133rd Armoured Division Littorio

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133rd Armoured Division Littorio
Elal div littorio.jpg
Littorio Division insignia
Active 1939–1943
Country Italy
Branch Italian Army
Type Armoured
Size Division
Part of Italian XX Motorised Corps
German-Italian Panzer Army
Nickname Littorio
Engagements World War II
Italian invasion of France
Invasion of Yugoslavia
First Battle of El Alamein
Battle of Alam el Halfa
Second Battle of El Alamein
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Annibale Bergonzoli

133rd Armoured Division Littorio or 133° Divisione Corazzata Littorio (Italian) was an armoured division of the Italian Army during World War II. The division was formed in 1939 from the Infantry Division Littorio (4 Infantry Division Littorio) that had taken part in the Spanish Civil War. It was a reserve unit during the invasion of France when it attacked through the Little St Bernard Pass, which was halted by the French defenders. It then took part in the Invasion of Yugoslavia, fighting at Mostar and Trebinje. It was sent to North Africa in the spring of 1942 were it fought until it was destroyed at the Second battle of El Alamein in November 1942.

Formation[edit]

133rd Armoured Division Littorio was the third Italian armoured division formed, after the 131 Armoured Division Centauro and the 132 Armoured Division Ariete The original Littorio Division had fought in the Spanish Civil War as a unit of regular army Volunteers. When they returned to Italy early in 1939, the division was converted to an armoured division but kept the fascist-inspired name Littorio [nb 1] The new Armoured Division had four Tank battalions, three Infantry battalions and two Artillery Regiments.[2]

Italian invasion of France[edit]

During the Italian invasion of France, the Italian forces numbered about 700,000 troops. However, while they enjoyed a huge numerical superiority to the French, they had several deficiencies. The Italian armoured regiments from the Littorio had between 150 to 250 L3/35 tanks each. But these vehicles were often classified as "tankettes" and were little more than lightly armoured machine-gun carriers not suited for modern warfare.[3]
On 20 June, the Italian campaign began and on 21 June,[4] troops of the Italian Royal Army crossed the French border in three places The Italians attacked in two directions. One force attempted to advance through the Alps and another force attempted to advance along the Mediterranean coast towards Nice. Initially, the Italian offensive enjoyed a limited level of success. The French defensive lines on the Italian border were weakened due to French High Command shuffling forces to fight the Germans. Some French mountain units had been sent to Norway. However, the Italian offensive soon stalled at the fortified Alpine Line in the Alps region and at the southern end of the Maginot Line in the Mediterranean region. The attack through the Little Saint Bernard Pass in the Alps had to stop due to a massive snow storm.[5]

Yugoslavia[edit]

The Division was part of the Italian Second Army that faced the Yugoslavian Seventh Army. The Italians encountered limited resistance and occupied parts of Slovenia, Croatia, and the coast of Dalmatia.[1][2]

Western Desert[edit]

The Littorio was never intended for desert operations, but due to the situation in the western desert in Libya and Egypt the requirement for mobile formations had become urgent. The second Italian armoured division Ariete Division, was already in the desert.[1]
The first units of the Littorio arrived in Tripoli, the capital and major port of Libya, in early January 1942, but had to wait until March for the complete division to arrive.[1]
By April, the division had reached Benghazi, but their advance was hampered, as the division’s transport had been diverted to carry much needed supplies to the front. [nb 2]
Littorio did not participate in the Battle of Gazala, though British accounts usually include its troop and tank strengths in the Axis total. A small battlegroup arrived at the front on 20 June, as the battle was ending, and participated in the attack on Tobruk. But the division as a whole would not actually enter combat for some weeks.[1]

Battle of Mersa Matruh[edit]

During the Battle of Mersa Matruh on 26–30 June 1942, the Littorio, played an important part in the capture of 6000 defenders of the Xth British Corps[6] , along with large quantities of supplies.

