The Post-1943 Italian Fascist Forces of WWII
On July 25, 1943, Benito Mussolini was ousted from power and replaced by a new government. The Germans were perfectly aware of the Italian bid to surrender to the Allies and they prepared accordingly. On September 8th, 1943, after aseries of last-minute deals, Badoglio announced an armistice with the Allies and promptly fleed with the King of Italy to reach the Allied lines, leaving a good majority of Italian soldiers without any firm directive. The Germans promptly occupied Italy in the wake of this coup, and the Italian Army was largely disbanded. On September 12th, 1943, after weeks of frantic research, the German intelligence services managed to locate where Mussolini was being held as aprisoner and launched a covert operation to rescue him. The operation was an amazing success, organized and performed by German Parachutists under the direction of Otto Skorzeny. On September 14th, 1943, a worn-out Duce arrived atRastenburg where he found several of his hard-line fascist generals waiting.After strong pressure from Hitler, Mussolini grudgingly accepted a new politicalrole as the head of the new Italian Fascist Government, and on September 23rd,1943, the “Repubblica Sociale Italiana” (RSI) was founded with its capitallocated at Salo, a small village on the Garda Lake. The new government was a”Republic”, the first Italian Republic since the early 1800’s, and “Social”,that is, it introduced very advanced social security and work regulationprovisions, such as the participation of workers in the profit of theirindustries, etc. As a political entity, the RSI was a reasonably efficient machine, albeit in times of great economic and social difficulties, and wasable to maintain a surprisingly high level of independence from the Germans inthis respect.
ESERCITO NAZIONALE REPUBBLICANO
After the Italian Armistice, the great majority of the Italian army left without orders, was disbanded. Thousands of soldiers were killed by the Germans in attempts to quell any move by the former Axis nation to join the Allies or the partisans, while tens of thousands were disarmed and sent to Germany as prisoners. A few units were able to stand together, while some went over to theAllies such as the garrisons of Sardegna and Corsica, others went over to theGermans. A virtual Civil War broke out within the forces of the defunct Italianmilitary and ex-government between continued support of the Axis cause andjoining up with the Allies.
Of the many Italian units that continued to fight alongside the Axis was acompany from the 10th Arditi Regiment, the commando unit of the Italian Army.It joined the 2.Fallschirmjäger-Division that was based with them atthe Pratica di Mare airport near Roma. They had fought in Russia at Jatomir, Kiev,Novocobiscoia, and Kirovograd, to name a few places, and later in Holland nearEindhoven and Arnhem. They served as the recon unit of the 2.Fallschirmjäger-Division, and did so in German uniforms, but with some of their Italian reconvehicles still on hand.
Another unit was the Blackshirt (Camicie Nere) “M” Assault Legion “Tagliamento”,who were also veterans of the Russian front. They joined the SS-Polizei-Bataillone “Gorice”, (Named from the Polish town where they were trained), and”Vendetta”. They were used as assault troops during the counterattacks on theAnzio Bridgehead in Italy, performing admirably.
The “Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano” (National Republican Army) of the RSI was recruited at first among volunteers coming both from Italy and from the prison camps in Germany. The RSI authorities were amazed by the very high response of volunteers, over 150,000, and it was decided to form four front-line divisions,to be trained in Germany by German instructors. Life in the training camps wasmiserable, with bare survival meals and incredibly hard physical and tacticaltraining, but the end product was four first-class divisions with very highmorale and operational skills, eager to fight against the Allies.
Unfortunately, the Germans did not trust the Italians much by this time, andwhen the Divisions returned to Italy they were assigned to counter-insurgencyand coastal-defense operations. The morale of the soldiers was quickly shattered, and their operational skill diminished. Soon, the desertion ratevery high within these units.
