The Italian Military Enigma
CSC 1988
                       THE ITALIAN MILITARY ENIGMA
                            Eric G. Hansen
                             Major,  USMC
                             2 May 1988
                     Command and Staff College
                          Education Center
              Marine Corps Combat Development Command
                     Quantico, Virginia 22134
Title:    The Italian Military Enigma
Author:   Major Eric G. Hansen, U. S. Marine Corps
Date:     2 May 1988
     Italy as a nation is famous for, among other things, its art,
fashion, racing cars and beautiful women.  Throughout its history
great geniuses from da Vinci to Marconi have contributed
immeasurably to the well-being of mankind.  From Italian soil
have emerged great Roman legions and military giants such as
Napolean, Machiavelli and Garibaldi-men who have shaped the very
course of history.
     In view of this great cultural and military heritage, one of
the great enigmas, at least to the casual student of military
history, is that of modern Italy's failure to produce a military
system capable of effectively projecting the country's national
policy.  But more than that, why is it that Italy, among all
those countries which have been relatively unsuccessful
militarily, been singled out as being particularly inept?  Has
this judgment been passed just by Americans who base their views
on hearsay, bad jokes and shallow knowledge, or is it also shared
by other countries who base their criticism on the hard facts of
     In reality, one is not justified in making a definitive
judgment of anything important without having delved into the
facts of the matter.  This seminar will therefore examine the
Italian military system from its inception in the mid 1800s under
a unified government to its present status as an important NATO
ally.  To that end, analyses and opinions of foreign as well as
domestic Italian writers will be included in this seminar to
provide a broad base of study.  Political and social influences
will be addressed in an attempt to determine their effect on
Italian military performance.
     Perhaps the most important aspect of this seminar will be to
determine if Italy has learned from its past mistakes and has
corrected perceived and actual deficiencies.  Along with the
purpose of broadening the military officer's capability through
the study of an important history, this seminar will make a
judgment as to Italy's current capability of assisting in the
defense of NATO's southern flank.
                         TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER                    TITLE                           PAGE
          Introduction                                       2
   I      The 19th Century and Italy's Unification           8
  II      Italy Enters World War I                          17
 III      Italy Seeks Her National Identity Under
          Mussolini:  The Tragedy of World War II           39
  IV      Operations In North Africa                        57
   V      Near the End                                      71
   VI     Conclusion                                        80
          Endnotes                                          87
          Bibliography                                      90
     Throughout history, Italy has held great fascination both
for its would-be conquerors and its innocuous tourists.  Its
important geographic location in the Mediterranean has made it a
target of invading armies since the beginning of recorded
history.  In fact, Italian language etymology readily identifies
the influence that these occupying foreign cultures have exerted
on modern-day speech.  However, to study Italian linguistics is
not the purpose of this paper, but rather to determine why, in
light of its particularly strategic location, Italy failed to
produce a modern military system (at least from the mid-l800s
through World War II) which was capable of achieving its
governments foreign policies when the resort to force required
it.  And why, among all those countries which have been
relatively unsuccessful militarily, has Italy been singled out as
being particularly inept?.
     The Italian military has, in fact, been the subject of
historians' criticism, past allies' irritation and current
American humor.  Even those who know very little about military
history can readily produce a joke dealing with some aspect of
Italian military inability.  There is common reference, for
example, to Italian tanks which have one forward and three
reverse gears, or to used Italian military rifles for sale which
have "been dropped only once".  Ethnic jokes are, of course,
common, are not told maliciously, and many are admittedly funny,
but this particular negative association between Italians and
military capability nevertheless raises interesting questions.
     Martin Blumenson, the historian, in his 1988 address to the
Marine Corps Command and Staff College, said that for history to
be properly written, it must first be observed, then identified
and finally judged.  If we were to take Italian military history
at face value and simply added up battles won and lost, without
applying Mr. Blumenson's formula, we would find it to be very
cruel indeed.  As he indicates, there is more to studying
military history than simply declaring winners and losers.  A key
issue for the student of history is why wars and battles are won
and lost.  Why was the United States, for example, so successful
in World War II (especially the US Marine Corps) and yet so
frustrated and ultimately unsuccessful in Vietnam?  Why did we
win most of the battles and yet lose the war?  To determine,
then, if an army is capable or inept, one must delve not only
into how that army operates, but also into the important
peripheral matters of its political and popular support.
     The purpose of this study, then, is to better understand the
Italian military forces as well as to understand the political
and social systems which determine the policies for their
implementation and then thrust them into battle.  As stated,
these three areas are inseparable and must be studied in
     There are two ways of approaching a study of this type.  One
could select a significant battle, operation or war, and study in
depth its command structure, operations orders, training,
logistics, personnel losses, etc.  Such a dissection serves to
look into the heart of the military machine and allow a detailed
understanding of its function;  however, at the completion of
such a study, one can only presume how the military system has
functioned or will function in other battles.  Because commanders
change, and because no two situations in war are exactly the
same, narrow selective analyses from which generalizations are
drawn limit understanding of the broader issue.  For that reason,
I elected to cover a broad spectrum of time with the purpose of
pursuing a more general study to determine trends both in Italian
military operations and in the political support structure.
     With this approach, it will be readily apparent that details
of battles are not provided (this will be pursued in future
studies) ;rather, a very general overview will be given, followed
by my analysis or that of military or political figures of the
countries involved.
     The time period selected for this study begins in 1848 and
ends in 1945.  This period is significant because it encapsulates
a segment of Italian history which is particularly tumultuous.
This is not to say that periods prior to 1848 and subsequent to
1945 were not also wrought with confusion and instability, but
for the purpose of studying military history, this period is
representative of the difficulties that the Italian military
system has always faced:
     It must be said at the outset that no earthshaking, Nobel
Prize-winning discoveries were made during this research such as
a war-losing gene found only in Italian chromosomes.  But serious
deficiencies both in the military and political structure
surfaced throughout this time period, and they are both very
interesting and very didactic.
     When studying the external influences which affect the
efficiency of a military system, racial, regional and ethnic
culture are important factors.  The point is that, cultural
influences affect the behavior of the soldier on the
battlefield.  Some cultures instill aggressiveness (or even
fanaticism) in combat, while others seem to instill a more
passive behavior.  Iran is perhaps the primary example of
fanaticism on the battlefield today.  Religious extremism
combined with unrelenting state propaganda result in a culture,
the youth of which are willing to sacrifice themselves in suicide
attacks against the enemies of that culture.  In contrast to this
fanatical extreme are non-violent societies such as Iceland or
Costa Rica which  believe that having military forces invites
aggression.  They therefore possess no forces and can only hope
that their allies will come to their rescue in the event of enemy
attack. Most cultures and countries like Italy, are somewhere in
between these two extremes.  It is in these more moderate
cultures where individualism prevails and where the influences of
the state or of the prevailing religion are less pronounced.  It
is obvious that cultural and societal influences maybe cyclical
and may change significantly from one year to the next.  Iran is,
again, the prime example;  having transitioned from a
semi-western society (at least in large cities and at the top of
the societal pyramid) to a strict Islamic culture in a matter of
months, it has assumed a totally new identity..  Although Italy
has seen a great transition from city-states, to principalities,
and finally to the unification of the peninsula in the last
several hundred years, the culture has not made such drastic
changes.  The Catholic Church has remained a great unifying force
and common thread among Italians especially since the final
unification of Italy in 1870.  The common language, even though
somewhat modified from dialect-to-dialect, also binds the
Italians in a common heritage.  And, finally, the sense of
isolation engendered by the large peninsula protected from the
rest of Europe by the Alps gives the Italians a common identity.
But the great dichotomy of the Italian culture is that, despite
these unifying factors, there has always existed a divisive
regionalism which has been viewed as a curse to both military
success and political stability.
     And so, the fact remains that the Italian culture has not
and does not, because of this regionalism, lend itself to
military fanaticism or even, in many cases, to any interest in a
strong national military system..
     Fascism's attempt at military, social and economic
glorification was forced on a population which, as will be seen,
was willing to accept some of its benefits but rejected its
precepts. We will also see, though, that some aspects of the
culture, such as the particularly close family ties which are so
typical of the Italians, had a bearing on the outcome of at least
one of Italy's wars.  The Italian has never had any real interest
in politics or government except as they directly affect him and
his family.  This is not to say that there isn't also a sense of
nationalism under the Italian flag, but regional loyalties have
always been strong and remain so.  Italians themselves admit that
the Italian victory in the 1986 Soccer World Cup promoted greater
national pride than any other event in recent history.
     A problem associated with the study of the Italian military
system is that of stereotyping.   More than any other military,
that of the Italians is associated with failure.  Admittedly, the
Italians have lost many more battles than they have won, and
there is the curious phenomenon of what often seems to be early
surrender in many battles.  The result is that the casual
observer of history automatically equates the Italian military
with weakness and the individual soldier with cowardice.  Such
conclusions are erroneous and are falsely deduced.  That is not
to say that, just as in any other army, there are not weaknesses
and individual soldiers who are less than courageous, but before
over-generalizing, an entire system including the political, must
be studied to determine whv an army functions as is does and why
the soldier either fights to the death or surrenders without
using every means at his disposal to avoid defeat.  Herewith is
an attempt at such an analysis.
                            CHAPTER I
     In 1848, Italy was still seeking its national identity.
Since the Napoleonic wars which brought the French Army across
the northern plains of Italy in 1796, many prominent Italians
from all parts of the big boot were seeking unification of the
many divergent states which were bound together by nothing more
than a geographically isolated peninsula, by a common linguistic
heritage and by the influence of the Church.  The language
commonality was culturally binding and yet the various Italian
dialects were diverse enough to promote regional pride and
micro-cultural diversity.  The regions of central Italy, for
example, were quite similar linguistically and were, in fact, the
birthplace of modern Italian as it is spoken today, whereas there
is a great difference between the dialects spoken in the north
and those spoken in the south.  Those of the north are more
similar to the European languages whose countries they juxtapose,
while those of the south resemble in some ways the languages of
the invaders which anciently occupied their lands such as the
Arabs and the Spanish.
     Such was the linguistic flavor and regional diversity in
1848, when, prompted by territorial disputes, the northern state
of Piemonte (Italian spelling) declared war on Austria.  This was
the first time that these somewhat divergent states had unified
themselves against an external foe, and the venture was, for the
most part, enthusiastically supported.  On 23 March, troops of
the Piemonte, (which was a powerful and autonomous state)
supported by Neapolitan and other armies, pushed into Austrian
occupied Lombardia (north central Italy) and Venezia (in the
Northeast).  The war went well for the first two months, but by
June and July the "Italian" forces had suffered many serious
defeats and were forced to withdraw their forces back to their
original lines.
     There were several reasons for this defeat.  Among them were
Pope Pius'IX withdrawal of support for the cause of the struggle
against Austria (which was a Catholic state), the withdrawal of
Neapolitan forces from the war, and the feeling by other Italian
states that Piemonte's cause was not for Italy but rather for
self-aggrandizement.  The final reason for this military failure
was that of an ill-coordinated and inept military command.1
     In March 1849, there was still great Italian hatred for the
Austrians who were now holding Venice under siege.  With renewed
support from other Italian states, the Piemontesi again resumed
hostilities against the Austrians, but in just three days they
had suffered a major defeat at Novara.  Although courageous in
their stand against the detested Austrian influence, this second
failure of Italian arms pointed to the need for foreign
alliances.  Had there not been such political turmoil within
Italy, it is possible that the motto "L'Italia fara da se" (Italy
will go it alone), could have been a reality.  But how could the
army function effectively alone against a well-established enemy
when the Pope had pulled his support for fighting another
Catholic country?  And how could a soldier feel any obligation to
fight for a national cause when there did not appear to be one?
     Border disputes continued with Austria up to 1859 and in
March of that year war broke out again.  After several bloody
battles in which the Italians finally dominated, an armistice was
signed in which some territories were realigned.  But mistrust
and hatred would not allow protracted peace;  however, the result
of the armistice and brief respite from battle provided time for
improved peninsular affairs and the official unification of Italy
in 1861 although not all states were included.  Would this
unification now mean that the military forces would be united
with the firm support of a solid political system?
     Amazingly, by 1866 perhaps because of the failure to ever
really decisively defeat the Austrians, a unified Italy (at least
officially) once again declared war on its northern neighbor.
The result of this war was the famous battle of Custozza in which
the Italians were again defeated on the same site where they had
been defeated in the first battle of 1848.  Perhaps the greatest
embarrassment to the Italian forces was the fact that they had
outnumbered the Austrians two to one.  This is not to say that
during this battle, or those previous, some Italian units did not
fare quite well.  The great Giuseppe Garibaldi, for example, with
his 40,000 man independent corps of Piemontese volunteers, fought
very successfully using guerrilla tactics during Custozza and
somewhat vindicated the poor showing of the regular Italian
Army.  In the midst of the continuing internal and external
political turmoil, Garibaldi was one of the few with the
leadership ability and bravado to unify his troops against a
common foe.  History tells us that that type of leadership was
generally lacking during the battle of Custozza.  Attributed to
the defeat were, "division of field command, confusion of plans
and poor staff work."2  The Italian Army was not alone in this
failure.  The fleet also suffered a defeat in the Adriatic,
presumably for the same shortcomings.
     This is a very simplistic review and analysis of this period
of Italian history but the basic problem in conducting military
operations is self-evident.  Because of the internal turmoil and
regional differences during its unification and conflicts with
Austria, there was no sound political base from which to direct a
well-defined national cause. and compounding the problem was the
ineptitude of the military leadership in general.
     These difficulties were still not solved by the end of the
19th century.  They were, rather, intensified in a period of
turmoil which was not to be rivaled in modern Italian history.
This was a period of social and political reform which saw the
birth of Italian socialism and the advent of foreign adventurism
and colonialism in Africa.  This adventurism would return to
haunt the Axis powers in World War II when they would be forced
to spread their forces thin in the deserts of North and East
Africa to protect their holdings from the Allies.
     The Italians were initially fairly comfortable and
successful in managing their holdings in Eritrea, the northern
province of Abyssinia (Ethiopia).  They had also been successful
in military skirmishes with the Abyssinians to the south and thus
felt confident in sending expeditions into the heart of Abyssinia
to seek additional lands.  But political and military
overconfidence brought with it the destruction of a two
thousand-man advance force of Italian soldiers and native
levies.  The end result of the government's miscalculation of
enemy strength (the Italians were outnumbered 80,000 to 14,500)
was the Italian defeat at Aduwa in 1896 (in Abyssinia) in which
8000 of 14,500 men were killed or wounded.  Two generals were
killed and 2,000 men were captured.
     Two aspects of this battle were particularly difficult for
Italians at home to accept.  The first was that the withdrawal of
the remainder of the troops was so disorderly that charges of
cowardice resulted, and the second was the fact that their
captured countrymen were brutalized by the Abyssinians, an act
for which the Italians would return years later for vindication
and revenge (as well as for an excuse to continue their colonial
     What is the significance of the battle of Aduwa in light of
the analysis already made of previous wars against Austria?  A
basic deficiency in political unity and foreign policy still
existed which created a situation unfavorable to the Italian
military forces.
     In analyzing actual Italian military capabilities of the
period, they do not appear to be too different from those of
other European armies.  Italy's conscription and national service
policies were, in fact, very similar to those of Germany and
France.  In his book, Armies of Asia and Europe, Emory Upton
describes in detail the prescribed requirements for
noncommissioned and commissioned officer selection and training
as it applied in 1875.  Again, it was very similar to that of
other armies.  One weakness which Upton noted in the Italian
academy system was that, because of the great need for officers,
only 3 percent were attrited for academic or other failure.
     Italian tactics were also considered standard for a European
army.  They were based on the German model since Germany was
considered to be the superior military force at the time.
Upton's study reveals, then, no serious flaws in the Italian
military system;  however, he did not address morale, or cultural
aspects which might have affected the fighting effectiveness of
the Army.
     An important aspect of the Italian officer corps was the
fact that parents were required to pay for the cadets'education
(unless the cadet's father had been an officer killed in
battle).  This meant that only a very small percentage of the
male population could financially qualify for academy training.
This restriction obviously excluded the greater percentage of the
population from which much talent undoubtedly could have been
     Not only was political imprudence a problem in Abyssinia but
also generalship.  General Baratieri, who was in command of all
forces in Abyssinia had learned that he had fallen from favor by
political circles in Italy and that another General was en route
to replace him.  Determined to enter battle before his
replacement arrived, he marched his forces to Aduwa, was cut off
and defeated.
     Aside from the political and military reasons for this
defeat, the economic situation at home in Italy would have made
the prospect of conducting a prolonged war in Ethiopia a great
struggle to say the least.  Many countries have created wars
ostensibly to stimulate economic growth.  In this case, Italy
entered Abyssinia, partly to divert attention from its industrial
production problems, its financial crises and its domestic
disorders.  The end goal would have been continued colonization,
additional markets for goods produced at home and increased total
agricultural production.  However, the effort, at least in
Abyssinia, was self-defeating and Italy was forced to pull back
to its original positions in Eritrea and Somaliland.
