Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Italian Invasion of Russia

When Germany launched the invasion of the Soviet Union, codenamed “Operation Barbarossa” it was a joint effort of every Axis country in Europe as well as including many volunteers from occupied and even neutral countries. There were Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Dutch, Belgians, Danes, Norwegians, Finns, even French and Spanish troops as well as others. When the invasion began, Mussolini was determined that the Kingdom of Italy would participate and, perhaps, the Duce focused more on it that he should have given the already thinly-stretched state of the Italian armed forces. Nonetheless, Mussolini considered the operation to be of great importance. He saw it as a test between the competing ideologies of Fascism and Communism as well as being important to maintain Italy as one of the top three Axis powers. Germany had come to assist Italy in North Africa and Mussolini saw it as essential that Italy come to assist Germany in Russia. The Duce also viewed the contest as one of east vs. west as he said at the military parade of the initial Italian commitment of 50,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry. He called attention to how many diverse European peoples were coming together to defend western civilization from the Bolsheviks. He closed by saying, of the Communists, “We know this enemy of mankind. Twenty years ago, we scoured him from our peninsula. Now we will purge him from the planet! Long live our continental civilization! Long live Italy!”

General Giovanni Messe
The Italian commitment began with about 62,000 men, as well equipped as possible, organized into the Corpo di Spedizione Italiano or CSI in Russia. This included the divisions Torino, Pasubio, a Celere (fast) division as well as a unit of Blackshirts, the Fascist militia. They were led by one of the most talented Italian commanders of the time, perhaps the best to emerge from the war, General Giovanne Messe (a staunch monarchist). They were posted to the southern end of the front in the Ukraine, part of a line of Axis armies that ran all the way north to the Baltic where German and Finnish troops were soon besieging Leningrad. The Italian corps made good progress from the outset, taking several towns as they advanced and impressing their German allies. Despite being rather outdated, the Italian artillery gained specific praise from the Germans for their zeal and accuracy. However, though they were probably better supplied than Italian units elsewhere, it was still not sufficient and General Messe complained particularly of a lack of anti-tank weapons and ammunition. So badly needed were such items that some Italian troops were issued with 20mm anti-tank rifles that most others had discarded. They had armored units of their own, part of the “fast” division, but these included a great many tankettes which were not designed to take on other armored vehicles and were supported by about 10,000 cavalry. Units of the Regia Aeronautica were also dispatched to the Russian front and gave good service as well as naval units, particularly mini-subs which operated in the Black Sea.

However, while the Italian forces lagged behind their German allies in weapons and equipment, one area in which they were much to be preferred was in their interaction with the local Ukrainian and Russian populace. The Italians had no racial prejudice against the Slavs and enjoyed good relations with the locals, liberating them from oppressive Stalinist rule and re-opening the churches that the Communists had closed as part of their efforts to stamp out religion wherever they found it. The Italians viewed the Ukrainian and Russian civilians, not as enemies, but as the first victims of Communist tyranny. When Mussolini visited the front, he saw this for himself and called the war against the Soviets a “holy crusade” -and one cannot help but wonder if there was any hint of irony in his voice for a man who had been a lifelong atheist.

The offensive rolled on and in September of 1941 the CSIR encircled 8,000 Soviet troops in front of the Dnieper River, the Germans being on the east side. The Italians pressed the retreating Soviets east and soon Italian cavalry were riding into Stalino. By the end of the year the Blackshirts were celebrating Christmas in Krestovka. A Soviet land-air attack drove them out but soon the Blackshirts counterattacked and reclaimed the area and continued on the offensive. Alongside the Italians were a number of foreign units serving with them such as the anti-Communist Russian Cossacks who joined the Italian cavalry, the Croat volunteers and the Blackshirt Albanian Legion. In the air, the 22nd Gruppo Caccia and the 61st Gruppo Osservazione Aerea proved invaluable from the outset, shooting down six Russian bombers and two fighters within days of being deployed with no losses for the Italian airmen. Eventually, the 22nd gained 72 victories over the Soviets while losing only 15 planes and of those more were due to accidents rather than enemy action. An example of Italian excellence in the air was Giuseppe “Bepi” Biron who gained “ace” status, shooting down 4-6 aircraft (records of individual victories were not kept at that time) before going back to the skies of southern Italy to more success.

The Soviets launched a massive attack on the Italian forces, hoping to surprise them at Christmas time, but although the fierce fighting raged for a week it was not the victory Stalin had hoped for. The Italians held their ground, threw back the Russian hordes and forced them to retreat. Shortly thereafter, winter conditions brought a halt to operations, though the Italian mechanics did manage to get some planes flight-capable and they were able to do some damage to the Soviets before the arrival of Spring allowed hostilities to resume. Mussolini enlarged the Italian commitment, sending in more divisions and upgrading the CSIR to the Italian Army in Russia even though General Messe advised against it. They were having enough problems supplying the troops on hand and an enlarged command would only mean less for everyone to go around and the commitment of so large a force was simply unsustainable. Nonetheless, Mussolini was determined to show that the Kingdom of Italy was playing a major part in the invasion of Russia when such troops and supplies might have been better spent against the British in Africa.

Italian mini-subs and attack motor boats also appeared in the Black Sea in response to a request for help from German Admiral Erich Raeder. These small craft had a considerable impact, sinking Russian ships loaded with supplies and attacking barges crammed with Red Army soldiers. The Italian and German naval forces were so aggressive that the Soviets were reluctant to risk their own fleet in open combat. They were stung by one attempt to intercept German transports by a Russian heavy cruiser and a destroyer. The warships were attacked by Italian motor boats and one torpedoed the cruiser, putting it out of action for the rest of the war. When the destroyer moved in to pursue, the nimble Italian craft dumped over a trio of depth charges that so damaged the destroyer that it had to break off the pursuit. Enraged, Stalin ordered no more offensive operations without his direct orders.

On land, the Italian forces continued to advance, driving deep into Russian territory. Finally, in August, from Serafirmovitch, they launched a massive counter-attack in the hope of breaking through the Italian lines and turning to take the Germans from the rear. Everything depended on the Italians holding firm and that they did. Often forced to use makeshift weapons, the Italians repelled the Russian attacks and while they lost 1,700 men in the bloody battle, they emerged victorious and had taken 1,600 Russian prisoners as well as large numbers of weapons and ammunition. The Italian cavalry also had their moment of glory at the Isbuschenski Steppe. 2,000 Russians with mortar and artillery support were attacked by units of the Duke of Aosta cavalry division. While Italian and some German support units attacked from the front, Italian cavalry with sabers drawn charged from behind, wiping out two Soviet battalions, capturing 50 machine guns, 10 mortars, 4 artillery pieces and 500 prisoners. Italian artillery was also being modified in the field and becoming highly adept at destroying Russian tanks, soon the last Red Army elements in front of Stalingrad had been smashed and forced to retreat.

