanks and consolidate
conquered ground. There were two types of mechanized divisions in the Italian army, the
fast moving, or light motorized division (Celere) and the armored division (Corazzata)
B .a. The Celere divisions were a combination of cavalry and Bersaglieri to produce a
uniquely Italian unit of mobile troops. The concept was an outgrowth of the successful
actions of cooperating cavalry and Bersaglieri in the long pursuits of the defeated
Austrians at the end of WWI and the culmination of several trends in the use of the
cavalry and the Bersaglieri. The chances wrought in the battlefield by the machine gun
and the tank reduced the possible roles for both. The bicycle gave the Bersaglieri mobility
comparable to horse cavalry. In general, the Celere division fulfilled the missions
formerly assigned to cavalry, that is, reconnaissance and covering missions. In addition it
had the mission of seizure of certain terrain features of strategic importance. Celere units
were envisioned as flanking units and pursuit units. They were combined with motorized
infantry and armored divisions making the breakthrough and with the alpine divisions
covering the flanks, it was a formidable concept. This change in policy was quickly
translated into doctrine.
b. In normal employment the division would be divided into two distinct groups. The
cavalry, motorcyclists, and tanks would be used as a manuever element in operations
requiring agility, while the truck-borne and bicycle-borne Bersaglieri, with the artillery
provided a unit for use in conventional attack. The tanks in the Celeri units tended to be
kept as a reserve and used in situations where covering forces ware required. Motorized
detachments provided the best units for penetration of the enemy line and for rapid
movement.
C. The armored division (Corazzata) was originally given the role of a mobile reserve to
be used in the exploitation of success and to counter enemy penetrations. It could also
engage in reconnaissance with mobile units, or in wide envelopment of an enemy flank,
infiltration through gaps, or assault against hastily prepared defensive position. This
cautious conception of the functions of the armored division underwent some
modification as a result of the lessons of war, but Italian tank tactics and training were
somewhat rudimentary until the armored divisions came under German command and
German training and tactical doctrines were introduced. Since it was weak in inherent
infantry, the armored division was organized and trained primarily to operate in
conjunction with infantry, motorized, or celere divisions, It was not designed to operate
ahead of the army in the seizure of important terrain, as the Italians assigned such
missions to the motorized or celere divisions. The armored division was designed for the
exploitation of a breakthrough and also to function as a mobile reserve to be thrown in to
use its shock action and firepower to obtain a decision.
D Independent tank units of the Italian army were designed to serve primarily as a basic
shock element and in support of the infantry arm. In this respect, reconnaissance missions
were assigned as a particular task for light tanks

E. The idea of three kinds of tank units appeared in the first set of manuals on the
employment of tanks. One was for the normal infantry support role and a similarly
organized but differently trained unit would support Celeri troops. The third was in the
German inspired armored division. This divided the available tank resources between
three streams of tactical development. Four if one considers the reconnaissance role often
given tankette units.
.

CAVALRY
The principal missions of the Italian cavalry were that of reconnaissance, and in case
of necessity, to exploit advantages, close gaps, etc. It maneuvered mounted and
fought mounted or dismounted. Horse cavalry frequently acted as mounted infantry or
as dismounted machine gun squadrons in support of other units. Most cavalry depots
formed dismounted squadron groups, which were employed on coast or home
defense, mainly in southern Italy and the Islands.

ANTIAIRCRAFT ARTILLERY
The antiaircraft artillery militia was concentrated near more important and vulnerable
industrial targets and the larger cities and communication centers.

COAST ARTILLERY
The coast artillery militia employed equipment furnished by the Navy for antiship and
antiaircraft defense of localities in accordance with instructions issued by the office of
the navy.

ENGINEERS
A. Under Italian doctrine, engineers were considered to be technical, rather than
combat, troops. Engineer functions were conventional: work communications zones,
erect of obstacles, clearance of obstacles, laying of minefields, water supply, and
supply of engineer materials, Also, in the Italian army, the providing of signal
communications and the supplying of hydrogen for captive balloons were engineer
functions.
B. The success of the German Assault Engineers encouraged the formation of Assault
Pioneers known as “Guastatori” (destroyers). These forces were organized into
battalions. They were patterned after similar German units and the Assault Engineer
School at Civitavecchia was organized by a German engineer, a Col. Steiner, in Mar
’40. The attacks by pioneers (Guastatori) were nearly always carried out at dawn, the
objective having been approached during the night. Assault engineers were used
against tanks at night. Personnel did not lay mines but were trained in removing them
should they impede their progress.