     During the conduct of operations in East Africa, there was
much debate both internally and abroad regarding the legitimacy
of Italy's presence in that area.  In his discourse to the
Italian parliament on 12 May 1888, Francesco Crispi, who headed
the government from 1887 to 1896, replied to demands that Italy
withdraw from the region.  The following is an excerpt from that
discourse.  The comments in parentheses are those of the members
of the parliament in attendance:
          Gentlemen, Italy arrived far too late in the
     family of great powers.  She had the honor of
     discovering America but did not have the strength to
     impose her dominion there...
          Colonies are a necessity of modern life.  We
     cannot remain inert and allow the other powers to
     occupy by themselves the portions of the world as yet
     unexplored.  If this were to occur, we would be guilty
     of a great crime toward history because we would
     thereby close forever the avenues to our ships and the
     markets to our products.  (Good!).
          Since 1860 Italy has been in a state of continuous
     economic progress, and the day may come when we shall
     have need of easy and secure markets.  We shall not
     have them except by unfurling our flag on all the seas
     of the world.
          Someone has thought to ask us:  But what will you
     do at Massawa?  What material profit, what benefit
     shall we have after the expenses and dangers we have
          Gentlemen, in the public shops benefits are not
     counted in lire and cents.  Great nations have the need
     to assert themselves in the various parts of the world
     for the protection of their commerce and for the
          performance of that civilizing mission in whose
     triumph  we are obliged to participate.  (Bravo!)
          I said that we begin today (in colonial
     endeavors), and we would begin very badly if at the
     first setback [as at Dogali in 1887) we were to flee
     from the places we have occupied.  (Very good!
     Bravo!--Lively signs of approval).  We would give a
     very poor show of ourselves if we were to tire so
     easily and fail in perseverance.
          This policy of looking only to material interests
     is too bourgeois.  (Good!  Bravo!)  There is something
     much greater:   it is the dignity of the fatherland and
     the interests of civilization.  (Very good! Bravo!)
          We are at Massawa, [area in Eritrea already held
     by the Italians] and we shall stay".3
     We have already discussed what happened to the Italians
precisely because of their attempted expansion beyond Massawa.
The reference in Crispi's speech to Dogali is the site about 18
kilometers west of Massawa where Ethiopians destroyed an Italian
column of 500 men who were attempting to penetrate into central
     This particular speech of Crispi is cited because it
illustrates the mood of the Italian government (and people) at
the time.  It also demonstrates how the government forged ahead
blindly and created a military defeat where none should have
occurred..  Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that Italy did
not have to conduct a protracted war because, although it was a
developing country, it did not have the resources to sustain
itself indefinitely.
     With the defeat at Aduwa which resulted in Crispi's
downfall, Italy turned inward and concentrated on its continuing
political turmoil.  The military would not see any significant
action again until the Libyan (Italo-Turkish) war of 1911-1912.
This particular conflict will not be discussed in this study.
Suffice it to say that the Italians did throw the Turks out of
Tripolitania and established a colony there.  But, as history has
shown, Libya would become just another battlefield which would
later try the power of the Axis.
                            CHAPTER II
                     ITALY ENTERS WORLD WAR I
     By 1914, practically all of Europe was embroiled in disputes
over politics, boundaries, and economics.  Italy's problem, among
other things, was her relationship with Austria.  It was a
strange relationship in that she had been a member of the Triple
Alliance with Austria and Germany since 1896 and yet border
disputes and basic enmity between the two neighbors caused
continual mistrust and tension within the Alliance.  The Trentino
and Trieste areas of Northeastern Italy had been in dispute for
years.  Italy felt that since this region was on the Italian side
of the Alps and since the people living there spoke Italian, it
should not, therefore, belong to Austria.
     And so, with the major powers of Europe forming opposing
alliances to do battle, Italy had to make the decision to either
remain neutral (the prudent thing to do, considering her rather
weak military status) or to come in on the winning side and
hopefully regain what she felt were her rightful territories.
     On 3 August 1914, Italy announced that she would remain
neutral in the conflict.  There were three reasons for this
decision, the most important being that her military forces were
simply not prepared.  The second was concern for the internal
unrest caused by unruly socialist, republican and revolutionary
factions in the country, and the third was the government's
feeling that the Italian people truly wanted peace.  It was felt
in Parliament that Italy technically had a legitimate reason for
not entering the war on the side of the Alliance since Austria
had declared war on Serbia without first notifying Italy as
required by the Alliance.  In addition, Germany's declaration of
war on Russia and France nullified the pact since Article II of
same specified its defensive nature.1
     For nine months, debate raged in the Italian parliament on
whether or not to persuade Austria to cede disputed territories
to Italy in compensation for the latter's continued neutrality,
or to simply enter the war on the side of the Entente (which was
a pact between England, France and Russia) and hope to win the
spoils of the victor.
     To fully explain the confused political situation in Italy
which had, naturally, a direct effect on the fighting performance
of her military, an excerpt must be included here of
"L'intervento (1915):  Ricordi e Pensieri" (The Intervention
(1915):  Memories and Thoughts) of Antonio Salandra who was
Italian head of state at the beginning of World War I:
          "By the end of 1914 two currents of opinion had
     gradually formed and become pronounced in the country,
     which had received with almost unanimous favor the
     declaration of neutrality.  One current was for
     remaining indefinitely in the position of spectators in
     the enormous conflagration;  the old alliance being
     broken in fact if not in law caused the other current
     to favor intervention as quickly as possible on the
     side that had become reputed to be the only one
     suitable to Italian sentiments and interests....Those
     who spoke and wrote-that is, the active minorities
     which in every great country carry along with them the
     mentally inert majority-became divided between
     interventionists and neutralists.  These two currents
     were nurtured by reasons, passions, recollections, and
     connections of varied nature, and in their ranks there
     met political groups that until then had been inspired
     by contrasting idealities.  And so, Nationalists and
     Freemasons had fervently adopted the cause of
     intervention, whereas irreligious socialism joined with
     political Catholicism in propounding the cause of
     absolute neutrality.
          It was the arduous but indeclinable duty of the
     government to consider the situation and the interests
     of the country with courageous serenity, to set a goal
     for itself, and to prepare the means for its
     realization.  After the first battle of the Marne
     (September 1914) and after the Russian invasion of East
     Prussia was arrested at Tannenberg and the Masurian
     Lakes, both sides in the war were stripped of their
     illusions about a quick end to the conflict.  Time was
     necessarily in favor of the Entente which, although
     much less prepared at the outbreak of war, was richer
     in men and means; but these had to be prepared and
     brought into the field.  Meanwhile, no one, not even
     the most tenacious neutralists dared maintain that,
     while the hurricane of war raged not far from its
     borders and agitated the seas surrounding it, Italy
     could remain idly at rest and disinterested in the
     development and outcome of the world conflict.
     Everyone understood that the war would lead to a
     profound change in international relations and that an
     historical crisis was developing in which we could not
     avoid becoming involved.  This conviction naturally
     aroused the inner patriotic passion of the men in
     charge of the government, although it was our duty to
     master this passion and control its expression.  We
     thought, we felt that perhaps never again for
     generations and centuries would the occasion arise for
     completing the task of the Risorgimento  by acquiring
     those frontiers which nature had given to the Italian
     people and by establishing supremacy on our seas.
     Consequently, as I have shown, we chose our perilous
     but inescapable path and we prepared to follow it.  But
     although we had committed ourselves to each other, as
     long as was possible we abstained from committing
     ourselves with others because we could not exclude the
     possibility that unexpected events and new conditions
     might arise to modify the decisions we had reached.  We
     had reached these decisions fully aware of their
     enormous gravity and without pretensions of
     infallibility.  Therefore we still retained full
     freedom of action while preparing for intervention,
     which we thought inevitable in the spring of 1915."2
     Reading this passage gives one the impression that, although
the Italians wanted peace and felt that neutrality was right for
     *"Risorgimento" refers to the period in Italy
     beginning in the 18th Century and ending in 1870 with
     her final unification.
the country, fate was somehow propelling them into the "great
conflagration".  It is indeed surprising that Italy, fully
conscious of its military inadequacies, decided that "now" was
the time to take its rightful territories.  They must have felt
that luck alone would assure them victory.
     Continued verbal conflict with Austria resulted in the Pact
of London of April 26, 1915 in which Italy separated herself from
Austria-Hungary and entered the Triple Entente by siding with
Great Britain, France and Russia.  This was a political decision
which resulted in the suspicion other countries felt toward Italy
both politically and militarily during this period.  The
indecision, and then sudden change from Alliance to Entente could
not possibly have inspired and cultivated future international
     Let us look now at the conflict from the military
perspective.  It should be noted that all Italian armed
services--Army, Air Service and Navy were involved in World War
I, and, as stated previously, many units, especially those of the
Navy, performed admirably; however, the general perception of
Italian forces, based on their performance in both world wars, is
     Part of the problem faced by Italian units of World War I
was the political situation in which there was a lack of
unanimity among yarious factions of the government.  As for the
troops on the battlefield, it is undeniable that they had not
established a winning tradition.  There were many reasons for the
Italians' poor performance on the battlefield and they will be
addressed later, but as for the mental preparation of the troops,
the winning spirit was simply not cultivated in most them as they
entered the conflict.
     In 1917, when First Lieutenant Erwin Rommel first marched
with his mountain troops through Austria toward Italy, that
nation had already been in the war for two years.  Rommel's
superb book, Attacks, describes firsthand his experiences in
battle against the Italians.  His commentary seems to be
unbiased, as he praises and, in turn, criticizes his enemy as he
feels appropriate.  Herewith are Rommel's own words as he became
part of the Austro-German offensive which ended in the great
Italian defeat at Isonzo (known as Caporetto in the United
States) of October 1917:
          It was early October in the magnificent
     countryside of Carinthia where the Wurttemberg Mountain
     Infantry Battalion had been sent by the roundabout way
     of Macedonia when I again assumed command of my
     detachment.  We had no idea what the Army High Command
     had in store for us.  The Isonzo front?
          Since Italy's entry into the war in May of 1915,
     the chief operational objective of the Italian army had
     been the capture of Trieste.  In the course of two
     years of warfare, ten battles had taken place along the
     lower course of the Isonzo, during which the Austrian
     forces had slowly but persistently been pushed
     backwards.  In the sixth battle the Italians had gained
     a foothold on the east bank of the river near Gorizia
     and had taken the city itself".
              For the eleventh Isonzo battle, which began in
     August 1917, General Luigi Cadorna patterned his
     offensive on the Western Front model.  Supported by 500
     guns, 50 divisions attacked on the narrow front between
     Gorizia and the sea.  By fine fighting the worthy
     Austrian troops nullified the Italians' initial
     success, but in the second part of the battle the
     Italians crossed the middle reaches of the Isonzo and
     took the high plateau of Bainsizza where, by exerting
     their supreme efforts, our allies succeeded in halting
     the attack.  This all-out attack lasted until the
     beginning of September when things quieted down and
     Cadorna began to get ready for the twelfth Isonzo
     Battle.  The newly won territory east of the middle
     reaches of the Isonzo materially improved the Italian
     prospects for the next battle and their objective,
     Trieste, was finally within reach.  The Austrians did
     not feel equal to ieeting this new attack and they were
     obliged to ask for German help.  In spite of the
     tremendous expenditure of forces in the battles in the
     west (Flanders and Verdun), the German High Command
     sent an army consisting of seven battle-tried
     divisions.  A combined German and Austrian offensive on
     the upper Isonzo front was to effect the desired
     relief.  The objective was to throw the Italians back
     across the imperial boundary, and, if possible, across
     the Tagliamento.
     Such was the strategic background as interpreted by Rommel
as he and his mountain troops prepared for the battle.  Based on
Rommel's assessment, the Italian Army initially did quite well in
systematically pushing the Austrians back to the point where they
(the Austrians) felt it imperative to seek assistance from the
Germans.  It should be understood that the Austrian Army, at the
beginning of the 20th Century, was one of the significant
military powers of the world, whereas that ofthe Italians still
suffered from the imbalance of infancy.  But, although it appears
that there was initially a certain unity of Italian effort,
Rommel, in his descriptions of battle on the small unit level,
indicates that there were grave shortcomings in command and, in
many cases, a fatal lack of will among the troops.  Initially,
according to his account, they fought tenaciously but then began
to inexplicably surrender.  The following, then, are excerpts
from Rommel's, Attacks:
          ... The scouts did not enjoy favorable prospects;
     for the enemy, [Italians) obviously unshaken, was from
     time-to-time traversing the bare grassy slopes in front
     of his wire with bursts of machine gun fire in various
     directions.  This local enemy garrison appeared to be
     on its toes and was not inclined to surrender at any
          ... In the Alpine corps, the Bavarian Infantry Life
     Guards and the Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion were
     fighting at the cornerstone of the third Italian
     position on Hill 1114.  Schoerner's company (12th Life
     Guards) held the peak proper, but the Italians held
     their surrounding positions and were attempting to
     regain their lost positions by counterattacks.  The 1st
     Jager Regiment of the 200th Division was still fighting
     for the second Italian position in the region of Hill
     After some of these encounters in which Rommel probably
determined that he could certainly not underestimate this enemy,
he had several experiences which puzzled him such as the
          ...  What was going on?  The soldiers at the head of
     the 2d Company had discovered some Italians asleep in a
     clump of bushes down the slope.  Inside of a few
     minutes they had routed out an Italian combat outpost
     of forty men and two machine guns.  Not a shot, not a
     loud word was heard.  To be sure, a few hostile
     sentries fled downhill as fast as their legs could
     carry them; but fortunately in their excitement they
     forgot to warn the garrison of the positions above by
     shots or shouts.  I made certain that no one tried to
     shoot them as they fled...
          ... It required all our strength to climb up out of
     the hollow and across the steep slope.  In a few
     moments the hostile obstacles were reached and passed
     and then we moved across the hostile position.  The
     long barrels of a heavy Italian battery loomed before
     us and in its vicinity Streicher's men were cleaning
     out some dugouts.  A few dozen Italian prisoners stood
     near the guns.  Lieutenant Streicher reported that he
     surprised the gun crews while they were washing
          ... Down on the right, on the north slope, hand
     grenades burst as the assault team from Ludwig's
     company fought its way along the hostile position.  The
     Italian garrison clung tenaciously to every nook and
     cranny, and our troops made slow progress even though
     they were attacking downhill...5
     There were manv instances in Rommel's experience where
Italian soldiers were simply caught unaware and were either
captured or tried to escape as in the following excerpts:
         ... Meanwhile, to our great astonishment, Italian
     traffic started up again on the Luico-Savogna road.
     From north and south single soldiers and vehicles came
     unsuspectingly toward us.  They were politely received
     at the sharp curves of the road by a few mountain
     soldiers and taken prisoner.  Everyone was having fun
     and there was no shooting.  Great care was taken that
     the movement of the vehicles did not slacken on the
     curves thereby alerting any what might be following.
     While a few mountain troops took care of the drivers
     and escorts, others seized the reins of the horses or
     mules and drove the teams to a previously designated
     parking place.  Soon we were having trouble handling
     all the traffic that came from both directions.  In
     order to make room, the vehicles had to be unhitched
     and moved close together.  The captured horses and
     mules were put in a small ravine immediately behind our
     barricade.  Soon we had more than a hundred prisoners
     and fifty vehicles.  Business was booming...
          ... The head of my detachment reached the valley a
     mile and a half southwest of Luico at 1230.  The sudden
     apparition of the leading soldiers, among them
     Lieutenants Grau, Streicher, Wahrenberger and myself,
     who suddenly rose from the bushes a hundred yards east
     of the road, petrified a group of Italian soldiers who
     were moving unsuspectingly along, partly on foot and
     partly awheel.  They were totally unprepared to
     encounter the enemy two miles behind the front at
     Golobi and they fled at top speed into the bushes to
     the side of the road, probably expecting to be fired on
     at any moment...6
     At the end of an operation on Mount Kuk, Rommel gave his
usual didactic observations:
          The decision of the Italian commander on Kuk to
     stop the German breakthrough in the Kolovrat position
     by committing his numerous reserves for defense in
     several lines on the east slope of Kuk was incorrect.
     He gave the Rommel detachment the urgently needed
     respite (for organization of the defense, reassembly,
     bringing up of support).  It would have been more
     advantageous to use these forces to recapture Hill
     1192.  The necessary fire support could have been given
     from the numerous positions on the north slope of Kuk.
     If the hostile command had succeeded in getting an
     attack going from the east against the Rommel
     detachment, the latter would have been in a very
     difficult position.
          Further, it was not profitable to locate the three
     positions on the steep, bare and stony east slope of
     Kuk (forward slope).  In hours of work the Italian
     soldiers barely succeeded in denting the ground even
     though their work was not disturbed by any harassing
     fire.  Reverse slope positions on the west slope of
     Hill 1192 would have been much more favorable for the
     enemy since they would have been out of reach of our
     artillery and machine guns.  Furthermore, the enemy
     delayed in blocking the ridge road on the south slope
     of Kuk and in covering the bare slopes below the ridge
     road with fire.
          At the start of the attack against Kuk, two or
     three Italian battalions opposed the Rommel detachment
     with numerous machine guns in commanding positions, in
     part well developed; in part hastily installed.  The
     detachment first attacked only with two assault teams
     of 16 men each under the fire support of one
     machine-gun company, six light machine guns and two
     heavy batteries.  These teams felt out the
     possibilities of approaching the enemy and I then used
     the main body to encircle the entire Kuk garrison which
     was captured during the later hours of the morning
     assault and units from Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion
     and a company of the Bavarian Infantry Life Guards.
