The Italians in Roman armies

South Italic warriors, c. 400BCE, art by Giuseppe Rava

Semper populum Romanum alienis rebus arbitrio alieno usum; et principium et finem in potesta tem ipsorum, qui ope sua velint adiutos Romanos, esse.

The Roman people had always employed the property of other peoples with their consent; the decision to provide assistance, both the beginning and the end, was under the control of those who wished the Roman people to enjoy their aid. (Livy 32.8.14)

The Romans relied heavily on the resources of their Italian allies, as the Senate informed Attalus II of Pergamum in 198 BCE in the passage above (all dates BCE unless otherwise noted). Of course there was a significant difference between the façade of willing, even eager, assistance the Romans promoted and the reality of allied support. In the centuries in which Rome rose from one among many Italian communities to hegemon of the peninsula, the story of the peoples of Italy in Roman armies is one of gradual integration and subordination. Roman armies in the fourth century and earlier resembled other Italian armies of the day. An important aspect of early Italian warfare was military cooperation, facilitated by overlapping bonds of formal and informal relationships between communities and individuals. Over the third century and culminating in the Second Punic War, the Romans organized their Italian allies into large conglomerate units that were placed under Roman officers. At the same time, the Romans generally took more direct control of the military resources of their allies as the idea of military obligation developed. The integration and subordination of the Italians under increasing Roman domination fundamentally altered their relationships. By the late second century, the Italians were vestiges of past traditions that no longer fitted into a changing world, resulting in growing feelings of discontent and eventually outright rebellion. Italian military resources were key to the growth of the Roman empire, but over time the balance of power changed the fundamental military relationship of the Romans with the other peoples of Italy.

Early Italian warfare

Italy prior to the Roman conquest, ending ca. 265, was a land divided amongst hundreds of communities constantly in conflict, often at war, with one another. The narrative of early Roman history is dominated by annual wars with neighbors, while the great men of Rome were nearly all warriors. The evidence that survives in the literary record is naturally one sided, focusing on the supposedly inevitable rise of Rome to hegemon of Italy. Where Italians come into the narrative is secondary, as opponents or supporting characters in a Roman tale. Despite the limitations of the sources, what survives reveals the Italian foundations of the Roman army’s reliance on allied soldiers. While warfare was common there was also an important aspect of cooperation, which is important when looking at the nature of military interaction in Italy. Both the contentiousness and cooperation shaped how the Italians fit into Roman armies and the eventual growth of empire.

The fluid and chaotic nature of community interactions is clearly demonstrated in the events from 343 to 338, the First Samnite War and the great Latin War (Livy 7.32?8.14; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.307?311). Around the year 343, the Samnites launched attacks from the central Apennines on the Sidicini in northern Campania, who in turn called upon the nearby people of Capua for help. After suffering defeat at the hands of the Samnites, the people of Capua persuaded the Romans to abandon a previous treaty with the Samnites and enter the war on their side. The Romans brought their Latin allies with them. After three years of fighting, the Romans and Samnites concluded peace to the dismay of the Latins, Campanians, and Sidicini who jointly decided to continue the fight against the Samnites (and supposedly attack Rome afterwards). In response, the Romans and Samnites, so recently enemies, joined forces and together defeated the forces of the Romans’ former allies in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius (Livy 8.8.19?11.2; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 15.7.3). After two more years of fighting, the Latins were put down and “given” full Roman citizenship, the Campanians became Roman allies with civitas sine suffragio, and the Sidicini became Samnite allies. These developments occurred over about five years. It is hard not to be impressed by the ease with which the Italians of the central Apennines created and abandoned their alliances when deemed profitable or useful. Such a chaotic environment made alliances and military cooperation of significant importance for the survival of Italian communities. By pooling military resources together, smaller communities were able to protect themselves and larger communities could project their influence abroad.

The communities of Italy were tied together in a complex web that facilitated military cooperation. In the plains cities were common, while in the mountains looser tribal organizations existed. Trade routes linked the peninsula, with goods flowing across community boundaries. While a number of different languages existed in Italy prior to the Roman conquest (such as Latin, Oscan, Umbrian, Etruscan) linguistic and material evidence suggests close interaction of peoples regardless of linguistic differences (Adams 2003, 112?183). Many Italian communities throughout the peninsula worshipped at common shrines, which formed the basis for religious associations called nomina (Cornell 1995, 294?299; Bradley 2000, 62?77; Isayev 2007, 31? 41; Alföldi 1965, 119). On an individual level the elites of Italian communities intermarried and maintained ties of hospitality such as the Fabii in Caere (Holloway 1994, 71?72; Livy 9.36). The various communities of Italy were a diverse group in many ways. Nevertheless, they were able to cooperate effectively with each other militarily through the connections that existed.

In particular, cooperation relied heavily on the generally similar militaristic societies of Italy. Roman militarism is well understood and quite obvious in their historical accounts (Harris 1984). However, the Romans were hardly unique in their bellicosity in the peninsula (Eckstein 2006, 118?147). Fortifications blanket Italy (city walls and hill forts). Artwork commonly depicted warfare as a motif, while ritualistic burials included military goods. Indeed, an individual’s position in society relied heavily on military accomplishments. A stark example of this comes from the story of P. Horatius Cocles, who single-handedly defended the only bridge over the Tiber from enemy invaders, earning praise from his fellow citizens. However, despite the reputation he achieved, a severe hip wound taken during the fight left him lame, which ended his ability to participate in war and thus precluded any future military commands or political offices (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 5.25.3). The story of Horatius, although undoubtedly embellished, is a stark example of the importance of warfare in Roman society. While we lack such stories from the traditions of any other Italian people, the material record (burial goods, burial frescoes, pottery) and the historical record of constant warfare suggest a similar outlook.

