Photos WW2 Italian Forces


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1941, Greece, An Italian Fiat-Ansaldo M13 / 40 tank

Battleship Conte di Cavour, during salvage operations after sinking in shallow water during the Taranto raid
A British salvo falling near an Italian cruiser, Punta Stilo, 9 July 1940
The Battle of Calabria, known to the Italian Navy as the Battle of Punta Stilo, was a naval battle during the Battle of the Mediterranean in the Second World War. Ships of the Italian Regia Marina were opposed by vessels of the British Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy. The battle occurred 30 miles to the east of Punta Stilo, Calabria, on 9 July 1940. It was one of the few pitched battles of the Mediterranean campaign during the Second World War involving large numbers of ships on both sides

Vittorio Veneto and Littorio at gunnery exercises
Destroyer Lampo aground after action with Royal Navy destroyers of the 14th Flotilla on the early hours of 16 April 1941, when she was escorting an Axis convoy with German troops to Tripoli.
Recon photo of the harbour of Naples, likely in December 1940; the battleships Vittorio Veneto and Giulio Cesare can be seen moored at the pier

Light cruiser Ottaviano Augusto shortly before her launch, Ancona, 31 May 1942

The Capitani Romani-class "light cruiser" Ottaviano Augusto was built by the Cantieri Navali Riuniti of Ancona; however, by 8 September 1943 the ship was still incomplete, therefore she was captured by German troops and abandoned in port. She would be sunk during an Allied air raid on 1 November 1943, and her wreck would be raised and scrapped after the war.
Destroyer Alvise da Mosto at Taranto in the 1930s. She was sunk by Force K on 1st December 1941

The Navigatori-class destroyer (until 1938 classified "esploratore leggero" - light scout) Alvise da Mosto (commanded by Capitani di Fregata Francesco Dell'Anno) sailed on 30 November 1941 to escort to Tripoli the modern tanker Iridio Mantovani, carrying 8629 t of badly needed fuel of all kinds. ULTRA had forewarned the British that the tanker would be sailing for North Africa, therefore on the same day Force K (four light cruisers and three destroyers in two squadrons) had sortied from Malta.

On 1 December, at 1300 h the small convoy was screened by recon planes, and then attacked by Bristol Blenheim bombers, that struck the Mantovani, crippling her; as the destroyer stood by to help, the situation was worsened as another air attack doomed the tanker at 1650 h, prompting the crew to abandon ship.

At 1750 h from the da Mosto Force K was spotted, initially mistaken for Italian ships coming from Tripoli to help; when the nature of the newcomers became apparent, Dell'Anno ordered to make straight for them, to make a torpedo attack; the destroyer came to 10'000 m close, with salvoes already straddling him, and made smoke, launching two and then four more torpedoes. Just then, however, a shot hit and caused the detonation of the fore magazine, bringing the destroyer to a stop; despite the fact that the fore 120 mm mount was still firing, Captain Dell'Anno ordered to abandon ship; the Alvise da Mosto sank at 1815 h.

As the British ships sailed on at slow speed, the destroyer HMS Lively (that had held back during the engagement) passed through the area where survivors were floating about. Said survivors saw that, on the British destroyers, the crew was all on deck, at attention, towards them. It was to salute the unfortunate Italian ship.

(An account from two German survivors, instead, remarked that the Lively passed through the area without trying to help anyone, and mocked the survivors with a "Good bye boys!")

138 men of the crew of the da Mosto went down with their ship, out of a crew of 230. Captain Dell'Anno was rescued, and decorated with the Medaglia d'Oro al Valor Militare; he would request another destroyer command (that of the Scirocco), and would die aboard it.
Italian paratroopers from Battaglione Autonomo Paracadutisti "Nembo" (independent parachute battalion) during the fights for the Anzio-Nettuno bridgehead. The photos also show German soldiers from the 4th Fallschirm-Jäger-Division.
Created at the end of January 1944, the battalion commanded by Captain Alvino had an improvised character - it consisted of two companies + a platoon, and only 350 men. In the fighting for the bridgehead, the battalion's losses amounted to approximately 70%.
Photo source: NAC 3/2/0/-/2157; 3/2/0/-/2158/1; 3/2/0/-/2159