          In the attack the effects of the machinegun and
     heavy artillery fire against the hastily entrenched
     enemy proved to be especially strong.  In many places
     the enemy was unable to stand up under this severe
     nervous strain.  This fire would have had little effect
     had the Italians been properly entrenched.
          Our own machine gun fire from Hill 1192 proved to
     be a magnet and attracted the entire attention of the
     Italian fire units, thus permitting our initial assault
     team and then the entire detachment to reach the
     eastern slope of Kuk without suffering losses by means
     of the camouflaged road which was open to enemy
     observation.  A regiment of the 4th Bersaglieri
     Brigade, in march column, unexpectedly bumped into our
     road block in the narrow valley.  Even though the
     leading units were pinned down by fire, the rearward
     units could have mastered the situation by attacking on
     the slopes to the east or west.  Clear thinking and
     vigorous command were lacking here.7
     Aside from some of the inattention and poor command
decisions noted here by Rommel, there were incidents which raise
questions about the Italian leadership of World War I.  One of
the most curious is contained in the following account of
Rommel's attack on Mount Mrzli:
          ... Already during our attack we had observed
     hundreds of Italian soldiers in an extensive bivouac
     area in the saddle of Mrzli between its two highest
     prominences.  They were standing about, seemingly
     irresolute and inactive, and watched our advance as if
     petrified.  They had not expected the Germans from a
     southerly direction--that is, from the -rear...
          ... The number of enemy in the saddle on Mrzli was
     continually increasing until the Italians must have had
     two or three battalions there.  Since they did not come
     out fighting, I moved near along the road, waving a
     handkerchief, with my detachment echeloned in great
     depth.  The three days of the offensive had indicated
     how we should deal with the new enemy.  We approached
     to within eleven hundred yards and nothing happened.
     Had he no intention of fighting?  Certainly his
     situation was far from hopeless!  In fact, had he
     committed all his forces, he would have crushed my weak
     detachment and regained Mount Cragonza.  Or he could
     have retired to the Matajur massif almost unseen under
     the fire support of a few machine guns.  Nothing like
     that happened.  In a dense human mass the hostile
     formation stood there as though petrified and did not
     budge.  Our waving with handkerchiefs went
          We drew nearer and moved into a dense high forest
     seven hundred yards from the enemy and thus out of his
     line of sight, for he was located about three hundred
     feet up the slope.  Here the road  bent very sharply to
     the east.  What would the enemy up there do?  Had he
     decided to fight after all?  If he rushed downhill we
     would have had a man to man battle in the forest.  The
     enemy was fresh, had tremendous numerical superiority,
     and moreover enjoyed the advantage of being able to
     fight downhill...
         ...We reached the edge of the forest unhindered.
     We were still three hundred yards from the enemy above
     the Matajur road;  it was a huge mass of men.  Much
     shouting and gesticulating was going on.  They all had
     weapons in their hands.  Up front there seemed to be a
     group of officers. . With the feeling of being forced to
     act before the adversary decided to do something, I
     left the edge of the forest and, walking steadily
     forward, demanded, by calling and waving my
     handkerchief, that the enemy surrender and lay down his
     weapons.  The mass of men stared at me and did not
     move.  I was about a hundred yards from the edge of the
     woods, and a retreat under enemy fire was impossible.
     I had the impression that I must not stand still or we
     were lost.
          I came to within 150 yards of the enemy!  Suddenly
     the mass began to move and, in the ensuing panic, swept
     its resisting officers downhill.  Most of the soldiers
     threw their weapons away and hundreds hurried to me.
     In an instant I was surrounded and hoisted on Italian
     shoulders.  "Evviva Germania" [Long live Germany]
     sounded from a thousand throats.  An Italian officer
     who hesitated to surrender was shot down by his own
     troops.  For the Italians on Mrzli peak the war was
     over.  They shouted with joy.  The Italian officers
     became pugnacious seeing the weak Rommel detachment and
     they tried to reestablish control over their men.  But
     now it was too late.  Some captured Italians had told
     me shortly before that the 2nd Regiment of the Salerno
     Brigade was on the slopes of Matajur;  it was a very
     famous Italian regiment which had been repeatedly
     praised by Cadorna in his orders of the day because of
     outstanding achievements before the enemy.  They
     assured me that this regiment would certainly fire on
     us and that we would have to be careful.
          Their assumption was correct.  The head of the
     Rommel detachment no sooner reached the west slope of
     Mrzli that strong machine gun fire opened up from Hills
     1497 and 1424.  The hostile machine gun fire was
     excellently adjusted on the road and soon swept it
     Without further using Rommel's description of events, it
happened that the highly praised Salerno Brigade, too, laid down
its arms apparently against the will of its commanding officer,
for as Rommel stated, "He sat at the roadside, surrounded by his
officers, and wept with rage and shame over the insubordination
of the soldiers of his once proud regiment. 9
     Other Italian units were captured in a similar manner by the
Rommel Detachment during the battle for Mount Matajur.  In his
usual "end of paragraph" observations, he tells of his "bag" and
analyzes his success:
            ... In twenty-eight hours five successive and
     fresh Italian regiments were defeated by the weak
     Rommel detachment.  The number of captives and trophies
     amounted to:  150 officers, 9000 men, and 81 guns.  Not
     included in these figures were the enemy units which
     after they had been cut off on Kuk, around Luico, in
     the positions on the east and north slopes of Mrzli
     peak, and on the north slopes of Mount Matajur,
     voluntarily laid down their arms and joined the columns
     of prisoners moving toward Tolmein.
          Most incomprehensible of all was the behavior of
     the 1st Regiment of the Salerno Brigade on Mrzli.
     Perplexity and inactivity have frequently led to
     catastrophes.  The councils of the mass undermined the
     authority of the leaders.  Even a single machine gun,
     operated by an officer could have saved the situation,
     or at least would have assured the honorable defeat of
     the regiment.  And if the officers of this regiment had
     led their 1500 men against the Rommel detachment, Mount
     Matajur would surely not have fallen on October 26.
          In the battles from October 24 to 26, 1917,
     various Italian regiments regarded their situation as
     hopeless and gave up fighting prematurely when they saw
     themselves attacked on the flank or rear.  The Italian
     commanders lacked resolution.  They were not accustomed
     to our supple offensive tactics, and besides, they did
     not have their men well enough in hand.  Moreover, the
     war with Germany was unpopular.  Many Italian soldiers
     had earned their livings in Germany before the war and
     found a second home there.  The attitude of the simple
     soldier toward Germany was clearly displayed in his
     "Evviva Germania!" on Mrzli.10
     Rommel's last point could certainly be argued.  Were the
troops showing some kind of endearment for Germany or were they
hoping for survival in the hands of their captors?  Italian
evaluation of the defeat at Caporetto indicates that, in fact,
there had been heavy e,nemy propaganda and that the troops had
been insufficiently prepared to deal with it.
     It must be noted here that Rommel gives further positive
evaluation of successive encounters:  "A few weeks later the
mountain soldiers had Italian troops opposing them in the Grappa
region, who fought splendidly and were men in every particular,
and the successes of the Tolmein offensive were not
repeated".11  As an example of this,  Rommel tells of a violent
firefight against the Italians in which he was nearly captured
and his Detachment nearly lost:
          A group of howling Italians came down the road and
     I did not know whether they were attackers or
     prisoners.  I had no idea of what had become of my
     leading elements (3d Company and the machine-gun
     company of the 26th Rifle Regiment).  I decided to use
     a couple of flares and clear up the situation.  I fired
     them just to the right of the highway bridge near the
     low was leading to the mill and, in their light, I saw
     a closely packed mass of handkerchief-waving men
     rushing toward Pirago.  The head of the group was a
     scant hundred yards away and the light of the flares
     made me an excellent target.  The shrieking Italians
     did not fire a shot as they approached, and I was still
     undecided regarding their status...When the enemy was
     within fifty yards I shouted "Halt!" and demanded their
     surrender.  The answering roar was neither affirmative
     nor negative.  No one fired and the yelling mass drew
     nearer.  I repeated my challenge and got the same
     answer.  The Italians opened fire at ten yards.  Almost
     all who were on the road fell into the enemy's
     hands.  The Italians raced along the road to the
     south. ... At the last moment, I escaped capture by
     jumping over the road wall and I raced the Italians
     moving along the road. ... The hostile  advance slowed
     down immediately and the Italian machine guns began to
     rattle, spraying their fire against the walls which
     sheltered the Styrian troops.  The enemy appeared to be
     attacking to right and left of the road.  A thousand
     men were yelling "Avanti, avanti!" ("Forward!").12
     Without quoting him, Rommel continues the description of
this and other battles in the Grappa region.  The battles with
the Italians are characterized by heavy Italian artillery
activity which was always described as very effective by Rommel,
and by significant close combat and hand-to-hand fighting.  There
continued to be large groups of Italians surrendering under the
weight of the German-Austrian advance;  however, there are in
Rommel's account no other recurrences of surrender without
     In analyzing why the Italians failed in this major operation
of the war, one key point emerges--that of unity of purpose.  It
seems that a large number of the Italian forces were not
sufficiently convinced that they should be fighting for their
country;  hence, the shout by surrendering troops, "Evviva,
Germania".  Was this the fault of the Italian officer corps which
somehow did not communicate to their troops the significance of
their mission?  Or was it a problem with a still relatively young
and recently unified country which did not know what its foreign
policy was and who it should designate as friend and foe?  Based
on Rommel's description of Italian troops overpowering their
officers,  it would appear that, in some cases at least, there was
a lack of confidence of the  troops in their officers.
     Another consideration in analyzing Caporetto was the
tremendous amount of time (two years) that the Italians spent
against the Austrians in the Isonzo campaign.  There were a total
of twelve battles fought there with only very slow progress to
show for their efforts.  What effect does constant battle have on
men when fighting under such circumstances?  In the book, Face of
Battle, John Keegan states:
          There is no such thing as getting used to
     combat'...Each moment of combat imposes a strain so
     great that men will break down in direct relation to
     the intensity and duration of their
     exposure... psychiatric casualties are as inevitable as
     gunshot and shrapnel wounds in warfare.... Most men were
     ineffective after 180 or even 140 days.  The general
     consensus was that a man reached his peak of
     effectiveness in the first 90 days of combat, that
     after that his efficiency began to fall off, and that
     he became steadily less valuable thereafter until he
     was completely useless... The number of men on duty
     after 200 to 240 days of combat was small and their
     value to their units was negligible"13
     Were the Italian troops who faced Rommel just such
casualties?  Had they lost the will to fight because of excessive
exposure to danger and death?  Consider that at Caporetto the
Italian Second Army with 25 divisions faced 37 Austro-German
divisions and lost 10,000 dead, 30,000 wounded, 293,000
prisoners, and 350,000 missing in the first two weeks of the
battle..  It would seem that this incredibly bloody campaign
would indeed take its toll in psychological casualties,
especially with the aforementioned lack of leadership and
insufficient inculcation of the spirit of nationalism in the
     The Italian Army Chief of Staff, General Luigi Cadorna was
outraged by the disaster and said in his military bulletin of 28
October, "Lack of resistance on the part of units of the Second
Army--cowardly retreating without fighting and ignominiously
surrendering to the enemy--has allowed the Austro-German forces
to break our left flank on the Julian front."14
     It must be noted here that the Italians, with the help of
their British and French allies, finally stopped the
Austro-German advance at the Piave River in December.
Eventually, the Italians, under General Armando Diaz, succeeded
in splitting the Austro-German forces and defeating them.
Despite this final containment, though, the Italian government
viewed the Isonzo (Caporetto) as a defeat.  It would be useful
here to review excerpts of the Italian government Commission of
Inquiry relating to the battle:
          The events of October-November 1917 that led to
     the withdrawal of the Italian army from beyond the
     Isonzo River to behind the Piave River have the
     character of a military defeat.  The determining caused
     of a military nature, both of technique and of morale,
     certainly predominated over those other factors, alien
     to the armed forces, whose alleged influence this
     report has shown to be exaggerated.  Some persons have
     attempted to deduce from the influence of these other
     factors that the events in question are to be
     attributed largely to political causes.
          In addition to local and chance causes, the defeat
     derived also from the confluence of complex factors of
     a military nature which had been acting upon the army
     for some time and which, because of exceptional
     contingencies, were able to exercise a most effective
     influence, demoralizing the army and destroying its
     very cohesion.
          Among those causes which are judged to have been
     beyond human control, whose presence and influence have
     been ascertained with certainty by the Commission and
     which mitigate personal responsibilities, are the
          The power and capacities of the enemy.  The
     Austro-Germans undertook the Offensive animated by a
     spirit of emulation and sustained by an irresistible
     impetus deriving from the great military successes
     obtained against Serbia, Rumania, and Russia.. .They
     were perfectly informed not only of our technical
     military preparation but also of the state of our
     morale;  they were able to exploit every ingenious
     expedient and every consummate stratagem of war to
     conceal their very rapid movement of forces as well as
     the direction of their attack, to allay our vigilance
     in the sectors of the attack, and everywhere possible
     to weaken our resistance by means of a debilitating
     propaganda... With the serenity which may be granted us
     by reason of our ultimate victory, we must acknowledge
     that the enemy's plan was the work of genius and most
     bold and that it was put into operation with energy and
     intelligence, and with the employment of methods new to
     us.  The result was that the enemy was able to achieve
     a surprise, not so much with regard to time and place,
     as to methods employed; and surprise is the principal
     factor in victory.*
          "The conditions of inferiority of our country and
     our army.  These conditions derived from our
     geographical situation,...from historical events, from
     the particular circumstances in which the country
     entered the war, and from the development of operations
     in the other theaters of war.  Among these conditions
     of inferiority the following seem particularly
     notable:  the strategically most unfavorable nature of
     our frontier with Austria-Hungary;  our scant economic
     potential and difficulties in much of our supplies,
     with the result that we lacked an abundance of certain
     * This self-analysis jibes perfectly with Rommel's
     numerous accounts of catching the Italians either sleeping,
     washing themselves, or simply walking along a road "in the
     rear" without any consciousness of their imminent danger.
     Rommel gives no account of propaganda used against the
     Italians.  Perhaps at his level he would have been unaware
     of any such effort;  however, this would account for the
     huge numbers of troops who surrendered to him--troops, who,
     as already mentioned, probably received little or
     ineffective "counter-propaganda" from their officers.
     War materials and thus had to undergo greater
     sacrifices in the struggle than did other countries and
     armies;  Italian policy of the last few decades,
     resulting in our army being less well prepared that
     others;  the military collapse of Serbia, Rumania, and
     finally and very grave that of Russia, resulting in the
     concentration of most Austro-Hungarian forces on our
          Weather conditions quite unfavorable to us, such
     as, among others, the bad weather prevailing during the
     month of October which made land and air observation
     more difficult;  the fog, which notable favored the
     Astro-German artillery, aimed at known and fixed
     targets, as well as the advance of enemy infantry in
     many sectors of the attack, but made difficult and at
     times impossible our defensive barrages and the
     adequate maneuver of our support and reserve forces;
     the rains from October 24 to 27... and the fullness of
     the rivers, which obstructed the movement of our very
     heavy columns in retreat and the crossing of the
          The following must be numbered among the factors
     which did indeed exercise an influence but only insofar
     as military conditions (and particularly the conduct
     and the results of the war as well as the management of
     the army's personnel until OctQber 1917) made possible
     the growth of these factors and their evil influence,
     which otherwise was no greater than the average level
     influence exercised on other armies and people:
          The natural and pronounced repugnance felt by many
     toward sacrifices, harm and discomforts, as well as
     family ties that at times were even unhealthy.
          The confluence of some parties in condoning and
     favoring the less desirable tendencies and activities
     of the masses;  the refusal on the part of these
     parties to accept responsibility for the war when fate
     was unkind to the fortunes of the Entente.  (This and
     the preceding factor constitute the essence of that
     part of defeatism not nurtured by the enemy.)
          The enemy's intelligent and cunningly effective
     propaganda in the country as well as among the troops.
          Certain political events, such as the Russian
     revolution, and public manifestations occurring within
     a brief span of time, such as the remark made by the
     Honorable Deputy Treves in Parliament*, the Socialist
     assemblies attended by Russian emissaries, the Turin
     *  On July 12, 1917, Claudio Treves, Official
     Socialist, had appealed to all governments of Europe to
     hearken to the "ultimatum of life to death:   by the
     coming winter, not a man in the trenches."
     riots**  and the Pope's note on peace.***
          And the attitude assumed by a part of the press
     which, by directing public opinion toward an exaltation
     of the High Command, contributed to the weakening of
     the government's function of control over military
          The military causes of the defeat may be divided
     into two categories, in accordance with their influence
     on the events in question.  The first of these
     categories is of lesser importance and consists of the
     technical military causes.  These are:
          Defects in the military apparatus.  Although in
     certain respects these defects were notable at the
     beginning of the war and exercised an influence on
     operations in the first several months, they were in
     time largely eliminated.
          Errors in the conduct of the war, in operations as
     well as in the manner in which troops were employed.
