Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

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Urmel
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Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Urmel » 20 Jul 2020 05:51

Yes, I am hacked off by this nonsense of the Italian army being a bunch of quitters coming up again.

https://crusaderproject.wordpress.com/2 ... th-africa/
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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ClintHardware
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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by ClintHardware » 20 Jul 2020 20:35

Hi Urmel

I have looked at BREVITY and BATTLEAXE in detail during the last two years and they did well with the weapons they had - even holding their anti-tank fire down to 50 yds at Halfaya Pass on the 15th May using Cannone da 47/32. And holding out all day at the base of Halfaya whilst being attacked head on by 2nd Rifle Brigade and mortared from above by 3rd Coldstream Guards and bombed at 1730 hours by Blenheims for over an hour before giving in. I believe the Blenheims went in singly whilst the others watched for results. No Germans were amongst the prisoners taken at the foot of the pass according to those who took their surrender.

It appears that two Matildas had their frontal armour penetrated by the guns at the top of Halfaya. The 1st KRRC and Chester Wilmot refer to these penetrations but I am trying to find out if the 1st KRRC were actually referring to these Matildas or others closer to where they were supporting 7th Armoured Brigade (2 RTR and 6th Aus Div Cav Rgt) in columns attached for BREVITY from 7th Support Group.
Imperialism and Re-Armament NOW !

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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Sebastiano2 » 21 Jul 2020 21:45

Thanks for this good article Urmel. Thanks.

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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Sid Guttridge » 22 Jul 2020 07:09

The fact that the article has to cherry pick a handful of good Italian performances to make its point, only serves to illustrate the wider point that on the whole the Italians did not perform well.

Indeed, one would be hard pushed to find a single occasion where they did perform well before German intervention in North Africa gave them cover to do so.

The poor Italian reputation is based almost entirely on the events of December 1940 - January 1941, when the British Commonwealth forces had a massively lopsided victory over the Italians on their own. This proved difficult to live down. (My grandfather had Italian relatives and spoke the language fluently. At the end of 1940 He was sent to Egypt to take thousands of Italian POWs to camps in India. We still have a silver cigarette case made by the POWs for him when he left in early 1943.)

There are multiple perfectly good explanations as to why the Italians generally performed poorly, none of which have their basis in the Italian national character (if there is one).

I have mentioned before a story told by my boss at work some forty years ago. He had been a tank driver in the desert. He recalled over running an Italian trench system. An Italian officer stood up in front of his tank firing his pistol at it until run down. This is suicidally brave but "ce n'est pas la guerre".

It is also worth recalling the Italian hostage Fabrizio Quattricchio in Iraq who shouted "Vi faccio vedere come muore un Italiano!" ("I'll show you how an Italian dies!") when he realised he was about to be executed.

But none of this takes away from the fact that Mussolini's Italian Army as a whole performed without conspicuous success against any of its opponents over 1935-43 and suffered some spectacular defeats and collapses.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Urmel » 22 Jul 2020 08:32

And that’s the point the article makes. Congratulations.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Sid Guttridge » 22 Jul 2020 09:33

Hi Urmel,

Thanks.

Sid.

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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Berto » 22 Jul 2020 13:36

Sid Guttridge wrote:
22 Jul 2020 07:09
But none of this takes away from the fact that Mussolini's Italian Army as a whole performed without conspicuous success against any of its opponents over 1935-43 and suffered some spectacular defeats and collapses.
This seems pretty exaggerated. The wars against Ethiopia and Albania and the intervention in Spain were pretty successful, if anything these successes against technologically inferior foes created a sense of false security and contributed to wrong decisions such as the planning of the invasion of Greece (expecting a quick and easy victory like it had happened in Albania).
Sid Guttridge wrote:
22 Jul 2020 07:09
Indeed, one would be hard pushed to find a single occasion where they did perform well before German intervention in North Africa gave them cover to do so
Derna?

I would also say that the troops in East Africa fought reasonably well.

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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Urmel » 22 Jul 2020 14:49

Also, Ariete’s performance at Bir el Gobi had absolutely zero to do with the Germans.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Sid Guttridge » 23 Jul 2020 10:18

Hi Berta,

I wouldn't say that Ethiopia, Spain and Albania were marked by "conspicuous success".

In Ethiopia the Italian Army, supported by total aerial supremacy and a near monopoly of modern weaponry, found itself held up for six months by a country largely dependent on medieval tribal levies armed with, at best, assorted obsolescent rifles. Ethiopia had only about 10,000 modern troops in the Imperial Guard - who were not even used until the last weeks of the war because the tribal levies had held the line on their own.

In Spain Italy fielded a largely Blackshirt Militia force that suffered an embarrassing defeat at Guadalajara . Personally I think the CTV was much more important than it is given credit for, but the most "conspicuous" image of it in Spain is of defeat at Guadalajara, not of successes elsewhere. After Guadalajara Franco did not allow the CTV to undertake any more largely independent operations.

The Albanian Army had been recently formed by Italy, it was entirely trained and equipped by Italy and was unmobilised. There was only very light resistance in one place from British-trained police. Nevertheless, the invasion was a logistical shambles and during the inquest Mussolini found out that the effective strength of his air force was only a third of what he has been told.

The successes of Italy in these three areas was Mussolini's more than his army's. He had picked on vulnerable opponents that even his limited armed forces could defeat and gave them the political cover to get on with it.

These three campaigns had placed severe financial strain on Italy and exposed the limitations of its armed forces even before WWII broke out. This played a major role in Italy not joining Germany in late August 1939.

