101st Motorised Division Trieste

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This article is about the historic Italian 101st Motorised Division Trieste. For the historic Italian Army brigade, see Trieste Mechanized Brigade.
101st Motorised Division Trieste
Active 1939–1943
Country Italy Regno d'Italia
Kingdom of Italy
Branch Flag of Italy (1860).svgRegio Esercito
Royal Italian Army
Type Infantry
Role Motorised
Size Division
Part of Italian XX Motorised Corps
Nickname Trieste
Engagements World War II
Operation Crusader
Battle of Gazala
Battle of Bir Hakeim
First Battle of El Alamein
Battle of Alam el Halfa
Second Battle of El Alamein
Battle of the Mareth Line
Battle of Wadi Akarit
101 Motorised Division Trieste collar insignia.jpg
Trieste Division collar insignia

101st Motorised Division Trieste or 101° Divisione Trieste (Italian) was a Motorised Division of the Italian Army during World War II. The Trieste was formed in 1939 and served in Albania and North Africa where it surrendered to the Allies in 1943.


Formed in 1939, from the 8 Infantry Division Po the 101st Motorised Division Trieste was mobilized for war in 1940. It was initially held as a reserve formation in Italy, until 1941 when it was sent to Albania.

North Africa[edit]

The Trieste was sent to Libya in North Africa in August 1941, as part of the Italian XX Motorised Corps under General Gastone Gambara with the 132 Armoured Division Ariete. The division participated in all the major Western Desert battles from then on; Operation Crusader, the January 1941 Axis counteroffensive, the Battle of Gazala in 1942, the Battle of Bir Hakeim, the First Battle of El Alamein and the Second Battle of El Alamein where it was virtually destroyed.

During Operation Crusader the Trieste repelled a strong British breakout from Tobruk on the night of 25–26 November,[1] and taking advantage of the British 4th Armoured Brigade's withdrawal from the Tobruk sector, achieved a notable success on December 1 when its armoured columns moved forward and cut the tenuous link the 6th New Zealand Brigade had established with Tobruk on November 27.[2] On December 13, the 1st Buffs captured Point 204 on the Alam Hamza Ridge, but the Trieste Division successfully defended Point 208.[3]

During the Battle of Gazala, the Trieste succeeded in breaching part of a minefield and delivered urgently needed supplies to Rommel,[4] at a time that he was seriously considering surrendering.

At this time the British thought they had Rommel cornered and he himself contemplated surrender, but the Italian 'Trieste' Division managed to open a route through the minefield and get a supply column to him.[5]

The Trieste also played an important part in the destruction of the British 2nd and 4th Armoured Brigades south of Knightsbridge on June 12.[6]

During the First Battle of El Alamein, the division is reported to have fought well alongside the Trento Division and Italian combat engineers defending Sanyet el Miteiriya and Makh Khad Ridge on 17 July.[7]That day, a battalion of the Trento saved one flank from penetration and was so cited in the Panzerarmee daily summary,[8]The battalion along with a battalion from the Trieste Division,[9]counterattacked the 2/32nd Battalion and captured 200[10]-300 Australians[11]in this action but the Australian Official History overlooks this Italian success, admitting that just “two forward platoons of the 2/32nd’s left company were overrun, 22 men were taken prisoner”, and wrongly claiming that that they were captured by the Germans.[12][13]Privates Consolato Gulisano, Giovanni Frati and Enrico Dioletta of the Trieste, would each win the Medaglia d'Argento al Valore Militare for their part in the action.

The Trieste fought well again on on Ruweisat Ridge on 21 July[14]and lost two regimental commanders killed and posthumously decorated in the process (Colonels Gherardo Vaiarini de Piacenza and Colonel Umberto Zanetti),[15][16]before ceding ground, but delaying the Allied advance long enough to allow German armoured forces to arrive and launch a devastating counterattack.[17]British historian Ronald Lewin observed that many Italian officers and NCOs fought well in North Africa.[18]The Trieste armoured reconnaissance force was sent forward to assist the Trento on Ruweisat Ridge on the morning of 27 July, overunning the 2/28th Battalion. Although the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45 states that German tanks counterattacked and captured the Australians,[19] the Intelligence Officer of the 2/28th Battalion maintains that armoured cars had in fact delivered the counterattack[20] and Italian veterans claim that Italian-crewed armoured cars captured the Australians.[21] Australian military historian Mark Johnston admits that "There were some courageous efforts by Italian units against Australians at Alamein. but these have gone largely unnoticed in Australian writings".[22]

