The army shrank to 33 divisions; but —18 witnessed an astonishing recovery, with the raising of new units and the creation of new formations. By the end of war some 5. The character of the Army:. Under wartime pressure on manpower the theoretical three-class distinction by age group broke down to some extent. Italian infantry trudge up a serpentine mountain road, led by their capitano and a standard-bearer. General Armando Diaz — took over from Gen. Their limitation to supposedly second-line employment, and even that of third class Territorial Militiamen in their mids to rear area and line of communications duties, became blurred during the war.
The ordinary Italian soldier was amongst the worst paid in Europe and endured a ferocious disciplinary system. Inevitably, however, cracks were beginning to show by , at least on the home front. Paradoxically, defeat at Caporetto and a costly retreat which left a large part of north-eastern Italy under enemy occupation were to change attitudes throughout Italy in favour of the war effort.
Morale revived and defeatism evaporated; most of the thousands of men who had deserted in the chaos of Caporetto either returned to their regiments or were rounded up. The most recalcitrant were sent to prison, while 60, of the least reliable were sent to France in the labour battalions of the Auxiliary Corps. As chief of staff Gen. Armando Diaz when Cadorna was dismissed at the insistence of the prime minister and the allied powers. Nevertheless, like soldiers in all armies, the Italians made their own amusements where they could; here a battalion of Alpini have organised an impromptu dance — though sadly without any girls.
However, he had commanded an infantry regiment in the Libyan War, where he had been wounded and decorated for valour. Popular with his men because of his humane approach to discipline and his concern for their welfare, Gen. Diaz was also noted for his common sense. On the Isonzo front his infantry division had captured more ground for less casualties than those of other generals. Sir William Robertson, toured the Italian front shortly before Caporetto. General Herbert Plumer, the extremely able former commander of British 2nd Army, worked with the Italian staff after Caporetto.
He regarded his Italian colleagues as easy to work with, though their knowledge tended to be very theoretical and as a result they tended to issue impossible orders. Under the test of war the Italian infantry displayed more spirit and endurance than anyone had expected, and this included men from regions which had not traditionally been sources of soldiers.
Once again the opinion of Gen. Other evidence indicates that Italian infantry were stoical, accepting appalling conditions as well as terrible losses. Home leave was very rare, rations inadequate and front-line cooking facilities worse than those of their enemy. Conditions improved markedly during the reorganisation following Caporetto, with better wages and food, more leave, and even free life insurance so that men were assured that their families would be cared for. Poor co-ordination between infantry and artillery meant that such attacks relied on courage and numerical advantage alone, but by November new infantry tactics were emerging.
After a preliminary bombardment, infantry now rushed forward to reach enemy positions before the defenders emerged from their dug-outs. Infantry uniforms. Atelier photograph. The Italian Army had recognised the need for a new uniform by abandoning the dark blue M except for ceremonial purposes and, after practical experiments, adopted the famous grigio-verde grey-green which would identify Italian soldiers for generations.
The engineers only adopted grigio-verde in September , and during that year some reserve and militia units still wore dark blue uniforms, sometimes mixed with beige canvas fatigues. The former button and lace colours of the different arms and branches — gold or silver — were retained in some insignia, e.
Its most distinctive feature was padded shoulder rolls to stop equipment straps sliding off the shoulders. The tunic was worn with matching pantaloon-cut trousers. Initially these were usually worn tucked into the leather ankle boots, but. The boots themselves proved inadequate and were gradually replaced by sturdier types like those worn by the Alpini.
An alternative was a crotch-length semi-circular mantellina cape with a fall collar see Plate A2 , often replaced by a heavier hooded cape in front line service; a buttoned waistcoat was also issued for extra warmth. Under front-line conditions there was considerable local variation in infantry clothing during the war. Milizia regiments th—th Regts had mostrini of two colours divided horizontally.
Milizia Territoriale infantry had mostrini of scarlet piping in ; the 16 brigades of Milizia Territoriale st—nd Regts established in —17 had mostrini in two colours divided vertically, while 23 new brigades rd—nd Regts raised in had mostrini of two colours in three vertical sections.
This was far from universal in practice. The canvas knapsack had side pockets and straps for external stowage including an entrenching spade or other tools; a haversack with attached water bottle was slung either below the knapsack or to hang on the left hip. It was worn with breeches, and brown strapped leather gaiters with ankle boots.
Given the extreme geographical and weather conditions under which many Italian infantry served it is not surprising that special forms of clothing appeared. The army had expected a relatively short summer campaign and so ordinary infantry were not issued with adequate winter dress in ; only the Alpini were given kit suitable for the mountains.