CAMOUFLAGE

A. General—The Italians placed great emphasis on artificial camouflage and installations


garnished with natural materials tied into the natural surroundings.
B. Field Camouflage—a. in Italian field camouflage, canvas, raffia, shavings and similar
materials were colored with a spray gun, which was both quick and convenient as
compared with the usual paintbrush method. This field spraying was done with
compressed air in a special blower. The compressed air was furnished from a Shoulder-
portable compressor of from compressed air tanks, periodically filled. Machine guns
were camouflaged by being covered with wire netting stretched over a frame of iron rods.
C. Various devices—Individual nets---Individual camouflage nets were 1 to 80 m. square, with
reinforced edges furnished with buttons and garnished with strips of sisal material colored with
three shades of green and tow of maroon. Metal net supports—The metal frames for overhead
cover were made in two sizes, with spans of 1.50m or 4 to 5 meters. Both types collapsed into
compact bundles. Simulative cloaks—The simulative cloak was used by the Italian Army as an
aid for the combatant who had to remain on observation duty or was required to advance under
the eye of the adversary. A man disguised by such a cloak became invisible, even on barren
ground and so could accomplish his mission unmolested, even at a short distance from the
enemy. The cloak was easily made by the Italian soldier and was frequently produced even with
improvised materials by the combatant himself. It consisted of a rectangular piece or burlap 1.8m
long and 1.5m wide. The rectangle was folded along a line and sewn along the upper edge to
form a hood easily worn by the soldier without hindering his freedom of movement. To blend
readily with the surroundings, the cloak was covered with hay, grass, straw, etc, depending on
what was available in the particular region, and on what background was to be imitated. This
cloak could be used to conceal telegraph-line guards, men stationed near roads, liaison men, etc.

SUPPLY
In an effort to keep the combat divisions “slim and agile” a centralized “Intendenza” at
Army level was given almost all of the few trucks available. The theory was to replenish
Corps, Divisions, and even Regiments from the rear forward. The ‘War of Rapid
Decision’ was totally divorced from existing Italian capabilities. The supply organization
functioned adequately in slow-moving or static actions, but failed to support swift
movement. Even mere relocation of a unit could sometime disrupt its supply chain.
Supply was over centralized at army level, leaving forward units at the mercy of the
vagaries of the Intendenza.

ORGANIZATION

HIGHER UNITS
ARMY GROUP AND ARMY
Organization of army groups and armies varied considerably but the number of corps
in an army rarely exceeded four. Army troops included heavy artillery and
mechanized field artillery, mining, sound ranging, metrological and survey units.

ARMY CORPS
Corps were composed of two to four infantry divisions, one motorized machinegun
battalion (eventually to be expanded to a regiment.) one artillery regiment, one
engineer regiment, one chemical company, one flame-thrower company, one chemical
mortar battery, one medical company, one supply company, a motor transport center.
Theoretically each corps had reconnaissance groups attached to it…motorized,
infantry, and Air Force Reconnaissance Groups. These seldom materialized. Some
army corps had tank battalions attached, and special units, such as Alpini, Bersaglieri,
etc

DIVISIONS
The Italian army showed a great deal of imagination in tailoring divisions for special
uses. Much of this effort failed to reach fruition because events overtook the
organizations before they could be accomplished.

INFANTRY DIVISIONS
a. Adoption, on the eve of the war, of the Divisione Bineria increased peacetime
strength from 70+ to 90+ divisions. This resulted only in an increase of slots and staffs,
not an increase of combat power. Mussolini also liked his numbers. He bragged of an
army of “eight million bayonets.” It apparently never occurred to him that more that
bayonets might be needed. Only two divisions of grenadiers retained the old three-
regiment organization. A staff study claimed, “A single motorized division, even for
defense and occupation missions has the capability of four infantry divisions while it eats
only one fourth as much and requires only a fourth as much transport from Italy.
b. The concept was born of the Ethiopian War and was called “binary” owing to the
incorporation of only two infantry regiments instead of the old three-regiment
organization. A Fascist Militia legion of two battalions was attached to some infantry
divisions partly to increase the number of infantry in the division and partly to include
Black Shirt troops with regular Army units. The legion was, however, described as an
independent unit to be used as shock troops. During the Albanian campaign the weakness
of the binary division became evident. Divisions that had suffered heavy losses had to be
reformed with whatever infantry was available, sometimes even by merging with
another division.
c. The table of organization of an infantry division provided for two reserve battalions.
In practice, however, reinforcement was from reserve units, which were held under GHQ
to the theater of operations for allotment to units as required, or from the depot of the
division.
d. The table of organization called for a 81mm mortar battalion of 27 81mm mortars
(three companies of 9 mortars each)
e. A few divisions were given machine-gun battalions.

ASSAULT AND LANDING DIVISIONS


The assault and landing division, adopted in 1941 in anticipation of the intended invasion
of Malta, assumed a special organization different from that of an ordinary infantry
division. Increased mobility was obtained by the decentralization of heavy support
weapons (antitank guns and 81mm mortars) from regimental to battalion control and of
light support weapons (machineguns and 45mm mortars from battalion to company
control. late 1941 and affected three ordinary infantry divisions. Expanded engineer and
assault engineer assets (a battalion of each) as well as a rock climber battalion were
added to this type of division for combined operations. The invasion never took place,
and the units were used as ordinary infantry. Three divisions were effected.

MOTORIZED INFANTRY DIVISION


Italian Motorized infantry divisions were like those in most other countries, designed to
work together with the armored divisions. Two were pre-war formations, part of the
Armored corps that also comprised two armored divisions. Three others were wartime
conversions. As Italy could not support the number of motorized divisions needed for the
mobile warfare in North Africa, semi-motorized divisions were created instead.
Organization of these units was similar to that of ordinary infantry divisions except that
the regiments had only two battalions instead of three and had additional motorized
transport. TO&E charts are quite sketchy regarding the amount and type of vehicles
provided and leave the impression that whatever was available was used.

