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Were the Italians really that bad???

#1 User is offline   sergemaster 

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Posted 15 February 2004 - 01:23 AM

My question is this to the forum and hopefully it can finally be answered with such a collection of Italian war historians so:

WERE THE ITALIANS REALLY THAT BAD??

Out of all the armies of the combatants axis and allied that served in W.W.2 none have been so pummeled and the brunt of so many jokes as much as the Italian Armed forces have. (Churchill once referred to the American Army in 1942 as "Our Italians").

True they had bad leaders, antiquated equipment,(so did the French) and were never an industrial country as Germany or even the USSR but an agrarian one.

The Italian soldier still was brave and was capable of extreme feats of courage. So WHY do they continue to get a bad rap? :x Were they really that bad??? :?:





ANOI!!
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#2 User is offline   Bearcat 

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Posted 15 February 2004 - 02:57 AM

RUSSIA

August - Russians near Serafimovich launch a counterattack against the Italians holding the Don River in the hope of holding back the advances to Stalingrad. The Italians were outnumbered yet told to stand their ground and fight to the end. They eventually beat back the Russian tanks with Molotov cocktails. The battle in Serafimovich cost the Italians 1,700 men, but capture 1,600 Russian POW's and many small arms.

August 24 - With the victory in Serafimovich, the Italian Savoia Cavalry made up of 600 men mounted a counter attack on the Isbuschenski steppe. The Russian's comprised of 2,000 men with mortar and artillery support. One squadron attacked head on, while the other came behind the enemy lines on horseback and possessing only sabers. They completely catch the Soviets by surprise and overrun the Russian position.
Italian calvary gearing for an attack in Soviet Union

This was one of the last calvary attacks of World War II and resulted in the destruction of 2 Soviet battalions, another battalion forced to withdraw and the netting of 500 POW's, 4 large artillery pieces, 10 Mortars, and 50 machine guns.
this is of the 1942 section of this site, bravery was definatly NOT a question-The Bearcat
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#3 User is offline   pg 

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Posted 15 February 2004 - 02:21 PM

Here we go again!! The italians got a bad rap because they never actually won a battle on their own, for the reasons youve given. The list of reasons why Italian forces performed badly goes on and on.....poor... officer/troop relations, training, logistics, generals, equipment, motivation to be in WW2, tactics. On top of this there was constant interference from Rome. Italian troops that were properly trained, motivated and led performed well without decent equipment. Apart from the examples above, look at the Ariete division in N.Africa, the Grenadiers at Keren (which British troops described as tougher than the legendary battle for Monte Cassino), Alpini in Russia, the human torpedo pilots, the Folgore in N.Africa and finally the Acqui division in Cephalonia.
Half the problem was down to the outrageous boasts Mussolini had made about what his forces were going to do, that turned out exactly the opposite. The average Italian soldier had no real motivation to fight in WW2....the French should have been the jokers in the pack, they were fighting for their country and did just as badly!
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#4 User is offline   bayeux44 

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Posted 15 February 2004 - 03:56 PM

Nice list, pg.

I don't think anyone doubts the bravery of the Italian soldier in the face of not only the enemy, but all the idiocies they had to put up with on their own side, from lack of training and equipment to mediocre generals.

Two of you compared the Italian army to the French.... The French situation is more straightforward. They lost in 1940 for two reasons -- bad tactics and bad leadership. It's actually a myth that the French lacked modern equipment. They were fully industrialized and had as many quality tanks as the Germans did, though their air force was inferior. But instead of grouping their tanks together, they wasted them by dispersing them and using them as defensive infantry support. As for their leaders, the political leaders were indecisive if not panicked, and the generals were worse -- all-out defeatist.

Getting back to the main point... got any opinions about why the Italian army was so unprepared for war in 1940 despite a good decade of propaganda? All words and no real preparation? Was Mussolini that out of touch with reality? What happened?
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#5 User is offline   SM79Sparviero 

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Posted 15 February 2004 - 04:28 PM

The war in 1940 was for Mussolini and Italy nothing more than a risky opportunistic bet on third reich with the hope that the german blitzkrieg would have finished the war within few months.
This was only one of the errors made by the Duce after the spanish civil war.He lost the bet and payed and many italians payed together with him.

Italy would have been ready for a world war maybe in the last months of 1942 after two years of good training for all the troops and not only for frogmen, airborne troops , alpini and others that were all elite troops, and with weapons as Reggiane-2005 Piaggio P-133 and motorjet systems, tanks p-40 and P-43, two more Littorio battleships and two aircraft carriers, Regolo cruisers and Comandanti destroyers and DETE radar.

We would have been READY and Italian armed forces would have been as hard as Japanese ones, nothing more.

It doesn't mean that we could win a war against British Empire and USA.

Italo Balbo after his flight to USA realized that nobody in Europe could face USA in a war when he saw the enormous telephone book of New York and the number of industrial groups!He took the book back to Italy and showed it to Mussolini and told him his opinion but he was not listened.
Brindando Li Affondo
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#6 User is offline   Dominick 

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Posted 15 February 2004 - 05:08 PM

We were so unprepared in 1940 for one reason was that we had been engaged in a war somewhere since 1935. 35-36 Ethipopian confilict. 36-39 Spanish civil war. Italy was Bankrupt at this point and lacking in ungraded equipemnt and tactics we used that were successful in Spain and believed would work in WW2 turned out to be ineffective, Such as the air warfare docuturine and the belief that bi-planes could outmatch the monoplane. The Italians wouldve been better off waiting til 1942 to enter like was planned and Promised by Hitelr that they would wiat til then. We entered the conflict thinking it would be over in a matter of weeks. We were not ready to fight a war until 1945.
Dominick
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#7 User is offline   Viva Grazian 

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 09:30 AM

Lacked Bravery? Not.

But they lacked everything else, so the allies feared the Italian Army as Mussolini costantly boasted over his "powerful Army" yet when they met at the battles they realized this was not true. And so the Italian Propaganda backfired.
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#8 User is offline   Frank 

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 02:36 PM

I think that basically all is due to the old (mostly anglo-saxon) prejudices about the medium Italian, seen as "spaghetti eating" loudly quarelling anf incapable of any form of discipline due to its individualism.
As any other prejudice, these ones (created when millions of poor Italians left Italy as emigrants and encountered other ways of life) are hard-die. During the war, initially Italy was not well prepared for the first battles (N.A. 1940, Greece 1940) and this produced the first good news for G.B. in two years of war (during which the British also suffered several defeats but had more time to prepare for further battles).

If we analyze the following defeats of Italian army till 1943 we could notice that all are due to overwhelming forces (El Alamein, Tunisia, Russia). In all these cases the Italians fought well but they were eventually defeated. So before May 1943 Italy had 3 armies defeted (because outnumbered) in about 4 months and when the invasion of Sicily arrived almost all Italian people realistically knew that the war was lost. This explains the reason for the surrender of Pantelleria (but after a 5.000 tons bombing) and for the (relatively, as anyway more than 15.000 allies and axis soldiers were killed) weak defence of Sicily. At this point is largely a matter of opinion to judge this behavior as clever realism or unrealistic lacking of bravery.

Then the 8 Settembre, followed by lack of command, confusion,, etc. Obviously the prejudices were more and more strengthened!!!
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#9 User is offline   Ennio 

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 04:42 PM

Well, all too true, but in my view the real reason for the concentration of Allied propaganda (especially the British) on the pretended cowardice of the Italians had its roots in prejudices going as far back as the Protestant Reformation....... But not without the added benefit of providing British syimpathizer among the Italian top ranks (and there were many) with a good excuse for the defeats they suffered due to shear incompetence, if not worse.... :lol:
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#10 User is offline   JulioMoc 

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 06:22 PM

Well, of course you can't believe everything the history books say. Don't forget: history is written by the winners. That's why Stalin isn't heated as Hitler; today, Stalin is a war hero (some desagrements are just appearing now). Without him, I REALLY don't believe that england and USA could win the war. Without 80% of the Wehrmacht burried in Russia, victory would not come as easy. The Russian Leader is a major war criminal, but none deares to accuse him. Well, that's how things are.
Italian cowardice was so spread out by Churchill because his people needed something to use as target, to reduce the pressure of so many defeats. Until 1942 Britain had only defeats, look: they lost France, Greece, Scandinavia, Hong Kong, Cingapura; they were threatned in Egypt, Middle East, Australia, India, Malta, etc.
So, an (unfortunately) under-equiped and mislead army fell from the sky and became just what they needed to improve moral.
Concluding, a declaration of war in 1942 would definately be more effective. Even because the Japanese wouldn't have the inspiration for Pearl Harbor attack because the italian fleet would still be intact at Taranto. USA would continued neutral. Italo Balbo would still be alive.
Julio
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#11 User is offline   Ennio 