     Had these errors been avoided, our army would have been
     able to meet the enemy attack better prepared with men
     and equipment and with stronger morale.
          Faults in the deployment of defenses and in the
     arrangement of reserves. Some improvidence in
     logistics, especially in the arrangement and deployment
     of communications and transport.  This lack of adequate
     prearrangement had repercussions in the difficulties
     encountered and losses suffered during the withdrawal.
          The second category includes military causes
     predominantly of a morale nature.  In the judgment of
     the Commission, these causes had a truly efficient
     effect in the disaster, but responsibility for them is
     not limited to the military commanders.  In several
     instances responsibility falls also on the government,
     which did not always intervene at the opportune
     moment.  In substance, these appear to be the true
     causes, whereas the ones noted above are revealed as
     concomitant causes or facilitating circumstances.
     These true causes are:
          Personal defects revealed in the manner of command
     of several generals, and the repercussions these
     defects had among their subordinate officers.
          A deformation in the functioning of the military
     hierarchy.  This deformation was particularly evident
     in the relief from command of an excessive number of
     officers and in the relations between superiors an
     subordinates.  These relations had become characterized
     ** Late in August 1917 bread riots broke out in
     Turin  which were repressed by the military with 41
     dead, 152 wounded and injured, and over 600 arrests.
     ***Pope Benedict XV's Note of August 1, 1917,
     appealed to all belligerents to end the "useless
     by fear, suspicion, insincerity, and at times were even
          Errors in the maintenance of discipline and morale
     among the troops.  These errors were revealed
     particularly in the inconsistency with which discipline
     was applied;  in the too frequent disregard of the
     regular procedures of military justice;  in the
     application of not always justified summary
     executions;  and in the scant concern shown for the
     morale of troops and for adequate indoctrination.
          Failure to eliminate certain injustices and
     disproportions in allotting the burdens and sacrifices
     of war;  and, on the other hand, failure to engage in
     persuasive action to fight the widespread and most
     exaggerated notions regarding the blight of draft
          Discouragement occasioned by the widespread
     conviction--no matter whether justified or
     exaggerated--that the blood sacrifices already
     performed and those that might come had been and would
     be fruitless.
          With personal regard to personal responsibilities
     and according to the above-mentioned causes, the
     Commission holds that responsibility should be assessed
          General Cadorna, for improper superintendence of
     cadres by eliminating an excessive  number of general
     and senior officers, by inspiring measures which were
     frequently and inopportunely coercive and which in
     consequence disturbed the morale of the officer corps
     without, on the other hand, producing the appropriate
     improvement in military technique that might justify
     the moral sacrifices incurred;  for not taking
     appropriate care in economizing the physical and moral
     energies of the troops and, especially, for tolerating
     unrewarding sacrifices of blood and for inciting
     frequent disregard of the regular procedures of
     military justice; and finally for not having attached
     due importance to the problem of maintaining the
     cohesion of the several parts in large military units.
          General Capello, for having employed in the Second
     Army a system of personal coercion which at times
     reached the point of vexation and which aggravated the
     repercussions ensuing from General Cadorna's manner of
     superintendence;  and for having contributed to the
     depression of the troops' morale by excessively
     draining their physical and moral energies and by being
     prodigal with blood in disproportion to the results
     * According to rumors then current there were perhaps
     as many as a half million deserters and draft evaders
     by June 1917.
          General Porro [Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army
     under Cadorna, for not having performed his duties in
     such a way as to moderate the excessive elimination of
     officers and for not having inquired into and made
     known those factors that depressed the morale of the
     troops, thus being remiss in his duty to provide the
     Chief of Staff [Cadorna] with that contribution
     necessary to induce the latter to take measures to
     prevent degeneration in the functioning of the military
     hierarchy, to correct the superintendence of the
     troops, and to maintain the organic cohesion of the
     armed forces.
          The Cabinet headed by the Honorable Boselli, for
     not having performed in a proper measure its high duty
     of supervision and control of the army's morale and for
     not having taken the measures appropriate to this
     The above quoted excerpts from the commissions report is
very interesting in that it supports Rommel's observations on the
battlefield.  The Italian government did attempt to correct the
problem by replacing Cadorna.  Cadorna had, in fact, relieved an
excessive number of officers and his rapport with the Commander
of the Second Army, General Luigi Capello, was very poor.
     Concerned with prospect of total defeat, the country's any
political parties rallied behind the cause and with the arrival
of allied reinforcements, Italy was able to contain the enemy at
the Piave River;  however, by the end of the 11th Isonzo battle,
despite its recognition of the aforementioned problems, the
Italian Army had lost 40.000 dead, 108,000 wounded and 18,000
missing all with negative results in territory gained..
     So, by its own admission, the Italian government, Italian
politics and very senior officers were the culprits in the poor
performance of the Italian Army in World War I.  Can one, then,
blame the Italian soldier for the failings of the system that
sent him to war?
     An additional issue relating to the "ignominy" of defeat is
that of surrender;  specifically, when is it acceptable to lay
down one's arms and capitulate to the enemy.  Is there a standard
by which one can measure courage and cowardice in the face of
battle?  What is the significance of the term "means to resist"
in the fighting man's credo when referring to the alternative of
surrender?  These are rhetorical questions which should be
considered by the reader.
     As bitter a pill as it is to swallow, there has hardly been,
if ever, a country whose military forces or units of its forces
has not had to deal with the problem of surrender.   The point is
that it is not legitimate to point the finger in blame at the
Italian soldier for his rather ready surrender without
considering all the facts, many of which we have already
     The Italian armed forces, by the beginning of the First
World War, had not established a tradition of victory in battle
as previously discussed.  With that lack of confidence in the
system and in that base of support, especially when a large
segment of the population was opposed to the war. it must have
been exceedingly difficult to inspire the common soldier with an
aggressive spirit. The Pope also exerted a tremendous influence
in the daily lives of the the Italian people.  Would not the
common, faithful soldier have been inclined to obey the Pope's
edict and throw down his rifle as an alternative to risking life
and limb for a cause which was not clearly defined or supported?
     These thoughts are not conveyed to somehow exculpate the
many Italian army units which appear to have surrendered
prematurely.  They are addressed for the purpose of demonstrating
the effects of external influences on military performance.
     Without dwelling on the events of the last days of the war
or the difficulties created by the armistice which was signed by
the combatants,  suffice it to say that the political crises
which generated the war were not solved in Europe or within
Italy.  After the end of the war, Italy continued to suffer from
instability and from radicalism on both ends of the political
spectrum.  This chaos paved the way for the rise of Fascism and
ultimately for the next world war which so devastated the
                            CHAPTER III
                    THE TRAGEDY OF WORLD WAR II
     In 1921, the radical Fascist Party of young Benito Mussolini
gained a foothold in the Italian Parliament.  By October 31,
1922, the Fascist era began when he became Prime Minister (as
well as Minister of the Interior and Minister of Foreign
Affairs).  On the surface, Mussolini's government had the
appearance of a moderate coalition in that, besides Fascism,
there was representation by the Nationalists, Social-Democrats,
and the Popular Party.  But by 1924, Mussolini had become a
dictator in its truest sense, and with that transition to
dictatorship, Italy was on her way to war under the tenuous
leadership of the blackshirts.
     "War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy
and pats the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the
courage to meet it".1  Such was Mussolini's utterance as he
tried to make his people understand their "destiny".  But with or
without their consent, he would attempt make that destiny come to
pass.  In 1935, Ethiopia, the last unclaimed land by the European
powers in Africa, became the target.
     Partly out of revenge for the disaster at Aduwa in 1896, and
in theory to establish an outlet for her excess population and to
bind the various classes of the nation together, Mussolini, with
the consent of other major European powers, moved his forces into
position for the attack against the poorly equipped bit very
warlike Ethiopians.  European observers believed that,
considering the desolate theater of operations, the enemy
advantage of fighting on their own soil, and the great distance
from home, it would take the Italians two years to win their
war.  But Italy was able to fairly quickly overcome the native
forces in a two-pronged attack from Eritrea and Somalia and
proceed to Addis Ababa within six months.
     Granted, Ethiopia did not have much of an Air Force and the
Italians used their aircraft effectively (sometimes employing
mustard gas), but the triumph of this war was in the efficient
use of engineering, technology and logistics.  As the Italians
moved toward Addis Ababa, their engineers constructed roads for
logistical supply and telegraph for communications; therefore,
they were able to move ahead surefootedly but rapidly.
     Many would argue that the Ethiopians were pushovers,
especially in view of their own internal discord and lack of
total unity against their foreign invader. (Many went over to the
Italian side for money).  But however viewed, this was a
well-planned and well-executed military operation, at least
compared to previous fiascos..
     As a result of this success Italians at home felt vindicated
from past failures and could now hold their heads high in the
neighborhood of Europe;  however, this new feeling of power,
invincibility and trust in Mussolini was short-lived.  The
operation in Ethiopia created false hope and confidence in the
Italian armed forces.  Operations at the beginning of World War
II quickly demonstrated the actual capabilities of the Italian
armed forces, and they left much to be desired.
     In 1936, Mussolini began a genuine campaign of
trouble-making in the European-Mediterranean area.  He made pacts
with other nations and then ignored them, he engaged in a
propaganda war against Great Britain to undermine her influence,
and he sent troops to Spain both as support for Franco's fellow
Fascist revolution and as a proving ground for his troops and
     In 1939 Mussolini swiftly took the country of Albania and
shortly thereafter signed a pact of "aggression" (war alliance)
with Hitler which, however, stipulated that no major crisis would
be initiated prior to 1942.  When Hitler ran across Poland in
1939 and the Second World War began in September of that year,
Mussolini declared Italy a nonbelligerent.  His intent was
twofold--to allow more time for his armed forces to recover from
their adventures in Ethiopia and Spain, and to wait for easy
victories as Germany's war unfolded.
     In 1940, it appeared that German successes in Poland, France
and Norway would bring the war to a rapid close.  Concerned that
Italy might lose her share of the spoils, Rome declared war on
Britain and France.  Mussolini ordered attacks on British
positions in East Africa and coastal  Egypt, but these offensives
were brought to a halt relatively quickly because of inadequate
     But Perhaps one of the greatest miscalculations of the war
was Mussolini's decision to invade Greece in an attempt to snatch
up as much "easy" land as possible before the conflict ended.
The Greek campaign typifies Italian political blundering. in that
the Fascist regime misread the strategic situation and got the
armed forces involved in an unwinable war.
     Italy certainly had the manpower to support the Fascists'
ambitions but its industrial base and its preparation in military
equipment could not support a protracted war against a resolute
     Since Mussolini's rise to power, he had surrounded himself
with men who feared to counter his will.   Mussolini decided
almost autonomously, that he wanted the Greek Islands of Zante,
Cephalonia and Corfu, as well as Salonika with his final
objective being the occupation of the entire country.
Mussolini's impetuousness is indicated by his statement to his
staff, "Having thus defined the issue, I have also decided the
date, [of the initial attack on Greece], which in my opinion must
not be postponed even by an hour;  that is, the 26th of this
     It would seem that, in order to plan for the invasion of a
foreign country, more than passing consideration should be given
to the strategic influence of neighboring states as well as to
the response of enemy forces of the target country;  however, the
"Duce" wanted and received only cursory information on both.  For
the Greek operation, the Duce's staff thought that it would be
wise to involve Bulgaria, Greece's neighbor to the north to help
tie up Greek forces while Italian troops attacked to the south,
but as important as it was, it was only considered in passing in
the planning stages.  Confident that the Bulgarians would respond
in the affirmative to his request, Mussolini postponed his
approach to them.
     Estimates of enemy resistance were also too sketchy and not
seriously studied.  Mussolini was told by his staff that the
Greeks were manifestly indifferent to an invasion of their
country but in the came meeting they qualified that with, "From
information supplied by our informants it appears that, while two
months ago the Greeks did not seem inclined to put up serious
resistance, now they seem determined to oppose our action".3
Mussolini did not want to hear of any difficulties in the
operation and persisted in dragging out words of encouragement
from his timid staff.  Count Galeazzo Ciano, Minister of Foreign
Affairs, finally stated that, "It appears that the great mass of
the Greek population is indifferent to everything, including the
prospect of our invasion".  Mussolini was also told  that the
Greeks were not "people who like fighting"  What is amazing,
however, is that during the planning for this operation (crude
though it was) other information was coming in from reliable
sources at the Italian ministry in Athens.  Grazzi, the minister
in Athens said,
          It is incomprehensible that Count Ciano, who must
     have read my reports, letters, and telegrams, should
     have spoken of a sharp division between the people and
     the leading political and plutocratic class, and that
     he should have stated that, apart from this restricted
     class of bureaucrats, the rest of the Greek people were
     indifferent to all events that might take place,
     including an invasion by us.  If there were good
     reasons for supposing that our information was so
     totally false as not to deserve so much as comparison
     with that supplied from other sources, only two
     hypotheses are possible:  either we were complete
     idiots or we acted in bad faith.  In either case the
     question arises why the government continued at great
     expense to maintain in Athens a diplomatic mission
     staffed by idiots or traitors".4
     The reason, though, that this legitimate information
regarding true Greek sentiments toward an Italian invasion, was
ignored, was due to the political jealousies and personal
ambitions of Mussolini and his generals.  Mussolini viewed
himself as in a race with Hitler for prestige and his generals
were competing with one another for promotion.  Their attack on
Greece would be based strictly on hope, luck, and contrived
reports of Greek weakness and lack of will.
     During  the course of this meeting, Visconti Prasca, the
General who was to lead the invasion of Greece, was told by
Mussolini not to worry too much about casualties and that he must
continue the attack even if faced by a "division".  (That very
statement demonstrated a fatal underestimation of Greek
resistance).  When the subject arose of the number of Divisions
required to take Athens, the response from Prasca was five or six
divisions.  And when asked how many divisions would be required
to occupy the territory between Italy and Athens, Prasca stated,
"during the initial period, with three mountain divisions".5
     An indicator of Mussolini's general strategic lack of
understanding is also seen in a reply which he made to his
Foreign Ministry regarding the potential of the United States
countering Italian and other authoritarian powers.  He stated,
"America has no military importance".
     But despite Mussolini's blindness to foreign affairs, he had
an aggressive and fighting spirit.  He constantly exhorted his
generals to attack with determination and violence.  His charisma
and aggressiveness did seem to have an effect on the troops in
the field and on his staunch, high-ranking fascist followers;
however, there was still much reservation, though mostly
unexpressed, in launching the Greek campaign.
     Marshall Pietro Badoglio, Chief of the General Staff,
himself had very strong reservations about the operation--that it
was ill-conceived, but he was not resolute enough to express his
feelings to Mussolini.  Badoglio did confide, however, in the
foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano to express his concern.
Ciano referred to the meeting in his writings:
          Marshall Badoglio came to see me and spoke to me
     very seriously about the operation in Greece.  The
     three chiefs of staff are unanimously opposed to it.
     He said that the present forces are insufficient, and
     the navy does not believe it will be able to carry out
     any unloading at Preveza, because the water is too
     shallow.  There was a pessimistic note about Badoglio's
     whole speech;  he foresees a prolongation of the war,
     and with it the exhaustion of our meager resources7"
     Ciano, who wanted war, disregarded Badoglio's concerns as
well as those of the "experts" such as General Cavagnari who said
that he would need three months to transfer more divisions to
Albania, and General Pricolo who said that he would not be able
to deploy forces before November.  Ciano often acted as a buffer
between Mussolini's Generals and the Duce himself.  Ciano reports
of one meeting with Mussolini wherein he wrote,
          I went to see the Duce.  In the antechamber I
     found Soddu [one of his Generals] who had spoken to
     Badoglio, who says that if the Greek operation takes
     place, he [Badoglio] will resign.  I reported all this
     to the Duce who was already in a very ill humor because
     of the Graziani affair.  He had a violent outburst of
     anger and said he would go to Greece in person to
     witness the incredible shame of Italians who were
     afraid of the Greeks.  He intends to march at all
     costs. and if Badoglio hands in his resignation, he
     will accept it on the spot.  But not only did Badoglio
     not submit his resignation, he did not even repeat to
     Mussolini what he said yesterday to me.  In fact the
     Duce said that Badolglio insisted only  on a few days
     postponement, at least two".8
     Finally, on October 28, 1941, war was declared on Greece.  A
major blow was felt, however, when only shortly before the
declaration of war, word was received from Bulgaria that she
would not, in fact, assist Italy in her endeavor.  Mussolini had
felt so confident of himself that he had only pursued this
assistance 16 days prior to the assault.
     In the final analysis, there were two fatal blunders which
affected the outcome of the war with Greece.  One was this
ill-conceived reliance on Bulgaria to tie up Greece's northern
flank.  The second was that the attack was based on false and
contrived information relating to unstable Greek internal affairs
and corruption among its generals.  Mussolini and his closest
blackshirts were completely blinded by the pleasant prospect of
conquering the Greeks with little or no effort.  But once the
assault began, it became plainly clear that the predictions and
concerns of the generals were justified.
