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Regio Esercito, Conflict Between Theories of Employment

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Background and Preparations

a. The Italian armed forces were faced with a conflict between theories of employment. They had historically been structured for deployment in the mountainous terrain found in Italy and her immediate neighbors. These forces were forced to adapt themselves to a colonial role, and, even more conflicting, to the “War of Rapid Decision.” These theories mixed about as well as oil and water, and Italy lacked the industrial power and the raw materials to field forces able to meet all these needs. She even lacked the means to be a major power in a modern industrial war.

b. All Italy’s plans and preparations had been made for war against Germany/Austria, France, and Yugoslavia. Industry and trade had traditional ties with Britain, France, and the U.S. This was so prevalent that the geography section of the officer’s qualifying exam (tests prior to consideration for promotion) included the border areas with France, Switzerland, Austria, and Yugoslavia. The characteristics of the armies of these nations were also covered. Africa was ignored.

c. One faction of the army wanted an alpine oriented army. In a 1937 conference on the future of armor, a ranking general said, “The tank is a powerful tool, but let us not idolize it; let us reserve our reverence for the infantryman and the mule.” This group saw “Men, our indisputable resource,” not machines. They came close to the philosophy of French Col. de Grandmaison and believed in “mind over matter.” This meant that the solution for any tactical problem was a mass of infantry.

d. Architect of the mechanized concept was Gen Federico Baistrocchi (CoS during Ethiopia. Gen Alberto Pariani succeeded him. This faction developed an innovative theory of manuever warfare in restrictive terrain. The “La Guerra di Rapido Corso” was adopted as doctrine in 1938. These men then found themselves in charge of an army that was not organized, equipped, or trained for the type of warfare envisioned. They found themselves in charge of an army wherein a large percentage of senior officers opposed the accepted doctrine. They also found themselves in charge of an army with its reserve officers lacking any training and experience in the new doctrine.

Doctrine

A. General-A “war of rapid decision” was intended. Its chief features were supposed to be-
1) Celeri divisions, designed for exploitation and reconnaissance.
2) Tank brigades, designed for penetration, encirclement, and exploitation.
3) Motorized divisions, designed for rapid maneuver over a wide range and for the reinforcement of mechanized or fast moving units. This new doctrine emphasized that surprise, speed, intensity, sustained action, and flexibility of plan allowing for unforeseen contingencies were the basic factors for a successful action.

B. Main policies-In an effort to obtain the requirements for victory, the Italian combat effort was to become predicated upon the following policies:
(1) Enormously increased firepower.
(2) Opposition to hostile fire by combined fire and movement.
(3) Direction of fire mass against the sector of least resistance to achieve rapid penetration and to permit subsequent flanking movement.
(4) Simultaneous fire and movement with supporting artillery fire to neutralize enemy effort.
(5) Substantially independent exercise of command except as regards reserve employment and artillery support.

C. Comparison of doctrines-Italian doctrine denied maneuver at division level and instead expected manuever to be controlled by corps and armies. This was even more unusual because great stress was placed on manuever and initiative by lower units. Earlier doctrine placed its trust in numbers. Doctrine proclaimed the absolute primacy of the infantry, but did stress the necessity of infantry-artillery integration. Armor was envisioned as an infantry support weapon. Light tanks were to operate with horse cavalry squadrons. The new idea of the decisive war, a war of manuever using flanking attacks rather than frontal assault, pointed toward major changes in the future. The concept was one of rapid advance by truck or bicycle-borne infantry hordes, backed by road-bound artillery and 3.5-ton tankettes.

D. Doctrine- A 1938 circular signaled the adoption of this doctrine of high-speed mobile warfare as the official strategic and tactical concept of the Italian army. La Guerra di Rapido Corso (the war of rapid course) would be a war of manuever, using what Liddell Hart had called the strategy of the indirect approach. The army would manuever against the flank of the enemy. Mechanized and airborne weapons would be important aspects of war. Exploitation by motorized forces would follow the use of the maximum mass available to break the enemy line. Weaknesses of equipment and fuel would prevent this doctrine from being fully effective.

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I created Comando Supremo: Italy at War in 2000 because of the the limited amount of information on Italian forces in WWII that was available online. Thanks to people like you, this site has grown to what it is today. Thank you for visiting and please bookmark the site!
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