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 06:42 PM

Well, who guarantees that in '42 the main shortcoming of the Royal Army , e.g. the crass ignorance of its upper echelons, would have been resolved? Two years of second hand experience would not have tought them much more than what they should have known already in 1940....
After all, by then the Army had fought in Ethiopia with mixed results, in Spain (where they could have learned the use of mixed tank-infantry formations from the Germans) again with mixed results....and they had invaded Albania in '39, in an operation that turned to be a logistic disaster even without opposition.
I always had a feeling that with two more years, they would have gone on waisting resources, for example building more and more forts around Tripoli (which were never used) instead of doubling the piers of the harbour, halving the unloading time, etc.
Proper unit traning, together with the rudiments of decent staff work,was born out of the disasters of 1940, and both paid handsomely in '41 and '42, in places as different as the Donetz and Bir el Gobi.
Had the Staff gone on ignoring the recommendation of our Military Attaché in Berlin, 1940 or 1942 would not have made the slightest difference, with or without better weapons
Italy did not need RE 2005 in 1940, nor heavy tanks, as the British forces in Egypt had nothing of the sort. What Italy needed was BRAINS :lol:
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#12 User is offline   Veltro 

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 07:43 PM

same old question's . reaserching Italys participation in the war has been quite enlightening to say the least.
Italian aircraft in Aftrica typicaly had only half full tanks...lack of flying time therfore lack of...kills.
Italian tank divsions surendering en masse (as discused in another post) no gas no go.
Card board soled shoes, summer dress in Russia, mountains of Greece equal disaster.
The rest is infered or part of history
The French story is completly different. It is one of Nazi colaboration (not including Vichy), indiference and downright cowardice.

Logistics and planning failed the Italian soldier. The Italian soldier did not.

Eddy
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#13 User is offline   pg 

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 07:59 PM

Churchill and the British in general rubbished the Italians during the war partly because Churchill had always quite admired Mussolini and didnt truly think he would pitch in with Germany who had always been the natural enemy. Mussolinis overblown boasts didnt help either. As has already been stated Britains first real victory of the war was against Italy in N. Africa and it was all the sweeter because it was so overwhelming against a country who most people (in Britain) thought had betrayed them. There are a lot of people in Britain who still hold a grudge against Germany, but virtually everyone loves Italy, and with the exception of those war years always have done! I think its down to the flair, style and passion that the average Briton doesnt have. Theyre even getting good at rugby these days!!!!!!!
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#14 User is offline   Veltro 

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 09:13 PM

unfortunately there were no choices left to the Italians given certain members of the Britsh gov who were openly hostile to them. Of course the Germans/Austrians were/are our natural enemy.An alliance with them was ridiculous.
You really can't fault most people for buying into propaganda since there is so little in written in English to refute it. Personaly I have stumble across information here and there and took leads from what has been written. The last bit about planes with half filled tanks came from the proverbial "horses mouth" a ground crewman who fought in Africa and them Italy.

Eddy
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#15 User is offline   pg 

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 09:53 PM

There are always choices.....Britain would have welcomed Italy with open arms if she had declared against Germany in 1940. But Mussolini saw territories and conquest despite his misgivings.
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#16 User is offline   Veltro 

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Posted 16 February 2004 - 09:55 PM

Hi pg, am at disadvantage here am at work. have many refernces at home will review and try to develop discusion.

Eddy
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#17 User is offline   Viva Grazian 

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Posted 17 February 2004 - 05:55 PM

pg said:

There are always choices.....Britain would have welcomed Italy with open arms if she had declared against Germany in 1940. But Mussolini saw territories and conquest despite his misgivings.


Thats not the exact reason for which Mussolini allied with Germany.

As a matter of fact Italy would have never declared war on anybody before 1942 according to everyones knowledge of history. However the reasons are very economical, and Mussolini almost managed not to get involved until late in the war, his first "Victory" in doing this was because of his "ridicolous" request of help.

6.000.000 tons of coal
2.000.000 tons of steel
7.000.000 tons of petroleum
1.000.000 tons of wood

And those are just the big numbers there were also little requests (which were not really "little" we are still talking thousands of tons)

Mussolini expected Hitler not to be able to comply with this request for rearmament and it was true. And to make sure it would be impossible, it requested it to be immediatly.