Besides garrison and anti-partisan activity, the RSI army fought on the northeast frontier against the Yugoslavian partisans (who by 1944 were alreadyorganized as a regular army), that were advancing against Trieste, Udine andVenezia in Italy. The only large offensive operation of the RSI Army againstthe Allies was a regimental-size tactical counterattack on the Apennines in theWinter of 1944 against US troops. The operation was a full success, and the RSItroops proved themselves very skilled and aggressive in this otherwise brief encounter.
After the May 8th, 1945, with the final and total Axis surrender, RSI Armytroops were butchered all over Italy by rampaging bands of self-proclaimedpartisans. Their only defense was in the hands of the advancing US units or when they surrendered to the few “legitimate” partisan combat outfits in the region.Many thousands of RSI soldiers were not so lucky.
The main units of the “Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano” were as follows:
1st (later 4th) Apini Division “Monterosa” (Pink Mountain)
2nd Infantry Division “Littorio”
The “Littorio” Division was sometimes called a “Grenadier” division. Thiswas mainly a morale-bolstering effort, in imitation of the German tendancy togive units the title of Grenadier. The Littorio Division was not a Grenadierunit, as in the Italian Army the Grenadiers were, and still are, the Guardunits, formed from select (and usually very tall) soldiers. Only one such unit- a single independent Grenadier battalion – was part of the RSI Army(seebelow).
3rd Naval Infantry Division “San Marco” (the Saint-patron of Venice)
This Division was part of the Army, and NOT of the Navy as it isoften incorrectly reported.
4th (later 1st) Bersaglieri Division “Italia”
Coastal Defence units:
Field Fortification Construction Engineers:
Elements of other 18 partially disbanded Bns were grouped in a Centro RaccoltaComplementi Genio, and another 7 Bns were under re-construction (the 113th,115th, 117th, 135th, 119th, 151st, 130th)
MARINA NAZIONALE REPUBBLICANA
The bulk of the Italian Fleet attempted to “go south” and join the Allies,according to the orders given by the High Command (the surrender of the fleet was one of the Armistice conditions). Actually, it is not very clear whatAdmiral Bergamini, the Fleet Commander, was trying to do. He ordered the fleet to move from La Spezia to the Bocche di Bonifacio, the strait between Sardinia and Corsica, and that was absolutely not the correct direction for Malta.Admiral Bergamini was deeply shocked by the order to surrender the fleet, andthere is some thought that he was moving toward Spain to have the fleet internedand put under the custody of a neutral power, in this case, Spain, until the endof the war. As Bergamini was killed in the sinking of the battleship Roma by theGermans, the real goal of the Admiral may never be known.
A few battered cruisers, destroyers and submarines remained in the ports, oftensabotaged by their crews, and were taken over by the Germans, but they werenever returned to the Republican Navy in operational conditions. A greatnumber of smaller Torpedo Boats, patrol craft and other variousauxiliary vessels and merchant craft were also taken over by the Germansafter the Italian surrender.
The bulk of the Republican Navy was the “Divisione Decima”, a huge organization bornfrom the 10th MAS Flotilla, the very successful underwater raiding unit of theItalian Navy prior to the 1943 surrender. The morning after the Armistice,Prince Junio Valerio Borghese, a highly decorated and dashing submarinecommander and commander of the 10th MAS Flotilla commandos started gatheringall the naval personnel he could find in La Spezia inside the 10th MAS barracks.He then went to the local German command offering the services of his troops.The German were quite puzzled, but they accepted. In the following weeks,Borghese traveled all over Italy, recruiting hundereds of soldiers, until the10th MAS was of divisional strenght. When the Italian Social Republic wasformed, at attempt was made to disband the Decima (Decima = Tenth), butBorghese refused, threatening to shoot at sight anyone who dared come close tothe Decima barracks. Thereafter, an arrangement was arrived at and the Decimaofficially became part of the Marina Nazionale Repubblicana (National RepublicanNavy). It remained out of the central command structure of the RSI – and out ofthe command structure of the Germans too. It was a truly independent force,fighting with the same reckless, devil-may-care attitude of a Renaissance”Condottiere” (commander of a “Condotta”, i.e. = a merchenary unit)! The Decimafought as a ground unit against the US and British forces at the Anziobridgehead, and then in North East Italy against Italian and Yugolsaviancommunist partisans.
