Italian 8th Army

Discussions on all aspects of Italy under Fascism from the March on Rome to the end of the war.
col kapa
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Italian 8th Army

Postby col kapa » 08 May 2017 16:32

Greetings
From what I understand the Italians put some of their best divisions into the Russian campaign.
They seemed to have early successes in the field.
My question is why did the Germans not aid the 8th Army with equipment, clothing or indeed with anything. Given the fact that the Germans new the Italians had inadequate leadership, poor armour, lack of mechanisation, a shortage of artillery and antitank weapons,poor communication, logistics and no winter uniforms .
It seems strange to me that they armed some of the Baltic nations,the Spanish Blue division, some Romanian and Bulgarian with tanks but neglected the Italians so badly that they must have known they would collapse in the first winter. Knowing this its even more staggering that they issued the Italians with such an important sector of the front to protect the 6th army flank in the Stalingrad operation.
Can anyone shed any light on the German thinking as it completely baffles me.

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jwsleser
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Re: Italian 8th Army

Postby jwsleser » 09 May 2017 21:34

I will begin by correcting a few misconceptions that were stated in your posts.

My question is why did the Germans not aid the 8th Army with equipment, clothing or indeed with anything. Given the fact that the Germans new the Italians had inadequate leadership, poor armour, lack of mechanisation, a shortage of artillery and antitank weapons,poor communication, logistics and no winter uniforms .


The CSIR and the ARMIR were relatively well equipped by most nations’ standards and certainly by Italian standards. It was basically an infantry army so lacked an armored component just like its German, Hungarian and Romanian counterparts. It was weaker in A/T equipment, a situation also shared by the Hungarian and Romanian forces. The Italians did receive a battery (6 guns) of cannone da 75/39 A/T guns (German Pak 97/38) for each division, as did the divisions in the Hungarian and Romanian Armies.

The ARMIR was fairly well equipped with winter uniforms, with many new new items issued based on the CSIR’s experience in the winter of 41-42. How much of this new material reached the front before December 42 is debatable. The defeat of the ARMIR was due to many reasons, but the lack of winter equipment wasn’t one of them.

The issue of leadership would be an interesting discussion. The ARMIR preformed significantly better than either the Hungarian and Romanian forces, and arguably as well as similar German forces. Whereas the Soviet attacks broke through the other allies’s lines within a day or two, the ARMIR held for over a week (pushed back but still resisting). I have not read about any problems created by leadership.

The relationship between the Axis allies was in many ways as challenging as that of the Western allies. Germany wasn’t like the US, able to build enough war material to equip several countries. Germany was pressed to fully equip it own forces. So availability was one reason. Resistance by Italian domestic industry to contracts given to foreign (e.g. German) companies is another. None of this material was free and was paid for either in loans or actual payments (either by money or the equivalent in goods). Do Italian factories begin to produce the ammunition and parts for these German weapons at the cost of producing Italian munitions and parts, or does Germany make them for everyone? How is it paid for if the latter and what is everyone's share? The US Lend-Lease Program required the return of all the equipment after the war (which in effect meant the US was writing off their cost, something Germany couldn’t or wouldn't do). The Italian and German governments were negotiating the production of the Pz III under license in Italy, but nothing came of this before Sep 43. German 88mm guns and Stuka bombers were purchased and used by Italian forces in A.S., but the numbers were never large.

Giving weapons and other equipment to an ally isn't a simple process, nor is it easy to sustain if the ally maintains its own domestic production. How nations pay for war is generally overlooked by those who study war. Tooze’s ‘The Wages of Destruction’ (the economics behind Germany’s war) was eye-opening for many.

Just some basic thoughts. v/r Jeff
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zaptiè
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Re: Italian 8th Army

Postby zaptiè » 10 May 2017 10:29

Remember that italian forces originaly was destinate to Caucasus offensive, so where mostly mountain troops , with few tanks and artillery and trasports.

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jwsleser
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Re: Italian 8th Army

Postby jwsleser » 10 May 2017 13:36

True only for the corpo d'armata Alpino. The II and XXXV (formerly the CSIR) corpo d'armata were to operate on the steppes. CdA Alpino was diverted to join the ARMIR while it was marching to join the German 17th Army.

Pista! Jeff
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col kapa
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Re: Italian 8th Army

Postby col kapa » 10 May 2017 20:37

Thanks for the responses.
I do understand the vital link with logistics and manufacture. I agree this was an immense challenge. However I get the impression that the Germans did not treat the Italians as a potential asset and therefore put limited effort into assisting them in Russia. They were not even assisted with food, the bottom line I feel was an unwillingness to assist from all levels.
Finding first hand literature with regards to the Italian experience is not easy. But I found "The Sargent in the snow" by Mario Rigoni Stern. He was an Alpine soldier serving in Russia. His observations were as follows:
The Alpine Divisions were well equipped at the start and had good winter clothing.He makes the point of how other Italian Divisions were very poorly dressed for the winter.(especially footwear).
Food and ammunition supply ran out (he blamed this on Italian Logistics).
He describes the Germans refusing to give them food, refusing lifts on German vehicles and being generally cussed and ridiculed by the German troops.
When it comes to leadership he states that in his Division the officers eat the same food as the soldiers, but he points to the fact that in general Italian officers eat different food and distanced themselves from their men.He describes Italian units abandoned by their officers whilst freezing and starving.
He also states Italian troops swapped guns and ammo for food with the partisans.
If this is true then it seems that the Italian soldiers were let down by the Italian General staff, the failure of logistics and a complete lack of understanding from Mussolini as to their situation.
To top all of this they had a business partner who had no faith in them and who almost openly made their existence worse.
Regards

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jwsleser
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Re: Italian 8th Army

Postby jwsleser » 12 May 2017 14:42

You have intertwined three different issues: The equipment of the Italian soldier, the perception of the Italians by the Germans, and the actual Italian efforts to use German equipment.

I have already briefly addressed the last point, so unless you have further questions....

Italian personal equipment. While there have been many myths about the individual soldati equipment, the reality is that it wasn't as bad as portrayed. Note that it wasn't the best either. The uniforms were not poorly made, but the wool material was a blend of natural wool and artificial material. The cardboard boots weren't cardboard. The overcoats were single breasted, not double as those used by most other countries. In the Mediterranean and African climates, this was not a problem. The hob-nailed bots caused everyone (including the Germans) problems in the cold.

The main problem was the limited issue of personal items. Soldati were only issued one pair of boots and only one blanket until 1941. This meant that they were unable to rotate footwear and slept with everything on. Boots couldn't be maintained (removed and cleaned/oiled). The mud of Greece and Albania, along with their constant use, cause the boots to rapidly wear-out. With no replacements, conditions for the soldati quickly became bad.

Some of the Alpini equipment was better, but not as much as you would think. The alpino boots was only a little better, but benefited from thicker socks and the use of leg stockings instead of puttees. The alpini had a wind jacket (giubbia a vento) and turtle neck sweaters. In all, the alpini were better trained trained for the weather and came for areas of Italy where the cold was normal. As the alpini were to be used in the Caucasus, their scale of issue was better as they wouldn't be able to be housed in villages and towns.

You don't really read about these issues in Russia until the retreat. Messe put significant effort into equipping he CSIR for the winter of 41-42. Many of his ideas became standard in 1942 (fur hats, double-breasted overcoats with sheep fur linings, fur lined gloves, etc.). Not al the ARMIR received al these items before the Soviet offensive, but until that time the soldati were relatively comfortable.

The Soviet offensive and the retreat are where the main stories originate. Now the soldati are exposed to the full force of a extremely hard winter (-30 to -40c with cold temps at night) with no shelter for weeks. All the armies suffered under these conditions. The Soviets managed the situation better, issuing the felt bots and the quilted clothing, but most importantly, rotating units in and out of shelter. The German experience that winter was mainly limited to Stalingrad, the main armies in the retreat were mainly Hungarians, Romanians, and Italian. Also note that as the Italians held their positions longer than the others, their difficulties were greater than those armies that quickly broke.

German treatment of Italians. A major problem between the two allies. The retreat from the Don and the retreat from El Alamein share many commonalities. Abandoning positions without telling the adjacent Italian units, commandeering of the available vehicles, not sharing available vehicles and supplies, etc. While the Germans did treat specific Italian units with greater respect at times, the relationship at all the ranks was one of superiors/inferiors.

Pista! Jeff
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col kapa
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Re: Italian 8th Army

Postby col kapa » 20 May 2017 19:29

Hi Jeff
Many thanks for good quality feedback and big apologies for my late response.
The question of Italian officers and their leadership is still not clear to me.
Can you be so kind and recommend any good books with regards to the Italians in Russia.
Thanks in advance

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jwsleser
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Re: Italian 8th Army

Postby jwsleser » 20 May 2017 20:00

Unless you wish to tackle Italian, there isn't much on Russia in English. What has ben translated/written focus on the Don battle and the retreat.

Mussolini's Death March (originally La strada del davai) by Nuto Revelli. Revelli was also an alpino, but I consider his book to be better than Stern's. Revelli covers more (his book is longer) and offers more details.

Sacrifice on the Steppe by Hope Hamilton. She collected stories from a large number of alpini veterans that participated in the retreat.

These two books, along with Stern, provide the bulk of material generally available on the alpini in Russia.

There is an odd little book, White Coats under Fire by Roy Mark-Alan which purports to cover an Italian medical unit (think MASH) in Russia. I have never determined whether this is meant to be history or a novel. Not really worth trying to find.

I hesitant to mention Regio Esercito by Patrick Cloutier. This is an Italian fanboy book that can be dangerous. The basic history is good (who, what, where) but the whys and hows are a major distortion of history. If you don't get caught up in all the decisive victories and über glorification of Italian arms, the book will give you a basic understanding of all the campaigns in which the Italians fought. I will warn you citing this book when talking to serious Italian histories will not help your case.

Pista! Jeff
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battaglione Alpini sciatori Monte Cervino (Reenacted)
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col kapa
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Re: Italian 8th Army

Postby col kapa » 22 May 2017 19:17

I certainly cant tackle Italian!
But again thank you , I will try La Strada del davai

col kapa
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Re: Italian 8th Army

Postby col kapa » 13 Sep 2017 16:01

Hi Jeff

just to let you know I purchased and read the book, great read and fantastic first hand accounts.
Thankyou for the recommendation.

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jwsleser
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Re: Italian 8th Army

Postby jwsleser » 13 Sep 2017 19:25

You are welcome. I am glad you enjoyed the book.

Pista! Jeff
Alpino
battaglione Alpini sciatori Monte Cervino (Reenacted)
Soldato
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http://comandosupremo.com/category/montecervino


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