Volunteers in the Italian Armed Forces

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Allen Milcic
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Post by Allen Milcic » 07 Feb 2004 06:04

The Light Mobile Brigade (Italian-Croatian)

In July 1941, Italian General Antonio Oxilio requested an audience with Croatian Poglavnik Ante Pavelic. During their meeting, General Oxilio presented Pavelic with a letter from the Italian High Command, asking that a Legion, even a symbolic one, be formed by Croatia for service in the Italian Army on the Eastern Front. The fact was that the Italians felt slighted - 3 Croatian "Legions" (one army, one navy and one airforce) were serving with Germany in the Soviet Union, yet no Croatians served in Italian formations even though Italy was the nationalist Croatian government's first ally. The Croatians, although not pleased with this request, decided not to insult an ally, even though Mussolini's expansionist policies towards Croatia made Italy a dubious one at best. Therefore, on July 26th 1941, the Croatian Army Command issued the appropriate orders, and the "Light Mobile Brigade" (Laki Prijevozni Zdrug) came into being. The majority of the troops for the unit came from a battalion of volunteers that were intended as reinforcements for the 369th (Croat) Infantry Regiment that fought as part of the German Wehrmacht in the Soviet Union.

The Brigade was formed with 1100 soldiers, 70 NCO's and 45 Officers (1215 total), divided into 3 Infantry Companies, 1 Machine-Gun Company, 1 (81mm) Mortar Company and 1 (65mm) Artillery Battery. The Commanding Officer was Lt.-Colonel Egon Zitnik (a Croat).

The Brigade's first posting was in the city of Varazdin, in Croatia, where they trained, and awaited the Italians to organize their expeditionary force. The wait stretched on, as the Italians had many organizing problems. In the meantime, the Brigade performed sweeps in the Kordun, Banija and Bosanska Krajina regions of Croatia, searching for small groups of Yugoslav soldiers and bands of outlaws that were hiding in the forests and fighting against the new Croatian state.

On December 17th 1941, the Italians finally ordered the Brigade to travel to Italy where they received their full complement of weapons and transports. 3 Months of intense training exercises followed. At the end of the training schedule, the Legionnaires were visited by General Ugo Cavallerio of the Italian Headquarters Staff, and the Minister of Defense of Croatia, Marshal Slavko vitez Kvaternik. The Brigades battle flag was presented at this ceremony, and the men took their oath to Italy, Croatia, the Duce, the Italian King, and the Poglavnik.

The Brigade arrived on the Eastern Front on April 16th 1942, near the town of Harcjusk. Here they were attached to the Italian 3rd Rapid Division "Principe Amadeo Duca D'Aosta", and received the remainder of their equipment and transports (44 trucks, 3 automobiles and 6 motorcycles). On the 11th of May, near the town of Pervomajska, the Brigade fought its first battle, alongside the 63rd Blackshirt "Tagliamento" unit. 5 men were lost in this minor engagement.

The Brigade, during the next 10 months, fought around the towns of Stokovo, Greko-Timofejevka, and Veseli-Nikitovo. On July 11th 1942, the Brigade was transfered to the Italian XXXVth Corps. The very next day, with a battle-group of Blackshirts, the Brigade fought its way 30km deep into Soviet lines. Battles follow around Vladimirovka, Krasna Poljana and Fjodorovka. On July 28th 1942 the Brigade crossed the Donjec River at Lubanskoje. On August 25th 1942, the Soviets counter-attacked and the Brigade was involved in heavy fighting. The Croatians managed to hold their lines, inflicting 20 casualties and capturing 101 Russian soldiers. The Croatians lost 8 dead and 12 wounded. For this battle, the Brigade was awarded the "Sul Campo" decoration by the commander of the XXXVth Corps.

On December 19th 1942, the Brigade was holding Hills 210 and 168 near Hracin. Here they were surrounded by a massive Soviet attack, but continued fighting till December 21st 1942, when they ran out of ammunition and were over-run. There were no survivors and the unit was totally destroyed.

