Maletti Group

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Maletti Group
Raggruppamento Maletti
Captured L3 and L3 cc tankettes.jpg
Captured L3/35 and L3 cc tankettes outside Bardia, Libya 1941
Active June–December 1940
Country Italy
Branch Army
Type Mechanised
Size 6 infantry battalions
2 tank battalions
Engagements Italian invasion of Egypt
Operation Compass
Disbanded December 1940
Commanders
General Pietro Maletti  

The Maletti Group (Raggruppamento Maletti) was an ad hoc "mechanized" unit formed by the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) in Italian North Africa Africa Settentrionale Italiana (ASI), during the initial stages of the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. The group was formed in June 1940, as part of the 10th Army (General Mario Berti) and was destroyed at the Nibeiwa camp on 9 December, during Operation Compass, a British raid against the 10th Army positions inside Egypt, which culminated in the defeat of the 10th Army and the occupation of Cyrenaica.

Background[edit]

Raggruppamento Maletti[edit]

Raggruppamento Maletti (General Pietro Maletti) was formed at Derna on 8 July 1940, with seven Libyan motorized infantry battalions, a company of Fiat M11/39 tanks, a company of L3/33 tankettes, motorized artillery and supply units as the main motorized unit of the 10th Army. On 29 August, as more tanks arrived from Italy, the Comando carri della Libia (Libyan Tank Command) was formed under the command of Colonel Valentini with three Raggruppamenti. Raggruppamento Aresca (Colonel Aresca) with the I Medium Tank Battalion and the 31st, 61st and 62nd light tank battalions, Raggruppamento Trivioli (Colonel Antonio Trivioli), with the II Medium Tank Battalion, less one company and the IX, XX, and LXI light tank battalions and Raggruppamento Maletti with the LX light tank battalion and the remaining M11/39 company from the II Medium Tank Battalion.[1] Raggruppamento Maletti became part of the Regio Corpo Truppe Coloniali della Libia (Royal Corps of Libyan Colonial Troops), with the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori.[2]

Western Desert Campaign[edit]

Operazione E[edit]

Plan[edit]

Military operations, 13 September 1940 – 7 February 1941 (click to expand)

Graziani revised Operazione E, the plan for the invasion of Egypt by the 10th Army (General Mario Berti) and made Sidi Barrani the objective six days before the deadline for an invasion imposed by Mussolini. XXII Corps (Generale di Corpo d'Armata Petassi Manella) was in general reserve, XXI Corps (Generale di Corpo d'Armata Lorenzo Dalmazzo) was at Tobruk, as 10th Army reserve with the un-motorized 61st Infantry Division Sirte, 2nd Blackshirt Division (28 October) and a light tank battalion. The XXIII Corps (Generale di Corpo d'Armata Annibale Bergonzoli) had un-motorized 64th Infantry Division Catanzaro and 4th Blackshirt Division (3 January). [3] A northern column with the Italian non-motorised divisions were to advance down the Via Balbia coast road, cross the frontier and attack through the Halfaya Pass, to occupy Sollum and capture Sidi Barrani. A southern column with the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori and Raggruppamento Maletti were to advance along the track from Dayr al Hamra to Bir ar Rabiyah and Bir Enba, south of the escarpment and round the British inland flank.[4]

The flanking manoeuvre by Raggruppamento Maletti misfired, because adequate maps and navigation equipment for desert travel were not provided and the raggruppamento got lost, as it moved to its jumping-off point at Sidi Omar. XXIII Corps Headquarters (HQ) had to send aircraft to guide the raggruppamento into position. The accompanying 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori were badly delayed, in reaching the rendezvous near Fort Capuzzo and the fiasco led Graziani to make another change of plan.[4] The wide flanking manoeuvre was cancelled and the 10th Army, in a mass of five divisions and the armoured groups, was ordered to move down the coast road, occupy Sollum and advance to Sidi Barrani through Buq Buq. Once at Sidi Barrani, the army would consolidate, extend the Via Balbia by building the Via della Vittoria to move supplies forward, destroy British counter-attacks and then advance to Mersa Matruh. The immobility of the non-motorized infantry divisions forced Graziani to use the coast road, despite the mechanised forces present, to attempt the defeat of the British with mass rather than manoeuvre.[5]

Invasion[edit]

XXIII Corps advanced to Sidi Barrani along the coast road, having received enough lorries to motorize one infantry division and partly motorise three more for the advance. Bergonzoli planned the advance with the 1st Raggruppamento Carri forward, followed by the fully motorized 1st Blackshirt Division (23 March) and the 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica and 63rd Infantry Division Cirene, which had been partly motorised and could shuttle forward. The un-motorized 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori, were to march on foot for the 97 kilometres (60 mi) to the objective and Raggruppamento Maletti was to form the rearguard.[3] The 1st Raggruppamento Carri was also kept in reserve, except for the LXII light tank battalion with L3/33 tankettes, which was attached to the 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica and the LXIII light tank battalion assigned to the 62nd Division Infantry Cirene. The 2nd Raggruppamento Carri remained at Bardia, except for the IX light tank battalion which joined the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori. Raggruppamento Maletti (3rd Raggruppamento Carri) had the II medium tank battalion with M11/39 tanks and three Libyan infantry battalions, all motorised.[3]

