Was the italien soldiers more worse soldiers then others?

Discussions on all aspects of Italy under Fascism from the March on Rome to the end of the war.
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Post by Alp Guard » 07 Apr 2005 15:05

Briefly my opinion:

The value of a soldier does not so much depend on the quality of his arms, but on his motivation and absolute willingness to fight. Therefore a soldier of a force defending his country or a soldier absolutely convinced about his mission is worth three well equipped but unmotivated or even "enforced" soldiers. There are countless examples in world history for this rule, (Soviets/Afghanistan, US. troops/Vietnam etc.), where the relation between troops and officers deteriorated, drug abuse increased and fighting spirit was cracked with guerilla tactics.

Taking this rule into account it is doubtful to think that the Italian troops in Northern Africa or Greece behaved differently to all the other armies on this planet under these circumstances.

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Post by Strovalnyk » 08 Apr 2005 08:34

luigi wrote:IIRC the fact that common infantry units were drafted from all over Italy instead of on local basis is very true for peace time. I seem to recall, however, that in war time things were different. In WWI at least some brigades had region names according to the provenance of the mayority of conscripts: I don't know if the same happened in WWII however.

According to G. Rochat in his "L'esercito italiano in pace e in guerra" this was not a case in WW II, with exception of Alpine divisions of course.

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Post by Mark V » 08 Apr 2005 20:34

RoW wrote:
4. Obsolete weapons

It's mistake. Italy was a developed industrial power. At the moment of entry into WW2 Italian weapon wasn't obsolete, at least some gaps could be compensated with skills.

I must disagree on that. Italians had very serious shortcomings in very critical areas of armament and equipment. The limitations of manufacturing capacity of Italian industry, and severely limited supply of strategic materials crippled Italian Defence Forces to the level that better leadership and training would had helped only little.

Some examples:

- at start of WW2 Italians did not had available better than 840hp Fiat A.74 radial engines, and nothing better coming soon either - that lack haunted them till end of war, aircraft manufacturers had skill to design good airframes but they were not much use if engines of sufficient power were lacking
- tank designs were hopelessly outdated, without competent designs coming out of factory floor until war was practically over
- infantry units AT-defence was whoefully inadequate
- reliable belt fed machinegun, without additional complications was lacking from ground forces, and the LMG did not save the situation either (like Brits were saved by excellent LMG they fielded) - Italy fielded several whoefully inadequate infantry small arms and that is unforgettable
- SMGs were not developed (this was corrected later - not surprisingly - it does not need rocket engineer to design adequate SMG)
- some weapons that defy common sence (Brixia mortar, or fixed sights on service rifle) were fielded - to be used in serious combat
- radar development was practically nonexistant
- general lack of motorized vehicles

There were opposite examples also. Like MTBs and their Isotta engines - but that did not save the situation. Italy was far, far from countries like US, Germany, Britain and USSR - all which were capable of producing adequate weapons/equipment (some excellent, some good, some adequate - but not less than that) in most critical areas.

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Post by Kenshiro » 09 Apr 2005 12:46

The other great countrys started there war preparation one or more years before the war, italy instead prepare herself AFTER the war started. The armed forces didnt have a war plan when Italy entered the war and they got some of the equipment they needed long time after the second great war started.
The governement should have done long time before the start of the war, a massive re-equipment (maybe buyng engines and other stuff they needed by friendly countrys..) and a large inteligence work to identify the allied bases and plan a effective war plan (who also are vital importance to win the war).
So the major reason..IMHO are simply the (as I stated before) lack of preparation and planning!!!

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Post by MajorLister » 30 Jun 2005 21:58

The average Italian was much more anti-german than anti british, and with the entrance of america (which most italians considered almost a second home, given the number of kin that migrated there) there was very little enthusiasm for the 'fight.'

As for their individual fighting qualities, just look at those repeated attempts to take those austrian postions in ww i.

Also, italians are by and large not anti-semetic, and german anti-semetism further antagonized their dislike of the reich.

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Post by Pips » 02 Jul 2005 04:31

The whole question of Italian military performance in WWII is a vexing one.

