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Italian Folgore at El Alamein: Unbreakable

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Like most Italian ‘infantry’ units fighting in North Africa, the Folgore possessed limited transport, and were now forced to attempt a retreat on foot through the desert possessing only limited supplies, water, and ammo.  This challenge was to be an almost insurmountable obstacle for practically all of the Italian infantry units during the retreat at Second El Alamein.  The decision to retreat condemned many Italians to practically no other possible fate then to be swallowed up by Montgomery’s pursuing Eighth Army.

The cost in blood at El Alamein was steep for the Folgore

“One hundred Folgore parachutists” –  The cost in blood at El Alamein was steep for the Folgore

As the Folgore fell back from their lines, they were forced to pull their artillery by hand through the sand, and continued to employ these weapons when possible against their British pursuers. British armored car squadrons continued to attack the retreating soldiers, whose exhaustion from lack of food, water, and the strain of battle increased by the hour.  Several times during the retreat British officers called out through loudspeakers across the endless sand asking for the Italians to surrender.  Repeatedly the soldiers of the Folgore refused the offer, often answering the request with gunfire directed at the British or simply with shouts of “Folgore”.

By the 6th of November only a handful from the original 5,000 Folgore remained, the others all had been killed or captured during the battle or on the retreat.  The surviving troops had by now collectively expended almost every piece of ammunition they had possessed in order to hold the British at bay.  The men could hold out no longer, so it was to be on this day that the end of all organized resistance from the Folgore was to take place.  The leaders of the last functioning group of combatants, Colonel Camosso and Major Zanninovich, had decided that it was now time to lay down their arms.  Their exhausted soldiers possessed minimal ammunition and supplies, and they were now nearly surrounded by British armor and ground forces.  Incredibly a few Folgore who had chosen to continue on managed to avoid capture by the British and made their way back into Tunisia were they would join the newly formed 285th Parachutist Battalion Folgore, and continue the struggle for their beloved Italy.

Colonel Camosso ordered his surrounded soldiers to destroy their weapons before the surrender, for he wanted nothing of material value to fall into the enemy’s hands.  As it became apparent to the British that the Folgore was no longer resisting, they advanced forward to secure the enemy they had come to respect over these many days of hard battle.  Upon making contact with the Italians, the British were once again impressed by the sight they found, for there was not a single white flag of surrender held by the Folgore, nor did they find men clamoring for aid or comfort from the victors.  What the British did discover waiting for them were warriors standing at ridged attention with their arms at their sides, staring resolutely forward, defeated but not bowed.

On November 7th the commander of the British 44th Infantry Division, General Hughes, made an effort to meet with the Folgore’s commander, General Frattini.  General Hughes men had suffered a high number of casualties against the Folgore, and the Allied General had been more then impressed with the resilience and skill of his adversary.  Upon finding General Frattini amongst the captured Folgore, he saluted and expressed the highest of praise for the Folgore’s gallantry in combat.  General Frattini replied with a simple “Thank you”, for what more could be said.

Many Folgore gave their lives in the desert that year, but their performance, bravery, and valor has insured that their legend is now immortal.  Inscribed on the walls of the Italian Memorial at El Alamein are the words below, an everlasting tribute to perhaps Italy’s finest soldiers of the Second World War.

Fra le sabbie non più deserte
son qui di presidio per l’eternità i ragazzi della Folgore
fior fiore di un popolo e di un Esercito in armi.
Caduti per un’idea, senza rimpianto, onorati nel ricordo dello stesso nemico,
essi additano agli italiani, nella buona e nell’avversa fortuna,
il cammino dell’onore e della gloria.
Viandante, arrestati e riverisci.
Dio degli Eserciti,
accogli gli spiriti di questi ragazzi in quell’angolo di cielo
che riserbi ai martiri ed agli Eroi.

Among the sand no longer deserted
for the eternity are here as a garrison the boys of the Folgore
the best flower of a people and of a fighting army.
Fallen for an ideal, without regrets, honoured even in the memories of their enemies,
they did show to the italians, in the good and bad luck,
the path to honour and glory.
Passerby, stop and revere.
God of the Armies,
welcome the ghosts of this boys in that corner of heaven
that You reserve for the martyrs and Heroes.

TJ Nicoletti

NOTE:  Special thanks to Arturo FIlippo Lorioli for providing both historical information and content, not to mention the finely constructed OOB.  Also to Dennis Hussey for his suggestions and in helping to edit the article.  The time spent and the invaluable contributions are greatly appreciated.

THE PENDELUM OF WAR:  The Three battles of El Alamein:    Niall Barr
THE BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN: Turning point of World War Two:  John Bierman and Colin Smith
IRON HULLS IRON HEARTS: Mussolini’s elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa:  Ian W. Walker
Article-FOLGORE AT EL ALAMEIN:  By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
STORMO Magazine article by Vince Tassone March 2005
Wikipedia Articles

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  1. Interesting and deepened article,
    my father was a soldier of Folgore and captured in El Alamein the 9th of november 1942 and imprisoned in
    British camp 309 and 305 located in Egypt.
    I should like to have more informations about these camps and some suggestions in order to contact the right authority (British Army, Red Cross, others)

    Thank you in advance for eventual tips.

    Enrico Dall’Osto

  2. Div132Ariete says:

    folgore fatal truth deserve to be called lions (although, in general, the entire Italian army fought like lions)

  3. Outstanding article!

  4. Epic description of iron men stubbornly fighting endless adversities. The article succesfully balance a rigorous historical approach with emotional emphatize with incredible soldiers. Compliment to the author.

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