TRUCK-BORNE INFANTRY DIVISION


a. The “European” type or "Divisione Fanteria Autotransportabile,” or lorried
infantry divisions, were an attempt at solving the problems the Italians had with a lack of
motor vehicles to motorize their infantry divisions to the level demanded by modern
warfare. The eight divisions differed little from ordinary infantry divisions except that
they may have had motorized artillery, no Black Shirt legion, and two divisional mortar
battalions in the field if not on paper. The motor transport needed to carry it entirely was
not allotted to the division but was drawn when required from the Intendance at corps
level. The division retained a good proportion of animal transport, which enabled it to
operate, when grounded, in “Horsed” columns. The animal transport could theoretically
be lifted and transported by rail or motor transport.
b. The “North African” type or "Divisione Autotransportabile Tipo A(frica)
S(ettentriole),” semi-motorized Italian infantry divisions, were organized for the North
African theatre as a stop-gap measure, when the Italians did not have enough motor
vehicles, nor gasoline, to convert them into actual motorized divisions. Ten divisions are
thought to have been raised, but the number is a bit uncertain.

MOUNTAIN INFANTRY DIVISIONS


a. Certain infantry divisions were designated as mountain infantry in an attempt to
better adapt regular infantry divisions for operations in mountainous regions. These
differed from Alpini divisions and were infantry divisions specially adapted for mountain
warfare. They had the ordinary composition of an infantry division, but had more animal
transport. All the guns of the artillery regiment could be transported in horse-drawn
wagonloads or on pack animals. Personnel were not specially trained in mountain
warfare, but were for the most part recruited from mountain districts. The division was
not intended to operate at a higher altitude than 2000m (6,500’)
b. As the war went on, and there was no need for infantry adapted to mountain
warfare, attempts were made to convert most of the nine divisions to truck-borne infantry
divisions.
ALPINI DIVISIONS
a. General—The Alpine division, designed to operate above 6000’, was different from
the mountain infantry division. It was an elite unit made up of men native to Italy’s
mountainous regions, and was ideally suited for waging war in the Alps surrounding
Italy’s northern borders, The standard of physique and training was high and the
artillerymen were expert in the manhandling of pack artillery. The regiments had their
own detachments of artillery, engineers, and auxiliary services permanently attached.
This made the regiment self-supporting and capable of independent action for a
considerable period. Decentralization did not stop at regiments; Alpini battalions and
companies were detached from their parent units and regrouped with artillery units into
regroupments. This procedure was made easier by the existence of independent transport
right down to company organization.
b. Composition. The Alpine division consisted of a headquarters, two Alpine
regiments, one Alpine artillery regiment, one mixed engineer battalion, one chemical
warfare company, one supply section, and one medical section, decentralized to
regiments. The table of organization provided for two reserve battalions (one for each
infantry regiment). In practice replacements were drawn from the depot of the division as
required. No allowance was therefore made for reserve battalions. Pack mules provided
transportation. A large sanitation unit was required due to disposal problems in rocky
terrain.
c. They saw little combat in that role though. There was some use in the invasions of
France in 1940 and Yugoslavia in 1941. After that they mostly performed occupation
duties. Three of them were sent to the Soviet Union to fight in the Caucasus Mountains,
but instead ended up in the unending Russian Steppe, where they were ill suited and were
virtually annihilated. There were six Alpini divisions.

MOBILE CAVALRY (CELERE) DIIVISIONS


The major cavalry/Bersaglieri operations at the end of the war (WWI) against a
collapsing enemy in difficult terrain had been very successful. This final campaign had
been the one that greatly influenced Italian planners. The main components of the Celere
divisions were two horsed cavalry regiments and one cyclist Bersaglieri regiment. The
cavalry regiments were virtually mounted infantry. The Bersaglieri regiment had
collapsible bicycles and could be truck-borne if necessary. The artillery regiment had
two motorized batteries and one pack battery. The division included a light tank
squadron. This semi-motorized division was designed primarily for warfare in terrain,
which, though mountainous, permitted the use of such units in a reconnaissance,
exploitation or support role. Armament was sacrificed to this end, and the division was
not designed for defense. There were three Celeri divisions. They were never used as
envisioned. There was a Celeri corps during the invasion of Yugoslavia, but it was kept in
reserve. Later one division was sent to the Soviet Union, one was robbed of its mobile
artillery and kept in Yugoslavia in an anti-partisan role, and one was in the process of
conversion to an armored division. Not very favorable results for an organization formed
with such high hopes.

