Monday, November 11, 2013

Italians on the Western Front

It was on this day in 1918 that the guns on the western front fell silent at the end of World War I. Many nations celebrate this as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day or, as it later became known in America, Veterans Day. Everyone familiar with World War I knows that this most prominent area of operations was the western front, stretching from the Belgian coast, down through France and ending at the Swiss border. However, not too many are aware of the Italian presence on the western front which actually predates official Italian entry in the Great War. Peppino Garibaldi, grandson of the famous Giuseppe Garibaldi, a man driven to fight for Italia Irredenta, led 4,000 Italian volunteers in a mass enlistment of the French Foreign Legion to join the war on the western front. This was in the winter of 1914-1915. When the Kingdom of Italy joined the war later in 1915, they left to join the Regio Esercito, most going into the Alpi and Re Brigades. Even then, many continued to wear their red shirts underneath their uniforms in honor of "The Thousand" nationalist volunteers of Giuseppe Garibaldi from the last century. In late 1917 the Kingdom of Italy sent the Corpo Truppe Ausiliarie in Francia to serve on the western front, which was a collection of labor battalions to aid in preparing trenches, gun emplacements, fortifications and other such jobs. Later, in the summer of 1918 the Kingdom of Italy also dispatched the II Corps, a complete combat unit with full artillery and even air support. These Italian troops saw fierce fighting in the last stages of the war, fighting alongside the French, British and Americans in stopping the last German offensive in the Bois de Reims sector and then going on, with the other Allies, in the final offensive that crushed the German front line and ultimately forced them to seek an armistice. Many Italians displayed great heroism in these brutal engagements, many were killed and many were wounded. They should never be forgotten.

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