After the destruction of the "Light Mobile Brigade", the Italians sponsored the creation of a new "Legion" unit. It came into existance in May of 1943, only 4 months before the Italian collapse, as a 1,800 man strong infantry regiment, reinforced with its own replacement battalion and an artillery battalion of 2 batteries. This "Legion" was sent to northern Italy, to the Lake Garda area, and then the Italo-Slovene border area. After the Italian surrender, the men of the Legion were used to reinforce the existing German-Croatian Divisions, specially the 373rd "Tiger" Division.


From the Feldgrau.com website, article by Allen Milcic

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Post by Metatron » 08 Feb 2004 01:02

How come the Italians didn't have the huge numbers of East Troops
like the Germans did?
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Volunteers in the Italian Armed Forces

Post by Metatron » 08 Feb 2004 01:03

How come the Italians didn't have the huge numbers of East Troops
like the Germans did?
Metatron

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Post by DrG » 08 Feb 2004 12:48

Thank you Croat for the excellent info you have found.
I've to add just these comments:
croat wrote:The Light Mobile Brigade (Italian-Croatian)

It was also known as "Unità autotrasportata leggera", the Italian translation of its Croat name "Lako Prevozni Zdrug" (I see the spelling given in my source isn't the same of yours, I guess mine is wrong, isn't it? :?).
In July 1941, Italian General Antonio Oxilio

I've never heard of an Italian general with this name, maybe it's a typo? :?
For this battle, the Brigade was awarded the "Sul Campo" decoration by the commander of the XXXVth Corps.

"Sul Campo" isn't a decoration; it's only a specification for another decoration (for example "Croce di Guerra sul Campo").

The uniform of the Croatian legion was the same of the Italian CC.NN. (Blackshirts).
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Re: Volunteers in the Italian Armed Forces

Post by DrG » 08 Feb 2004 12:54

Metatron wrote:How come the Italians didn't have the huge numbers of East Troops like the Germans did?

The areas held by Italian troops was very limited, and all the occupation of Soviet Union was under the control of Germany, not of its allies (except Transnistria that belonged to Romania and Carelia to Finland).
This map shows the position of the CSIR (Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia) and then of the ARMIR (Italian Army in Russia = Italian 8th Army):
Image

PS Today I'm not very ill, probably I'll post some new info about foreign volunteers later. :)

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Post by DrG » 08 Feb 2004 16:56

I've found these info about the flag of the Croatian Legion:
The flag of the little-known Italian Legion, which drove trucks on the Eastern Front was the standard red-white-blue with 25 field chessboard, bordered in gold in the center. Above the shield, in the red was the ancient crown of the Croatian Kingdom (Crown of King Zvonimir), since Italy appointed its own "king" of Croatia. The crown is unique with a rounded shape and "sideburns" more like a Roman helmet. To left and right of the shield are fasces, blades out, and the motto "Bog i Hrvati" ("God and the Croats"). The entire flag was bordered with red, white, and blue triangles like the 369 flag and the Poglavnik's flag. The reverse had the letter "U" for "Ustasha" (Revolutionary) Party surrounded by braid of three strands. It also had the fasces and an inscription starting with "Za D om Spremni" (For the Homeland Ready). Attached to the top of the flag was a streamer, color unknown
Michael McAdams, 4 July 2000

(from: http://flagspot.net/flags/hr%5Ehist.html)

And here there are photos and description of the badge of the legion:
http://www.emedals.ca/catalog.asp?item=I105.

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Post by DrG » 08 Feb 2004 17:31

Slovenes

The part of Slovenia occupied by Italy in April 1941 was annexed on 3 May 1941 as "Provincia di Lubiana" (Province of Ljubljana) (4,545 sq.km, 303,946 inhabitants).

After the beginning of communist partizan activity, Slovene nationalists and catholic formed a rural self-defence guard: the Bela Garda (White Guard). It was divided into many small detachments to defend villages and farms. This formation was supported by Gen. Leon Rupnik (former general of the Yugoslav Army, captured by Italians in April '41, but soon released from prisony; he was appointed "podestà" = mayor of Ljubljana on 9 June 1942), by the bishop of Ljubljana Rozman and by the former ban (governor) Natlacen.

Another anti-communist formation was the Legija Smrti (Legion of the Death), composed of Chetniks. It was divided into 3 battalions (for a total of 11 companies). From: http://www.axishistory.com/index.php?id=92 we may have more info:
Legija Smrti (Legion of Death) was formed Aug 1942 when the Slovenian Chretnik force under Major Novak was made a part of the Milizia Volontaria Anti-Comunista (MVAC). It was expanded with volunteers from the Slovenian Catholic National Alliance and quickly expanded to a mobile and tough force.
It was the only part of the MVAC to remain undefeated when the communist partisans attacked following the Italian surrender.

Manpower strength
Aug 1942 640
Feb 1943 1.687

Order of battle
1. Battalion (in Vrnika)
2. Battalion (in Gorjanci)
3. Battalion (in Mokronog)


On 1 March 1942 Gen. Roatta planned to unify the anti-communist Slovenes into the MVAC ("Milizia Volontaria Anti-Comunista" = Anti-Communist Volunteer Militia). Those formations were absorbed in the MVAC during the Summer/Autumn of 1942.
Chosen soldiers from the MVAC, along with Italian blackshirts, formed 4 battalions called "Speciali" (Special) for active (not only defensive) anti-partizan warfare.
On 28th Feb. 1943 5,145 Slovenes were in the MVAC, divided into 40 detachments (source: http://www.vojska.net/ww2/ndh/chetniks/chetniks-italy.asp); but another source tell that at the beginning of 1943 the detachments were 107. :?

After 25 July 1943 (fall of Mussolini's govern) all anti-communist formations were united into a new organization: "Slovenska Narodna Vojska - Esercito Nazionale Sloveno" (Slovene National Army). It had a strenght of about 20 battalions, but didn't became operational because of the Italian armistice (8 Sept. 1943).
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Post by DrG » 08 Feb 2004 17:37

Kenshiro wrote:Germans, I know there was a small number of German saylors who happen to be in Eritrea (or Somailia) just when Italy entered in WWII.

Yes, it was the "Compagnia Autocarrata Tedesca". In this old thread there is a full and detailed description of it: http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=26394.

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Post by DrG » 09 Feb 2004 00:29

Dalmatians

(source: "La campagna di Jugoslavia" Italia Editrice; Le Bande VAC in Dalmazia 1942-43)

After the occupation of Yugoslavia by the Axis (map of the operations), Italy annexed a part of Dalmatia on 18 May 1941 ("Governatorato della Dalmazia" = Governorate of Dalmatia; 5,242 sq.km, 322,712 ihnabitants) and had an occupation zone in the western part of the Kingdom of Croatia (area west of the white line in this map).

In Dalmatia (both in annexed and occupied areas) arose, as in the rest of Yugoslavia, the partizan rebellion, made by communists and Chetniks. But, after initial fightings, the latter accepted to fight along with Italy against Tito. Thus, officially in June 1942, was formed the MVAC ("Milizia Volontaria Anti-Comunista").
In the area of the XVIII Italian Army Corps there were about 6,500 volunteers of the MVAC, 5,000 of the MVAC "Dimara" (orthodox religion) and the rest of the MVAC "Zara" (founded by col. Eugenio Morra, its soldiers were from annexed Dalmatia). The "Dimara" shown often an excellent skill in anti-guerrilla operations.

In province of Zara (now Zadar) there were 9 bands (each band was called BAC: "Banda Anti-Comunista") in two battalions: XX assault battalion (catholic; band numbers: 1,2,3,6,7,8 ) and XXII assault battalion (orthodox; band numbers: 4 and 5). The BAC n° 7 operated with the Celere Div. in the area of Sebenico (Sibenik), while the n° 8 was made of a local militia in the area of Vrana. In the BAC n°9 (not attached to a battalion) there were also Italians born in Sebenico; this BAC was under the command of the base of Regia Marina in that town and fought along with a company of the "San Marco" battalion; the uniform pf its members was the same of saylors of the Navy.

Each BAC had 100-250 men, and was divided into platoons and squads. The commander and vice-commanders of the bands were Italian officers, along with them there was a Yugoslav officer, platoons were commanded by NCO's (most Italians, but also Yugoslavs) while the NCO's leading the squads were usually Yugoslavs. 2/3rds of the Italian officers and a half of the Italian NCO's were born in Dalmatia, thus they had a good experience of the land and people.

The volunteers sworn their oath to Italy; the colour of their uniform was the same of the old Yugoslav Army, but with small fasces on the collar and they had a blue arm band on the left arm with a triangle with a symbol for the rank, on the left of the triangle there was the name of the place of the BAC, on the right the name of its commander. On the head they wore the typical headgear of local farmers (its upper part was red for catholics and orange for orthodoxes; in the front part there was a skull with a knife in the mouth on a Italian tricolour cockade). The individual armament was the the Mauser rifle and 5 grenades; also Hotchkiss machineguns were used.

After the Italian armistice the bands of MVAC fought along with the Germans, like the BAC n°2 of Zara, commanded by capt. Tommaso David (who had been awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valour), very active in its war against partizans in the small islands in front of the coast.

PS There is a book about the uniforms (but also the history) of the MVAC in Dalmatia, but I've not read it: "Le Bande VAC in Dalmazia 1942/43" by T. Francesconi, Serie "Historia", Milano, EMI, 1992. Usually the books printed by EMI are in Italian and English text. Has anybody read it?
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Post by DrG » 09 Feb 2004 00:44

Montenegro

I've a book about the Italian occupation of Montenegro ("Occupazione e guerra italiana in Montenegro" by G.Scotti and L.Viazzi), but there are very few details about local volunteers. There were MVAC bands also in that state, but almost no more info are given. The same for the "Milizia musulmana" (Muslim Militia), made of Albanians.
Instead I've found a short but interesting article about the beginning of the cohoperation between Chetniks and Italians: Chetniks in Montenegro (just a note: in that article the Italian governor is called Pirzia Birolia, his correct full name was gen. Alessandro Pirzio Biroli).

Data about the MVAC
In this page there is a very interesting tabel with the strenght of the MVAC bands in Feb. 1943 (tot.: 29,627 men), with details about the number of men in the occupation zones of the various Italian Army Corps: http://www.vojska.net/ww2/ndh/chetniks/chetniks-italy.asp.

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Post by K.Kocjancic » 09 Feb 2004 00:50

DrG wrote:The part of Slovenia occupied by Italy in April 1941 was annexed on 3 May 1941 as "Provincia di Lubiana" (Province of Ljubljana) (4,545 sq.km, 303,946 inhabitants).


Interesting data!

Thanks for sharing them. :)

DrG wrote:After the beginning of communist partizan activity, Slovene nationalists and catholic formed a rural self-defence guard: the Bela Garda (White Guard). It was divided into many small detachments to defend villages and farms. This formation was supported by Gen. Leon Rupnik (former general of the Yugoslav Army, captured by Italians in April '41, but soon released from prisony; he was appointed "podestà" = mayor of Ljubljana on 9 June 1942), by the bishop of Ljubljana Rozman and by the former ban (governor) Natlacen.