ARMORED DIVISIONS
The Italians originally planned to have armored brigades as their largest armor units, but
study of the successful German panzer divisions encouraged them to form divisions. .
The armored division, as designed before the war, was a mixture of light and medium
tanks. It was incapable of more than light assault. The Italian armored division changed
radically in composition under German influence, with improved tanks; the introduction
of self-propelled guns and heavier divisional supporting weapons.
Composition---The armored division had a headquarters, one tank regiment of three
battalions, a truck-borne Bersaglieri regiment, one support and antitank battalion, one
artillery regiment (six batteries, two of which was self propelled.), one mixed engineer
battalion, one supply section, and one medical section. 6AD’s were planned; only 2 and
part of a third were formed Planned for deployment in Alps, France, and Yugoslavia, the
divisions went to N. Africa and Soviet Union The armored divisions have often been
misread. The one campaign for which they had really prepared—that against Yugoslavia
—the divisions were relatively successful. In the other campaigns the Italians fought for
losing causes. The armored divisions were the only mechanized elements of a barely
motorized army. They were lost fighting to support units that were hopelessly out of date
on a modern battlefield. It was not the failure of mechanization that doomed the armored
divisions, but the political-industrial failure to create at least a motorized army. Italy had
neither the industrial base nor the raw materials to be a major power in modern industrial
war.

AIRBORNE DIVISIONS
Despite the fact that the Italians had experimented with parachutes just at the end of
WWI, the Italian military kept a skeptical attitude towards the practicality of deploying
large airborne units on the rough terrain, which constitutes the largest part of Italian
territory. On the other hand, airdrops were seen as means to infiltrate recon and sabotage
teams behind enemy lines. German successes, and the planned invasion of Malta, brought
about a rethinking and formation of airborne divisions consisting of a headquarters, two
parachute infantry regiments, a parachute artillery regiment, a parachute Guastatori
battalion, and a signal company.
Two divisions saw service; one more was forming. The Air Force had “Loreto Battalion”
and later formed the “Arditi Distruttori” airborne assault battalion. It was later
reconstituted as the “Assault Regiment Duci d’ Acosta.” The airborne divisions were
used as ordinary infantry.

AIR LANDING DIVISIONS


The concept was for an infantry division to be specially trained and equipped for
transportability in aircraft. They were to disembark on airfields that had been secured by
airborne troops. The 80th "La Spezia" air landing division was the only infantry division
so trained, and like the Italian airborne divisions, it was formed with the sole aim of
taking part in the invasion of Malta. As this invasion never took place, the division ended
up on the frontline, fighting as ordinary infantry, and came to an end in Tunisia.
COASTAL DIVISIONS
The Italian Coastal divisions were hurriedly organized during 1943, when the Axis troops
in Africa were being crushed by the Allies, and an Allied invasion had to be expected at
any time. They were organized by grouping the troops of the Coastal Brigade sectors,
some 80 Blackshirt battalions, 50 territorial battalions, and a hodge-podge of other units
together. Some were given naval gun elements to defend critical sectors of the Italian
coast. There was no uniform organization, and as a consequence of their hodge-podge
nature, low-quality equipment and low morale, they fought badly. Most saw no combat,
however, as the armistice was reached before the Allies got anywhere near them. There
were 26 such divisions.

DEPOT DIVISIONS
The Italian Depot divisions were much like the German Field Training (Feldersatz)
divisions. They were composed of the replacement battalions of the active regiments.
They trained while being used for garrison duty, mostly in Yugoslavia. This is likely why,
in addition to having low priority in equipment, they did so poorly against the partisans
there. The 8th "March" Training division was formed to consolidate replacements for the
8th Army, that campaigned in the USSR. There were 10 such divisions.

NON-DIVISIONAL (GHQ) UNITS


The Italian army, like all other armies, utilized non-divisional units at Army and Corps
level and to reinforce certain divisions when needed. Orders of battle reveal the existence
of such units as: Grenadier (infantry) regiments, cavalry regiments and squadrons, Black
Shirt battalions and legions, medium artillery regiments, Bersaglieri regiments and
battalions, an armored brigade, battalions and companies, and machinegun battalions.
There were also antitank companies, colonial infantry brigades, heavy artillery battalions,
and batterys, mountain artillery battalions, Alpini battalions, and a camel artillery battery.
During the war Assault Pioneers known as “Guastatori” (destroyers) were organized into
battalions. They were patterned after similar German units and the Assault Engineer
School was organized by a Col. Steiner in Mar ’40. Formations included Corps engineer
regiments, mining regiments, pontoon regiments, railway regiment, workshop units, and
carrier pigeon lofts. Also included were bridging companies, pontoon battalions, a
ropeway battalion, a balloonist section, an electrical mechanics’ company, a firefighting
company, a mining battalion, a camouflage battalion, and others.

CHEMICAL TROOPS. Were responsible for chemical warfare in all forms. Organized
into the Chemical Regiment, a number of separate companies and platoons assigned to
corps and divisions as required. There were chemical battalions and flame throwing
battalions. The war brought the establishment of chemical mortar groups. They made no
use of chemical warfare, but had planned to use the 81mm mortar, artillery shells, toxic
smoke candles. Truck-borne and knapsack sprayers were devoted for decontamination.

COMMISSARIAT SERVICE distributed supplies in bulk to the tactical organizations.


Where line soldiers handled storage and issue. The provision of rations, forage, clothing
equipment, barracks and fuel, and the removal and recovery of these materials when
damaged or unserviceable was also under the Commissariat jurisdiction.

TRANSPORT SERVICE was divided into rail, water, air, and ordinary transport units.
Ordinary included motor vehicle, wagon, pack and cable railway. Motor transport groups
were divided into two or more companies, which were then divided into sections of 24
vehicles each.
RAGGRUMMENTI
There also existed ad hoc formations known as raggrummenti (tactical organizations of
flexible size and mission) that had no fixed establishment. One, for example, was made
up of four tank battalions; another of five colonial infantry battalions.

FRONTIER GUARD
The Frontier Guard was part of the quasi military/quasi police Royal
Carabineri. They were light forces charged with border security. Organization
varied.

OTHER ORGANIZATIONS
Organization was complicated by the existence of Fascist Militia, Royal Carabineri,
Railway Militia, Port Militia, Post and Telegraph Militia, Forestry Militia, Highway
Militia, Antiaircraft and Coast Defense Militia, Frontier Militia, and the Royal Finance
Guard. Most of these militiamen proved to be somewhat more suited to strutting about in
fancy regalia that in serving as soldiers.

TACTICS

The war of rapid decision required deep penetration into the enemy rear; but Italian
tactics were unsuited to producing that penetration. Prewar doctrine also apparently had
nothing to say about the subject of surprise, and assigned rapid exploitation of
opportunities to soft-skinned motorized forces and to armored divisions equipped with
the 3.5-ton tankettes

ANTITANK.
Artillery had the primary responsibility for antitank protection. They were supposed to
use field guns in this role. Infantry had a secondary responsibility. Infantry weapons
included the infantry support guns, antitank companies, and a rather optimistic antitank
rifle.
ARMOR
The 1938 manual enumerated clearly defined tasks for the various tank units. It
differentiated between tanks that were to be used to support infantry, Celeri, and
motorized units and those that were part of the armored division. Supporting tanks gave
fire support to the appropriate unit and dealt with strong points and other centers or
resistance. Armored divisions were, however, manuever elements in which the tank was
the main weapon. All units in the armored division supported the tanks in their attack.
The division either maneuvered against the flank of the enemy or, if that was not feasible,
bade an overwhelming attack against his line. Whether the tanks were in an armored
division of supporting the infantry, they should be used in mass. Artillery and antitank
guns protected the tanks ageist other tanks and against hostile artillery. The instructions
for tank units cooperating with Celeri units differed only in their use in reconnaissance.
And although they would be used like the infantry tanks in the breeching of the enemy
line, it was to enable the Celeri to penetrate the enemy line rather than to destroy the line
itself. The new concept did not adequately deal with the problem of tank-versus-tank
combat, and even expected Italian tanks to fire main guns while on the move. Italian
study of the German Blitzkrieg emphasized that the armored division was designed for
flanking attacks in a war of manuever, and not for frontal attacks except in the most
exceptional cases.

INFANTRY
a. Emphasis was placed on training a sharpshooting, agile, light infantry. For additional
mobility, Bersaglieri were issued with folding bicycles that could be strapped on their
backs.

b. The Italian infantry battalion consisted of three rifle companies and a machinegun
company of 12 guns. Each rifle company was divided into three platoons of two squads
of 20 men each. One light automatic weapon was allocated per squad but the combat of
the squad was not tied to that particular weapon. In the advance, the Italian platoon
moved forward in two long squad “worms” with the light machinegun at the head of
each. Upon encountering effective enemy fire, the squad riflemen would fan out to the
right and left, respectively, seeking to maneuver around each flank, assaulting from both
sides if necessary. The squads of 20 were further broken down into fighting groups of 3 to
facilitate better control and more flexible movement. Throughout the encounter action,
the squad light machineguns, supported by heavy machine guns from the rear, were to
keep the enemy pinned down. It was a precept of Italian operations that heavy
machinegun suppressive fire was necessary for the infantry to advance at all.
Surprisingly, Italian doctrine recommended narrow attack frontages of 50 yards for a
platoon and 400 yards for a battalion. Such frontages were, in Liddell Hart’s opinion
bound to have a “corpse-producing effect under modern conditions.”

c. A British appraisal: “The principal characteristic of Italian tactics in both theaters


Libya and East Africa, has been rigidity. They have remained attached to one principle,
the concentration of the greatest possible mass for every task that faces them. In the
attack they deploy this mass in line and rely solely on weight on numbers to clear the
way.” If stalled, Italian units sought to regain momentum by committing their reserves
frontally to reinforce failure. Deficiency of training, land navigation, off-road mobility,
and logistics precluded flanking maneuvers and left frontal attack the sole option. Lack
of training and leadership prevented them from adapting the German infiltration tactics of
1917-18 that became the heart of every other army’s small unit tactics. In the desert,
infantry was capable only of static defense and was poorly equipped even for that. In
hilly or mountainous terrain, Italian infantry did remarkably well.*

MANPOWER

MANPOWER POOL
MANPOWER came mostly from peasant stock. The personnel pool was handicapped by
many local dialects. The masses were not highly educated. They were not mechanically
experienced. Gasoline cost 4 times British prices so Italy had an automotive base of only
one motor vehicle to each 130 people. In comparison, France had a ratio of l: 23, Britain
1:32, Germany 1:37, and the US 1:4.4. Italy had, however, a manpower pool with two
excellent qualities: the willingness to suffer inadequate clothing, food, and supplies and
the willingness, if led with anything approaching competence, to fight and die in
conditions that would have caused the armies of the industrial democracies to quail. This
manpower was misused as Italy followed the fairly common policy of subordinating
infantry to other specialties in quality of personnel.