Formal and informal relations between communities and individuals made cooperation possible. Formal treaties (foedera) existed between communities that included mutual defense clauses in addition to various legal clauses. The foedus Cassianum stated “let [the Romans and Latins] assist each other with all their forces when either is attacked,” and forbade assisting foreign enemies (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 6.95.2; Cornell 1997, 299?301). Less formal agreements existed as well, including indutiae (truces that were mostly used in Etruria), sponsiones (personal guarantees), and the religious ties of nomina, although the military implications of these relationships is unclear. These less formal arrangements could become formal treaties under the right circumstances (Crawford 1973, 1?7). In addition, personal social relations were important especially in terms of military cooperation. Within communities, prominent individuals could maintain personal bands of warriors such as those described in the Lapis Satricanus (Stibbe 1980; Smith 1996, 235?237), the Fabii at the Cremera (Livy 2.48.8?10; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 9.15; Richard 1988, 526? 553, contra Welwei 1993, 60?76), and Numerius Decimius in the Second Punic War (Livy 22.24.12). These warbands could be led to the support of foreign individuals or communities with whom their leaders had personal relations. In 327 Samnite military assistance to Neapolis was described as “some individuals with private ties of friendship (?d??? e?? a) . and friends of the Neapolitans who are helping that city by their own choice” (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 15.8.4). Likewise, Etruscan assistance to Veii, which was being attacked by the Romans, was limited to young men with personal ties to the Veientes without any official support or condemnation from their home cities (Livy 5.17.9). Military cooperation among the Italians relied on the complex web of formal and informal relationships that linked communities together in diverse ways.

Cooperation in tactical situations was also made possible by a similar panoply of arms and armor as well as approach to warfare. Italian arms and armor showed a good deal of local variation, but generally indicate a similar style and approach to warfare. From the fifth century onwards, Italian armor suggests an emphasis on individual combat in battle. Helmets came in a variety of styles variously inspired by Celtic influence in the north and Greek influence in the south (Paddock 1993). Despite local variations, these helmets shared an open face and uncovered ears that did not hinder the wearer’s sight or hearing, indicating the importance of situational awareness. Body armor consisted of heart-protectors, triple-disc breastplates, and chainmail depending on the region, while shields were generally oval in shape and somewhat smaller than their Greek equivalents (Stary 1981). These forms of armor allowed freedom of movement, relying on personal mobility for protection rather than Greece’s heavy bronze that provided superior protection but inhibited movement. Mobility and space trumped heavy armor and dense formations. Weaponry likewise suggests an importance on individual combatants. The peoples of Italy seem to have preferred a certain kind of weapon (e. g. swords in Latium, spears in Samnium), but many regions also indicate variation of weapons within a single population (different types of spears, swords, axes) (Stary 1981). Ultimately, weapon choice was likely personal. Polybius confirms this disparity of arms and armor, albeit within larger age groups of Roman armies (Polyb. 6.22?23; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.703? 706). Where the individual is emphasized over the group, personal variations had less of an impact. Common arms and armor, as well as approaches to warfare, facilitated the military cooperation of the peoples of Italy.

Military cooperation was made possible by a common military culture in Italy and served an important function in the survival and expansion of communities. Domination of the peninsula ultimately came down to who could best utilize allied military resources through formal and informal relationships. The fourth and early third centuries witnessed a brutal series of wars that engulfed the peninsula in a constantly shifting set of alliances among communities. Although Rome’s wars naturally dominate the narrative, there were many others, many of which did not involve the Romans. Throughout these conflicts, exploitation of military alliances proved vital but alliances were often fleeting. An important aspect of Roman success in the wars of Italy was their attempts to solidify control over their allies’ military resources, by incorporating many allies as full or partial citizens into Rome’s military structure (Livy 8.14.1?12; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.538?571). By the middle of the third century the Romans managed to solidify their hegemony through warfare, colonization, citizenship extensions, land seizures, aristocratic relationships, and treaties. At its heart, though, Roman domination of Italy was built on preexisting military and political systems of the peninsula. The Italians remained autonomous Roman allies who continued to provide military assistance through the ancient systems of cooperation that had long been in place. Roman hegemony, however, fundamentally altered the balance of power in Italy and would, in time, result in a subordination and integration of the Italians into a Roman military and political system.


The Italians in the Roman military system

There was an inherent similarity of Italian styles of warfare in the peninsula, which facilitated the cooperation of Romans and their Italian allies. In time, this cohesiveness allowed the development of a more sophisticated organization of Rome’s allies into larger units (alae) under Roman officers (prefects). Better incorporation and control of their allies allowed the Romans to use them very effectively in conquering and maintaining an empire.

Although the command structure used by the Romans with regard to their Italian allies is difficult to determine due to a general poor survival of evidence, there is clear evidence of greater levels of control in the third and second centuries. Before the Punic Wars, there is little indication of well-defined command structures over allied forces in Roman armies. Livy twice mentions prefects of the allies in the mid-third century, but only as part of stock phrases (Livy 8.36.5; 10.35.5; Oakley 1997? 2005, 2.749?750). That is not to say that Roman commanders were never placed over units of Italian allies (e. g. Sp. Nautius in 293, Livy 10.40.8; Frontin. Str. 2.4.1), only that there is no evidence of a regular position. With the domination of Italy by the Romans, however, a new Roman command structure developed. The exact timeline of this development is hazy, but by the Second Punic War Roman officers known as prefects of the allies (praefecti sociorum) are to be found commanding groups of Italians. These officers represent a level of command and control for Roman generals, making tactical control more effective, as well as representing the growing formalization of Roman domination of their allies. Italian commanders were apparently subordinated below these officers and appear less often in the sources. Polybius indicates that the prefects were a fully integrated part of the Roman command structure (6.26?40; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709?723). They were appointed at the discretion of Roman generals. Twelve men were appointed to this position, six per ala (legion-like units of allies), which corresponded to the number of military tribunes in citizen legions (Ilari 1974, 128). Prefects of the allies could be used as special commanders of small detachments of allied forces, a few infantry cohorts or cavalry turmae (Livy 24.20.1; 27.41.7; 40.31.3?6; Sall. Iug. 77.4). However, in those instances where alae functioned as independent operational units similar to legions, they did so under legates as opposed to prefects.

Sometime in the third century Roman generals began organizing the allied forces drawn from other Italian communities into larger units, alae. There are some indications of groupings of allied groups in Roman armies before the Punic Wars (Livy 10.43.3; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 20.1.5). However, it was not until the Second Punic War (218?201) that they are firmly attested and appear regularly thereafter. The close timing with the appearance of prefects of the allies is likely not a coincidence, as both the officers and units were closely intertwined. However, it is difficult to push this interpretation too far as sources for the early third century are quite poor and generally preserve little specific information regarding Italians in Roman armies. The alae comprised smaller cohorts drawn from allied communities and were commanded by local leaders. As a whole, the alae were similar in size to legions and could serve a similar tactical function (e. g. Livy 25.21.6; 27.1.8?13; 31.21.1?7; 35.5). In fact, in his description of the Battle of Magnesia Livy refers to the alae as legions (37.39.7; Briscoe 1981, 347). Together, the prefects and alae created a more effective system for the Romans to exploit the military potential of their allies.

The most detailed description of the Roman Republican army, including weapons, armor, command structure, castrametation, and, most relevantly here, an overview of the Italian allies as they served in Roman armies, comes from Polybius (6.19? 42). The army was divided into three lines of heavy infantry (the triplex acies) divided into age groups plus smaller numbers of cavalry and light infantry. The Italians, who had shared a common panoply prior to the Roman conquest, were organized similarly, and Livy says that at the Battle of Mt. Vesuvius in 340 the Latins fought in the same triple line (8.8; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.475?476). While no doubt anachronistic, the description is consistent with the similarities of warfare in early Italy and at the later battle at Magnesia in 189 where the Italians were organized along the same lines as the Romans (Livy 37.39.7?8). Each line was further divided into smaller subunits. For Roman infantry, these units were the maniples made up of about 160 men, three of which were grouped as a cohort. Italian infantry seem to have been organized solely in cohorts of about 500 men, or at least only cohorts are in evidence. Polybius says that the number of allied infantry coincided with the Roman infantry with three times the number of cavalry (6.27.6?9; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709; cf. Vell. Pat. 2.15.1?2).

It seems that the two alae were typically deployed on the flanks of the two legions in a consular army (Polyb. 6.26.9; Livy 37.39.7?8). The alae, however, were not always placed on the wings, but could be deployed as needed. The Italian allies no longer formed cooperative groups, but fully formed tactical units that could undertake a variety of roles. In 181 the propraetor Q. Fulvius Flaccus in Spain deployed the left ala into an ambush position against a force of Celtiberians (Livy 40.31; cf. Frontin. Str. 2.5.8). Here not only was the ala acting completely separately from the main Roman force, but it also functioned as the core to which 6,000 Spanish auxiliaries could be attached much as the Roman legions had done for allied Italian forces. Of course, not all, or even most, Roman generals used alae so creatively, but the integration of the Italian allies was an important development in Roman warfare that created a potentially more efficient fighting force.

Beyond the alae, the allies were also grouped into a unit called the extraordinarii. Before the alae were organized, the extraordinarii were chosen by the prefects of the allies from the best men of the Italian soldiers, about 2,000 infantry and 600 cavalry (Polyb. 6.26.7?9; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709). They were then subdivided into four cohorts of infantry and ten turmae of cavalry. While Roman armies were on the march, Polybius (6.40.8) says that the extraordinarii were either deployed in the van or the rear depending on where attacks were expected. They seem to have had no regular position in the battle-line, being deployed as needed and providing a flexible force of good soldiers (Pfeilschifter 2007, 34; Livy 40.31.3; Polyb. 10.39.1).

The Italians had become fully integrated into the Roman military system by the end of the third century. They were incorporated into the camps that Roman armies regularly constructed, although the exact details are difficult to ascertain (Polyb. 6.27? 32; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709?716; Dobson 2008; cf. Rosenstein 2012, 93?100). The extraordinarii occupied a place of distinction near the general’s tent. Non-Italian allies camped separately. With regards to rations, Polybius (6.39.15) says that the allied infantry received the same rations as the Roman infantry, and the cavalry about onethird less than the Roman cavalry, which were given as a gift. The provision of rations can be associated with the growing disparity in relative power between the Romans and their Italian allies. In Roman eyes, it was the duty of their allies to march alongside Roman citizens across the Mediterranean, but at the same time, as with any good master, it was the duty of the Romans to care for their subordinate allies while on campaign.

The many campaigns in which the Italians participated alongside the Romans also had an impact on the complex process of cultural interchange. To be sure, units were apparently separated by ethnic groups into units and in camps (Pfeilschifter 2007; Rosenstein 2012). While fluency may have been rare, there is no reason to think that this segregation prevented passing knowledge of Latin among allied soldiers. Certainly, in those instances of discontent among soldiers, Roman citizens and Italian allies showed solidarity and cooperation (Livy 28.24.13; 40.35?36). Nevertheless, many regions in Italy show at least familiarity with Latin that must have been supported by military interaction. The Abruzzi tribes of the central Apennines were among the most common allies in Roman armies, among them the Marsi who claimed that no Roman army had ever achieved a triumph over them or without them (App. B Civ. 1.46). The earliest example of Latin used outside of Latium (in this case influenced by local Oscan), dated to the third century, comes from this area (ILLRP 7). On the other hand, the Paeligni, another Abruzzi people commonly referenced in Roman armies, show little influence from Latin in the inscriptional evidence as early as their neighbors (Bispham 2007, 5). The impact of Latin on the various languages of Italy in general reflects the same complexity of influence, adaptation, and resistance (Bispham 2007, 4?5; Benelli 2001, 7?16; Mouritsen 1998, 77?81). While other factors were at play, common military service based on centuries-old traditions of military cooperation made cultural exchange among the peoples of Italy possible.

Albrecht Friedrich Rudolf Dominik, Archduke of Austria (1817–1895) and the Battle of Custozza

Austrian field marshal, victor over the Italians in 1866, and leading military figure of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Albrecht Friedrich Rudolf Dominik, second Duke of Teschen, was born in Vienna on August 3, 1817. He was the eldest son of Archduke Charles of Austria, the only Austrian general to defeat Napoleon, in the Battle of Aspern-Essling (May 21–22, 1809). Charles encouraged his son’s inclination toward the military. Although Albrecht suffered from a mild form of epilepsy, it did not adversely affect his military career.

At age 13, Albrecht was commissioned a colonel in the Austrian 44th Infantry Regiment. Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky was his chief military adviser. Albrecht was named Generalmajor in 1840, Feldmarschall-leutnant in 1843, and General der Kavallerie in 1845. As commander of forces in Upper Austria, Lower Austria, and Salzburg, he had charge of troops in Vienna at the onset of the Revolution of 1848. On March 13, his men fired on the crowds in an effort to restore order. Although his troops were able to secure the city center, they failed to win control of the outer districts. Albrecht was himself wounded in the fighting. Following the resignation of Austrian chancellor and foreign minister Klemens von Metternich and the formation of an armed student guard, Albrecht ordered his troops to their barracks.

Albrecht took part in the subsequent effort to suppress revolutionary outbreaks against Austrian rule in northern Italy. Commanding a division under Radetzky, Albrecht played a key role in the victory over Italian forces led by King Charles Albert of Sardinia in the Battle of Novara (March 23, 1849). During 1851– 1860 Albrecht was governor of Hungary. The Italian War of 1859 passed him by as he was then in Berlin, engaged in a fruitless effort to secure an alliance with Prussia.