During the war, however, men on exposed sentry duty in the Alpine winter wore large natural-coloured sheepskin watchcoats. A white coat with a hood appeared in the winter of —17, and such white clothing eventually included trousers, coats, jackets, balaclava helmets, mittens and helmet covers see Plate B2 — though it was very far from general issue.
Other Alpine equipment included snow shoes, crampons for boots, skis, white sleeping bags, anti-slip horse shoes for mules, dog sleds and dog carts. Helmets and armour. Artillery bombardment on the limestone Carso plateau and in the mountains caused showers of stone fragments, resulting in an exceptional number of head wounds; consequently the Italians adopted from April the French Adrian steel helmet see Plate D2. Later in an improved Italian-made version was produced, stamped in two rather than four pieces; and a grey-green fabric cover for these helmets was issued early in The much heavier Elmo Farina trench helmet was initially designed for men who had to keep watch close to enemy lines, but it was soon issued to assault engineers; it was worn over a padded cap see Plate F3 and page French Dunand visors were used with both Adrian and Farina helmets, sometimes with Lippmann cheek pieces as additional protection against stone fragments see Plate F1.
By many troops were also issued with armoured anti-splinter goggles.
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The Italians put greater efforts into developing armoured shields and body armour, especially for assault engineers, than most other combatant nations. Apart from various portable steel shields for one or more men, they adopted Farina corazza body armour see Plate F3.
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Various forms were developed, although one for assault infantry proved too heavy to be practical. In July a Chemical Commission was established to study gas as a weapon, but the design of gasmask which resulted was neither developed nor manufactured. Once the Central Powers started using poison gas, however, the Ciamician-Pesci mask was quickly issued.
Unfortunately it was only effective against chlorine, not phosgene, so new forms based upon the French TN mask were adopted. His eagle feather hat plume has been removed but the battalion-coloured pompon is still worn on the left side. Note that the badges of most arms and branches of the Italian Army featured a round central cartouche bearing or voided with the unit number. The Bersaglieri light infantry regiments had four battallions, each of three companies, one of which was issued with bicycles during the Libyan War three Bersaglieri regiments had received an extra battalion.
The famous piumetto of cockerel feathers worn on the right side of their broad-brimmed moretto hats see Plate A2 was removed for front-line service in September because it was too visible, only to be reinstated for morale reasons late in , when it was attached to the steel helmet see Plate E3. Other features which set the Bersaglieri apart from line infantry included their greased, unpolished brown boots, the same as those issued to mountain troops; and the red fez with a long blue tassel which they wore as undress headgear.
The Alpini were specialist mountain troops; during the war their regiments had three or four battalions with three or four companies each. In addition to the line regiments, 38 Alpini companies of the Mobile Militia were attached to Alpini depots, while the Territorial Militia included a further 26 Alpini battalions; their collar insignia consisted of green piping.
Alpini wore infantry jackets with trousers that narrowed below the calves. Like the Bersaglieri, front line Alpini lost their hat feathers in September , though retaining the coloured woollen pompons indicating their battalion respectively white, red, green, blue, and yellow for the regimental depot.
The best-known of the militarised volunteer organisations was the Corpo Volontario Ciclisti ed Automobilisti, which was attached to the Bersaglieri and cavalry; similarly. These volunteer units took part in military operations but disappeared at the end of when they were incorporated into the regular army. The Arditi were a new branch created during the Great War.
Cristoforo Baseggio. These small units attracted strongly motivated volunteers with higher than average education from the infantry, Bersaglieri, Alpini, artillery, engineers and even Guardia di Finanza. They led assaults, often wearing body armour and carrying wire-cutters. In November the idea of creating permanent companies of fast but heavily armed assault troops was put forward by Capt. Giuseppe Alberto Bassi. It was accepted the following May, and the first experimental company was assembled for training near Gorizia on 12 June Their first successful action was the capture of the village of San Gabriele in early September.
An assault group of Arditi on the Piave front in June The machine gun is a Fiat-Revelli M; cartridge extraction required lubrication by a built-in oil pump a characteristic of later Italian designs. In the left foreground are two examples of the Moschetto da Cavalleria mod. A string around his waist suggests that he wears the British-supplied respirator satchel low on his chest.
Other men in this group wear the haversack, water bottle, and a tent section in a roll around the torso. A noi! We do! An instruction centre was set up at Sdricca di Manzano, and during —18 each army corps raised an Arditi battalion and each infantry regiment an Arditi platoon. Volunteers were selected for their physical and mental toughness, and trained intensively in close quarter combat skills.