One the one hand you have the incredibly successful British propaganda showing tens of thousands of Italian troops surrendering to a handful of troops in 'Wavells 30,000' very successful 1940 campaign in the Desert. Followed by an almost total ignoring of Italy's ongoing involvement in WWII by British historians until Italy is again mentioned when it surrendered in September 1943. In fact if one reads British written histories on the battles of the Western Desert one would have the view that Italy fought (and lost badly) in 1940 against a numerically inferior British army; afterwards the desert battles were between the British 8th Army and the Deutsch Afriks Corps. Never mind that the Italian Army made up almost 3/5's of the Axis land forces throughout the Western Desert campaigns.

Now on the other hand there are many instances of incredible feats of bravery peformed by Italian soldiers, recorded by individual British and Australian unit histories. And if any unit of the Italian Army was universally regarded by the Commonwealth forces as the toughest it would be the Artillery units of the Italian army. Many were the instances when they literally fought until their guns (and gunners) were overrun by the tanks of the 8th Army.

There are a number of books written recently by various historians who are now looking more objectively, and honestly, at the Regia Escerito's performance during WWII. Some are: Hitlers Italian Allies, by MacGregor Knox; The Italian Soldier in Combat, June 1940 - September 1943, by Paul Addison and Angus Calder; A NAtion Collapses, The Italian Surrender of September 1943 by Elena Aga rossi; and The Brutal Friendship by William Deakin.

For those of you who can't lay their hands on these books I would recommend an reading an Article written by Major Eric G. Hansen USMC, Command and Staff College, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico. it's titled "The Italian Military Enigma", and is a fascinating and well researched modern study by an Military organisation. Here's a link:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ ... 88/HEG.htm

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Post by Kenshiro » 03 Jul 2005 20:41

I dont agree with the article, it tend to blame the buttom instead looking for the top. I have also to say, blaming the italian people for the failures shows only a huge lack and biased research.

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Post by Tosun Saral » 10 Nov 2006 11:30

During the war a company commander adressed heroic words to his men before the attack. At the end of his speech he said it was the time to die for the motherland Italy. He then jumped from the trench, stood for a while alone at the battle front and shouted "Forward"
What the soldiers did?
They jubeled him and yelled "Bravo Signore Capitano!"

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Post by Wargames » 14 Nov 2006 08:59

I would like to say that, except for the few Italians who posted here, the ignorance of others of the Italian Army is appalling. Comments of "low morale", "poor officers", and "no motivation" come not from combat analysis but from PRISONER ANALYSIS. The "historians" here conclude that since British POW camps were bulging with Italian soldiers that the Italians were simply looking for the first British soldier to surrender to. There is no truth to this at all. The simple fact is that British forces were motorized while Italian forces walked. What this meant was that, any time the Italians were forced to retreat, they were actually forced to SURRENDER because British troops could advance faster than Italian troops could retreat. The British simply drove around to the rear of the retreating Italians, set up road blocks (In most cases, there was really only one road), cut then off, and collected Italian prisoners as they arrived (without water and in desert conditions). The result was overflowing prison camps and the misconception that Italians wouldn't fight.

Adding to this misconception is the fact that, in 1940, the Italians didn't fight. They didn't for a reason. When the Italians marched a few miles across the border from Lybia to Egypt they came to an immediate HALT. The entire advance stopped without having even reached the British defenses. They stopped for two reasons.

The first reason they stopped was that the Italian Army had done VERY POORLY against the French in southern France (This would be repeated against Greece later and for the very same reasons). The commanding general of the Italian Army in Lybia had warned Mussollini that his own Army was unprepared to attack Egypt.

This led to the second reason they stopped. Germany was bombing Britain in August, 1940 and Mussollini was afraid Britain would surrender to the Germans before he could get into the war. Therefore, he reached a compromise with his Lybian Army general. The general could halt his advance as soon as he crossed the border (Which he did) and then simply wait for the Brtish to surrender to the "London Blitz".

