Sunday, December 12, 2010

THE ITALIAN ARMY

Italy had colonies in Africa with borders to British African colonies. So the war was brought to Africa. Fights started in East Africa between the Italian colony Ethopia / Somalia and the British colonies Sudan and British Somali Land. Italy had to surrender against British troops in East Africa at the end of 1941.

The second African war took place in North Africa between Italian Lybia and British protected Egypt.

Italian Anti Aircraft Gun in action on Lybia



Most of the time, historians refer to them as cowards or spaghettis. Most of the movies about the desert war try to show that the Italian man is a Latin stupid, only wants to survive and run cowardly from the front. It's not right! The Italian soldier fought in the desert equally or better than any other soldier, German or Allied. The Italian soldier fought most of the time in inferiority conditions and most of the so called "desert heroes" never fight in that way if they where in the Italian Army, this is the best thing to describe how brave the Italian soldier was in the desert campaign.

This website's name is "The Deutshes Afrikakorps Online Archive". It was created to maintain the history of the DAK and show the desert campaign from his side of view only. Is very difficult for me maintain a general desert war dedicated website, so this website will not be dedicated to other armies than the Deutsche Afrika Korps, for now. This website is in construction all the time, so it is possible that in the future all about the desert campaign will be included here. Let's not forget that if the Italian Army was not in Africa at that time, the DAK never appears and this website never exists.
Paulo Henriques - Owner and webmaster of this website


It is not an easy task at all to find the words to describe who had to fight an uneven armor battle from the Italian perspective. These battles fought from obsolete tanks and "tankettes", good only to encounter infantries, against steel monsters such as Shermans, Grants and Matildas. Italian armored forces to include tanks and self propelled tank destroyers were tragically few, outdated and outclassed, with small fuel reserves and exhausted crews. These crews, though, preferred to be destroyed rather than surrender. The only quite effective Italian armoured vehicle of WW2 was the Self propelled gun 75/18. It was not a real tank but a tank destroyer with a tiny armor, its 75mm gun was a reliable and modern weapon and was very dangerous even for the best British/Allied tanks.

The self propelled gun Fiat Ansaldo 75/18 M13/40 SEMOVENTE 75mm
The last order the Ariete, like the Folgore and other Axis units in the El Alamein battle, received was to resist until the last stand and they did. If their tanks where so obsolete and so inferior to the British ones to be called "Herring cans" (called steel coffins by the soldiers and genrally was referred to the CL-33) it could be said that inside that cans there were indeed men of steel.

Most of the time, the Italian Army gives cover to the Germans under retreat and fought until the last bullet. In the desert campaign logical perspective, the German army was there to help the Italian forces to conquer the Egypt, so it is logical that the "main" Axis army, the Afrika Korps, got the advantage over protection. In the Russian campaign, the Italian Army cover many German retreats and we all know that should be the opposite.



THE STRANGE CASE OF BRIGADIER CLIFTON
 
Written by Guido Ronconi
Everybody knows the book of Desmond Young "The desert fox": besides the insults to the Italians there is a very interesting episode concerning the capture of the Brigadier Clifton, commander of the 6th New Zealand Brigade, by the Italian paratroopers of the Folgore Division on the 4th of September 1942 at Deir Alinda. Clifton was not stupid, he was a brave soldier and a good commander, but he had also an enourmous contempt toward the Italians, and this contempt is the cause of the ridicoulous version of his capture, that was accepted by Desmond Young.

Clifton said, he found a group of Italian paras of the Folgore that, instead to capture him, were disposed to surrender (!), and only the intervention of a German officer convinced the Italians not to surrender and to capture him!!!!

Apart of the fantasy of Mr. Clifton, the facts happened as follow: the jeep with Clifton and three other men, looking for his own units, came to the positions of the 30th Co/X Btl./187th Para Rgt. The paras came suddenly out of the trenches and captured them, the para Domenico Longo destroyed with the rifle butt the radio of the jeep, with whom the radio operator was trying to call help. Clifton tried a bluff saying that they were surrounded by his tanks, but the para Stefano Dezza, that spoke very well english, told him that they were there to fight and not to surrender. As soon as the lieutenant-colonel Camosso arrived (he had his HQ just behind the front line), Clifton tried to tell him the same story, but Camosso answered he had no time to waste with him and ordered his men to bring the four prisoners to the Ramcke Brigade, that was not far away from there.

As the Italian version (the true version) is also confirmed in the New Zealand official history (section "Alam Halfa and Alamein", by Ronald Walker), why gave Mr. Desmond Young credit to the fantasy of Mr. Clifton? How much truth and how much fantasy are in his book? And how much truth and how much fantasy are in other English and German books?
The "case" of Brigadier Clifton is examined thoroughly in the book of Renato Migliavacca "Assalti e contrassalti - I paracadutisti italiani in Africa", Edizioni Auriga, Milano, 1996, pag. 78-83
Thanks Guido

Italian Bersaglieri motocyclist talking to Germans of the
Aufkl.Abt. 3 with a Sd.Kfz 263, april 1941

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interesting information

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  2. "No less a figure than German Field Marshal Edwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, expressed his admiration for the way the Italians had fought at El Alamein."

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