CONDITIONS OF SERVICE
A policy stemming from the 1870’s based on fears of mutiny and regional secession
resulted in the members of each regiment being recruited from several different regions
and stationed in yet another region. This caused friction and lack of trust because of
different regional dialects, values, and customs.

Officers enjoyed better food, uniforms and living conditions. They had EM assigned to
them as servants. Little consideration was given to the other ranks. Their rations were
universally described as the worst of all armies. Little thought was given to medical
attention, mail, leave, and other factors of pride and morale. Italian mobile kitchens were
wood burning relics of 1907………this in a treeless desert.

ROTATION: (from an archive)” British Command, even in quiet periods, did not keep its
units in the front line for more than twelve days and, after that, gave them four days’
complete rest in the rear. On the other hand, our soldiers had for months not had any
relief from front-line duty; rest was almost unknown to them, as was also the system of
relieving for home leave units that were tired and worn from many months of exhausting
life and combat in the desert. There were divisions amount the soldiers that had been
fighting for more than twenty-four months in the front line, and that had greatly exceeded
the theoretical 200 days which American and British experts have set as the maximum
limit of physical and psychological resistance in battle, after which, according to them,
the soldier becomes exhausted and militarily inefficient.
*
John English A Perspective on Infantry This observation is remarkably similar to one stating that Italian
artillery performed quite well against Montgomery’s set-piece type battles. Could it be that troops do better
in situations for which they have been trained?
If the Italian soldier, deprived of means and exhausted has retreated before the superior
numbers, strength and buoyant morale organization of the enemy—if he has retreated it is
because the limits of human endurance have been exceeded and he could not do
otherwise.”

The Italian army was unspectacular and not overly successful, so the individual courage
of the Italian soldier was emphasized to give a sense of national pride.

TRAINING
Units were trained for service in the type of terrain in which they were most likely to
serve. Great stress was placed on cooperation of different arms, especially between
infantry and artillery. For a war of movement, infantry command was greatly
decentralized with platoons and sometimes squads acting largely on their own initiative
during offensives.

The integration of all arms was desired, but inadequate technology and training limited
the effectiveness of cooperation. In the offense, artillery was frequently unable to cover
or communicate with the infantry. In the defense, support was generally more effective.

Personnel assigned to support and headquarters units were not given any infantry training
whatsoever. They made absolutely no effort to provide all-round defensive perimeters to
protect against raids or penetrations. Consequently, service troops were easily routed by
minimal enemy forces.

The instructions of the Chief of Staff to a commander sent to Libya in1937 cautioned
him “not to do too much training.” It was assumed that initiative and individual valor
counted for far more than training. OJT was the norm…even for such duties as tank
drivers and gunners. The officer corps store of talent and experience was so diluted and
so outdated that even training attempted did not accomplish a great deal.

Some training, like that of the Bersaglieri, was quite impressive. Liddell Hart gained the
distinct impression that the Italian military was training “an army of human panthers,” the
physical training of the soldiers being ‘far superior to anything ever seen.” He described
the marching endurance of the Italian soldier as “astonishing.”

Officers were overage. Promotions were under a strict seniority system. Officer pay and
benefits were high- at the expense of junior officer training. This lack of training resulted
in over supervision. Bloated staffs attempted to justify their existence. Older commanders
led to “atavistic intellectual narrowness’.” The proportionately high budget for regular
officers also cut funds for weapons, vehicles, and even economized at the expense of
junior officer development.
ROATTAS EVALUATION OF OFFICERS: In a wartime study, Gen Roatta (himself a
major contributor to the problem) found the following deficiencies in the Italian officer
corps:
1. Lack of command authority. Timidity.
2. Inadequate technical knowledge
3. Poor understanding of communications equipment
4. Poor map reading and use of the compass
5. Lack of knowledge about field fortifications and fields of fire
6. Poor physical conditioning
7. Total administrative ignorance
Some effort was made to correct these deficiencies in junior officers. No such effort was
made to improve senior ranks.
A German staff officer evaluated Italian staff work: “The command structure is…
pedantic and slow. The absence of sufficient communication equipment renders the links
to the subordinate units precarious. The consequence is that the leadership is poorly
informed about the friendly situation and has no capacity to redeploy swiftly. The
working style of the staff is schematic, static, and come cases lacking in precision.”

The overabundance of older senior officers cultivated an atmosphere of intellectual


rigidity and lack of curiosity. The Army began with two mistaken assumptions it had held
fiercely through the interwar period: that the Alps were the most likely theater of war and
that numbers were decisive. The first assumption fell away in 1940. The second, despite
repeated demonstrations of its fallaciousness, determined Italian doctrine and force
structure…and hence use of technology…until 1943.

