|Blackshirts' 'dagger salute'|
The MVSN had its own organization and its own rank structure, both based on the old Roman army with legions, cohorts, centuries and so on rather than regiments, battalions and companies. As part of the Fascist Party, Mussolini considered them to be his own, however, after the MVSN became part of the established power structure Blackshirt units often found themselves commanded by former army officers who were more royalist than purely Fascist in their ultimate loyalty. Their nominal supreme commander was, of course, Mussolini who held the rank of “First Corporal of Honor”, the rank of “Corporal of Honor” being an honorary rank for important people, Hitler was given such an honorary rank after the regimes became allies. However, after becoming part of the armed services, members of the MVSN were required to swear allegiance to the King of Italy rather than to “God and the Italian homeland” as they had in the past. They also found themselves with little to do as an internal security force as the regular police and Carabinieri already had that job under control.
|Musketeers of the Duce|
1930 saw MVSN legions attached to army divisions, who they would depend on for support facilities and they saw their first really large-scale combat with the outbreak of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War in 1935 following an Ethiopian attack on an Italian outpost. Mussolini hoped to make the war a showcase for his Fascist troops and the MVSN was set to play a major part in the campaign with overall field command of the war being entrusted to the veteran general and MVSN leader Emilio De Bono. However, General De Bono waged a slow and cautious campaign and, considering the economic sanctions placed on Italy by the League of Nations, this was something Italy could not afford as the League was counting on the Italian economy collapsing and perhaps bringing down the Fascist regime before the formidable task of taking and pacifying an area as immense as Ethiopia could be achieved. So, Emilio De Bono was promoted to Marshal of Italy and replaced with General Pietro Badoglio who waged a much more aggressive, if more costly, campaign that brought rapid success. Within seven months Ethiopia was conquered and Mussolini proudly announced the birth of a new Roman empire with Vittorio Emanuele III raised to the status of “Re-Imperatore”.
When the Kingdom of Italy entered World War II in 1940 the MVSN saw action on every front. The French Alps, Libya, Egypt, East Africa, Greece, Yugoslavia and Russia, the MVSN participated in every campaign. In Italian East Africa local units were raised and after the conquest of Yugoslavia there were additional units established for foreign fighters, particularly the Croatians. However, the British counter-offensive out of Egypt practically wiped out the Blackshirt legions in north Africa and the few in East Africa were, of course, lost with the eventual Allied counter-offensive. Those that remained were mostly detailed to garrison duty in Greece and Yugoslavia and it was in the former Yugoslavia that they became involved in the bitter partisan warfare that characterized that region. There were also the Blackshirts who were sent to Russia but it was also determined that some reorganization was in order to form a hard-core from the MVSN that would be the equivalent of the German Waffen-SS rather than the “weekend warriors” that the Fascist militia had generally been. The result was the “M” Battalions.
|"M" Battalion insignia|
That was the end of the MVSN as an organization of the Kingdom of Italy, the organization being officially abolished by the royal government on December 6, 1943. A few days later, on December 8, there was, though, a successor organization formed after the establishment of the German-backed Italian Social Republic in northern Italy. This was the Republican National Guard (GNR) which grouped together all pro-Fascist security personnel loyal to Mussolini. They were engaged mostly in the bitter and often merciless anti-partisan warfare behind the front lines. The following year saw the Fascist Party revert back to the old Action Squads of their earliest days as the desperate war situation had by then left only the most fanatical, die-hard Fascists in the ranks, still supporting the dying regime. These Blackshirt remnants held out until the final surrender of the Axis forces in Italy in 1945.