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Camicie Nere (The MVSN & CCNN Combat Units)

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The “Third” Infantry Regiment idea

Experience in the Greek Campaign in 1940 quickly showed the weakness of the Italian formations, exposing the error of adopting a Binary organization. Italy had, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, reorganized its Infantry Divisions to a new establishment of only 2 Regiments each (hence the Binary term). Effectively this allowed them to significantly increase the number of Divisions, but (in retrospect) at a cost in fighting power – it was clearly proved that Infantry Divisions of only 6 Battalions simply did not have enough resources, either on offense or defense. This became evident in Greece where as soon as a Division was heavily involved and had significant casualties it was forced to pull out of the line due to lack of manpower, it was further evident in 1941 in North Africa where during the 2nd Siege of Tobruk (1941) there were not enough troops to rotate units in and out of the front line.

This therefore indirectly supported Mussolini’s call, and it began to be envisaged that the Black Shirt Legions would become the third Regiment of each Division. At this time, Mussolini still envisaged the CCNN Legions as Elite Shock troops who would spearhead the attack. The third regiment idea eventually failed, it was 1942 before the incorporation was completed, and the mobilization effort was inadequate. Black Shirt units generally failed to reach anywhere near their official establishments (not that many regular army units were any better), and although the Army eventually conceded (admitting it had no choice due to a desperate need for manpower) it was still obstinate and unenthusiastic about the system. Furthermore the separate division idea had been somewhat discredited by the results in North Africa – which was an unfair indictment of the troops that had fought in those divisions. Although in that case, everyone ignored the fact that the fault lay just as equally with the Army (who failed to supply adequate modern equipment) and Mussolini (who forced the campaign to begin despite such obvious shortcomings)!

By late in 1942 there had been 41 Legions incorporated into Army Divisions, despite the fact that many were well below strength. By this time, however CCNN battalions were being withdrawn from first line divisions just as quickly. Usually because their training and leadership was not up to a suitable standard, but also occasionally because of poor performance in actual combat situations. Some were caught in an Italian Army Merry-Go-Round and were ceaselessly transferred from one Division to another. Finally, some of the better battalions were given independent assignments as GHQ, Army, or Corps troops, to be attached to Army units as and when required.

The “M” Battalions

During all this confusion the better units were being built up into respectable combat groups. They were given the designation M alongside their names in the Army OOB to indicate their status; that they had received specialist assault and combat training, or had proven themselves in combat and had received a battlefield promotion to this status. The M may have stood for Mussolini, since the insignia was actually designed to match the Duce’s handwriting (although it has been suggested by one author it stood for Morte – Death).
Russia – CCNN units on the Eastern Front

In August 1941 the Gruppo Battaglioni Tagliamento CCNN arrived on the Eastern Front, followed by the Raggruppamento 23 March CCNN in February 1942, and the Raggruppamento 3 January CCNN (which incorporated the Tagliamento Gruppo);later in 1942. For more information on these units, see the separate article on CCNN M units. By early 1943, these units had all been destroyed during the Soviet Winter Offensive, the few survivors having returned to Italy.

Sicily – The last large scale use of CCNN units

When the Allies came to invade Sicily in 1943 CCNN units were a significant presence in the defending force. The following is a list of the CCNN units present:

Included in the 26th Assietta Division
17th CCNN Legion, with:
18th Constantissima CCNN Battalion

Detached from above division to the Campobello (or Licata) Group
259th CCNN MG Company
17th Cremona CCNN Battalion

Detached from 28th Aosta Division to the Alcamo-Partinico Group
171st CCNN Legion, with:
168th Ibla CCNN Battalion
171st Vespri CCNN Battalion

Included in the 54th Napoli Division
173rd CCNN Legion, with:
(No troops)

Detached from the 54th Napoli Division to the Comiso-Ispica Group
174th CCNN MG Company
173rd Salso CCNN Battalion

Detached from the 54th Napoli Division to Mobile Group G

169th Siracusae CCNN Battalion

Assigned to Reggio Calabria, Messina Naval Base
95th CCNN Legion, with:
94th Fedele CCNN Battalion
95th Sante Ceccharini CCNN Battalion

Assigned to Pantelleria Island Garrison
Elements of the 9th Milmart Legion, CCNN Coastal Artillery, with:
1 Artillery Battalion
1 AA Battalion
1 AAMG Battalion
20 AA/Anti Ship Batteries

Assigned to Lampedusa Island Garrison
6th Milmart Independent Artillery Battalion (CCNN), with:
6 x light AA/Anti Ship Batteries

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  1. Hi!
    I have a Round Copper Pendant that I think was from the Black Shirts. It is about 1″ Diameter with a Chain Hole at the Top. On one Side it has a Palm Tree, a Knife “X” on the handel on Top of (3)-Spears, and the Words “270 LEGIONC CCNN LIBICA INVINCIBILC”. On the other Side, it has a Map with (3) Places called “TRAPANI”, “AGRIGENTO” & “CNNA”. Around the Perimeter it has “VAMPA”FRECCE” & “LPVI”. The Map has (2) Arrows to the Right Side and (2) what looks like to me, “Long Dog Heads with their Mouths Open”.
    I have been trying to find out what this is since I have had it. It was in with some things that my Father had and was past down to me when he Past. My Dad was in WWII so, if that helps please let me know!

  2. In the text about the “M” battalions it reads; “For further reading on the M units see the separate article on this website.”

    But I can’t find this article anywhere?

    Thanks in advance,

    • Glenning – This was John Moher’s article and it probably pertained to his website. I no longer have his email address to assist you. The text has now been deleted.

  3. Dan Montagano says:

    I would like to note that there is an omission in the list of CCNN units that served in Yugoslavia. The 81st CCNN battalion was active there and took part in battles fought against the Udarne Brigade at Dolnij Poloj during October of 1942. Incidentally, this was also the setting for the last Cavalry charge ever mounted by the Italian Army. And finally, the 81st battalion was designated a “M” battalion shortly before being sent to Yugoslavia.

    • I have discussed this RedShirt issue here before.The wife says that this is the name that the M Battalion soldiers identified themselves as.They were proud of it.