     The attack on Greece was immediately bogged down.  The great
offensive which Mussolini had envisioned was met with a
determined Greek defense which left the ill-equipped Italian Army
in static positions.  The pathetic and seeming halfhearted effort
made by the Italian generals was frustrating to Mussolini and he
continually blamed them for having given him incorrect
information and for their demonstrated lack of aggressive
spirit.  In reality, it was he who was to blame for this
operation.  And it was he who had closed his eyes to the reality
of the situation.  The following is an excerpt of a discussion
that Mussolini had with his Deputy Chief of Staff which
demonstrates his frustration with the war effort:
     MUSSOLINI:  The Greeks now have a ten-mile salient.
     The salient maneuver I have been hearing about for such
     a long time must be carried out without delay.  We have
     got to maneuver.
     BARTIROMO:  Orders have already been given.
     MUSSOLINI:  We have got to start maneuvering, engaging
     the enemy's attention, we must put an end to this
     BARTIROMO:  Yes.
     MUSSOLINI:  But the maneuvering I have heard talked
     about has never resulted in our counterattacking in any
     BARTIROMO:  Unfortunately it has never been possible to
     assemble the forces.
     MUSSOLINI:  But you have divisions.
     BARTIROMO:  They are not complete.
     MUSSOLINI:  Are there many prisoners?
     BARTIROMO:  We have no news of the 77th Infantry;  I
     think some have been lost (on January 16 the 19th
     Battalion of the Greek 15th Division had surprised the
     77th Regiment belonging to the Lupi di Toscana Division
     and had taken about 300 prisoners).
     MUSSOLINI:  Bartiromo, there is only one way out.
     Attack, attack!  I have been saying that for two weeks.
     BARTIROMO:  I know that that is his Excellency
     Cavallero's [Cavallero was Chief of Staff at this time]
     intention, but something has always been lacking, in
     particular, ammunition.
     MUSSOLINI:  They tell me that shiploads of ammunition
     left yesterday.
     BARTIROMO:  I have been informed that something has
     MUSSOLINI:  Bartiromo, we must counterattack, we must
     break the spell that for the past ninety days has been
     making us lose ground, position after position.  If it
     goes on like this, we shall find ourselves in the sea,
     and there will be no more position.  The Greeks will
     soon reach the Skumbi, which they are making for.
     BARTIROMO:  There is no time to lose.
     MUSSOLINI:  In short, forces must be assembled on the
     right principles.  We must maneuver and avoid this
     BARTIROMO:  That is what we are doing and have always
     been trying to do.
     MUSSOLINI:  I am going to Germany.  The first question
     they will put to me is whether I shall be able to hold
     the present line.  What am I to answer?
     BARTIROMO:  His Excellency Cavallero told the German
     colonel that he was confident he would be able to hold
     MUSSOLINI:  There is only one way out.  Attack!
     BARTIROMO:  That is true, and it is his Excellency
     Cavallero's intention.
     MUSSOLINI:  Report what I have said to his Excellency
     Cavallero. 9
Both Mussolini's frustration and Bartiromo's "passivity" are
quite apparent in this dialogue.  But again, it was Mussolini who
had forced the war on his generals without allowing them
sufficient time to prepare.  That is not to say, though, that the
generals would have been completely successful even with adequate
preparation.  As will be seen, they were often flawed not only in
determination but also in tactics.
     A great principle of leadership is found in the relationship
between leader and and follower;  that is, there must exist
between them mutual confidence, respect and loyalty.  For the
Italians, this principle was lacking in this and other
campaigns.  Mussolini never had respect for the fighting spirit
of the Italian people.  His feelings are reflected in a statement
from Count Ciano's diary:
          "Grim-faced and nervy, he is shaken by the news
     from Albania.  Nothing dramatic has happened, but again
     we have withdrawn and left many prisoners in the
     enemy's hands.  The most serious thing is that the unit
     concerned was the Lupi di Toscana, a division of
     excellent reputation and great tradition, recently
     arrived in Albania, on which great hopes were based.
     He talked at length about all this;  he reiterated his
     pessimism about the Italian army and people.  He cannot
     explain the reason for things.  He repeated several
     times:  "If on October 15 anyone had predicted what has
     actually happened since, I should have had him shot".
     As the stalemate continued, more Italian Divisions arrived
in Albania as the jumping off point for the offensive.  It was
hoped by Mussolini that this increase in manpower would have
allowed him to continue the assault through Greece;  however,
major problems precluded this.  The major limitation was in the
training of the soldiers sent to this very difficult terrain
under extremely difficult weather conditions.  The training of
the reserve battalions sent in was described by Cavallero as
being "summary or nil".  But even the the most highly trained
battalions, such as the previously mentioned Lupi di Toscana,
were not able to accomplish their missions.
     The field grade officers sent to Greece as replacements were
equally weak in combat training.  Many had been pulled directly
from civilian life and were expected to perform under the most
difficult of combat conditions, and yet for the most part they
did not even remember basic tactics.  They were called upon to
lead men whom they did not know, against an enemy about whom they
knew nothing in a country with which they were completely
     The tactics that these men were forced to employ were
created at the top by generals who both suffered from lack of
judgement and who were afraid to risk their careers by making
bold moves which might have failed.  Such failures in judgement
and logic are evidenced in Cavallero's tactic of attacking the
enemy's strongest point to "wear him down".  His son, who was
with him in Albania said of his father:
          "The offensive in the Sesnizza Valley, the value
     and prospects of which were denied by the tabletop
     strategists, had the definite aim of relieving the
     pressure on the defense in the adjoining Valona sector,
     not by making our maximum effort at the enemy's weakest
     point, which is the classical aim of every offensive
     operation, buy by striking him  where he was strongest
     in order to wear down his strength.12
     Mario Cevo, author of the book, The Hollow Legions also says
the following of Cavallero and the Italian generals:
          Cavallero had at last constructed his "wall".  He
     had taken over a bankrupt situation and had managed to
     stave off total disaster.  Having succeeded in that, he
     relapsed into the defensive mentality of Italian
     generals, always overcautious and terrified of risking
     their epaulets by an all-out attack.  There was one
     Italian general who had the impulsiveness of a Rommel,
     and that was Visconti Prasca, but impulsiveness was the
     only quality of Rommel's that he possessed.  The other
     generals, almost without exception (or at any rate
     without noticeable exceptions), liked good, solid
     fronts, massed with men-not with materials, which were
     always short... Cavallero intended to ensure that no
     catastrophe happened to him.13
     General Gastone Gambara of the Italian VIII Corps planned
for a limited offensive during the end of February with the
intent of breaking the formidable Greek line;  however, despite
his aggressiveness and good intent, the failure of proper
logistical planning resulted in shortages of pack animals,
artillery and general supplies.  An additional problem was that
Gambara intended to make the breakthrough "at a point where the
Greeks were not only strong but aggressively poised".  Based on
this and other events, there seemed to be a fundamental flaw in
tactical and logistical thinking by the Italian generals.
     Despite reservations in the prospect of success, "offenses"
continued to be planned and fought, although never with the drive
and enthusiasm that Mussolini wanted.  One such drive was that
conducted by the IV, VIII and XXV Corps which was to finally get
the Italian Army moving on toward Athens.  But as Mussolini
looked on, his Divisions again got bogged down in attacks and
counterattacks, many of which were fought with grenades and
bayonets.  One Division commander was "ill"  on the day of the
offensive which prompted Mussolini to say,
          These generals who are taken ill on the day of an
     offensive make one wonder.  Don't you think that these
     generals would show a little spirit, a little elan, and
     above all have a little initiative?  Look at Rommel,
     who is restoring the situation in Libya with a single
     division and a reconnaissance group".14
     Cervi characterizes the battle of the next day as an
offensive which had,..."become a routine, a bloody, heroic,
desperate,  kind of a furious knocking at a door that refused to
open instead of a blow with a battering ram that knocked it from
its hinges".  Mussolini continued to rant and rave at his
generals trying to get them to move.  Prior to departing back to
Italy, he said to General Geloso:
          It  is absolutely necessary to persist.  The
     operational plan cannot be changed after four days.
     Hill 1308 on the Trebescines and its eastern slopes
     must be neutralized, and then the attacking columns
     must go forward.  We must attack tomorrow, otherwise
     the troops will begin to get rooted to the ground and
     think the operation is over.  The Greeks must be kept
     under fire all day.  The answer to the mortar is rapid
     movement.  We must insist on the plan as laid down.  A
     military victory before the end of the month is
     absolutely essential to the prestige of the Italian
     army.  I have always done everything in my power to
     keep the reputation and prestige of the Italian army
     high, but now a breakthrough is absolutely essential.
     I have instructed his Excellency Guzzoni to send here
     all the ammunition there is in Italy, because the
     Italian army is here, the war is here, and it is here
     that we must win"15
     And so, despite only a very remote prospect of success,
Mussolini's army continued to flail far away from home.  The
description of battle by those who fought in Greece is a graphic
portrayal of defeat.  It is a picture of pitiful preparedness.
This was an army whose political leaders had thrown it into the
breach only hoping somehow that it would endure.  Captain
Fernando Campione, who was attached to the Siena Division,
describes on successive dates in his diary how, over a short
period of time his Division wad transformed from an enthusiastic,
although cautious group of soldiers, to a disillusioned band of
men fighting the elements and enemy bullets for their very
          [Date not indicated] --"Cavalry, mingled with the
     infantry, withdraw along the slopes of these rugged
     mountains, and this sudden and unexpected retreat is
     not understood by these valiant men, who cannot
     understand the reason for this change of direction.
     Another infantryman is lying on the road.  His hands
     are contracted, a shell splinter tore open the right
     side of his stomach, where the clotted blood had formed
     a huge dark filthy stain on his jacket.  He will be
     buried this evening, probably beside the river at the
     foot of a small isolated mountain."
          21 November--...withdrawal of the Siena Division
     grew hastier and less orderly, assumed tragic and
     grotesque aspects of all war episodes.  In spite of the
     behavior of a few undisciplined men, the troops as a
     whole are maintaining order and have fought well.
          29 November-- "Some soldiers are dragging
     themselves along limping, others have put their
     knapsack, rifle, cartridge pouch on a mason's
     pushcart...They are marching heavily, slowly".
          2 December-- "What with killed, wounded, missing,
     sick, etc. we have more than 2,000 men out of action".
          4 December-- "The sight of our retreating troops
     is   sadder than ever, because of the painful sight of
     long columns of tired, tattered soldiers slowly
     dragging themselves along".
          14 December-- "more than ninety mules are lying
     along the road, either singly or in groups of two or
     three at various intervals; they collapsed from
     exhaustion and were abandoned on the spot with all
     their load.  The major in command drags himself along
     with his feet affected by the beginning of frostbite.
     His serious, emaciated, livid face betrays the tragedy
     of the days and nights passed in the cold and snow.  He
     coughs continually, and in spite of his state of
     obvious exhaustion, his serenity is admirable.
          17 December-- "Signs of disintigration in units of
     the 32nd Infantry Regiment create panic and alarm at
     headquarters.  There are no reserves, there is nothing
     to fall back on.  So we had to turn to the divisional
     carabinieri and a guard company consisting of older men
     recalled to the colors.  Mule drivers, truck drivers,
     everyone available has been thrown into the defense,
     the whole garrison of Himara has been collected under
     the command of a colonel.  In the area where the snow
     is, it is said that forty men are frozen to death
     daily.  It is not the fighting that kills, but
     exhaustion that brings terror and humiliation.16
     This kind of suffering was practically universal for Italian
troops fighting in Greece. The supply system had failed --the
result being little food and insufficient clothing against the
cold.  Simple replacement for boots and uniforms which became
shredded by the elements, was nonexistent.  Nevertheless, the
Italians fought with what they had, as in the account of Second
Lieutenant Peppino Antolini of the 5th Alpini Division:
          "...We are on reduced rations...My detachment is
     protected by Captain Adriano Auguadri's No. 44
     Company;  Auguadri is a librarian at Como whom I should
     like to talk about for a long time, because he is the
     most complete soldier I have ever met.  He attacked
     Hills 2109 and 2110 on Guri i Topit.  The Greeks were
     taken by surprise.  I was slightly wounded by
     hand-grenade fragments, and my sergeant got a bullet on
     his forehead, fortunately diverted by his helmet.  So
     he got away with a streak on his hairy head.  A Greek
     leapt at me with his bayonet, which cut the sleeve of
     my white wind-jacket without hurting me.  I fired my
     pistol, and my wind-jacket was reddened with the poor
     devil's blood.  We also took about ten prisoners.
     Incredible but true, we were then ordered to leave the
     positions we had gained.  So the Greeks reoccupied the
     two heights.  I am sure we shall pay dearly for that
     crazy order".17
     The numerous accounts of close combat and of the bravery of
the Italian soldiers despite the aforementioned deficiencies
speaks well for them.  In spite of their efforts, however, to
support the will of the Duce, they were able to do no more than
hold the line and they paid dearly for nothing--12,000 casualties
and no gain in territory.
     It is a rather sad commentary on the Italian people
that,despite the sacrifices that these common soldiers made to
fulfill some hollow destiny, Mussolini said of them as he
departed for Italy on March 21, "I am disgusted by this
environment.  We have not advanced one step.  They have been
deceiving me to this very day. I have a profound contempt for all
these people.18
     Perhaps by "these people" Mussolini was referring to his
generals whom he used as scapegoats for the failure of the war.
But one can readily see that, despite the rhetoric and the
bombastic speeches to the people in which he exalted them and the
Italian nation, he secretly had no confidence in them.
     One can only guess how the war would have progressed had the
generals received the extra time to prepare that they had
initially requested.  This will remain unanswered, but as has
already been stated, aside from logistic problems, they were
deficient tactically and lacked aggressiveness.
     Mussolini could subject his army to this humiliation only so
long.  As repugnant a decision as it was, Mussolini was forced to
accept the help of the German Army to rescue him from what would
have been an endless war of attrition if not a total defeat at
the hands of the Greeks.  It is interesting to note that, during
the earlier years of Hitler's and Mussolini's rise to power,
Hitler showed a great deal of admiration for the Duce's
administrative ability and his application of Fascism in running
Italy;  however, as a result of Mussolini' military failures in
France, Greece, Yugoslavia and North Africa, Hitler soon came to
view Italy as an ally, with mixed feelings.
     As the war continued on several fronts, the Supreme
Headquarters in Germany now watched carefully as Italy conducted
operations in North Africa.  Strategically, North Africa was
viewed as an Italian affair, and according to Generalmajor
Eckhard Christian of the Supreme Headquarters Operations section,
          The decision in the spring of 1941 to dispatch
     German troops to Italian North Africa was not based on
     a special military objective or on a strategic plan on
     broad lines.  It sprang initially from the necessity of
     supporting the Italian Mediterranean position, checking
     the British advance to Tripoli and possibly regaining
     Cyrenaica.  19
     Despite Hitler's otherwise diabolical qualities, he was, at
least loyal to his allies, including Mussolini;  however,
according to General Christian:
          Adolf Hitler had for a long time correctly
     appraised the actual worth of the Italian Wehrmacht.
     He distrusted its leadership, particularly the corps of
     generals and the royal house.  He felt contempt for
     Italian military morale, criticized their equipment and
     derided their tactics.  However he did not permit that
     these views of his should reach the Duce or that German
     troop commanders in the Italian theaters of war should
     adopt excessively drastic measures in dealing with
     their Italian brothers-in-arms.  He demanded that
     Italian sensitivities and vanity be accorded
     consideration under all circumstances".20
     Mussolini's initial hope of conducting an independent and
"parallel war" alongside his Axis partner faded.  As the Germans
moved into Italy to assist the Italians in the conduct of their
war in the Mediterranean and North Africa, Italy felt the
domination of German power.  The great question in Italy now
became "Who is the enemy?"
                           CHAPTER IV
                    OPERATIONS IN NORTH AFRICA
     In fighting his "parallel war", Mussolini had intended for
Hitler to keep his forces in the North while he maintained
control of "Mare Nostro"--the Mediterranean.  He defeated his own
purpose, however, because he was unable to singlehandedly defeat
his enemies, and he required, almost without exception, German
assistance in fighting his battles.  The Germans were therefore
required to become deeply involved in supporting the Italians
both in materiel and in actual combat forces.  One thing can be
said for Hitler--he was, at least, a loyal ally to his friend,
Mussolini.  Hitler had been opposed to Italy's entry into the war
in the first place, but when Mussolini could resist no longer,
entered the war, and made a poor showing, Hitler supported him
with all means available.  Of course, German assistance wasn't
completely altruistic--losing Italy would also mean exposing the
southern flank and possibly losing the war.