The Italian perfornance against very overextended Commonwealth forces at the approaches to Derna was better than what had preceded It, (which is not saying much) but it still resulted in defeat and evacuation. Derna itself was occupied without resistance. As was pointed out about Dunkirk, wars are not won by retreats.

The best Italian (largely colonial) troops in East Africa managed to hold some very strong natural positions for some time against Indian Army divisions advancing from Sudan. Nevertheless, they were still prised out of them. However, one has to set this against, for example, the collapse in Somalia that left the Commonwealth advance virtually unopposed. However, for all their over expanded numbers, the Italian situation in AOI was always precarious and there was only a limited amount they could do.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Sid Guttridge » 23 Jul 2020 10:57

Hi Urmel,

Bir el Gobi occurred well after the Germans arrived and falls outside the time period I mentioned.

However, I would suggest that all Italian performances benefited from the German arrival, even when they weren't physically present on the field of battle, because thereafter all Italians had some assurance of strong support not available from within their own armed forces.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Berto » 23 Jul 2020 12:36

Sid Guttridge wrote:
23 Jul 2020 10:18
In Ethiopia the Italian Army, supported by total aerial supremacy and a near monopoly of modern weaponry, found itself held up for six months by a country largely dependent on medieval tribal levies armed with, at best, assorted obsolescent rifles. Ethiopia had only about 10,000 modern troops in the Imperial Guard - who were not even used until the last weeks of the war because the tribal levies had held the line on their own.
Or, you could say that one of Africa's largest countries, with a largely mountainous terrain rather unfavorable for an invasion, was debellated in six months. There is also a pretty sharp difference between Italian and Ethiopian casualties; 3,000 troops killed on the Italian side versus between 150,000 and 400,000 on the Ethiopian side. I did say that these successes were against technologically inferior enemies; on the other hand, the Ethiopians had a marked numerical superiority (worth mentioning, I would say, since numbers are always mentioned when it's Italy the one that loses despite numerical superiority).
Sid Guttridge wrote:
23 Jul 2020 10:18
In Spain Italy fielded a largely Blackshirt Militia force that suffered an embarrassing defeat at Guadalajara . Personally I think the CTV was much more important than it is given credit for, but the most "conspicuous" image of it in Spain is of defeat at Guadalajara, not of successes elsewhere.
That's the point. Image vs reality. In reality, Italian troops played a major and often decisive role in plenty of battles and campaigns - Malaga, Santander, Bilbao, Asturias, Aragon, Catalonia. But all the attention goes to Guadalajara...
Sid Guttridge wrote:
23 Jul 2020 10:18
After Guadalajara Franco did not allow the CTV to undertake any more largely independent operations.
Did he?
Sid Guttridge wrote:
23 Jul 2020 10:18
He had picked on vulnerable opponents that even his limited armed forces could defeat and gave them the political cover to get on with it.
Never denied this.
Sid Guttridge wrote:
23 Jul 2020 10:18
The best Italian (largely colonial) troops in East Africa managed to hold some very strong natural positions for some time against Indian Army divisions advancing from Sudan. Nevertheless, they were still prised out of them.
It is worth pointing out that they were cut off from any possibility of being supplied since the start of the war; and that by early 1941 the British had marked aerial supremacy. The troops in East Africa also mounted some successful offensive operations in the summer of 1940 and repelled the first British counterattack attempts on the northern front in 1940.

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Urmel
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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Urmel » 23 Jul 2020 14:49

Sid Guttridge wrote:
23 Jul 2020 10:57
Hi Urmel,

Bir el Gobi occurred well after the Germans arrived and falls outside the time period I mentioned.

However, I would suggest that all Italian performances benefited from the German arrival, even when they weren't physically present on the field of battle, because thereafter all Italians had some assurance of strong support not available from within their own armed forces.

Cheers,

Sid.
I'm sorry, but this just shows that you don't know what you are talking about.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Sheldrake
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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Sheldrake » 23 Jul 2020 16:14

Urmel wrote:
20 Jul 2020 05:51
Yes, I am hacked off by this nonsense of the Italian army being a bunch of quitters coming up again.

https://crusaderproject.wordpress.com/2 ... th-africa/
Nice article. <s>

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Urmel
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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Urmel » 23 Jul 2020 19:48

Not sure what to make of the <s> at the end but I'll take it as a compliment. :milwink:
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Re: Some thoughts on the Italian Army's performance

Post by Sid Guttridge » 23 Jul 2020 20:52

Hi Berto,

The Italians chose the terrain by virtue of choosing to go to war in the first place and having the initiative throughout.

I have different figures. I have some 500,000 italian troops equipped with the full range of modern weaponry against some 800,000 Ethiopians, of whom only 10,000 had some modern weaponry. The rest had incompatible, obsolescent rifles at best.

As regards casualties, I have some 375,000 Ethiopians killed over 1935-41. Italian dead in 1935-36 were
some 10,000 and total Italian losses in dead, wounded, missing and sick were 208,000 over 1935-41. The Italian hospital shops kept good records of repatriated wounded and sick, so the Italian figures are probably pretty accurate. However, Ethiopian losses are essentially guesstimates.

Apart from at Malaga, where Republican opposition was weak, it is difficult to see the CTV being decisive anywhere. That said, it was one of the three or four most offensively used corps in the Nationalist Army, so it certainly had a significant share in the Nationalist victory. In the second half of the wsr the war the CTV was largely manned by Spaniards, so it is questionable how "Italian" it still was.

Yup, Franco did put a stop to the CTV mounting largely independent offensive actions after Guadalajara. Can you think of any that were not part of a wider Nationalist offensive after Guadalajara?

Cheers,

Sid.

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