What about the Italians?

Discussion in 'Axis Units' started by baronvoncatania, Jul 1, 2015.

  1. baronvoncatania

    baronvoncatania New Member

    Why is there so little written about the Italians? Did they fight well?

    When shown in movies, they are always portrayed as incompetent, or comical. For instance Corell's Mandolin, they seem not to care about the war, they only want to sing, and dance, and only want to go home.

    Is this true?

    thanks jim
  2. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member


    You need to read 'Hitler's Italian Allies' by Macgregor Knox.

    It is a brilliant explanation of why the Italians were so awful.


    RemeDesertRat likes this.
  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    It should be noted that the Italian Artillery was as good as any other in the Desert and Tunisia - as for the rest they were very badly led and had no real training in

    warfare and consequently just wanted to go home...

  4. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    I remember the Italian POWs around us during the war.As my mother said.....harmless.... all they want to do is whistle at the girls.

    On the other hand my NZ cousin;s husband,a survivor from Greece and Crete was captured by Italian armour in North Africa and went into the bag...as he records, rifles are no good against tanks.However he did not have much respect for them.....kept in the open desert in searing heat by day and no protection against the cold at night,they received little, if any, food.Eventually after 5 weeks as a POW in the open desert, he records they were relieved, as he put it, by South African troops.

    As regards the Italian fighting quality,it would appear that they lacked the motivation to fight against the British...a different task to the empire which they carved out in Libya and Ethiopia.The Italian army found it difficult to be effective In Nortj Africa.The result was that it meant that the Germans were then committed to shore up the Axis alliance in the desert war.

    However it has to be said that the Italians fought with better resolve as irregular troops against the German presence in Italy,ie as partisans, than they did following Mussolini's Axis alliance
  5. Rav4

    Rav4 Senior Member

    Lived in North Wales during the war and there were many Italian prisoners working on the farms. They would show us kids pictures of their children and seemed homesick. Many of them roamed the countryside on their bikes wearing the POW patch on their backs, and not bothered by anyone. I believe that some even had girlfriends. They seemed happy to be out of the war and longed to get back home.
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

  7. baronvoncatania

    baronvoncatania New Member


    Thanks very much for the book suggestion! I will check it out.

  8. pminotti

    pminotti Junior Member

    The classic nightmare question for every Italian who care of military affairs and history. :mxflag[1]:

    So, more or less, 3% of Italians.

    For football is different!

    The first thing to say is that it was not always so.

    Leaving aside the Romans and the Middle Ages and considering only Italy as a unified state

    I War of Independence in 1948:
    Lack of unity between north and south but good preparation and result of Esercito Piemontese.

    II War of Independence in 1959:
    Excellent choice of allies (France) and excellent preparation and conduct of Esercito Piemontese.

    III War of Independence in 1966:
    Excellent choice of allies and poor performance of the new unitary Royal Army (battle of Custoza) and Royal Navy (Battle off Lissa).
    In fact the war is won for the intervention of the Prussians.

    Italo-Turkish War in 1911:
    Excellent diplomatic preparation and technique (we are the first to use aircraft) and on Dardanelles go better than other years later.

    We wait a year to see who offers the most and turn upside down alliances.
    Fortunately we realize that Italy is necessary to access the sea and resources outside Europe.
    Regio Esercito closely resembles that of Czarist Russia but, fortunately, we have a better industrial base, then we can produce a lot of weapons and vehicles, becoming the leading supplier of trucks in the French army .
    We fight, as every other nation, a war of attrition and we are defeated at Caporetto by new German tactics, the same ones that will lead the offensive in France the following year.
    The high command put the blame on the soldiers, but no one believes him and the Supreme Commander is replaced.
    Things change partially in 1918 with the introduction of tactics copied from the Germans.
    We defeat the Austro-Hungarians, starved for 5 years of blockade.

    Colonial war in Ethiopia:

    Mid in late nineteenth century, mid in the fascist era, is characterized in the first phase in the complete underestimation of the problem leading to the sending of inadequate forces. Defeat of Adua.
    In 1935 instead we sent a even exaggerated expeditionary force with a strong air component wich annihilated the Ethiopian army.

    Spanish Civil War:

    Great support to the Falange with large shipments of materials and men .
    Unsuccesfull training of Militia units.
    Dissattisfaction on L3 tankettes slows the formation of armored forces .
    The Air Force "wins the war" and draws the wrong conclusions falling into a state of complacency choosing to continue with biplane fighters and aerobatics
    Navy solves problems of torpedoes and not understand the importance of the air component.


