Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Assassination Attempt in Africa

It was on this day in 1937 that Ethiopian nationalists, using hand grenades, attempting to assassinate General Rodolfo Graziani at the Viceregal Palace in Addis Ababa, sparking a wave of retaliation and general unrest.

Monday, February 10, 2014

National Memorial Day of the Exiles

Today Italy remembers the Foibe massacres, even though few others do. These were the Italians or even those of partial Italian heritage who were killed in the closing days and immediate aftermath of World War II in Dalmatia, Istria and the Julian March. As early as 1943 when Italy agreed to an armistice with the Allies, Italians began to be massacred in these regions and the killing went on in some instances until 1949. Some of the original perpetrators were the Germans who were moving in to Italian-occupied areas as soon as word of the armistice became public (or as soon as they learned that the King had dismissed Mussolini and was determined to take Italy out of the war). About 70 people were thrown into a pit and shot together. Such cases were very much the minority however. The vast majority of the killings were carried out by the communist partisans who were driven by ideological hatred, a thirst for territorial expansion for Yugoslavia and by a drummed-up racial hatred against the local population on the coast of Latin ancestry.

The Latin population in this area was relatively small and not very concentrated but it was extremely old, going back to the maritime empire of the Venetian Republic or even further. Some were motivated by a communist hatred for fascists but, given that fascism had fallen by the time the killings started, this was simply an excuse and should not be taken seriously. Most of all, in all likelihood, it was a desire for territorial expansion by the soon-to-be communist Yugoslavia. They wanted to claim all of these territories for themselves and did not want there to be any Italian population in these areas for fear that the Allied leadership might decide to allow Italy to retain some of these areas. Certainly in the case of the Julian March, HM King Umberto II hoped to persuade the Allies that Italy should retain this territory which had been, historically, Italian. This was really an effort by Tito, the communist dictator of Yugoslavia, at ethnic cleansing and although the Yugoslavian government refused to acknowledge the crime and no serious investigations were made until after the breakup of Yugoslavia, it is now known that thousands of Italians in these areas were brutally massacred. The exact number has never been determined but estimates in even limited areas have ranged as high as over 6,000. Unfortunately, finding the truth has been set aside in favor of partisan politics with many trying to downplay the extent of the atrocities.

However many were killed, the crime should not be forgotten and everyone should remember those who lost their lives. Politics and popularity should have nothing to do with the facts and the fact is that many thousands of people of Italian background were massacred simply because of their ethnicity to serve the ambitions of the communists and to tear away from Italy territories that had long been in Italian hands. We must not forget.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Italian Tankettes

As discussed before, Italian armored forces have not fared well in the estimation of most historians, to some extent unjustly so, and none have had to endure more derision than the tankette. These light tanks are almost invariably dismissed as totally useless, nothing more than so many helpless targets for British gunners and downright laughable. More than anything else, however, this only displays the ignorance of the ridiculing party. Far too many fail to understand the background of the tankettes. They insist on seeing them through the narrow vision most have become accustomed to, which is to view any tank as being intended to take on other tanks. This was never intended to be the case with the tankette. They were never intended to be thrown into tank-on-tank combat and were intended for a conflict more like what was seen in the First World War rather than the Second. The first Italian light tanks were developed with the understanding that in the future any conflict would likely be focused on where Italy had fought in the First World War against Austria and would probably be aimed at German forces attempting to dominate Austria or, more probably, against the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Even if the conflict was to be against France, the situation would still be similar. It would mean fighting in mountainous areas and so armored units were needed that would be small enough and light enough to navigate narrow mountain roads and bridges.

The aim of the tankettes, from the earliest designs to the CV33/L3 that are probably the most familiar, never involved the idea of fighting other tanks but of supporting attacking infantry. They were intended to eliminate 'trouble spots' that would cause heavy casualties among the infantry such as clearing paths through barbed wire and taking out enemy machine gun nests. Later, they were also intended to replace armored cars in performing reconnaissance. Their primary aim was to help attacking infantry overcome problems that would slow them down or cost lives. They were never intended to take on other armored vehicles and so were thinly armored and armed only with machine guns. It was only because of the extreme necessity that arose in World War II that tankettes were forced to take on duties they were not designed for. In that event, although they were facing a hopeless cause, Italian innovation showed itself to be as strong as ever. Tankettes were often modified in the field to try to make them at least somewhat more effective. Some were modified to carry a mortar which could give suppressing fire or to lay smoke screens. Some were equipped with flame throwers and some, to give them at least a somewhat better chance against armored vehicles, were modified with the addition of a 20mm Solothurn anti-tank rifle. Rather than being dismissed, these vehicles should really be viewed in the proper context and valued for the service they gave against daunting odds.