With war with Prussia looming, in mid-April 1866 Albrecht was appointed to command the South Army rather than the forces against Prussia. Here he faced onerous odds: 75,000 Austrian troops with 168 guns against 200,000 Italians with 370 guns. Yet Albrecht won a decisive victory over the Italians led by General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora in the Battle of Custozza (June 24, 1866).

The charge of the 13th Regiment of Austrian Uhlans.

Battle of Custozza (June 24, 1866)

The Southern Army of the Habsburgs was made up of many fine regiments. The Archduke commanded barely 75,000 troops against a foe of 200,000 equipped with more than twice the amount of artillery he could muster. As his orders to his army upon declaration of war noted, this disparity in numbers was not at all intimidating: `Soldiers!’ he exhorted them. `Never forget how often this enemy has run away from you!’

Ably advised by his chief of staff, General John, the Archduke Albrecht waited for Marmora’s army to cross the Mincio. Albrecht hoped to disrupt Marmora’s army so as to render it incapable of uniting with another Italian army advancing from the south under Cialdini. To keep Marmora in check while holding Cialdini under observation required some forced marches across the northern Italian plains in scorching heat. Neck scarves and a proliferation of sun- protective materials punctuated the white tunics of Albrecht’s infantry, while his cavalry abandoned their heavy costume and headdress to adopt lighter blouses and, in the case of his lancers, soft caps. By the time the morning of the 24th dawned, the Imperial Royal Army had divested itself of all its Alpine kit and had come to resemble increasingly a lightly armed skirmishing force which, but for the absence of the colour of khaki, might have been recognisable on the North West Frontier a generation later.

Risking serious disruption had he been faced by a more energetic opponent, the Archduke wheeled his forces west to occupy the high ground around Villafranca. His V corps under Rodichad conducted the most punishing night march to Sona but neither Italian skirmishers nor cavalry patrols disturbed their deployment on the hills around Custozza. To the surprise of the Austrians, these hills had not been seized by the Italians. Only around the high ground east of Vallegio did the Italians blunder into the Austrians at 6 a. m. As Marmora rode up to the small eminence of Monte Croce shortly after dawn, he was staggered to see an entire Austrian corps (Hartung IX) moving towards him in three columns less than two miles away. The Italians were about to be swept back to their Mincio crossings in great style. With improvisation, Marmora hastily assembled a defence, ordering two divisions to march up to Villafranca where Albert’s wing was lightly defended by an Austrian division under Ludwig Pulz. As this deployment began, the quixotic opportunities which war affords the alert and energetic mind came into play.

Pulz was under strict orders to `maintain only contact’ with the Italian III Corps under Della Rocca. He was therefore mildly surprised to see four squadrons of his lancers, mostly Poles from Galicia under their colonel Rodakowski, line up in formation, lower their lances as their colonel drew his sword and gallop towards the Italian infantry in the early morning light. Pulz had expected the horsemen to be on a reconnaissance. With the feathers in their caps catching the sun and the pennants of their lances fluttering in the wind, the lancers’ charge threw up a huge cloud of dust.

As Rodakowski galloped forward, he was joined by seven more squadrons of lancers, which had been assigned to watch the Verona road. This breakdown in discipline was at first interpreted as a sophisticated feint. Pulz explained to a puzzled staff officer watching the scene unfold that, despite Edelsheim’s heroic charge at Solferino, there was no real precedent in the Austrian army for the charge of a single light cavalry brigade towards two infantry divisions supported by artillery and twenty squadrons of heavy cavalry.

Pulz, looking on, heard artillery and infantry volley fire open up in response to Rodakowski’s charge and felt compelled to support his horsemen, so he advanced with what was left of his cavalry. 2 Another 300 horsemen thundered off. As an impetuous cavalry commander, Rodakowski had engaged the Italian infantry at their weakest point, the gap between the two divisions, and had succeeded in disrupting some of the Italians. But the majority of the Italian infantry had seen the threat in good time and had formed square. With withering volley fire they had easily repulsed the attack, which cost Rodakowski half his command. As the lancers wheeled around it looked as if they were facing the same fate that had overtaken Edelsheim at Solferino and Lord Cardigan at Balaclava, twelve years earlier.

Some, perhaps no more than a troop, of Rodakowski’s lancers had penetrated beyond the infantry. Their appearance, however brief, had a stupendous effect on the excitable Italian troops milling around the supply wagons to the rear of Della Rocca’s troops. The Italians, promptly fearing being ridden down by enemy horse, excitedly took to their heels. The panic gathered momentum and infected even the Italian reinforcements marching up to support Della Rocca. Suddenly a horde of riderless horses and fleeing Italian infantry began to charge back towards the Mincio, where they imagined safety awaited them. By 9 a. m., the bridge at Goito was a mass of fugitives screaming that the `Tedeschi’ (Germans) were coming to slaughter them.

The front line of Della Rocca’s troops held firm but the Polish charge had a demoralising effect on them and they dared not advance for fear of an Austrian counter- attack, even though this sector of the Austrian line was thinly held and could not have withstood a vigorous push by the two Italian divisions.

Rodakowski’s charge, as brilliant (and indeed more effective) as that of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, was a poor start to the battle for the Italians. Albert’s rather thin left wing was the Achilles heel of the Austrian deployment that day and could have proved the beginning of severe problems for the Austrians had it been correctly evaluated and exploited by the Italians, something Rodakowski’s 500 men had rendered impossible.

Elsewhere the battle, though less dramatic, was also not developing as the Italians had planned. On the Austrian right, an Italian division under Cerale was caught in the flank by an Austrian infantry brigade under Eugen Piret containing several `crack’ grenadier battalions and some skirmishing Croats well concealed in the woods on the Italians’ other flank. Within minutes the Italians were fleeing again back to the Mincio, offering only stubborn resistance at the village of Oliosi where repeated attacks by the Austrian grenadiers were repulsed with heavy loss for nearly an hour.

The Austrian Stosstaktik, so disastrous in the Swiepwald two weeks later, proved more successful against the Italians, though almost as costly. Sirtori’s division fell back under the pressure of the Austrian bayonet charges but inflicted heavy casualties on Bauer’s brigade (660 of Bauer’s men fell in less than fifteen minutes as they advanced).

