Book Review: Italian Partisan Weapons in WWII

“Italian Partisan Weapons in WWII” was originally written and published in Italian by Gianluigi Usai, and recently (2016) translated into English by Ralph Riccio and published by Schiffer in the US. It was intended to fill the hole in histories of the Italian Resistance and partisans during WWII regarding the actual arms used. Most histories on that subject say little or nothing about the actual details of the arms being used, which leaves lots of questions for those who take an interest in firearms. I have seen the same thing in books about the French Resistance, where the few references to specific guns are generally vague or nonexistent.

This work is split into about 100 pages of context and commentary first, discussing historical documents, how arms were acquired and traded among partisan groups, how different arms were viewed by the partisans, attempts by the government to disarm the resistance units after the war, and such. Part of the reason for the lack of clarity in most history books becomes clear reading original communiques from fighting units…these were often politically motivated volunteers with little or no military training. Even the military veterans among them often had little exposure to arms beyond those they had been issued, and so understanding of the wide variety of foreign and obsolete arms is very slim. The book documents a large number of different colloquial names for different guns. To quote the author at one point:

“Various heavy machine guns were turned in, including the Breda 37, Fiat 35, Saint Etienne, and Okhis, and all invariably unserviceable (but then again, in the case of the Hotchkiss, how could it be expected to function properly when it was missing so many letters of its name that it became the Okhis?)”

This first section of the book is definitely the most interesting to me. The remaining ~180 pages are devoted to profiles of all the weapons used by the partisans. This is a very large number of different weapons, and each one receives only a quite cursory description. Those with a good knowledge of WWI and WW2 small arms will find little new information there (and a few factual mistakes). However, each of these profiles is accompanied by one or more photographs of partisans with the weapon in question. These pictures are very interesting, I think, and between them and the analysis in the front section of the book I think it is worth the $40 cover price.

Available from Schiffer (the publisher) or from Amazon:

7 Comments

  1. Does the book list any specific quantity and types of small arms that were supplied by SOE? I am looking for factual information that has come from an archive of known source.
    Especially interested if any Ballista Mollina pistols were supplied by SOE, to the Italian partisans.

    Regards

    AlanD
    Sydney
    Australia

    • On p. 140 the very brief info on the Ballester Molina .45 acp semi-automatic pistol appears:
      “The Ballester Molina is yet another copy of the Browning-Colt design produced under license [in Argentina]. Many examples were supplied to Britain during the early stages of the war, when Britain sought weapons wherever it could; the weapons furnished to Britain had B-prefix serial numbers. Once the British arms situation was resolved, these pistols were used to arm partisas of various countries occupied by Germany, not the least of which was Italy.” … The following page has a picture of a Commander “Poli” who traded for one from Canadian Capt. “Buck” MacDonald, 2nd SAS.

      I cannot help with the SOE, apart from recommending the late Basil Davidson’s _Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War_ about his experiences.

      As for the OSS, you may already have the John Hopkins University ORO study:
      D.M. Condit, _Allied Supplies for Italian partisans during World War II_ (Project PARABEL Technical Memorandum ORO=T-269 17 March 1954. (Chevy Chase: John Hopkins, 1954) RG226 E190 B742 F1481.

      The descriptions are mostly aggregate rather than detailed, I’m afraid. I think pistols may be lumped in with some other light weapons. Good luck! Ciao.

  2. Thanks Ciao

    I had not seen this document before. In fact it does give a break down between, Rifles, Handguns, SMG’S, LMG”S and MMG”S which is most useful. Especially as there is detail on whether supplied by SOE of OSS. Excellent. Thanks again.

    In terms of the SOE Ballister Mollina pistols that SOE got the original order was for 12,000 of which only 8,000 ended up being supplied. The British government was looking at increasing the order to 35,000 pistols but did not do so as delivery’s were so slow, only eventuating to the 8,000 in the end.

    Regards

    AlanD
    Sydney

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