During the Battle of Alam el Halfa the Trieste, Brescia and 90th Light Division, assisted by tanks from the Ariete and Littorio Divisions, counterattacked in the area of the Munassib Depression the New Zealand 26th Battalion and 5th Brigade and the British 132nd (Kent) Brigade, forcing the attackers practically back to their original positions, after the New Zealanders and British had advanced some 3 miles.[23]Captain Antonio Magni, would win posthumously the Medaglia d'Bronzo al Valore Militare for his leadership in the action.[24]

The Trieste Division later fought against the British Eighth Army in Tunisia, first on the Mareth Line, Wadi Akarit then Takrouna in conjunction with the 185th Airborne Division Folgore that mounted a determined counterattack that helped prolong the defence,[25] and eventually on the Enfidaville Line. The division formally surrendered to the Allies on 13 May 1943. The New Zealand Official History claims that the 47th and 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiments were the real reason behind the determined defence of Takrouna that cost the 5th New Zealand Brigade 34 killed and 425 wounded and that 568 Italians and 164 Germans were captured.[26] However the authors of Italian Soldier in North Africa 1941-43 claim that 318 Italians and 5 Germans were captured.[27] The 2nd New Zealand Division newspaper during the war reported that 18 officers and nearly 400 other ranks were captured,[28] and an Allied war correspondent reported that 326 defenders had been captured and that the Italians had fought hard:

The fight atop the 600-foot peak finally ended at 8 p.m. last night. At that hour the first real Italian defenders the British had met surrendered in a body, 326 of them. They gave up only because their ammunition gave out. These Italians were tough, trained killers who didn't feel faint when stout British troopers flung their comrades over the cliffs to clear the road up the side of the steep peak and reach the village atop it. They stood, fired and fought back and when they gave up they said the allies wouldn't get to Tunis. They holed up in caves and crevices of the slopes and had to be dragged out before their machine guns and mortars were silenced. [29]

Trieste starting position 23 October second battle of El Alamein


Trieste 10pm 2 November almost surrounded

Order of battle[edit]

The divisional order of battle changed considerably throughout its history. The OOBs given here apply at the time of Operation Crusader and during the El Alamein battles from July to September 1942.[30]

Operation Crusader[edit]

  • 65th Infantry Regiment
    • 2x infantry battalion
    • 1x Anti-aircraft/Antitank (AA/AT) battalion
    • Motorised transport column
  • 66th Infantry Regiment (as 65th)
  • 9th Bersaglieri Motorcycle Regiment
    • 3x Bersaglieri battalion
    • 1x Bersaglieri AA/AT battalion*
  • Medical Section
  • 508th AA/AT Battalion (undergoing re-establishment)
  • 21st Artillery Regiment
    • 4x artillery battalion
    • 1x AA battalion
  • 52nd mixed engineer battalion
  • 90th Medical Section (incomplete)
  • 176th Supply Section
  • 80th Motorised transport column

El Alamein[edit]

  • 65. Valtellina Infantry Regiment
  • 66. Valtellina Infantry Regiment
  • 8. Armoured Bersaglieri Battalion (Armoured Cars)
  • 21. Po Artillery Regiment (mot)
  • 11. Tank Battalion (Medium M13/40 Tanks)
  • 52. Mixed Engineer Battalion (mot)
  • 90. Medical Section
  • 80. Mixed Motorised Detachment
  • 176. Supply Section
  • 22. Carabinieri Section[nb 1]


  1. ^ An Italian Infantry Division normally consisted of two Infantry Regiments (three Battalions each), an Artillery Regiment, a Mortar Battalion (two companies), an Anti Tank Company, a Blackshirt Legion (Regiment of two Battalions). Each Division had only about 7,000 men, The Infantry and Artillery Regiments contained 1,650 men, the Blackshirt Legion 1,200, each company 150 men.[31]
  1. ^ "When the New Zealanders attacked again after the onset of darkness, they were able to take Balhamed in the course of the night. Early in the morning of 26 November, a portion of the Tobruk garrison, supported by 50 tanks, broke out once again. A crisis arose when El Duda fell. It was only through a bitter and bravely conducted immediate counterattack by the Bersaglieri of the Trieste Division that the positions in the north could be held." Das Afrika Korps: Erwin Rommel and the Germans in Africa, 1941-43, By Franz Kurowski, pg. 117, Stackpole Books (March 2010)
  2. ^ The Bologna Division: 19 November – 10 December, 1941 By David Aldea, Comando Supremo: Italy at War.
  3. ^ Far from the short grass: Kildare men in the two World Wars, By James Durney, Page 153, James Durney, 1999
  4. ^ " The Afrika Korps was reduced to a water ration of a half a cup per day and was in real danger of annihilation." The Rise of the Wehrmacht (Vol. 2), Samuel W. Mitcham, p. 561, ABC-CLIO, 2008
  6. ^ "Bismarck and Nehring struck on June 12 and their timing was perfect. The distinguished British historian Correlli Barnett called the ensuing battle the greatest defeat in the history of the British armor. When the British XIII Corps commander, General Norrie, realized what was happening, he sent the 22nd Armoured Brigade to rescue the trapped 7th Armoured. The 22nd, however, was pinned down by the Italian Trieste Motorized Division and was taken in the rear by Bismarck and the 21st Panzer. It retreated with heavy losses. Bismarck then returned to the Battle of Knightsbridge, where he, Nehring, and Rommel crushed the 7th Armoured." Rommel's Lieutenants: The Men Who Served The Desert Fox, By Samuel W. Mitcham, Page 98, Praeger (November 30, 2006)
  7. ^ "Again the Italians bore the brunt of the attack. Trieste and Trento Divisions suffered heavily but resisted bravely, while the 32nd Battalion, African Combat Engineers fought with such determination that only two officers and fourteen men survived unwounded out for a strength of one hundred. " The Early Battles of Eighth Army: Crusader to the Alamein Line, 1941-42, Adrian Stewart, p. 130, Stackpole Books, 2010
  8. ^ "In the same action the 3rd/61st Trento Infantry so distinguished itself in defending the Miteiriya Ridge that Rommel not only gave them proper recognition in his daily bulletin but was furious that the Italian communique (through ignorance, not neglect) failed to do so." The Battle for North Africa, John Strawson, p. 118, Bonanza Books, 1969
  9. ^ "Per scongiurare questo pericolo fu lanciato un primo contrattacco da parte di due battaglioni italiani, uno della Trento e l'altro della Trieste." The Battaglie nel deserto, Alberto Bongiovanni, p. 210, Mursia, 1978
  10. ^ 2/32nd Battalion
  11. ^ "L'azione andò bene, gli australiani vennero bloccati e potemmo fare anche 300 prigionieri." The Battaglie nel deserto, Alberto Bongiovanni, p. 210, Mursia, 1978
  12. ^ "German records indicate that Italians of the Trento Division were responsible." Fighting the Enemy: Australian Soldiers and Their Adversaries in World War II, Mark Johnston, p. 13, Cambridge University Press, 2000
  13. ^ "Soon the companies had seized the enemy positions on the ridge, but, in the dark, the men of A Company overshot their objective, Point 22, by 1,500 yards. By the time they realised their mistake they were under such heavy fire that they could not withdraw. By 08.00 hours Italian tanks and infantry began to encircle their positions and eventually forced the entire company to surrender." Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 148, Random House, 2010
  14. ^ "A mixed German-Italian combat team held on and proved that not all Italians had lost the will to fight. Many of these men resisted to the last bullet. Their heroic stand gave Rommel time to concentrate his Afrika Korps against the 23rd Armoured Brigade." Rommel's Desert War: The Life and Death of the Afrika Korps, Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr, p. 122, Stackpole Books, 2007
  15. ^ '"Colonel Gherardo Vaiarini of Piacenza, commanding the 65th Trieste Infantry, was killed; he met his death with such gallantry that he was posthumously awarded the Gold Medal ... The Trieste's other infantry colonel, Umberto Zanetti, commanding the 66th, was also killed - on July 22nd. "' Alamein 1933-1962: An Italian Story, Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo, p. 83, Allen & Unwin, 1966
  17. ^ Jim Heddlesten. "First Battle of El Alamein". Archived from the original on 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2009-04-26. 
  18. ^ "It must be observed that the Italian army contained many brave and self-sacrificing leaders who did their utmost on the battlefield." Lewin, Ronald (1990). Rommel as Military Commander . Pen and Sword. p. 187.
  19. ^ "The 24th Australian Brigade was given the task of establishing its 2/28 Battalion on Miteiriya Ridge, after which 2/43 Battalion, supported by 50 Royal Tank Regiment, was to exploit north-west. The objective was won at 2.50 a.m., but as the minefield had been imperfectly gapped the supporting weapons and ammunition could not be sent forward. From three o'clock onwards the battalion was under heavy fire mainly from machine guns. At 9.45 the Germans counter-attacked with tanks and overran the battalion." [CHAPTER 33 — Reorganisation http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2Egyp-c33.html]
  20. ^ "The Bn was completely surrounded by armored cars which worked forward under cover of fire from enemy tanks further back, while 20mm, MMG and mortar fire kept the heads of our own troops well down. In this manner the enemy was able to cut off and dispose of sections and platoons one by one, until at 1030 hrs Bn HQ area was occupied by several armored cars and surviving personnel taken prisoner. An effort had been made to hinder the enemy armored vehicles by bringing Arty fire to bear on them before they dispersed. Unfortunately the only communication with Bde was by one wireless set WT repaired by Sigs, after about eight hours work. Messages reporting the situation were sent immediately once this set was capable of functioning, i.e., about 0930 hrs onwards. Last message was “All up, overrun!” " July 1942 Diary by Lieutenant S. A. Walker
  21. ^ '"The names of certain units were on everyone’s lips up and down the line following particularly brilliant actions, among them the reconnaissance Group of the Trieste. It had been set up some time previously: it was hardly a homogeneous unit on the German pattern, but did reflect admirably the Italian genius of improvisation. They had no more than nine vehicles–Morrises, Fords, Dingos and Jeeps, all captured from the enemy–armed with small caliber guns and machine-guns of all descriptions, British, Italian and German, together with two British 88 guns and their carriages, and two small supply lorries. "' Alamein 1933-1962: An Italian Story, Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo, p. 79, Allen & Unwin, 1966
  22. ^ Fighting the Enemy: Australian soldiers and their adversaries in World War II, Mark Johnston, p. 12, Cambridge University Press, 2002
  23. ^ "During the early morning hours, the New Zealand Division, composed of the two New Zealand brigades, which occupied the box, assisted by a brigade of another infantry division, laid down an artillery barrage and followed with an infantry attack. This attack advanced south and along the trails in square 88-27. The attack advanced 3 miles, but with the coming of daylight the Trieste, Brescia, and the 90th Light Division, supported by the Ariete, and Littorio Divisions, in a series of three counterattacks, forced the attacking troops back nearly to their original positions." The Afrika in Combat, Bob Carruthers, p. ?, Pen & Sword, 2013
  25. ^ An Italian view of the battle for Takrouna
  26. ^ New Zealand Electronic Text Collection
  27. ^ "Eventually the New Zealanders succeeded in taking control of Takrouna, although their advance was in fact halted; 5th Brigade losses in this particular struggle numbered 459. At Takrouna 318 Italian and five German prisoners were taken." Italian Soldier in North Africa 1941-43,Pier Paolo Battistelli, Piero Crociani, Steve Noon, p. 53, Osprey Publishing, 2013
  28. ^ "Thus, the amazing battle for Takrouna ended ... this important high point with its 18 officers and nearly 400 men was captured." NZEF Times, 3 May 1943
  29. ^ British and Italians Battle To Death on Top Bloody Peak
  30. ^ Loi, p. 158 and p. 160
  31. ^ Paoletti, p 170
  • Paoletti, Ciro (2008). A Military History of Italy. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-98505-9. 
  • Loi, Salvatore Aggredisci e Vincerai - Storia della Divisione Motorizzata "Trieste", Mursia, Milano

See also[edit]