Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia

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During World War II, the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia, or CSIR) was a corps-sized expeditionary unit of the Regio Esercito (Italian Army) that fought on the Eastern Front. In July 1942, the three divisions of the CSIR all became part of the Italian XXXV Army Corps.

Formation[edit]

The CSIR was formed in an attempt to provide a somewhat "mobile" unit to fight on a front where mobility was key. Two of the divisions were "truck-moveable" and one was a "fast" division, drawn from the reserve Army of the Po. However, this amounted to more on paper than in reality.

The CSIR was created by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in an attempt to show solidarity with Nazi Germany after German dictator Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa and attacked the Soviet Union. Mussolini created the CSIR despite the lack of enthusiasm shown by Hitler. The CSIR was constituted on 10 July 1941 and, between July and August 1941, the various units of the CSIR arrived in southern Russia.

The CSIR included an Aviation Command (Commando Aviazione) with a limited number of fighters, bombers, and transport aircraft. This command was part of the Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) and was also known as the "Expeditionary Air Corps in Russia" (Corpo Aereo Spedizione in Russia).

The CSIR was initially subordinated to the German 11th Army commanded by General Eugen Ritter von Schobert.[1] On 14 August 1941, the CSIR was transferred to the control of German Panzer Group 1 commanded by General Ewald von Kleist. On 25 October 1941, Panzer Group 1 was redesignated as the 1st Panzer Army. The CSIR remained under von Kleist’s command until 3 June 1942 when it was subordinated to the German 17th Army commanded by General Richard Ruoff.

Composition[edit]

The CSIR was composed of three divisions: the 52 Motorised Division Torino, the 9 Motorised Division Pasubio, and the 3 Cavalry Division Amedeo Duca d'Aosta. Torino and Pasubio were known as "Semi Motorised" divisions. What this meant in practice was that an assortment of commercial vehicles with company logos intact were pressed into service. The Amedeo Duke of Aosta Cavalry Division was a combination of traditional saber wielding horse cavalry and motorized units. Much of the division's artillery was horse-drawn. The highly-mobile riflemen (Bersaglieri) in this unit often made use of motorcycles or bicycles.

The initial strength of the CSIR stood at about 3,000 officers and 59,000 men, 5,500 motor vehicles, 220 artillery pieces, 92 anti-tank guns, 83 aeroplanes, and 4,600 horses and mules.[2] The units of the CSIR were primarily lightly armed infantry, horse cavalry, and mobile riflemen. The Torino and Pasubio divisions were each composed of two infantry regiments and a regiment of artillery. The Prince Amedeo Duke of Aosta Fast Division was composed of four regiments. Those regiments were: the 3rd Dragoons Savoia Cavalry Regiment, the 5th Lancers Novara Cavalry Regiment, the 3rd Fast Artillery Regiment, and the 3rd Bersaglieri Regiment. As can be seen, the units of the CSIR represented a mixed lot and they were transported by truck, horse, car, motorcycle, bicycle, or, as was the case all too often, on foot. While the Amedeo Duke of Aosta Division did include 60 obsolete tankettes and light tanks (Fiat L3 or Fiat L6/40), mostly in its one tank battalion, as well as anti-tank guns (Cannone da 47/32 M35), there was nothing in the Italian arsenal able to effectively counter the numerous and technically superior Soviet tanks like the T-34/76 or KV I.

The Aviation Command of the CSIR had less than 100 aircraft. The CSIR had the following aircraft available to it: Macchi C.200 “Thunder" (Saetta) fighter, Caproni Ca.311 light reconnaissance-bomber, and Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 “Bat" (Pipistrello) tri-motor transport. The CSIR included the "Special Intendancy East" (Intendenza Speciale Est) which provided the following logistical services: medical, commissariat, administration, artillery, chemical, horse and veterinary, transports, automotive, staging, mail, and telegraphic.

Commanders[edit]

The CSIR's original commander was Italian General Francesco Zingales. He fell ill in Vienna during the early stages of transport to Russia. On 14 July 1941, Zingales was replaced by Italian General Giovanni Messe.

For good reason, Messe was never satisfied with the equipment and support available to the CSIR. He specifically pointed out the lack of adequate winter equipment.

Operations[edit]

The CSIR was sent to the southern sector of the German advance in the Ukraine in July 1941. In August 1941, as part of the German 11th Army, the CSIR made its first contact with the enemy. The CSIR pursued retreating Soviet troops between the Bug River and Dniestr River. While the 11th Army besieged Odessa, the CSIR was attached to First Panzer Group under General von Kleist.

In its early encounters it was successful, taking a number of towns and cities and creating a favourable impression on its German allies.[3] Its most notable early victory came at the Battle of Petrikowka in September 1941, where the Italians encircled some sizable Red Army units, inflicting unknown combat casualties on them and capturing over 10,000 prisoners of war as well as significant numbers of weapons and horses.[4] This cost them only 291 casualties of their own: 87 killed, 190 wounded, and 14 missing.[5] On October 20, the CSIR together with the German XXXXIX Mountain Corps captured the major industrial center of Stalino (now Donetsk) after heavy resistance from the Soviet defenders. Units from the Pasubio Motorized Division captured the neighboring city of Gorlovka on November 2. While the CSIR did not participate in the siege of Odessa, Italian troops assisted in the occupation of the Odessa area after the city fell on 16 October 1941.[6]

With the onset of winter, the CSIR units began consolidating their occupation zone and preparing defensive works. In the last week of December, the 3rd Mobile Division was hit with a fierce counterattack by Soviet forces. They managed to beat back the attacks long enough for the German 1st Panzer Army to provide back-up to their sector and subsequently defeat the Soviet offensive. The "Christmas Battle" was hailed as a great victory back in Italy, though the division likely would have fallen without German support. It subsequently weathered the 1941-1942 winter quite well in its relatively quiet occupation zone.[7]

Italian Army in the Soviet Union[edit]

In July 1942, the CSIR was incorporated into the far larger Italian Army in Russia (Armata Italiana in Russia, or ARMIR) when Mussolini decided to expand the Italian presence in the Soviet Union. The three divisions of the CSIR all became part of the ARMIR's XXXV Army Corps.

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Messe, 1947. Faldella, 1959. Mack Smith, 1979
  2. ^ Rolf-Dieter Muller. "The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler's Foreign Soldiers". March 27, 2014. Page 73.
  3. ^ Jowett, The Italian Army 1940–45 (3), pg.10
  4. ^ Rolf-Dieter Muller. "The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler's Foreign Soldiers". March 27, 2014. Page 73.
  5. ^ "Le operazioni delle unità italiane al fronte russo (1941–1943)", Italian Army Historical Branch, Rome, 1993, p. 102.
  6. ^ Muller, p. 74
  7. ^ Muller, p. 74

Bibliography

  • Faldella, Emilio. L'Italia nella seconda guerra mondiale. Cappelli Bologna 1959 (Italian)
  • Jowett, Philip S. The Italian Army 1940-45 (1): Europe 1940-1943. Osprey, Oxford - New York, 2000. ISBN 978-1-85532-864-8
  • Mack Smith, Denis. Le guerre del duce. Laterza, Bari 1979 (Italian)
  • Messe, Giovanni. La guerra al fronte Russo. Il Corpo di Spedizione Italian (CSIR). Milano 1947 (Italian)