33rd Mountain Infantry Division Acqui
|33rd Mountain Infantry Division Acqui|
Acqui Division insignia
1 January 2003 - today
|Country|| Regno d'Italia
Kingdom of Italy
Royal Italian Army
|Engagements||World War II|
|Decorations||Gold Medal of Military Valor|
The 33rd Mountain Infantry Division Acqui (Italian: 33ª Divisione Acqui) was a Mountain Infantry Division of the Italian Army during World War II.[nb 1] The Acqui Division was mobilized for war in October 1939, and took part in the Battle of France. It was later sent to Albania to take part in the Greco-Italian War, and stayed in Greece as an occupation force on the islands of Corfu, Lefkada, Zakynthos and Cephallonia.
Following the Italian surrender in September 1943, thousands of soldiers from the division were murdered on the islands during Operation Achse, in what became known as the Cephallonia massacre. One of the largest prisoner of war massacres of the war, and one of the largest-scale German atrocities to be committed by Wehrmacht troops, this event provided the historical background to the novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which later became a Hollywood film.
Invasion of France
The Acqui was assigned to the Italian II Corps for the Italian invasion of France, which began on 20 June. The following day, troops of the Italian Royal Army crossed the French border. In the evening of 22 June 1940, France surrendered to Germany and on 25 June, France and Italy signed an armistice. In the aftermath, Italy occupied Corsica and the Alpes-Maritimes, and some areas of French territory along the Franco-Italian border.
The Acqui Division had been the Italian garrison of Cephalonia since May 1943, and consisted of 11,500 soldiers and 525 officers. Since 18 June 1943, it had been commanded by General Antonio Gandin.
The Germans had decided to reinforce their presence throughout the Balkans, following Allied successes and the possibility that Italy might seek an accommodation with the Allies. On 5–6 July Lt Colonel Johannes Barge arrived with 2,000 men of the 966th Fortress Grenadier Regiment.
After Italy's surrender to the Allies in September 1943, General Gandin found himself in a dilemma: one option was surrendering to the Germans – who were already prepared for the eventuality and had begun Operation Achse. Initially, Gandin requested instructions from his superiors and began negotiations with Barge. On 8 September 1943, the day of the Italian armistice, General Carlo Vecchiarelli, commander of the 170,000 Italian troops in Greece telegrammed Gandin his order, essentially a copy of General Ambrosio's promemoria 2 from Headquarters. Vecchiarelli's order instructed that if the Germans did not attack the Italians, the Italians should not attack the Germans. Ambrosio's order stated that the Italians should not "make common cause" with the Greek partisans or even the Allies, should they arrive in Cephalonia. In the case of a German attack, Vecchiarelli's order was not very specific because it was based on Badoglio's directive which stated that the Italians should respond with "maximum decision" to any threat from any side. The order implied that the Italians should attack back but did not explicitly state so. At 22:30 hours of the same day Gandin received an order directly from General Ambrosio to send most of his naval and merchant vessels to Brindisi immediately as demanded by the terms of the armistice. Gandin complied thus losing a possible means of escape.
To make matters even more complicated Badoglio had agreed, after the overthrow of Mussolini, to the unification of the two armies under German command, in order to appease the Germans. Therefore, technically, both Vecchiarelli and Gandin were under German command, even though Italy had implemented an armistice agreement with the Allies. That gave the Germans the justification to treat any Italians disobeying their orders as mutineers or franc-tireurs.
At 0900 hours on 9 September, Barge met with Gandin and misled him by stating that he had received no orders from the German command. The two men liked each other and they had things in common as Gandin was pro-German and liked Goethe. Indeed, Gandin's pro-German attitude was the reason he had been sent by General Ambrosio to command the Acqui Division: fearing he might side with the Germans against the evolving plot to depose Mussolini, Ambrosio wanted Gandin out of Italy. Both men ended their meeting on good terms, agreeing to wait for orders and also that the situation should be resolved peacefully.
Battle with the Germans
As the negotiations stalled, the Germans prepared to resolve the issue by force, and presented the Italians with an ultimatum which expired at 14:00 hours on 15 September. On the morning of 15 September, the German Luftwaffe began bombarding the Italian positions with Stukas dive-bombers. On the ground, the Italians initially enjoyed superiority, and took about 400 Germans prisoner. On 17 September however, the Germans landed the "Battle Group Hirschfeld", composed of the III./98 and the 54th Gebirgsjäger Battalions of the German Army's elite 1st Gebirgs (Mountain) Division, together with I./724 Battalion of the 104th Jäger Division, under the command of Major Harald von Hirschfeld. The 98th Gebirgsjäger Regiment, in particular, had been involved in several atrocities against civilians in Epirus in the months preceding the Acqui massacre.
At the same time the Germans started dropping propaganda leaflets calling upon the Italians to surrender. The leaflets stated:
"Camerati Italiani, ufficiali e soldati, why fight against the Germans? You have been betrayed by your leaders!... LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS!! THE ROAD HOME TO YOUR PATRIA WILL BE OPENED UP FOR YOU BY YOUR GERMAN CAMERATI".
Gandin repeatedly requested help from the Ministry of War in Brindisi but did not get a reply. He even went so far as sending a Red Cross emissary to the Ministry but the mission broke down off the coast of Puglia and when it arrived three days later at the Italian High Command in Brindisi, it was already too late. In addition 300 planes loyal to Badoglio were located at Lecce, near the southernmost point of Italy and well within range of Kefalonia, and were ready to intervene. But the Allies would not let them go because they feared they could have defected to the German side. Furthermore two Italian torpedo boats, already on their way to Kefalonia, were ordered back to port by the Allies for the same reasons.
Despite help from the local population, including the island's small ELAS partisan detachments, the Germans enjoyed complete air superiority and their troops had extensive combat experience, in contrast with the conscripts of Acqui who were no match for the Germans. In addition, Gandin had withdrawn the Acqui from the elevated position on mount Kardakata and that gave the Germans an additional strategic advantage.
After several days of combat, at 11:00 hours on 22 September, following Gandin's orders, the last Italians surrendered, having run out of ammunition and lost 1,315 dead. According to German sources the losses were 300 Germans and 1,200 Italians. After that about 5000 Italian soldiers were massacred by Germans.
The events in Cefalonia were repeated, to a lesser extent, elsewhere. In Corfu, the 8,000-strong Italian garrison comprised elements of three divisions, including the Acqui's 18th Regiment. On 24 September, the Germans landed a force on the island, and by the next day they were able to induce the Italians to capitulation. All 280 Italian officers on the island were executed during the next two days on the orders of General Hubert Lanz, in accordance with Hitler's directives. The bodies were loaded onto a ship and disposed of in the sea. Similar executions of officers also occurred in the aftermath of the Battle of Kos, when the Italian commander and 90 of his officers were shot.
Order of battle
- 17. Acqui Infantry Regiment
- 18. Acqui Infantry Regiment
- 317. Infantry Regiment
- 33. Artillery Regiment
- 27. CCNN Legion (Blackshirts)
- 33. Mortar Battalion
- 33. Signal Company
- 31. Pioneer Company
- 33. Machine Gun Battalion
- 3. Medical Section
- 4. Supply Section
- 9. Field Bakery
- 7. Carabinieri Section [nb 2]
In 2002 the Italian Army raised three division commands, with one of the three always readily deployable for NATO missions. The army decided that each division should carry on the traditions of one of the divisions that served with distinction in World War II. Therefore on 31 December 2002 the 3rd Italian Division in San Giorgio a Cremano was renamed as Division Command Acqui.
In the 2013 Army reform it was decided to abolish the corps level in the Italian Army. Combat brigades will from 2014 onwards come under the three division commands. The Acqui Division will take command of the following brigades:
- Aosta Mechanized Brigade
- Garibaldi Bersaglieri Brigade
- Pinerolo Mechanized Brigade
- Sassari Mechanized Brigade
- Italian "Mountain" divisions are not to be confused with the Alpini specialized mountain troops. The "Mountain" divisions were equipped with pack horse or mule-carried mountain guns instead of the usual towed type.