What happened next is well known to history as the German and Russian forces began the titanic struggle for the city of Stalingrad, plunging into what would be the bloodiest battle in recorded history. The Germans finally took the city though pockets of Russian resistance continued to hold out. Finally, the Russians planned a massive counter-attack to encircle Stalingrad and targeted the armies of the weaker Axis powers (such as Hungary and Romania) as their point of breakthrough. The Italian army also came under attack during this Don offensive on December 16, 1942. Two days later the main Italian airfield was captured at Kanamirovka and 11,000 Italian troops were surrounded at Scertkovo. As German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein moved to relieve Stalingrad the Red Army attacked to block his effort, their force falling heavily on the Italian army along the Chir River. Many units were overwhelmed in the tidal wave of Russian attacks. One such unit was the Voloire which was wiped out, two officers committing suicide rather than surrendering. Many Italian artillerymen also refused to surrender and fought at their guns to the last man.

While the remaining Italian planes helped escort German transports carrying the wounded out of Stalingrad, pockets of Italian survivors on the ground were surrounded. The Aplini Corps went on the attack to rescue their countrymen but the odds against them were immense. They fought their way in but were surrounded themselves at Nikolayevka. The Germans could provide no help but the brave Alpini fought like heroes and managed to punch their way through the Soviet lines on January 26, 1943. Only a few days later the remaining German troops in Stalingrad surrendered. As a result of this astonishing breakthrough Radio Moscow said, “only the Italian Alpini Corps is to be considered unbeaten on the Russian front”. With their forces all but gone and the situation in the Mediterranean worsening, Mussolini was finally obliged to withdraw the Italian forces from Russia though a few support units did remain behind. Overall, 229,000 Italians had served in Russia and 85,000 would never return. Some 30,000 were wounded and losses in equipment and artillery was almost total.

The Axis offensive against the Soviet Union was ultimately unsuccessful yet the Italian forces had acquitted themselves bravely. They had fought with great talent, tenacity and skill, winning numerous victories against forces far superior to their own. They had also maintained the honor and dignity of the Italian nation, never indulging in cruelty or barbarity against the local population. In the air, the Italian pilots had inflicted far heavier losses than they suffered themselves, on the Black Sea they had proven instrumental in bottling up the Russian fleet and on the ground the Italian troops had fought with unparalleled courage against seemingly impossible odds. Allied propaganda that disparaged the Italian soldier was proven to be entirely false on the steppes of southern Russia and no one learned the lesson better than the Red Army forces that had met the Italians in battle. The Italians who fought on the Russian front had done honor to their King-Emperor, their homeland and the Italian people.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Bourbon-Savoy Reconciliation

In response to a question from a concerned reader, I will be addressing here the relationship between the House of Savoy and the House of Bourbon Two-Sicilies. Evidently, some anti-Italian, anti-Savoy people have been spreading some misinformation on this subject, suggesting that there was never any reconciliation between the Bourbons and Savoys and that nothing improved for the Bourbon Two-Sicilies family until the unlawful creation of the republic when they (unlike the Savoy) were allowed to return to Italy to promote their interests and the regional history of Sicily and southern Italy. These people then actually make the case that it was better that the republic be forced on the Italian people as they can see no farther than their own narrow interests and not recognize the wider damage to the monarchist cause this did. They seem to be doing this in an effort to carry on a quarrel that no one else is fighting, indeed that no longer exists. I want to be clear about this point because, while such alleged partisans of the House of Bourbon Two-Sicilies miss no opportunity to slander and defame the venerable House of Savoy, I will not be responding in kind. I have too much respect and admiration for the Bourbon Two-Sicilies to sink to that level, I do not like monarchists "shooting inside the tent" and because I see no reason to carry on such bitterness.

This is a point I want to make clear: such vitriol and misinformation is not coming from the actual members of the House of Bourbon Two-Sicilies but rather from some of their misguided supporters who seem to want to tear Italy apart and go back to the days of the country being a patchwork of feuding states ruled by foreign powers. Let there be no misunderstanding and no misguided ill-will on this issue: neither of the two royals claiming leadership of the House of Bourbon Two-Sicilies have ever called for the break-up of Italy, the secession of the south or the restoration of the pre-1860 Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies. No member of the family alive has ever done such a thing and it is completely untrue that the Bourbon Two-Sicilies only ever recognized Italy after the victory of a republic, in effect, recognizing a united Italy only so they could be free to try to divide it. On the contrary, the Houses of Savoy and Bourbon were reconciled years before the republican ascendency when the country was still the Kingdom of Italy as it had been originally founded.

It was something many had hoped for to further cement national unity, especially at a time when the Kingdom of Italy seemed to be moving up to the top tier of the great powers. Appropriately enough, the reconciliation started with a romance, a romance between a member of the House of Savoy and a child of the head of the House of Bourbon Two-Sicilies. The couple in question was HRH Prince Eugenio, Duke of Ancona (son of the Duke of Genoa) and HRH Princess Lucia Maria Raniera of Bourbon Two-Sicilies (daughter of Prince Fernando Pio, Duke of Calabria -the last undisputed head of the House of Bourbon Two-Sicilies). The couple obtained the permission of their parents to be married in 1938 in Munich, Germany (the mother of the bride was Bavarian). Prior to this happy occasion, Prince Fernando Pio came to Rome and was received by HM King Vittorio Emanuele III. He recognized the place of the House of Savoy and the authority of the Kingdom of Italy at that time. What did happen later, after the republican victory, was a further show of reconciliation between the two families when, in 1948, HM King Umberto II bestowed on the Duke of Calabria the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation, the oldest and most prestigious chivalric order of the House of Savoy. The Duke later reciprocated by bestowing on the exiled King of Italy the collar of the Constantinian Order. their most prestigious order of chivalry.

