Camicie Nere: The Blackshirts (MVSN & CCNN Combat Units)

M.V.S.N – The Milizia Voluntaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale

The MVSN started out as an organization not unlike the German S.A. (Brown Shirts), i.e. a Fascist Militia. They were purely a “Party” orientated organization, and like their German Counterparts wore a distinctive uniform – a Black Shirt and a Fez. This led to their popular nickname of Black Shirts (Camicie NereCamicie = Shirt & Nere = Black). Later the term CCNN was adopted for Black Shirt military units, and is taken directly from the initials of Camicie Nere. MVSN and CCNN are generally interchangeable, however the former primarily refers to political orientated parts of the Black Shirts, while the latter is generally used in reference to combat units.

At least one author (Victor Madeja) has suggested that the Black Shirts may well have been the “Red Shirts”, adopting the traditional colours of Garibaldi’s famous units from the Italian Wars of Unification, had not red been synonymous with “Communism” and “Marxism”. However, it would seem more likely that Black was adopted as it had been the uniform of the Arditi (Shock Troops); who had represented the Elite of the Italian Army in World War I. The Arditi were the Italian equivalent of the German Stosstuppen (Storm Troops), and in both countries, fascist groups adopted these troops uniforms as a means to attract Great War veterans to their ranks, and to generally emphasize their links with Veterans Organizations. This was all part of their political aims/plans to recruit public support. (The politics however are not the point of this article and I do not intend to discuss them at any length).

It is possible that many served in the Black Shirt Militia Units for a chance of immortality (or Glory – such as Garibaldi’s Red Shirts achieved), or in support of republican political views (which didn’t necessarily mean long term support for the fascists). Either way there was plenty of loyalty towards fascism and the fascist party in the Black Shirts, but certainly none towards the King and the Monarchy.

Mussolini was a sort of “de facto” Commander in Chief, although only an Honorary Corporal, and “just one of the boys“, it was he who exercised real power over the organization, rather than the Console Generale! However, unlike their German counterparts (who were literally exterminated in the “Night of the Long Knives“), the Black Shirts were reasonably secure and stable. Both Mussolini and the Fascist Grand Council required the Black Shirts, as muscle, since the armed forces were controlled by Monarchists (who saw Mussolini as a threat to their own power) and there was possibly concern (or paranoia) about how much support the Fascists really had. It has been suggested that a sizeable portion of the population may have sided with the Monarchists (and the King) if forced to choose, however support for Mussolini and the Fascists (and also for Hitler and the Nazis in Germany) was probably a lot more widespread in their respective countries than people concede today!

Technically the Black Shirts consisted of volunteers who had completed their 18 months compulsory service. Volunteering meant a term of service of 10 years, albeit very part time service! Volunteering was usually seen as mandatory (like all totalitarian regimes of the early 20th Century, enlisting in some form of party organization was actively encouraged, but was not usually compulsory unless a Public Official such as School Teacher or Government Officer). It certainly was not enforced, and many avoided enlistment. The MVSN were very short of Officer and NCO material for cadres and this too contributed to the sometimes-low level of enlistment.

As I mentioned I do not intend to discuss the political side of Italian Fascism here, but would mention that it did not seem to include the Genocide and level of Racism promoted by Hitler and the National Socialists in Germany. Furthermore, although the Italians did not have an equivalent of the S.S. (An army of fanatics with allegiance sworn to one man); and although admittedly there were some similar comparisons between the MVSN and the S.S. at the start of the war (both were Para-military organizations not very well equipped for genuine military service); the MVSN were not involved in mass Genocide like the S.S. nor did they (later in the war) become an elite private army who got the best of everything.

Finally, the Black Shirt Officers were often appointed for political zeal, and loyalty (not necessarily to the Fascist Grand Council, but to the “Ras” – The local Party Organization Chief). The Italians took a very individualistic approach to many things, including politics; so, the Fascist Grand Council often had little input, everything being controlled by the Duce and the Party Secretary (who essentially rubber stamped everything the Duce did). While the Ras in each area did as they pleased since they believed they were directly subordinate to the Duce (including building Militia that were, hopefully, loyal to them personally)! Ultimately this meant the Militias were not always as well led as they could have been, and they suffered correspondingly.

