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The Bologna Division: 19 November – 10 December, 1941

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Enemy pressure continued at El Gazala and met with vigorous Italian resistance. Italians passed to counter-attack along the whole line“. (The New York Times, 16 December 1941 )

So, on the afternoon of 15 December, the Ariete with some 30 M13′s and with Bersaglieri motorcycle troops in close support, counterattacked along with the remaining 23 tanks of the 15th Panzer Division, and the attack was successful as the 1st Battalion, The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) and other troops of the 5th Indian Brigade lost over 1,000 men killed, wounded or taken prisoners. (Greene & Massignani, p 126; Ronald Lewin, p. 93)

On 16 December, the Deputy Commander of the 102nd Trento, Brigadier-General Giulio Borsarelli di Rifredo, was reportedly killed in an Allied air attack on the Gazala Line. He had been in overall command of the Trento briefly, as the actual commander, Major-General Luigi Nuvoloni was needed elsewhere in the fighting. He was Italy’s seventh general to be killed so far in the war. (7th Italian General Dies, The Baltimore Sun, 24 December 1941)

On 16 December, a Rome communique reporting on the capture of ‘the Buffs on the 15th claimed that:

Italian motorized and armored divisions with the support of large German units fought with extreme tenacity and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. Many armored units were set on fire and destroyed. Prisoners were numerous and included a brigade commander“. (The New York Times, 17 December 1941 )

The ‘brigade commander’ mentioned above, was in actuality the commanding officer of ‘the Buffs’, a full colonel who had been wounded in the action and is reportedly to have said in his last report to divisional headquarters, “I am afraid this is the last time I shall speak to you. They are right on top of my headquarters now.” (Alexander G. Clifford, p. 205)

General Fedele de Giorgis’ 55th Savona Infantry Division did not surrender until 17 January 17 1942. Of the commander of the Italian division, Rommel reported, “Superb leadership was shown by the Italian General de Giorgis, who commanded this German-Italian force in its two months’ struggle.”

The fighting had at last come to an end. The Axis forces suffered 2,300 killed (1,200 Italians and 1,100 Germans), 6,100 wounded (2,700 Italians and 3,400 Germans) and 29,900 captured (19,800 Italians and 10,100 Germans), compared with British and Commonwealth losses of 2,900 killed, 7,300 wounded and 7,500 captured.

Rommel of course blamed the Italians for losing the battle, and Generalmajor Ludwig Crüwell criticized Gambara for not rousing into action the exhausted Italians on 6 December.”Where is Gambara?”, he is reported to have mockingly said that day “in clear” to Rommel repeatedly. But the truth of the matter is that he had himself disregarded an order from Rommel to deliver a knockout blow against the New Zealanders in the early fighting on the Tobruk front, saying that his men were too tired and without provisions to be able to carry out the mission, even though radio intercepts would’ve told him that the New Zealanders holding the Tobruk corridor were running desperately low on ammunition. Nor should one overlook the fact that the Italian soldiers in North Africa had nothing to sustain them in the fighting, but their regimental pride and patriotism. On the other hand, the The Deutsche Afrika Korps (DAK), supplied with luxuries such as genuine coffee beans, wine and beer, reportedly took energy tablets and performance-enhancing drugs to to keep them going, such as the 100,000 amphetamine tablets that Rommel is reported to have issued out to German units in time for the final showdown at Alamein. (Alexander G. Clifford, p.196; Nicolas Rasmussen, p.70) This in no way diminishes the fighting spirit and achievements of the DAK, but helps put things in perspective, however annoying it may be to some.

Article By: David Aldea (anurom@hotmail.com) and Joseph Peluso (giupel@inwind.it)

David Aldea is also the co-author of 5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands (Leo Cooper, 2003) and has written numerous articles, including “Blood and Mud at Goose Green” (Military History Magazine, April 2002). He has also written “The Battle of Mersa Matruh” and “First Battle of Alamein” for Comando Supremo: Italy at War.

Joseph Peluso is a graduate accountant but now retired. A former boy scout, he hasn’t given up that passion and is now a scout leader for adults. He is also a military history buff fascinated with the role of the 25th “Bologna” Motorised Division in North Africa. He is currently writing a book about his father, Carmine Peluso who served in the 40th “Bologna” Infantry Regiment as an NCO and was decorated.