    We go to war without preparation
    To increase the number of officers it was decided that all holders of tertiary education become commisioned officers
    To maintain agricultural production will dismiss conscription classes in 1918 and 1919 who have completed training and enlist conscription classes 1920 and 1921.
    Air Force have already said. It only says that at the same time we have produced the same number of aircraft of World War, about 10,800.
    Pilot training is very low and virtually non-existent for combat.
    They made only a few hours of shooting to balloons and the to towed target.
    Even navigation without visibility is considered an extraordinary event despite transatlantic flights
    The army is equipped much like the other European armies with a predominance of material of WWI.
    There are few light anti-tank weapons, but it compensates quickly with anti-tank Solothurn rifles and with old 65/17 infantry guns.
    The tanks are thousands, but they are L3 tankettes.
    In a few months we produced and sent to Libya more than 200 new M13/40 wich are not so bad compared to british A9, A10 and A13 and light MkVI.
    The problem were training and organization:
    The 7th Tank Regiment, destroyed at Beda Fomm, was formed with crews taken by L3 and integrated with older conscripts classes in 1897 and 98 and was destroyed 34 days after its establishment.
    There were no doctrine and were not held exercises of driving and shooting.
    There were no recovery tank neither mobile workshops.
    The Navy has prepared for years another war of battleships against France.
    She had to do something completely different.

    The biggest problem was incapacity to take note of lessons learned.

    In Ethiopia CR42 initially found themselves at a disadvantage against the Gloster Gladiator, more maneuverable
    After a few clashes italians pilots began to make rapid steps without combat maneuvers, quickly getting more kills.
    The same thing happened in Greece a year later but no one had bothered to say anything to the new units.
    Anti tank gunners and Tankers usually did not identify enemies, as we can read the combat reports.
    Pilot reports almost always do not identify the aircraft or ships or ground vehicles opponents.

    In terms of industrial production and planning we do not know whether to blame the politicians of the Fascist Party, normally honest incompetent, or blame the industry, ready to sell what they had prepared to high prices without any coordination.
  9. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    Theres lots written by Italians about Italy in WW2 I believe, unfortunately very few of these writings are translated and published in English.
  10. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    During the Napoleonic Wars many Italians served in the armies of Napoleon's empire. One French general who didn't think much of them said 'les italiens ne se battent pas' (Italians can't fight). Unfortunately he said it in the hearing of an Italian officer with an excellent record. The Italian challenged the Frenchman to a duel and killed him.

    History shows that Italians can and do fight as well as any other troops, when given what all troops need to fight well: good training, good leadership, and good equipment. In its modern history, Italy has too often failed to give these basics to its soldiers. The Italian effort in WWI is almost entirely reduced in Anglo-American historical memory to the disastrous battle of Caporetto. What few know and others forget is that Caporetto came after three years of tremendously brave and bloody fighting by the Italians along the Isonzo line. The Italians faced some of the best Austro-Hungarian units dug in to some of the most difficult terrain in Europe, and they came within inches of breaking through. Indeed, the Caporetto counteroffensive was launched because the A-H high command was no longer confident in its army's ability to hold the Isonzo line any longer. The Italian collapse was due not to any intrinsic lack of fighting spirit but to wretched leadership, bad command decisions, and the cumulative toll of three years of heavy casualties. Yet Caporetto wasn't the end; the Italians rallied and fought on to win. That, too, has been forgotten.

    The Italian army in WWII had everything going against it. With a few notable exceptions like Giovanni Messe, leadership was mediocre to poor. The Germans were shocked by the indifference Italian officers showed towards their men, an attitude which reflected the vast gulf between the Italian aristocracy and the peasantry. Italy did not have enough of the lower-middle class and upper-working class types who made good NCOs in other armies, and it did not have enough technically trained men for the support services either. Italian industry had many fine designers and engineers, but that industry lacked the depth and the raw resources needed to sustain a major war (Italy had almost no coal or oil). Mussolini's regime had given the country a thin veneer of dynamic modernism, but in fact most Italian institutions were antiquated and inefficient, and this applied to the armed forces too. Mussolini did not control the army completely, so he built up a parallel force of Fascist Blackshirt militia. This force was of little use on the battlefield, serving mainly as a diversion of manpower and resources. Mussolini artificially inflated the army's number of divisions by reducing each of them to six battalions and forming more from the units left over. This produced a bloated and deceptive order of battle which wasted staffs and support personnel. Most of the army was unmotorized, not a good idea for a force which had to fight in open areas like the Libyan desert and the Russian plains.

    Some Italian weaponry was good to excellent, notably the Beretta pistols and submachine guns and the dual-purpose AA guns, but the tanks and many small arms were inadequate. In performance the artillery was probably the best of the Italian combat arms, but most Italian gun types were obsolescent. Performance in combat varied within the army. The airborne troops were excellent, and the Bersaglieri and Alpini were also good. Despite the inadequacy of its equipment the Italian XX Motorized Corps often performed well. The ordinary marching infantry divisions were the weakest element in the Italian army, a fact which was well known to both the Germans and the 8th Army. Yet the Italian infantry could fight well under the right circumstances, as some of them did under Messe in the Tunisian hills. It should be noted that the Italian Co-Belligerent army fought quite well in its homeland later on against the Germans.
    BaldyBob and minden1759 like this.
  11. Aeronut

    Aeronut Junior Member

    IIRC some of the Italian frogmen were unique in having been decorated for bravery by both the Axis and Allies.
  12. pminotti

    pminotti Junior Member

    The formation of binary infantry divisions with Ordinamento Pariani was not due to propaganda purposes but was the result of extensive studies and two steps orders of the Royal Army.

