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 a series of last-minute deals, Badoglio announced an armistice with the Allies and promptly fled 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 a prisoner 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 at Rastenburg where he found several of his hard-line fascist generals waiting. After strong pressure from Hitler, Mussolini grudgingly accepted a new political role as the head of the new Italian Fascist Government, and on September 23rd, 1943, the “Repubblica Sociale Italiana” (RSI) was founded with its capital located at Salo, a small village on the Garda Lake. The new government was a “Republic”, the first Italian Republic since the early 1800s, and “Social”, that is, it introduced very advanced social security and work regulation provisions, such as the participation of workers in the profit of their industries, etc. As a political entity, the RSI was a reasonably efficient machine, albeit in times of great economic and social difficulties, and was able to maintain a surprisingly high level of independence from the Germans in this 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 the Allies such as the garrisons of Sardegna and Corsica, others went over to the Germans. A virtual Civil War broke out within the forces of the defunct Italian military and ex-government between continued support of the Axis cause and joining up with the Allies.
Of the many Italian units that continued to fight alongside the Axis was a company from the 10th Arditi Regiment, the commando unit of the Italian Army. It joined the 2.Fallschirmjäger-Division that was based with them at the 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 near Eindhoven 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 recon vehicles 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 the Anzio 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 was miserable, with bare survival meals and incredibly hard physical and tactical training, but the end product was four first-class divisions with very high morale and operational skills, eager to fight against the Allies.
Unfortunately, the Germans did not trust the Italians much by this time, and when the Divisions returned to Italy they were assigned to counter-insurgency and coastal-defense operations. The morale of the soldiers was quickly shattered, and their operational skills diminished. Soon, the desertion rate was very 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 already organized as a regular army), that were advancing against Trieste, Udine, and Venezia in Italy. The only large offensive operation of the RSI Army against the Allies was a regimental-size tactical counterattack on the Apennines in the Winter of 1944 against US troops. The operation was a full success, and the RSI troops proved themselves very skilled and aggressive in this otherwise brief encounter.
After the May 8th, 1945, with the final and total Axis surrender, RSI Army troops were butchered all over Italy by rampaging bands of self-proclaimed partisans. 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. This was mainly a morale-bolstering effort, in imitation of the German tendency to give units the title of Grenadier. The Littorio Division was not a Grenadier unit, as in the Italian Army the Grenadiers were, and still are, the Guard units, formed from select (and usually very tall) soldiers. Only one such unit- a single independent Grenadier battalion – was part of the RSI Army(see below).
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 is often incorrectly reported.
4th (later 1st) Bersaglieri Division “Italia”
Coastal Defense units:
Field Fortification Construction Engineers:
Elements of other 18 partially disbanded Bns were grouped in a Centro Raccolta Complementi 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 what Admiral 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, and there is some thought that he was moving toward Spain to have the fleet interned and put under the custody of a neutral power, in this case, Spain, until the end of the war. As Bergamini was killed in the sinking of the battleship Roma by the Germans, the real goal of the Admiral may never be known.
A few battered cruisers, destroyers, and submarines remained in the ports, often sabotaged by their crews, and were taken over by the Germans, but they were never returned to the Republican Navy in operational conditions. A great number of smaller Torpedo Boats, patrol craft, and other various auxiliary vessels and merchant craft were also taken over by the Germans after the Italian surrender.
The bulk of the Republican Navy was the “Divisione Decima”, a huge organization born from the 10th MAS Flotilla, the very successful underwater raiding unit of the Italian Navy prior to the 1943 surrender. The morning after the Armistice, Prince Junio Valerio Borghese, a highly decorated and dashing submarine commander and commander of the 10th MAS Flotilla commandos started gathering all 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 Germans were quite puzzled, but they accepted. In the following weeks, Borghese traveled all over Italy, recruiting hundreds of soldiers, until the 10th MAS was of divisional strength. When the Italian Social Republic was formed, at attempt was made to disband the Decima (Decima = Tenth), but Borghese refused, threatening to shoot at sight anyone who dared come close to the Decima barracks. Thereafter, an arrangement was arrived at and the Decima officially became part of the Marina Nazionale Repubblicana (National Republican Navy). It remained out of the central command structure of the RSI – and out of the 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 mercenary unit)! The Decima fought as a ground unit against the US and British forces at the Anzio bridgehead, and then in North-East Italy against Italian and Yugoslavian communist partisans.
At peak strength the Divisione Fanteria di Marina “Decima” was organized as follows :
1st Combat Group
2nd Combat Group
The translation of the names of the Bns is a literal one. Several of them, indicated by an (*) were the names of ships of the Italian Royal Navy, whose crews formed the “core” of each Bn.
Both Commander Todaro and Commander Moccagatta were heroes of the 10th MAS Flottilla, both of them KIA).
Besides the almost-independent “Decima” units, the Marina da Guerra Nazionale Repubblicana also had the following units:
AERONAUTICA NAZIONALE REPUBBLICANA
Contrary to the behavior of the Navy, the Air Force went almost entirely North, except for a few training and bomber units. This is not surprising, considering that the former Italian Regia Aeronautica was the most Fascist of the Italian armed forces (Much like the Luftwaffe in the German Wehrmacht). The core of the Republican Air Force was its fighter units that operated against Allied heavy bombers. At first Italian aircraft were used, such as the MC205 and the outstanding 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 located in Germany ready to begin training on the Me163 and Me262, but the war ended before they started the actual training. The Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana was organized as follows:
Even if officially entitled with the names of Airforce heroes, each fighter flight was usually called by its nickname, based on the flight’s insignia, as follows. The 1st Squadron’s flights had the following: 1/1″Asso di Bastoni” (cludgel ace – from the traditional Italian playing 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). The 2nd Squadron’s flights had the following: 1/2 “Gigi tre Osei” (Gigi with three 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 also the 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 most charismatic 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 Africa Italiana (colonial police), frontier guards, and blackshirts units, and was later included in the Armed Forces of the RSI. The GNR was used mainly in an anti-partisan role, a role that was largely a “dirty war” of reciprocal war crimes that do not give credit to any of the contendants.
The “field units” of the GNR were as follows:
In the Balkans :
The prefix “M” to some units was an honorary title for elite units, allowed to wear a special collar-pin reproducing the “M” of Mussolini’s signature.
These units were a type of volunteer militia organized by the Republican Fascist Party. They were mostly older die-hard fascists of the 1920’s revolution, with the addition of some fanatic youngsters. They were organized in over 50 “Brigades” (actually weak bn’s – reinforced companies in strength), and used in anti-partisan and garrison duties. With the passing of time, most units grew more and more 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 “Forze Armate” (armed forces) but were considered as a kind of “auxiliary” formation.
All the Black Brigades were entitled to the memory of Fascist heroes, and, for the territorial outfits, the name of their recruitment 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-partisan war, as follows: