Italian Co-Belligerent Army

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The Italian Co-Belligerent Army (Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano), or the Army of the South (Esercito del Sud), was the army of the Italian Royalist forces fighting on the side of the Allies during World War II. The Italian Co-Belligerent Army was formed in southern Italy after the Allied armistice with Italy was declared on September 8, 1943; King Victor Emmanuel III had dismissed Benito Mussolini as Prime Minister in July 1943 following the Allied invasion of Southern Italy, and had nominated Marshal of Italy (Maresciallo d'Italia) Pietro Badoglio instead.

The Italian soldiers of the Co-Belligerent Army no longer fought for Mussolini or for the Axis. Their allegiance was to King Victor Emmanuel and to the Allies. In many regards, the Italian Co-Belligerent Army was a reorganized version of the Royal Italian Army (Regio Esercito).

Formation

On 28 September 1943, the Italian Co-Belligerent Army began when its first military unit was formed in tented reorganization camps near Lecce. Some of the first soldiers in this unit had just barely managed to escape internment by the Germans.1 In accordance with Royal Army Order 70/V, the Italian First Motorized Combat Group (1• Raggruppamento Motorizzato) was created. The unit included elements of two divisions of the old Italian Royal Army: The 18 Infantry Division Messina and the 58 Infantry Division Legnano2 The First Motorized Combat Group had a strength of 295 officers and 5,387 men.

The first action of the First Motorized Combat Group was in the Cassino sector at Monte Lungo. This action did much to remove the Allied distrust of the Italian soldiers fighting on their side.3 The unit suffered heavy casualties and performed well enough.2

Following service with the American 5th Army and re-organization, the First Motorized Combat Group was transferred to the Polish II Corps on the extreme left of the British 8th Army.3

Italian liberation corps

On 17 April 1944, the formation (now 22,000 men strong) assumed the name Italian Liberation Corps (Corpo Italiano di Liberazione, or CIL). The continuous influx of volunteers made it necessary to form further formations.3 The CIL was organized in two new divisions: The "Nembo" and the "Utili." The "Nembo" Division was formed around the old Royal Army's parachute division of the same name. The "Utili" Division was formed around the First Motorized Combat Group and was named after its commander, General Umberto Utili. In early 1944, a 5,000 man force of Italians fought on the Gustav Line around Monte Cassino and acquitted itself well. The Italians once again suffered heavy casualties.2

Italian Co-Belligerent Army from late 1944 to 1945

After the battle of Filottrano (July 1944), Italian troops were sent to the rear lines to rest and re-train. In the meantime they were re-kitted with standard British/Commonwealth equipment including Battle Dress uniforms and helmets (mostly new and not taken off corpses as hearsay sometimes has it).

By early 1945 the CIL had outgrown itself. It was used as the nucleus for six separate Combat Groups (Gruppi di Combattimento): "Cremona", "Legnano", "Friuli", "Mantova", "Piceno", and "Folgore". Each Combat Group was the equal to a weak division and was equipped with British uniforms, materiel and weapons. The established strength for each was 432 officers, 8,578 other rank, 116 field guns, 170 mortars, 502 light machine guns, and 1,277 motor vehicles. The Combat Groups were given the names of old Royal Army divisions and followed the component numbering system of the component regiments to some extent.2 These groups were attached to various American and British formations on the Gothic Line. The following is the "order of battle" of the Italian Co-Belligerent Army as of April 19454

Combat groups

Each infantry regiment fielded three infantry battalions, a mortar company armed with British ML 3 inch mortars and an anti-tank company armed with British QF 6 pounder guns. The artillery regiments consisted of four artillery groups with British QF 25 pounder guns, one anti-tank group with British QF 17 pounder guns and one anti-air group armed with British versions of the Bofors 40mm gun.

Auxiliary divisions

In addition to the Combat Groups the Italian Co-belligerent Army included also a force of 8 Auxiliary Divisions (Divisioni Ausiliarie, largely intended to perform labouring and second lined duties), around 200,000 men strong, largely employed by the Allies in various support and logistical activities, those auxiliary units were the following:

  • 205th Division (assigned to US Army Air Forces Command in the Mediterranean)
    • 51 Gruppo Aviazione (Infantry and AA Artillery Air Force Regiment)
    • 52 Gruppo Aviazione (Infantry and AA Artillery Air Force Regiment)
    • 53 Gruppo Aviazione (Infantry and AA Artillery Air Force Regiment)
    • 54 Gruppo Aviazione (Infantry and AA Artillery Air Force Regiment)
    • 55 Gruppo Aviazione (Infantry and AA Artillery Air Force Regiment)
  • 209th Division (in support of the British 1st District)
  • 210th Division (assigned to US Fifth Army)
  • 212th Division, the largest of the Auxiliary Divisions, at its heights its complements exceeded 44,000 men operating in an assigned area of operations extended from Naples to Pisa and Livorno
  • 227th Division (in support of the British 3rd District)
  • 228th Division (assigned to UK Eighth Army)
  • 230th Division (in support of the British forces)
    • 541 Infantry, Coast Artillery and AA Artillery Regiment
    • 403 Pioneer and labour Regiment (Engineer Corps)
    • 404 Pioneer and labour Regiment (Engineer Corps)
    • 406 Pioneer and labour Regiment (Engineer Corps)
    • 501 Security Battalion
    • 510 Security Battalion
    • 514 Security Battalion
    • XXI Supply trains Group (Gruppo salmerie, a Regiment size unit)
  • 231st Division (assigned to British XIII Corps of the US Fifth Army)

On the whole the Italian Co-Belligerent Army made up 1/8 of the fighting force and 1/4 of the entire force of 15th Army Group of the Allied Forces.5

Internal security divisions

Not directly dependent from the Allied Headquarters in Italy the Co-Belligerent Army also deployed three Internal Security Divisions (Divisioni di Sicurezza Interna) for internal security duties:

Italian Army

In 1946, the Kingdom of Italy became the Italian Republic. In a similar manner, what had been the royalist Co-Belligerent Army simply became the Italian Army (Esercito Italiano).

Famous members

See also

References

  1. ^ Holland, Italy's Sorrow, p. 53
  2. ^ a b c d Jowett, The Italian Army 1940-43 (3), p. 24
  3. ^ a b c Mollo, The Armed Forces of World War II, p. 100
  4. ^ "Order of Battle: Italian Co-Belligerent Forces". Military History Network. 11 March 2004. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  5. ^ Fatutta, Francesco: "L'Esercito nella Guerra di Liberazione (1943-1945)", Rivista Italiana Difesa, n°8 Agosto 2002, pag. 82-94.

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