Gen Bastico evaluated reserve officers: “Divisional commanders were unanimous in


informing me that while subalterns, apart from a few exceptions, are rendering good
service—even when they come from auxiliary sources, the same cannot be said for the
majors and captains recalled from the reserve. These latter in general are too old, and
even if they have the will and spirit of sacrifice they lack energy and the capacity
necessary for carrying out their duty. Also, nearly all of them reached their rank by
successive promotions, the fruit of very brief periods of service. They were also
unanimous in lamenting the fact that these officers, nearly all of them, come unprepared
and therefore unsuited for the command of their units, or they suffer from congenital
illnesses and after the briefest stay they have to be removed—because of professional
incapacity or poor health.” Senior officers were not culled after WWI, and the junior
officers were gutted during the 20’s by the thousands in a cost-cutting move. Italy was
faced with a choice then to either cut the generals (and their higher salaries) or the lower
officers and Italy made the wrong choice.

Of junior officers Gen Claudio Trezzani observed, “As long as it’s a question of risking
one’s skin, they are admirable, when, instead, they have to open their eyes, think, decide
in cold blood, they are hopeless. In terms of reconnaissance, movement to contact,
preparatory fire, coordinated movement, and so on, they are practically illiterate…”
OFFICER CASUALTIES—During the war Italy lost 68 Generals, 84 colonels, 10
admirals, 30 naval captains, 11 air force generals, 22 air force colonels. “Surely the
sacrifice of one’s life imposes respect, but it is not a measure of professional ability.”
Prof Lucio Ceva

EVALUATION
ROMMEL: “The Italian soldier is disciplined, sober, an excellent worker and an example
to the Germans in preparing dug-in positions. If attacked he reacts well. He lacks,
however, a spirit of attack, and above all, proper training. Many operations did not
succeed solely because of a lack of coordination between artillery and heavy arms fire
and the advance of the infantry. The lack of adequate means of supply and service, and
the insufficient number of motor vehicles and tanks, is such that during some movements
Italian sections arrived at their posts incomplete. Lack of means of transport and service
in Italian units is such that especially in the bigger units, they cannot be maintained as a
reserve and one cannot count on their quick intervention.”

EQUIPMENT
GENERAL: The unsuitability of much of the Italian equipment was caused by multiple reasons.
Equipment must be designed to perform the function demanded of it by doctrine. When doctrine
is changed, it only follows that some of the equipment will no longer be suitable. Equipment
must be designed to perform in the environment envisioned. When operations are conducted in
areas not planned for and prepared for, some of the equipment will not be suitable. National
pride, and balance of payments frequently see nations adopt an inferior design just because it is
designed and produced “at home.” There are some reports of corruption and collusion within the
Italian “military-industrial complex.” The armed forces of every nation suffer these problems to
some extent, but Italy lacked the economic and industrial foundation to effect timely changes.

To ease his balance of payment problems, Mussolini had sold off his newest aircraft and
weapons to foreign buyers like Spain and Turkey while equipping his forces with field
guns from 1918. The army had to borrow trucks from private firms just to hold peacetime
parades of its motorized divisions. Italian troops were also short of antitank guns,
antiaircraft gun ammunition, and radio sets. Artillery was light and ancient.

SMALL ARMS: The Beretta pistol and submachine gun were outstanding weapons,
but the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, a rather indifferent model designed in
1881, suffered from low bullet velocity. Breda M1930 light machine guns were
clumsy to operate and jammed easily. The war caught Italy in the process of
changing from the 6.5mm to a 7.35mm round. They tried to revert to the older
and more common round. The Model 35 "Red Devil" hand grenades had a cute
trick of exploding in the hands of their users

CREW SERVED WEAPONS:


MACHINEGUNS: The Breda M1937 was strip fed and complicated to the extent that the empty
brass was re-inserted into the strips. Ammunition was oiled. This attracted dust and caused
malfunctions. Ammunition was 8mm---different from the LMG and rifle ammunition.
MORTARS: Italy’s 45mm Brixia mortar might have been quite useful in WWI, but, like
small mortars of some other nations, was not well suited to conditions that developed
during the Second World War. The 81mm piece was an excellent weapon and was well
suited for mountain warfare, but was claimed by Tyre1 to be of little use in the desert.
ANTITANK GUNS: The war in Spain had proven the 47mm Bohler inadequate, but the
elderly (1913) 65mm infantry gun, once the Alpini’s pack artillery, had worked and was
praised for its lightweight as well as its ‘omnipresence’. No attempt was made to improve
this situation because Italy was indeed barely able to equip all units with the obsolescent
Bohler. Italian officers failed to appreciate the true seriousness because they thought that
Spain was not reflective of full-scale warfare. They expected more heavy artillery, more
chemical warfare, and more well prepared fixed defenses than Spain provided.

TANKS: Italy began rearming earlier than the other powers. Unfortunately for their armored
force, this was during the time when tankettes were in vogue. The L/3 was very reliable, quite
mobile, and, with over 2000 in inventory, in an abundance that precluded easy access to funds
for newer weapons systems. The 3.5 ton vehicle was, sadly, an under protected, machinegun-
armed tankette with little business on a WWII battlefield. The underpowered and thinly armored
M11/39 suffered from the main gun’s being hull mounted because narrow Italian roads and
railway tunnels would not permit a turret width sufficient to accept a gun. The heavyweight
M13 packed a turret mounted 47mm gun, but crawled along at nine miles per
hour.

