25 Comments

  1. These soldiers seem to be somewhat lightly dressed for the Russian winter. Could be sometime in the autumn with early snowfall but with more tolerable temperatures. Either that, or this photo might have been taken during the first winter of the Russian Campaign, when most Axis forces were caught flat-footed without adequate winter wear.

    Interesting how Breda could have come up with a design as unforgiving as the M30, yet the same firm was responsible for what many consider one of the best MMG’s of the war — the Breda Modelo 37 8mm, whose only real idiosyncrasy was the 20-round strip feed which could slow down the rate of fire viv-a-vis a belt-fed system. It has been said that the LRDG actually preferred the Modelo 37 ( on the occasions when they could capture both the gun and its ammunition ) to their own Lewis and Vickers guns.

  2. Weren’t all of the Italian troops the 1st winter Alpine? Those don’t look to be Alpine helmets, as the Alpines retained the feather. I’ve seen pictures of them fighting with the feather in their helmet, but maybe they did at times remove them.

    • Italy’s ground-based involvement in the first year on the Russian Front comprised three divisions, namely the 52nd Motorized Division “Torino”, 9th Motorized Division “Pasubio” and 3rd Cavalry Division “Amadeo Duca d’Aosta”. They were chosen because their inherent mobility was compatible with the Blitzkrieg warfare techniques of their German allies. Together, the three Italian divisions formed the “Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia” ( Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia ) or CSIR.

      It was only in August 1942 that an additional seven divisions were sent to augment the CSIR, the collective name then being changed to “Armata Italiana in Russia” or ARMIR, which was synonymous with the 8th Italian Army. Of these, four were infantry divisions ( 2nd Infantry Division “Sforzesca”, 3rd Infantry Division “Ravenna”, 5th Infantry Division “Cosseria” and 156th Infantry Division “Vicenza” ), while the remaining three were Alpine units ( 2nd Alpine Division “Tridentina”, 3rd Alpine Division “Julia” and 4th Alpine Division “Cuneense” ). The ARMIR was divided into three Corps : The XXXV Army Corps ( essentially the original CSIR — 52nd Motorized, 9th Motorized and 3rd Cavalry Divisions ) ; the II Army Corps ( 2nd Infantry, 3rd Infantry, 5th Infantry and 156th Infantry Divisions ) ; and the Alpine Corps ( 2nd, 3rd and 4th Alpine Divisions ).

      The ARMIR also had an organic “Comando Aereo” or Aviation Command with its own fighter, bomber and transport aircraft. In addition, the following assets were included in the TO & E of the ARMIR — the German 62nd and 298th Divisions, one Croatian Volunteer Legion and three Fascist Blackshirt Legions.

      So the answer to your question is no, not all the Italian troops on the Eastern Front were Alpini, but yes, a good number of them were. Hope this helps with any research you may want to pursue regarding the topic.

  3. These soldiers had no idea what they were getting into; numbers of dead and captured are astounding. They were beaten to shreds by combination of Red Army and Russian winter, regardless of quality (or lack of it) of their equipment.

    They had just little better deal with West. One young man I met in Canada told me (his mather was Italian, father English) that his parents had to apply for special permit to get married since his mother was considered “enemy alien”. This was the ‘harvest’ the Italians collected for their fascist past.

    • It was also their leaders who put them in such an untenable position. As usual, it is the ordinary soldier or civilian who ends up paying the bitter price for the ambitions and visions of the upper heirarchy.

  4. Some time ago, in the ‘Notes & Queries’ column of the Guardian newspaper in the UK, someone asked about an Italian poster from 1943 advertising a concert where the tickets were to be paid for in wool. This was an attempt to provide some sort of warm clothing for the troops serving on the Eastern Front, as the army had none.

  5. If Benni’ had been planning to sabotage the axis war effort, he couldn’t have done it any more effectively

    Showing up fashionably late for Barbarossa – just in time for the Russian winter.

  6. Denny,
    I’d be very interested in your take on this.

    I met someone a few weeks back, who’s mother had been Russian; from Rostov (I’m guessing the Rostov on the Volga).

    apparently, the Soviet’s military conquest of Russia, only just to say arrived in her home area, before the Nazi invasion.

    She wasn’t going to put up with either, and walked to Egypt, where she met her future husband.

    I knew previously that the bolsheviks had a long and murderous task to subjugate the Russian empire, but I had’nt realized quite how long that process took.

    • Your friend’s mother had quite a story to tell. Hopefully, that story has been preserved in one form or other as part of the human heritage. Here in the U.S., National Public Radio has a wonderful ongoing project known as the StoryCorps Oral History Project. It can be accessed via the Internet at http://www.npr.org and anyone can participate. The idea is to encourage people to share their life stories, or important bits thereof, and these stories are permanently archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library Of Congress for posterity. Over time, the aggregate of these stories has come to represent the human experience through its multi-faceted diversity. Some of the stories are heart-warming, others are heart-breakingly poignant, and many are everything else in between. I believe similar projects now exist in some other countries, eg., Singapore. If there is one in the UK as well, her story could be told and not lost with time. If she is unable to do so herself, it could still be narrated by a family member ( after all, most personal stories are handed down by word-of-mouth ).