C.C.N.N. – Camicie Nere (the Black Shirt Combat Units)

In October 1939 Mussolini announced his plan to create 142 Battalions for combat service, forming them into “Combat Legions” (each of 2 CCNN Battalions). The Legions would be incorporated into existing Army formations (principally Infantry Divisions). The basic organization of a Black Shirt Legion was:

CCNN LEGION HEADQUARTERS COMPANY

LEGION HQ PLATOON (102 men)

CCNN LEGION MG COMPANY

COMPANY HQ PLATOON (101 men)

3 MG PLATOONS (each 37 men & 4 MMG)

2 CCNN BATTALIONS, each:

BATTALION HQ PLATOON (65 men)

BATTALION RECCE/SCOUT PLATOON (41 men)

3 RIFLE COMPANIES, each:

COMPANY HQ PLATOON (63 men & 3 45mm Mortars)

2 RIFLE PLATOONS (each 37 men & 4 LMG)

Note that in some (rare) cases the Battalions had 3 Platoons per Company but with only 3 LMG each.

The following transport was also allocated:

CCNN LEGION HQ: 2 Bicycles, 2 Motorcycles, 1 Car, 1 Truck, ? Carts, 9 Animals.

CCNN MG COMPANY: 4 Carts, 41 Animals.

2 CCNN BATTALION HQs: each 5 Bicycles, 2 Trucks, 5 Carts, and 16 Animals.

2 CCNN RECON/SCOUT PLATOONS: none.

6 CCNN RIFLE COMPANIES: each 1 Bicycle, 20 Animals.

Black Shirt Legions were identified by number, while Battalions were identified by number and name (the name would be the region the unit came from, or a famous Italian Fascist Hero – including current members of the Fascist Grand Council). In the A.O.I. (Africa Orientale Italiana – Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea) during the invasion of Ethiopia 7 CCNN Divisions were formed with the hope of establishing a “reputation” and an “Espirit du Corps”. Many of these troops subsequently served in the Spanish Civil War (on the Nationalist Side), where casualties were very heavy.

CCNN Divisions that served in Ethiopia (A.O.I.) and Spain

1st 23rd March CCNN Division
2nd 28th October CCNN Division
3rd 21st April CCNN Division
4th 3rd January CCNN Division
5th 1st February CCNN Division
6th Tevere CCNN Division
7th Cirene CCNN Division

These troops provided an experienced Cadre for the new (1940) divisions to be built around, however due to the losses in Spain only sufficient cadre could be provided for 3½ Divisions (which were duly formed in Libya). This Cadre however did go someway towards compensating for the lack of equipment and training in these divisions, but even so, the poor equipment and weapons establishment ensured they would struggle in a modern war.

At this time, Mussolini also envisaged the CCNN Legions as being the “Arditi” (Shock Troops or Elite) of the Army, despite their lack of heavy weapons, and the need for more extensive training.

CCNN Units in North Africa

In North Africa in 1940 the CCNN Divisions quickly showed the results of their poor organization and equipment. Although supplied with a cadre of combat experienced troops, and individually brave, they suffered from the lack of heavy weapons and poor command and tactics. The result of this was to cast doubt on them as viable combat troops, and provide ammunition for the Monarchists in the army who opposed the use of the MVSN as combat troops.

The CCNN Divisions were loosely modelled on conventional Italian Infantry Divisions; hence, the organization of the Legions differed from that given above and actually mirrored Infantry Regiment organization. The individual CCNN Battalions however were organized the same as above, rather than as conventional Infantry Battalions.

1st 23rd March CCNN Division

DIVISION HQ

219th CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

LEGION MORTAR COY (6 x 81mm Mortars)

LEGION GUN BATTERY (4 x 65/17 Inf Guns)

114th G. Veroli CCNN BATTALION

118th Volsca CCNN BATTALION

119th N. Ricciotti CCNN BATTALION

233rd CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

LEGION MORTAR COY (6 x 81mm Mortars)

LEGION GUN BATTERY (4 x 65/17 Inf Guns)