But the British did not surrender to the Germans, landed a tank convoy (Tiger) in Egypt instead, and proceeded to luanch a "Matilda" tank offensive against the Italians. The Italians did not have a SINGLE WEAPON that could take out a massively armored Matilda tank. The Italians had no choice but to retreat or be killed and, when they retreated, it was on foot and right into the British road blocks in their rear. The heroics of a Italian general being killed, firing his machinegun at an oncoming Matilda tank and that the Italians having actually knocked out some Matilda's out goes unnoticed because 100,000 Italian troops were taken prisoner. The Italians had NO CHANCE of victory - NONE - against Matilda tanks. They might as well have been armed with slingshots.

But this would also be the last "easy" victory the British would ever get over the Italians. While the Italians were still "on foot", oncee Rommell arrived it changed the battle two different ways. First, the Italians were no longer "waiting" for the British to surrender. They were going to have to make it happen themselves so the Italians began shooting at the British. Second, the British could no longer set up road blocks in the Italian rear since the equally mobile Germans prevented them from doing so. The only way the British could surround the Italians now was by beating the Germans first - Something the British were not very good at.

From 1941-1942, the stories of Italian "mass surrenders" to a "single British soldier" disappeared. The
Italians were collecting British prisoners of their own. There is no record - NONE - of Italian cowardice in this period and, contrary to popular belief, Italian soldiers did not fight alongside German soldiers. The Italians were assigned their own independent sectors and THEY HELD THEM.

In 1943, however, things did change. As soon as the Italian Army had been booted out of North Africa, it lost its will to fight. This became very apparent in the Allied invasion of Sicily. The Italian Order of Battle shows a HUGE force was on the island yet they seem to have completely disappeared "into the woodwork" when the Allies landed. Again, this gives ammunition to the charges of Italian "cowardice" but it is the only time the accusation holds water. I'll let the Italians here explain that one.

Besides North Africa and France, the Italians fought in Greece and on the Russian Front. Russia was another mobile front, incredibly unsuited to an army on foot, and the Italians froze and surrendered there but, again, did not do so easily. However, I admit I have not made a study of the Italians on the Russian Front. I can neither say good things nor bad things about them. It's doubtful they played a material part in that war but they lasted quite awhile.

Invading Greece was an incredible mistake for Italy. It was just plain stupid. For starters, while Greece did not have a very large army, they had first rate artillery and natural defenses that would have been considered superior to the Maginot Line. In effect, Italy attacked a "wall" of mountains and rivers. For the Italians to attack Greece was nothing less than suicide. However, it required the entire Greek Army to man the long front on the Italian/Albanian border. Thus, the Italians had tied up the entire Greek Army and, when the Germans invaded from the North and rear, the Germans had a "picnic". It was over in days (If the Germans hadn't invaded, it's likely the Italians would still be fighting today and still be losing.).

For the curious, the reason the Italians could not break mountain defenses, such as southern France and Greece, was their lack of dive bombers. They could not, with their existing artillery, take out a defender on a higher elevation than they held. They would advance a few hundred yards/meters and be stopped (The question for the intellectually curious would be why they even tried?).

Having addressed the false charges against the Italians, let's address what was really wrong with their military.

Italy was a was "second rate" military power hoping to become a "first rate" military power at the expense of a "fourth rate" military power - Africa. Italy had no intention of fighting either the French or the British in Africa. They had targeted the local natives armed with spears for colonization. However, that did mean competing with France and Britain for "space" in Africa. The Italians felt the first move to limit their colonizing North Africa by the French and British would be by a naval blockade and not by direct military intervention. Hence, Italy's first military objective was to keep its supply lines open to Africa against a naval blockade. Accordingly, it developed a Navy just for that purpose. When one compares Italy's success with Japan's success at keeping its supply lines open, Italy did a very, very good job. Italy's primary weapon against a French or British naval blockade was the SUBMARINE. Italy had the world's largest submarine fleet. Britain never did try and blockade North Africa with ships against this force. Instead, they opted to try and cut off Italy's supplies to North Africa with their own submarines and swordfish torpedo airplanes at Malta. Thus, the war in the Medittereanean became a war of torpedoes by both sides. Italian submarine commanders were about on par with their British counterparts although neither was as daring as German U-boat commanders. The rest of the Italian Navy was built on either speed (Colleoni cruisers) or in violation of the Washington Treaty (Zara cruisers).

