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The Italian Army In WWII by 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 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.

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.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.

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 Italy switched sides 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 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.

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 hopeful 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 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………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 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 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 Tyre 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 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.”

 

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

Sweet, John Joseph Timothy, Iron Arm

Tyre, Rex, Mussolini’s Soldiers

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

 







 





 




 

 


 

 












 



 








 

 

 
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