Nowhere this day did the Austrian frontal attacks prove as expensive as at Monte Croce, where two Austrian brigades from IX Corps (Hartung) were virtually annihilated as they attempted to dislodge well dug- in Italian infantry under Brignone. More than 2,500 Austrians were lost in these poorly executed and coordinated attacks, which fizzled out owing to lack of reinforcements.

By 10 a. m. the crisis of the battle had arrived for the Austrians. Everywhere along their line they had failed to seize any strategically important ground and their numbers were dwindling. A concerted push by the Italians, who were fighting well, would unmask the deficiencies of the Archduke’s command and his weakness in numbers, with potentially catastrophic results for the Habsburg army.

After nearly three and a half hours of intense fighting, the Austrians had shown aggressive spirit and it was this which finally demoralised the Italians. Despite their strong defence of Monte Croce, Brignone’s troops began to panic because the Austrians simply kept re- forming into new lines, advancing again: white- coated troops with bands playing and bayonets lowered. Riding `to safety’, on Marmora’s advice, the Italian King instantly saw his troops’ weakness and tried to reinforce them, but to no avail. The Brignone line broke after the fourth assault by the Austrians and the sight of the tall Hungarian grenadiers advancing put even their rearmost lines to flight.

As Marmora rode to try to rally Brignone’s men, he noticed that the nearby heights of Custozza also appeared to be occupied by white- coated troops. These were the soldiers of Böck’s brigade, Romanians, often decried as unreliable but advancing in good discipline. The Italian reinforcements came up, and an Austrian brigade under Scudier, which had advanced up the heights of Custozza, panicked and withdrew rapidly (an act for which their commanding officer Anton Scudier would be court- martialled after the war).

Scudier’s precipitate withdrawal opened a small but dangerous gap in the Austrian centre, which could have been exploited with serious consequences had not Rodic’s corps stormed the Monte Vento and Santa Lucia heights. There, the Austrians discovered evidence of Italian atrocities committed against some captured Jaeger troops, two of whom had been stripped naked and beaten to death before being hanged with leather from their uniforms.

Rodic’s men, notably Piret’s brigade supported later by Moering, neutralised the effects of Scudier’s withdrawal. Custozza became a fragile point d’appui for the Italians. Flanked on either side by Austrians, they withdrew at around 3 p. m. Panic, the greatest enemy of the Italian army that day, took hold across Marmora’s front. Sensing his moment, the Archduke now ordered a grand envelopment but, as Pulz rode towards Villafranca, he found thousands of Italians laying down their arms without a fight as Della Rocca began withdrawing. Everywhere the Italians were breaking, with the exception of the few brave men who had filled the gap vacated by Scudier – and they were about to be ejected by three Austrian brigades. Only the valiant Granatieri di Sardegna saved Italian honour that day, withdrawing in perfect order around 5 p. m. The battle ended after the Austrians brought up a couple of batteries to blow to bits any remaining Italian defenders of Custozza who lingered.

As the Archduke Albert surveyed the scene from the heights he saw a vast shattered Italian army in headlong retreat. Later historians and some of his own officers have severely censured him for not ordering an aggressive pursuit but this was not the Habsburg tradition, as we have seen. Albert, like his father before him, knew that the dynasty could never afford to take the risk. Those who criticise Albert for `timidity’ miss the point. This was not how the Habsburgs waged war, especially, in Albert’s phrase a `defensive war’.

Victory was really concerned with honour and could only be tactical because Venetia had already been surrendered to all intents and purposes. Moreover, to effect a crushing pursuit Albert would have needed fresh troops. The Austrian casualties were high. Nearly 9,000 Austrian dead and wounded, including some 400 officers, lay scattered around the battlefield.

Many of the survivors had been in action without interruption for more than 18 hours. Without exception they had fought bravely against an opponent who enjoyed significant numerical superiority. (In the event the absence of the Italian Cialdini’s corps somewhat evened the numbers out.) In the blistering heat of those June days on the north Italian plain, many of Albert’s troops were utterly exhausted. Some had died of heatstroke; many others were dehydrated and ill. V Corps under Rodic was the only force capable of conducting a pursuit, but to what end? One Italian army was crushed; it did not need to be destroyed. Moreover, like his father, Albert had a realistic view of his strategic gifts and knew that he was no Napoleon.

Any advantage that might have accrued to Austria by this victory and that of Count Wilhelm Friedrich von Tegetthoff over the Italians in the naval Battle of Lissa (July 19–20) was more than offset by the Austrian defeat in Bohemia in the Battle of Königgrätz (July 3). Although Albrecht was named Oberkommandeur (commander in chief) on July 10, 1866, Feldzeugmeister Ludwig von Benedek’s crushing defeat at Königgrätz prevented further military action against Prussia, and Austria was forced to conclude peace with both Prussia and Italy. Albrecht’s victory remained the one bright spot for Austria in the land war and was accorded an eminence that it did not perhaps deserve.

Albrecht continued as Oberkommandeur until 1869, when Emperor Franz Josef I assumed that position. Albrecht then became Generalinspekteur (inspector general), holding that post until his death and carrying out an extensive reform of the Austro-Hungarian military establishment based on the Prussian model. In 1869 Albrecht published Über die Verantwortlichkeit im Kriege (On Responsibility in War).

Extremely conservative in his political views, Albrecht also advocated preventive war against Italy and, following the 1878 Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, urged military action to secure additional Balkan territory to include Salonika. Albrecht was advanced to Feldmarschall in March 1888. He was also made Generalfeldmarschall in the German Army in 1893.

Albrecht continued in his posts until his death at Schloss Arco in the Tirol on February 18, 1895. There is an equestrian statue of him in Vienna near the entrance to the Albertina museum (his former city residence of the Palais Erzherzog Albrecht, which houses Albrecht’s extensive art collection). A conservative and even reactionary figure in many ways, Archduke Albrecht was primarily a bureaucrat rather than a field general but nonetheless carried out important reforms in the Austro-Hungarian Army that helped prepare it for its great test in World War I.

Further Reading

Kann, Robert A. A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1526–1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

Marek, George R. The Eagles Die: Franz Joseph, Elisabeth, and Their Austria. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.

Palmer, Alan. Twilight of the Habsburgs: The Life and Times of the Emperor Francis Joseph. New York: Grove, 1994.

Rothenburg, Gunther E. The Army of Francis Joseph. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1976.