After Caporetto a full division of Arditi was formed for the defence of the Piave line, comprising six battalions of Arditi and four of Bersaglieri plus mountain artillery and assault engineers. This formation proved so effective that a second division was raised, to form an Arditi corps.
Captain later Col. The badge was also sometimes stencilled on the Adrian helmet or stitched to its cover; an alternative was simply the Roman unit numerals. The black square, with white Roman unit numerals, was sometimes worn on the shoulder strap. WEAPONS The three-battalion infantry regiment of , with more than 3, men, had just two — or at most, four — machine guns at regimental level.
The Mannlicher-Carcano M Cavalleria had a shortened barrel and a folding integral bayonet, while the M Moschetto per Truppe Speciali had a shortened barrel but a normal bayonet. Special attachments for The Italian Army had entered the war with only machine guns, but had 12, by the end. The main Italian design was the 6. Small numbers of Maxim guns chambered for 6. Designed originally for use in aircraft and vehicles, it weighed 6. The Ansaldo 50 was a larger mortar using a hydraulic recoil system.
The Van Dueren 70 was mounted on a steel and wood carriage with controls to adjust the power of the shot and thus the range. The Minucciani bomb-thrower used centrifugal force to throw a bomb by turning a handle, while simple catapults were similarly used to throw small missiles. Another remarkable mortar was the Maggiora which used aceteline gas as a propellent charge. Later mortars included the large Type , which came in several forms; and some units were issued with British Stokes 81mm trench mortars.
Independent companies of a Machine Gun Corps were formed in April and were deployed at brigade and divisional level two and four companies respectively. These units wore different mostrini on their collars depending upon their weapon types: blue with three vertical white bars for units armed with St Etienne guns, red and white for Fiat-Revellis, and green and white for Maxims — a separate Reparto Autonomo Divisionale Mitraglieri Fiat had red and white patches edged with blue see Plate D2.
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Other mortars were organised into gruppi of three or four batteries, usually with a variety of calibres. These units were formed into larger raggruppamenti, the size of which depended on the tactical situation. There were about batteries and as many autonomous platoons; but much equipment was lost at Caporetto, the surviving troops serving as infantry until it could be replaced. The men using these fearsome weapons were issued with a heat-resistant hood but this was found to be very clumsy.
There were 30 regiments of Italian cavalry, Cavalleria di Linea Nos. The 5th to 10th Regts, 25th and 26th Regts were Lancieri; the 11th to 24th and 27th to 30th were Cavalleggieri light horse. The Mobile Militia included 31 cavalry squadrons which were used as training and reserve cadres, no further cavalry regiments being raised during the Great War. The lancers and light cavalry had a low fur-felt colbacco from the Turkish kalpak with crowned crossed lance and bugle-horn badges respectively; but all traditional cavalry headgear was abolished in combat zones in April , in favour of standard service caps and steel helmets.
It was worn with riding breeches, high leather gaiters and spurred ankle boots. As the war progressed cavalry often acquired the short cape previously issued only to foot troops. Cavalleria di Linea and Lancieri had entire single-colour tunic collars, three with narrow edging of another colour, while the Cavalleggeri had two-colour collars with the contrasting frontal patch terminating in three tails.
Milizia Territoriale di. Cavalleria had scarlet collars and initially wore colbacchi. Mounted troops wore a leather bandolier with two long cartridge pouches on the face see Plate A3. Apart from the adoption of steel helmets and light backpacks, the only changes to cavalry equipment during the war seem to have concerned horse harness.
The cavalry machine gun sections were soon transferred to the infantry, and dismounted machine gun units were formed from cavalry reservists. Two complete cavalry divisions were also dismounted for service at the front in Troopers of one of the four senior cavalry regiments of the Italian Army with AustroHungarian prisoners taken at the capture of Turriaco in The grey fabric helmet cover with the black cross badge peculiar to these regiments — 1 Nizza , 2 Piemonte , 3 Savoia and 4 Genova — is clearly visible.
See Plate A3. Having successfully used armoured cars in Libya, the Italian Army employed them on various fronts during the Great War. Although armed with one machine gun in a turret this was actually an armoured lorry; it was soon abandoned, although a later Fiat model was used by both the Italians and the British in North Africa.
A 4-ton vehicle designed and built by Bianchi also had one machine gun. An Isotto-Fraschini design with one machine gun in a turret and another in the rear was tested in and became available in ; 15 heavily armoured Isotto-Fraschini Tipo RM cars were used during the war. The Italians also obtained two British Lanchesters for use in Libya. The cars and their crews were originally part of the Cavalry Corps, but by summer they were organized in 17 Squadriglie di Automitragliatrici, each with eight machines.
