Italian Army, North Africa, order of battle, 1940-1943

October 2, 2017 | Author: stugsturmpanzer | Category: Division (Military), Paratrooper, Regiment, Battalion, Military Organization
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Italian Army, North Africa, order of battle, 1940-1943...


ITALIAN ARMY IN NORTH AFRICA, 1940—1943 Richard A. Rinaldi Libya was an Italian colony. Militarily it was divided into two provinces: Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the east. Although occupied by Italy since 1911-12, it was only under the Fascists that the two parts were united as one area, Libya. The armed forces commander in chief in North Africa also served as governor of the colony. The commander in chief was Air Marshal [Marasciallo dell'Aerea] Italo Balbo. He was killed 28 Jun 1940 when his plane was accidentally shot down by an Italian AA unit at Tobruk. His replacement was Marshal of Italy [Marsciallo d'Italia] Rodolfo Graziani. Graziani was relieved 11 Feb 1941 following the disaster at Beda Fromm. Next was Army General [Generale d'Armata] Italo Gariboldi, who had been commander of Fifth Army. Gariboldi only lasted until 19 Jul 1941, when he was relieved over an alleged inability to get along with Rommel. The last commander in chief was Army General Ettore Bastico (promoted 12 Aug 1942 to Marshal of Italy). The chief of staff for North Africa was Gen. Gastone Gambara. He was dismissed in Mar 1942 and replaced by Gen. Curio Barbasetti di Prunn. The supreme command was abolished 5 Feb 1943 with the loss of Libya. There was a locally-recruited force (the Royal Corps of Libyan Colonial Troops [Regio Corpo Truppe Coloniali della Libia]) with officers seconded from the metropolitan army. A unified Libyan colonial force had only been created in 1935, uniting the separate troops of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. However, the majority of the troops stationed in Libya were either regular Army or Blackshirt units from Italy.1 Following the defeat of France in Jun 1940, Libya’s western border (with Tunisia) was secure. Egypt—nominally independent—was to the east, with British forces stationed to defend the Suez Canal. The Italian Army in Libya was a largely infantry force, with limited transport more suited to its occupation role than for an offensive operations. In Jun 1940, the Italian Army in Libya was organized as follows: Fifth Army (Gen. Italo Gariboldi) X Army Corps 25th Bologna Division 55th Savona Division 60th Sabratha Division XX Army Corps 17th Pavia Division 27th Brescia Division 61st Sirte Division XXIII Army Corps 1st CCNN Division “23 Marzo” 2nd CCNN Division “28 Ottobre” 2nd Pescatori Libyan Division


CCNN divisions are usually referred to as “Blackshirt” divisions in English language sources: they were composed of Fascist militia: Camicie Nere (Black Shirt; sometimes shortened as CC.NN. instead of just CCNN). These are sometimes (but rarely) shown as MVSN divisions, after the official name for the militia: Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale [Voluntary Militia for National Security]. The four Blackshirt divisions officially added “Libyan” to their titles by 1940. Since their divisional shields showed them as CCNN, it appears that Blackshirt was the designation used officially.

Tenth Army (Gen. Mario Berti) XXI Army Corps 62nd Marmarica Division 63rd Cirene Division XXII Army Corps 64th Catanzaro Division 4th CCNN Division “3 Gennaio” 1st Sibelle Libyan Division The 1st and 2nd Libyan [Libice] Divisions were the major part of the Libyan colonial troops. There were enough Libyan infantry battalions for another division, as well as a variety of auxiliary and other types, including Saharan [Sahariano] units intended for patrol in desert areas2 and regular and irregular horsed cavalry. As with mainland Italy itself, there were also units of Frontier Guard [Guardia alla Frontiera, or GaF]. The GaF included artillery as well as infantry and service units. Full details are not available, but in Dec 1940 Tobruk and Bardia alone had some 4800 Frontier Guards in the 30th, 31st and 32nd Groups along with three Frontier Guard artillery battalions (77mm) and a regiment with 17 batteries (65mm, 77mm, 120mm and 149mm weapons). As late as the battle of El Alamein in Oct 1942 there were two Frontier Guard artillery battalions with the field army.3 While there had been six or seven Blackshirt divisions at various times, four were mobilized in 1939 and sent to Libya. One of these, 3rd CCNN Division “21 April”, was disbanded in May 1940; the Blackshirt personnel were absorbed by the other three and the Army troops went to 64th Catanzaro Division. The first Italian parachute units were formed in Libya. The 1st Battalion Infantry of the Air was formed there in 1938 with Libyan volunteers and an Italian cadre. This was raised to a nominal regiment but then reduced again to battalion size. The 1st National Parachute Battalion of Libya was raised in early 1940 from Army volunteers (“national” in this sense meant Italian nationals). The two had a strength of perhaps 850 men; they were deployed to Cyrenaica in Jan 1941 under a Col. Tonini as the Tonini Mobile Group. Serving as part of Tenth Army’s rear guard they were destroyed Feb 1941 at Beda Fromm. Italy had three small armored divisions in 1940: one in Albania and two in Italy. While all would end up in North Africa, there does not appear to have been any plan to employ them there in 1940. There were a number of tank battalions, mainly equipped with light tanks. Several battalions were placed under the 1st and 2nd Tank Groups [Ragruppamento Carristi]. The 1st Tank Group (Col. Pitassi Aresca) began with one medium and three light tanks battalions and the 2nd Tank Group (Col. Antonio Tivioli) one medium and one light. At that time (Oct 1940) another medium tank battalion was landing in Libya, and some other light tank battalions appear to been in the theater as well.4 2

This Southern Military Command (headquarters at Hon) was responsible for 60% of the territory of Libya. It had five autonomous Saharan companies in machine-gun armed patrol cars. It also had a variety of other units, including garrison machine gun and Meharisti [camel corps] companies. 3 The Frontier Guard groups were properly titled as covering sectors [settori di copertura]. In Tripolitania, the 28th Sector was at Zuara, 29th at Nalut, 32nd at Zanzur and 34th at Suani Ben Adem; overall headquarters was at Tripoli. In Cyrenaica (headquarters at Tobruk) there were the 31st and 32nd Sectors in that city, the 30th at Bardia, and the 38th at Fort Capuzzo. 4 I have seen references to 12 different tank battalions among the various sources, but they are not always consistent as to assignments. See below, page 12, for a discussion of the various sources and my judgment that there were 10 tank battalions.

