|Armed Forces of the Empire of Italy|
Flag of Italy with the emblem of Savoia.
|Country||Kingdom of Italy|
|Allegiance||Kingdom of Italy|
|Role||Armed forces of Kingdom of Italy|
|Engagements||World War II|
|Ceremonial chief||King of Italy and Prime Minister|
Vittorio Emanuele III
Vittorio Emanuele II
The Italian Royal Army was reformed in 1861 and lasted until 1946. The Royal Army started with the unification of Italy (Risorgimento) and the formation of the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia). It ended with the dissolution of the monarchy. The Royal Army was preceded by the individual armies of the various independent Italian states and was followed by the Italian Army (Esercito Italiano) of the Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana).
The Italian Army of World War II was a "Royal" army. The nominal Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Royal Army was His Majesty King Vittorio Emanuele III. As Commander-in-Chief of all Italian armed forces, Vittorio Emanuele also commanded the Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) and the Royal Navy (Regia Marina). However, in reality, most of the King's military responsibilities were assumed by the Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini.
Below Mussolini was the Supreme Command (Comando Supremo). The Supreme Command featured an organic staff which functioned through its defense ministries and through its various high commands. The defense ministries were based on function and included a Ministry of War, a Ministry of the Admiralty, and a Ministry of the Air. The high commands were based on geographic regions and included Army Group West, Army Group Albania, Army Group East Africa, Army Group Aegean, and Army Group Libya.
Below the Army Group were armies. Armies were typically composed of two or more corps, along with separate units directly commanded at the army level. The corps were then typically composed of two or more divisions, along with separate units directly commanded at the corps level.
The division was the basic formation of the Italian Royal Army. On 10 June 1940, the army had 59 infantry divisions, three National Security Volunteer Militia (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, or MVSN) divisions, five high mountain (alpini) divisions, three mobile (celere) divisions, two motorized divisions, and three armored divisions. In addition, there were estimated to be the equivalent of about nine divisions of frontier guard troops. There were also numerous colonial formations at or near the division level composed of troops from Italian Libya and Italian East Africa.
After a reorganization in 1938, Italian infantry division was known as "binary" division (divisione binaria). This is because Italian infantry divisions were based on two regiments instead of the three that prevailed prior to the reorganization. By comparison, German divisions had three infantry regiments. In addition to the two infantry regiments, the Italian infantry division included an artillery regiment, a mortar battalion, an engineer battalion, and a pack gun company. The division also had some division-level services and could have a division-level reserve infantry battalion.
The typical infantry regiment was composed of three rifle battalions. However, some regiments had as many as five battalions. By design, each regiment had 24 heavy machine guns, 108 light machine guns, 6 81 mm mortars (Mortaio da 81/14 Modello 35), 54 45 mm mortars (Brixia Model 35), and 4 65mm Infantry Guns (Cannone da 65/17).
The divisional artillery regiment typically had 36 field pieces by design. There was a horsedrawn battery of 12 100 mm howitzers, a horsedrawn battery of twelve 75 mm guns, and a pack horse mounted battery of 12 75 mm howitzers. In addition to the field pieces, there was a mechanized troop of eight 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. Much Italian artillery was obsolete and far too reliant on horse transport.
The mortar battalion typically had 18 81 mm mortars and the pack gun company had 8 47 mm anti-tank guns.
From 1 March 1940, an MVSN Legion of two battalions was attached to most infantry divisions. This was to increase the manpower available to each division and also to include Fascist troops. The arrival of the Blackshirt Legions effectively restored the triangular form of the divisions they reinforced.
The personnel for the mountain (Alpini) divisions was drawn from Italy's mountainous Alpine region and tended to be of superior quality. In addition to being well trained for mountain warfare, they were expert in the handling of pack artillery.
The mountain divisions differed from a standard infantry division in that each regiment had its own artillery, engineering, and ancillary services associated with the regiment on a permanent basis. This made each regiment of a mountain division relatively self-supporting and capable of independent action.
By design, a mountain division consisted of a divisional headquarters, two mountain infantry regiments, an artillery regiment, a mixed engineer battalion, a chemical warfare company, two reserve mountain infantry battalions, and divisional services. The divisional headquarters included an anti-tank platoon.
Each mountain infantry regiment included its own headquarters company, with a platoon of flamethrowers. Each regiment also included three mountain infantry battalions and regimental services. At full strength, the firepower for a mountain infantry regiment was 27 heavy machine guns, 81 light machine guns, 27 45 mm mortars, 12 81 mm mortars, and 27 flamethrowers.
The artillery regiment was split between the two infantry regiments. Each regiment was provided with a battalion of 75 mm howitzers. All were transported on pack animals.
At the beginning of the war, the armoured divisions were filled with L3 tankettes and, as a result, were incapable of providing the armoured spearhead that the German tank (panzer) formations could. Initially, a total of about 100 "medium" M11 tanks were available. But, while these vehicles were an improvement over the L3s, they were still more like "light" tanks. In addition, they were poorly designed (main armament in a "fixed" position), far too few, too under-gunned, too thinly armoured, too slow, and too unreliable to make a difference.
By design, an armoured division included one tank regiment, one artillery regiment, one highly-mobile infantry (Bersaglieri) regiment, a divisional support and a mixed engineer company. The tank regiment could have between three and five tank battalions. At full strength, each battalion had 55 tanks.
Once sufficient numbers of the M13/40 tanks and its upgrades were available, Italian armored divisions began to possess some offensive capability. The Italians also developed several self-propelled 75 mm guns on the M13 platform when the evolution in tank artillery made the 47mm gun obsolete. Like the German 88 mm gun, the Italians learned that a 75 mm anti-aircraft gun (Cannone da 75/46 C.A. modello 34) or a 90 mm anti-aircraft gun (Cannone da 90/53) made effective anti-tank guns. While always in short supply, 57 of the 90 mm guns were ordered to be mounted on heavy trucks (Autocannoni da 90/53) to enhance mobility. 30 guns were mounted on a M14/41 tank chassis as Tank Destroyer 90/53 (Semovente 90/53).
In 1940, Italy had two divisions in Italian North Africa composed of troops native to Libya commanded by Italian officers. In many ways the Libyan divisions followed the make-up of a standard binary infantry division. Each Libyan division had two colonial infantry regiments. Each infantry regiment had three infantry battalion and a Guns company (4 65/17 mm I-Guns ). The Libyan divisions also had an integral colonial artillery regiment and colonial engineering battalion. A typical Libyan division fielded 7,400 men (including 900 Italians). The artillery regiment by design included 24 77 mm guns.
The "Maletti Group" (Raggruppamento Maletti) was an ad hoc unit composed of Libyan troops transported in trucks and was commanded by the unit's namesake, General Pietro Maletti. This partly motorized unit took part in the Italian invasion of Egypt in September 1940 and in the defense of the Nibeiwa Camp in December 1940 during Operation Compass. In addition to 2,500 Libyan troops in 6 battalions, the Maletti Group included a colonial artillery element and 2 coy of armor: 12 M11 medium tanks and 14 L3 tankettes.
During 1942, attempts were made to increase both the firepower and the mechanization available at the divisional level. As a result, a new "North Africa 1942" (Africa settentrionale 1942, or A.S.42) type division was developed. Similar to a standard infantry division, an "A.S.42" type division still had two infantry regiments, an artillery regiment, a mixed engineer battalion, a medical section, and a supply section. But the infantry regiments could vary greatly because the basic units making up the regiment were now an expandable company. The artillery regiment sometimes included a battery of German 88 mm guns. Mobility was increased and, in theory, an "A.S.42" type division was mechanized to a higher degree than standard infantry divisions. Unfortunately, in practice, few units had the full complement of motor vehicles.
The motorized divisions were similar to the "North Africa" type division, but they included a regiment of highly-mobile elite riflemen (Bersaglieri). The Bersaglieri appear to have actually received the motorcycles and trucks they were allocated.
From the beginning of the war, some infantry divisions were theoretically fully mechanized and were designated as motor-transportable divisions. Again, in practice, few units had the full complement of motor vehicles. Other than being transported by motor vehicle, these divisions were organized like a standard infantry division, with two exceptions. Motor-transportable divisions had a larger complement of mortars and they did not have a MVSN Legion.
In 1942, the motor-transportable divisions in North Africa were upgraded to become "North African" type motorised divisions. In spite of the upgrade, these divisions were still not fully motorized. The divisions tended to rely primarily on non-divisional sources for transportation and were, therefore, only part-time motor-transportable.
Mobile (celere) divisions were cavalry divisions that had undergone a level of mechanization. Each division had two cavalry regiments, a highly-mobile infantry (Bersaglieri) regiment, an artillery regiment, and a light tank group. The squadrons of the cavalry regiments were horse-mounted and, other than a motorcycle company, the Bersaglieri were issued with bicycles. The light tank group had a total of 61 tanks. The tanks were typically L3s or L6s.
During the first years of World War II, Italy had only small light and medium tanks (L3/35, L6/40, M11/39, M13/40, and M15/42) tanks. When Italy declared war in 1940, Italy's armored divisions were still composed of hundreds of L3 tankettes. These vehicles were hardly on par with the Allied tanks available in 1939 and were seriously out-classed by 1942. Better Italian tanks were produced but they were generally only available in limited numbers. Italian tanks typically suffered from poor main armaments and thin, bolted-on armour.
It was not until summer of 1943 that the Italians developed a heavier tank (the P40). However, while the P40 was in the same class as the contemporary M4 Sherman, only five were ready for combat before Italy signed the armistice that same year. The Germans acquired and used the few P40s which were produced.
To supplement the deficiencies of the main armaments on most tanks, the Italian Army made use of self-propelled guns like the Semovente 75/18 and the Semovente 75/34.. The Italians also fielded some reliable armoured cars like the AB 41.
While Semovente 75/18s were available in some numbers in North Africa, the more potent Semovente 75/34s, Semovente da 75/46s, Semovente 90/53s, Semovente 105/25s, and Semovente 149/40 were available in limited numbers or not at all prior to the armistice. Like the P40, the Germans acquired the few better quality self-propelled guns manufactured prior to the armistice and even continued to manufacture some after the armistice.
The main infantry weapons were Carcano rifles, Beretta M1934 and M1935 pistols, Bodeo M1889 revolvers, Breda 30 light machine guns, Breda M37 and Fiat-Revelli Modello 1935 heavy machine guns, and Beretta Model 38 submachine guns. Second line units frequently made use of captured equipment such as Lebel Model 1886 rifles and, for colonial troops, Schwarzlose MG M.07/12s and Steyr-Mannlicher M1895 rifles, provided by Austria as war reparations after World War I.
Mussolini's Under-Secretary for War Production, Carlo Favagrossa, had estimated that Italy could not possibly be prepared for a war until at least October 1942. Although the Kingdom of Italy was considered a major power, Italian industry was relatively weak compared to other major powers in Europe. In 1940, Italian industry probably was no more than 15% of that of France or of the United Kingdom. The lack of a stronger automotive industry made it difficult for Italy to mechanize its military.
In the newly created Italian Empire, Italy had used most of the economic and military resources available during the conquest of Ethiopia from 1935 to 1936, during the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, and during the invasion of Albania in 1939. In the early 1930s, the Italian Royal Army successfully fought an Arab guerrilla war in Italian North Africa (Africa Settentrionale Italiana, or ASI). The Italians fought another guerilla war in Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, or AOI) between 1936 and 1940. The Italian Royal Army remained comparatively weak in armaments. The Italian tanks were of poor quality. Italian radios were small in numbers. Much of the Italian artillery and weapons dated from World War I. Most important of all, the Italian generals were trained in the trench warfare of World War I and were not prepared at all for the new style of mechanized war based on the German "lightning war" model (blitzkrieg).
From 1936 to 1939, Italy participated on the side of Spanish General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. The 50,000 to 75,000 strong "Corps of Volunteer Troops" (Corpo Truppe Volontarie, or CVT) was of significant assistance to the Spanish Nationalist cause and was involved in the Aragon Offensive and the "March to the Sea." Unfortunately for the Italian Royal Army, a large number of Italian weapons and supplies were utilized by the CVT or provided to Spanish Nationalists forces during this conflict.
