The Italian Combat Group Infantry Battalion, late 1944
On the 3rd September 1943, the western Allied troops landed in mainland Italy. Ahead of their arrival Mussolini had already been deposed by an internal coup and a new government installed. This administration had agreed to an armistice with the Allies, however the Germans were aware of this move. When the armistice was declared on 8th September the German forces in Italy swiftly changed from Axis partners to an occupying power.
Italy was effectively split into two parts as a result of these events. Those who remained loyal to Mussolini and Fascism formed the Italian Social Republic (RSI), whose forces were recruited largely from interned Italian troops, while those opposed to the old regime joined the Co-Belligerent Forces, also known variously the Royal Army or Italian Liberation Army.
The first major action for the Italians against their former allies was at the end of 1943 during the struggle for Monte Cassino. It was not until late 1944 that the Allies began to mobilise Divisional level formations, though the Italian Liberation Corps was active throughout the summer of 1944. Rather than Divisions, the six formations created were referred to as Italian Combat Groups, for some political reason I can't pretend to fathom. The Combat Groups were in effect remodelled 'Binary Divisions', retaining the same overall organisation but now including somewhat more modern support weapons and motorised transport. These were provided by the British, and the troops wore British battledress with unique Italian embellishments.
The Combat Group Infantry Battalion, circa late 1944 to 1945
Battalion Headquarters (6 Officers)
Headquarters Company, (4 Officers, 115 men) comprised of;
Signals Platoon (1 Officer, 46 men)
Scout Platoon (1 Officer, 42 men)
Support Company, (6 Officers, 162 men) comprised of;
Headquarters Platoon (2 Officers, 33 men)
Mortar Platoon (1 Officer, 32 men)
Carrier Platoon (1 Officer, 53 men)
Anti-tank Platoon (1 Officer, 23 men)
Pioneer Platoon (1 Officer, 21 men)
Three Rifle Companies (5 Officers, 155 men), each comprised of;
Headquarters Platoon (2 Officers, 32 men)
Three Rifle Platoons, each comprised of;
Platoon Headquarters (1 Officer, 5 men)
Two Rifle Squads, each comprised of 18 men
Total strength of 773 all ranks (31 Officers and 742 men)
Points of note
The overall format of the earlier The Italian Infantry Battalion 1940 to 1943 is still visible in many aspects of the new organisation, with only Support Company completely changed. Each Company level HQ Platoon now included motor transport, while Support Company HQ included a signals detachment as well. Heavy machine guns have, interestingly, been removed entirely from the Battalion, and as far as I can tell were not found anywhere else in the Group.
The elements of the Battalion
Battalion Headquarters - consisted of the Commander, his Adjutant, two Medical Officers and two Lieutenants for unspecified duties.
Signals Platoon - included telephone and switchboard operators, five motorcyclists and now sixteen wireless operators.
Scout Platoon - finally a little more detail on this intriguing element. The Platoon included three Sergeants, three drivers, six Corporals, nine saboteurs and 21 riflemen, all under an Officer. Transport was made up of three motorcycle, possibly for each Sergeant, and three reconnaissance cars. The type of car is not specified, so this could be anything from a Jeep to a Humber to an Italian model. There is no indication from the table of support weapon issue to the Platoon, or its internal organisation. I'm tempted to suggest three equal Sections, each with a motorcycle for the Sergeant and a Recce car with driver, a nine strong rifle group and finally three of the mysteriously titled saboteurs. Without knowing the type of Recce car however it is difficult to determine whether the Platoon fought entirely dismounted or some of its members acted as crewmen.
Mortar Platoon - in this incarnation the Battalion included its own mortars, of the British 3-inch type. The Platoon included four Universal carriers fitted for mortar, and likely deployed as two sections, each of two detachments giving four mortars in total. No total for 3-inch mortars is given unfortunately, so this is an interpretation from the trades and duties of the other ranks.
Carrier Platoon - this fielded thirteen carriers plus two trucks and two motorcycles. As well as fifteen drivers there were twelve Corporals and twenty-four gun numbers, presumably split evenly over the dozen carriers operating in four Sections. That would leave Platoon HQ with two Sergeants, each probably on a motorcycle, the Officer and his driver in the final carrier, and two drivers with 15-cwt trucks for stores and equipment. It is effectively a slimmed down version of the British Carrier Platoon, and most likely had the same issue of one Bren per carrier, plus one PIAT and one 2-inch mortar per Section. For some reason the thought of the Italian Army zipping around in Universal carriers makes me smile...
Anti-tank Platoon - this had five Loyd carriers and one 15-cwt truck and a total of six drivers. For the detachments there were two Sergeants, four Corporals and six gun numbers, realistically sufficient to serve just a pair of 6-pdr anti-tank guns. That would leave Platoon HQ with an Officer, Sergeant, armourer and two ammunition numbers, plus an orderly and motorcycle, and the spare carrier and 15-cwt truck with their drivers.
Pioneer Platoon - this included two mechanics along with the usual carpenters, blacksmiths and masons found in the British equivalent, but no assault pioneer personnel.
The Rifle Company - perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the Rifle Platoon still consisted of two oversize Squads, however there were several important differences from the 1943 version.
The Squad is described in a note at the end of the establishment table as consisting of' "two rifle squads each divided into a rifle section of seven men and a L.M.G. section of eleven men and 4 L.M.Gs."
Now the standout thing here is that would mean the LMG allocation for the Squad had doubled, so the Platoon now had eight weapons on hand, which is a massive concentration of firepower. This might also explain the increase in strength of the LMG Section to eleven men, which may have been handled as two gun teams each commanded by a Corporal with the Sergeant in overall control.
The Rifle Section was reduced to seven men, partly by the enlargement of the LMG Section, but also due to the creation of a 2-inch mortar detachment at Platoon HQ. The same note describes this as consisting of an NCO and three men, who would no doubt have served a single 2-inch mortar. HQ was completed by an Officer and runner as before. The NCO structure appears to have been only slightly altered, with two Sergeants and nine Corporals per Rifle Platoon, the extra Corporal being with the 2-inch mortar detachment.
Individual weapons are not stated, but it seems reasonable that Section leaders and the mortar gunner would have been issued submachine guns in accordance with usual British practice. While the Italian forces had previously used their own small arms during the campaign, the formalisation of the Combat Groups saw much British equipment introduced. The LMGs were therefore likely to be Bren guns rather than Breda 30 types, and the rifles Lee Enfields. The Italian Beretta submachine gun was compatible with the same 9-mm ammunition used in the Sten, and was frankly a better choice, so likely remained in use.
Company HQ had a universal carrier, which could carry a Bren gun and 2-inch mortar for signal uses. HQ also included four ammunition numbers, four cooks, a medical orderly, five stretcher-bearers and four signallers. Given these do not reflect any British influence, it is probable they were also found in the previous Company HQ of the 1940 to 1943 period. The three 15-cwt trucks were though a definite British addition.
The history of Italian small unit organisation is almost as complicated as the Odyssey of Italian involvement in the war itself. Certainly no one can accuse the Italian Army of being unimaginative in its approach to organisation, there are more permutations than I can count, but sadly none of the detailed tables appear to have survived.
There is a definite lightweight feel to the various units deployed, and the separation of essential weapons such as medium mortars and light anti-tank guns from Battalions in the 1940 to 1943 type is most odd. It feels as though the assets commanders required were routinely held one level above their control, even up to Division in terms of artillery.
The Italian Army
The Italian Infantry Battalion
Italian Divisional Organisations