129th Adriatica CCNN BATTALION

133rd Lupi di Matese CCNN BATTALION

148th Tavogliere CCNN BATTALION

201st MG BATTALION

BATTALION HQ

3 MG COMPANIES (each HQ & 4 Platoons – 16 HMG)

1st CCNN ANTI-TANK COMPANY

COMPANY HQ

4 GUN PLATOONS (each 2 x 47/32 ATk Guns)

201st (ARMY) ARTILLERY REGIMENT

REGIMENT HQ

1 GRUPPO 12 x 100/17 Howitzers

2 GRUPPOs 12 x 75/27 Guns

2 BATTERIES 8 x 20mm AA

201st MIXED ENGINEER BATTALION

BATTALION HQ

ENGINEER COMPANY

SIGNALS COMPANY

XLI LIGHT TANK BATTALION

BATTALION HQ (4 L3/35 and L3 Carro Commando)

3 TANK COMPANIES (each 15 L3/35 & 1 Carro Commando)

Arrived at Taguria, Libya in mid 1940. Invaded Egypt as part of 10th Army in September 1940. Retreated to Libya in December 1940 and was destroyed at Bardia in January 1941.

2nd 28th October CCNN Division

DIVISION HQ

231st CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

LEGION MORTAR COY (6 x 81mm Mortars)

131st M.S. Marrone & G. Paolini CCNN BATTALION

132nd Monte Vekino CCNN BATTALION

135th Gran Sasso CCNN BATTALION

238th CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

LEGION MORTAR COY (6 x 81mm Mortars)

138th R. Padovani CCNN BATTALION

140th Aquilia CCNN BATTALION

145th Pisacane CCNN BATTALION

202nd MG BATTALION

BATTALION HQ

3 MG COMPANIES (each HQ & 4 Platoons – 16 HMG)

2nd CCNN ANTI-TANK COMPANY

COMPANY HQ

4 GUN PLATOONS (each 2 x 47/32 ATk Guns)

202nd (ARMY) ARTILLERY REGIMENT

REGIMENT HQ

1 GRUPPO 12 x 100/17 Howitzers

2 BATTERIES 8 x 20mm AA

202nd MIXED ENGINEER BATTALION

BATTALION HQ

SIGNALS COMPANY

Arrived at Garien, Libya in mid 1940. Invaded Egypt as part of 10th Army in September 1940. Elements of the Division were detached out to the Libyan units, including both Legion Gun Batteries (each 4 x 65/17), 2 Gruppos of Artillery Regiment (each 12 x 75/27), and the Engineer Company from 202nd Engineer Battalion. Division retreated to Libya in December 1940 and was destroyed between Sollum and Halfaya and at Bardia in January 1941.

3rd 21st April CCNN Division

DIVISION HQ

181st CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

71st Manfreda CCNN BATTALION

81st A. di Barbiano CCNN BATTALION

102nd Cacciatori di Tevere CCNN BATTALION

203rd CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

103rd Clitunno CCNN BATTALION

110th Picena CCNN BATTALION

143rd Clino Ricci CCNN BATTALION

203rd (ARMY) ARTILLERY REGIMENT

REGIMENT HQ

1 GRUPPO 12 x 100/17 Howitzers

2 GRUPPOs 12 x 75/27 Guns

2 BATTERIES 8 x 20mm AA

This Division was well below establishment and lacking many heavy weapons. It is sometimes described as equivalent in strength to a single Regiment (Legion) from another Division! In some accounts, it is not even mentioned! It arrived in Taguria, Libya in 1939. It invaded Egypt as part of 10th Army in September 1940. Retreated to Libya in December 1940 and was overrun and destroyed during the retreat.

4th 3rd January CCNN Division

DIVISION HQ

250th CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

LEGION MORTAR COY (6 x 81mm Mortars)

LEGION GUN BATTERY (4 x 65/17 Inf Guns)

150th G. Carli CCNN BATTALION

154th D. Mastronuzzi CCNN BATTALION

156th Lucania CCNN BATTALION

270th CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

LEGION MORTAR COY (6 x 81mm Mortars)

LEGION GUN BATTERY (4 x 65/17 Inf Guns)

170th Agrigentum CCNN BATTALION

172nd Enna CCNN BATTALION

174th Segesta CCNN BATTALION

204th MG BATTALION

BATTALION HQ

3 MG COMPANIES (each HQ & 4 Platoons – 16 HMG)

4th CCNN ANTI-TANK COMPANY

COMPANY HQ

4 GUN PLATOONS (each 2 x 47/32 ATk Guns)

204th (ARMY) ARTILLERY REGIMENT

REGIMENT HQ

1 GRUPPO 12 x 105/28 Howitzers

2 GRUPPOs 12 x 75/27 Guns

? ANTI-AIRCRAFT BATTALION (12 x Motorized 75mm)

? ARTILLERY BATTALION (12 x 105/28 Howitzers)

204th MIXED ENGINEER BATTALION

BATTALION HQ

ENGINEER COMPANY

SIGNALS COMPANY

The Division arrived at Taguria, Libya in October 1939. Invaded Egypt as part of 10th Army in September 1940. Covered the retreat of remnants of 10th Army back to Libya in December 1940 and was destroyed at Sidi Barrani while doing so!