But they weren't volunteers to Italian Armed forces (thread's topic). :? :wink:

DrG wrote:Another anti-communist formation was the Legija Smrti (Legion of the Death), composed of Chetniks. It was divided into 3 battalions (for a total of 11 companies). From: http://www.axishistory.com/index.php?id=92 we may have more info:
Legija Smrti (Legion of Death) was formed Aug 1942 when the Slovenian Chretnik force under Major Novak was made a part of the Milizia Volontaria Anti-Comunista (MVAC). It was expanded with volunteers from the Slovenian Catholic National Alliance and quickly expanded to a mobile and tough force.
It was the only part of the MVAC to remain undefeated when the communist partisans attacked following the Italian surrender.

Manpower strength
Aug 1942 640
Feb 1943 1.687

Order of battle
1. Battalion (in Vrnika)
2. Battalion (in Gorjanci)
3. Battalion (in Mokronog)


Legija smrti wasn't Cetnik unit 100% of meaning of the word Cetnik, but was primarly anti-partisan, pro-Slovene unit and wasn't part of MVAC, but was a seperate unit. ANother name for this units is "Štajerski bataljon" - Steiermark Bataillon.

DrG wrote:After 25 July 1943 (fall of Mussolini's govern) all anti-communist formations were united into a new organization: "Slovenska Narodna Vojska - Esercito Nazionale Sloveno" (Slovene National Army). It had a strenght of about 20 battalions, but didn't became operational because of the Italian armistice (8 Sept. 1943).


Never heard of this formation? :?

SNV - Slovenska narodna vojska was formed in May '45, had 3 "Div.". Maybe mistake of ID?

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Klemen

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Post by DrG » 09 Feb 2004 01:04

K.Kocjancic wrote:But they weren't volunteers to Italian Armed forces (thread's topic). :? :wink:

Well, this was a formation commanded by the Italian Army and fighting along with it, I thought they belonged to this topic. :?
Legija smrti wasn't Cetnik unit 100% of meaning of the word Cetnik, but was primarly anti-partisan, pro-Slovene unit and wasn't part of MVAC, but was a seperate unit. ANother name for this units is "Štajerski bataljon" - Steiermark Bataillon.

I thought it (AFAIK Chetniks were only Serbians), but my source ("La campagna di Jugoslavia", Italia Editrice) called it Chetnik, thank you for the explaination. About the MVAC, both my source and this site tell the Legija Smrti belonged to it. :?
Never heard of this formation? :?

I'm sorry, but my source doesn't give more details. :( When I'll have enough time (and I'll have read the dozens of books that are waiting for me), I'll buy "L’occupazione italiana della Slovenia (1941-1943)" by Marco Cuzzi, printed by the USSME (Historical Office of the General Staff of the Italian Army), http://www.litos.it/esercito_italiano/seconda.html; I'm sure in that book there are more details.

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Post by Allen Milcic » 09 Feb 2004 15:47

Hi DrG:

The Croatian title is, indeed, "Laki Prijevozni Zdrug"; the spelling you have is the Serbian language version of the same words.

The name "Oxilio" is no doubt a typo - I would appreciate your input as to who this person actually is, and the correct spelling of his name.

Thank you for the information on the "Sul Campo"!

I note that the information on the unit's flag describes the unit as "truck drivers", which is incorrect. The flag description is detailed and very precise, though.

Cheers!

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Post by FB » 09 Feb 2004 16:58

Hi all,

according to the Esercito Italiano www site there was a Generale di Divisione Giovan Battista OXILIA in the Stato Maggiore del Regio Esercito (Royal Army General Staff). Unfortunately the site doesn't give any further info, apart from saying that he was in that position between 1925 and 1946.

Maybe the same person?

IIRC the Commanding general of the Garibaldi Division (the one that fought alongside with Tito's army post Sept, 8 1943, and formed with Units from Venezia Inf. Div. and Turinense Alpini Div.) was a General Oxilia.

Best regards

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Post by Allen Milcic » 09 Feb 2004 17:12

DrG:

Just one more short note - the Dalmatian MVAC unit (Orthodox) was named "Dinara" (not "DiMara") - it was named after the Dinara (Dinaric) mountain range that runs along the Adriatic coast of Croatia.

Best regards!

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