A few photos of Italian soldiers on the Eastern Front.
1. Patrol of the 3. Bersalier Regiment (of the 3rd Divisione Celere "Principe Amedeo Duca d'Aosta") in the cornfield, Ukraine, 1941.
2. The Italian infantry is pushing through the Soviet barbed wire.
3. A woman hands flowers to a soldier going to the Eastern Front, Vienna, 1941.
4. A 20/65 Breda anti-aircraft gun.
5. Staff of the Italian XXXV Corps at work. Visible its commander, General Francesco Zingales (with monocle), an Italian colonel and a German liaison officer, 1942.
6. The leader of fascist Italy, Benito Mussolini, and the German general Enno von Rintelen pass in front of the Italian troops setting out for the Eastern Front.
Photo source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

The bow of torpedo boat Antares, showing damage suffered after ramming and sinking the Greek submarine Proteus, late December 1940

The Spica-class torpedo boat Antares (commanded by Tenente di Vascello Niccolò Nicolini) sailed from Valona (Vlorë) in the morning of 29 December 1940, escorting the three transports Sardegna, Piemonte and Italia that were returning on ballast to Brindisi.

At 1005 h the Sardegna made signals and started maneuvering; a minute later, it was hit by two torpedoes. The Antares spotted, at a range of 1500 m, the bow of the submarine that had made the attack, the Πρωτεύς (Proteus, also given as Protefs), lead ship of her class. The commander of the torpedo boat decided to ram it and ordered to make it straight for it, and go to flank speed; the Greek submarine tried to evade, but the chase ended soon because of the superior speed of the Italian ship. Just before the impact, Nicolini gave word to brace for impact, and to drop four depth charges immediately after.

The Antares struck the boat amidships, right forwards of the conning tower; the four depth charges added to the damage. The Proteus sank immediately, taking all her crew of six officers and forty-two seamen, first Greek submarine to be lost in World War II.

The torpedo boat then returned to the place where the transport sank, and began operations to help the survivors, while at the same time the commander checked the condition of his ship (finding it good, as the bow bulkheads were bent but had held). Two hundred and twenty men were picked up from the water, while twenty-five had died aboard the Sardegna; in the meantime, the other transports had gone on towards Brindisi, which they reached safely.

After completing the rescue, the Antares made for Brindisi at 17 knots, reaching the port at 1510 h. She would be immediately put in a floating drydock to be repaired and be given a moderate refit, and she would return to full operations by April 1941.
The crippled light cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni, before being finished off by a torpedo, Cape Spada, 19 July 1940

The light cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni (belonging to the Alberto di Giussano-class of the Condottieri-series) would demonstrate, in the waters off Cape Spada, all the flaws of its original concept, namely the forsaking of anything resembling armour protection for a theoretically high top speed that turned out to be a chimaera. During the engagement between the two Italian cruisers (the Colleoni and the Giovanni delle Bande Nere) and the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney and one destroyer flotilla, the Italians fired five hundred shells and only managed to make a hole in one of the Sydney's funnels; the Australian ship had pumped out no less than thirteen hundred shells, and had managed to hit the Colleoni right in the machinery spaces, crippling and dooming her. After first being struck by a torpedo that made the bow fall off, the crippled Italian ship (deprived of electric energy and thus returning fire only with her 100 mm secondaries) would be subjected by a deluge of fire, before another torpedo sent her to the bottom.
Arab tribesmen look at the skeletal remains of a burned-out tri-motor Savoia-Marchetti SM. 79 "Sparviero" (Sparrow) of the Regia Aeronautica somewhere in the N. Africa
The SM.79 was a militarised version of a pre-war civilian design and was Italy's principle medium bomber of WW2, recognisable via its dorsal "hump" machine-gun position.
A lot of plywood and fabric were used for its construction over a basic aluminium framework, thus it burned quicky, as evident here.

