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
Italys 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 officers 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 Periana 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.
A. GeneralA 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,
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 policiesIn 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 doctrinesItalian 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.
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 artillerys 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.
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.
A. GeneralMeeting engagements, as distinct from mere
preliminary engagements or patrol activities to test the enemys
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. DoctrineThe Italians believed that their system
successfully combined the best features of both French and German
tactics. It was supposed to provide for both conceptionsplanned
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 Caesars and Machiavellis; 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 successa sense of responsibility
and the willingness to meet dangerare 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 ones
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.
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 momenta 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 enemys 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
PRINCIPLES OF EMPLOYMENT
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 divisionThe 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.
A. GeneralIt 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
purposethat 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
(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
C. Division artilleryThe 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 employmentThe 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 Montgomerys 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.
A. GeneralThe 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.1) 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 the 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
2)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.
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.
The antiaircraft artillery militia was concentrated near more important
and vulnerable industrial targets and the larger cities and communication
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.
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.
A. GeneralThe Italians placed great emphasis on artificial
camouflage and installations garnished with natural materials tied
into the natural surroundings.
B. Field Camouflagea. 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 devicesIndividual 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 supportsThe
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 cloaksThe 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.
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.
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.
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
infantry, and Air Force Reconnaissance Groups. These seldom materialized.
Some army corps had tank battalions attached, and special units,
such as Alpini, Bersaglieri, etc.
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
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.
a. GeneralThe 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 Italys mountainous
regions, and was ideally suited for waging war in the Alps surrounding
Italys 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
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.
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
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. 6ADs
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 preparedthat
against Yugoslaviathe 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
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
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 Italy switched sides before the Allies got
anywhere near them. There were 26 such 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.
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
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.
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 of24 vehicles each.
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.
The Frontier Guard was part of the quasi military/quasi police
Royal Carabineri. They were light forces charged with border security.
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.
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.
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 hopeful antitank
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.
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 Harts
opinion bound to have a corpse-producing effect under modern
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 armys 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 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 1870s based on a fear of mutiny
and regional succession 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
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 foot 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.
If the Italian soldier, deprived of means and exhausted has retreated
before the superior numbers, strength and buoyant morale organization
of the enemyif 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.
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
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
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
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
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
Gen Bastico evaluated reserve officers: Divisional commanders
were unanimous in informing me that while subalterns, apart from
a few exceptions, are rendering good serviceeven 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 removedbecause of professional
incapacity or poor health. Senior officers were not culled
after WWI, and the junior officers were gutted during the 20s
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 its a question of risking ones 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 CASUALTIESDuring 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 ones
life imposes respect, but it is not a measure of professional ability.
Prof Lucio Ceva
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.
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.
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:
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.
Italys 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 Tyre to be of little use in the desert.
The war in Spain had proven the 47mm Bohler inadequate, but the
elderly (1913) 65mm infantry gun, once the Alpinis 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.
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 guns 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.
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 Italys gunners faced
opponents with greater range, greater mobility, and a greater rate
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.
The bicycle had arrived as a military item in the 1880s
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 40s. The bicycle, on the basis of Italys
WWI record, was competing with armored vehicles as battlefield transportation.
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 didnt work at
all under conditions of the Russian front. Signal communications
were, unique among armies, a function of the engineer troops.
The mechanization of Italys army was a goal determined before
the war. Only two armies in Europe envisioned a role for armored
corpsGermany 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.
In the cold, hard world of economic and industrial capability,
Italys 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 Japans 5 million tons, Britains
13.4 million tons, and Germanys 22.5 million tons.
Italys financial difficulties were made worse by Mussolinis
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
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 Douhets doctrine of gas attacks against cities,
armed with too few bombers, protected by undergunned and low powered
English, John, A Perspective on Infantry
Greene, Jack, Mare Nostrum
Knox, McGregor, Hitlers Italian Allies
Lippman, David H., Desert Dawn
Millett and Murray, Military Effectiveness vol.3
Ogorkiewitz, Richard, Armour
Sweet, John Joseph Timothy, Iron Arm
Tyre, Rex, Mussolinis Soldiers
U.S. Army, TM 30-420, Handbook of Italian Military Forces