The 10th Army advanced to Sollum then along the coast road two divisions forward, behind a screen of motorcyclists, tanks, motorized infantry and artillery. On 14 September, the rest of the 1st Raggruppamento Carri followed the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori toward Bir Thidan el-Khadim. At Alam el Dab, just short of Sidi Barrani, about fifty Italian tanks supported by motorized infantry and artillery, tried to outflank and trap the British rear guard, which forced the 3rd Coldstream Guards battalion to retreat.[6] By late on 16 September, the 1st Raggruppamento Carri had reached an area south-east of Sidi Barrani, with the 1st Blackshirt Division (23rd Marzo) and the XXIII Corps artillery, having been used cautiously for infantry support. Raggruppamento Maletti was west of the objective, having been hampered by lack of supplies and disorganization.[7] The 1st Blackshirt Division (23rd Marzo) took Sidi Barrani and the advance stopped at Maktila, 10 miles (16 km) beyond.[8]

Operation Compass[edit]

Nibeiwa[edit]

Main article: Operation Compass
Captured Italian Fiat M11/39 tanks (005042)

The 10th Army began to prepare an advance to Mersa Matruh for 16 December but was forestalled by Operation Compass. Only the IX light tank battalion with L3/33 tankettes attached to the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori, the II medium tank battalion with M11/39s, with Raggruppamento Maletti at Nibeiwa camp and the LXIII and XX light tank battalions, with the XXI Corps HQ, were still in Egypt. The five fortified camps from the coast to the escarpment were well defended but too far apart for overlapping fields of fire and the defenders relied on ground and air patrols to watch the British.[9] The camp at Nibeiwa was rectangular, about 1.6-by-2.4-kilometre (1 mi × 1.5 mi), with a bank and an anti-tank ditch. Mines had been laid but at the north-west corner, delivery lorries entered and a British night reconnaissance found that the entrance was not mined.[10]

A lack of Italian air–ground co-operation was exploited by the British to attack Nibeiwa camp from the rear, with the 11th Brigade Group of the 4th Indian Division and the Matilda infantry tanks of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment (7th RTR).[2] Italian air reconnaissance spotted British vehicle movements in the area but Maletti was apparently not informed. On 8 January, Maletti alerted the nearby 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori that unusual low-level flying by the RAF, was probably intended disguise the movement of armoured units and at 6:30 a.m. on 9 January, well before the beginning of the main British attack, Maletti had contacted the commanders of the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori, reporting the British preparatory movements. Maletti was killed at about 9:00 a.m., directing the fire of a 47/32 anti-tank gun section at the north end of Nibeiwa.[11]

Italian 47 mm anti-tank gun 1941 (AWM 044455)

At 5:00 a.m. on 9 December, British artillery commenced a one-hour diversionary bombardment from the east and at 7:15 a.m., the main 4th Indian divisional artillery opened fire, the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade Group and the 7th RTR attacked from the north-west, with Bren carriers on the flanks, all firing on the move. About twenty Italian medium tanks outside the camp were destroyed in the initial British attack, while warming their engines before breakfast. Italian artillery and machine-gun fire began as isolated parties of Italians tried to hunt the British I tanks with hand grenades.[12] At 7:45 a.m. Scottish and Indian infantry began methodically to sweep through the camp, backed by artillery and the tanks. By 10:40 a.m., the camp had been overrun and 2,000 Italian and Libyan prisoners had been taken, along with a large quantity of supplies and water; British casualties were 56 men.[13] After the battle Alan Moorehead, an Australian war correspondent visited Nibeiwa, moving around destroyed lorries and Bren carriers which had run onto mines and past square holes in the ground, which had been dug for machine-gun posts. Dead lay around the fort and light tanks were at the west wall, where Raggruppamento Maletti had made its last stand. Other tanks were inside the camp facing in all directions.[14][a]

Orders of battle[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In the account of the attack written by Alan Moorehead, Maletti was wounded while rallying his men, then retreated to his tent with a machine-gun, where he was killed. Maletti's mortal remains were to be seen at the entrance of his tent when war correspondents visited the camp.[14] Moorehead wrote that he saw unattended donkeys wandering around looking for water and soldiers looting extravagant Italian army uniforms and lunching on luxury foods, wines and Recoaro mineral water. New equipment, weapons and ammunition strewed the ground, already disappearing under the sand and dozens of dug-outs were also full of food, new equipment and ammunition.[14] Maletti and Captain Burroni Sigfrido were posthumously awarded the Medaglia d'oro al Valore Militare, Italy's highest award for bravery.
  2. ^ Details taken from Christie (1999) unless specified.[15]
  3. ^ Sidi Barrani became the base of Raggruppamento Maletti and constituent formations changed several times up to December.[15]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Christie 1999, pp. 32, 48.
  2. ^ a b Walker 2003, p. 61.
  3. ^ a b c Christie 1999, p. 54.
  4. ^ a b Christie 1999, pp. 52–53.
  5. ^ Christie 1999, pp. 52–54.
  6. ^ Christie 1999, p. 55.
  7. ^ Christie 1999, pp. 54–55.
  8. ^ Playfair 1954, p. 210.
  9. ^ Christie 1999, p. 57.
  10. ^ Playfair 1954, p. 266.
  11. ^ Montanari 1985, pp. 204, 306.
  12. ^ Playfair 1954, pp. 267–268.
  13. ^ Playfair 1954, pp. 266–268.
  14. ^ a b c Moorehead 1944, pp. 61–64.
  15. ^ a b Christie 1999, pp. 88–89.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]