Obviously, these are not the actions of a man holding a grudge about things that happened in 1860 or a man who preferred a republic to the Kingdom of Italy. The House of Bourbon Two-Sicilies, under Prince Fernando Pio, Duke of Calabria, recognized the unified Kingdom of Italy, the authority of King Vittorio Emanuele III and later King Umberto II in their exchange of honors. The two families were reconciled and no member of the Bourbon Two-Sicilies family since has called for the break-up of Italy or wished for any internal strife for the Italian nation. That should be remembered by people on both sides of the issue. I hope that these facts will clarify the situation and allow for all Italian monarchists to come together in common cause against the republic that has shackled the Italian people in mediocrity for far too long. The past should be remembered, the past should be honored but it should not be used as a weapon to do damage to the present and future. Viva l'Italia!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Queen of Pearls

Today in 1851 Margherita of Savoy, later Queen consort of King Umberto I of Italy was born. She was a woman of fierce loyalty to her family, of devout Catholic faith and an ardent Italian patriot.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Saintly Birthday

Today, in 1812, was the birthday of Blessed Maria Cristina of Savoy, Queen consort of the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies. This is a good day to reflect on her life and to ask for her intercession for Italy and the House of Savoy today. Blessed Maria Cristina of Savoy, Pray for Us!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

King Vittorio Emanuele I of Piedmont-Sardinia

HRH Prince Vittorio Emanuele, Duke of Aosta, was born at the Savoy Royal Palace in Turin on July 24, 1759, the second son of King Vittorio Amedeo III and Queen Maria Antoinetta of Spain. He had the looks of his father and the religious conservatism of his mother. Being a second son would normally make a prince destined for a military career but in the House of Savoy this went without saying as probably nowhere outside of Prussia was the army given a higher status in society than in the Piedmontese region of northern Italy. It was no surprise that he gained a life-long fascination with the military and served as an army officer as a young man. If anything, he would surpass his father in terms of being a very traditional legitimist royal. When his father, full of righteous indignation at the French Revolution, declared war on republican France, the Duke of Aosta went with the army to wage a hopeless fight against the revolutionary forces. When his father died shortly after being forced to make peace with France it was left to the Duke’s older brother, King Carlo Emanuele IV, to preside over the disastrous aftermath in December of 1798. Eventually, all the Savoy lands on the continent would be occupied and annexed by France, forcing the Royal Family to relocate to the safety of the island of Sardinia.

The new king spent most of his time in Rome, leaving Vittorio Emanuele in charge in Sardinia and when his beloved queen died in 1802, the grief-stricken monarch abdicated in favor of his younger brother to join the Society of Jesus. So, on June 4, 1802 the Duke of Aosta came to the throne as King Vittorio Emanuele I, ruling Sardinia, all that remained of the Savoy patrimony, from Cagliari. To carry on the struggle against France, he gave great attention to reinvigorating the army. This included the institution of the Military Order of Savoy, the formation of the famous Grenadiers of Sardinia as well as the Carabinieri, a special gendarme corps that is still the official military-police force of Italy today. He instituted some administrative reforms on Sardinia but remained greatly attached to the way things had been before the wave of revolution swept Europe. He rebuffed all French attempts at a compromise peace and was determined to see his kingdom restored to exactly what it had been which meant that he would spend the first twelve years of his reign ruling in Sardinia until the fortunes of war turned against Napoleon. His focus on military matters was also not confined to the army and, ruling from an island, was the monarch responsible for the formation of the Department of the Navy.

It was a time of hardship and waiting for opportunities. Vittorio Emanuele I, however, was a man who understood enduring misfortune. In 1789 he had married the Hapsburg Archduchess Maria Teresa of Austria-Este, daughter of Duke Ferdinand of Modena (who was the son of the Austrian Emperor Francis I). She was as ardently conservative and traditional as her husband was and the two were a very well-matched couple and had a very happy marriage. However, securing the succession remained a problem. While his older brother had never been able to have children, King Vittorio Emanuele I fathered seven children, all but one of whom were daughters. The eldest ultimately married her uncle, Duke Francis IV of Modena, the next did not survive childhood, the third lived an even shorter time. The next eventually married the Duke of Parma, the fifth married Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria and the sixth married King Fernando II of the Two Sicilies. There was only one boy among them, Prince Carlo Emanuele, born in 1796 and sadly he died of smallpox in 1799. Once again, the Savoy crown would have to pass from brother to brother rather than father to son (and a brother who would be childless as well). They knew personal tragedy with the loss of two children, one a potential heir, yet their shared faith and values allowed them to endure it as they later endured their exile on Sardinia. But, that was something that would change.

When Napoleonic France was finally defeated and King Vittorio Emanuele I was able to return in triumph to the Savoy citadel of Turin in 1814, it was the start of a gloriously reactionary era. This wasn’t just a restoration of the monarchy as all monarchists hope for, this was the sort of restoration that ardent, hardcore monarchists imagine in their wildest dreams. It is an oft-quoted truism that one cannot turn back the clock, but if the clocks stayed the same, King Vittorio Emanuele I managed to turn back just about everything else. It was a matter of principle and if that meant showing up to Turin wearing fashions nearly twenty years old, he would do it. The Code Napoleon was abolished and the legal system of Vittorio Amedeo II was restored. Education ceased to be secular and was handed back to the Catholic Church. All the hereditary posts at court were restored, everyone entitled to a position was given one and if that meant having “page boys” that were forty-year-old alongside teenagers, so be it! The Queen did her part as well, making sure that anyone who had anything to do with the French regime was excluded from high society. Even then there were also those who were pushing for a constitution but, needless to say, King Vittorio Emanuele I I was having none of that. He also restored the old religious laws which placed restrictions on Jews and the Protestant Waldensians. The Catholic, absolute monarchy was back in full force.

In short, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, under the restored Savoy monarchy, was as close to perfection for a reactionary monarchist as one could get. Vittorio Emanuele I also ruled over a somewhat larger kingdom than had his father and older brother as the Congress of Vienna awarded Piedmont the territory of the old Republic of Genoa with the port becoming the base of the new Piedmontese navy. As a side note, interesting to legitimist monarchists at least, when his brother died in 1819, King Vittorio Emanuele I also became heir of the Stuart claims for the diehard Jacobites. For them, he became “King Victor I of England, Scotland, Ireland and France” though, of course, he never pressed such a claim in any way. There is a well known anecdote that, when Vittorio Emanuele I died, the British Prime Minister wrote to a friend (presumably in a joking way) that there should have been public mourning in the UK since quite a few people recognized the Savoy monarch as their “true” king. He was probably wrong about the number but it is slightly humorous the way the British government continued to worry about the Jacobites so long after they ceased to be relevant. In any event, King Vittorio Emanuele I had enough to concern him with the government of Piedmont-Sardinia. His campaign of total, absolute restoration may have cheered old fashioned monarchists but the years of French rule had also left their mark and not everyone was happy about things going back to the way they had been.