First Battle of El Alamein[edit]

In the First Battle of El Alamein, the German commander Erwin Rommel's planned for the 90th Light Division, 15th Panzer Division and 21st Panzer Division to penetrate the Eighth Army lines between the Alamein box and Deir el Abyad. 90th Light was then to veer north to cut the coastal road and trap the Alamein box defenders and the Afrika Korps would veer right to attack the rear of XIII Corps. The Ariete division would then attack the Alamein box from the west. The Italian XX Corps was to follow the Afrika Korps and deal with the Qattara box while the Italian Littoro Armoured Division and German reconnaissance units would protect the right flank[7]

Battle of Alam el Halfa[edit]

In the Battle of Alam el Halfa the Littorio were now part of the Italian XX Motorised Corps which also included the Italian 101 Motorised Division Trieste and the 132 Armoured Division Ariete.
The German attack started at dawn but was quickly stopped by a flank attack from British 8th Armoured brigade. The Germans suffered little, as the British were under orders to spare their tanks for the coming offensive but they could make no headway either and were heavily shelled.[8] Meanwhile the Littorio and Ariete Armoured Divisions had moved up on the left of the Afrika Korps and the 90th Light Division and elements of Italian X Corps had drawn up to face the southern flank of the New Zealand box.[9] Under constant air raids throughout the day and night and on the morning of 2 September, realising his offensive had failed and that staying in the salient would only add to his losses, Rommel decided to withdraw.[10]

During the night 3–4 September 1942, the 26th Battalion and 5th Brigade of the New Zealand Division and the British 132nd (Kent) Brigade, attacked in the area of the Munassib Depression, but with the coming of daylight, the Brescia, Trieste and 90th Light Division, assisted by tanks from the Ariete and Littorio Divisions, counterattacked and forced the attackers back some 3 miles to their original positions.[11]

Deployment of forces on the eve of the second battle of El Alamein. Littorio can be seen held in reserve behind the Infantry divisions

Second Battle of El Alamein[edit]

The Second Battle of El Alamein is usually divided into five phases, consisting of the break-in (23 to 24 October), the crumbling (24 to 25 October), the counter (26 to 28 October), Operation Supercharge (1 to 2 November) and the breakout (3 to 7 November). No name is given to the period from 29 to 31 October when the battle was at a standstill.

25 October[edit]

The Littorio was held in reserve behind the Infantry divisions to the rear of Miteirya Ridge on the 25 October the Axis forces launched a series of attacks using 15th Panzer and Littorio divisions. The Panzerarmee was probing for a weakness, but found none. When the sun set the Allied infantry went on the attack and around midnight 51st (Highland) Division launched three attacks, but no one knew exactly where they were. Pandemonium and carnage ensued, resulting in the loss of over 500 Allied troops, and leaving only one officer among the attacking forces. By this time the Trento Division had lost half its infantry and most of its artillery, 164th Light Afrika Division had lost two battalions and although the 15th Panzer and Littorio Divisions had held off the Allied armour, this had proved costly and most units were under strength.[12]

Rommel was convinced by this time that the main assault would be in the north[13] and was determined to retake Point 29. He ordered a counterattack against Point 29 by 15th Panzer, 164th Light Africa Divisions and elements of Italian XX Corps to begin at 1500 Hrs but (according to the British official history) under heavy artillery and air attack this came to nothing.[14] According to Rommel this attack did meet some success, with the Italians recapturing part of what he calls Hill 28:

Attacks were now launched on Hill 28 by elements of the 15th Panzer Division, the Littorio and a Bersaglieri Battalion, supported by the concentrated fire of all the local artillery and A.A ... In the evening part of the Bersaglieri Battalion succeeded in occupying the eastern and western edges of the hill.[15]

The bulk of the Australian 2/17th Battalion, which had defended the position, was in fact forced to pull back.[16]

During the day he also started to draw his reserves to what was becoming the focal point of the battle: 21st Panzer and part of the Ariete moved north during the night to reinforce the 15th Panzer and Littorio Divisions and 90th Light Division at El Daba were ordered forward while the Trieste Division were ordered from Fuka to replace them. 21st Panzer and the Ariete made slow progress during the night as they were heavily bombed[17]

On 28 October, a good part of the British 133rd Brigade, which was supposed to recover lost positions, was overrun by Panzers and tanks from the Littorio, and several hundred British were captured.[18]

2 November[edit]

At 1100Hrs on 2 November The remains of 15th Panzer, 21st Panzer and Littorio Armoured Divisions counterattacked the British 1st Armoured Division and the remains of British 9th Armoured Brigade, which by that time had dug in with a screen of anti-tank guns and artillery together with intensive air support. The counter-attack failed under a blanket of shells and bombs, resulting in a loss of some 100 tanks.[19] Fighting continued throughout 3 November but the British 2nd Armoured Brigade were held by elements of the Afrika Korps and tanks of the Littorio.[20]

4 November[edit]

4 November Littorio under attack from the British 1st and 10th Armoured Divisions

The 4 November saw the destruction of the Littorio, Ariete and the Trieste Motorised Division which were attacked by the British 1st and 10th Armoured Divisions. Berlin radio claimed that in this sector the "British were made to pay for their penetration with enormous losses in men and material. The Italians fought to the last man."[21] Private Sid Martindale, 1st Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, wrote:

There was not much action to see but we came across lots of burnt out Italian tanks that had been destroyed by our tanks. I had never seen a battlefield before and the site [sic] of so many dead was sickening.[22]

Harry Zinder of Time magazine noted that the Italians fought better than had been expected, and commented that for the Italians:

It was a terrific letdown by their German allies. They had fought a good fight. In the south, the famed Folgore parachute division fought to the last round of ammunition. Two armoured divisions and a motorised division, which had been interspersed among the German formations, thought they would be allowed to retire gracefully with Rommel's 21st, 15th and 19th [sic][nb 3] light. But even that was denied them. When it became obvious to Rommel that there would be little chance to hold anything between El Daba and the frontier, his Panzers dissolved, disintegrated and turned tail, leaving the Italians to fight a rear-guard action.[23]

Aftermath[edit]

The German records after the Battle for the 28 October reveal the three divisions most affected, 15th Panzer, 21st Panzer and Littorio, were 271 tanks down on the total with which they had started the battle on the 23 October. This figure includes tanks out of action through mechanical failure as well as through mines or other battle damage, but by this time repairs and replacements were hardly keeping pace with daily losses. The surviving enemy tank states indicate that from the 28th to the 31st the two German divisions found it difficult to muster 100 tanks in running order between them, while Littorio had between 30 and 40.[24]

Commander[edit]

Order of battle[edit]

Order of Battle of the 133rd Littorio on October 23rd 1942

  • Division Headquarters
    • Division Headquarters Company
    • CoA mil ITA rgt cavalleria 05.png III Cavalry Squadron (Reconnaissance Battalion) Lancieri di Novara
    • CoA mil ITA rgt carri 133.png 133rd Tank Regiment
      • Regiment Headquarters Company
      • IV Armoured Battalion
      • XII Armoured Battalion
      • LI Armoured Battalion
    • CoA mil ITA rgt bersaglieri 12.png 12th Bersaglieri Regiment
      • Regiment Headquarters Company
      • XXI Bersaglieri Motorcycle Battalion
      • XXIII Bersaglieri Motorized Battalion
      • XXXVI Bersaglieri Motorized Battalion
      • Anti-tank Company
    • CoA mil ITA rgt artiglieria 003.png 3rd Artillery Regiment
      • Regiment Headquarters Company
      • II Artillery Group, 133 Artillery Regiment
      • CCCII Artillery Group
      • DLIV Self-propelled Artillery Group
      • DLVI Self-propelled Artillery Group
      • XXIX Anti-Air Artillery Group
    • Engineer Battalion

Notes[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ literally “lictor”; in ancient Rome, the lictors carried the fasces, those rod-and-axes symbols of state power adopted by Benito Mussolini two millennia later.[1]
  2. ^ The divisional history blames Allied air attacks for slowing its advance, but neither Erwin Rommel nor the Italian XX (motorised) Corps commander, Ettore Baldassare, seem to have been in a great hurry to rush the untested division to the front and preferred to bring their existing formations to full strength. Ariete went into battle greatly overstrength in tanks, artillery and especially anti-aircraft guns, at Littorio’s expense.[1]
  3. ^ Presumably a confused reference to the 90th Light Division. There was no 19th Light Division on the German Order of Battle
Citations
  1. ^ a b c d e f Bennighof, Mike (2008). "Littorio at Gazala". Avalanche Press. Archived from the original on 2009-04-30. Retrieved 2009-04-06. 
  2. ^ a b Wendal, Marcus. "Italian Army". Axis History. Archived from the original on 2009-04-30. Retrieved 2009-06-04. 
  3. ^ Iron Arm - Sweet, John Joseph Timothy; Stackpole Books, 2007, Page 84)
  4. ^ Jowett, Philip S. The Italian Army 1940-45 (1): Europe 1940-1943. Osprey, Oxford - New York, 2000, pg. 5, ISBN 978-1-85532-864-8
  5. ^ http://www.comandosupremo.com/1940.html
  6. ^ "Late in the day on 27 June, Gott, worried that his New Zealand 2nd Division was about to be cut off, ordered the withdrawal of XIII Corps. Because of a breakdown in British communications, X Corps did not learn until 0430 hours on 28 June that XIII Corps was in full retreat, and their southern flank was open. Later that day, the 90th Light Divison and the Littorio Divison completed the encirclement of Mersa Matruh ... During the night of 28 June, groups of the Indian 10th Division tried a breakout of the Mersa Matruh position at the head of Wadi Ngamish, but they were driven back by the Littorio Armoured Division." World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, David T. Zabecki, p. 1578, Taylor & Francis, 1999
  7. ^ Playfair Vol. III, p. 340
  8. ^ Fraser, p. 359.
  9. ^ Playfair, p. 387.
  10. ^ Carver, p. 67.
  11. ^ "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
  12. ^ Playfair, P. 50.
  13. ^ Watson (2007), p.23
  14. ^ Playfair, pp. 50-51.
  15. ^ El Alamein: Desert Victory, John Strawson, p. 119, J m Dent & Sons Limited, 1981
  16. ^ "On the morning of 28 October, tanks,lorried infantry and some of the groups of men who had dug in after previous unsuccessful attempts gathered fro another attempt to retake Point 29. The 2/17th Battalion, which had taken over the positions around Point 29, had suffered heavy casualties and eventually it was decided to pull the infantry back from the exposed height to better positions in the open desert." Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr Random , p.360, Random House, 2010
  17. ^ Playfair, p. 51.
  18. ^ "In the early morning they attacked 133 British Lorried Infantry Brigade, which had been sent to relieve 'Snipe', but ended up to the north of it and was unable to dig its anti-tank guns into the rocky ground. The Axis assault virtually annihilated the British unit, knocking out their exposed anti-tank guns, killing sixty men, including their commander Colonel Murphy, and capturing 300 others." Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa, Ian Walker, p. ?, Crowood, 2012
  19. ^ Watson, p. 24.
  20. ^ Playfair, p. 71.
  21. ^ "Desert War, Note (11): Statement issued by the German Government on 6 November 1942". spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2009-04-30. Retrieved 2007-12-22. 
  22. ^ Spirit, Martin; Martindale, Sid (2005). "Sid's War: The Story of an Argyll at War". Archived from the original on 2009-04-30. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  23. ^ Zinder, Harry (16 November 1942). journal=Time Magazine A Pint of Water per Man (16 November 1942). Retrieved 18 April 2010. 
  24. ^ "Alam Halfa and Alamein, Chapter 27 — The Fourth Day of Battle, pp 356-357". New Zealand electronic text centre. 

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