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


This is a good place to address the quality of Italian armored vehicles. The majority of those produced were two variants of the L3 light tank (or tankette): L3/33: 2.7 tons, crew 2, 1 6.5mm MG (max. armor: 12mm) L3/35: 3.3 tons, crew 2, 2 6.5mm MG (max. armor: 13mm) The light tank battalions in Libya in 1940 (probably seven) had L3 tankettes. Beginning in 1940 another light tank entered production, the L6, although none arrived in time for the 1940 campaign: L6/40: 6.8 tons, crew 2, 1x20mm gun and 1x8mm MG The first medium tank was developed as an infantry support vehicle: M11/39:11 tons, crew 3, 1x37mm gun and 2x8mm MG5 Only 92 of these were produced; the 1st and 2nd Tank Battalions were equipped with these. Two more mediums were developed, M13/40: 14 tons, crew 4, 1x47mm gun and 4x8mm MG (max. armor: 40mm) M14/41: 14 tons, crew 4, 1x47mm gun and 4x8mm MG (max. armor: 40mm) The 3rd Tank Battalion had the M13/40 in 1940, and about 2000 of the similar M13/40 and M14/41 mediums were produced. They would eventually form the main equipment of the Italian armored divisions. Now, in terms of what was available in other armies in 1940 the Italian tanks weren’t all that bad. The Germans, after all, still had large numbers of the PzKpfw I (two machineguns) and PzKpfw II (20mm gun) in service, and even their main battle tank (PzKpfw III) had only a 37mm gun. British tanks had either machine guns or 2-pounder guns (equivalent to the 37mm). However, while the other armies replaced these vehicles during 1941 and 1942 with improved tanks with larger guns, the Italian armored formations did not. As a result, no matter how brave the troops or adept their leadership, Italian armored units were simply outclassed as the war went on. The original recce vehicle was the Autoblinda (AB) 40 armored car, a 4x4 vehicle with two machine guns. It was replaced from Sep 1941 by the larger AB41, which mounted the turret of the L6 light tank, giving it a 20mm gun along with hull machine guns in the front and rear. The L6 light tank could also be used in recce units in lieu of the armored cars. Details on corps and army troops is scanty and incomplete. GHQ artillery seems to have been a mixture of separate units, Frontier Guard artillery, and battalions (or even an entire regiment) drawn from divisional artillery. Especially in the 1940 campaign, the two Libyan divisions were reinforced with artillery battalions drawn from Blackshirt divisions. The Italians had quite a variety of calibers in their artillery arm: 65mm, 75mm (two versions) and 100mm light and field guns, a 105mm howitzer classified as medium artillery, and 149mm (three different versions) and 210mm heavy artillery weapons. There were also some odd equipments in other calibers. The 65mm was an infantry gun, towed or carried in a truck. The main antitank weapon was a 47mm gun. The French surrender allowed some divisions to shift from the Fifth to the Tenth Army, which had achieved a strength of around 250,000.6 Ultimately all of the corps and divisions would move to the east, although Fifth Army headquarters remained in Libya until 1942 when it moved to


The main weapon was mounted on a sponson in the hull, not unlike the US M3 medium. The turret had a machine gun. 6 On 9 Dec 1940, when the British counteroffensive began, the Italians under Tenth Army also had 400 guns, 240 tankettes, and 60 medium tanks. Their opponents had 36,000 men, 150 guns, 200 light tanks, 75 medium tanks, and 45 heavy tanks.

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


Florence. As far as can be determined, Fifth Army never played any operational role in the North African campaigns. While there was some skirmishing along the frontier, the war in North Africa effectively began 13 Sep 1940 when the Italians launched an attack into Egypt. The initial force was the 63rd Cirene Division (with two other divisions, forming the XXIII Corps), the Libyan Division Group (1st and 2nd Libyan Divisions and the provisional Maletti Libyan Group [Raggruppamento Libico “Maletti”]7). The advance ended by early the next month some 10 miles beyond Sidi Barrani. The Italians then began to construct a series of fortified camps reaching back into Libya.8 The Italian forces in Libya in Oct 1940 were organized and deployed as follows: North African High Command (now under Marshal Graziani) at Cirene Fifth Army (Gen. Italo Gariboldi), Tripoli X Army Corps (Gen. Alberto Barbieri), Garian; divisions south-west of Tripoli 25th Bologna Division (Gen. Mario Marghinotti) 55th Savonna Division (Gen. Pietro Maggiani) XX Army Corps (Gen. Ferdinando Cona), Tagiura, divisions south-west of Tripoli at the coast 17th Pavia Division (Gen.Pietro Zaglio) 17th Brescia Division (Gen. Giuseppe Cremascoli) 60th Sabratha Division (Gen. Guido della Bona) XXI Army Corps (Gen. Lorenzo Dalmazzo), Beda Littoria 61st Sirte Division (Gen. Vincenzo della Mura), Beda Littoria 2nd CCN Division “28 Ottobre” (Gen. Francesco Argentino), Barta Tenth Army (Gen. Mario Berti), Bardia 1st Tank Group, Buq Buq 2nd Tank Group, Bardia XXII Army Corps (Gen. Pitassi Mannella), Tobruk 4th CCNN Division “3 Gennaio” (Gen. Fabio Mersari), El Adem 64th Cantanzaro Division (Gen. Lorenzo Mugnai), Gambut XXIII Army Corps (Gen. Annibale Bergonzoli), Sollum 62nd Marmarica Division (Gen. Ruggero Tracchia), Sidi Omar-Halfaya Pass-Sollum 63rd Cirene Division (Gen. Allesandro de Guidi), Rabit and Sofafi 1st CCNN Division (Gen. Francesco Antonelli), Buq Buq to Sidi el Barrani