     One of the best post-war evaluations of Axis operations in
the Mediterranean and North Africa was provided by Field Marshall
Albert Kesselring.  He had been sent to Rome in November of 1941,
along with his Second Air Force, to act as Commander in Chief,
South, for the German Wehrmacht.  His specific duties were to
support Rommel's Afrikakorps and to restore the supply situation
which had become critical due to British command of the sea and
     Kesselring's report is, for the most part, an unbiased
appraisal of Italian performance from the highest levels of
command down to the common soldier.  His opinions corroborate
those of other authorities who have been quoted in this study;
therefore, much of his report is included here to allow the
reader access to the mind of one who saw the Italians operate
     Kesselring states in his report that,
          It is an established fact that the Italian armed
     forces have not fought convincingly and successfully
     either in World War I or II.  Exceptional performances,
     which have been registered in both wars, will not be
     discussed in this manuscript because otherwise the
     picture drawn by the bulk of the Italian forces will
     only be distorted.  The result of partly extremely
     bloody, but unsuccessful battles in World War I were
     panicky retreats which could only be intercepted by
     measures of support undertaken by the Entente;  during
     World War II, these retreats resulted in the voluntary
     withdrawal from the combat team by capitulating.  Both
     final situations were of little comfort to Italy's
     allies.  I want to omit the colonial wars since,
     despite several similar observations, their original
     situations are too different from a modern technical
     Kesselring also discusses regional differences between
          The Italians from the North cannot be compared
     with the Italians from the South.  Apart from that, the
     Sicilians, and in some cases also the Sardinians, have
     in addition a strong aversion, which goes as far as
     open hostility toward the Italians of the main land.
     The city dwellers, such as for example the Neapolitans,
     are in a category by themselves, and the differences
     between the wealthy and the farmers, for instance, can
     scarcely be overcome.  The connecting link [however] is
     the catholic church and the tremendous influence of the
     church on the simple Italian people and Italian
     womanhood as a whole.  The Italians are southerners,
     and they are hot-blooded with all the advantages and
     disadvantages inherent in their origin.  The upper
     classes and the workers possess a surprising amount of
     mental and physical mobility, high technical abilities,
     and initiative...on the other hand, the rural Italians
     from the south are a mass of people who, like children,
     can be led anywhere.  The Italian [southern] is easily
     contented; he actually has only three fashionable
     passions:  coffee, cigarettes and women.2
     According to Kesselring, the uneven distribution of wealth
brought about a natural animosity between the few rich and the
majority which are poor, and he says of this, "In this
connection, as in many others, exist fundamental differences
which somehow affect the armed forces.  [but] the sense for
family ties and community life is common to the entire
population".3  Kesselring's  point here is that the great
diversity of the people resulted in a military force which lacked
cohesion and sense of purpose.  Perhaps those at the highest
levels of government and those few well-educated, understood the
concept of nationalism, but the common soldier was often
dedicated only to his family, perhaps to his village and finally
to his own preservation.  Kesselring discusses in more detail the
situation in the Mediterranean when he arrived in November 1941:
          It was characterized by the breakdown of the
     supply system serving Axis forces in Africa.  This
     breakdown was becoming increasingly evident.  British
     command of the sea and air over Mediterranean waters
     became more and more pronounced.  Malta was a naval and
     air base.  As such it had become the center of
     attention. Rommel's position in Africa had become
     critical.  He was fighting a delaying action east of
     Derna.  He was hampered in his operation by the
     presence of infantry divisions and, particularly, by
     Italian divisions of low combat efficiency.4
     In his general evaluation of the Italian forces, he says,
          Africa was the theater of war of the Italians.  In
     Albania, Greece, Croatia, and France forces were tied
     down in considerable numbers and to an extent which I
     do not quite understand.  The reservoir of youths of
     draftable age had by far not been drained
     sufficiently.  Continued colonial wars had caused heavy
     loses.  Many circles were perceptibly tired of war The
     war effort was directed from the homeland and the
     homeland did not feel the impact of the war.  In my
     opinion the war was not conducted in a manner
     corresponding to the responsibility of the rest of the
     nation to the front-line soldier.  There was a certain
     listlessness.  Where a total effort of every man, woman
     and machine was needed, half-way measures were
     adopted.  This insufficiency in the personal and
     material effort was not due to effective shortages, but
     to an incomprehensible restraint.  I was able to
     establish this fact after Italy's defection while I was
     observing manpower at hand in camps and ports".  The
     following statement is important, in that Kesselring
     makes an observation regarding the loss of the war:
     "Regardless of whether it was the absence of an
     over-all survey over available stocks and the lack of
     familiarity with the requirements of the campaign,
     whether it was the idea of facilitating the transition
     to peacetime economy through smaller investment during
     the war, or whether it was pure business spirit, there
     is one fact that stands out, and that is the truth that
     the attendant disadvantages [shortcomings] resulted in
     the loss of Africa and Sicily".
          "The Italian armed forces were on the whole not
     prepared for war.  Rather than take cognizance of
     things as they really stood, the Italian Command--and I
     believe I may exclude Cavallero--indulged in wishful
     thinking.  German aid was requested in the required
     amounts when it was too late and when the useful effect
     of that aid was no longer in proportion to the effort
     made.  I gained the impression that this restraint grew
     out of the prestige of a pride in he Italian armed
     forces and their achievements.  Shortly before Italy's
     defection, the last Chief of Staff, General
     (Generaloberst) Ambrosio, effected a change in tactics
     and demanded such nonsensically high performances of
     troops and material that, judging from the nature and
     scope of these demands, subsequent shady intentions
     could be guessed."
          "The Italian soldier cannot be compared to the
     German soldier.  Training, in itself insufficient, was
     conducted on a peacetime basis and on barracks level;
     field service was neglected.  There was a lack of
     contact between officers and men.  If the enlisted men
     had not been so pitifully naive and easily satisfied,
     the consequences would have consisted not only of a
     defeat, but also of a mutiny within the Armed forces.
     The quality of higher command ranged from good to very
     good.  With well-trained and well-equipped troops it
     should undoubtedly have been successful.  The quality
     deteriorated rapidly toward the lower echelons and yet,
     exceptions proved the rule.  I observed units of the
     three services of the Italian armed forces that could
     compete with any European troops ss far as courage and
     aggressive spirit are concerned".5
     Kesselring's analysis of higher commands is interesting but
debateable in that it was often the decisions of the higher
commands which got the Italian armed forces into their
predicaments.  Political in-fighting between high ranking
officers was a problem which dated back to World War I and had a
negative impact throughout World War II. His evaluation
          "Army Africa:  There were not enough [Italian]
     motorized units.  Tanks did not have sufficient
     antitank protection.  Their armament was
     unsatisfactory.  Antitank weapons were insufficient in
     number and inefficient in performance.  Infantry
     weapons were inadequate.  Artillery was of high
     quality, but not adapted for action against Allied
     artillery due to insufficient range.  Signal
     communications facilities were not developed
     adequately.  Supply, including that of rations, was
          The number of divisions hardly approached the
     level of minimum requirements.  The quality of the
     divisions left much to be desired.   Divisions of
     higher combat efficiency were available in Italy.  The
     problems of furlough, relief, and rations had a
     destructive effect on morale."
          Sicily:  There were two divisions of medium
     quality;  the rest were below average.  It is difficult
     to visualize how badly coastal defenses had been
     Because Kesselring was charged with the logistic support of
North Africa, a primary concern was that of shipping.  He was
quite critical of Italy's contribution in this effort and refers
to it as a "fair weather fleet".  Although he termed the morale
of the fleet to be high, deficiencies in equipment (due to the
age of the fleet) precluded day-time duels with enemy fleets:
          "There was a certain Italian reluctance to risk
     the loss of ships perhaps in hope of preserving the
     fleet for the long-awaited peace.  The merchant fleet
     was never, therefore, put on a wartime footing.  In
     fact, the Italian nation never felt compelled to
     totally mobilize for war both in manpower and industry
     despite the defeats she had suffered in the past partly
     for those reasons.  In partial defense of the Italian
     fleet, there was a tremendous shortage of fuel oil and
     coal which often immobilized both the German and
     Italian fleets".   Kesselring makes a poignant
     statement regarding war in general, but it applies
     particularly well to the Italian fleet in this
     instance, and that is:  "Victory cannot be expected
     where action is governed by fear of losses".8
     One facet of the Italian navy must be mentioned before
continuing with the general evaluation of the armed forces.
Despite the fact that the Italian battle fleet was never employed
against enemy convoys, the Navy did possess an asset which caused
considerable concern to the British--The Decima Flottiglia MAS"
(the Sea Devils)  This unit was a group of select seamen who
developed techniques for sinking enemy shipping through the use
of human-guided torpedoes called "maiali" or "pigs", as well as
frogmen and explosive boats.  Through courage and daring, these
men were able to sink over a quarter of a million tons of British
shipping before the British realized what was happening to them.
The book, The Sea Devils, written by Valerio Borghese, Commander
of the Decima Flottiglia MAS, describes in detail the exploits of
this group and demonstrates nationalism, patriotism and courage
rivaling that of any of the world's great military forces. This
coincides with Kesselring's observation that there were
definitely exceptions to the general rule that Italian forces
were sub-standard.
     Rommel, in the meantime, had to cope with forces which,
because of factors already mentioned, did not function nearly as
well as the Decima Flottiglia MAS.  Because of Rommel's lack of
confidence in Italian forces, he employed them according to their
combat efficiency and in "sectors where their failure would not
cause a disaster".  They were usually placed in close proximity
to German forces where the latter could act as a screen.
Kesselring said of the Italian Divisions fighting in Tunisia in
January, 1943, that,
          ... whenever the enemy attacked the Italian
     mountain positions, he succeeded in breaking into the
     valley and inflicting heavy losses.  German
     counterattacks had to repair the damage...the Italians
     could not be trusted even with missions of minor
     While Italian and German forces floundered in North Africa,
the slow-paced effort at home in Italy frustrated the Germans.
Mussolini's response to German complaints of Italian lack of
dedication was that the Italian people were "war-weary from long
and exhausting colonial wars, and that too much precious blood
had been spilled".9
     General Cavallero, Chief of the General Staff, recognized
the deficiency in the Italian mentality toward the "total war"
concept and he made every attempt to coordinate government and
public institutions to pull Italy out of its peace-time attitude
but when Cavallero was replaced that effort ended.  Kesselring
said that, during his stay in Rome, he
          never had the impression that the people knew from
     the beginning that they were fighting for their very
     existence, but that they became aware of the drama,
     which was unfolding, only in the course of the war,
     when they had to undergo the air attacks and had lost
     their colonial empire and the islands in front of the
     main land...I shall never forget the impression of
     peace-time life Rome made on me at the time of the
     battles for the Anzio-Nettuno beachhead which were
     raging nearby".10
     A major German concern was the poor training given to
Italian forces.  They seemed to have a garrison mentality, and,
in fact, much of their training was done in garrison--a totally
inappropriate practice for exposing troops to the hardships of
the battlefield.  Kesselring said, "The training remained
superficial, without having reached a satisfactory level.  One
only has to closely watch a simple changing of the guard
procedure to arrive at this judgement.  The Italian soldier was
not a soldier from within".11
     Returning to the subject of armament and weapons--the
Italians were hopelessly antiquated in this area.  Many experts
feel that the Italians had the poorest small arms of all the
combatants of the war.  Their anti-tank and anti-armor weapons
were extremely scarce and what they did have, such as 40mm
anti-tank guns were almost totally ineffective against enemy
armor.  Italian ships had no radar and could not, therefore,
fight at night, nor did they have antisubmarine warfare
capability, which rendered them useless for convoy escorting.
The Air Force, for its part, was equipped with planes deficient
in armament, speed and communications.  As for weapons used in
the defense of the homeland--what few antiaircraft guns existed
were entirely antiquated and useless.
     We have already noted the weak officer-enlisted relationship
which existed during World War I.  That tradition continued into
World War II and was observed with concern by Kesselring.  He
          The ordinary soldier received--even in the
     field--entirely different rations from those issued to
     non-commissioned officers and officers.  The size of
     the ration was multiplied according to rank, and larger
     amounts obviously also meant a better choice of good
     food.  The officers ate according to their ranks,
     increasingly well and copiously.  The ordinary soldier
     was issued the most frugal ration;  had it been
     plentiful and good, the officer would obviously not
     have needed the double, or still higher, ration
     quantity.  The officers, etc. ate separately by
     themselves, without contact with their men, often not
     knowing what and how much they received.  Thus, the
     war-time comradeship, the main feature of which is the
     community of life and death, was being undermined...I
     have often pointed out to Cavallero, what a dangerous
     effect the above-mentioned conditions had on the morale
     of the men...I have personally experienced that our
     German field kitchens were being practically besieged
     by Italian soldiers, while I was eating excellently on
     the customary officers ration in the Italian officers
     But Kesselring continued his unbiased appraisal with:
          I do not intend to expose deficiencies by making
     the above statements, but only want to clarify the
     reasons for the failure of the Italian soldier in order
     to give interested persons the possibility for taking
     corrective actions.  I also do not want to deny in any
     way that the relationship ketween officers and men was
     nevertheless a good one".12
     Kesselring did not hesitate to applaude the "fundamental
decency of the simple Italian man and of the possibility of
progressively developing him into a good tough fighter and
soldier".  His appraisals of the Italian soldier's abilities must
be considered very valid because he saw them first hand.  He
          I have seen much too many heroic performances of
     Italian units and individuals--such as the Folgore
     Division near El Alamein, the artillery in the Tunisian
     battles, the crews of the Kleinstkampfmittel (smallest
     means of combat such as one man torpedoes) of the Navy,
     the crews of torpedo boats, the units of torpedo
     bombers, etc.--not to express this opinion with
     conviction.  But the decision [outcome] in a war is not
     brought about by top performances of individuals but by
     the training condition and morale of the entire
     army.  It is therefore wrong to represent the Italian
     soldiers and the Italian people all together as
     militarily inferior and unsuitable for a tough war.. In
     this context, Mussoloni and his former state
     secretaries are either guilty of gross neglect, or
     Mussolini is definitely guilty of not having desisted
     from war if he was aware of these precarious gaps.13
     In World War II, there were, of course, a great many forces
operating against one another especially in the Mediterranean and
North African theaters.  Analyses by these forces, together with
those of Italy's German allies, help to validate one another and
provide focus on their deficiencies and strengths.
     John Herrington, in his book Air War Against Germany and
Italy--1939-l943, describes  combat in the Mediterranean and
North Africa between the Axis air powers and those of the British
and Australians.  The author does not usually provide definitive
evaluations of the Italian Air Force;  however, one can deduce
from the readings the state of training, the aggressiveness, and
overall capabilities of the Italians in this arena.  It is
interesting to note that initial British estimates of Italian
capabilities far exceeded reality.  Perhaps this was a result of
Mussolini's great show prior to the outbreak of hostilities
which, as previously mentioned, were nothing more than a facade.
In referring to the Libyan campaign, Herington says,
          Against this scattered, obsolescent and
     difficult-to-reinforce British force, it was estimated
     the Italians could immediately dispose approximately
     twice the number of aircraft both in the Eastern
     Mediterranean and East African theaters, and that the
     former at least could be readily reinforced at will
     from Italy.  However, Longmore [commander of Middle
     East forces] felt confident that what his forces lacked
     in quantity would, in any real prolonged test of
     strength, be compensated by the offensive spirit and
     more solid experience and training of his air and
     ground crews.14
     The Italians had somehow given the impression to their
enemies that they would be an aggressive force as indicated by
Herington's, "Faced with apparently overwhelming enemy numbers
[Italian] the R.A.F. decided that when Italy actually entered the
war it would employ its small but well-trained forces promptly
and offensively".15  The actual response of the Italians was
not at all the offensive spirit that the British expected.
Herington writes,
          Low-flying attacks began against Italian bases
     both in Libya and East Africa punctually on 11th June
     and similar attacks continued throughout the month.
     The general result was to force the Italians into a
     defensive attitude and they made little attempt to
     exploit their theoretical superiority in numbers... By
     October, Italian inefficiency, the opening of the
     Takoradi route, and the forceful R.A.F tactics had
     given hopes of an even greater air offensive if only
     more supplies of aircraft and crews could be
     obtained".  He said, in addition:  "The preceeding five
     months [of the Libyan campaign] however, had already
     shown that the numerically inferior R.A.F. by
     determined aggression could pin down and harrass the
     Italian Air Force... one important result of the
     initial drive of the 7th Armored Division was to force
     the Italians to abandon in haste all airfields of the
     Derna-Martuba group, and, while waiting for their own
     supplies, British squadrons which had moved forward to
     these landing grounds made use of enemy stores.
     Bombing attacks were soon resumed on Tobruk, Derna and
     Benghazi and small as the R.A.F. effort was it exceeded
     by a considerable margin that of the Italians who made
     only sporadic bombing attacks with single aircraft on
     Salum, Bardia and forward troops.  Enemy fighter cover
     was practically non-existent, and the Regia Aeronautica
     was almost a spent force.  Since the campaign opened on
     8th December it had lost 154 aircraft in battle, while
     on every landing ground now taken over by the advancing
     [British] army and air force, aircraft in all states of
     airworthiness were found abandoned in large
     From reading this passage, one cannot determine the reason
for such quick abandonement, but it seems odd that planes which
were probably flyable could not have somehow been moved to the
     Herington's book gives a very detailed, accurate, and
unbiased account of air warfare with the Italians and Germans.
It must be mentioned that the Italians did account for themselves
fairly well on occasion, but never seemed to show the
aggressiveness or joint will to take advantage of their superior
numbers.  As Kesselring said, "a military force cannot be afraid
to take losses if it is to be effective in battle".
