4th Alpine Division Cuneense
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|4a Divisione Alpina Cuneense|
Coat of Arms of the 4th Alpine Division Cuneense
|Active||31 October 1935 – 28 January 1943|
|Part of||Italian Alpine Corps
|Engagements||World War II
Italian War in Soviet Union
|General Emilio Battisti|
The 4th Alpine Division Cuneense was an Italian division composed of Alpini - light Mountain Infantry - and Mountain Artillery units. The division participated in all Italian campaigns of World War II with the exception of the North African Campaign. The division was completely destroyed by Soviet Forces during Operation Little Saturn
The Cuneense division was constituted on 31 October 1935 through the reorganization of the existing 5th Superior Alpini Command. The headquarters of the division was in the city of Cuneo, and the majority of its soldiers were drafted from the surrounding valleys - hence the name "Cuneense".
Order of battle
- 1st Alpini Regiment, in Mondovì
- Command Company, in Mondovì
- Ceva Battalion, in Ceva
- Pieve di Teco Battalion, in Chiusa Pesio
- Command Company, in Chiusa Pesio
- 2nd Company, in Chiusa Pesio
- 3rd Company, in Chiusa Pesio
- 8th Company, in Roccaforte Mondovì
- 102nd Support Weapons Company, in Chiusa Pesio (Breda M37 machine guns, Brixia 35 and Modello 35 mortars)
- Mondovì Battalion, in Mondovì
- 84th 47/32 Cannons Company, in Mondovì
- 1st Provisioning Unit, in Beinette
- 21st Train Section, in San Bernolfo Mondovì (Logistic Support)
- 1st Medical Section, in Mondovì
- 612th Field Hospital, in Mondovì
- 2nd Alpini Regiment, in Cuneo
- Command Company, in Cuneo
- Borgo San Dalmazzo Battalion, in Cuneo
- Dronero Battalion, in Dronero
- Saluzzo Battalion, in Vinadio
- Command Company, in Vinadio
- 21st Company, in Vinadio
- 22nd Company, in Demonte
- 23nd Company, in Demonte
- 106th Support Weapons Company, in Demonte (Breda M37 machine guns, Brixia 35 and Modello 35 mortars)
- 14th 47/32 Cannons Company, in Cuneo
- 2nd Provisioning Unit, in Dronero
- 22nd Train Section, in Bene Vagienna (Logistic Support)
- 2nd Medical Section, in Cuneo
- 615th Field Hospital, in Dronero
- 4th Alpine Artillery Regiment, in Cuneo
- Command and Command Unit, in Cuneo
- Pinerolo Artillery Group, in Beinette (75/13 howitzers)
- Mondovì Artillery Group, in Mondovì (75/13 howitzers)
- Val Po Artillery Group, in Piasco (105/11 howitzers]]
- 64th Anti-air Battery, in Fontanelle Boves (Breda 35 anti-aircraft guns)
- 116th Anti-air Battery, in Fontanelle Boves (Breda 35 anti-aircraft guns)
- 78th Anti-tank Cannons Battery (75/39 anti-tank guns; unit attached to the division for the campaign in the Soviet Union)
- IV Engineer Battalion, in Peveragno
- 2nd Train Battalion, in Busca
- 201st Mixed Auto-Transport Battalion, in Cuneo
- 4th Alpine Division Command Transport Platoon, in Cuneo
- 413th Carabinieri Section, in Cuneo
- 414th Carabinieri Section, in Cuneo
- 203rd Military Post Office, in Cuneo
- 306th Medical Section, in Cuneo
- 613th Field Hospital, in Cuneo
- 614th Field Hospital, in Cuneo
- 616th Field Hospital, in Cuneo
- 617th Field Hospital, in Cuneo
- 107th Provisioning Section, in Chiusa Pesio
- 63rd Baker Squadron, in Borgo San Dalmazzo
Battle of France
On 21 June 1940 (one day before the French surrender) the “Cuneense” division began to advance with other Italian units into Southern France.
The division was then sent to Albania, where it participated in the Greco-Italian War. As the German Wehrmacht came to the aid of the beaten Italian armies in Albania in April 1941 through an invasion of Yugoslavia the “Cuneense” was sent north to aid the rapidly advancing German divisions. The Cuneense advanced through Montenegro and reached Dubrovnik at the end of the campaign.
In September 1942 the “Cuneense” was sent with the Alpini divisions Julia and Tridentina and other Italian units to the Soviet Union to form the Mountain Corps of the Italian Army in Russia (Armata Italiana in Russia, or ARMIR) and fight alongside the Germans against the Red Army. Taking up positions along the Don river the Italian units covered part of the left flank of the German Sixth Army, which spearheaded the German summer offensive of 1942 into the city of Stalingrad.
After the Red Army successfully encircled the German Sixth Army in Stalingrad during Operation Uranus, Soviet attention turned to the Italian and Hungarian units along the Don. On 13 January 1943 the Soviet offensive Operation Little Saturn began and the three Alpini divisions found themselves quickly encircled by the rapidly advancing armoured forces of Soviet General Filipp Golikov's Voronezh Front. The Alpinis held the front on the river Don, but within three days the Soviets advanced 200 km to the left and right of the Alpini. On the evening of 17 January the commanding officer of the corps General Gabriele Nasci finally ordered a full retreat. At this point the Julia and Cuneense divisions were already heavily decimated and only the Tridentina division was still capable of conducting combat operations.
The 40,000 men strong mass of stragglers - Alpinis and Italians from other commands, plus various Germans and Hungarians - formed two columns, that followed the Tridentina division, supported by a handful of German armoured vehicles, which led the way westwards to the new Axis front. On 24 January the Cuneense formed its own column and marched south of the Tridentina division. As the Soviets had already occupied every village bitter battles had to be fought to clear the way. On the morning of 28 January the division had walked 200 km, fought 20 battles, lost 80% of its men and spent 11 nights camped out in the middle of the Russian Steppe. Temperatures during the nights were between -30 °C and -40 °C. During the 28th the last remnants of the division were annihilated by Cossack forces. The last survivors of the 1st Alpini regiment burned the regiment's flag to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. The Cuneense then ceased to exist.
On 11 February 1943 the count of the survivors gave the following result:
- 1st Alpini Regiment out of 5,206 men: 722 survivors; none of the soldiers of the battalions Ceva, Pieve di Teco and Mondovì survived.
- 2nd Alpini Regiment out of 5,206 men: 208 survivors; none of the soldiers of the battalions Borgo San Dalmazzo and Saluzzo survived.
- 4th Alpine Artillery Regiment out of 3,897 men: 379 survivors; none of the soldiers of the Artillery Group Mondovì survived.
- 4th Mixed Engineer Battalion out of 1,240 men: 139 survivors
- Support units out of 1,313 men: 159 survivors
In total 1,607 men of the division's total of 17,460 survived Operation Little Saturn.
- "Campagna in Russia - Composizione della "Divisione Cuneense"" (PDF). Retrieved 13 January 2018.
- "4a Divisione Alpina Cuneense - Campagna di Russia". Alpini Cuneense. Retrieved 13 January 2018.
- http://www.alpini-cuneense.it/cadutiedispersi.htm Report to the Italian Army High Command, 11 February 1943