Of course the answer was no. Because even though they might be able to send it. Transports were impossible for this materials.

At the same time Mussolini was enraged because of the Molotov-Ribentropp pact, the cooperation between Nazi`s and Soviets he send a message to Hitler to this regard.

He also was trying to find a way (along with Ciano) to destroy the forged pact.

However, he did not manage this. What was worse is the credit that Italy had to Germany, they raised from the 140 million lire of december 1938 to 350 in march, at a rhythm of 75 million lire per month. The italian economy was about to become one within the German economy.

Hitler also gives Mussolini a great diplomatic victory giving him Alto Adige, South Tirol, this reunited a lot, the dictators.

After this, back to the Ecomic blackmail, the most important, for the Coal Industry, the industry changed a lot during 1935, when 59% of the coal came from England and only 15% from Germany, in 1939 60% from Germany and 15% for England.

The germans began delaying their deliveries "because of the war"

Not only that, but also the English began inspecting ships with coal and other goods and in one famous case they even Embargoed 15 ships, after that and the indignation from Mussolini the Germans offered to send them all the coal necessary by land.

But anyway, after this small "parenthesis" over Pg`s observation.
(also, note that Italy started fortyfieng the north of Italy in order to "Have defense over more sides, or some lame excuse like that given to the Fuhrer)

Once again to the Topic:

Germany had also asked to Italy to begin a Propaganda campaign, in order to make the English "afraid" to engage war with the italians, the campaign was very good. However, when the English began to beat the Italians they managed a counter-Propaganda-Campaign.

English Propaganda also claims that they preferred italy to go to the "German" side, because it was "weak" but it is an excuse, as Italy would have allowed the Axis control over the mediterranean into 0. Not only that, but it was a choice made by the English as Italy was a NeoColonialist country, and so, they preffered to destroy this recently born empire.

Italy knew it oculd not remain Neutral anymore, and they relied on Germany`s victory over France to enter the war, beliving that they could rearm and help the axis at the same time.

So, instead of two years, rearmament took only a few months. And there it was, Italy was at war, an Italy that had no intention to go to war in the beginning and much less was it ready for the conflict.



The fact that the italians were so bad in war was due and solely due to equipment.
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#18 User is offline   Ennio 

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Posted 17 February 2004 - 07:19 PM

"Britain would have welcomed Italy with open arms if she had declared against Germany in 1940. But Mussolini saw territories and conquest despite his misgivings."

Well, Churchill went as far as offering Mussolini the FRENCH N. African colonies! But the whole story is a bit more complicated than that......some of the best italian historians went as far as thinking that having Italy against the UK was in the UK's best interest, at least because the energy supplies available to Germany would have had to cope with the proverbial shortages of Italy. No oil, no coal.....and all to be transported to Italy by sea, had Italy been on the UK's side. when the UK could not even guarantee its supplies across the Atlantic in the face of the U-Bootes. A nightmare. :)
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#19 User is offline   Viva Grazian 

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Posted 17 February 2004 - 10:34 PM

Yes. Forgot to mention the difficulty to give resources to Italy, if the UK would have had them on their side.

But I think even England wanted Italy neutral... Dont think England wanted Italy at Germany`s disposal.
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#20 User is offline   Ennio 

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Posted 18 February 2004 - 03:28 PM

Well, a neutral Italy could have given some advantage to England in June 1940? In terms of land forces very few, as the forces available to the Middle East Command were tiny, and could not be reduced further, otherwise nobody could guarantee the safety of those immense territories against the perpetual rebellion of the natives. The same goes for the RAF, as the ancient biplanes deployed in Egypt and Irak would have as useful in the forthcoming Battle of England as a hole in the head.....
Only the RN squadron based in Alex could be released, but in June 1940 no real naval confrontation with the Kriegsmarine seemed very close at hand (in case of attempted landings in England the RN had made very clear of having no intention whatsoever of sending capital ships south of the Wash).
So, in those circumstances, made dramatic by the unexpected collapse of France, a neutral Italy would not give England any real advantage against Germany. Oddly enough, a hostile Italy would have been better, as it would have immediately started asking Germany for fuel, coal, steel, weapons, etc.........The Brits improvised pragmatically, and the choice paid, thanks to Graziani. :wink:
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