View Full Version : The Road To El Alamein - Part 2 of Bersaglieri d'Africa

01-27-2016, 03:29 AM
Hi all,

I recently posted this interview about the war In North Africa following the Bir el Gobi battle.
All the way to El Alamein and back to Tunisia.




Rising Sun*
01-27-2016, 06:18 AM
We could do with more of this sort of stuff.

Despite the well known films of vast numbers of surrendered Italian troops trudging through the desert under very light Allied guard, the fact remains that the Italian units which fought well fought as well as the best units facing them.

Certainly there were many Italian conscripts who had the good sense not to lay down their lives for a regime which offered them and their families little or nothing, but equally there were many Italian troops who fought as well, hard and long as their enemies in North Africa.

Conversely, Italian POWs, at least in Australia where I know something about them, were often lent out by the government to farmers who, after the war, often sponsored them as migrants.

01-27-2016, 06:33 AM
Interesting info and observations. We must separate the Italian war in North Africa into two chapters though: the 1st being the disastrous Graziani part, and the 2nd being the Messe one under the command of Rommel. Two completely different performances. I have to say more recent British war documentaries acknowledge that too.

01-27-2016, 08:04 AM
I have never gone along with the view that Italian soldiers in the Second World War were cowardly "surrender monkeys". Although the Italian High Command level were not particularly good (a major part of the problem), there is every indication that Italian troops often fought with determination, courage and indeed Úlan. There is, however, quite a bit of "background" necessary to consider. Quite definitely, one should not ignore the earlier military history of the modern Italian state. Italy was, for obvious reasons, a late comer to the "scramble" for colonies in Africa. It is unclear how strong Italian public opinion favoured getting involved in the "scramble", and some successes were achieved. However, another "achievement" was falling victim to perhaps the worst disaster suffered by a European power during that "adventure" - the routing and massacre of a substantial Italian/African auxiliary force at the Battle of Adwa, at the hands of the Ethiopian Emperor Menelek. I recall, just a few years ago, seeing a mural in Rome, excoriating the Italian government of the time for exposing the country to this humiliation. WW1 did not go much better. The Italian government of that time, having originally bound to Germany and Austria as part of the "Central Powers" alliance, initially remained neutral and then, in 1915, changed sides, in the hope that an Allied victory would permit them to recover territories disputed between Italy and Austria-Hungary in the Tyrol and in the Balkans. The front exposure of Italy to the Central Powers was confined to the Karst region of the northern Balkans, and to the Isonzo valley, dominated by the Dolomite mountains, upon which the Austro-Hungarians held a dominant position. The result was (was it eleven ?) Battles of the Isonzo, in which the Italians (led by their dimwit General Cadorna) battled hopelessly uphill against the Austrians, at huge cost. The process culminated in the Battle of Caporetto (cannot recall which Battle of the Isonzo this was), in which the Germans (alarmed by a wobble on the part of the Austrians in the previous Battle of the Isonzo) reinforced their ally with substantial Mountain forces. This resulted in a crushing Italian defeat, which could have threatened the whole of the Veneto with German/Austrian occupation had British troops not been brought in to shore up the situation.

This prelude is not at all irrelevant to the performance of Italian troops in WW2. Mussolini himself was a soldier on the Isonzo, and the troops of WW2 were "his" troops. However, they were also the sons and nephews of the veterans (living and dead) of Cadorna's bloody offensives. I, at any rate, believe that insofar as there was any degree of enthusiasm for Mussolini's belligerent approach among Italian troops, it was pretty fragile. Certainly, it was promoted by Italian success in "avenging" the humiliation of Adwa through victory in the Second Italian-Abyssinian War. However, it is a lot less clear that most Italian soldiers were enthusiastic about involvement in another major European war, apparently, on the speculative assumption that unsatisfied Italian demands on territory in North Africa, the Balkans and the Tyrol (the latter always dubious, in view of Germany's competing claims) could be secured, to put it bluntly, by a German victory. The subsequent dispatch of an Italian army to fight with Germany in the southern Soviet Union certainly seemed pointless to many Italians as it did little to forward Italian interests. This, I know, remains a point of bitterness in Italy to this day.

Beyond this, there is also the point that Italian industry was simply incapable of supporting a war effort on the scale required. Some problems, such as the antiquated quality of much of the Italian air force at the outset of the war, involved a considerable element of bad luck. Others, such as the weakness of Italian armour, and even the poor quality of Italian rifles, were of a structural nature. In all the circumstances, is it really so surprising that Italian soldiers and junior officers tended to respond to hopeless situations by failing to, literally, kill themselves in hopeless situations ? I think not. Forza Italia ! JR.