While sometimes referred to as brigade strength, the Maletti Group was about the same strength as an Italian division. Two different sources offer different designations, but both show it with six battalions, and the more detailed source also shows two artillery battalions and some other artillery and AT units. The Maletti Group is also sometimes referred to as a motorized unit, so perhaps it had sufficient trucks to transport all of its personnel. 8 I have been unable to find a good map of the North African campaign in the public domain for use in this article. However, a number are available online from the West Point Department of History’s map collection; those for North Africa are numbers 33 to 42 at Oct 1940 also marked the Italian invasion of Greece, another ill-fated venture.

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


Libyan Divisional Group (Gen. Sebastiano Gallina), Sidi el Barrani 1st Sibelle Libyan Division (Gen. Giovanni Serio) 2nd Pescatori Libyan Division (Gen. Armando Pescatori) Maletti Libyan Group (Gen. Peitro Maletti) Disaster (Dec 1940-Feb 1941) In early Dec 1940, Tenth Army headquarters was still at Bardia. Army troops included the 10th Bersaglieri Regiment [motorcyclists] and three divisional artillery regiments (12th, 26th, and 55th of the 55th Savona, 17th Pavia and 27th Brescia Divisions, respectively). Other Army artillery included the 10th Artillery Regiment (formerly of the 25th Bologna Division, and replaced then or later by the 205th) and the GHQ 20th Artillery Regiment. Tenth Army also had the two colonial parachute battalions (at Barce) and a few other non-divisional units. A new unit in the order of battle was the Special Armored Brigade [Brigata Corazzato Speciale] under Brig. Gen. Valentino Babini. Located at Mechili, this had the 1st and 3rd Tank Battalions (medium M11/39 and M13/40, respectively) and the 21st and 60th Tank Battalions (L3 light tanks). It also included a battalion from 10th Bersaglieri Regiment, a recce group (10 armored cars), two battalions (100mm and 75mm) from 12th Artillery Regiment (60th Sabratha Division) and a 105mm battery from the 20th Artillery Regiment. This appears in part to been built around the former 1st Tank Group.9 The three forward corps were deployed as follows:10 XXIII Army Corps (General of Army Corps Annibale Bergonzoli), at Bardia 1st CCNN Division “23 Marza”, also at Bardia 2nd CCNN Division “28 Ottobre”, between Sollum and Halfaya 62nd Marmarica Division, between Sidi-Omar and Gabr-du-Fares Group of Libyan Divisions (General of Army Corps Sebastiano Gallina), at Sidi Barrani 4th CCNN Division “3 Gennaio”, also at Sidi el Barrani 1st Libyan Division, at Uadi el Maktila 2nd Libyan Division, further inland at Ras-el-Dai and Alam-el-Tummar Maletti Libyan Group, on the right flank at at Alam-el-Nibeua and Alam-elIktufa 2nd Tank Group (battalions with divisions and possibly some with XXI Army Corps) XXI Army Corps (General of Army Corps Lorenzo Dalmazzo), away from the coast at Sofafi 63rd Cirene Division, between Alam-el-Rabia and Bir-Bofafi 64th Catanzaro Division, at Aam Samalus Away from the frontier, but still under Tenth Army, were XX Army Corps (General of Army Corps Ferdinando Cona) at Berta 60th Sabratha Division, also at Berta 9

One source shows 1st Tank Group still in existence, with XXII Army Corps at Tobruk. However, as already noted there are inconsistencies among the sources on designations and assignments of tank battalions. Trye shows the Babini Brigade with 57 M13/40 and 22 M11/39 medium and 27 L3 light tanks. 10 There is some disagreement in the sources, especially with the Maletti Libyan Group, which has also been shown with XXI Army Corps.