CCNN units would not return to North Africa until 1943, when the 10th Voghera “M” Battalion would be transferred from Albania to Tunisia, and attached to first the 136th Giovani Fascisti, and then later the 16th Pistoia Division. For related information, see the separate article here on the 136th (GGFF) Giovani Fascisti Division.

CCNN Units in the A.O.I.

Meanwhile CCNN units were also operational in the A.O.I. (Africa Orientale Italiana – Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea). In the theatre Divisions did not operate as such, instead they served only as administrative organizations. The Brigade (or Regiment/Legion) was the operational unit in the A.O.I., the bulk of the troops being Colonial units of Ethiopians, Somalis, and Eritreans. However several units of metropolitan (European) and Colonial (Settlers) Italian troops fought in this theatre (In the case of the CCNN the latter are marked with the d’Africa notation).

CCNN d’Africa Division

As previously mentioned a holding and Administrative unit – Its component units operated independently.

Cacciatori d’Africa Division

Again this unit did not operate as a fully integrated Division. It was a regular army formation. Black shirt formations attached to it:

10th CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

3rd CCNN BATTALION

15th CCNN BATTALION

This Division’s name was later resurrected for a short period in 1942 as the cover name for the Folgore Parachute Division during its deployment to North Africa.

65th Savoy Grenadier Division

Again a regular army formation with the following Black shirt attachments:

11th CCNN BATTALION

Various Independent Units

The following is a list units that operated independently in the A.O.I. (including units nominally under the command of the CCNN d’Africa Division):

11th CCNN LEGION:

LEGION HQ

1st CCNN d’Africa BATTALION

2nd CCNN d’Africa BATTALION

3rd CCNN d’Africa BATTALION

44th CCNN d’Africa BATTALION

150th CCNN d’Africa BATTALION

170th CCNN d’Africa BATTALION

CCNN units in Greece and Yugoslavia

Several CCNN units participated in the Greek Campaign (1940-41) and the Yugoslavian Campaign (1941). Later Black shirt units were also involved in anti partisan duties throughout the Balkans.

CCNN Galbiati Raggruppamento

RAGGRUPPAMENTO HQ

8th Cacciatori delle Alpi CCNN BATTALION

12th Monte Bianco CCNN BATTALION

16th Alpina CCNN BATTALION

29th Chinotti CCNN BATTALION

This formation served in the Greek campaign and was disbanded at its conclusion.

CCNN Diamanti Raggruppamento

RAGGRUPPAMENTO HQ

28th Randaccio CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

79th CCNN MG COMPANY

11th Monteferato CCNN BATTALION

28th Randaccio CCNN BATTALION

108th Stamira CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

108th CCNN MG COMPANY

102nd Cacciatori di Tevere CCNN BATTALION

108th Stamura CCNN BATTALION

115th Cimino CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

121st CCNN MG COMPANY

115th Del Cimino CCNN BATTALION

121st Coriolano CCNN BATTALION

136th TreMonti CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

130th CCNN MG COMPANY

130th L’Acquila (or Monte Sirente) CCNN BATTALION

136th TreMonti CCNN BATTALION

152nd Acciaiata CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

152nd CCNN MG COMPANY

152nd Acciasta CCNN BATTALION

155th Val Bradano CCNN BATTALION

This formation was assigned to the XVII Corps and operated in Yugoslavia. It was disbanded at the conclusion of the Greek & Yugoslavian Campaigns.

Zara Garrison

107th F. Rismondo CCNN COMPANY

CCNN Biscaccianti Raggruppamento

RAGGRUPPAMENTO HQ

80th Alessandro Farnese CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

80th CCNN MG COMPANY

26th Alberto da Guissano CCNN BATTALION

67th Volontari del Reno CCNN BATTALION

109th Corridoni CCNN LEGION

LEGION HQ

109th CCNN MG COMPANY

109th Fillipo Corridoni CCNN BATTALION

116th Sabina CCNN BATTALION

93rd Giglio Rosso CCNN BATTALION

This unit served in Yugoslavia in the Librazhd sector.