Impressed, the Italian Army asked for more, but these were unavailable.
Instead, in summer. The Ansaldo company had meanwhile designed and constructed a light tank mounting a mm howitzer, while Fiat produced the heavy Fiat ; two of the latter were built in , one being sent to Libya for desert testing. Tank Museum photograph. The Italian Artillery had been restructured since These were augmented with seven batteries of mountain artillery; a horse artillery regiment with two batteries; and two heavy artillery regiments totalling 20 batteries.
Most batteries were, of course, horse-drawn, although two motorised regiments were formed later. There were 52 fortress artillery units at gruppo level with companies, and 40 batteries of siege artillery. The Mobile Militia artillery had 63 batteries, attached to the regimental depots of active regiments.
Structure of the Italian Army in 1974
Nevertheless, artillery remained the weakest arm of the Italian Army at the start of the war. There was a particular shortage of the 65mm mule-borne mountain guns needed in the Alps. The additional 20 mule batteries listed above initially had older 70mm pieces for infantry support; as time brought larger numbers of 65mm guns these were issued to both mountain and mule batteries, of which there were a combined total of by November Late in the war each infantry division received three mm batteries.
Although the equipment of the coastal and fortress artillery regiments was mixed and often obsolete, many of their guns were transferred to the front during the war, provided with motorised tractors. Most of the older pieces were lost in the retreat after Caporetto, and had to be replaced with Italian, French and British types; even so, from an initial strength of 40 batteries the siege artillery increased to batteries by the end of the war, with mm, mm, mm, mm and mm guns; mm and mm howitzers; and mm and mm mortars.
In parallel there was a steady improvement in artillery effectiveness; one example came in September , when long range Italian guns badly damaged the main water-pumping station far behind the Austro-Hungarian front. By the end of they had 25 batteries plus isolated anti-aircraft guns and machineguns mounted for anti-aircraft work. Italian Army engineers were originally organised in four regiments totalling 42 companies in eleven battalions , the individual companies.
It came in several sizes, some of which were designed for the largest guns. Curami photograph. During the war each infantry division received an engineer battalion of three companies, their total number increasing to 78 battalions. The Alpini also had their own specialist corps, the Genio Alpino. During May—September the engineer branch retained the M dark blue uniform, receiving the grigio-verde M from that month.
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Generally speaking, Italian front-line trenches were not as well constructed as those of the Austro-Hungarians, the Italians being almost constantly on the offensive while their enemy was on the defensive. The resulting trenches tended to be shallow, uncomfortable and all too often unsanitary, though some front-line infantrymen and engineers naturally improved these conditions on their own initiative.
The roads constructed by Italian engineers particularly impressed their allies.
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Apart from the autocannoni full teams also included autocassoni for the crews see left , autocarri for the escort, ammunition and baggage, and an autovetture for the commander. The batteries were divided between six autonomous groups, and until these were attached to the general artillery reserve. At the start of the war, as a result of urgent and rapid expansion, the colour of their uniforms varied from unorthodox brownish-grey to standard grey-green — this also being a feature of some volunteer formations.
These support organisations expanded considerably during the course of the war. In November these were dispersed and assigned separately to major formations. The most distinctive aspect of their uniform was a large lucerna tricorn hat which, from December , received a grey-green cloth cover see Plate G2.
They wore infantry tunics with shoulder straps rather than rolls, cavalry trousers with puttees, and mountain boots which — unlike ordinary soldiers — they polished black to a high shine. They were distinguished from ordinary Carabinieri by having oblique pockets on the hips of their jackets, and red epaulettes and collars; some other aspects of their equipment followed that of the four senior cavalry regiments.
One unit was sent to Palestine see Plate H1 , where it served alongside a unit of Bersaglieri; others guarded the Royal Palace in Rome. The militarised Guardia di Finanza customs police had been employed in Libya before the war, and in was reorganised into four combat regiments each of three battalions.
Others served in Italian East Africa. Intelligence and communications troops were drawn from various corps. Despatch riders and staff motorcycle-sidecar drivers used both Italian and British motorcycles. Other forms of communications included radio and telephone, while closer to the front carrier pigeons were used, some of the birds living in motorised pigeon lofts. As a result there was a ban on shooting pigeons throughout the region of Venetia during the war. Their uniforms ranged from orthodox grey-green to a greyish-brown, these being privately made because the men were volunteers.