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


XXII Army Corps (General of Army Corps Enrico P. Manella), at Tobruk 61st Sirte Division, also at Tobruk Special Armored Brigade Babini, at Mechili The British offensive (little more than two divisions) beginning the night of 8/9 Dec 1940 was one of the more successful of the war. By 11 Dec 1940 the Libyan Division Group had been encircled and destroyed. 63rd Cirene Division left its positions that night and linked up with 62nd Marmarica Division, the two leaving Egypt and crossing back into Libya. On the coast, 64th Catanzaro Division left Buq Buq and was moving back towards Sollum. The British offensive resumed 12 Dec 1940, aiming now for Bardia. By mid month Gen Bergonzoli (XXIII Corps) had 40,000 men there: survivors of the 62nd Marmarica, 63rd Cirene and 64th Catanzaro Divisions along with the 1st and 2nd CCNN Divisions. The British (actually, Australian) attack began 3 Jan 1941 and Bardia fell two days later. Gen. Bergonzoli was among those who managed to escape. Then next target was Tobruk, which had headquarters XXII Corps (General Pitessi Mannella) and 25,000 troops (fortress units and 61st Sirte Division). The only other Italian troops nearby—some 90 miles—were the 60th Sabratha Division and the armored brigade under General Babini. The British and Australian attack began 21 Jan 1941 and Tobruk (the major port of the area) fell the next day. The offensive westwards resumed 22 Jan 1941, aiming now for Mechili (Babina Armored Brigade) and Derna (60th Sabratha Division, both under XX Army Corps. After heavy fighting, especially in the Mechili area, the British continued their advance and the Italians fell back. By this point Tenth Army headquarters (under Gen. Tellera since Dec 1940) had moved its headquarters back to Benghazi. On 2 Feb 1941 Marshal Graziani left Cyrenaica and put Tellera in command of all Italian forces there. Instead of just following the long arc along the coast, the British cut westwards from Mechili towards the sea near Beda Fromm. Retreating Italians ran into this unexpected block on 5 Feb 1941. Italian attacks were unable to clear the road, and other Commonwealth forces were following along the coastal road behind them. The end of Italian Tenth Army came on 7 Feb 1941, and this time General Bergonzoli did not escape captivity. (Gen. Tellera of Tenth Army was mortally wounded.) During the campaign, the Italians lost 130,000 men taken prisoner and ten divisions were destroyed.11 While there were still some divisions in Libya that had remained out of the campaign, the only immediate Italian reinforcement was the 132nd Arieta Armored Division, which landed in late Jan 1941. Desert War (1941-1942) Italian debacles in North Africa and Greece brought their German ally into active participation in the Balkans and Mediterranean. German troops began to land in Libya in Feb 1941, and from that point on their Africa Corps and General (later Field Marshal) Erwin Rommel eclipsed the Italians, even though the latter still provided the most troops. For many today, Rommel and the DAK12 were the war in North Africa. However, the Italians were at least nominally still in overall 11

The 61st Sirte, 62nd Marmarica, 63rd Cirene, 64th Catanzaro, 1st Libyan, 2nd Libyan, 1st CCNN, 2nd CNNNt, and 4th CCNN Divisions all disappeared from the Italian order of battle. 60th Sabratha had largely been destroyed, but would be reformed and return to combat. Tenth Army, XXII and XXIII Corps and the Libyan Division Group disappeared as well. 12 Deutsches Afrika Korps, or German Africa Corps. This title was given to the initial force of two divisions under Rommel on 19 Feb 1941. On 15 Aug 1941 the Germans established Panzer Group Africa to control the DAK and associated Italian troops. This was upgraded 30 Jan 1942 as Panzer Army Africa. Unlike the DAK itself, the panzer group and panzer army were always German-Italian formations.

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


command in the theater.13 In addition to the new German formations, Italy sent the 102nd Trento Division in spring 1941 and the 101st Trieste Division that summer.14 Rommel began offensive operations 24 Mar 1941. In addition to the new DAK he had the Italian X Corps (Gen. Federico Ferri?) with 17th Pavia and 25th Bologna Divisions, the XXI Corps (Gen. Enea Navarini) with 27th Brescia and 55th Savona Divisions, and the 132nd Arieta Armored Division. In a sense this was a replay of the earlier British offensive, but in reverse, as the Axis cleared much of Cyrenaica. On 10 Apr 1941 the German-Italian force was halted short of Tobruk. Assaults on the fortress by German and Italian troops were unsuccessful. Some forces also pushed east, towards the Egyptian frontier. Fighting along the frontier gradually stabilized. By Nov 1941, Rommel had troops deployed in a siege of Tobruk and along the line of BardiaSollum-Halfaya Pass and Sidi Omar. With the 132nd Arieta Armored and 101st Trieste [motorized] Divisions, XX Army Corps was reformed as a maneuver corps [Corpo di Manovra]. At least initially it also had a recce group, with the 1st Young Fascists Group (two motorized battalions),15 two tank battalions (one medium M13/40 and one L3) and a mixed armored car/L3 tankette company. From Sep 1941 the Italians began to receive the new Autoblinda AB41 armored car for divisional and other recce units. The Sep 1941 deployment for the Axis was XXI Army Corps (General of Army Corps Enea Navarrini) besieging Tobruk 17th Pavia Division 25th Bologna Division 27th Brescia Division 102nd Trento Division The mobile forces under Panzer Group Africa DAK (15th and 21st Panzer Divisions and a provisional Africa Division) XX Army Corps (General of Army Corps Gastone Gambara) 132nd Ariete Armored Division 101st Trieste [motorized] Division th 55 Savona Division This organization was unchanged in Nov 1941, when the British Operation CRUSADER began. CRUSADER ended 2 Dec 1941 after heavy fighting, including a sortie from Tobruk that extended the garrison’s perimeter. 55th Savona Division was destroyed during these operations and not reformed. The British began new attacks on 8 Dec 1941, and the Axis were forced to withdraw, essentially to their starting positions of Mar 1941. However, Rommel launched a counteroffensive 19 Jan 1942, and the campaign eventually stabilized at the Gazala lines west of Tobruk. The British Eighth Army were in a series of defended “boxes” running from the coast to a point 45 miles inland. Some additional Italian formations were sent to North Africa in 1942. These included the 133rd Littorio Armored Division the end of 1941, the 16th Pistoia [motorized] Division in Aug 1942,


General Gariboldi was replaced Jun 1941 by General (later Marshal) Ettore Bastico. Officially both of these were motorized divisions, although it appears that the 102nd arrived or was soon converted to semi-motorized, operating as a conventional infantry division,. 15 The Young Fascists [Giovani Fascisti] would later be the 136th Infantry Regiment, and then a nominal division with the same number.


Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


and the 185th Folgore Parachute Division. 60th Sabratha Division had been reformed and was again available for operations. The Italian forces at Gazala in May 1942 were organized as follows: X Army Corps (Gen. Benvenuto Gioda) 17th Pavia Division 27th Brescia Division XX Army Corps (Gen. Ettore Baldassarre) 132nd Ariete Armored Division 133rd Littoria Armored Division 101st Trieste [motorized] Division XXI Army Corps (Gen. Enea Navarini) 60th Sabratha Division 102nd Trento Division Some GHQ artillery came from the 8th Artillery Regiment (possibly more accurately designated as the 8th Army Artillery Group). By this point the three battalions of assault engineers (Guastatori) were present: 31st with X Army Corps, 33rd with XXI Army Corps and 34th with XX Army Corps. Infantry divisions in the X and XXI Army Corps faced the Gazala line in the north and were to launch a diversion, while a mobile group (DAK and the XX Army Corps) would attack at the south end. The diversion began 26 May 1942, and was largely ineffectual; fighting in the south began the next day. XX Army Corps exerted most of its efforts trying to capture the Bir Hacheim box from a French brigade group while a war of attrition went on elsewhere during the fighting. Bir Hacheim finally fell 10/11 Jun 1942 under German attack. The British began to withdraw from the Gazala line on 13 Jun 1942. XX Army Corps was supposed to force its way into Tobruk along with the DAK on 20 Jun 1942. While the former were held up on the perimeter, the latter forced their way in and the town fell the next day. 60th Sabratha Division suffered heavy losses during Jul 1942 and was broken up the 25th of that month. In Aug 1942, the Italians were grouped as follows: X Army Corps with 17th Pavia and 27th Brescia Divisions XXI Army Corps with 102nd Trento and 25th Bologna Divisions XX Army Corps with 132nd Ariete and 133rd Littorio Armored Divisions, 101st Trieste Division, and 185th Folgore Parachute Division. The Axis followed the Eighth Army until the lines stabilized again after the Alam Halfa and 1st Alamein battles of Aug and Sep 1942. When the front finally stabilized, the Axis fortified their positions. Losses and supply problems made any further offensive operations impossible. Accordingly, the Panzer Army dug in and rested. XXI Army Corps held the north of the line. 7th Bersaglieri Regiment (from 102nd Trento Divisin) was dug in on the coastal road. 102nd Trento Division and 25th Bologna Division were in line, intermingled (mainly in Trento’s sector) with the German 164th Light Africa Division [infantry]. The corps had three battalions of artillery, with two more and an extra anti-tank battalion attached to 102nd Trento Division. The corps also had the 33rd Guastatori Battalion.16


In Sep 1942, XXI Army Corps had 3700 men in corps troops, 5200 men in 102nd Trento Division, 4800 men in 25th Bologna Division, and 10,600 men in the German 164th Division.

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


X Army Corps held the south, with, the German Ramcke Parachute Brigade, 27th Bresica Division, 185th Folgore Parachute Division and 17th Pavia Division in line north to south. The corps had the 9th Bersaglieri Regiment, detached from 101st Trieste Division, an assault engineer battalion (31st Guastatori), two other engineer battalions, and two artillery battalions.17 XX Army Corps and the DAK were intermixed behind the front. 133rd Littorio Armored and the German 15th Panzer Divisions were in the second line in the north, behind XXI Army Corps, with the German 90th Light Africa Division [motorized] and the 101st Trieste Division [motorized] further back. In the south, 21st Panzer Division and 132nd Ariete Armored Division were the reserves. XX Army Corps also had Guastatori (34th Battalion) but no attached artillery.18 The total Axis forces were only about 93,000 men. Given a force of 4 1/3 German and eight Italian divisions, that works out to barely 7500 men per division, counting all support troops. It is unlikely the Italians were any stronger than the Sep 1942 figures given, which means their divisions were generally around 5000 men or less. They had about 300 tanks. The British attack began the night of 23 Oct 1942. The Axis were slowly overwhelmed, and by the time Rommel finally gained Hitler’s grudging acquiescence to withdrawal it was too late for the Italians. The infantry divisions were simply overrun at Alamein or in the desert, and XX Army Corps was reduced to a single battalion. While elements of the mobile divisions in DAK withdrew westward, all but one of the Italian divisions present at El Alamein disappeared. Remnants of the Ariete, Littorio and Trieste Divisions were merged into a tactical group which continued in action on the retreat through Libya.19 End Game in Tunisia The Allied landings in French North Africa in Nov 1942 led to the landing of additional German and Italian troops in Tunisia. Overall command was initially under a scratch headquarters, XC Panzer Corps, which was redesignated Dec 1942 as Fifth Panzer Army. Early operations in Tunisia largely involved forces of Germans small numbers of Allied units. However, by Dec 1942 two German divisions (one panzer) along with the 1st Superga Division were in action. The Italians sent their last armored division, 131st Centauro, along with 1st Superga and 80th La Spezia Divisions to North Africa. 16th Pistoia [motorized] Division was also available, since it had not gone to Alamein in the 1942 campaign. A XXX Army Corps (Gen. Vittorio Sogno) was established in Tunisia, in the Fifth Panzer Army sector. The 1st Superga Division (Gen F. Gellich) and 50th Special Brigade (Gen. G. Imperiali)20 served in the north under Fifth Panzer Army. The retreating Panzer Army Africa crossed the border between Libya and Tunisia late Jan 1943 and was redesignated 23 Feb 1943 as First Italian Army, and placed under Marshal Giovanni Messe. Rommel was elevated to head the new Army Group Africa: Fifth Panzer Army and First Italian Army. 17

