Giovanni Messi was a career soldier who earned the rank of Marshal of Italy during World War II. He was a distinguished and highly decorated soldier, who served in the Conquest of Libya, WWI, the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, the Greco-Italian War and WWII. He was also one of the men who stayed true to his country and king when fascism threatened to take over Italy.
Marshal Giovanni Messe was born in Mesagne, Italy on December 10, 1883. He began his military career in 1901, at the age of 18. Ten years later, he fought in the Conquest of Libya. Just a few years after that, he fought in World War I. During WWI, Major (Maggiore) Giovanni Messe acted as commander of the 9th Parachute Assault Regiment (IX Nono Reparto Arditi) on Monte Grappa. Around this time, he formed and trained special infantry units for the Royal Italian Army. They were known as “Arditi.”
Giovanni Messe made a name for himself in Libya and Africa as a capable commander. In 1923, he was appointed military-secretary to King Vittorio Emmanuele III. Messe remained such until 1927, at which time he became a Colonel (Colonnello). He commanded yet another infantry unit of the Royal Italian Army until 1935. In 1935, Messe was given the rank of Brigadier General (Brigadier Generale) and was put in command of a motor brigade. In this capacity, he served in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War (1935-1936).
Following the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, Giovanni Messe was promoted to Major General (Maggiore Generale) and given command of the Italian Armored Division. Just before the outbreak of World War II, Major General Messe was sent to Italy’s new protectorate-Albania-to serve under General Ubaldo Soddu. That was short-lived. From October 1940 to April 1941, Messe commanded a corps of Italian soldiers in the Greco-Italian War. Giovanni Messe had some losses and successes during this conflict. However, things were not looking good for him until the Germans showed up in April of 1941. German aid led to an Axis victory in Greece.
After the Greco-Italian War, Major General Giovanni Messi was sent to Russia to command the mobile light infantry and cavalry “Italian and Expeditionary Corps in Russia” (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia). Messe was involved in Operation Barbarossa in this capacity. Major General Giovanni Messe felt that he and his 60,000 soldiers were ill equipped for the Nazi invasion of Russia. However, he did not have to worry about it for long. His corps was replaced by the much larger Italian Army in Russia” (Armata Italiana in Russia) in July of 1942. Giovanni Messe left roughly four months later.
In January of 1943, Giovanni Messe was sent to the African front to fight the American and British troops in Tunisia. There, he was commander of the Axis’ Italo-German Tank Army, later known as Army Group Africa. On May 12, 1943, Giovanni Messe became Marshal of Italy. He had reached the highest rank in the Royal Italian Army. The day after he achieved this honor, he and the Germans were forced to surrender to the Allies in Africa.
Just a few months after Marshal Giovanni Messe surrendered Army Group Africa to the Allies, Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. As Messe was loyal to the king, he was given the position of Chief of Staff of the Italian Co-Belligerent Army (Esercito Cobelligerante Italiana). The Italian Co-Belligerent Army was made up of Royal Italian Army units that were still loyal to the king. He served in this position until the end of World War II in 1945. He retired that same year after 44 years in the Royal Italian Army.
Giovanni Messe went on to become a representative in the Italian Senate. He also wrote a book about his time in Africa. However, the most significant role Messe played after his retirement was not that of author or representative to the senate. It was as President of the Italian Veterans Association. His dedication to his troops seems never to have faltered.
Marshal Giovanni Messe died in Rome on December 19, 1968. He was 85-years-old.
Giovanni Messe, retrieved 8/5/10, en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/1255572
Italian Army Ranks, retrieved 8/5/10, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_Army_Ranks