This was the beginning of the rise in secret societies, plots and conspiracies in northern Italy (spreading of course throughout the whole peninsula soon enough). The Carbonari would become the most prominent but there were many conspiratorial groups with many different agendas. Some were nationalists pushing for Italian unity, others were liberals who wanted constitutional monarchy and free trade, others were radical revolutionaries who wanted what amounted to socialist republics. Some had elements of all of these but common themes included a desire for a constitution in Piedmont-Sardinia, some sort of unity amongst the Italian people and war against Austria to liberate the lands of Lombardy-Venetia that the Hapsburgs had gained through a deal with republican France. King Vittorio Emanuele I was not favorable toward any of these grand schemes and was not about to even consider granting such agitators a single concession. The problem was how popular many of these ideas were. The reach of the secret societies spread even into the army which really proved to be the crucial point as it meant that the primary instrument of force available to the Crown was not entirely reliable. King Vittorio Emanuele I responded strongly against such conspiracies in the civilian population but if the military could not be entirely relied upon, that was a more serious matter and more difficult to deal with.

It was, finally, a mutiny in the army that signaled the end of the reign of Vittorio Emanuele I. Rebel troops seized control of the citadel in Turin and demanded that the King grant a constitution with guaranteed civil rights and a war against Austria to liberate Milan and Venice. Anyone at all familiar with the character of King Vittorio Emanuele I would know intuitively that he would never agree to any such demands. The content of them really did not even matter as he would never have agreed to anything put forward by mutinous troops and riotous subjects making demands on their sovereign. The political issues he was absolutely opposed to and while he had no great love for Austria (because of their shifting policies in the war and territorial acquisitions) and would have been as pleased as anyone to restore northern Italy to Italian rule, he was certainly not going to be coerced into a specific action and would never stand for being dictated to by a riotous mob. Yet, with the mobs in the streets and the loyalty of the army being either absent or questionable; what could he do? There seemed to be no choice but to give in, yet, for the King, that was out of the question. If King Vittorio Emanuele I could not rule as he saw fit, he decided that he would not rule at all and preferred to abdicate rather than give in to pressure from disloyal elements. So, on March 21, 1821 he formally abdicated his throne in favor of his brother, who was away in Modena, with his nephew Prince Carlo Alberto on hand to oversee things in the interim. The Queen (who some even blamed for the crisis) had offered to act as regent but in the event went with her retired husband to Nice (then part of Piedmont-Sardinia). He died at Moncalieri castle a few years later on January 10, 1824.

King Vittorio Emanuele I is often portrayed in a tragic light, as a sad, gloomy man who endured kingship and whose reign has been described as one long Lenten period. Most modern historians have not been kind to him, describing his policies as harmful and out of date while at best admitting that he was well-intentioned and an upstanding gentleman in his private life. Actually, he was a man of firm principles, a dutiful monarch, a man of integrity and firm convictions. Given how his reign ended, some of his decisions may have been mistakes but that does not mean they were wrong. His determination to set everything back to the way it had been before the revolution, to do what most have always held to be impossible, was a decision based on his values and sense of right and wrong rather than political considerations. In the end, it did not work and it may be that, from a practical standpoint, he should have tempered this policy to take into account in some way what thinking had taken root during the French occupation but that is something known with certainty only in hindsight. The old system had worked well enough before so there was no reason why it absolutely could not have worked again. Vittorio Emanuele I deserves to be remembered as a dutiful monarch, a monarch who tried always to do what was right as his faith guided him. It is also just plain inaccurate to portray his reign as some sort of purgatory to be endured; his reign saw the restoration of the venerable Savoy monarchy, the end of French domination and the expansion of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in both territory and international esteem. It was, until the end, a success by any measure.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

One Opinion on Italian Soldiery

"Italian soldiers are neither better nor worse than the soldiers of any other nation.  All men are by nature fond of the family, of life and peace.  To enjoy war is surely degenerate; it appeals more to the single, adventure-seeking man than to the father of a family.  Yet in the life of a nation the father, as head of the smallest unit, is more important than the adventurous youth, who in war is the first to be sacrificed.  This fact was even more significant to the Italian, who lives so much within the family, than to the German.  If the father of a large and young family is killed in action, the only result is bitterness and woe.
   "Before the days of Mussolini, Italy was not averse to war.  How otherwise could it have successfully borne the heavy and protracted battles of the Isonzo during the First World War?  Piedmont is the cradle of Italy’s military prowess.  With the exception of Prussia, no dynasty was ever as militant as the House of Savoy.  It was the campaigns of the Piedmontese battalions that unified Italy, thereby fulfilling the dreams of many generations.  Everywhere the memorials bore witness to this fact.
   "At Turin and in that neighborhood were a number of military schools. The Peidmontese nobility, like the Prussian one, put service in the army on a higher plane than any other service to the state.  The discipline was good.  In Piedmont there were also many alpine units, the best that the Italian Army could produce---proud, quiet, outwardly not very disciplined troops, but reliable types, brought up the heard way, accustomed to camping in the eternal snows with only the barest supplies.  They were magnificent soldiers, to whose pride and modesty I paid tribute whenever I happened to encounter an Alpino.  The Navy, too, was good, though I had few contacts with it."

-From the book "Neither Hope Nor Fear" by the commander of the German XIV Panzer Corps, General Frido von Senger und Etterlin who was responsible for the defense of Monte Cassino and the Gustav Line, who had also earlier fought in the defense of Sicily.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The March on Rome

It was on this day in 1922 that the Fascist “Blackshirts” led by General Emilio De Bono, Italo Balbo, Cesare De Vecchi and Michele Bianchi marched on Rome. For years this event has been misunderstood which is not too surprising given that both the pro- and anti-Fascist sides have tried to distort it to fit their own agendas. For the Fascists, this was the bold move taken by Mussolini to “take by the throat our miserable ruling class” and by this show of force and the intimidation of his enemies, seizing power. For the anti-Fascists the blame has traditionally been placed solely on King Vittorio Emanuele III. According to their narrative, the March on Rome was nothing more than a bluff that could have easily been dispersed with a simple show of force only for the King to inexplicably refuse to give the army orders to defend the city and then hand power over, submissively, to the bombastic Mussolini. Neither of these narratives are correct as both try to take some portion of truth and twist it to their own advantage; the Fascists to glorify Mussolini and the anti-Fascists to disavow any responsibility and place all blame on the King, portraying him as some sort of Fascist sympathizer from the start.