Soldiers of the XVI Blackshirts battalion embarking on the light cruiser Muzio Attendolo, to be transported to Albania, 23 December 1940

During a critical phase of the Greco-Italian war, the cruisers Muzio Attendolo and Raimondo Montecuccoli, together with the destroyers Folgore, Fulmine and Baleno, executed an urgent troop transport mission, carrying men of the 8th Infantry Regiment "Cuneo" and of the XVI Blackshirts Batallion, with supplies, sailing at high speed from Brindisi to Vlorë (then called Valona).
WW2 - Macchi Mc 200 of the 369th Squadron of the 22nd Autonomous Fighter Group on the Russian front at Krivoj-Rog September 1941. (my colorization)
The Macchi M.C.200 "Saetta" was a low-wing single-engine fighter aircraft developed by the Italian aeronautical company Aeronautica Macchi and entered the line in 1939. The Macchi M.C.200 had no particular defects and was endowed with excellent capabilities for close combat. In fact, its handling was excellent and its stability in high speed dives was exceptional.
In contrast to the good flight characteristics, however, there were the poor power of the engine, a horizontal speed just sufficient, an inadequate armament of only two 12.7 mm machine guns in the fuselage (synchronized for shooting through the propeller), the cockpit open without heating, the lack of armor to protect the pilot (except in a limited number of specimens), the absolute impossibility of performing inverted flight maneuvers due to both the carburetor power supply and, above all, the disengagement of the pumps oil and petrol that such a maneuver would have caused with consequent destruction of the engine, an extremely expensive structure to build. With the insignia of the Regia Aeronautica, he operated on almost all fronts of the Second World War, from the Mediterranean Sea, to Africa, to the Balkans and Russia.

Some photos from this book

Mario Rigoni Stern "Sergeant in the Snows" - In early 1942, 20-year-old sergeant Mario Rigoni Stern was in Russia as part of the Italian Expeditionary Corps

A train with 1,200 Italian soldiers of the 81st regiment of the "Torino" division started the journey from Rome to Yasinovataya station in Donbass.

Elite Italian units, the so-called bersagliers in Donbass.

Then it started to get cold and came the defeat.
There are no absolutely accurate data on the losses of the Italian army. It is known that the 8th Army arrived on the Eastern Front in the composition of about 260 thousand people. Of these, about 40 thousand people returned to Italy.

Italian POW
About 60 thousand soldiers were captured. According to the Italian side, 10,300 of them were subsequently repatriated. The rest died in prisoner of war camps from diseases, wounds, frostbite, etc.
Regia Aeronautica Italiana:
1. Ground staff loads bombs on board a Fiat BR.20.
2. View of the Italian airport in Albania, 1941. In the background you can see the Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero bomber.
3. Two Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero bombers in combat flight.
The planes belonged to 229. Squadriglia/89° Gruppo/32° Stormo B.T.
Photo source: NAC 3/2/0/-/16887; 3/2/0/-/16888; 3/2/0/-/2659
History of 89° Gruppo (Squadriglie No. 228 & 229) from the book C. Dunning, Courage Alone. The Italian Air Force 1940-1943:
The SM 79 was received in early 1939 and this was the first unit, along with its sister 38 Gruppo, to operate against Tunisia, bombing Bizerte on 12 June 1940. The unit was used in attacks on shipping in July and August, including those against Force H from Gibraltar. The unit was kept busy from January to July 1941 attacking coastal convoys and warships from Gibraltar. Losses were building up so they left Sardinia for Italy in September. On 17 October they received SM 84 bombers in place of the faithful old SM 79. In March 228 Sq transfered to Capodichino under 2 NAS instructors. 229 Sq joined them on 1 May 1942 when they became Aerosilurante, detaching 13 S84s to Capodichino to pick up torpedoes and more crews. Its sister, 38 Gruppo, remained B.T. with the intention of the Stormo using both in combination attacks in order to split the defences.
Returning to Sardinia, on 12 August they attacked the Malta-bound PEDESTAL convoy. Four days later 228 Sq returned to Capodichino. In November Milis was also used as well as Alghero, during anti-invasion sorties against the Allied fleets. Twenty SM 84s were lost in these operations.
On 1 December ten SM 84s attacked Bone harbour, claiming 6 defending fighters but losing only two bombers.
On 14 December they took over the SM 79s of 108 Gruppo and became Autonomo on 10 January 1943. It had been discovered that the SM 84 had insufficient range and performance for torpedo-bombing, consequently the remaining aircraft were passed to 38 Gruppo and the older type reintroduced. Six aircraft were passed to 105 and 130 Gruppi at the end of January. On 28 February the new SM 79s were operating near Capo Bougaroni, often combining operations with other torpedo units such as 131 Gruppo and 205 Sq. By 5 April they had seven serviceable aircraft. On 1 June the squadriglie left for Italy to join the new specialist Raggruppamento Aerosilurante. 89 Gruppo disbanded on 8 August.


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