For the most part, surface warships played only a small part in the war for both sides, and usually ended up being the victims of the torpedo attacks of the "other" side. The British did have superior, although slower, battleships which could catch absolutely nothing in the entire Italian fleet. In order to catch the faster Italian warships, the British would use an aircraft carrier in their battleship group to torpedo an Italian warship in order to cripple it and slow it down enough for the British battleships to catch and sink (Matapan). In addition, the Italian Navy was also low on oil, causing them to curtail surface operations as well as put destroyers to sea with only "half tanks", which resulted in them losing ballast in heavy seas. Finally, the Italians did not have radar, making their ships vulnerable to night attacks. None-the-less, the Italian Navy kept putting supplies and reinforcements ashore in North Africa and, all in all, did a very respectable job. I know of only one instance of where Italian sailors did not put up a fierce fight and that was when the British Navy came upon a crippled cruiser with about 800 drunk Italians still aboard. The reason they were drunk and still aboard was that they couldn't swim.

While Italy did its best to field a respectable Navy, it left its Army with World War I equipment. Modernization of the Army was almost unheard of. It was, after all, considered unnecessary when the anticipated opponent was African natives armed with spears. When the Army did modernize, it was with native opponents in mind such as when they added large numbers of light "tankettes" (Useless against an army with anti-tankguns such as the British). Even when they added a fairly decent 47mm anti-tank gun to the Army for use against other armies, it was in such small numbers as to be virtually non-existent.

Most of Italy's artillery was of captured World War I Skoda guns and the country lacked the ability to produce additional weapons and so, when it became necessary to increase the size of the Army, Mussolini created the so called "Double Division" which was made up of two army brigades (versus the normal three) with a legion (two battalions) of Blackshirts (shock troops) attached. Thus, while the number of Italian divisions increased by 50%, every Italian division was weaker than its corresponding French or British division in firepower. Trucks were also a rarity and one of Italy's ideas for troop transport was "bicycle" regiments. Between 1940-43, the Army never did modernize. It was still walking and still using World War I weapons when it surrendered.

One of Italy's major weaknesses was in engine design. It converted commercial engines to military use. Thus, it powered its tanks with tractor engines and it powered its fighters and bombers with airline engines. In each case, the commercial engine design's horsepower limitation did not allow for carrying armor. Thus, tanks were limited in total weight by the horse power of the tractor engine available and the limited weight limited both the armor and the size of the gun the tank could carry. None-the-less, the "Ariete" armored division had a first rate record with second rate tanks. It was very well commanded and organized.

The use of commercial aircraft engines to power warplanes led to some interesting designs. Using an 840 horsepower radial engine was fine for multi-engined bombers but a single engined, 840 horsepower fighter was way underpowered by 1940 standards. The result was an Air Force of mixed effectiveness. Italian bombers, such as the SM79, were first rate, although Italy had no dive bombers (Italy also maintained a force of "Caproni" bombers which were absolutely useless against foreign powers but fairly effective and economical against natives armed with spears.). Yet while Italy fielded superb bombers it probably fielded one of the world's worst fighters (Comparable to Japan's Ki-43 "Oscar"). Unable to build a fighter that could remotely compare to the British monoplanes Hurricane and Spitfire, Italy embarked on constructing the CR.42 Falco biplane. Speedwise, it was even worse than Japan's "Oscar" but, with twice the wing surface it had enormous lift and could outclimb and outturn any Hurricane or Spitfire. The result was that the British fighters could not get a CR.42 Falco in its sights long enough to shoot it down (Italian pilots were acrobatically trained). Similarly, the CR.42 was too slow to catch a British fighter. The result was that neither one could shoot down the other. While that was good for Italian fighter pilots it halved the number of missions a CR.42 could fly. It could only fly bomber escort missions, being too slow for intercepting enemy bombers. However, it's ability to fly slow made it a nuisance to the British Army which it strafed with ease.

Thus, Italy's Air Force was a "mixed bag". The SM79's did a lot of damage while the CR.42's did not.