In 1939, Italy conquered Albania without difficulty and forced King Zog to flee. As would be expected, Italy suffered few casualties. But this occupation stretched to the limit the resources of the Italian Royal Army. In spring 1940, the available oil resources for possible military operations (of the Army and Navy) were for only one year. 
Unlike German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was officially only the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy. King Victor Emmanuel III remained Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Royal Armed Forces. Hence, Mussolini needed the consent of the King (who always looked at France as the center of European politics) to declare war and enter the Second World War. Initially the King and his staff (conscious of the Italian lack of preparation to war) did not approve Mussolini's intentions, but when France was clearly defeated in June 1940, the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) was abruptly sent to war.
Mussolini made the mistake to believe that the United Kingdom would accept peace agreements with the Axis after France's surrender, and did not anticipate a long lasting war. Consequently, Italy entered the war inadequately prepared.
Italy declared war on 10 June 1940 and initially the Royal Army started a campaign with limited advances in the Alps against the French Army. But the French were not quickly defeated on this front and all advances came at a high cost to the Italian army. Only in July, after the French surrender to Germany, did the Royal Army initiate a limited campaign from Italian colonies in Africa (Libya and Italian East Africa) against the British in Africa (Egypt, Kenya, and the Sudan). Italian forces invaded into Egypt, Kenya, and the Sudan.
In August, the Royal Army obtained the only Italian victory in World War II without German intervention when it successfully carried out the conquest of British Somaliland. Indeed, in the first six months of war Italy obtained only minor conquests, as Mussolini mistakenly waited for a quick end of the war.
But soon Britain struck back at the end of that year. In December 1940, British and Commonwealth forces launched Operation Compass which, by February 1941, ended in the conquering of all of Cyrenaica and the complete destruction of a large Italian army. In January 1941, other British and Commonwealth forces launched an invasion of Italian East Africa. By November of that year, at the conclusion of the East African Campaign, the last organized Italian troops surrendered with military honors in Gondar while some Italian officers started a guerrilla war, mainly in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
In Europe, Mussolini wanted to imitate the German "lightning war" (blitzkrieg). This was the astonishingly fast way that allowed Germany to conquer in a few months Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Belgium, and France. Mussolini invaded Greece from Albania in October 1940. But the advances of the Royal Army were blocked by the Greek Army and bad weather. Soon Greek counter-attacks forced the Italians onto the defensive inside Albania.
In March 1941, prior to the German invasion of Yugoslavia, the Italian Royal Army launched an offensive against the Greeks which ended with few meaningful gains and at high costs. A few weeks later the Axis forces of Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria defeated in a few days the Yugoslavian army and invaded Greece. The Axis victory was swift: on April 17, 1941, Yugoslavia surrendered after only eleven days, while Greece was fully occupied in May and was placed under the triple occupation of Italy, Germany and Bulgaria.
After these setbacks, Mussolini accepted assistance from Hitler and the Royal Army was reinforced (and in some cases even trained to modern military tactics and organizations) by the powerful German Army. The Royal Army even started to receive better and more modern armaments from the Italian industry, after the pressures from Mussolini to activate to the maximum the Italian "war machine".
The result was a combined German and Italian offensive during the spring and summer of 1941 throughout the entire Mediterranean area:
Meanwhile, Mussolini sent an Italian army against the Soviet Union. In July 1941, the "Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia" (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia, or CSIR) arrived and assisted with the German conquest of Ukraine. By 1942, Italian forces in the Soviet Union were more than doubled to become the "Italian Army in Russia" (Armata Italiana in Russia, or ARMIR). This army, also known as the Italian 8th Army," was deployed in the outskirts of Stalingrad where it was badly mauled during the Battle of Stalingrad.
In November 1942, with the arrival of the American Army in the Maghreb, the Italian Royal Army occupied Corsica and the French Provence up to the Rhone river. This was the last military expansion of Italy.