    Former I WW infantry divisions were on 2 infantry brigades of 2 regiments each with a Artillery regiment of 2 groups of 75/27 guns. (32 guns).

    In 1926 (Ordinamento Mussolini) put in 3 infantry regiments and an Artillery regiment of 3 75/27 groups and a 149/13 Group (48 75/27 and 12 149/13).

    After the colonial experiences in Lybia and Ethiopia and Spain civil war which showed poor ability to control these heavy units, it was decided to pass control of the break through action to the Army Corps and to remove one regiment of infantry to the division.

    In this way the Army Corps would have four infantry regiments, two in line and the other two in reserve, supported by two artillery regiments, each of 2 75/27 groups, a 149/13 group and an AA group with only two batteries of 20/65 Breda MG.

    The problem is that the unity born of organic amendment would have to be called Brigades instead of Divisions
    In reality they were stronger than a brigade of infantry having their own artillery regiment.

    On closer inspection, as the doctrine of use of artillery provided that all artillery units were under control of the Army Corps for mass use, binary division was only a transient formation superseded by subsequent AS 42 units where the two regiments took the form of Kampfgruppen also with armored units exploring organic (RE.CO.)
    In addition, the royal army added a legion of black shirts ( MVSN ) for each division sent overseas as a reinforcement .

    Similarly, shift of control of the artillery from division tot the Army Corps can be seen in the evolution of the material, where it goes from 75/27 to 100/17 of divisional arty and 105/28 plus 149/13 of Army corps arty to 105/17 e 105/22 for divisional and 149/19 for Army corps level, plus the inclusion of self-propelled L40 and L41 for direct support.
    There is also the false start of the 75/18, unnecessary and designed for the direct support in the mountains.
    From this, however, it will spring the 105/14 Mod.56 you know well.


    Dave55 likes this.
  13. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Well-Known Member

    This is a pointer to a book, spotted today via Twitter: '"Vincere!": The Italian Royal Army's Counterinsurgency Operations in Africa, 1922–1940 by Federica Saini Fasanotti (Pub. January 2020 in the USA). A short review: Counterinsurgency Operations: A Perspective from Italian History | Defense.info and there are several reviews on the publisher's section on: "Vincere!": The Italian Royal Army's Counterinsurgency Operations in Africa, 1922–1940 eBook: Fasanotti, Federica Saini: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

    I think it fits here, although I only swiftly looked at various threads.

    It is curious that some Italians fought on as insurgents in East Africa (Abbysinia / Ethiopia and Eritrea) after the defeat in 1941 till the Italian surrender in late-1943.
    CL1, Orwell1984 and Dave55 like this.
  14. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

  15. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    There was no pressing national narrative as to why Italy was in the war. She was under no threat real or perceived from her neighbours. Although there was a feeling that she had been treated shabbily at the 1919 peace negotiations, being one of the victors she had no restrictions or reparations to deal with. She had lost no territory. Had Italy stayed neutral both Britain and Germany would have continued to try and maintain friendly relationships. There was nothing to build great motivations around. The main reason why Italy was in the war was to enable Mussolini to have a seat at the peace conference (which he expected to be soon) so that he could make new territorial claims. He is on record as telling Badoglio this in May 1940 "I assure you the war will be over in September and I need a few thousand dead so as to be able to attend the peace conference as a belligerent". This goes a long way to account for a certain lack of enthusiasm amongst the Italian high command and this percolated downwards
  16. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention as I missed it!
    Ordered right away :D
    davidbfpo likes this.
  17. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    Italian forces occupied parts of SE France in the early stages of WW2.
    They managed to compromise with Vichy France and provided a refuge for many Jews, until 1943. When Italy gave full support to the Axis.
    Apologies if some of my historical facts are incorrect.
    From Wiki -
    "Many thousands of Jews moved to the Italian zone of occupation to escape Nazi persecution in Vichy France. Nearly 80% of the remaining 300,000 French Jews took refuge there after November 1942.[8] The book Robert O. Paxton's Vichy France, Old Guard, New Order describes how the Italian zone acted as a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in Vichy France during the occupation."
    Italians are an enigma to me as a northern european. They seem to have political extremes, from Fascists to Communists.
    In my youth I nearly married an Italian from Sienna :rolleyes:

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