|| Non Vi Sed
Arte -- Not by Strength, by Guile
LRDG -- Special / Elite Forces
in North Africa
Italian Special / Elite Forces Groups
The Bersaglieri (also spelled Bergsaglieri were first formed by
General Alessandro La Marmora in 1836 to serve in the Piedmontese
Army, which later became the Royal Italian army. Bersaglieri is Italian
for sharpshooters". From the beginning the Bersaglieri have
been a quick reaction force. The force has always remained all volunteer,
highly trained and highly mobile. After World War I the Bersaglieri
became bicycle mounted infantry making them effectively as mobile
as Horse Cavalry but without the need of caring for horses.. Shortly
before World War II, they traded in their bicycles for motorcycles.
The motorcycle of choice was the The Moto Guzzi Alce (Elk), a six
cylinder 500 cc bike. Some of these bikes mounted a M30 light machine gun
over the handle bars. (The bike normally need to be stopped before
firing the machine gun.)
During World War II, the Bersaglieri maintained their high standards
despite a shortage of personnel. In all, 12 Bersaglieri regiments were raised during the war. They fought with distinction and had
a reputation for toughness. Besides their role as light infantry,
they also acted as scouts and convoy escort duty. Today most Bersaglieri
are mechanized battalions within the Italian Army but are still
regarded as some of the best infantry in the world.
Bersaglieri on patrol with camouflaged Moto-Guzzis Elks
Moto-Guzzi Elk with M30 Lt. MG.
In the 1941 the 185th Parachute Division Folgore was formed by Italy. The unit’s originally was to assault Malta during Operation Hercules. It was later deployed to North Africa where it deployed as regular light infantry. When the unit deployed, they were forced to remove any distinguishing insignia. The primarily operated in North Africa wearing the typical tropical dress and not the distinctive uniform of Italian paratroopers.
Folgore is best remembered for its actions during the Second battle of El Alamein. Division Folgore fought off the advance of six British divisions, two armored and four infantry, thus provoking the respect and the admiration of the English enemies. The Folgore Parachute Division had already proved its worth when, at the end of September, they gave very short shrift to a local attack by the British 31st Infantry Brigade.
As with most Italian infantry, when the German fell back using motorized transport, most Italians had to walk. This was the case of the Folgore Division. Unlike many Italian division which felt deserted by the Germans and simply surrendered, the folgore continued to fight until it ran out of ammunition. Even at this point some battalions of the division chose bayonet charges to the white flag. When the division was finally defeated by the British, it was allowed to surrender without raising a white flag. By then the Folgore Division was reduced to around 600 men. Shortly afterwards, General Hughes of the 44th Infantry Division was quoted as saying , "I wish to say that in all my life I have never encountered soldiers like those of the Folgore."
The divison was later reconstituted as the Folgore Battalion and took up the defense of Takruna, Tunisia, again proving themselves to be some of the best soldier in the Italian Army.
Folgore Paratoopers in North Africa
La Compania Auto-Avio-Sahariana
The Auto-Saharan Company was an Italian military unit specializing
in long range desert patrolling throughout the Libyan desert ,
from the late 1930s to the Italian surrender in 1943. While exploring
the desert, Bagnold actually encountered one of the units before
hostilities began between Italy and Britain. The capture of Pat
Clayton is also attributed to the Auto Saharan.
The company was comprised of desert veterans often operating in
the AS 42 Sahariana equipped with heavy machine guns and 20 mm AA
weapons, together with some armored cars. The company also had
the support of its own aircraft (normally Fiat CR.42 Falco or Falcons)
to assist in long range reconnaissance and ground attack.
The main difference between the Auto Shararan and the LRDG is the
Auto Saharan looked for the LRDG in Axis held territory and only
once ventured into enemy held territory. The unit also acted as
short range scouts and convoy escort for the Italian/German Army.
Having their own aircraft permanently attached meant they could
easily conduct aerial reconnaissance and provide quick reaction
on the ground.
The most famous of the units was Raggruppamento Sahariano AS but
later four additional companies were formed. The AS 42 Saharan trucks
were armed with a variety or machine guns and cannons including:
- Breda Mod. 37 Medium Machine Gun
- Solothurn S18/1000 semi-automatic 20mm Anti-Tank Rifle (10 round
- Breda Mod. 35 20mm Dual Purpose AA Gun (uses 12 round "chargers").
- 47mm Mod. 37 Anti-Tank Gun.
After the Desert war ended, the Auto Saharan continued for a short
time in Italy however with the surrender of the Italy shortly after
the Desert war, there actions were limited.
AS42 Saharan, with 8mm Breda and Solothurn S18/1000 AT Rifle.
Decima Flottiglia MAS (Decima Flottiglia Mezzi d'Assalto, also known
as La Decima or X MAS) (Italian for "10th Assault Vehicle Flotilla")
was an Italian frogman using human piloted torpedoes to attack British
In 1940, Commander Moccagatta of the Italian Royal Navy reorganized
the First Flotilla into the Decima Flottiglia MAS, secretly equipping
the unit with siluri a lenta corsaor "slow-running torpedoes"
or manned torpedos. Nuotatori, Italian for swimmers or frogmen were
trained to ride the SLC toward Enemy ships. While dangerous, this
was not a suicide mission. The torpedoes would detach a magnetic
war head on to the enemy ship and then the frogmen would ride the
small craft back to safety.
The Italian frogmen comprised two units. One specialized in operations
where the nuotatori swam to their attack site, one in the use of
manned torpedoes. The manned torpedoes were electrically propelled
torpedoes with two crewmen equipped with diving suits riding astride.
They steered the torpedo at slow speed to the enemy ship. The detachable
warhead would magnetically attach to the ship's side.. The frogmen
then rode the torpedo away.
While officially the manned torpedoes used by the Italians were
called siluri a lenta corsaor they were normally called "Il
Maiale" (The Pig) The electric motor made it very quiet however
it had a top speed of about 4.5 knots and a max range of 24 km.
The British later copied the Italian torpedoes and developed their
own manned torpedoes, naming them "Chariots.
SLC 200 "Pig" and Italian frogmen with re-breathers.
(Cover Art from a model kit issued by Italeri)