The truth is that the Kingdom of Italy was in a chaotic state and while there had not yet been a full blown civil war or Marxist revolution, the prospect was not as remote as some since have liked to imply. Nor was Fascism some minor, disorganized party that enjoyed no widespread support. In 1921 the Fascists and communists had clashed in the streets of Florence, vying for power and in 1922, the same year as the march, the Fascist Blackshirts had driven the communists from power in Bologna and had taken Milan. In 1921 long-time liberal statesman Giolitti had returned to power with Fascist support; he considered them to be preferable to the Marxists. But, in the chaotic situation, his government did not long survive and he was succeeded by Bonomi who, likewise, took no action against the Fascists in their street wars with the socialists. Bonomi could find no lasting majority and his government soon fell as well, replaced by that of Luigi Facta in early 1922. In short, the established, liberal parties in Italy were proving themselves totally unable to confront the situation facing the country. There were too many divisions and too many radical elements so that many were left looking for who, among those radical elements, would be most likely to save the country rather than destroy it.

In fact, the only reason Facta himself lasted as long in office as he did (and that was less than a year) was because none of the established liberal figures in Italian politics could agree to come together or wished to take responsibility for dealing with the crisis that Italy faced. Giolitti, Orlando, Salandra, none of them could get along with each other. Nitti was agreeable to joining in a coalition but stated he would sooner join a government led by Mussolini than another by Giolitti. What about the King? The King was always reluctant to intervene in politics. There were already enough republicans in the country and communist protests outside the Quirinale Palace were a common sight so that he did not want the monarchy to appear political and partisan. The idea that he played favorites is easily disproved by the fact that, at this time of crisis, he asked Turati, leader of the moderate socialists, to join the government and not for the first time. Turati refused, like so many others at this crucial point in Italian political history. In the period leading up to the March on Rome, aside from being the only leader some felt could deal with the chaos in Italy, Mussolini was seen more and more as the only one even willing to try.

To make himself more acceptable, Mussolini began moving noticeably to the right, voicing strong support for the monarchy and making common cause with the royalists of the nationalist party. The King, even in the fall of 1922, still expected Giolitti to return to power when a suitable political coalition could be formed. However, the other liberal politicians worked against this and Mussolini masterfully played them against the elderly statesman who had earlier squelched the forces of D’Annunzio in Fiume as Prime Minister. He secretly promised his support to Facta, Nitti and Salandra against Giolitti or even against each other. Meanwhile, the old wartime premier Orlando had come out as a supporter of the Fascists, thinking them manageable and preferable to the alternative of a Marxist revolution. More and more people were doing the same and Giolitti himself took no action to try to form a government himself to offer as an alternative. Whether out of fear, indecisiveness or the presumption that all must eventually come running to him for salvation, who can say? The fact is that in this time when leadership was needed, Giolitti did nothing. The liberals who like to condemn the King for eventually appointing Mussolini Prime Minister never like to, and rarely are expected to, explain where their leaders were and what alternative they put forward at the crucial time.

Finally, when it became obvious that Facta was not up to meeting the crisis, Salandra agreed to form a government that would include Mussolini and would not include the elderly Giolitti. It was at that point, with Facta still in office, that the March on Rome began to shape. Ever since, anti-Fascists have condemned the King for not deploying the army to use force to stop the Blackshirts while the pro-Fascists like to ignore the issue and pretend that they couldn’t have been stopped. The King made it clear that the order to, effectively, desist from shooting down the Fascists was his and his alone but he never revealed his reasons for this. Personally, and this is a matter of opinion to take as you please, I cannot help but feel that memories of Milan could not have but played a part in his decision. In 1898 his father, King Umberto I, had deployed the army to put down riots in Milan sparked by radical socialists. There was bloodshed in the streets and the King was widely criticized for overreacting. His eventual assassination in 1900 by an anarchist, which brought Vittorio Emanuele III prematurely to the Italian throne, was done in retaliation for the violence in Milan. How could the King have known that he would ultimately be condemned for failing to do what others had condemned his own father for doing? It does seem reasonable to ask why King Umberto I should not have used force against socialists in Milan but that his son should have used force against Fascists in Rome. Why the double-standard?

In any event, those who take issue with the King refusing to shoot down his black-shirted subjects in the streets like to imply that if he had done so, that would have been the end of it. But, what about all the parts of the country already effectively under Fascist control? Who can say that the movement would have stopped then and there? How do we know that the communists would not have seized the opportunity to launch their revolution and take power for themselves? Remember that there was still no decisive liberal leadership to take control of the situation. Salandra had agreed to form a government but, upon seeking support from De Vecchi and Dino Grandi of the Fascist Party, was told that Mussolini would settle for nothing less than the premiership. Plenty in the army spoke up for the Fascists, the leading industrialists in Milan sent messages of support and so Salandra willingly stepped aside in favor of Mussolini who, it should also be remembered, was originally appointed by the King as simply Prime Minister of a coalition government in which the Fascists were not the majority.

Ultimately, the March on Rome was more of a Fascist victory parade than a bold seizure of power. Everything was worked out behind the scenes in political discussions rather than being settled by force in the streets. The King had tried to stick with the traditional, liberal ruling class but they were unable or unwilling to take action. He even tried to reach out to the moderate socialists only to have his hand slapped away. It is no exaggeration to say that, whether the King felt any sympathy for the Fascists or not, at the time they were simply the only alternative left to him and he should not be condemned for that, especially by the liberal elites who sat back and did nothing out of fear for their own positions or because they wanted to hold out for a better offer. The idea that the King and the Royal Family later came to be the scapegoats for the Fascist era and held solely to blame for the rule of Mussolini is both flagrantly dishonest and totally disgusting, especially considering the quarters such accusations usually come from. Those who are so quick to blame the King do so only because it is far too painful to blame themselves.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Teano - When South Joined North

On this day in 1860 King Vittorio Emanuele II and Giuseppe Garibaldi met at Teano where the north and south of Italy, for the first time since practically the fall of the Roman Empire, came together under one flag, under one monarch.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Palaces of the Savoy

Chateau de Chambery
(residents of the Dukes of Savoy, in what is now in France)

Palazzo Madama, Turin
(residence of Queen Christine Marie of France, regent for King
Carlo Emanuele II, later used by the Senate & High Court)

Palazzo Reale, Turin
(primary residence of the Kings of Piedmont-Sardinia)

Palazzo Carignano, Turin
(residence of the Savoy-Carignano branch of the Royal House)

Castello del Valentino, Turin
(former residence of Queen Marie Christine of France)

Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome
(primary residence of the Kings of Italy)

Monday, October 20, 2014

MM TV Review: The Pizza Parlor

For those too young to remember or those unfamiliar, “Hogan’s Heroes” was an American television comedy set in a German prison camp (Luft-Stalag 13) during World War II. The German officers are totally incompetent and the Allied prisoners basically run the place, outwitting their inept captors at every turn. The main characters are, not surprisingly, Americans with one French and one British member on the team (the pilot also had a Russian character which was dropped in the regular series, also not surprising given that this was the 60’s when the Cold War was in full force). The Allies use Stalag 13 as a base from which to launch guerilla attacks against the Germans and to help Allied personnel escape Nazi-occupied territory. Since they are on a mission, they never escape and since no one has ever escaped from Stalag 13 the hapless commander remains at his post, glorying in his perfect record while the prisoners thwart the German war effort right under his nose. This episode is one of two featuring a recurring Italian character. It is episode 22 from season 1, airing on February 11, 1966 and directed by Gene Reynolds.

