131st Armoured Division Centauro

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This article is about the historic Italian 131st Armoured Division Centauro. For the Italian World War II division, see 136th Armoured Division Centauro II. For the historic Italian Army brigade, see Centauro Armored Brigade.
131st Armoured Division Centauro
Divinsigniacentaro.jpg
Insignia of 131st Armoured Division Centauro
Active 1939–1943
1 November 1952 - 31 October 1986
Country Italy
Branch Italian Armoured Corps
Type Armoured
Size Division
Nickname Centauro
Engagements Italian invasion of Albania
World War II
Greco-Italian War
Invasion of Yugoslavia
Battle of the Kasserine Pass

The 131st Armoured Division Centauro (in Italian: 131ª Divisione Corazzata "Centauro") was an armoured division of the Italian Army during World War II. It was formed in February 1939, by upgrading the 1st Armoured Brigade (1ª Brigata Corazzata). It took part in operations in Albania, Greece and Yugoslavia before returning to Italy. Sent to North Africa in August 1942, it surrendered in Tunisia on 13 May 1943.[1]

History[edit]

The 1st Armoured Brigade was formed in April 1937, and, along with the 132nd Armoured Division Ariete, formed the Italian Armoured Corps. The two divisions took part in the first corps-level exercises in the Po Valley in the late 1930s. In February 1939, Centauro was re-designated a division.[2]

World War II[edit]

Balkans[edit]

When Italy invaded Albania in April 1939, the Centauro was equipped with L3/33 and L3/35 tankettes. The division also participated in the Greco-Italian War in 1940, just before it received its first M13/40 tanks in December 1940, and deployed with them at Këlcyrë in January 1941, losing many of them to the Greek artillery fire.[2] The following year the Centauro was deployed into Yugoslavia, together with the 4th Division "Littorio", where they performed well despite their outdated equipment. In June 1941 they were recalled to Italy to be re-equipped.[2]

Restructure[edit]

With the experience they had obtained fighting in the Western Desert the Italian Armoured Divisions were now re organized into a three tank, three infantry battalion structure, combined with a large Artillery regiment which included two battalions of self propelled guns and one anti aircraft battalion and organic reconnaissance and engineer battalions.[2]
In August 1942 they were ordered to prepare to move to Libya.[2]

North Africa[edit]

The Centauro missed both the 1st and 2nd Battles of El Alamein, and arrived during the retreat from Egypt back into Libya in late 1942. They were involved in action in Tunisia and, according to US historian Brian John Murphy, overran part of the US forces defending Highway 13 during the Battle of the Kasserine Pass:

Axis forces also made a breakthrough on Highway 13, where the Italians of the Centauro Division spearheaded the attack. In the early morning hours, the Italians pressed their offensive, broke through the remains of the American line, and continued up Highway 13.[3]

Tanks from the Centauro supported by the 5th Bersaglieri Regiment overran Colonel Anderson Moore's 19th Combat Engineers Regiment during this action.[4]The American newspaper Victoria Advocate reported

Of the 1,200 men in the battalion on Feb. 18, 1943, only 125 remained the next day. The rest were killed, wounded, captured or scattered, as a battle-hardened war machine gave the untested U.S. Army a bloody baptism.[5]

The Centauro remained in Tunisia until the end of the campaign, surrendering in May 1943.[2]

Order of Battle[edit]

  • CoA mil ITA rgt carri 031.png 31st Tank Regiment
    • 13th Armoured Battalion
    • 14th Armoured Battalion
    • 15th. Armoured Battalion
  • CoA mil ITA rgt bersaglieri 05.png 5th Bersaglieri Regiment
    • 14th Bersaglieri Motorized Battalion
    • 22nd Bersaglieri Motorized Battalion
    • 24th Bersaglieri Motorized Battalion
  • CoA mil ITA rgt artiglieria 131.png 131st Artillery Regiment
  • 22nd Motorized Infantry Support Battalion
  • 31st Motorized Engineer Battalion
  • Motorized Anti-Tank Battalion
  • Armoured Car Battalion
  • 5th Bersaglieri Motorcycle Company[1]

Post War[edit]

Reconstitution[edit]

The division was raised again after World War II on 1 April 1951. At first named Centauro Armored Brigade the division reached its full complement of troops in fall of 1952 and became the Centauro Armored Division on 1 November 1952. The division was based around Milan with the headquarters in the city of Verona. The division was initially part of the 4th Army Corps and consisted of the following units:

  • Division Headquarters
  • CoA mil ITA rgt bersaglieri 03.png 3rd Bersaglieri Regiment
    • XVIII Bersaglieri Battalion with M3 Half-tracks
    • XX Bersaglieri Battalion with M3 Half-tracks
    • XXV Bersaglieri Battalion with M3 Half-tracks
    • Bersaglieri Anti-tank Company with M40 recoilless rifles
  • CoA mil ITA rgt carri 031.png 31st Tank Regiment
    • I Tank Battalion with M26 Pershing
    • II Tank Battalion with M26 Pershing
    • III Tank Battalion with M26 Pershing
  • CoA mil ITA rgt artiglieria 131.png 131st Armored Artillery Regiment
    • I Self-propelled Howitzer Group with M7 Priest
    • II Self-propelled Howitzer Group with M7 Priest
    • III Self-propelled Howitzer Group with M7 Priest
    • IV Self-propelled Howitzer Group with M7 Priest
    • V Light Air-defense Group with M1 40mm Automatic Guns
    • VI Light Air-defense Group with M1 40mm Automatic Guns
  • CoA mil ITA rgt cavalleria 15.png Armored Cavalry Squadron Cavalleggeri di Lodi with M8 Greyhound
  • CXXXI Engineer Battalion
  • 131st Signal Company

In fall of 1955 the division moved its headquarters to Novara and joined 3rd Army Corps. The units of the Centauro moved to Milan and Bellinzago Novarese.

Cold War[edit]

In 1963 all Italian divisions adapted their organization to NATO standards and thus added a brigade level to the divisions structure. In the same year the reconstitution of the 32nd Tank Regiment began

  • I Mechanized Brigade Centauro, in Milan
    • CoA mil ITA rgt bersaglieri 03.png 3rd Bersaglieri Regiment, in Milan
    • I/131st Armored Artillery Regiment with M7 Priest
    • I Service Battalion
    • 1st Engineer Company
    • 1st Signal Company
  • II Armored Brigade Centauro, in Novara
    • CoA mil ITA rgt bersaglieri 01.png 1st Armored Bersaglieri Regiment, in Bellinzago Novarese
      • VII Tank Battalion with M47 Patton
      • CI Tank Battalion with M47 Patton
      • I Bersaglieri Battalion with M113
    • II/131st Armored Artillery Regiment with M7 Priest
    • II Service Battalion
    • 2nd Engineer Company
    • 2nd Signal Company
  • III Armored Brigade Centauro, in Novara
    • CoA mil ITA rgt carri 031.png 31st Tank Regiment in Bellinzago Novarese
      • I Tank Battalion with M47 Patton
      • IX Tank Battalion with M47 Patton
      • XVIII Bersaglieri Battalion with M113
    • III/131st Armored Artillery Regiment with M7 Priest
    • III Service Battalion
    • 3rd Engineer Company
    • 3rd Signal Company
  • Centauro Artillery Brigade, in Vercelli)
  • CoA mil ITA rgt cavalleria 15.png XV Reconnaissance Squadrons Group Cavalleggeri di Lodi with M24 Chaffee and M113
  • CXXXI Engineer Battalion
  • CXXXI Signal Battalion
  • Centauro Light Airplane Section with L-21B
  • Centauro Helicopter Section with AB 47J helicopters

On 1 October 1968 the brigade headquarters were disbanded and the divisions returned to its former structure. The Centauro Armored Division was part of the 3rd Army Corps based in North-Western Italy. The 3rd Army Corps was tasked with defending Lombardy and Piedmont in case the 4th Alpine Army Corps and 5th Army Corps would have failed to stop attacking Warsaw Pact forces east of the Adige river.

Before the major reorganization of 1975 the division consisted of the following units:

  • CoA mil ITA rgt bersaglieri 01.png 1st Armored Bersaglieri Regiment
    • VI Tank Battalion with M47 Patton
    • CI Tank Battalion with M47 Patton
    • I Bersaglieri Battalion with M113
  • CoA mil ITA rgt bersaglieri 03.png 3rd Bersaglieri Regiment
    • X Bersaglieri Battalion with M113
    • XVIII Bersaglieri Battalion with M113
    • IV Tank Battalion with M47 Patton
    • Bersaglieri Anti-tank Company with M40 recoilless rifles
  • CoA mil ITA rgt carri 031.png 31st Tank Regiment
    • I Tank Battalion with M47 Patton
    • IX Tank Battalion with M47 Patton
    • XXVIII Bersaglieri Battalion with M113
  • CoA mil ITA rgt cavalleria 15.png XV Reconnaissance Squadrons Group Cavalleggeri di Lodi
    • 1st Reconnaissance Squadron with M113
    • 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron with M113
    • 3rd Tank Squadron with M47 Patton
  • CoA mil ITA rgt artiglieria 131.png 131st Armored Artillery Regiment
    • I Self-propelled Field Artillery Group with M44 howitzers
    • II Self-propelled Field Artillery Group with M44 howitzers
    • III Self-propelled Field Artillery Group with M44 howitzers
    • IV Heavy self-propelled Field Artillery Group with M44 howitzers
    • V Light (Reserve) Air-defense Artillery Group
  • Centauro Engineer Battalion
  • Centauro Signal Battalion
  • Centauro Light Airplane Section with L-19E
  • Centauro Helicopter Section with AB 206 helicopters
  • Centauro Service Department
    • Medical Battalion
    • Transport Battalion
    • Maintenance Battalion
    • Supply Battalion

In 1975 the Italian Army undertook a major reorganization of it forces: the regimental level was abolished and battalions came under direct command of newly formed brigades, which combined units from different arms. Thus on 21 October 1975 the Centauro took command of the following brigades, which were formed from the divisions disbanded regiments:

Additional troops were added to bring the division up to full strength:

  • Legnano Mechanized Brigade in Bergamo
  • Centauro Command Battalion, in Novara
  • 26th Infantry (Training) Battalion Bergamo, in Diano Castello
  • 15th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadrons Group Cavalleggeri di Lodi, in Lenta, (Leopard 1A2 Main battle tanks)
  • 131st Heavy Field Artillery Group Vercelli, in Vercelli, (FH-70 155/39 towed howitzers)
  • 205th Heavy Field Artillery Group Lomellina, in Vercelli, (FH-70 155/39 towed howitzers)
  • Centauro Artillery Specialist Group (Artillery Radar), in Vercelli
  • 11th Light (Reserve) Air-defense Artillery Group Falco, in Vercelli
  • 46th Reconnaissance Helicopter Squadrons Group Saggittario, in Vercelli
  • 131st Engineer Battalion Ticino, in Bellinzago Novarese
  • 231st Signal Battalion Sempione, in Novara
  • Centauro Logistic Maneuver Battalion, in Novara
  • Centauro Medical (Reserve) Battalion, in Novara
  • Centauro Carabinieri Company, in Novara

On 31 October 1986 the Italian Army abolished the divisional level and brigades came under direct command of the Army Corps. As the Centauro Armored Division carried a historically significant name, the division ceased to exist on 31 October in Novara, but the next day in the same location the Centauro Armored Brigade was activated as part of 3rd Army Corps. The new brigade took command of the units of the Curtatone Armored Brigade, whose name was stricken from the roll of active units of the Italian Army.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Wendal, Marcus. "Italian Army". Axis History. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bennighof, Mike (2009). "Centauro at Gazala". Avalanche Press. 
  3. ^ "Murphy in America". WWII Magazine. Archived from the original on January 31, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  4. ^ "The American collapse began in earnest by late morning. At 11:22 the 19th Engineers' commander, Colonel A.T.W. Moore, warned Stark by radio that enemy infantry and tanks were forcing the pass along Highway 13. An engineer major bellowed: "Forget about our equipment and just save your life." Artillery observers fled, explaining plausibly if ingloriously: "This place is too hot. "Companies disintegrated into platoons, platoons into squads, squads into solitary foot soldiers chased to the rear by screaming meemies. Half an hour later, Moore radioed, "Enemy overrunning our C.P.," and bolted for high ground. He soon arrived at Stark's tent to announce that the 19th Engineers no longer existed." An Army At Dawn: The War in North Africa, Rick Atkinson, p.?, Henry Holt and Company, 2007
  5. ^ Kasserine Pass: A baptism of fire for U.S. Army in World War II, Victoria Advocate, February 7, 1993

Further reading[edit]

  • George F. Nafziger - Italian Order of Battle: An organizational history of the Italian Army in World War II (3 vol)
  • John Joseph Timothy Sweet - Iron Arm: The Mechanization of Mussolini's Army, 1920-1940