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Rodolfo Graziani was born in Filettino (Florence) the 11th of August 1882 and was an infantry sub-lieutenant in 1904; he enrolled as a voluntary in Royal Colonial Troops from 1908 until 1912. Captain of the 131° infantry Regiment in the Carso from 1915, he won the Medaglia di Bronzo al Valor Militare (MBVM) and the promotion to major by war merits during the battles around S.Michele in November. The next year he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and commander of the 57° infantry regiment.
Wounded on the Col Berretta during the Piave’s Battle on December 1917, he won another MBVM on the Col del Rosso during the Solstizio battle (June 1918). At the end of the war he was the commanding Colonel of the 19° regiment, then of the 241° and finally of the 61°.
After a short period of civil life (two years), he traveled to Libya where in October, 1921 he was initially employed on the Gebel South Tripolino. Graziani had a natural gift of being organized and was deemed an energetic commander. Nominated after October 1922 as a division general at the command of the Regio Corpo Colonial troops in Tripolitania, he became one of the major protagonists during the conquest of the colony’s interior, on 1923 at Beni-Uad and on 1928 at Bir Tagrif, winning two MAVM and the chivalry of the Savoia military order.
He became an expert commander of colonial war. In particular he specialized in anti-partisan warfare operations. In 1930 he was Vice governor of the Cirenaica, he removed the resistance of the Senussi Rebellion and on January 1931 he occupied the strategic Cufra’s oasis.
His action was sometimes characterized by a brutal and ruthless repression of the Libyans accused of supporting the anti-Italian resistance. The repression cost around fifty thousand deaths and a massive deportation of the inhabitants of the Gebel from the coast. In February 1932 he was promoted Generale di Corpo D’Armata for exceptional merits and on 1934 he held the command of the Army Corps of Udine. In February 1935, he was Governor and military commander of Somalia. This position allowed him to participate in the invasion of Ethiopia, where he was responsible for the invasion from the South East.
He again showed his gift as a logistical organizer and expert in the colonial war by defeating the troops of Negus Haile Selassiè in Neghelli in January 1936. Nominated Marquis and Marshal of Italy on June 1936, he became Viceroy of the Italian East Africa. He faced guerrilla warfare, a task that he tried to achieve with habitual unscrupulousness but with effectiveness, since the major resistance points were defeated in the following 6-7 months.
This period marked the apogee of his military and political career. After escaping an attempt against his life in 1937, he responded with ruthless repression, and at the end of the year he was recalled to Rome and replaced by Duca D’Aosta in an attempt to start a new and more moderated policy in the Empire.
Rodolfo Graziani became Capo di Stato Maggiore (Chief of Staff) of the Royal army in November 1939. In July 1940 he assumed the position as Libya’s Governor and North African troops Commander by replacing Italo Balbo, who was shoot down by mistake by an Italian anti air battery when returning from a plain recon trip.
On paper he had under his command two army (V e X), 5 army corps and 14 divisions between national, colonial, and black shirts, total 250,000 men to be used against British troops, which although less in number, were more mobile, well trained and equipped with artillery and tanks.
From the beginning Rodolfo Graziani asked Rome for substantial reinforcements and tried to resist the request of a fast military expansion into Egypt. He was against this tactic because of the logistical difficulties that long communication lines would create. Despite this, in September he reach Sidi el-Barrani.
In December, the English troops commanded by the General Wavell, launched a general counteroffensive, which routed the Italian troops in two months between 1940-41. The price paid by the Italian troops was thousands of prisoners captured by the British.
As a consequence of this Italian defeat, the Germans sent the African Korps commanded by Rommel and the Italians also sent reinforcements that they could and did not send at the beginning of the operations.
Despite the concrete justifications, it cannot be said that Rodolfo Graziani demonstrated strategic talent and the capacity to command large units in a modern war. Recalled on February 1941, he was the subject of inquires and accusations, and was sidelined until 8 September 1943.
In October 1943, Graziani joined the Social Republic (RSI), responding to the call of Mussolini following his release from the Gran Sasso prison and perhaps also with the desire of reentering public life, from which we was excluded following his recall from Egypt.
A letter referring to a meeting with Graziani sent to the Vatican state secretary on the 18 October 1943 allows us to understand the vision that Graziani had at that time of the armistice with the Allies, the beginning of the civil war, and the successive declaration of war on Germany on 13th of October. Rodolfo Graziani considered these events the consequence of Judaism, Communism and international masonry. He tried to convince the Vatican to not recognize the Southern Kingdom, but only the Social Republic (RSI) had the true heir of the Italian national state. Mussolini’s choices were explained as an effort to mediate between the Fuhrer and the Italians, especially the prisoners, in order to avoid further German retaliations. Graziani’s discourse was strongly embedded with military honor, devotion to the Axis and to Mussolini himself.
As Minister of the RSI armed forces, he had to face a very difficult situation. The Germans did not trust the Italian fighting capacity, and thought the Republican forces as useful only to the control public order and anti partisans’ warfare.
In contrast with the extremists Renato Ricci, Alessandro Pavolini and Roberto Farinacci that preferred a party army mirroring the example of the Waffen SS, Graziani wanted to rebuild a national and apolitical army. To achieve this purpose conscription demands were made. However, there was a high percentage of desertion (around 50-60%). At the end, the Germans were persuaded to create 4 divisions (S.Marco, navy infantry; Monte Rosa, alpina; Italia, Bersaglieri; Littorio, similar to the German Panzergrenadieren) that were sent to Germany for training and entered action at the end of summer 1944 on the French and Ligurian-Toscanian front. These units were supported by paratroopers, a group of air torpedo planes, 3 groups of air fighters, the Republican National Guard and a small navy group, composed of few warships that were not requested by the Germans.
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