The cast consists of Bob Crane as Colonel Robert E. Hogan, the senior Allied prisoner-of-war and their leader; Werner Klemperer as Colonel Wilhelm Klink, the clueless German commandant; John Banner as the comic Sergeant-of-the-Guard Hans Schultz; Robert Clary as French Corporal Louis LeBeau (their master chef); Richard Dawson as RAF Corporal Peter Newkirk (a London pick-pocket); Ivan Dixon as Sergeant James “Kinch” Kinchloe (the American radio operator) and Larry Hovis as Sergeant Andrew Carter the simple-minded American explosives expert. For this episode the special guest star was Hans Conried as the Italian Major Bonacelli. If it seems odd having an American with a surname like Conried playing an Italian, this was typical for “Hogan’s Heroes”. Most of the actors were Americans but it is interesting to note that every character on the side of Nazi Germany in the series (Colonel Klink, Sergeant Schultz, General Burkhalter) were all played by Jews. It was something like an ‘in-joke’ of the series, one of a number of ‘running gags’ the show was known for. Another one that viewers must be prepared for is the extreme use of stereotypes, especially when it comes to the Axis forces.

“The Pizza Parlor” opens with LeBeau preparing a feast in the barracks only to be interrupted by Sergeant Schultz who tells them that Colonel Klink is coming to inspect them and Colonel Hogan remarks that the Germans have been sending a number of officers to inspect their camp lately to learn from Colonel Klink because of his perfect record of never having had a successful escape. Klink arrives and informs them that Major Bonacelli is due shortly from “Capizzio” to study their security methods for use in his own prison camp. When taunted about telling a foreigner his secrets, Colonel Klink angrily reminds Hogan that, “…the Italians are our allies!” to which Hogan replies, “Don’t remind me, remind them”. A subtle nod to the fact that, at this stage in the war Italo-German relations were not at their most friendly and that many in Italy were never very comfortable about being allied with Germany. After the credits, Allied HQ tells Hogan that tensions between Germany and Italy are high and that the Allies are planning a major landing near Capizzio and that Hogan should try to get some information out of him. Hogan agrees but isn’t too hopeful, imagining Bonacelli to be a rough character.

We are then introduced to Major Bonacelli who has pulled a gun on his German driver, trying to force him to take him to Switzerland instead of Stalag 13. He is fed up with the war and just wants to escape. However, an Allied bombing raid sends the driver scurrying for cover and before Bonacelli can get away an escort arrives to take him to camp. After arriving at the camp. Hogan digs him about the Germans pushing the Italians around and notice how Bonacelli grimaces at hearing what the Germans are fixing for lunch (lots of potatoes and cabbage). Hogan and company decide that they can get to Bonacelli with sentimentality, music and food. So, they call the Allied submarine they report to, which connects them to London which connects them to Garlotti’s Pizzaria in Newark, New Jersey. It is run by the father of one of the men at Stalag 13. From him they get a recipe for pizza for LeBeau to make to tempt Bonacelli and finish by asking him to sing ‘Santa Luccia’.

Later that night, with wine, pizza and song, the Allies tempt Major Bonacelli over to their barracks and get him to tell them how many Germans are stationed in Capizzio. While he is eating, he mentions possibly going to the United States as he has no desire to go back to his post and fight for the Germans. Hogan then gets the idea to turn him and asks the Major to become an agent in Capizzio for the Allies. At first, he is reluctant, having no desire to be shot as a traitor if he is discovered but the Allies play on his sentimentality again, persuading him that he would be benefiting his country by shortening the war. Finally, Bonacelli agrees on the condition that he gets the recipe for the pizza he’s eating. However, the next morning, as he is saying his goodbyes to Colonel Klink, a truck arrives with the driver he had pulled his gun on during his trip to camp. He accuses Bonacelli of trying to desert and Colonel Klink orders him placed under arrest. To rescue their new secret agent, Hogan hatches a plan to make Klink think Bonacelli is firmly on the Axis side and a hero as well.

Just as Klink is reporting the incident to Berlin, Schultz rushes in to inform him that ten prisoners have escaped and that Major Bonacelli is missing. Klink flies into a panic at the thought of his perfect record being destroyed. The escapees, meanwhile, meet up in the woods and tell Bonacelli that he has to march them back to camp, thus becoming a hero in Germany and the savior of Colonel Klink’s reputation. Back at the camp, Klink is fuming that none of his search parties have been able to find the escapees anywhere, even putting one of the search dogs on report for not living up to the standards of a *German* Shepherd. Just then, all ten prisoners return, led by Bonacelli, marching in perfect order back into camp, whistling the theme song of the show in a little homage to 1957’s “Bridge on the River Kwai”. Major Bonacelli is welcomed as a returning hero and in the last scene of the episode, Klink calls in Hogan to read him a letter from the Italian major. Earlier, when Hogan was asking Bonacelli how many Germans there were in Capizzio, he did it by asking how many pizzas they ate, figuring two per soldier. In his letter, Bonacelli uses this as a sort of code, saying that he has put his prisoners to work making pizzas for the Germans and by relating how many they are making, Hogan knows the exact number of German troops to report to Allied HQ. Hogan gives a parting remark, saying sarcastically to Klink how “some people think the Italians aren’t with you all the way”.