In Sep 1942, X Army Corps had 2300 men in corps troops, 4300 in 27th Brescia Division, 5200 in the 185th Folgore Parachute Division and 4000 men in the German Ramcke Parachute Brigade. 18 In Sep 1942, XX Army Corps had 1500 men in corps troops, 7200 men in 132nd Ariete Armored Division, 4600 men in 133rd Littorio Armored Division, and 5300 men in Trieste Motorized Division. 19 Although Paesani indicates that this Ariete Tactical Group remained in service during the Tunisian campaign, it appears more likely that it was the basis of a reformed Trieste Division. 20 The brigade was sometimes known as the Imperiali Brigade, after its commander’s name, It had the 6th Infantry Regiment (from the 28th Aosta Division), 15th Tank Battalion, an artillery group and a SP gun group.

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


Still fighting against the Eighth Army, the XX Army Corps (Gen. Taddeo Orlando) was on the coast (with the German 90th Light Africa Division under command, along with 101st Trieste Division—the only Alamein survivor—[Gen. F. LaFerla] and the 136th Giovani Fascisti Division [Gen. N. Sozzani]21) and XXI Army Corps (Gen. Paolo Berardi) on the right (with German 164th Light Africa Division under command, along with 16th Pistoia [motorized] Division [Gen. G. Falugi] and 80th La Spezia Division [Gen. G. Pizzolato]). The three German panzer divisions in the theater were shuffled between the northern and southern fronts. This also appears true of the 131st Centauro Armored Division (Gen. C. G. Calvi di Bergolo). Other Italian units sent to Tunisia included the newly-raised 285th Independent Parachute Battalion (which contained some survivors of the Folgore Division) and a battalion of the San Marco Marine Regiment. There was a “Saharian Grouping” under Gen. A. Mannerini, perhaps built around the last of the old colonial troops.22 The recce battalion of 132nd Ariete Armored Division (from the Nizza Cavalry Regiment) appears to have been reformed, and there were a few artillery battalions (seven) along with two machine gun battalions and some miscellaneous other units. Ultimately, of course, there was no doubt how the campaign in Tunisia would end. The Axis forces were gradually forced back and Tunis fell 7 May 1943. Army Group Africa surrendered 12 May.


This appears to have been more of a reinforced regiment than a full division. Before it was lost in 1943 the name was changed to Cacciatori d’Africa according to the US handbook. The reformed 8th Bersaglieri Regiment was added to it. 22 It had the 290th and 350th Infantry Regiments, along the a recce battalion from the Novara Cavalry Regiment (from the old 133rd Littorio Armored Division).

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


ORGANIZATION OF ITALIAN DIVISIONS IN NORTH AFRICA Armored Divisions 131st Centauro 132nd Ariete 133rd Littorio

Tank Regt 31 132 133

Bersaglieri Regt 5 8 12

Artillery Regt 131 132 13323

Lost at El Alamein Lost at El Alamein

Armored divisions (divisione corazzata) had a tank regiment (three battalions), motorized Bersaglieri regiment [trucks and motorcycles], cavalry group [armored cars and tankettes], artillery regiment, support and antitank battalion, and mixed engineer battalion. The armored regiment was to have 161 M13/40 or M13/41 medium tanks and 16 L3 or L6 tankettes. The artillery regiment had two battalions of 75mm guns (12 each), a battalion of 105mm howitzers (8), two SP battalions of 75mm guns (Semovente) on an M13/40 tank chassis (12 each), and a battalion with German 88mm or Italian 90mm AA/AT guns (8) and 20mm AA/AT guns (8). Total strength of the division was only about 7,400 personnel. The establishment has also been shown as 8,600 men with 189 medium tanks, but this might have been more theoretical than actual, especially in North Africa. The recce unit in 132nd Ariete was 3rd Group of the 1st Nizza Cavalry Regiment. The unit in 133rd Littorio was 3rd Group of the Lancieri de Novara Cavalry Regiment. The unit in 131st Centauro was probably a group from the 13th Monferrato Cavalry Regiment. Motorized Infantry Divisions Infantry Infantry Regt Regt 16th Pistoia 35 36 st 24 101 Trieste 65 66 61 62 102nd Trento25

Bersaglieri Regt --9 7

Artillery Regt 3 9 46

Lost at El Alamein

A motorized infantry division (divsione fanterie motorizzata) had two motorized infantry regiments, a Bersaglieri regiment [although 16th Pistoia Division lacked this], artillery regiment, and engineer battalion. The regiment in a motorized division was much smaller than in the standard infantry division, having only two battalions, plus a support battalion (companies of 20mm AA guns, 47mm AT guns, 81mm mortars, and MGs). The Bersaglieri regiment (three battalions) was a motorcycle unit. The artillery regiment was similar to that in a semi-motorized division: towed battalions of 75mm guns and 100mm howitzers (12 each) and a battery of 20mm AA guns (8). The division also had a mortar battalion (18x81mm) and an AA/AT battalion (8 20mm AA and 12 47mm AT guns). The division’s personnel strength was around 9,500.


At least by the time of El Alamein, 133rd Littorio Armored Division had only two battalions of the 133rd Artillery Regiment, but also included the bulk of the 3rd Celere Artillery Regiment (which would have originally been in the 3rd Celere [Cvalry] Division). 24 101st Trieste Division also included 9th Bersaglieri Regiment. 25 Also included 7th Bersaglieri Regiment. Officially motorized, the division seems to have operated as semi-motorized.