     We cannot leave the subject of Italian combat effectiveness
without including a British evaluation on the subject.  In his
book, Condotta Italiana della Guerra _(Italian Conduct of War),
the author, Lucio Cevi includes a section by a British military
analyist which was translated into Italian as "Analisi britannica
della capacita combattiva delle forze italiane in Africa, 27
gennaio 1941".  The following is my translation back into
English.  It is titled. "British analysis of the combat
effectiveness of the Italians in Africa, 27 January 1941":
          1.  The main characteristic of Italian tactics in
     both theaters of war in Libya and eastern Africa, has
     been that of rigidity.  They have remained attached to
     one principle which consists of the concentration of
     the greatest mass possible for whatever task lay ahead
     of them.  In the attack, they spread this mass along
     the front and they depend on the weight of numbers
     alone to break through.  It is true that they
     demonstrate the tendency to advance in separate and
     parallel columns, and that they achieved with success
     some penetrations in Somalia.  But in practice these
     tactics didn't have the aim of encircling our own
     positions and they weren't able to penetrate them and
     they succeeded simply and solely because of the small
     size of our forces.  So the mass of the enemy advanced
     on a fairly wide front with its "wings" stretched out
     at a great distance...
          2.  The first direction of a column which ran
     along the irregular terrain of Sidi Barrani initially
     looked like an encircling movement, but suddenly it
     appeared that the column was simply part of the
     attacking mass along the front.  Other smaller
     offensive actions followed the same procedure:
     Kassala, Gallabat, Mojale.  In all of these it was
     possible with ridiculously few troops to cause grave
     losses to the compact masses of the enemy before we
          3.  In addition, when they are halted, the Italian
     forces are not capable of continuing their attack using
     lateral units for fire support, nor do they use the
     leap-frog tactic with their reserve.  It is true that
     during the attack on Sidi Barrani, a division was made
     to advance through the Libyan divisions, but that
     happened without any military purpose and only to give
     the Fascists the glory of entering Sidi Barrani first.
     The method of support in the offense consists of
     successive pushes by the reserve from the rear to the
     front so that by weight of the masses the main body
     recommences the movement.  Inevitably that results in a
     great loss of troops on the front line, as occurred in
          4.  The Italian method of defense is not any
     better than their offensive tactics.  Either they form
     a series of strong points in shallow depth in which
     they ammass as many men and machine guns as possible,
     or else they form a front of ammassed units with no
          The first method was put to use in the western
     desert where fortified areas were organized, strong by
     themselves. but incapable of mutual support.  At
     Kassala squads of men were pushed ahead and when they
     realized that their flanks were turned, they sent other
     masses to the wings leaving themselves without a
     reserve.  It is evident that the enemy thought very
     little about the problem of retreat and that when
     forced to do so, they were not able to quickly
     disengage to retreat.
          5.  The use of the counterattack seemed to be
     unknown to the enemy.  He never carried out an
     organized counterattack in any theater of war, although
     in the western desert and especially at Bardia he had
     all the means to do it.
          6.  It is not difficult to find reasons for these
     tactical errors.  First of all, the youngest elements
     of the Italian army were educated to consider
     themselves invincible just because they are Italians
     and Fascists and because they have illustrious leaders
     such as Mussolini and his clique.  To the Italians it
     has been taught that their enemies are very inferior
     and that it's enough to advance and yell "A noi!" (To
     us) and the enemy will be defeated... Secondly, the
     advancement system according to political methods
     produces commanders and staff officers who are
     incapable and which causes suspicion and jealousy.
          7.  In conclusion, Italian military theory and
     practice are very antiquated and their military
     hierarchy, supported in part by formalism and in part
     by political jealously, can't adapt to modern
     warfare... but it would be a mistake, at the same time,
     to underestimate indiscriminately the combative virtues
     of the Italian soldier. --today, whipped by reversals,
     finding himself embarrassed by the prolongation of a
     war which had been promised would be of short duration,
     discouraged by a shortages of equipment and material
     which is attributed to favoritism among the heads of
     the party, the Italian soldier has no desire to fight
     in conditions of tension and misfortune.
     And so it went in North Africa.  Many totally diverse
sources criticize the Italian system for its antiquation, its
political corruption and its general malaise.  But it should also
be noted that many also praised the Italian soldier for his
ability when he was properly led and equipped.  It is not
individual soldiers, however, who win wars, but united,
functioning governments and a supportive populace.  Such was the
dilemma of Italy.   Could the Italians possibly change this trend
of incompetence in the middle of the war?  Perhaps the more
important question was, "did they want to remain in the war?"
                            CHAPTER V
                           NEAR THE END
     By the time Italy was two years into the war, her leadership
realized the incredible blunder they had made.  Their frustration
with the poor performance of Italy's forces combined with the
domineering German occupation created extreme turmoil throughout
the country. It is important for the student of Italian military
history to be familiar with the documents which reflect the
feelings of the leadership of the country as the war progressed.
One of those documents is From the Ashes of Disgrace  by Admiral
Franco Maugeri.  Admiral Maugeri was Director of Italian Naval
Intelligence in l94l when Mussolini declared war on the Allies
and as such, he was very close to the highest officials in the
Italian government, including Count Ciano, the Foreign Minister.
Maugeri's book includes a dialogue between Ciano and himself
which must be included here because it is a perfect example of
the guilt, the confusion, the hate, and utter exasperation which
permeated the minds of those in power:
     CIANO:  The trouble with the Italian Navy is the same
     thing that's wrong with the Italian Army and Air Force
     and everything else in Italy today--the blockheaded,
     arrogant, selfish German swine.  They are the real
     cause of all our failures.  On land, at sea, in the
     air.  Don't you agree, Admiral?"
     MAUGERI:  I think perhaps--
     CIANO:  Yes, you're quite right.  There's the root of
     all our troubles, all our misfortunes.  the Germans.
     Not that we Italians aren't to blame, too.  We must be
     realistic, Maugeri.   Always realistic.  At all costs.
     That's what I keep telling the Duce.  There's no sense
     fooling ourselves with rose-colored pictures and opium
     dreams.  The situation today doesn't look too bright,
     does it?  Not only the military situation, I mean, or
     the diplomatic one--Dio mio, they are bad enough!  It's
     the situation Italy that worries me most, the
     difficulties and dangers it presents for us.  And
     they're getting worse every day, Maugeri.  Every day!
     The spirit of the people is extremely poor.  They're
     not backing the war effort the way they should.  Oh, I
     know how they feel about it, and I can't altogether
     blame them.  There are many things about it I'm not in
     accord with myself.  Mussolini says that immediate
     incentives are lacking.  What incentive is it for us to
     pull Hitler's chestnuts out of the fire?  Do you know
     what they're saying in Milan these days?  To end the
     war, let's even win it.  How can anyone expect us to
     win the war, if the people have that attitude?  It's
     out of the question, Admiral.  It can't be done!
     MAUGERI:  Perhaps it's because the people are realists,
     Your Excellency.
     CIANO:  They're worse than realists!  They're
     pessimists!  They're defeatists!  Yes, that's where the
     trouble lies.    Our people have no faith in the war,
     or in their leaders, or in anything.  They've
     completely lost their will to win--if they ever had it
     to begin with.  Sometimes I wonder.  Maybe Mussolini is
     right.  Maybe the Italian people do lack character.
     We've spent millions upon millions, giving them
     education, building schools for them, training
     teachers, supplying books.  And what do we have to show
     for it?  A population only interested in itself,
     utterly unwilling to make sacrifices, utterly lacking
     in loyalty, in gratitude to the Duce and the Fascist
     Party that made all these wonderful things possible.
     Sometimes, Admiral, sometimes I get quite discouraged
     and disillusioned.  But it's not just the
     rank-and-file.  That's the worst of it.  That
     miserable, self-seeking, niggardly spirit has infected
     the Party, too, and the armed forces.  Maybe not the
     Navy, but certainly the Army and Air Force are crawling
     with it.  Take a man like Vidussoni.  What right has he
     got to hold a job like that?  A cretin!  An utter
     incompetent!  The only reason he got the job was
     because he's been sleeping with one of the  Duce's
     mistresses.  What can he possibly know?  He's hardly a
     boy, a mere boy.  He's not more than twenty-seven or
     twenty-eight, at most.  Yes!  Yes!  I know what you're
     going to say--I was only thirty-three when I became
     Foreign Minister.  But there's a little difference
     between Vidussoni and me, Maugeri.   Isn't that true?
     And look at the spectacle of our Army!  A crook like
     Cavallero holding down the job of Chief of the General
     Staff, the job that Marshal Badoglio held for eighteen
     years before him.  It's ridiculous, my dear Maugeri!
     Utterly ridiculous!  How can we expect to win a war
     with a man like him running the show, a man who has
     sold himself completely to the Germans?  Cavallero is a
     thoroughly dishonest individual.  Worse than that, he
     doesn't even know his job.  He's a stupid, incapable,
     meddling bungler.  All he knows is to do just what the
     Germans tell him.  No, no, Admiral. what we need is a
     change, a complete change.  That's the only thing
     that's going to pull povera ftalia [poor Italy] out of
     this mess.  Don't you agree?1
     Such was the mentality of one of the top figures in Italian
government.  Though childish-sounding, Ciano fairly accurately
evaluated the attitude of the Italian people.  Probably the most
accurate statement was "They've completely lost their will to
win--if they ever had it to begin with".  Certainly there were
zealots all over Italy who were looking for a fight, but the
reservation and lack of aggressiveness on the part of the
majority clearly reflect Ciano's statement.  Why die for a cause
in which you don't believe?  This attitude did not change until
the Italians defected to the Allied side and formed the
Resistance Movement.
     A final quote must be made from Maugeri's book which well
describes the Italian dilemma as follows:
          "The winter of 1942-43 found most of us who hoped
     for a free Italy faced with this hard, bitter, painful
     truth:  we could never throw off our chains if the Axis
     were victorious.  If in the autumn of that year, as
     Ciano had said, the people's attitude was, "To end the
     war, let's even win it," by midwinter it had become,
     "To get rid of Fascism and the Germans, let's even lose
     it."  The more we loved our country, the more we had to
     pray for its defeat on the field of battle.  Patriotic
     Italians knew that victory meant only worse slavery for
     Italy.  Never would we be able to get a triumphant
     Germnany off our backs.  Our sole hope of winning
     freedom lay in losing the war.  Such was the Tragic
     Dilemma that confronted us."2
     The dilemma faced by Maugeri and other high ranking officials
of the government was faced, perhaps to a lesser extent, by the
common soldier who had to decide where his loyalties should lie.
The majority of the Italian people were fed up with Fascism and
the German occupation.  Should the Italian soldier who probably
felt little, if any, devotion to the Fascist regime, oppose the
allied forces which would lift that awful yoke from the backs of
the people?  Every soldier and every officer had to make that
decision and it was very apparent when allied troops finally
invaded Sicily on 10 July 1943 what the majority of Italian
forces had decided to do.  The armistice was not signed with the
Allies until 3 September 1943, and yet the majority of Italian
forces had long since decided how they wanted the war to end.
     An observer of this collapse of Italian will was Christopher
Buckley who was a war correspondent with the British Eigth Army
when they landed in Sicily.  His description of the assault and
of the Italian "resistance" there gives a clear picture of the
attitude of the people and of their weariness of war.  He says,
in his book, Road to Rome,
          Despite the paucity of enemy de fences as revealed
     in aerial photographs, I had visualized us disembarking
     on to heavily wired beaches under a hail of fire from
     hitherto concealed and unsuspected machine-gun
     positions.  I had imagined us burrowing down into the
     sand for protection.  Yet here was I within quarter of
     an hour of landing in Europe seated in a leafy lane
     feeling mildly discomforted because I was dirty and
     unshaven.  It seemed too ridiculously prosaic... Later I
     learned that there had been some losses at the original
     landing, but very few.  One of the battalions reported
     only one man killed and six wounded in the course of
     the entire day.  Resistance, in fact, had been almost
     negligible.  Only in the American area in the
     neighbourhood of Gela was opposition really serious
     where there were Germans present among the defenders,
     and they counter-attacked with tanks, penetrating
     almost to the beach".3
       Although Buckley says that there were pockets of resistance
  or isolated snipers who vainly attempted to oppose the landing on
  Sicily, for the most part, the Italians wanted no part of the
  battle as he describes in the following scenarios:
            Down the lane came numbers of green-uniformed
       Italian soldiers, about two hundred of them in two or
       three separate batches.  They weren't even guarded;
       they were just marching in to surrender with their
       hands up.  Some of them were laughing and joking.  They
       were quite ready to talk and explain away their defeat
       in terms of the poor quality of their equipment.  "What
       do you expect?  Italy is a poor country;  Britain and
       America are rich.  When do you suppose the war will
            ... Sometimes they gave themselves up to a single
       British soldier, sometimes they didn't even wait for
       that but simply walked down the road to find someone to
       whom they could surrender.
            Groups of men carrying white flags were seen
       approaching down the road, and the firing died away.
       There was no apparent reason, for the enemy didn't
       appear to have suffered many losses and they certainly
       hadn't shot away their ammunition.  They had simply had
       In the middle of this mass surrender, villages throughout
Sicily were being liberated, and various mayors announced the
arrival of the Allies and decreed that the peoples' right to
speech and writing had been restored and that all political
prisoners would be immediately released. The scene in virtually
all of the villages was that of jubilance and great relief that
the Allies had arrived.  Unfortunately, these scenes of
capitulation further mar the image of the Italian soldier
especially when coupled with  other battles such as that of
Caporetto, where there was also mass surrender.
       Perhaps the most comical scene depicted by Buckley
illustrates without a doubt that the Italians had had enough of
Germans and Fascists and wanted to assist the Allies any way they
could:  "Men in green field uniforms were eagerly assisting in
the unloading.  I rubbed my eyes and looked again.  There could
be no doubt about it.  This was the Italian defending force, and
they were queueing up to help the invaders disembark their
equipment and stores.5
     Buckley also makes a poignant statement which  sums up
somewhat the feelings of many regarding the plight of the Italian
soldier in World War II:  "But it was a fact that as this
campaign progressed one seemed increasingly to regret, even to
resent, Italian deaths.  It was all so unnecessary.  Why did they
have to get in the way and get themselves killed?  Our quarrel
was not with them.  They were so pathetically ill-armed, their
uniforms so shabby and second-rate.6
     The common Italian people including the soldiers did, in
fact, get in the way of this war.  They did not want it in the
first place but were forced to fight it.  Many fought the war out
of patriotism despite a flawed cause, and many fought for
personal honor, but a united effort was never made.
     It has been mentioned elsewhere in this study that the
guerrilla operations conducted by the Resistance Movement after
the defection to the Allied side did not reflect this same kind
of pathos, confusion and lack of fighting ability.  A brief
account of guerrilla fighting in Italy is included here to show
both sides of the Italian soldier in combat.
     The Italian partisan movement was, for the most part, a
political one and was promoted by many different factions
including former military officers and troops, Communists, and
unaffiliated civilians.  But all were united in their common goal
to finally rid Italy of the Fascists and the Germans.  They
operated independently of the Allies which was of concern to
them, but the most important point is that they were effective
and created chaos for the Germans behind the lines.  The Italian
who had previously been characterized as "not too serious about
anything but wine, women and cigarettes" now became a tough
guerrilla fighter who was ruthless in combat.
     Field Marshal Albert Kesselring has already been extensively
quoted in reference to the Italians as allies.  Since he remained
in command of northern Italy after the Italian defection, he also
had to face them as enemies.  Kesselring's frustration with the
situation is indicated in his post-war account:
          Italy entered the war against Germany's will.
     German army and navy units as well as air forces were
     requested to support the cause.  They arrived and
     fought for Italy's life interests.  The amount of
     German blood spilled in Africa, Tunis, Sicily and
     southern Italy was immense but it was endured.  The
     numerically far superior Italian army units fought
     almost without exception not nearly as hard;  at times
     it was obvious they were holding back.  Even this was
     endured in view of the Italian friendship.
          The situation changed, however, as soon as Italy,
     with the full support of the Allies and after
     withdrawing from the Axis, proclaimed "guerrilla
     warfare".  Its origin and its method was contrary to
     international law and turned the previous conradeship
     in arms to brutal murder.7
     Kesselring comments extensively on the lawlessness and
"brutality" of the Partisan groups, but whether or not the
guerrillas were operating within the framework of international
law is not the concern here.  What is important, is the fact that
these units were so effective.  Kesselring say of this
          Guerrilla bands in Istria, Northeastern Lombardy,
     with the point of main effort at Doerz and in the Alps
     area to the north thereof, fought in a still more
     ruthless and brutal manner...they were locally
     separated and possessed great fighting
     qualities... reconnaissance groups were expertly trained
     and appeared in very small groups which could fully
     depend upon each other.  The men were party followers
     of a very high caliber, ready to risk anything.8
     These Italian guerrillas caused thousands of German
casualties and they forced the enemy to divert many thousands of
troops from the front to control guerrilla activities in the
rear.  The people in the cities also finally understood who the
enemy was and united themselves against the German occupiers.