ARTILLERY: The artillery was equipped with WWI Austrian field pieces refurbished in 1933. A
modernization plan was delayed for 10 yrs due to new naval construction and foreign adventures
and thus was not to be completed until 1950!!!!! This meant that Italy’s gunners faced
opponents with greater range, greater mobility, and a greater rate of fire.

MOTORCYCLES… The idea of motorized infantry being mounted on motorcycles was a legacy
of the bicycles and motorcycles used successfully by the Bersaglieri in the First World War. This
also meant that a very competent and highly respected light infantry force would evolve into a
rather inefficient motorized infantry, but, the Bersaglieri on his motorcycle with his plume
blowing in the wind was a powerful image to Italians, including that old Bersaglieri himself,
Benito Mussolini. Attempts were made during the war to carry some of these troops in trucks,
but the Italian automotive industry was not up to the task.

BICYCLES—“The bicycle had arrived as a military item in the 1880’s and 1890’s… The Italians
raised the use of the military bicycle to its highest level. The bicycle troops were essentially a
mounted infantry unit without a requirement for forage. They could be used as couriers, scouts,
or in other traditional cavalry roles. The Italians prided themselves on the speed with which
Bersaglieri-cycilisti could manuever. Bicycle troops became almost a culture in the late ‘30s and
early 40’s. The bicycle, on the basis of Italy’s WWI record, was competing with armored
vehicles as battlefield transportation.

COMMUNICATIONS: Reliance was on the landline. Even commo wire was in short
supply. No effort was made to put radios in tanks until 1942. Italian units lacked armored
cars with radios to keep tabs on enemy units. Radio equipment available to corps,
divisions, and higher would not function on the move, required a long set up time, and
1
MUSSOLINI’S SOLDIERS by Rex Tyre
didn’t work at all under conditions of the Russian front. Signal communications were,
unique among armies, a function of the engineer troops.

CONCLUSION

THE HOPE
The mechanization of Italy’s army was a goal determined before the war. Only two
armies in Europe envisioned a role for armored corps—Germany and Italy. Italy therefore
began the war ahead of most other nations in doctrine. Britain and France did not have
the armored striking force that Italy possessed. Only one brigade of quasi-armored troops
existed in the United States. Only Germany had a superior armored force, but the Italian
Centauro armored division, used against Albania, beat the Germans by several months
being the first armored division to be operationally employed.

The “Guerra di Rapido Corso” would have dared to attempt mechanized warfare in
mountainous terrain. Celeri units were envisioned as flanking units and pursuit units.
They were combined with motorized infantry and armored divisions making the
breakthrough and with the alpine divisions covering the flanks, it was a novel, and a
heady concept. It remains an untested concept.

THE REALITY
In the cold, hard world of economic and industrial capability, Italy’s inadequacies limited
the possibilities. Italy lacked the essential raw materials and industrial base to be a major
power. Her annual production of 2.4 million tons of steel, for example, paled when
compared with Japan’s 5 million tons, Britain’s 13.4 million tons, and Germany’s 22.5
million tons.

Italy’s financial difficulties were made worse by Mussolini’s mismanagement. His


adventures into Spain and Ethiopia had been a tremendous drain on the treasury. His
formation of Fascist Militia did not pay good dividends. Blackshirt units did not perform
well and siphoned away material that the exiting armed forces needed desperately.

Italian armed forces had some serious problems. They were poorly organized, equipped,
led, and trained. They had been prepared for the wrong war. This was certainly not
unique among nations, but Italy lacked the favorable geography and the industrial might
of the nations that were able to overcome similar difficulties. Marshal Badoglio, in an
audience with the king in Mar ’43 explained, “When a war is made on the explicit
calculation that it will be short and if the preparations are for a lightning war, it is lost as
soon as the opposite happens.”

“Italy entered the war with old generals, no heavy tanks, mechanically unreliable and
uncomfortable medium tanks, a lack of motor vehicles and drivers for them, old artillery
and preparations to fight a war in the Alps against the French or to invade Yugoslavia ---
not for a war in the desert or in Russia. Her Navy was built to face the French not the
British, and had been told not to expect to resupply North Africa. One of the first tasks
assigned to the Navy was to resupply North Africa! Her Air Force was too small and,
geared to Douhet’s doctrine of gas attacks against cities, armed with too few bombers,
protected by undergunned and low powered fighters.”2

BIBLIOGRAPHY

English, John, A Perspective on Infantry

Greene, Jack, Mare Nostrum

Knox, McGregor, Hitler’s Italian Allies

Lippman, David H., Desert Dawn

Millett and Murray, Military Effectiveness vol.3

Ogorkiewitz, Richard, Armour

Solitario, Lupo Information from the internet

Sweet, John Joseph Timothy, Iron Arm

Tyre, Rex, Mussolini’s Soldiers

U.S. Army, TM 30-420, Handbook of Italian Military Forces

2
Jack Greene Mare Nostrum