Milan Commune (1097— c. 1240)

Foot Berrovieri

Company of the Carroccio


In the wake of the Patarine struggle, the various factions tried to develop a more inclusive government. The archbishop continued to be the nominal leader, but power gradually passed into the hands of laymen. The commune (commune civitatis), first mentioned in a document of 1097, consisted of a popular assembly and an executive council composed of consuls elected from the city’s three factions—capitanei, valvassores, and cives.

By the early twelfth century, political consolidation was accompanied by military and economic expansion. To gain access to central Italy and the Adriatic, Milan attacked Lodi and Cremona; to reach the Ligurian coast, it defeated Pavia; and to secure the Alpine passes, it destroyed Como. Milan’s expansion brought it into direct conflict with Frederick I Barbarossa (r. 1155-1190), who wished to reassert direct imperial rule over Italy. Twice, in 1158 and 1162, Frederick successfully besieged Milan. The second defeat was particularly severe: Frederick ordered the demolition of Milan’s walls, gates, and towers, and the palaces of his principal enemies; moreover, he expelled the entire population, forcing them to live for four years in the suburban areas. Milan’s isolation, however, was only temporary. Growing aversion to imperial rule among the communes of northern Italy soon led to the formation of the Lombard League, whose forces defeated an imperial army at Legnano (1176). By the Peace of Constance (1183) the Lombard communes secured their de facto autonomy from the empire, while still recognizing their de jure sovereignty.

Communal liberty did not, however, put an end to Milan’s social tension. In 1198, the city’s shopkeepers and artisans formed an association known as the credenza di Sant’Ambrogio to protect their political and economic interests. Opposing them was the motta, composed of lesser nobles, wealthy commoners, and merchants; die great nobles for their part remained closely tied to the archbishop. To maintain peace and achieve political reform the Milanese increasingly resorted to the one-man rule of a foreign magistrate, the podestà. The policies introduced by the podestà included protecting the citizenry from arbitrary confiscations by the government (1205); laying the groundwork for the general assessment of properties (catasto); making commoners as eligible for public office as nobles were (1214); codifying customary law (1216); and constructing a new communal palace, or Broletto nuovo (1228). The renewed confidence of the Milanese became evident in 1220 when they not only refused hospitality to Frederick II (r. 1215-1250) as he traveled from Germany to Rome for his imperial coronation, but also opposed his coronation as king of Italy. In 1226, a second Lombard League (strengthened by papal support) was formed against Frederick II. This time the empire prevailed, at the battle of Cortenuova (1237). Within the city, the commoners, fearing reprisals from the nobility who had sided with the emperor, elected a new official—known as the capitano del popolo—to rule alongside the podestà. The first such capitano was Pagano della Torre (1240), who was already prominent as leader of the Credenza di Sant’Ambrogio and a member of the anti-imperial and pro-papal faction known as the Guelfs.


The carroccio was the standard-bearing cart, usually drawn by oxen, of the northern Italian cities. It served as a symbolic focus of patriotism and a rallying point in battle. These carts were meant to unite the divergent social groups within the emerging city-states of Lombardy and Tuscany. Their use (at least as early as 1039) paralleled and coincided with the adoption of civic patron saints and the development of the commune and an independent popolo in many cities. The main purposes of the carts were to accompany a city’s troops on campaigns, to serve as a platform for patriotic or pious harangues and for celebrations of the mass before battle, and to provide a highly visible point of reference for troops during battle. To lose a cart to an enemy was shameful, and captured carts were often treated brutally.

The earliest known Milanese cart was that of Archbishop Aribert (1039). It consisted of “a high wooden pole like the mast of a ship which was fixed to a strong wagon; at the top was a gilded apple and from this descended two ribbons of dazzlingiy white cloth, and in the center a holy cross was painted with our Savior portrayed, his arms extended,” In the later twelfth century Saint Ambrose (the patron saint of Milan) replaced the crucifix, and later still the cloth was scarlet and a gold cross replaced the apple. Three pairs of oxen drew this carroccio, which clearly embodied both ecclesiastical and civic symbolic elements. Soldiers of Cremona and Parma captured the Milanese wagon in 1149, and in 1160 imperial troops killed the oxen, captured the banner, and overturned the cart. When Frederick I Barbarossa captured Milan the next year, he seized the carroccio and ninety-four civic banners as booty. At Legnano in 1176, however, Milanese troops rallied around the carroccio, warding off defeat at Frederick’s hands. When the Milanese invaded the area of Cremona in 1213, they lost both an important battle and their carroccio; and in 1237, at Cortenuova, the Milanese carroccio, after being stripped of its ornaments and reluctantly abandoned by the Milanese army, was taken by Frederick II and sent to Cremona and then Rome, where it was displayed in the Campidoglio.

The carrocci of other cities differed in ornamental detail, but all served the same functions. The wagons, masts, and banners were carefully tended in peacetime and were ritually blessed before use. Peacemaking between rivals within a single city often occurred around the carroccio, and carrocci were exchanged when Parma and Cremona ended their hostilities in 1281. In the 1230s Fra Giovanni preached civic peace and reconciliation from the carrocci of Padua, Brescia, Mantua, and Vicenza, and from that of Verona he declared himself podesta and duke of Verona. Often, legitimate podesta took their oaths of office from the city’s carroccio, and captured cities swore submission from the carroccio of the victor.

Despite their importance in peacetime, carrocci were above all meant to bring together for battle the often fractious elements of the city-state. Both nobles and commoners guarded the carroccio on campaigns, and both were expected to fight to the death to protect it in battle.

By the early fourteenth century, with the advent of professional armies and leaders, the carroccio fell into disuse, so that the historian Giovanni Villani (1275-1348) felt it necessary to describe in detail the Florentine cart which had been captured and burned by the Sienese at Montaperti eighty years before.


The Regia Marina (Royal Italian Navy) explored various projects for adding one or more aircraft carriers to the fleet in the 1930s but took no action beyond developing a basic design for constructing a new vessel and identifying suitable candidate merchant ships for conversion. In mid-1940, as Italy prepared to enter the war as an ally of Germany, a design was prepared for a simple conversion of the fast liner Roma into an aircraft carrier, but again was deemed less of a priority than other construction and set aside in January 1941.

It took the shock of defeat at Cape Matapan (March 28, 1941), which the Italians largely attributed to effective British deployment of its carrier Formidable, to revive demands for a carrier as an urgent requirement. In July 1941 the Undersecretary of the Navy authorized the conversion of the Roma into a carrier, using the design studies of the previous year as a basis. In the event, the project became much more ambitious and required a major transformation of the relatively elderly liner into the carrier Aquila.