One of the greatest episodes in Italian history occurred in
Naples when the starving and practically disarmed people of the
city rose up in response to a German forced-labor proclamation
and defeated their captors after a four-day struggle.  When the
Allies first arrived on October 1, the city had already been
     The Resistance Movement is discussed briefly here to show
that the Italian nation was willing to sacrifice itself in combat
when it truly had a cause.  Their sacrifice is painfully evident
in the post-war figures of Resistance casualties.  Data published
by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in October 1945
indicates that there were 27,000 dead and 17,000 wounded in
battle;  20,000 dead and 986 wounded in acts of reprisal;
victims of crimes consequent to Nazi-Fascist atrocities an acts
of reprisal:  19,204 (709 of whom were hanged and 506 burned
alive); plus 33 groups of people massacred;  a total of 66,204
     And so, for the Italians, World War II ended in both
disgrace and triumph.  They had not been capable of fielding an
army which could beat the enemy without German assistance and yet
once united in a common cause and free of regional and political
differences, they were fierce and convincing adversaries.
     And now the Italians faced the almost insurmountable task of
repairing the devastation that war had wrought on their
peninsula.  Along with the problem of rebuilding the country came
the penetrating question--could Italy ever develop a political
system which would truly reflect the will of her people--one
which would act responsibly and unitedly in implementing foreign
policy.  But more than that, could she ever field a military
force whose training, equipping and morale would render it
effective against future foes?
                         CHAPTER VI
     What, finally, is to be said of the Italian military
system?  Based on this general analysis of Italy's experience in
war, can it be said that, when viewed as a sole entity, without
the negative influences of a political system, it is any better
or worse than other European forces?  Similarly, can the Italian
soldier be considered less capable than his counterpart in other
armies of the world?  It was indicated that, at least in the late
19th Century, the Italian Army was not significantly different in
recruitment or training from those of the other major powers of
     It has also been indicated that genetics play no part in
determining the fighting ability of a people, except perhaps in
isolated individuals.  The German Army's tremendous performance
of the 19th and 20th centuries, was due, not to the supremacy of
the "Aryan race", but to generations of regimentation and
discipline.  When such generations are exposed to the cunning
diatribe of a Hitler or other persuasive dictator, the result is
an army the capabilities (although not necessarily the
objectives) of which serve as a model for all others.
     Mussolini was also acutely aware of the kind of society
required to fulfill the aims of a militarist, imperialist
dictatorship.  He must have greatly envied German society, the
duplication of which he knew was not possible in Italy.  Although
the Fascists had taught for twenty years, "Libro e
moschetto-fascista perfetto" (Book and rifle make the perfect
fascist), they were not able to  produce the same results that
centuries of Germanic rigidity had accomplished in the North.
They attempted to  impose structure on Italian life, but the
culture could not accept it.  The Italian remained devoted to his
family, to his church and to his regional culture.
     Because Mussolini's peasant society failed to transpose
itself into a modern Roman legion, he lost confidence in its
ability and yet thrust it into battle with little hope of
     The outbreak of World War II brought the people of the
combatant countries together as only war can do.  Mussolini,
however, faced the task of winning the war with a divided
nation.  With images of World War I still in many minds, most
Italians had no desire to become involved in another major
     Many Italians felt that their country was engaged in an
illegal act of aggression, and as the war progressed with great
loss of life, the populace became increasingly disenchanted.  It
became apparent early in the war that Italy's preparation was
pitiful, and as her forces were defeated in battle after battle,
humiliation was heaped upon the guilt that her society already
     One cannot divorce the soldier from origins.  The soldier
is, in fact, a reflection of his society and he therefore mirrors
its mores and spirit.  Apart from the dedicated and fanatical
Fascist blackshirts who wholeheartedly supported the war, the
common soldier harbored no feelings of conquest and certainly had
no reason to hate his British or the American "enemies".  It
became a tragic dilemma, then, when pushed by a sense of duty,
the soldier fought an enemy which was created by the government
but which was not accepted as such from within.
     Such is the plight of all soldiers.  One must serve his
country but how does a thinking man serve a regime which is not
only repressive to its own people but brutal in its imperial
conquests.  We must, then, view the Italian soldier of World War
II with a certain empathy.
     As indicated throughout this study, the entire period, from
1848 to 1945 was fraught with such regional, political and
international turmoil, that the Italian military faced great
trials, the greatest of which were achieving unity within its own
ranks and receiving support from a firm political base.
Throughout this period, poorly defined national interests often
conflicted with the regional, religious and family values that
Italians inherently felt.
     Italy's armed forces today have had the benefit of forty
years of self-analysis since World War II and they have proven to
be one of our strongest allies in Europe, as evidenced, for
example, by the early deployment of Pershing missiles in Sicily.
As this close friendship has developed within the NATO structure,
Italy has benefitted both from the operational techniques of her
allies as well as from their technologies.
     Italy's leadership structure still seems to be plagued,
however, by political in-fighting although discussions with
officers who have worked with Italian senior staffs reveal that
Italian officers, are, for the most part, very  capable.  Two
recent operations highlight the high-level planning and execution
capabilities of the Italian military, carabinieri (special
police), and intelligence agencies.  The rescue of General Dozier
in 1981 from Red Brigage terrorists and the heavy Italian
involvement in the Beirut operation demonstrated that the
Italians could effectively coordinate highly sensitive and
politically significant missions.
     It is the opinion of many U.S. officers, that, because of
the aforementioned successes, and because of her demonstrated
performance in NATO air, ground and naval exercises, Italy will
be capable of effectively performing her role of assisting in the
defense of the southern flank along with other NATO forces.
     Despite the fact that Italy's military consists primarily of
conscripts, (they view our volunteer force as ridiculously
expensive) they are viewed as adequate for the task.  The Alpini
troops who are trained in mountain warfare, are particularly good
and they demonstrate high morale, esprit de corps and they have
the benefit of much better equipment than that which was seen in
World War II and previous conflicts..
     Throughout this study, equipment has been a recurring
issue.  It has always been poor.  Despite the fact that Italy
continues to resist spending any significant amount of its
currently impressive Gross National Product, Italian troops are
well-equipped, well-fed and well-trained.  They are the
beneficiary of a booming Italian arms industry which provides
them with state-of-the-art weaponry (if not in the amounts they
would like to have).
     The Italian Navy is a significant force in the Mediterranean
and would be considered a deterrent to aggression from the East.
A concept, however, which has been difficult for the Italians to
deal with is that of power projection.  They want a Navy capable
of defending their extensive shores but they don't want its
capability to extend beyond those bounds.  A recent proposal by
the Navy to buy AV-8 aircraft has been held up in Parliament
because the Harrier is viewed as a weapons system which could
project power beyond that which is necessary or national
     The Italian Air Force is currently suffering from retention
problems, as are many Air Forces throughout the Western world, as
airlines vie for the services of both pilots and mechanics.
However, the Air Force is considered adequate, although not up to
the standards of some of the other European countries such as
that of Germany, for example.  Joint training exercises with
United States and other NATO forces have significantly improved
pilot expertise.
     The most important aspect of Italy's capability to defend
herself lies in her political system.  Throughout her history,
this confused governing body has been responsible, in large part,
for getting Italy involved in conflicts which she was not
prepared to fight.
     Analysing modern Italian politics cannot be done in a few
paragraphs let alone in volumes.  The many parties which make up
the parliament have strong interests and concerns.  The two
primary parties, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists are
at opposite ends of the Conservative-Liberal spectrum.  The
Communist Party has also been very strong in Italy since World
War II and, although it does not espouse Soviet communism, its
weight puts left-wing pressure on an otherwise Moderate or
Moderate-Right government.
     The difficulty with a coalition of such extremes as it
concerns the military is, of course, the question of government
support in the event of conflict.  Will the government be able to
reach a consensus on a course of action and will the government
ultimately gain the support of the general populace.  As
previously stated, the memory of World War II tends to create a
conservative attitude toward the involvement of Italian forces in
conflict.  The use of Italian forces in Beirut and the Persian
gulf are examples of this concern.  Those forces did deploy (and
performed admirably) but only after significant debate in
     To Italy's advantage, she has experienced significant
economic and social change since World War II and has assumed a
new national identity as a result of her emergence as a world
industrial power. She exports "high-tech" products throughout the
world including sophisticated electronics systems and
state-of-the-art military weapons systems.
     Italy and everything Italian has become fashionable.
Italian cars, Italian clothing and even Italian weapons are in
style.  It is very common on television, for example, to see
police carrying the new Italian Beretta 92-F automatic pistol,
and, of course, the car of choice for the truly elite, is the
Italian-made Ferrari.
     The advent of the industrial age in Italy has thus created
for the Italians a new image abroad and has given them a new
sense of pride and national identity.  Modernization in Italy has
also brought with it improved communications in the form of
television and radio.  These, too, have broken somewhat, regional
barriers and have brought the people together as a nation.
     The full potential of this great people remains as yet
unrealized.  The heritage of daVinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and
Marconi is reflected in the genius of a progressive, modern
society.  But the question remains. . .will this people have the
national will to overcome the political and military failures of
the past to defend all that they have gained?  That question will
be answered in the next war.
Chapter I, The 19th Century and Italy's Unification
     1Shepard B.  Clough and Salvatore Saladino, A History of
Modern Italy, (New York and London:  Columbia University Press,
1968), p. 65.
     2Ibid., p. 145.
     3Ibid., p. 220.
Chapter II, Italy Enters World War I
     1Clough, op. cit., p. 308.
     2Clough, op. cit., p. 306.
     3Erwin Rommel, Attacks, (Vienna, Virginia:  Athena Press,
1979), p. 202.
     4Ibid.  p. 216.
     5Ibid., p. 238.
     6Ibid., p. 244.
     7Ibid., p. 250.
     8Ibid., p. 269.
     9Ibid., p. 271
     10Ibid., p. 274.
     11Ibid., p. 274.
     12Ibid., p. 310.
     13John Keegan, The Face of Battle, (New York:  Penguin
Books, 1976), p. 335.
     14Clough, op. cit., p. 336.
     15Clough, op. cit., p. 337.
Chapter III, Italy Seeks Its National Identity Under Mussolini:
     The Tragedy of World War II
     1Anthony James Joes, Mussolini, (New York:  Franklin
Watts, 1982), p. 220.
     2Mario Cervi, The Hollow Legions, (New York:  Doubleday
and Company, Inc., l97l), p.  67.
     3Ibid., p. 68.
     4Ibid., pp. 68-75.
     5Ibid., p. 70.
     6Ibid., p. 76.
     7Ibid., p. 78.
     8Ibid., p. 82.
     9Ibid., p. 207.
     10Ibid,, p. 209.
     11Ibid., p. 212.
     12Ibid., p. 221.
     13Ibid., p. 222.
     14Ibid., p. 230.
     15Ibid., p. 234.
     16Ibid., pp. 245-246.
     17Ibid., p. 252.
     18Ibid., p. 240.
     19Donald S.  Detwiler, World War II German Military
Studies, (New York:  Garland Publishing, Inc., 1979), p.
     20Ibid., p. D-145-7.
Chapter IV, Operations in North Africa
     1Detwiler, op.  cit., p. C-0l5-4.
     2Ibid., p. C-0l5-4.
     3lbid., p.C-015-5.
     4Ibid., p. T-3-Pl-63.
     5lbid., pp. T-3-Pl-10.
     6Ibid., p. T-3-Pl-12.
     7Ibid., p. T-3-Pl-18.
     8Ibid., p. T-3-Pl-12.
     9Ibid., p. T-3-Pl-25.
     10Ibid., p. C-015-8.
     11Ibid., p. C-015-ll.
     12Ibid., p. C-015-ll-13.
     13Ibid., p. C-015-10.
     14John Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy
1939-43, (Sydney:  Halstead Press, 1962), p. 54.
     15Ibid., p. 55.
     16Ibid., p. 60.
     17Lucio Cervi, La Condotta Italiana della Guerra,
(Milano:  Feltrinelli), p. 191.
Chapter V, Near the End
     1Franco Maugeri, From the ,Ashes of Disgrace, (New York:
Reynal and Hitchcock, 1948), p. 95.
     2Ibid., p. 101.
     3Christopher Buckley, Road to Rome, (London:  Hodder and
Spoughton, 1945), p. 34.
     4Ibid., p. 38.
     5Ibid., p. 159.
     6Ibid., p. 53.
     7Detwiler, op. cit., p. C-032-l.
     8Ibid., p. C-032-8.
     9Clough, op. cit., p. 235.
Albrecht-Carrie, Rene.  Italy from Napoleon to Mussolini.  New
     York:  Columbia University Press, 1950.
Baldini, Alberto.  Diaz.  London:  Humphrey Toulmin, 1935.
          The story of Armando Diaz, the General who finally
     broke through the German-Austrian line along Italy's
     Northeastern frontier.
Barzini, Luigi.  The Italians.  New York:  Bantam Books, 1964.
          A study of Italians by an Italian.  Barzini provides
     great insight into the culture and minds of his people.
Borghese, Valerio.  Sea Devils.  Chicago:  Henry Regnery and
     Company, 1954.
          Deals with the extensive operations of this Italian
     special warfare group of World War II.  Borghese, its
     commander, details the use of manned torpedoes, frogmen and
     attack boats.
Buckley, Christopher.  Road to Rome.  London:  Hodder and
     Spoughton, 1945.
          Buckley was a war correspondent who accompanied the
     British Eight Army into Sicily and finally into Rome.  His
     account is a well-written documentary of the Italian
Cervi, Mario.  The Hollow Legions.  New York:  Doubleday and
     Company, Inc., 1971.
          The story of Italy's unsuccessful attack on Greece in
     1941.  Critical analysis of this major Fascist blunder.
     Translated from the Italian by Eric Mossbacher.
Cevi, Lucio.  La Condotta Italiana della Guerra.  Milano:
     Feltrinelli, no date.
          A study of Italy's General Staff system of World War
     II.  Based on the writings of Chief of the General Staff,
     General Cavallero.  Demonstrates the disorganization of both
     the military and political systems of Italy.  In the
     original Italian.
Clough, Shepard B.  and Saladino, Salvatore.  A History of Modern
     Italy - Documents, Readings and Commentary.  New York and
     London:  Columbia University Press, 1968.
          History of Italy from the early 1800s to the 1960s.
     Included are numerous translated official documents which
     the author analyzes.  A very comprehensive work.
Deakin, F.  W.  The Brutal Friendship.  New York:  Harper and
     Row, 1962.
          In depth study of the relationship between Hitler and
     Mussolini.  Discusses their strategies, politics and
     analyzes their fall from power.
Detwiler, Donald S.  World War II German Military Studies.  New
     York:  Garland Publishing, Inc.  1979.
          A series of translated, post-war analyses as given by
     high-ranking German officers to U.S.  Army officials.  This
     excellent publication makes extensive reference to Italy's
     contributions as a German ally.  It also discusses Italy's
     political and social problems in supporting the war effort.
Herington, John.  Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943.
     Sydney:  Halstead Press, 1962.
          A clinical study of the British and Australian Air
     Forces in the European and African theaters of World War
     II.  Discusses action against Italian ground and air forces.
Joes, Anthony James.  Mussolini.  New York:  Franklin Watts,
          One of many bibliographies of Mussolini.  It is fairly
     well balanced, although in parts is somewhat apologetic.
Keegan, John.  The Face of Battle.  New York:  Penguin Books,
          Excellent commentary on human experience on the
     battlefield.  Discusses the effects of combat on the
Kogan, Norman.  Italy and the Allies.  Cambridge:  Harvard
     University Press, 1956.
Laquer, Walter.  Guerrilla.  Boston:  Little, Brown and Company,
          Discusses guerrilla activity throughout the world.
     Includes an applicable section on Italian partisan
     activities from 1943 to 1945.
Maugeri, Franco.  From the Ashes of Disgrace.  New York:  Reynal
     and Hitchcock, 1948.
          Admiral Maugeri was director of Italian Naval
     Intelligence during World War II.  His well-written account
     of the turmoil inside Italian government during the war as
     well as the post-war reconstruction are important to the
     student of modern Italian history.
Morgan, Thomas B.  Spurs on the Boot.  New York:  Longmans, Green
     and Co., 1941.
          Observations of an American journalist in Italy during
     the rise to power of Mussolini from 1922 to the beginning of
     World War II.
Phillips, N.  C.  Italy - Official History of New Zeland in the
     Second World War 1939-45.  Wellington:  War History Branch,
     Department of Internal Affairs, 1957.
          A history of World War II in Africa and Europe from the
     perspective of a New Zelander.  Based on the official war
     records of combat units which participated with the Allies
     in those theaters.
Rommel, Erwin.  Attacks.  Vienna, Virginia:  Athena Press, 1968.
          The outstanding personal account of Rommel as a First
     Lieutenant in World War I.  Of particular interest is his
     commentary on combat with the Italians during the famous
     Isonzo campaign.
Upton, Emory.  Armies of Asia and Europe.  New York:  Greenwood
     Press.  1968.
          Authored by the former Commandant of West Point who, in
     1875, made a world tour to study the organizations, schools
     and tactics of some of the significant armies of the period.
Villari, Luigi.  Italian Foreign Policy Under Mussolini.  New
     York:  The Devin-Adair Co., 1956.
          Discusses Italian expansionism during Mussolini's
     control of the State.  The author details Italian economic
     support to its colonies in Africa and explains its
     occupation of Albania and assault on Greece.  It is
     distinctly slanted to support the Italian position.
Woodward, David.  Armies of the World, 1854-1914.  New York:
     G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1978.
          The author has compiled beautiful photos and
     interesting data on the training, conscription and
     employment of troops in the armies of the major powers of

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