The Franciscan friar on the left was one of many attached to the Red Cross to offer wounded men spiritual comfort. There was subsequently a major outbreak of cholera and typhus on the Isonzo front. Yet by the time Gen. In Alpini and Bersagieri Ciclisti units these were at company level, while in machine gun units they were at section level. All such men were distinguished by Red Cross armbands. The Sovrano Ordine di Malta the Knights Hospitaller of Malta, of Crusader fame was similarly placed under military discipline for the duration.
The uniforms of both medical organisations were regularised by the Army, though each had its own distinctive ranking structure. In May the Fiat 15ter ambulance car was adopted. More specialised ambulances appeared during the war; by November there were in service, of which were the Fiat 15ter six being radiological versions , while many others were the larger Fiat 18 BLR.
Another volunteer organisation conscripted during the war was the Croce Azzurra Blue Cross which formed a Veterinary Corps. Its uniforms were the same as those of the Medical Corps except for a blue rather than a red cross. Chaplains disappeared from the army in as a result of the Kingdom of Italy seizing the Papal States; nevertheless, some priests still accompanied the army voluntarily.
Equivalent ranks were indicated by the usual silver stars, and silver bands around the pastoral hat. Many chaplains actually accompanied infantry assaults to give the last rites to the dying, while some Franciscan friars were attached to the Medical Corps and Red Cross, presumably for the same purpose. Most were mounted infantry, in three battalions of four companies each, but they included some squadrons of Cacciatori a Cavallo cavalry. Volunteers were preferred, plus reservists drawn from Italian colonists permanently resident in Eritrea.
These troops wore black vulture feathers in their solar topees, fastened to a green woollen pompon, with a white regimental number on a black ground. Much of their equipment was the same as that of the Bersaglieri, though their uniforms were khaki. The indigenous battalions raised in Libya served within Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, the interior province of Fazzan having been lost in The Eritrean battalions were far more reliable, and included men enlisted in Eritrea, Yemen, and Asir in southern Arabia.
They included the original four battalions of ascari infantry, plus four battalions formed in the late 19th century which had been disbanded and then re-created for the invasion of Libya in In fact the Ottoman Turkish surrender meant that this last unit was not required and, like many of the other additional Eritrean battalions, it was disbanded after the war.
There were also cavalry, a camel corps and coastguards. While Italian Somalia was governed by a private trading company, the largest local regular force was the Corpo delle Guardie del Benadir. This was suppressed when the Italian government took over control, its units being restructured and renamed as part of the Regio Corpo di Truppe Indigene. Like the Eritrean battalions, these Somali units were supplied from the military depot in Naples.
During the crisis of the companies were increased to ten, most of the additional men being Arabs recruited from Yemen. One nominally Somali battalion had also been sent to Tripolitania in Libya in These tactics had proved their worth during the Libyan War, and during the Great War Italian naval units fought.
Defence of the Venetian Lagoon and coastal marshes and canals was largely left to naval troops by an inter-service agreement of September These units also provided coastal artillery at the southern end of the Isonzo front. During the retreat after Caporetto much heavy coastal artillery had to be destroyed to prevent it falling into enemy hands. Other guns were withdrawn on pontoons to Venice, some actually bombarding the advancing enemy from the cover of little-known coastal canals. Once the front had stabilised along the Piave river the defence of the Lagoon area was again left to Navy personnel, many guns which had been transferred to the Army now being returned for this task.
Later known as the Reggimento San Marco, it had three battalions, and was tasked with the defence of Venice. Its men were issued with the same equipment as soldiers, including steel helmets, machine guns, gasmasks and hand grenades. Some naval personal served far inland, on and around Lake Garda, especially after the Austro-Hungarian counter-offensive of spring gave the enemy control of the northern tip of the lake.
Following the retreat of late the defences in this area were further strengthened with artillery and armoured cars, while the Navy played a vital role by moving units and weapons around the lake. L'Esercito Italiano verso il - Vol. Primo - Tomo I. Primo - Tomo II. Rome: Comando Trasporti e Materiali dell'Esercito. Retrieved 15 December Presidente della Repubblica Italiana. Esercito Italiano. Retrieved 15 November L'Aviazione dell'Esercito - Dalle origini ai giorni nostri.
Rome: Rivista Militare. Retrieved 28 November La storia della dottrina e degli ordinamenti dell'Esercito Italiano - Vol. Associazione Nazionale Bersaglieri. Retrieved 10 November La storia della dottrina e degli ordinamenti dell'Esercito Italiano. Volume III, Tomo 2, page L'esercito Italiano verso il Volume II, Tomo 2, page Volume I, Tomo 2, page Secondo - Tomo I. Retrieved 3 November Associazione Nazionale Arma di Cavalleria.
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