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Poloj: 17 October 1942 – The last Italian cavalry charge

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Polojie, from Rivista di Cavalleria April 2002

Dalmatia, Sibenik Vodice area, near Poloj, 1800 hours. Colonel Antonio Aymone-Cat, Commander of the 14th Regiment “Cavalleggeri di Alessandria” is waiting; the situation is difficult.  The 2nd and 4th partisan assault brigade is taking possession of the hills and trying to surround the Italian sides cutting their way back to Perjasica. But the Colonel is confident, settling on defenses along the line of q.243 and q.249, which rests on the road that leads to Opacici: he is holding a central position and can operate on interior lines, using the support of the 3rd squadron of L3 tanks of Group San Giusto, and deploying the artillery section of the 23rd Regiment of the “Re” Division (4-75 mm guns) against enemy forces stationed between q.317 (Vecjliaca) and q.258 (Dolvy Visoska). In this way, the enemy is obliged to come down from the heights to attack.

By 1515 hours, the 1st Squadron, avant-garde received forward and flank attacks.  It was the intervention of the San Giusto which had allowed their release and reunion with the others. As the radio connection was interrupted, Aymone-Cat had sent a dispatch to the deputy commander General Mazza of the 1st Division Celere “Eugenio di Savoia”, to whom the Regiment belonged. He had ordered the 81° Battalion CC.NN. to attack, but the partisan forces – numerically superior and well arranged – had taken over, thus preventing the desired reunification.

Major Sallusti, Chief of Staff of the 1st Division Celere, arrived to confirm the order to move forward to Primislje, which was the aim of the mission that started at 1300 hours from Perjasica.  This was the same mission as the day before, when the detachment had been attacked at the height of a bridge over the river Korava near Veljun at q.307 and then forced to return back to home base.

But Sallusti had to think again and have consultations with General Lomaglio, the division commander. The Regiment “Cavalleggeri di Alessandria”, already distinguished in the Risorgimento wars of 1859 and 1866, was part of the General Lomaglio’s 1st Division Celere “Eugenio di Savoia”, of the General Federico Ferrari –Orsi’s Celere Army Corps, and of General Ambrosio’s 2nd Army, which began the war invading Yugoslavia.

On Easter Day, April 13th, 1941, the Regiment crossed the border north of the river following the carriage road for Kupjak under a heavy rain. The 3 Celere Divisions reached Delnice, Lokve, Zelesina and on April 15th they arrived at Gomirje, Cakovac and Vrbovsko.  Two days later they flanked the Yugoslav rearguards.

During the first weeks “Cavalleggeri di Alessandria” had been garrisoned  at Karlovac, southwest of Zagreb, which was the Headquarters of the Army Corps and Divisions. But because of the establishment of a strong partisan movement and the difficulties of the young national Croatian State to take control, additional duties were imposed.

The strong anti-partisan action carried out in Serbia by German troops lead to problems in preventing or limiting the possibility of guerrillas taking refuge in the northwest. Between October and November 1941, the 1st Division passed under control of the V Corps and took part in the occupation of the area between the demilitarized zone and the border with the area under German occupation. (Also of note would be the raid zone Kuplensko with the support of L3 tanks, the control of Topusko, Grobnik, Vojnic and the first and undisputed arrival to Perjasica).

It was unconventional warfare, difficult and bloody for both sides. It was also characterized by reprisals and civil population sometimes hostage of the contenders of questionable loyalty.

In the beginning of 1942, the 1st Celere Division transferred to Karlovac for counterinsurgency actions and a sweep of the nearby mountains.  This doesn’t mean that this was a fall-back commitment.  Indeed the Axis in World War II would find guerrilla activities as its field of choice for cavalry units still in force: the Germans themselves had employed Waffen SS and several regiments from Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. They also made extensive use of mounted units against the partisans in the Balkans, mainly because of their high mobility in difficult environmental conditions, which was at an acceptable cost.

In early October 1942, the Infantry Divisions “Lombardia” and “Cacciatori delle Alpi” transferred from Dalmazia under XI Corps to the area between Ogulin and Vinica with the aim to flush out partisan divisions that attacked between Ogulin and Vinica.   The riots of October 6th had proved inconclusive, with little more than exchanges of artillery fire, but reconnaissance of the area of Perjasica on the 12th and 13th led to speculation that the whole area could add up to several thousand partisans.

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  1. AFAIK the only “Cravatte Rosse” (Red Ties) were the Savoia Cavalleria troopers, but weren’t they still in Russia at that time?

    • marco amerigo fermani says:

      Thank you for your informations about the nickname “Cravatte Rosse”. I confirm you that cavalry squadrons of savoia Cavalleria Regiment were in Russia from july 1941 to march 1943. The regiment had 3 dismounted Groups (I XX and XXIV)too, but they were, I think, in metropolitan territory. On the contrary the 57° Infantry Division “Lombardia” was in Iugoslavia and in that zone of operation.

  2. espresso says:

    Enjoyed this article very much. My father was in the 81° CCNN M battalion which fought in this battle. He witnessed one of the charges. The fighting was intense and continued throughout the night and into the next day. He was separated from his unit during the battle but reunited with a number of other members who had been isolated in a farm house. They fought throughout the night and into the next morning when a regiment from another division came in force to rescue them. My father referred to these soldiers as “Cravatti Rosso”, does anyone know which division they belonged to? From what I’ve been able to find they may have been part of the 51st Lombardia.

    • marco amerigo fermani says:

      Thank you very much. On the basis of my data 81° CC.NN. “A.Barbiano” belonged to 137° MVSN Legion “Monte Maiella” and to 57° Infantry Division “Lombardia” (with 73° and 74° infantry Rgt and 57° artillery Rgt.). It belonged to the 2° Army from 1941 and partecipated to the invasion of Iugoslavia in april an then in many raking operations until serbo-croatian border (october-november). In 1942 and 1943 was occupied in antipartisan warfare from Delnice, Ogulin, Biloras, Gerovo. I think that rescue patrols has belonged to this Infantry division. I don’t know because your father has called it “Cravatte Rosse”.

  3. Vewry good article! Well done indeed!

  4. Thanks for some great hard to find information on this encounter!!! Well done.