- 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.
- "Massacres and atrocities of WWII". "Almost unknown outside of Italy, this event ranks with Katyn as one of the darkest episodes of the war" also "The German 11th Battalion of Jäger-Regiment 98 of the 1st Gebirgs (Mountain) Division, commanded by Major Harald von Hirschfeld, arrived on the island and soon Stukas were bombing the Italian positions"
- "Rizospastis" (in Greek). 2000-09-03. "Πρέπει να σημειωθεί πως τα βιβλία για τη σφαγή των Ιταλών στρατιωτών της Κεφαλονιάς (η μεγαλύτερη σφαγή αιχμαλώτων του Β' Παγκοσμίου Πολέμου), εκτός αυτού του Μπερνιέρ, είναι το ένα καλύτερο από το άλλο. Translation: It must be noted that the books about the massacre of the Italian soldiers in Kefalonia (the biggest massacre of prisoners of war in WWII), except the one by Bernier, are one better than the other."
- "Mörder unterm Edelweiß – noch immer unter uns ("Murderers under the Edelweiss — still among us")" (in German).
- Holmes, Professor Richard. "The ‘D-Day Dodgers’". BBC. "...the massacre of the Acqui division on the island of Cephalonia, the background to Louis de Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, was a cruel fact"
- "Corelli’s comrades". "That same day, military records show, the German Gen. Hubert Lanz reported from Cephalonia to Berlin: ‘Final mopping up... is under way. General Gandin and his staff were captured. Special treatment in compliance with Fuhrer Order.’"
- "Hollywood goes to Italy". "Historical Context: Italy invaded Greece on 28 October 1940 with 7 divisions of the 9th and 11th Armies. By 22 November, the Italians were pushed back into Albania. The Germans had to come to their aid. But when the Italian government decided to negotiate a surrender to the Allies, the German Army tried to disarm the Italians in what they called Operation ACHSE. On 29 September 1943, on the island of Cephalonia, the Germans fought the Italians of the 33rd "Aqui" Division. A total of 1315 were killed in battle, 3,000 were drowned when the German ships taking them to concentration camps were sunk by mines, and 5,325 were executed. In general, the Germans did not battle or massacre the Italians in other areas."
- 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
- 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
- Aly, Götz & Chase, Jefferson; Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State p. 145, Macmillan, 2007 ISBN 0-8050-7926-2
- Tucker, Spencer (2005). Encyclopedia of World War II: A Political, Social, and Military History. Published by ABC-CLIO,. pp. 313–314. ISBN 1-57607-999-6.
- "To Vima: The massacre of the Acqui Division" (in Greek). Translation by Google.
- "Ein Offizier im falschen Licht" (in German). Lippische Landes-Zeitung. Translation by Google
- Farrell, Nicholas (2004). Mussolini: A New Life. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. pp. 423–428. ISBN 1-84212-123-5. Comments: ("common cause", Ambrosio's tactics and Badoglio's paradox on page 423), (Corfu info and poll on bottom of page 424) (no match reference, Hitler's orders, "delirium of omnipotence" and Austrian origin on page 425) (Refusal to bury dead on page 427)
- Schreiber, Gerhard (1990). Die italienischen Militärinternierten im deutschen Machtbereich 1943 bis 1945: Verraten, verachtet, vergessen (in German). Oldenburg Wissenschaftsverlag. pp. 157–159. ISBN 978-3-486-55391-8.
- Meyer, Hermann Frank: Die 1. Gebirgs-Division in Epirus im Sommer 1943
- "Interview with the ‘real’ Corelli" (in Greek). Rizospastis.
- Kriegsverbrechen der 1. Gebirgs-Division auf dem Balkan ("War Crimes of the 1. Mountain Division in the Balkans")
- Massacres and Atrocities of WWII
- Wendal, Marcus. "Italian Army". Axis History. Retrieved 2009-04-11.
- Paoletti, p 170