But as we see, "cowardice" or "morale" had nothing to do with Italy's successes and failures. Everyone fought bravely. The idea that Italians were "marching off to surrender" is a fantasy perpetrated by British authors trying to create an air of "invincibility" for England. While it may be true that Italy was no match for Britain it certainly wasn't for the reasons being posted here. Thank goodness that a few Italians spoke up!

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Post by luigi » 15 Nov 2006 14:17

Good post Wargames.
Just let me mention, with regard to Sicily, that the Livorno Division, a newly build very ordinary infantry division with almost all green conscripts, almost threw the american landing party back to sea at Gela, only stopped at last by the big gun of the ships. The exceptionality of this division was that, once in a while, an Italian division came to fight in nearly full strenght in men and equipments, nearly fully motorized and so on...
- some weapons that defy common sence (Brixia mortar, or fixed sights on service rifle) were fielded - to be used in serious combat
The Brixia mortar is indeed something beyond my understanding capabilities... The fixed sight on the service rifle however, does not defy common sense: with the front blade barely visible in the deep part of the rear "V" it was zeroed at 150 (IIRC) meters, if levelled to the upper part of the V it was zeroed at 300 (please corretct me if I'm wrong)... this means that in stressful combat situation when engaging ranges are anyway within 300mt, you could point and aim very easily without having to fiddle with the aiming mechanism or, worse, forgetting to put the mechanism back from longer distance settings... not that bad of a thought, at the end...

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Post by FRANCY RITTER » 15 Nov 2006 15:14

Hello !! :)
Wargamer..critical and just sight . :wink:

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Post by luigi » 15 Nov 2006 16:42

A sidenote on the airplanes... If you look at the figures of a, say macchi c200 with a 840hp radial engine, you'll realize that the "efficiency" of the whole was very high. It was on pair with hurricanes except for firepower (which was still enough to down fighters and medium bombers) and in some regards even better (maneuverability and, but I could be proven wrong, climb).
This to say that, if we speak about being more or less "worth" than other soldiers, I don't know if you would put up a fight against a Spitfire sitting in a Texan trainer... just to give the rough impression ;)

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Post by Wargames » 16 Nov 2006 06:15

[Luigi wrote:[/b]
If you look at the figures of a, say macchi c200 with a 840hp radial engine, you'll realize that the "efficiency" of the whole was very high. It was on pair with hurricanes except for firepower (which was still enough to down fighters and medium bombers) and in some regards even better (maneuverability and, but I could be proven wrong, climb).
In 1940, Macchi was building the best 840 hp fighter in the world. No other country produced anything that got so much out of so little, able to get 313 mph out of it when the Fiat G.50, with the idential engine, only got 294 mph. This is a significant design edge. By comparison, Japan was a year behind in building the roughly equivelent 950 hp Ki-43 "Oscar" fighter which carried the same armament as the Macchi 200, yet reached only 308 mph even though it had more power than the Macchi 200 and sacrificed armor protection for the pilot. Thus, Macchi managed to build the best and using the least.

The Macchi 200 did suffer from inadequate firepower, about half that of it's British counterparts. Hence, it took two Maachi 200's to inflict the same amount of damage on an opposing bomber as just one British fighter could. In effect, the British could field just as strong (and faster) a fighter force on half the planes Italy could. As a result, Allied bomber (and fighter) losses were never very high against Italy. Still, the brilliance of the Macchi design team should not be ignored. They finally got their recognition with the Macchi 202 which finally received an in-line engine and Italy finally had a world class fighter (And did it, again, on less power).

Thanks for the reminder about the success of Macchi. As a wargamer, I tend to forget this success as the primary frontline fighter was the CR.42 Falco and it just keeps coming off the production lines...and coming...and coming. This is difficult not to notice as, to a wargamer, it's a useless airplane.

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Post by luigi » 16 Nov 2006 09:23

Indeed hard to believe that the CR42 was still in production by 1943... this fact alone is a witness of the inability of Italy as a Country to deal with a war: this all at the expenses of the common soldier who later had to endure insult over pain by being painted as a coward...

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Post by red admiral » 16 Nov 2006 10:03

I think its more a testament to the power of Fiat-Ansaldo. They manage to sell an outdated biplane fighter to the Germans in 1943. Its quite some achievement.

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