Later both The 10th Voghera and 29th Arona Battalions would serve in this theatre on anti-partisan duties. They would later be joined by the Raggruppamento 21 April CCNN. These are all CCNN “M” Battalions, units recognised as being more combat effective (either by actual performance in combat, or by the quality of the men & officers in the unit) – see the entry on “M” Battalions later in this article.

CCNN Units operating actively in various theatres 1940-43

The following is a brief list of CCNN units that saw active service, and are not covered elsewhere in this article. It is not exhaustive, and further units (CCNN “M” Battalions) were in existence as well (and not included in this list – see the “M” Battalions entry later in this article).

5th CCNN Legion

LEGION HQ

5th Valle Scriva CCNN BATTALION

34th Premadura CCNN BATTALION

15th CCNN Legion

LEGION HQ

14th Garibaldina CCNN BATTALION

15th Leonessa CCNN BATTALION

30th CCNN Legion

LEGION HQ

6th Lomellina CCNN BATTALION

30th Roberto Forni CCNN BATTALION

63rd CCNN Legion

LEGION HQ

63rd Tagliamento CCNN BATTALION

79th Cispadana CCNN BATTALION

1st CCNN Marine Gruppo

GRUPPO HQ

42nd Berica CCNN MARINE BATTALION

43rd Alpina Piave CCNN MARINE BATTALION

50th Trevignana CCNN BATTALION

60th Istria CCNN MARINE BATTALION

Miscellaneous Independent Battalions

38th V. Alfieri CCNN BATTALION

41st Cesare Battisti CCNN ALPINI BATTALION

85th Apuana CCNN BATTALION

CCNN integration with regular army units

In Italy Black shirt “Territorial Defence” (Home Guard) Battalions were also organized, and grouped into “Zone” Commands. Each of these corresponded to the area controlled by an Army Corps. Before mobilizing, these units were identified by number (Roman Numeral) and were referred to as Cohorts, their sub units being Centuries (Companies) and Maniples (Platoons). These units would be “mobilized” as required to form “Combat” legions.

Meanwhile in April 1940, Mussolini discovered that the Army had been resisting the integration of the Black shirts into their divisions. The Duce responded with a new programme to force the execution of his policy! Meanwhile in North Africa, the CCNN divisions had performed poorly, principally for the reasons mentioned previously (poor equipment and senior command), and this appears to have been used as an excuse by the Monarchists in the army to further resist Mussolini’s instructions. In the A.O.I. however the CCNN units performed quite adequately, probably due to the lack of mechanization on both sides (it was a cross between modern warfare and the old colonial era), which proved that the basic quality of the troops was probably acceptable – providing they had reasonable equipment and leadership that was comparable to that of their opponents.

The following is a list of some of the regular army divisions that incorporated Black shirt units (including many who still had Legions present at the time of the armistice in September 1943):

  • 14th Isonzo Infantry Division (98th CCNN Legion)
  • 20th Fruili Infantry Division (88th CCNN Legion – later renamed 387th Infantry Regiment when the Division served on the Allied side after the armistice in 1943)
  • 21st Sardinian Grenadier Infantry Division (55th CCNN Legion)
  • 22nd Cacciatori delle Alpi Infantry Division (105th CCNN Legion)
  • 26th Assietta Infantry Division (17th CCNN Legion)
  • 28th Aosta Infantry Division (171st CCNN Legion)
  • 31st Calabria Infantry Division (177th CCNN Legion – later renamed 359th Infantry Regiment when the Division served on the Allied side after the armistice in 1943)
  • 44th Cremona Infantry Division (90th CCNN Legion – later renamed 321st Infantry Regiment when the Division served on the Allied side after the armistice in 1943)
  • 47th Bari Infantry Division (152nd CCNN Legion – later renamed 340th Infantry Regiment when the Division served on the Allied side after the armistice in 1943)

Additionally, single Black shirt Battalions were motorized and incorporated into Motorized Bersaglieri and Infantry Regiments (these formations usually had 2 Rifle and 1 Support Battalion, so the CCNN Battalion, despite it’s small size, increased their theoretical infantry strength quite significantly). The organization of these units varied slightly from the normal:

CCNN MOTORIZED BATTALION:

BATTALION HQ PLATOON

BATTALION MOTORCYCLE RECCE/SCOUT PLATOON

3 RIFLE COMPANIES, each:

COMPANY HQ PLATOON

2 RIFLE PLATOONS

The exact manpower of these battalions varied – from 570 in a battalion attached to a Motorized Infantry Regiment, to 614 in a battalion attached to a Motorized or Bicycle Bersaglieri Regiment. Note that the Rifle Companies in some cases had 3 Platoons (see entry at start of article on CCNN Battalion organisation).

The “Third” Infantry Regiment idea

Experience in the Greek Campaign in 1940 quickly showed the weakness of the Italian formations, exposing the error of adopting a “Binary” organization. Italy had, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, reorganized its Infantry Divisions to a new establishment of only 2 Regiments each (hence the “Binary” term – this was probably mainly due to Mussolini wanting to be able to boast a higher total number of ‘Divisions’ constituting the Italian Army). Effectively this allowed them to significantly increase the number of Divisions, but (in retrospect) at a cost in fighting power – it was clearly proved that Infantry Divisions of only 6 Battalions simply did not have enough resources, either on offence or defence. This became evident in Greece where as soon as a Division was heavily involved and had significant casualties it was forced to pull out of the line due to lack of manpower, it was further evident in 1941 in North Africa where during the 2nd Siege of Tobruk (1941) there were not enough troops to rotate units in and out of the siege lines.

This therefore indirectly supported Mussolini’s call, and it began to be envisaged that the Black Shirt Legions could/would become the “third” Regiment of each Division. At this time, Mussolini still envisaged the CCNN Legions as Elite Shock troops who would spearhead the attack. The “third regiment” idea eventually failed, it was 1942 before the incorporation was completed, and the mobilization effort was inadequate. Black Shirt units generally failed to reach anywhere near their official establishments (not that many regular army units were any better), and although the Army eventually conceded (admitting it had no choice due to a desperate need for manpower) it was still obstinate and unenthusiastic about the system. Furthermore the separate division idea had been somewhat discredited by the results in North Africa – which was an unfair indictment of the troops that had fought in those divisions. Although in that case, everyone ignored the fact that the fault lay just as equally with the Army (who failed to supply adequate modern equipment) and Mussolini (who forced the campaign to begin despite such obvious shortcomings)!

By late in 1942 there had been 41 Legions incorporated into Army Divisions, despite the fact that many were well below strength. By this time, however CCNN battalions were being withdrawn from first line divisions just as quickly. Usually because their training and leadership was not up to a suitable standard, but also occasionally because of poor performance in actual combat situations. Some were caught in an “Italian Army Merry-Go-Round” and were ceaselessly transferred from one Division to another. Finally, some of the better battalions were given independent assignments as GHQ, Army, or Corps troops, to be attached to Army units as and when required.

The “M” Battalions

During all this confusion the better units were being built up into respectable combat groups. They were given the designation “M” alongside their names in the Army OOB to indicate their status; that they had received specialist assault and combat training, or had proven themselves in combat and had received a “battlefield promotion” to this status. The “M” may have stood for Mussolini, since the insignia was actually designed to match the Duce’s handwriting (although it has been suggested by one author it stood for ‘Morte‘ i.e. Death). I had planned to research ‘M‘ Battalions further but regrettably have not had the opportunity.

Russia – CCNN units on the Eastern Front

In August 1941 the Gruppo Battaglioni Tagliamento CCNN (Gruppo Battaglioni is a temporary-group of Battalions without the normal support & HQ units and structure of a Regiment or the more formalised ‘Raggruppamento’ groups) arrived on the Eastern Front, followed by the Raggruppamento 23 March CCNN in February 1942, and the Raggruppamento 3 January CCNN (which incorporated the Tagliamento Gruppo) later in 1942. See the entry above on CCNN “M” units. By early 1943, these units had all been destroyed during the Soviet Winter Offensive, the few survivors having returned to Italy.

Sicily – The last large scale use of CCNN units

When the Allies came to invade Sicily in 1943 CCNN units were a significant presence in the defending force. The following is a list of the CCNN units present:

Included in the 26th Assietta Division

17th CCNN Legion, with:

18th Constantissima CCNN Battalion

Detached from the 26th Assietta Division to the Campobello (or Licata) Group

259th CCNN MG Company

17th Cremona CCNN Battalion

Detached from 28th Aosta Division to the Alcamo-Partinico Group

171st CCNN Legion, with:

168th Ibla CCNN Battalion

171st Vespri CCNN Battalion

Included in the 54th Napoli Division

173rd CCNN Legion, with HQ but No troops

Detached from the 54th Napoli Division to the Comiso-Ispica Group

174th CCNN MG Company

173rd Salso CCNN Battalion

Detached from the 54th Napoli Division to Mobile Group “G”

169th Siracusae CCNN Battalion

Assigned to Reggio Calabria Naval Base, Messina

95th CCNN Legion, with:

94th Fedele CCNN Battalion

95th Sante Ceccharini CCNN Battalion

Assigned to Pantelleria Island Garrison

Elements of the 9th Milmart Legion, CCNN Coastal Artillery, with:

1 Artillery Battalion

1 AA Battalion

1 AAMG Battalion

20 AA/Anti Ship Batteries (various types)

Assigned to Lampedusa Island Garrison

6th Milmart Independent Artillery Battalion (CCNN), with:

6 x light AA/Anti Ship Batteries

Other Special Militias

The University Militia was primarily responsible for pre military training, and it was the main source of Junior Officers for Fascist units. A Legion of University Militia fought in Ethiopia, and many members of this Militia served in Spain.

The Anti-aircraft and Coast Defence Command was an HQ that controlled 2 militia organizations, the units would be assigned to local Military command and issued equipment from army stocks. This was one of the most powerful Fascist organizations, and although not of a very high (military) quality they still controlled a large quantity of weapons and equipment (The bulk of which was handed over to the Germans in September 1943). All males between 18 and 37 years of age who were unfit for normal military service were drafted into these 2 Militias.

The Anti-aircraft Artillery Militia was responsible primarily for the general AA defence of the country; they were a sort of second line force, equipped with antiquated and/or obsolete weapons lacking modern fire control (including the 75/27 and 75/46 AA guns). In mid 1943, attempts began to re-equip these units with a new generation of Italian AA weapons, including 37mm, 102mm, and 105mm weapons. Typically, each Legion would have 64 Guns and 32 MMG/HMG, divided into 2 battalions (each of 4 batteries). Total strength of this force was about 60,000 men.

The Coast Defence Militia staffed coastal batteries (other than those in port areas which were manned by the Navy). Strength unknown, but possibly around 20-30,000 men.

The Railway Militia primarily were responsible for railway security and provided guard detachments for trains and stations, however on occasions they also supplied personnel to operate the trains as well. Strength 30,000 men.

Forest Militia was responsible for logging and forestry, but also for protection of these resources (such as fighting forest fires). In Ethiopia and Greece, some specially trained Forest Militia units served as Combat Troops. Strength 5,000 men.

The Frontier Militia were used to assist the GaF (Frontier Guards) and the GdF (Finance Guards) in securing the borders, collecting customs and taxes, and so on. All members were mountaineers with a good knowledge of Italy’s “wilder” frontiers. Strength was about 2,400 men.

Finally, there were 3 minor militias: Post and Telegraph, Roads, and the Ports Militia. The names pretty much describe the function, and all 3 combined contained less than 3,000 men.

Bibliography

I highly recommend Victor Madeja’s “Italian Army Order of Battle” for anyone starting out on researching units of the Italian Army in WWII, while Rex Trye’s book provides an excellent starting point for the Italians in general. Finally special thanks to Rex Trye (New Plymouth, New Zealand) and Arturo Lorioli (Rome, Italy) who have helped me with my Italian research and especially Arturo who has been a great source of information himself!

  • Italian Army Order of Battle 1940-44 – Victor W Madeja
  • Italian Army Handbook – Victor W Madeja
  • Handbook on the Italian Army – Terrence Wise
  • Italian Order of Battle WWII (3 Volumes) – George F Nafziger
  • Mare Nostrum, Italian Army Handbook (2nd Edition) – Jack Greene
  • Mussolini’s Soldiers – Rex Trye
  • Rommel’s North African Campaign – Greene & Massignani
  • Miscellaneous other publications & Articles

 

This article © 1996 John Moher.

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