References :? The Desert Rats: 7th Armoured Division 1940-45, Robin Neillands, p. 86, Aurum Press Ltd, 2005; Operation Crusader 1941: Rommel in Retreat, Ken Ford, p. 40, Osprey Publishing, 2010; The Conquest of North Africa 1940 to 1943, Alexander G. Clifford, pp. 161,191 & 196, Kessinger Publishing, 2005; Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War, 1939-45: The Relief of Tobruk, Walter Edward Murphy, p.94, War History Branch, 1961; German Experiences in Desert Warfare During World War II, in 2 volumes, Generalmajor Alfred Toppe and 9 others, Combat Studies Institute/Combined Arms Research Library, 1952; Of Myths ad Men: Rommel and the Italians in North Africa, James J. Sadkovich, pp. 298-299, The International History Review, 1991; The Rise of the Wehrmacht, in 2 volumes, Samuel W. Mitcham, p.550, Praeger 2008, The Longest Siege: Tobruk-The Battle that saved North Africa, Robert Lyman, p.269, Macmillan, 2009; Inside The Afrika Korps: The Crusader Battles, 1941-1942, Rainer Kriebel & Bruce Gudmundsson, Greenhill Books, 1999; Rommel’s North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1941, Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani, pp. 116, 121, 126 & 122, Da Capo Press, 1999; The Rommel Papers, Basil H. Liddell Hart et al, pp. 167-168, De Capo Press, 1953; The Life and death of the Afrika Korps, Ronald Lewin, p. 113, Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co, 1977; Chronology, New Zealand in the War, Robin Kay, p.37, Historical Publications Branch, 1968; Infantry Brigadier, Howard Kippenbergerp, 101, Oxford University Press, 1949; The Encyclopedia of Codenames of World War, Christopher Chant, p.37, Routledge & Kegan Paul Books Ltd, 1987; The History of the 4th Armoured Brigade, Brigadier R. M. P. Carter, p.24, Merriam Press, 2000; The Forgotten Axis: Germany’s Partners and Foreign Volunteers in World War II, J. L. Ready, pp. 313-314, Jefferson,1987; Crusader: Eighth Army’s Forgotten Victory, November 1941-January 1942, Richard Humble, p. 187, Leo Cooper, 1987; Rommel as Military Commander, Ronald Lewin, pp. 71 & 93, Barnes & Noble Incorporated, 1998; Salute to Service, A History of the Royal New Zealand Corps of Transport and its Predecessors, 1860-1966, Julia Millen, Victoria Univeristy Press, 1997 & On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine, Nicolas Rasmussen, p.70, New York University Press, 2008)

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David Aldea is the co-author of 5th Infantry Brigade in the Falklands (Leo Cooper, 2003) and has written numerous articles, including “Blood and Mud at Goose Green” (Military History Magazine, April 2002). He has also written "The Battle of Mersa Matruh" and "First Battle of Alamein" for Comando Supremo: Italy at War.
David Aldea
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Comments

  1. 3
    Reno Piscano says:

    Great work on both authors, once again too much for the rubbish writen about the latin temperament in time of war. I am half Italian/Portuguese and very proud of that. I am a lot proud of our boys that fought with great heroism in both Russia and North Africa. I am still waiting for my order of SACRIFICE IN THE STEPPES writen by an American Hope Hamilton. Completely sold out! Anyway this work is very important for me because it proves ordinary Italians fought very hard and that the Africa Corps get too much mention at the cost of the Italians. Our boys did at least half the fighting and obtained many military achievements in Egypt and Tunisia.

  2. 2
    paul mancuso says:

    As I have argued elsewhere, Rommel and the German forces recieve all the laurels while the Italians are portrayed as their sidekicks. Shame to see the Germans stealing the trucks of the Italians in order to make a rapid getaway, but they did the same thing during the final battle at Alamein, leaving the Italians behind to cover the backsides. The same thing happened again at Kasserine. I hope to see a book written by this guy.

  3. 1
    Peppe Peluso says:

    Hello David
    Really a wonderful article.
    Ciao. Peppe