Italian Forces – Post 1943


Decima Mas Group

Decima Mas Group all wearing camo smocks with sahariana type yoke over the shoulders. On the smock is worn the Decimas sleeve shield skull with rose over the red X. On their collars they wear the metal Republican gladios and San Marco lion. Tucked in one Maro’s belt is the Italian fighting knife. The maro to the left wears a beret and the man with his back to the photo wears a billed m42 hat. He may be an Officer as he wears an Officer style wide belt without cross strap. The ” X ”  MAS (Decima Mas) unit was an autonomous force organized by Prince Julio Valerio Borghese. Composed of 25,000 volunteers, it gained a reputation for effective and hard fighting against the partisans, primarily Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans in Istria. It also included a women’s unit.

In July 1943, the British and Americans invaded Sicily, held by 190,000 Italians and 40,000 Germans. The performance of Italian units varied widely. The newly formed and indifferently equipped coastal divisions, composed of middle-aged home guards, often surrendered without a fight. Certain defeat in Sicily led the Fascist Grand Council to strip Mussolini of power in July. Marshal Pietro Badoglio then formed a new government, and on 3 September, he signed a secret armistice with the Allies, to go into effect five days later. The Germans, well aware of Italian efforts to switch sides, immediately implemented plans to take control of Italy. When the Germans occupied Rome on 10 September, King Victor Emmanuel III and Badoglio fled south and made Brindisi the new seat of government. Meanwhile, German troops arrested and disarmed Italian army units. More than 600,000 Italians were deported to labor camps in Germany.

German commando units rescued Mussolini on 12 September 1943 and set up the Italian Social Republic (RSI), with its capital at Salo in the north. Many Fascists joined the new RSI army. New units and those from the former Italian army that remained loyal to fascism were formed into various bodies. The first of these was the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (ENR, National Republican Army), arranged into four divisions composed of formations newly raised by officers still loyal to Mussolini and mixed with some autonomous older units. Many thousands were recruited into the ENR divisions from among Italian soldiers interned by the Germans. These formations were usually trained in Germany and then deployed to Italy. Most of their fighting was against partisans.

The Guardia Nazionale Repubblicano (GNR, National Republican Guard) replaced the old Blackshirts. Basically a policing unit, it ultimately numbered 80,000 men. It was assigned to local security duties and fighting the partisans. Some GNR units in occupied France and Yugoslavia continued occupation duties in cooperation with the Germans.

As the struggle with the partisans intensified, all able-bodied Fascists were organized into a new militia, the Brigate Nere (Black Brigades). Formed in June 1944 as an armed branch of the RSI’s new Fascist Party, this militia eventually numbered some 30,000 men. Composed of fanatical Fascists, it engaged in a no-holds-barred struggle with the partisans. The members of the Black Brigades were motivated by the belief that they would be killed in the event of a Fascist defeat.

The “X” MAS (Decima Mas) unit was an autonomous force organized by Prince Julio Valerio Borghese. Composed of 25,000 volunteers, it gained a reputation for effective and hard fighting against the partisans, primarily Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans in Istria. It also included a women’s unit. In addition, the Germans recruited Italian volunteers into the Waffen-SS. These units had both Italian and German names and usually were commanded by German officers. They performed well on the Anzio Front and against partisans.

In the south of Italy, the newly reorganized government led by King Emmanuel and Badoglio established an “army of the south,” with the status of a cobelligerent force. It was organized as the Corpo Italiano di Liberazione (CIL, Italian Liberation Corps). Composed of old Italian Royal Army men and units, to which new recruits were added, the CIL was formed into six weak divisions, known as “combat groups.” With the transfer of some Allied units to participate in the Riviera landings in France, four of these divisions were brought into the line and saw combat. They fought well and sustained casualties of 1,868 dead and 5,187 wounded. Many Italians also served with the Allied forces in support units, handling transportation and ammunition and other supplies. Some of these units were muleteers working in the rugged mountain tracks. Partisan forces also fought in the north, behind German lines. As the war drew to a close, thousands joined partisan groups in order to sanitize their pasts or ensure their futures.

The Italian army suffered substantial casualties in the war. The total of those in the army who died fighting the Allies, in German reprisals following the armistice with the Allies, and in fighting the Germans probably exceeded 300,000 men. In addition, an unknown but large number were wounded, and some 600,000 were taken as prisoners.

‘Decima Mas’ saga 1943-5

This unit began as 10° Flottiglia MAS – a highly successful raiding flotilla equipped with motor torpedo boats from which to launch their human torpedoes. The morning after the armistice, its charismatic CO, Prince Junio Valerio Borghese, collected together every man he could in the flotilla’s home city, La Spézia, confined them to barracks during the emergency, and drove to see the German garrison commander. He offered the whole Decima Mas organization on a plate – an offer that was received with astonishment but accepted gratefully. Borghese then spent the next two weeks recruiting throughout north Italy until, by the time the RSI came into existence, he had an entire division, the Divisione Fanteria di Marina ‘Decima’. Amongst more than two-dozen disparate companies and battalions, it included two companies of nuotatori-paracadutisti and three companies of regular parachutists.


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