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


102nd Trento Division, although officially motorized, actually operated as a semi-motorized infantry division, and the Bersaglieri regiment may have been detached as a GHQ unit. 101st Trieste Division also had the 11th Tank Battalion (M13/40) and an armored car battalion from the 18th Bersaglieri Regiment. Infantry Divisions 1st Superga 17th Pavia 25th Bologna 27th Brescia 55th Savona 60th Sabrata 61st Sirte 62nd Marmarica 63rd Cirene 64th Catanzaro 80th La Spezia 136th Giovani Fascisti

Infantry Regt 91 27 39 19 15 85 69 115 157 141 125 136

Infantry Regt

Artillery Regt

92 28 40 20 16 86 70 116 158 142 126 ---29

5 26 20526 5527 12 42 43 44 45 20328 80 136

Lost at El Alamein Lost at El Alamein Lost at El Alamein Destroyed Nov 1941 Destroyed 1942? Destroyed 1940-41 Destroyed 1940-41 Destroyed 1940-41 Destroyed 1940-41

At least nominally, the Italian Army had a variety of infantry divisions. The basic infantry divisions (divisione fanterie) were also known as “binary” divisions (divisione binaria) because of their two infantry regiments. They also had an artillery regiment, antitank company, mortar battalion, and engineer company. Normal strength was around 12,600. 55th Savona, 60th Sabrata, 61st Sirte, 62nd Marmarica, 63rd Cirene, and 64th Catanzaro Divisions were all standard infantry. The standard infantry regiment had three battalions, along with an 81mm mortar battalion (27 tubes) and a 47mm antitank company (8 guns). The artillery regiment had two horse-drawn battalions (75mm guns [12 each] and 100mm howitzers [12]), along with a 20mm AA battery. In theory there was a Blackshirt legion of two battalions attached to these divisions, although this appears not to have been the case in Libya. Some divisions were semi-motorized (divisione fanterie auto trasportabile). These could have motorized artillery and two mortar battalions. The artillery regiment had two battalions of 75mm guns, one of 100mm howitzers, and a 20mm AA battery. 17th Pavia, 25th Bologna, and 27th Brescia were originally of this type. Although officially motorized, 102nd Trento seems to have actually been semi-motorized during the campaign. This type of division never had a Blackshirt legion attached. Divisions included a mixed engineer battalion (one or two pioneer companies and a signal company) and some had a machine gun battalion assigned as well. The divisions in North Africa, regardless of their original type, were standardized as divisione fanteria autotrasportabile tipo Africa Settentrionale. The semi-motorized division was thus the 26

Officially, Bologna Division had the 10th Artillery Regiment; however, this seems to have been detached as a GHQ unit as early as the 1940 campaign and replaced with the 205th. 27 Replaced by May 1942 by the 1st Celere Artillery Regiment (from the 1st Celere Division). 28 203rd Artillery Regiment came from the disbanded 3rd CCNN Division. The US Army Handbook shows the division with 64th Artillery Regiment, which would have been unlikely in any event since artillery regiments almost never matched the division number. 29 For the fighting in Tunisia the division was joined by a reformed 8th Bersaglieri Regiment (a survivor from 132nd Ariete Armored Division).

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


standard, without horse-drawn artillery or services. An attempt was made (1941 or later) to reorganize all of the artillery regiments in North Africa with four battalions: two of 75mm guns and two of 100mm howitzers, along with the AA battery. By the time of El Alamein in Oct 1942 the infantry divisions all appear to have had two 20mm AA batteries, and 27th Brescia Division even had a battalion with the German 88mm AA/AT guns. In 1941, some Italian infantry divisions were organized as assault and landing divisions (divisione da sbarco e d’assalto). They received combined operations and mountain training, and supporting weapons within the division were decentralized from regiment to battalion control. In North Africa, only 1st Superga Division was of this type. The artillery regiment had a motorized 75mm battalion, a SP 75mm battalion, and a 20mm AA battery. 80th La Spezia Division was designated as an airborne division, although it is unclear exactly what was intended by this or how equipment was changed. It seems to have been intended as an air-transportable unit. It did include a battalion of assault engineers (Guastatori) in lieu of the normal engineers. Parachute Divisions 185th Folgore

Para Infantry Regt 186

Para Infantry Regt 187

Para Artillery Regt 185

Lost at El Alamein

One of only two parachute divisions, with two parachute infantry regiments, a parachute artillery regiment, parachute motorcycle company, and parachute mixed engineer company. The 187th Parachute Regiment had four battalions at El Alamein (two from the 185th and two of its own). The “artillery” regiment was actually a unit with two battalions of 47mm AT guns. The division had a parachutist Guastatori battalion (8th) attached. Blackshirt Divisions30

1st 23 Marzo 2nd 28 Ottobre 4th 3 Gennaio

Blackshirt Leg 219 231 250

Blackshirt Leg

Artillery Regt

233 238 270

201 202 204

Destroyed 1940-41 Destroyed 1940-41 Destroyed 1940-41

The infantry regiments (blackshirt legions) were militia, while much of the rest of the division was formed by Italian Army personnel. These were much like a normal Italian infantry division. The artillery regiments had two 75mm gun and one 100mm howitzer battalions. Libyan Divisions 1st Sibelle 2nd Pescatori Maletti Group

Libyan Inf Bns 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 2, 3, 6, 7, 14, 15 1, 4, 5, 18, 1931

Libyan Art Gp 1 2 ---32

Destroyed 1940-41 Destroyed 1940-41 Destroyed 1940-41


Different sources differ on the legion designations in the three CCNN divisions, especially for 2nd, where all sources agree that one is the 231st but others have shown 202nd, 203rd, and 238th. Either of the last two is possible; 202nd seems more likely to be a typographical error.