“The Pizza Parlor” is a fairly typical “Hogan’s Heroes” episode and those who like the show will surely find it enjoyable. It is noteworthy for being one of only two episodes to feature a non-German Axis power. For Italians, the stereotyping may be hard to take but if you have a good sense of humor it shouldn’t be a problem. There are a few cracks about the Major being cowardly but his attempt to escape to Switzerland is shown to be more about his disgust with the Germans than a fear of danger. He mentions on his first day in camp that “you can push a people only so far” and seems about to say that soon the Italians would take no more abuse from the Germans but, viewing his surroundings, stops himself. He also keeps his word to the Allied prisoners and ultimately takes on the very dangerous assignment to become a secret agent. The premise is rather absurd but this is even commented on in the episode with Newkirk doubting that a pizza and a few bars of “Santa Lucia” is not enough to make a man switch sides in a war, this, of course, also being a subtle illustration that it was more than that which motivated Major Bonacelli to do what he did. For those who like the character, he returned later in the series in 1969 with the episode, “The Return of Major Bonacelli” (though played by a different actor) in which the Germans discovered that he was passing information to the Allies and Hogan and his men have to help their Italian friend escape to England.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Columbus Day Controversy

Today is Columbus Day in the United States. In Mexico and much of Latin America it is celebrated as El Dia de la Raza (the Day of the Race) and it is National Day in the Kingdom of Spain. Sadly, some have seized upon the occasion to make the intrepid Italian explorer the scapegoat for the entirety of all the ills that came to Americas from the time of his discovery to the present day. It is, of course, absurd to say the least of it but it has gained ground with many because of 'political correctness'. Columbus, a man who was seeking a westward route to Asia and happened upon the Americas in the process is actually being held to blame for the devastation of the Native American populations by disease, for the entire period of European colonization, all of the clashes between European and European-descended peoples and the natives, even for slavery. To call that unfair would be an understatement. Columbus was an explorer, a navigator, a man hired to do a job and nothing more. It is a gross injustice to blame him for every ill that came after in all the centuries that followed. Some localities in the United States have, in an effort to gain favor with modern leftist sentiments, have replaced the celebration of Columbus Day with "Indigenous Peoples Day". Of course, there should be no problem with having a day to celebrate Native Americans (African Americans have an entire month). However, it is completely uncalled for to deny Columbus his holiday in the process and is an act of bigotry against Italian-Americans, the one group more than any other who have stood up in defense of Columbus and his place in history.

In making this point, I have had some dispute with me the assertion that replacing Columbus Day with "Indigenous Peoples Day" is discriminatory against Italian-Americans. But, how can it be otherwise? The truth of it is easily illustrated by imagining what would happen if another holiday was changed in the same way. Certainly if St Patrick's Day was done away with, this would be seen as offensive to Irish-Americans and if someone proposed replacing Martin Luther King Day with some other holiday the person in question would certainly be accused of racism against African-Americans. So, it should likewise be considered perfectly natural for Italian-Americans to regard efforts to do away with Columbus Day as offensive to the Italian community. Columbus was not a villain, he was a driven, courageous and deeply religious man who changed the course of history with his discovery. Of course, everyone knows that Columbus was not the first European to visit America but it was his voyage that mattered most.

As for the huge loss of life among the Native American peoples, this was certainly a tragedy but it was not as though it was the result of some genocidal scheme on the part of Columbus. The vast majority of the Native Americans who died did so as a result of the diseases carried by Europeans which they had no immunity to. It was an accidental and inadvertent tragedy caused by the coming together of peoples. To blame Columbus for this would be just as unfair as blaming Asians for the Black Death in Europe or holding Gaetan Dugas morally responsible for every person in America who has died from AIDS. It is also ridiculous to hold historical figures to the standards of contemporary morality which has certainly changed dramatically since 1492. There was nothing like the modern conceptions of human rights, civil rights, racial and gender equality and so on in the Fifteenth Century. By the standards of his time and place, Columbus was an upstanding man and a very devout Catholic, a third-order Franciscan in fact who actually had a cause for canonization opened on his behalf in 1877 with the support of Pope Pius IX. And, as Pope Leo XIII said, Columbus expanded human knowledge with his discovery. What others did with that knowledge is their responsibility and not his. The only alternative would be for humanity on opposite sides of the Atlantic to continue in ignorance and isolation.

However, it is particularly disgusting to see people who are themselves of European descent in the United States heaping blame on Columbus. Without his discovery and without European colonization, with all the good and bad aspects of it, neither the United States or Canada or Mexico or any of the countries of North, Central and South America we know today would exist. The populations, particularly in Latin America, which are largely of mixed European and native ancestry would also not exist. And surely, if Columbus had never made his voyage but if all European powers had remained on their own continent, they would be held to blame for being isolationists and not sharing their innovative technologies with the rest of the world. The Native Americans were so primitive compared to Europeans exactly because they had been isolated from the rest of the world where trade and commerce led to exchanges of information and knowledge from East Asia to Western Europe, going both ways. It must also seem extremely unfair for the Italian-American community in particular given that the one holiday celebrating a great Italian figure from history is the one constantly attacked and blamed for colonialism when, unlike Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland and the Scandinavian countries, Italy never had any colonies in the New World. It just goes to show that those who cry the loudest about justice and fairness are usually the most unjust and unfair of all.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Invasion of Abyssinia Begins

It was on this day in 1935 at 5am that Italian forces under the command of General Emilio De Bono marched across the frontier into Abyssinia in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. As one of the Quadrumvirs who led the March on Rome, the seminal event in the history of the "Fascist Revolution" but also a staunch monarchist who gave his first loyalty to the King, De Bono was chosen to lead this campaign because Mussolini wanted it to showcase Fascist military might. There would be a Fascist general in charge and the Blackshirts of the MVSN would make up the bulk of the ground forces initially involved, all with the intention of showing that the new, Fascist, Italy had prevailed in Ethiopia where Crispi's Italy had failed. Since De Bono was also a hero of the Great War and known to be an Italian patriot and loyal to the King, the Duce could expect no problems in the choice from the palace.

Unfortunately, many people have taken a very critical view of General De Bono and this seems, looking at the plain facts, to be rather unjust. His invasion of Abyssinia was a success, it simply did not proceed as rapidly as Mussolini wanted. General De Bono crossed into Abyssinian territory, captured several important positions, announced the abolition of slavery (something which is seldom recognized) and even accepted the surrender of the Ethiopian Emperor's son-in-law, some of whose troops even switched to join the Italian side. General De Bono advanced from the north out of Eritrea while General Graziani advanced from the south out of Italian Somaliland. There were to move methodically until all Ethiopian resistance was crushed between them. However, Mussolini wanted a swift, stunning sort of war which is not what General De Bono had in mind at all. Remembering well the horrific casualties of World War I, De Bono intended to fight a cautious and mostly defensive war in order to conserve the lives of his soldiers while inflicting greater losses on his enemies.

