136th Infantry Division Giovani Fascisti
|136th Infantry Division Giovani Fascisti|
|Engagements||World War II
*North African Campaign
The Giovani Fascisti (Young Fascists or "GGFF") Division was formed from volunteers from the Young Fascist University. The volunteers were subject to a power struggle between the Army and the Fascist Blackshirts and of the original 25 battalions only two battalions survived to see action. The Division was sent to Libya in July 1941, the III "A ferro freddo" battalion remained in Italy for training and was later used as a source for replacements.
It was decided to reform them (nicknamed by the Allies: Mussolini's Boys) as an Armoured Division, the 136th Armoured Division Giovani Fascisti, but the conversion was never completed and it remained an infantry division. It was in action during Operation Crusader when the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade was heavily engaged against a strong point near Bir el Gobi, 25 miles south of Ed Duda.
The GGFF made their mark during Operation Crusader. Tasked to defend the small hill known as Bir el Gobi, they fought off repeated attacks by the 11th Indian Brigade and British 7th Armoured Division during the first week of December, 1941. Despite overwhelming odds, they inflicted massive casualties on the Allies and held their ground despite severe hunger and thirst.
The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 136th Giovani Fascisti Infantry Regiment, held a hilltop position successfully and fought off repeated attacks by the British armour and Indian infantry units during the first week of December 1941.
The Mussolini's Boys began the Gazala battle in May 1942 as part of the army reserve, with four infantry battalions — the two original battalions, plus 9th Independent Infantry Battalion and the 3rd Battalion of the San Marco Marine Regiment (which was later detached to join the Hecker amphibious group). During the course of the battle, the remaining three battalions went forward to assist the 102nd "Trento" Division's penetration of the Allied minefield zone.
The division occupied the oasis of Siwa in Egypt in summer 1942, in order to prevent possible military actions from the British Army to the south of the Axis Army attacking El Alamein. Indeed in July 1942, German Ju-52 transport planes transported one battalion of the "Giovani Fascisti" to seize the strategic Oasis of Siwa, the largest air-landing assault conducted by the Axis in Africa. The rest of the division soon arrived as well, except for two companies from the 4th Anti-Tank Battalion. The oasis had been a staging area for raids by the Allied Long Range Desert Group into Libya, and now the Axis saw an opportunity to return the favor. Italian planners looked longingly at the tracks leading to the Nile.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel visited on September 1942 and reviewed the unit. Officers showed him their maps and scouting reports of the deep desert, and several Egyptian clan chiefs gave their opinions that no substantial Allied forces stood between Siwa and the Nile. The Young Fascist Division, the officers claimed, could unhinge the Allied positions on the coast from Siwa if only they had the fuel. While they waited, the Italians set up an Egyptian government-in-exile, complete with postage stamps, and flew the Egyptian flag alongside the Italian tricolor flag.
Some units of the "Giovani Fascisti" fought in the second battle of El Alamein with the 185th Airborne Division Folgore.
In mid-November, after Montgomery's victory, the Division withdrew from Siwa to Agedaiba and later to Tunisia. In the Mareth Line fought bravely the Allies with the remaining Axis troops. The Division was nearly totally destroyed in 1943, during the fighting in Tunisia.
Even if decimated, the "Giovani Fascisti" was the last Axis military unit to surrender to the Allies in North Africa on May 13, 1943.
Order of battle
- 136. Giovani Fascisti Infantry Regiment
- I Battalion "Mi scaglio a ruina"
- II Battalion "Abbi fede"
- 8. Bersaglieri Regiment
- 136. Artillery Regiment
- 88. Anti Aircraft Battery
- 25. Engineer Battalion
- 53. Medical Section
- 105. Carabinieri Section
- 45. Field Post Office [nb 1]
- 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 of two Battalions was sometimes attached. 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.
- Marcus Wendal. "Italian Army". Axis History. Retrieved 2009-04-28.
- Photos of the "Ragazzi di Bir El Gobi" (Mussolini's Boys)
- John Gooch. Decisive campaigns of the Second World War. Chapter: The North African Campaign
- Gooch, p. 100
- Video of "Giovani Fascisti" in Siwa
- Video of the war in Tunisia
- Giovanni Messe.La mia Armata in Tunisia. Mursia 2004, p. 317-323.
- Paoletti, p 170
- Paoletti, Ciro (2008). A Military History of Italy. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-98505-9.
- Giulio Bedeschi, Fronte d'Africa. Ed. Mursia. Milano, 1979.
- John Gooch. Decisive campaigns of the Second World War. Publisher Psychology Press, 1990 ISBN 0-7146-3369-0