Initially, the Regia Marina planned the Aquila (“Eagle”), as the new carrier was to be called, as bare-bones, minimum-effort conversion that would get aircraft to sea in minimal time. However, unanticipated minor problems and the navy’s understandable desire for the maximum possible capability in what might prove its only aircraft carrier led to a spiralling of new features, greater complexity, and mounting delays. To improve the hydrodynamics of the hull, increase fuel capacity, and provide the underwater protection naturally lacking in a merchant hull, large bulges were installed on either side of the hull at the waterline. The interior of the ship was completely gutted to make room for a large hanger with space for 40 airplanes, aviation stores, workshops, and accommodation for a crew of 1165 naval personnel and 243 pilots and support personnel from the Regia Aeronautica. A full-length flight deck topped the hanger, with a large island on a sponson to starboard. For protection against surface threats, the ship received eight 135-mm (5.3-in) L45 guns in single mounts along either side of the deck. Antiaircraft defense was supplied by twelve 65-mm L64 guns in single mounts along the deck edges and 132 x 20-mm L65 Breda machine guns in 22 sextuple mounts along the deck edges and fore and aft of the island. A small amount of armor—some in the form of concrete—was distributed around vital areas of the ship. On the whole, a well thought out, state of the art carrier thus emerged from all of this effort, but, as we shall see, at a fatal cost in time.

Displacement: 23,350 tons (standard), 27,800 tons (full load)

Dimensions: 759’2″ (oa) x 96’6″ x 24’0″

Flight deck: 700’0″ x 83’0″

Machinery: Belluzzo geared turbines, 8 Thornycroft boilers, 4 shafts, 140,000 shp = 30 knots

Bunkerage: 2,800 tons = 4,000 nm @ 18 knots

Aircraft: 36; some sources say Aquila’s air group would have been fifty-one Re2001’s, some of which were to be modified to carry a torpedo.

Armament: 8 x 5.3″, 12 x 65mm AA, 22 x 6-barrel 20mm AA

Complement: 1,420

The superstructure was razed completely and a large hangar 525 feet long and 59 feet wide was erected beneath the steel flight deck. The Roma’s original power plant was replaced completely with two sets of machinery originally intended for light cruisers of the Capitani Romani class, raising the carrier’s speed from 21 knots to 30 knots. The furnace uptakes were trunked to starboard into a very large stack that was incorporated into a substantial island structure. Two elevators connected the hangar and flight deck, which carried two catapults and full arresting gear. All armament was fitted on platforms sponsoned out from the ship’s side. Magazines and aviation fuel stowage were created and protected by 3-inch armor decks. To ensure stability and provide effective defense against torpedo attack, the hull was fitted with deep bulges on each side.

When Italy surrendered on September 8, 1943, the Aquila was virtually complete. The Germans seized the ship but it was heavily damaged by United States Army Air Force bombing on June 16, 1944 and a human torpedo attack on April 19, 1945. On April 24, 1945, the ship was scuttled at Genoa. After World War II the ship was raised and taken to La Spezia in 1949. Initially the Italian Navy considered refitting the Aquila for service as a carrier but this plan was abandoned and the ship broken up in 1952. In late 1942 the Regia Marina decided to add a second carrier to the fleet and began a simple conversion of the liner Augustus along the lines originally proposed for the Roma.

Slow progress on the extensive Aquila conversion and the obvious need for additional carriers led the navy to revive the idea of an austere, minimum-change liner conversion in 1942. The liner Augustus was selected for conversion as the Sparviero (“Kestrel”). It was designed to be, essentially, a large escort carrier. Sparviero was to have a continuous flight deck surmounting a simple, hull-top hanger, but no island. Torpedo bulges were fitted to the hull, but no other major modifications were considered. The air group was to be limited to 20 aircraft. Gun armament would consist of six 152-mm (6-in) single-purpose guns and four 102-mm (4-in) antiaircraft guns. With a waterline length of 664 ft (202 m), a beam of 83 ft (25 m), a draft of 30 ft (9 m), she was roughly the same size as Aquila. But her original, tired diesel machinery would give only a fraction of the earlier carrier’s power—28,000 hp on 4 shafts—and a maximum speed of only 18 knots.

When the ship, by then renamed the Sparviero, was seized by Germany after Italy surrendered only the superstructure had been razed. The hulk was scuttled on April 24, 1945, in an attempt to block the entrance to the harbor at Genoa. It was raised in 1947 and scrapped.

The air groups for these carriers were particularly well-conceived. Rather than developing the plethora of limited-production, specialist types that typified the opposing Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, the Regia Aeronautica standardized on a single type and adapted it to fulfill all the roles required of a naval strike aircraft. This would simplify the provision of spares and the training of naval pilots. It would maximize the number of aircraft that could be accommodated (51, including the deck park), and it would give the air group unparalleled flexibility. For strikes against enemy naval units, all aircraft could carry antiship ordnance, because each of the strike aircraft was capable of defending itself against combat air patrols. At the same time, in the event of an attack on the Aquila, all available aircraft could be used as fighters. There were no clumsy dive bombers or torpedo planes to be cleared from the deck in such a crisis.

For this one, multirole aircraft, the navy settled on the Reggiane Re.2001, the higher-performance, inline-engined version of the familiar Re.2000. The Re.2001 closely resembled the Re.2000 in almost all respects. But the bulky, trouble-prone Piaggio P.IX radial engine gave way to a liquid-cooled, Alfa Romeo RA.1000 RC.41a Monsone V-12, a license-built Daimler-Benz DB 601 offering 1175 hp for takeoff. At same time, the the Re.2000’s wing structure was redesigned to replace the leak- and fire-prone integral wing fuel tanks with more conventional armored fuel tanks, supplemented, when required, by a large torpedo-shaped drop tank under the fuselage. The Falco’s twin, nose-mounted, 12.7-mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns were supplemented by a 7.7-mm gun in each wing. Maximum speed increased to 339 mph (545 kmh) at 17,946 ft (5470 m) and range, on internal fuel, was 684 mi (1100 km).