The plan General De Bono had was for the Italian forces to advance into Abyssinia slowly, taking, so to speak, one step at a time. They would move forward, stop, consolidate their lines on a strong, defensive front and then when the enemy attacked, having their primary asset in their huge numbers of Ethiopian soldiers, they could be wiped out by the machine guns and supporting artillery of the Italian lines with minimal losses for themselves. In the aftermath, the lines would be carefully advanced again, another defensive position taken up and then allow the Ethiopians to smash themselves to death again an impenetrable wall of Italian fire. There was nothing wrong with this plan, it was a plan for a slow, cautious advance that would keep Italian losses to a minimum and would end in certain victory. However, Mussolini was also correct in wanting the campaign to be more swift and not just because of his own impatience. The sanctions placed on Italy by the League of Nations meant that Italy could have been economically ruined by a long war and most experts thought that it would take Italy at least two years to conquer Abyssinia if it could be conquered at all without economic collapse at home and the fall of Mussolini's Fascist government. That was a real concern so it was not without some legitimate reasons that General Emilio De Bono was, properly, awarded the rank of Marshal of Italy and then removed from his position with the regular army General Pietro Badoglio taking over to lead a much more swift and aggressive campaign.

In the end, it all worked out and Ethiopia was conquered in an astonishing seven months time with Badoglio leading the Italian troops into the Abyssinian capitol. However, just because the new strategy worked, does not mean that De Bono's plan was necessarily wrong.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Grenadiers of Sardinia

The famous Grenadiers of Sardinia have a history that stretches back around three hundred years and they have earned a high reputation on numerous battlefields in numerous wars during all that time. The First Grenadiers Regiment, a Piedmontese unit, was founded on April 18, 1659 as the Regiment of the Guards (Reggimento delle Guardie) by Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy to be his personal guard. From the Siege of Turin to the Battle of Assietta they proved themselves to be an elite force. In 1774 King Vittorio Amadeo III of Sardinia formed the Regiment of Sardinia (later known as the Second Hunters Regiment) to guard the Royal Family during their exile on Sardinia after French forces had occupied Savoy. When the Piedmontese lands were annexed by France the Regiment of the Guards was disbanded though it had fought bravely in the Italian campaign against Napoleon. After the French defeat at Leipzig the Savoy Royal Family was able to return to Turin and the army began to be reformed. The Regiment of the Guards was restored and the Regiment of Sardinia was relocated to Turin and named the Guards Hunters Regiment (Reggimento Cacciatori Guardie). In 1831 King Carlo Alberto grouped these two regiments into the Guards Grenadiers Brigade and they were given preeminent status in the armed forces of Piedmont-Sardinia.

The Battle of Goito
They gained their motto, “Guards, to me!” when King Carlo Alberto led them at the Battle of Goito in the First Italian War of Independence. Renamed the Grenadier Brigade with the regiments retitled as the First and Second Grenadier Regiments in 1850 they saw extensive service in the Second Italian War for Independence such as at Lonato del Garda, the occupation of the Papal States, San Giuliano, Garigliano and the Siege of Gaeta. After the foundation of the Kingdom of Italy they were relocated to the new capitol of Florence and served as the guard troops at the Royal Palace. During the Third Italian War for Independence they saw action at the Battle of Custoza. The brigade organization was abolished in 1871 but reformed in its entirety in 1881 by King Umberto I. During the First World War, the Grenadier Brigade saw action in the first through the fifth Battles of the Isonzo before being transferred to defend Mount Cenigo in the Asiago offensive by Austria-Hungary. Their position was crucial and as the offensive dragged on, they alone held out to prevent a total encirclement of the Italian forces. The grenadiers fought on heroically, even after their ammunition had been exhausted until finally the Austro-Hungarian offensive was broken by their staunch resistance.

The Grenadiers went back to the Isonzo and fought in the sixth, seventh and eighth battles there before being shattered at the crushing defeat at Caporetto. Like most of the Italian army, the brigade had to be rebuilt after that fiasco but they came back strong. The Grenadiers served with distinction in the Battle of the Piave River and the famous Battle of Vittorio Veneto which finally knocked Austria-Hungary out of the war for good. After the war, based at Rome, another regiment was added and the unit was renamed the XXI Infantry Brigade and the regiments renamed the First, Second and Third Grenadiers of Sardinia. When Italy entered World War II the Grenadiers division was to take part in the invasion of France but the French surrendered before they saw action. The grenadiers did take part in the invasion of Yugoslavia and the occupation of Ljubljana in Slovenia which was annexed by the Kingdom of Italy during the war.

For the Grenadiers of Sardinia, their greatest trial came in the Spring of 1943 when they were detailed to defend the city of Rome itself. As it turned out, they would be defending it from their former German allies after Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio requested an armistice with the Allies and the Germans attempted to take control of as much of Italy as possible. Along with the Sassari and Ariete divisions, the grenadiers fought the Germans in front of Rome for two days before being forced back to the Porta San Paolo. It fought on there with the remnants of other army formations as well as groups of civilian volunteers. Finally, after taking nearly 600 losses and with the King having been removed to the safety of Naples, the Italian troops gave up the fight, though not before handing their weapons over to the civilian population to aid in the resistance that soon sprang up against the German occupation. Some elements, such as a few battalions on the island of Corsica, however, refused to surrender and joined with other Italian units and the Free French to fight the Germans and drive them from the island. In 1944 the division was re-organized on Sardinia as part of the Italian Co-Belligerent Army that was loyal to the King and fought alongside the Allies against the Germans and Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic based at Salo. However, not long before the end of the war they were disbanded again to be amalgamated into the Cremona Combat Group.

In 1946, with the aid of the United States, the Grenadiers of Sardinia Infantry Division was reorganized as part of the gathering forces to guard Europe from the Communist threat. However, their status would never be quite the same again as the fall of the Italian monarchy brought an end to their “royal” status and broke the ties of centuries that bound them to the origins of the grenadiers with the House of Savoy. Nonetheless, the unit remained and was again tasked with the security of Rome. The end of the Cold War brought downsizing which has increased lately but the Grenadiers of Sardinia remain a part of the military of the Italian Republic as a Mechanized Brigade and they still retain their status as a “guard” regiment.
Grenadiers, pre-WW1 at home and colonial service

Prince Umberto in grenadier uniform

Grenadiers of Sardinia in World War II

Grenadiers of Sardinia in the Co-Belligerent Army

Grenadiers of Sardinia in modern times, on parade