Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Early Unsung Success in Africa

Throughout World War II, the royal armed forces of Italy were always at a great disadvantage, fighting with undersupplied armies, outdated weapons and in areas that were rarely given top priority. However, in spite of all these difficulties, the courage and tenacity of the Italian soldiers, sailors and airmen were still able to upset the odds and win stunning victories. However, relatively few people (outside Italy at least) are often aware of these heroic battles. Sometimes they are left out of historical accounts altogether. For example, following the first Italian invasion of Egypt, when the British had broken the Italian forces (many of whom were colonial troops) and sweeping across Egypt most accounts state only that the British held back out of caution or stopped from sheer exhaustion and this allowed time for the arrival of the German Afrika Korps under Erwin Rommel which then saved the day and turned the tide of battle. However, that is not the whole truth. The British were actually pushing on quite aggressively to destroy all that remained of the shattered Italian forces and completely crush the remaining Italian front in Cyrenaica. They did not succeed because of a stunning victory won by a totally outmatched group of Italian soldiers who did nothing less than save the Italian army from total disaster.

M11/39 medium tank
On December 9, 1940 the Italian Tummar posts destroyed fourteen British tanks, buying precious time for colonial forces in the area. When the British attacked with their armored forces, consisting of the heavily armored Matilda tanks, the Italian “Maletti Group” rushed in to stop them with totally outmatched M11/39 tanks dismissed by so many as practically useless. Yet, in spite of their deficiencies these Italian M11/39’s managed to destroy 35 of the 57 British Matildas. It was a spectacular feat of arms and due entirely to the courage and skill of the individual Italian tank crews and commanders.

Later, on January 24, 1941 the former commander of the Sirte Division, General Valentino Babini, rushed into service the newly organized Special Armored Brigade (“Brigata Corazzato Speciale”) which managed the seemingly impossible task of halting the British offensive, if only temporarily. The British were driving forward with an awesome attack force of some 177 tanks and the Italian Special Armored Brigade managed to totally destroy or disable 21 of them; a rather spectacular feat given how vastly outmatched the Italian forces were. The first year of the war had been a terrible one for the Italian forces in north Africa, without question, and yet, thanks to hard fought actions like these, the front in Cyrenaica was saved from total collapse. The 10th Army had been practically destroyed but because of the brave men who made huge sacrifices and stood down vastly superior enemy forces, the remaining troops were able to fall back to safety, reform, reorganize and before the British could achieve total victory the first units of the Afrika Korps had arrived and the initiative in the desert shifted to the Axis powers.

It is amazing what a handful of even outmatched M11 tanks can do with enough skill and courage driving them into battle.

The Day He Came to Office

It was on this day in 1922 that HM King Vittorio Emanuele III appointed Benito Mussolini prime minister of Italy. Sometime in the, hopefully, not too distant future, I will be writing an article on this as in spite of all the time that has gone by since then it remains one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented points in all of Italian history. Whatever you think about it, the truth is probably not what you have heard.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Meeting at Teano

It was on this day in 1860 that HM King Vittorio Emanuele II met Giuseppe Garibaldi, commander of "The Thousand" and conqueror the Two-Sicilies at Teano. Garibaldi handed over the south to the King and hailed him as the King of Italy which was an historic moment for the Italian nation. Garibaldi had been a republican his entire life but he put nationalism ahead of his own ideology and took the hand of the King for the sake of the unity and independence of Italy and the Italian people.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tripoli Becomes Italian

It was on this day in 1912 that the Kingdom of Italy officially took possession of Tripoli on the north African coast from the Turkish Ottoman Empire; securing the Italian "Fourth Shore".

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bosnian Crisis

It was on this day in 1908 that Austria-Hungary annexed the nominally Ottoman Turkish province of Bosnia-Herzegovina, sparking the Bosnian crisis, one of the events which led up to the outbreak of the Great War, particularly because of the humiliation suffered by the Russian Empire over the affair. The lack of trust and ill-will created between Austria-Hungary and Russia is usually all that is taken away from this event, however, it was also a major reason for the ultimate break-up of the Triple Alliance of Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary. This is not often talked about but failing to mention it reveals an anti-Italian prejudice because it disproves the long-held accusation of the Kingdom of Italy "betraying" the other countries of the Triple Alliance by staying out of World War I in 1914 and then joining the war the following year against Austria-Hungary and later Germany.

This is important to understand because it was not Rome that broke its word to Vienna but rather Vienna that first broke its word to Rome. The issue was the annexation of Bosnia. When the Kingdom of Italy joined the Triple Alliance, which was really a defensive alliance of the three monarchies involved rather than a political pact between countries with a shared agenda, it was recognized that there were still outstanding territorial disputes between Italy and Austria-Hungary concerning the Italian-populated lands originally taken from the Republic of Venice that Austria-Hungary still occupied. According to the Triple Alliance agreement, if Austria-Hungary made any territorial gains elsewhere, these Italian-populated territories were supposed to be returned to the Kingdom of Italy in compensation. Obviously, the annexation of Bosnia was a major territorial acquisition and yet when Italy expected Austria-Hungary to live up to the terms of their agreement and reunite the Italian populated lands to Italy, Austria-Hungary refused.

Italy was not about to overlook such a violation of their agreement and so, from that time on, did not feel bound by the Triple Alliance any more since Austria-Hungary had violated their agreement. Of course, there were other reasons for Italy not going to war alongside Austria-Hungary and Germany in 1914 but this was a major point for the Italian government. It should be remembered and should be more well known today. It is still unfortunate what happened to Austria-Hungary in World War I, it did not deserve to be 'carved up' out of existence, but the honor of the Kingdom of Italy has been unfairly criticized because of this incident and for that reason the facts should be made known. The Triple Alliance agreement was broken but it was not broken in 1914 and it was not the Kingdom of Italy that broke it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Start of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War

It was on this day in 1935 that the Second Italo-Abyssinian War began when Italian forces under General Emilio De Bono invaded the Abyssinian empire. Contrary to what you have probably heard, it was not a war that the Kingdom of Italy started, although, without doubt, Mussolini was ready to pounce at any chance to avenge the defeat of Adowa and to retaliate for the slights of the Abyssinian government against Italy. It started as a result of a dispute in which there was a clash over an Italian outpost that had been standing for years without protest (or perhaps even the notice) of the Abyssinian government. The Italian garrison of a few hundred Somali troops clashed with an Abyssinian (Ethiopian) column of over a thousand. Later, the Ethiopians claimed the Italian-Somali troop had attacked them -which would seem not only unnecessary but suicidal. There is also no doubt that the Ethiopians had been modernizing and building up their military strength for years and, after obtaining Italian support in joining the League of Nations when no one else thought they should be allowed in, Ethiopia had shunned Italy and dealt with all foreign powers except the Italians. A clash of arms was simply inevitable.