    • Yes Keith, we are often open to whirlwind of circumstances, sudden motions of mind, cruelties of others and all what is commonly called – destiny. Rostov might have been the city on (Ukrainian) river Don. Ukrainians fought bravely in their resistance to be eventually subdued by revolutionaries by 1921. All they wanted was to be free and independent.

      I tell you what I think about incredible amount of strive Russia and her people (and people in neghbouring nations) went thru since begining of 20th century – it was extremely unfortunate. I attached song with title “No need to worry gentlemen (officers)” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRUxxzFmoUA

      This reflects among other things on events in country’s past in true Russian fashion – with soulful nostalgia. It reminds that by far not all were “murderous bolsheviks” and many of those who resisted Bolsheviks ended their patriotic duty tragically, away from support from their own nation. Those were brave men who fought tooth and nail …and lost. As you may know, Bolshevik’s conduct and cruelties was to great deal orchestrated by foreign interest, contrary to real nature and needs of Russians. This may be past the scope of my intent and I let you to educate yourself on the subject, it you care for it.

      During WWII the situation was dramatically different – old-time patriotic moods had risen and the ‘proletarian internationalism’ was on back burner. From this point of view, and relating to subject of article, the invaders including our poor Italians were clearly shortsighted.

    • I recall a movie about Italian POWs in the Soviet Union starring Peter Falk. It made a point of noting the practice of cannibalism in the camps. I think I saw it on local Chicago TV in the early ’70s.

      Still, I think that both German and Italian POWs had a higher return rate from Soviet POW camps after the war than did Japanese POWs.

      • As I recall from distant past, my parents had friends in Germany who visited once with us. The man who’s name was Otto was German ex-soldier captured by Russians and held captive untill Konrad Adenauer, German chancellor menaged to get them (those who were still surviving) back home in 1956. The mentioned man had story to tell – he lost his right arm to frost, least of perils which could have happened.

        • Denny, please see my reply to Keith dated April 28, 2013 @ 6:09 a.m. Perhaps you could do something similar where you are to help save priceless memories and experiences before they are gone forever. Thanks for sharing, as always.

          • I appreciate your trust in me Earl. I will say something, albeit with degree of reluctance and respecting hospitality of webmaster; I do not want to stray from his intended subject too much.

            However, just for short – I am sceptical of human kind’s future. New tragedies are in offing; just watch the relentless push of forces behind the governments…. there will be plenty of stories to come, untill last human lives on this planet, so to say.

            This is not to say the firearms are useless, but they do not come even close to awesome power of weapons of new kind. If used in future (and final) conflict – not much is left to tell. Thanks for your attention.

  7. Denny’s post of April 28th, 2013 @ 10:44 a.m. is a good summary of the heart and soul of Russia in many ways. For all those who want to really understand more of this, I would recommend reading “Red Army” by Ralph Peters ( Pocket Books / Simon & Schuster, New York, 1989 ). Although the book was written as fiction, it was based on the very real possibility of a large-scale conventional war in Europe between the Soviet Union and NATO. The author was an experienced U.S. intelligence officer who specialized as a Russian linguist and analyst, and had served extensively in Europe during the Cold War years. He really understood the Russians and the myriad of other ethnic communities that made up the Soviet Union because he was able to think in their language, with all the nuances, symbols and meanings that are not apparent in translation, and therefore was able to become, in effect, a Russian. He therefore wrote “Red Army” as seen through the eyes of Russian soldiers in the front lines, with all their strengths and weaknesses as ordinary human beings committed to a conflict driven by events greater than themselves. All in all, a frightening, deeply insightful, thoroughly realistic and ultimately moving story that could so easily have become harsh reality, and a homage to both the human spirit and the terrible price of war.

    • Excellent contribution Earl! Just if I may,… little bit of humour to show a kind only Russian person can have and Westerners will have difficulty to grasp. I met a Russian man who was commander of unit – he was quite educated actually. He told me this (it was apparently re-told in their armed forces as a joke): “Yes, of course we can declare war on America; but we have to be ready to give up next day!”. This goes to time of Russia’s invasion to Afganistan.

      • :):):)! Reminds me of the standing joke ( told to me by a Russian sea captain who was formerly in the military ) in the Combat Engineer units of the former GSFG ( Group Of Soviet Forces In Germany ) that when engineers don’t know what to do, they wave their arms around and point in all directions as if to signify something really important is being accomplished. A version of this actually appears in “Red Army”.

        Ian, sorry to deviate somewhat from the original pathway of this article, but since the side topics typically encourage critical thinking and lead to related informative and educational threads that can only be of ultimate benefit to everyone, I hope you won’t mind too much.

  8. Your faith as a POW on the eastern front depended strongly on whether you were marked in some way or not. The overall survival rate for German POW in Russian hands was 50% (better actually than the one for Soviet troops in German hands). But of 200,000 men at the end in Stalingrad, only 100,000 even made it on the official POW rolls, and only 6,000 of those made it home. Mostly those who volunteered for Paulus’s Free Officer Committee.

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