The Battle of El Alamein, lasting from July to November 1942, was the turning point of the war for the Italian and British Army. As Churchill wrote in his Memories: "...before El Alamein we had only defeats, after El Alamein we had only victories...". The Italian Royal Army fought this battle in a way that can be summarized by the sacrifice of the Division Folgore: the historian Renzo De Felice wrote that "...of the 5.000 "Folgore" paratroopers sent to Africa 4 months before, the survived were only 32 officers and 262 soldiers, most of them wounded. Before the surrender, they shot until the last ammo and the last hand-grenade...".
Because of the chaotic way the Armistice was done, the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) suffered a terrible crisis of leadership between September and October 1943. The German occupation of Italy and of Italian positions in the Balkans and elswewhere was swift and often violent. There were 73,277 casualties in those months.
With King Victor Emmanuel III and Marshal Pietro Badoglio in command, the Royal Army entered the war on the side of the Allies. Fighting for what became known as the "Badoglio government," the Italian Co-Belligerent Army, the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force, and the Italian Co-Belligerent Navy were formed.
Meanwhile, Mussolini organized a new Fascist army in his "Italian Social Republic" (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, or RSI) in northern Italy. This army was called the National Republican Army (Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, or ENR). While it lasted until April 1945, the RSI never amounted to being more than a puppet state of Nazi Germany.
Nearly four million Italians served in the Italian Royal Army during the Second World War. Nearly one half of a million Italians (including civilians) died between June 1940 and May 1945.
The Royal Army suffered 161,729 casualties between 10 June 1940 and 8 September 1943 in the war against the Allies. There were an additional 18,655 Italian casualties in Italy (plus 54,622 Italian casualties in the rest of Europe) between September and October 1943. These casualties were suffered against the German Army (Wehrmacht) after the Italian Armistice.
There were about 12,000 casualties in the northern Italian guerrilla war (Guerra di Liberazione) and in the "Italian Royal Army" on the side of the Allies. Nearly 60,000 Italian POWs died in Nazi labour camps, while nearly 20,000 perished in Allied Prisoner of War camps (mainly Russian: 1/4 of the 84,830 Italians officially lost in the Soviet Union were taken prisoners, and most of them never returned home).
The Royal Italian Army has been featured across multiple formats in the postwar period. While the Italian Army or its soldiers are often the antagonist, they are often treated as a non-threat or comic relief. This is most commonly seen in the many World War II-based television shows that were produced in the decades following the war. In order to create a comedic situation, Italian soldiers in postwar media are generally assigned stereotypes of being obsessed with love, cowardice, stupidity and criminal behaviour. Examples can be seen in the popular British sitcom 'Allo, 'Allo!, one of the largest users of these stereotypes, in addition to Hogan's Heroes, McHale's Navy, Rat Patrol.
Not all of the postwar media featuring Italian soldiers use negative stereotypes, however; there are instances of the Italian Army and its soldiers being treated objectively within postwar Anglo-American media, for example in Von Ryan's Express or The Fallen.
The Regio Esercito fielded the following types of divisions: Alpini (Mountain), Armoured, Blackshirt, Celere (Fast), Coastal, Infantry, Libyan, Motorized, North African, Semi-Motorized, Airborne.
The most distinguished Italian divisions during the war, and those which saw most combat action, were (in parenthesis their main theaters of operation) :
The Royal Army had its own set of ranks for all active service personnel.
|OF-10||OF-9||OF-8||OF-7||OF-6||OF-5||OF-4||OF-3||OF-2||OF-1||OF(D) and student officer|
|Maresciallo d'Italia||Generale d'Armata||Generale designato d'Armata||Generale di Corpo d'Armata||Generale di Divisione||Generale di Brigata||Colonnello Comandante||Colonnello||Tenente Colonnello||Maggiore||Primo capitano||Capitano||Primo Tenente||Tenente||Sottotenente||Aspirante|
Primo maresciallo dell'Impero
First Marshal of the Empire
|Italy||No equivalent||No equivalent||No insignia|
|Aiutante di battaglia||Maresciallo maggiore||Maresciallo Capo||Maresciallo Ordinario||Sergente Maggiore||Sergente||Caporal Maggiore||Caporale||Soldato|