At peak strenght the Divisione Fanteria di Marina “Decima” was organized asfollows :
1st Combat Group
2nd Combat Group
The translation of the names of the Bns is a litteral one. Severalof them, indicated by an (*) were the names of ships of the Italian RoyalNavy, whose crews formed the “core” of each Bn.
Both Commander Todaro and Commander Moccagatta were heroes of the10th MAS Flottilla, both of them KIA).
Besides the almost-independent “Decima” units, the Marina da GuerraNazionale Repubblicana also had the following units:
AERONAUTICA NAZIONALE REPUBBLICANA
Contrary to the behaviour of the Navy, the Air Force went almost entirely North,except for a few training and bomber units. This is not surprising, consideringthat the former Italian Regia Aeronautica was the most Fascist of the Italianarmed forces (Much like the Luftwaffe in the German Wehrmacht). The core of theRepublican Air Force were its fighter units that operated against Allied heavybombers. At first Italian aircraft were used, such as the MC205 and theoutstanding G55 and Re2005, but these were later largely replaced with German-made Bf109s. At the end of the war a small group of Italian pilots was locatedin Germany ready to begin training on the Me163 and Me262, but the war endedbefore they started the actual training. The Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicanawas organized as follows:
Even if officially entitled with the names of Airforce heroes, eachfighter flight was usually called by its nickname, based on the flight’sinsigna, as follows. The 1st Squadron’s flights had the following: 1/1″Asso di Bastoni” (cludgel ace – from the traditonal Italian paying cards,that have different symbols from the “international” ones), 2/1 “VespaIncacchiata” (pissed-off wasp), 3/1 “Incocca, tende, scaglia” (“Notch,Pull, Loose”, the three actions to launch an arrow from a bow). The2nd Squadron’s flights had the following: 1/2 “Gigi tre Osei” (Gigi withthree birds. The ace Gigi Caneppelle was a pre-war Top Grade glider pilot -entitled to wear a blue badge with three white birds. But “bird” is alsothe Italian slang for penis…), 2/2 “Diavoli Rossi” (red devils), 3/2″Gamba di Ferro” (iron leg, the nickname of Cpt.Botto, one of the mostcharismatic WWII Italian fighter pilots).
NATIONAL GUARD (GUARDA NAZIONALE REPUBBLICANA)
The Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana was formed as a militarized police force,grouping the former Carabinieri (military police), state police, Polizia AfricaItaliana (colonial police), frontier guards and blackshirts units, and was laterincluded in the Armed Forces of the RSI. The GNR was used mainly in anti-partisan role, a role that was largely a “dirty war” of reciprocal war crimesthat do not give credit to any one of the contendants.
The “field units” of the GNR were as follows:
In the Balkans :
The prefix “M” to some units was an honour title for elite units, allowedto wear a special collar-pin reproducing the “M” of Mussolini’s signature.
These units were a type of volunteer militia organized by the Republican FascistParty. They were mostly older die-hard fascist of the 1920’s revolution, withthe addition of some fanatic youngsters. They were organized in over 50″Brigades” (actualy weak bn’s – reinforced coys in strenght), and used in anti-partisan and garrison duties. With the passing of time most units grew more andmore desperate, and were guilty of some of the worst atrocities in the anti-partisan war in the region. They were not actually part of the RSI “ForzeArmate” (armed forces), but were considered as a kind of “auxiliary”formation.
All the Black Brigades were entitled to the memory of Fascist heros, and, forthe territorial outfits, the name of their recruitement province is given.
Territorial Black Brigades:
Mobile Black Brigades Group:
Independent Black Brigades:
The Republican Police activated a few “field units”, used in the anti-partisanwar, as follows: