27th Infantry Division Brescia

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This article is about the historic Italian 27tth Infantry Division Brescia. For the historic Italian Army brigade, see Brescia Mechanized Brigade.
27th Infantry Division Brescia
Elal div brescia.jpg
Brescia Division insignia
Active 1939–1943
Country Italy
Branch Italian Army
Type Infantry
Role infantry
Size Division
Part of Italian XXI Infantry Corps
Garrison/HQ Catanzaro
Nickname Brescia
Engagements World War II
Siege of Tobruk
Battle of Gazala
Second Battle of El Alamein

The 27th Infantry Division "Brescia" (Italian: 27° Divisione Autotrasportabile "Brescia") was an Infantry Division[nb 1] organized from the 27th Infantry Division Sila prior to the start of World War II.
It was made up of draftees from Calabria. The division was part of the Italian XXI Infantry Corps in the North Africa. along with the 17 Motorised Division Pavia and the 25 Motorised Division Bologna together they took part in the Siege of Tobruk, the Battle of Gazala, the Battle of Mersa Matruh, the First Battle of El Alamein and the Second Battle of El Alamein. On 12 April 1941, as Italian and German forces commenced their Siege of Tobruk, the Brescia Division along with the German 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion captured the port of Bardia, taking several hundred prisoners and a large quantity of booty.

Siege of Tobruk[edit]

On 12 April 1941, the Brescia Division and the Germans attack the Tobruk defences, but the attack fails and Rommel is forced to call for reinforcements. On the night of 30 April, a strong Italo-German force attacks the Tobruk defences again, and the Ariete and Brescia divisions along with elite Bersaglieri troops and Guastatori (combat engineers) involved capture seven strongpoints( R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7 and R8).[1] On the night of 3 May, the Australians counterattack but the Italians in the form of the Trento, Pavia Divisions and some panzergrenadiers repel the attack[2] and the attackers are only able to recapture one strongpoint from the defending Italian troops[3]During that week, it was reported that 30 Australian soldiers shot themselves in order to be evacuated.[4][5]Australian morale took a dive and that month, an underground 'war neurosis clinic' was built in Tobruk and placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel E.L. Cooper and Captain A.J.M Sinclair, and 207 Australian soldiers were admitted for treatment.[6]

On the night of 16 May, the Brescia Division retaliates with the help of two platoons of the 32nd Combat Engineer Battalion and breaches the defensive perimeter of the 2/9th and 2/10th Battalions. With the obstacles removed, the Brescia troops involved, who bring flame-thrower parties and tanks, capture S8, S9 and S10 strongpoints.[7] The Australians fight back and the Commanding Officer of the Guastatori's, Colonel Emilio Caizzo is killed in a satchel attack and wins a posthumous Gold Medal for valour. Although the Australian Official History admits losing three positions, it claims the attackers were 'Germans'.[8] However, an Italian narrative has recorded:

With great skill and speed the Guastatori open three lanes in the mines and obstacles to let the Brescia Fucilieri through. Side by side with the Brescia assault troops they inflict heavy loses on the enemy and take out further strong points with explosives and flamethrowers.[9]

Australian military historian Mark Johnston states there was an "unwillingness to acknowledge reverses against Italians" in Australian official accounts.[10]

Major-General Leslie Morsehead was furious and ordered the Australians to be far more vigilant in the future.[11] Among the objectives initially selected during the planning of Operation Brevity was the recapture of S8 and S9 strongpoints, but this was abandoned when it was discovered the Australians had recovered them.[12]

On 24 May 1941, the Brescia Division which had taken over the western front of Tobruk, repelled an attacking infantry force, supported by tanks.

On 2 August, another attack was launched to recover the lost strongpoints from the Italians, but the attacking forces from the Australian 2/43rd Battalion and 2/28th Battalions are repulsed.

This was the last Australian effort to recover the lost fortifications. As part of the besieging forces around Tobruk, the Brescia held out until December 10, 1941, far longer than the German 90th Light Division[13] when the British 70th Division finally broke through the Brescia rearguards and lifted the siege of Tobruk during Operation Crusader. Advancing in broad daylight on 11 December, a battalion of the Brescia nearly overran a company of the 23rd New Zealand Battalion's 'C' Company holding Thomson's Ridge, but were forced to withdraw after the New Zealanders reinforced their position.[14] On 15 December, the Brescia Division held its ground on the Gazala Line against the attacking 2nd New Zealand Division and Polish Brigade, allowing a strong Italo-German armoured force to counterattack and overrun the 1st British Battalion, The Buffs.[15]

Battle of Gazala[edit]

During the Battle of Gazala, the Brescia played an important role in the capture of 6,000 Allied soldiers on 16 June 1942,[16] after the Trieste and 15th Panzer Division had destroyed the British 2nd and 4th Armoured Brigades.[17]

Battle of Mersa Matruh[edit]

During the brief siege of Mersa Matruh in late June 1942, the Brescia with the Trento and Littorio Divisions played an important part in the capture of 6,000 defenders[18] of the Xth British Corps, along with large quantities of supplies.[19][dubious ]

First Battle of Alamein[edit]

During the First Battle of El Alamein in July 1942, the Brescia deployed on El Mreir, covered the retreat of the Ariete[20]and forced a battalion of the attacking 5th New Zealand Infantry Brigade to retreat in the initial fighting.[21]Captain Andrea Barilari and Sergeant Corrado Scalese of the Brescia, were posthumously decorated for their roles in the counterattack. During the fighting on Ruweisat Ridge on the night of 14-15 July, the Brescia along with the Pavia, although having lost several positions in the night fighting, continued to resist the following day,[22]buying sufficient time to allow a German armoured force to launch a devastating counteratack[23][24][dubious ]The 19th Brescia Infantry Regiment is reported to have fought well in this action, thanks to its officers and NCOs.[25]Captains Francesco De Benedectis and Nelio Materazzi were posthumously decorated for their leadership in the action. British historian Ronald Lewin observed that many Italian officers and NCOs fought well in North Africa.[26]The Brescia Division fought well again on the night of 21-22 July at Dayr al Shein, saving (according to one German study) the Afrika Korps from certain defeat.[27]

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel observed that many Italian officers and NCOs fought well during the First Battle of Alamein:

There is no doubt that the achievement of every Italian unit, especially of the motorised forces, far surpassed anything that the Italian Army had done for a hundred years. Many Italian generals and officers won our admiration both as men and as soldiers.[28]

Battle of Alam el Halfa[edit]

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.[29]

Second Battle of Alamein[edit]

The Brescia Division is reported to have fought very well right at the start of the Second Battle of Alamein on 24 October:

The Ariete Division, the Bersaglieri Battalion and units of the Brescia and Folgore Divisions fought magnificently. Montgomery's 13th Corps was able to make minor break throughs in the eastern minefield, but did not reach the main front line.[30]

Division locations before the Second Battle of El Alamein

Order of Battle June 1940[edit]

  • 19 Infantry Regiment "Brescia"
  • 20 Infantry Regiment "Brescia"
  • 55 Artillery Regiment
  • 27 Mixed Engineer Battalion
  • 27 Tank Battalion [nb 2]


  1. ^ In the Royal Italian Army "Autotrasportabile" ("Truck Moveable" in english) meant that a division could be moved by truck by virtue of its organisation, but that it did not have the transport capacity as part of its own structure to do so, i.e. it would depend on transport being made available to it by higher headquarters to be moved by truck.
  2. ^ 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]
  2. ^ The Forgotten Axis: Germany's Partners and Foreign Volunteers in World War II, J. Lee Ready, p. 310, McFarland & Co., 1987
  3. ^ That magnificent 9th: An Illustrated History of The 9th Australian Division, Mark Johnston, p. 38, Allen and Unwin, 2002
  4. ^ "In one five-day period in early May 1941, after the second major German assault on the Red Line, medical units treated 30 cases of self-inflicted bullet wounds." A Medical Emergency: Major-General 'Ginger' Burston and the Army Medical Service in World War II, Ian Howie-Willis, p. 187, Big Sky Publishing, 2012
  5. ^ "More disturbing was the large number of self-inflicted wound (SIW) cases. During a single week in May the division reported thirty SIW cases..." Armies of Empire: The 9th Australian and 50th British Divisions in Battle 1939–1945, Allan Converse, p. 86, Cambridge University Press, 2011
  6. ^ "In May 1941 a 'war neurosis clinic' of 70 beds was established in an underground concrete shelter in the city. Of the 204 admissions treated by Lt Colonel E.L. Cooper and Captain A.J.M Sinclair 61% were reported as serving with fighting units..." Shell Shock to PTSD: Military Psychiatry from 1900 to the Gulf War, Edgar Jones, Simon Wessely, p. 67, Psychology Press, 2005
  8. ^ Maughan (1966), p.250
  9. ^ GUASTATORI IN NORTH AFRICA. The XXXI and XXXII Guastatori Battalions in the North African Campaign
  10. ^ Fighting the Enemy: Australian soldiers and their adversaries in World War II, Mark Johnston, p. 13, Cambridge University Press, 2002
  11. ^ Maughan (1966), p.251
  12. ^ Tobruk 1941, The Desert Siege, Timothy Hall, p. 183, Methuen Australia, 1984
  13. ^ The Bologna Division: 19 November – 10 December, 1941 By David Aldea & Joseph Peluso, Comando Supremo: Italy at War.
  14. ^ "Thomson's Ridge now came under concentrated fire and it was soon evident that a counter-attack was impending. C Company, though ably supported by Chestnut Troop, was very much on its own, but the men were quickly organised to meet the threat and gave the Italians a very hot reception. The enemy in obviously superior numbers came within 50–60 yards of the New Zealand positions, but there they halted, and after some hesitation they broke and ran, leaving many of their weapons behind and some vehicles." The Relief of Tobruk, W. E. Murphy, p. 492, War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1961
  15. ^ The Bologna Division: 19 November – 10 December, 1941 By David Aldea & Joseph Peluso, Comando Supremo: Italy at War.
  16. ^ "The Italians finished mopping up the Gazala Line on June 16, capturing 6,000 prisoners, thousands of tons of supplies, and entire convoys of undamaged vehicles in the process". The Rise of the Wehrmacht: The German Armed Forces and World War, 2 Volumes, p.564, Samuel W. Mitcham, Praeger (30 June 2008)
  17. ^ The Rise of the Wehrmacht: The German Armed Forces and World War, 2 Volumes, p.564, Samuel W. Mitcham, Praeger (June 30, 2008)
  18. ^ "The Mersa Matruh positions came under heavy artillery fire from the Brescia and Trento Divisions, while the 90th Light and the Littorio Divisions tried to complete the encirclement from the south ... 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 Division and the Littorio Division 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 ... On the morning of 29 June, the garrison of Mersa Matruh was overwhelmed. At 0930 hours, the Italian 7th Bersaglieri Regiment entered the conquered stronghold, taking 6,000 Allied prisoners. " World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, David T. Zabecki, p. 1578, Taylor & Francis, 1999
  19. ^ Aldea, David. "Mersa Matruh". Commando Supremo: Italy at War website. Retrieved 2009-04-26. 
  20. ^ "5th Brigade, far from merely rounding up the fleeing survivors from Ariete, found itself locked into a full-scale battle with Brescia Division, and at dusk the outcome had still not been resolved." Bates, Peter (1992). Dance of War: The Story of the Battle of Egypt. Pen and Sword. p. 112.
  21. ^ "The Brescia repelled a New Zealand attack thanks to the intense fire they developed." Rommel's North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942 By Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani, Page 196, Da Capo Press, 1999
  22. ^ '"While the attacking brigades had been able to cut large gaps through the defences held y the Italian infantry, they had not been able to subdue all the resistance. Not surprisingly, most of the smaller outposts and defended localities had fallen easily but some of the larger posts had been bypassed during the night. The outposts which remained contained substantial number of anti-tank guns, machine guns and infantry. When daylight came, these posts were able to cover the area south of the ridge by fire and shot up any trucks foolhardy enough to drive forward."' Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 131, Random House, 2010
  23. ^ '"On the right, Indian 5th Division (XXX Corps) attacked Point 64 on the centre of the feature, the New Zealand Division (XIII Corps) was on the left attacking Point 63 at the western end of the ridge and the 1st Armoured Division gave support along the line of the inter-corps boundary. The night attack was preceded by Albacore aircraft dropping flares and fighter-bombers strafing the enemy lines. At first both divisions made good progress as they fought their way through the Italian Brescia and Pavia Divisions who were holding the ridge. The advance slowed down when they met extensive minefields and there was some loss of cohesion when the New Zealanders were attacked by tanks from 8th Panzer Regiment of 15th Panzer Division and lost 350 prisoners."' El Alamein 1942: The Turning of the Tide, Ken Ford, p. 42, Osprey Publishing, 2005
  24. ^ Aldea, David. "First Battle of El Alamein". Commando Supremo: Italy at War website. Retrieved 2009-04-26. 
  25. ^ "Another night attack launched in confusion by a battalion of the 14th Punjabis toward Point 63 of Ruweisat resulted at dawn in the loss of the battalion and company commanders due to the spirited leadership of the 19th Regiment of the Brescia." Rommel's North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942 By Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani, Page 203, Da Capo Press, 1999
  26. ^ "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.
  27. ^ "Despite massive bomber and artillery support, its spearhead failed to get at the Italians (Brescia Division/X Corps), smash them at the Dayr al Shein keypoint, and thus cause the entire Axis front to collapse." Boog, Horst; Rahn, Werner; Stumpf, Reinhard; Wegner, Bernd (2001). Germany and the Second World War: Volume 6: The Global War. Oxford University Press. p. ?.
  28. ^ Liddell Hart (ed), 'The Rommel Papers' (London 1953), pp.261–262.
  29. ^ "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
  30. ^ The Foxes of the Desert, Paul Carell, p. 279, Bantam Books, 1962
  31. ^ Paoletti, p 170
  • Paoletti, Ciro (2008). A Military History of Italy. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-98505-9. 

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