“The Giovani Fascisti (or GGFF) made their mark during Operation Crusader. Tasked to defend the small hill known as Bir el Gobi (point 174), they fought off repeated attacks by the 11th Indian Brigade and British 7th Armoured Division during the first week of December, 1941. Despite overwhelming odds, they inflicted massive casualties on the Allies and held their ground despite severe hunger and thirst.”
John Gooch – Decisive Campaigns of the Second World War.
In early December of 1941, over the course of two grueling days of battle near Bir el Gobi, two battalions (first and second) of the Italian ‘Gruppo Speciale Giovani Fascisti’ regiment , supported by two regiments of Bersaglieri (VIII and IX) made one of the truly remarkable defensive stands undertaken by any of the belligerents during the entire Mediterranean campaign. Heavily outnumbered and out gunned, this young group of Italian volunteers stood toe-to-toe with the 11th Indian Brigade, joined here by armor from the British 7th Armoured Division, in a bloody encounter undertaken during the Allies ambitious offensive ‘Operation Crusader’.
Bir el Gobi, also referred to as Bir el Gubi, is situated about 25 miles south of El Duda, Libya, and was the site of two of the most outstanding Italian defensive performances of the Second World War. Just a few weeks prior at Bir el Gobi ‘proper’, the Italian 132 Ariete Armoured Division defeated the British 22 Armoured in an impressive defensive performance of their own, blunting an early Allied advance during the opening stages of the ‘Crusader’ Operation. The unexpected defeat suffered here by the British was a principal factor in causing the somewhat shaking opening of their offensive.
After that battle, the armor of the Ariete was pulled out of Bir el Gobi and sent to assist the German 21 Panzer Division in an attack on British forces at Sidi Rezegh. Security in the area of Bir el Gobi was to be maintained in part by the ‘Gruppo Speciale Giovani Fascisti’ regiment, also called the GGFF. The age range for the GGFF soldier was generally 18 to 22 years old, an average far lower than your typical Italian fighting unit. Their youthful stamina however would pay dividends in the looming battle they faced. The Giovani Fascisti arrived in Libya just a few months earlier in July of 1941, and up to that point were yet untested in true battle.
The creation of ‘Gruppo Speciale Giovani Fascisti’ unit has an original and quite unique story of its own. After Italy’s entry into the war, 10th June 1940, over 25,000 young men of Gioventù Italiana del Littorio (Fascist youth organization) asked to serve as volunteers in the Army. Most of their request were accepted, so was created 24 special battalions called “Battaglioni G.I.L.” In August 1940 these Battalions started a morale and recruitment march called the “March of Youth” in which they covered approximately 450 km, visiting many cities of northern Italy. The journey ended on 10 October 1940 with the G.I.L marching into the annual Trade Fair in Padova.
But after this inspiring start for the youth based group, they received here at the Fair the most unexpected of news: both the Army and Fascist establishment had now decided that they did not authorize nor want the addition of the G.I.L. Battalions into the war, so a general demobilization was ordered. Each of these organizations had their own reasoning for making the decision to bar the G.I.L from inclusion into their makeup; the Regio Esercito considered the “boys” much too young and unprepared to face the harshness of war. As for the Fascist Regime, many feared that foreign nations would be outraged if the Italian government sent “kids” into the killing fields of the war. With neither organization willing to support the group, they were to be left out completely.
A group of approximately 2,000 of the volunteers reacted badly to the shocking news that was delivered to them, and they instigated a revolt which culminated with them occupying the Trade Fair, and even setting fire to some of the pavilions. Fighting broke out between the rebelling G.I.L members and a squad of Blackshirts, who were directing the demobilization of this fledgling group, which eventually led to the G.I.L volunteers barricading themselves into a fair pavilion.
To solve this precarious and tense situation, a Granatieri’s major, Fulvio Balisti, was sent to negotiate with the G.I.L ‘rebels’, and in the course of doing so was able to convince them to step down, assuring them that he would have done anything possible to let them serve in the army if it had been his decision, and in fact would continue to search for an alternative solution. These words helped to calm the situation, and order was restored.