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


These were theoretically similar to the normal Italian infantry division but weaker. The 1st Division had the 1st and 2nd Libyan Infantry Groups and 2nd Division the 3rd and 4th, but I have not seen any source showing which battalions were in which group. The artillery groups had two battalions with 77mm weapons. Each division also had a mixed engineer battalion. The Maletti Group was a provisional formation established in 1940.


Another sources shows 1st, 5th, 17th and 19th Libyans Battalions and the 1st Sahariano Battalion. While designations are not given, one source shows it with 65mm and 75mm[77mm?] battalions and a 105mm battery. It also shows a company of 81mm mortars and two 47mm AT batteries. 32

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


ITALIAN TANK BATTALIONS, 1940 CAMPAIGN The various sources are in conflict on battalion designations and assignments. Lorioli indicates that in Oct 1940 the 3rd Tank Battalion (M13/39 tanks) was arriving, that the 1st Tank Group had one medium and three light tank battalions, and that the 2nd Tank Group had one medium and one light tank battalions. He does not give the battalion designations in the groups. For Dec 1940, he shows the following units [10 battalions]: Special Armored Brigade “Babini” 1st Tank Bn (M13/39) 3rd Tank Bn (M13/40) 21st Tank Bn (L3) 60th Tank Bn (L3) th 9 Tank Bn (L3) with 2nd Libyan Division XXI Army Corps troops 20th Tank Bn (light) 63rd Tank Bn (light) nd 2 Tank Bn (M11/39) with Libyan Group “Maletti” 41st Tank Bn (light) with 1st CCNN Division “23 Marzo” 62nd Tank Bn (light) with 62nd Infantry Division “Marmarica” The Dec 1940 orbat credited to Stefan Schlemmer gives the following [theoretically 10 battalions]: Babini Group II Tank Bn V Tank Bn 1st Ragruppamento Carristi I Tank Bn XXI Tank Bn LXII Tank Bn LXIII Tank Bn 2nd Ragruppamento Carristi II Tank Bn IX Tank Bn XX Tank Bn LXI Tank Bn Trye does not list all of the battalions in North Africa, but places the 1st, 3rd, XXI and LX under the Babini Special Armored Brigade. Battalions listed (1st to 3rd have medium tanks and the rest light tanks): 1st Tank Bn 1st Tank Gp and then to Babini Brigade nd 2 Tank Bn 2nd Tank Gp; detailed to Maletti Group? rd 3 Tank Bn arrives Oct 1940 and with Babini Brigade Dec 1940 5th Tank Bn only given by Schlemmer (Babini Brigade); doubtful designation 9th Tank Bn 2nd Tank Gp; detailed to 2nd Libyan Division? th 20 Tank Bn 2nd Tank Gp; detailed to XXI Corps troops? 21st Tank Bn 1st Tank Gp and then to Babini Brigade 41st Tank Bn only listed by Lorioli, with 1st CCNN Division 60th Tank Bn assigned to Babini Brigade without prior known service 61st Tank Bn 2nd Tank Gp; detailed to 1st CCNN Division if 41st was a typo?

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


62nd Tank Bn 63rd Tank Bn

1st Tank Gp; detailed to 62nd Division? 1st Tank Gp; detailed to XXI Corps troops?

Most likely, then, there were three medium tank battalions (1st, 2nd and 3rd) and seven light tank battalions (9th, 20th, 21st, 60th, 61st, 62nd and 63rd).

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


SOURCES “Commando Supremo” web site, for the following orbats, Invasion of Egypt, 9 Dec 1940 (credited to Stefan Schlemmer), Axis Forces in Libya, Sep 1941 (by Paolo Marcenaro), Italian Forces at Gazala, May 1942 (by Paolo Marcenaro), Tunisia 1943 (by Paolo Marcenaro), Gen. Sir Martin Farndale, The Years of Defeat: Europe and North Africa 1939-1941 (History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery) (London: Brassey’s, 1996) Arturo Lorioli, several orbats at the “Armies: European Armed Forces From 1920 to 1950” site, Libya October 1940, Libya 8 December 1940, Italian OB at El Alamein October 1942, James Lucas, Panzer Army Africa (San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1977) James Lucas, War in the Desert: The Eighth Army at El Alamein (New York: Beaufort Books, Inc., 1982) Arturo Lorioli, Italian Order of Battle June 1940, on the site “Armies: European Armed Forces from 1920 to 1950” Kenneth Macksey, Beda Fromm: The Classic Victory [Ballantine’s Battle Book No. 22] (New York: Ballantine Books, 1971). W. Victor Madej (editor), Italian Army Order of Battle 1939-1943 (Allentown, PA: Game Marketing Co., 1981) [an edited—largely unchanged—version of the wartime US Army Military Intelligence document, Order of Battle of the Italian Army]. David Myers, Unit Organizations of World War II (Milwaukee, WI: Z&M Enterprises, 1977) Mario Paesani, two online articles, History of the Italian Tank Corps (1916—1945), The Italian Armored Divisions, Guido Rosignoli, Army Badges and Insignia of World War 2, Book One (Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press Ltd, 1972)/ Lupo Solitario (amended with information by Arturo Lorioli), Italian Army and Colonial Airborne Units 1938-1943,

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


Tex Trye, Mussolini’s Afrika Korps: The Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943 (Bayside, NY: Axis Europa Books, 1999)

Italian Army in North Africa 1940-1943


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