Difficulties with license production of the DB 601 engine limited initial orders for the Re.2001 to only 120 aircraft. But, of these, fully 50 were Re.2001OR (Organizzazione Roma) models, specifically intended for the carrier project. The Re.2000OR incorporated strengthened landing gear and airframe components to cater to the higher loads anticipated during shipboard landings. A large, A-frame arrestor hook was fitted to the reinforced rear fuselage, and the airframe was finished in the elegant, overall pale grey-blue first seen on the Re.2000 catapult fighters. The naval aircraft retained the bomb shackle standard on land-based Re.2000 fighter bombers and could thus handle the naval bomber role. Weapons would probably have included a standard 551-lb (250 kg) demolition bomb and a special, 1389-lb (630-kg) armor-piercing antiship bomb.

While the Re.2001OR was admirably suited to the naval fighter and bomber roles, it could not fulfil the vital torpedo carrying mission as built. While bombs might cripple a ship, the torpedo was still the only weapon that could reliably strike below the waterline and sink ships. Accordingly Reggiane modified one of the Re.2001ORs (MM.9921) to carry a light torpedo as the Re.2001G. This was ready for flight tests in June of 1943, but crashed before torpedo trials could begin.

The Greco-Italian Conflict, 1940-1

Among the armour the Italians deployed in Albania were these L3/33 tankettes.

Italian artillery in action during the campaign in Albania.

There is no doubt that Mussolini was jealous of Germany’s annexation of Austria, so it came as no surprise when he asserted Italian control over Albania by sending in troops on 7 April 1939. This action prompted the Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill, to offer to support the sovereignty of both Greece and Rumania should they be threatened and a month later a similar offer was made to Turkey. Not that that this was of any benefit to Rumania as in June, with Hitler’s encouragement, Bulgaria, Hungary and Russia stripped it off its frontier provinces. As a sign of things to come the governor of Albania began agitating the Greeks on behalf of the Cham Albanian minority in Greek Epirus. After the headless body of an Albanian bandit was discovered near the village of Vrina he blamed the Greeks and began arming some of the Albanian irregular bands. It was therefore just a matter of time before Mussolini made his next move against Greece.

Neither the Italian nor the Soviet Government received official notification of the entry of German troops into Romania. This was all the more surprising to Mussolini because Italy and Germany had given a joint guarantee to Romania. He was very indignant about being faced with a fait-accompli and decided to pay Hitler back in his own Coin by attempting to seize Greece Without giving official notice to Germany. Mussolini expected that the occupation of Greece would be a mere police action, similar to Germany’s seizure of Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939. On two preceding occasions Hitler had agreed that the Mediterranean and Adriatic were exclusively Italian spheres of interest. Since Yugoslavia and Greece were situated within these spheres, Mussolini felt entitled to adopt whatever policy he saw fit. ‘There was no reason why the man who had revived the Triage Nostrum concept should hesitate to demonstrate to the entire world that his twentieth Century Romans were as Superior to their Mediterranean rivals as their ancestor s had been to the Greeks 2,00 years ago.

In Mussolini’s opinion one of the main attractions of an attack on (Greece was that Italy would not have to depend on Germany s assistance for the execution of such all operation. On 15 October he decided to invade Greece, although he knew that the Germans would disapprove. The attack was launched on 28 October, and the almost immediate setbacks of the Italians only served to heighten Hitler’s displeasure. What enraged the Fuehrer most was that his repeated statements of the need for peace in the Balkans had been ignored by Mussolini.

The German military experts also disapproved the Italian plan of operations, but for other reasons. In their opinion any campaign in the Balkans would have to be executed in a manner similar to the one applied by the Germans in the campaign in Norway. The strategically important features would have to be seized in blitzkrieg fashion. In the Balkans these points were not situated along the Albanian border but in southern Greece and on Crete. The Italian failure to capture Crete seemed a strategic blunder, since British possession of the island endangered the Italian lines of communication to North Africa and assured Greece of a steady flow of supplies from Egypt. Moreover, the British bombers were now within range of the Romania oil fields that the Germans had secured at such great effort.

Hitler’s decision to intervene in the military operations in the Balkans was made on 4 November, seven days after Italy had attacked Greece through Albania and four days after the British had occupied Crete and Limnos. He ordered the Army General Staff to prepare plans for the invasion of northern Greece from Romania via Bulgaria. The operation was to deprive the British of bases for future ground and air operations across the restive Balkans against the Romanian oil fields. Moreover, it would indirectly assist the Italians by diverting Greek forces from Albania.

The plans for this campaign, together with the projects involving Gibraltar and North Africa, were incorporated into a master plan to deprive the British of all their Mediterranean bases. On 12 November 1940 the Armed Forces High Command issued Directive No. 18, in which Hitler outlined his plan for the conduct of future operations to the three services. He first mentioned that Vichy France was to be given an opportunity for defending its African possessions against the British and Free French. Gibraltar was to be seized and the straits closed, while at the same time the British were to be prevented from landing elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula. German forces were to support the Italians in their offensive against Egypt, if and when the latter reached Mersa Matrull. The Luftwaffe, in particular, was to make preparations for attacking Alexandria and the Suez Canal. The Army was to ready ten divisions for the seizure of northern Greece, possession of which would permit German flying formations to operate against British air bases in the eastern Mediterranean and thus protect the Romanian oil fields.

One incident that the Greeks blamed on Italy was the torpedoing and sinking, with heavy loss of life, of their cruiser Helle by a submarine on 15 August 1940 when she was anchored off Tinos. Though taking no action against Italy, the President of the Greek Council, General Ioannis Metaxas, did ask what help Greece could expect from Britain; not that Churchill could offer much, other than naval support. The situation deteriorated further the following month when Italy sent three more divisions to Albania. This led Britain to discuss the possibility of a coordinated defence of Crete but the Greeks would not allow any landings on their soil without a declaration of war. Nor did the Italians have much luck either in their discussions with Germany. When they sought German support for an attack on Jugoslavia, Adolf Hitler was adamant that he did not want to see the war spread to the Balkans. As a result Mussolini switched his attention to Libya and on 13 September launched his forces on a drive into Egypt. Not that he turned his back on Greece entirely but, assured by the governor of Albania that there would be no difficulty in securing Epirus and Corfu if he decided to attack Greece, he drew up plans for the invasion. In preparation for this three more divisions were dispatched in September. Nevertheless, by October Mussolini had started to waver in his plans and it was only after Hitler sent a strong military mission to Rumania that he became aware of Germany’s true interest in the Balkans and finally resolved to proceed with his plans to invade Greece.

Thus it was at 3 am on the morning of 28 October that the Italian minister in Athens presented the Greek government with a note charging them with having systematically violated their neutrality, particularly with respect to their dealings with the British, by allowing their territorial waters and ports to be used by the British navy and their refuelling facilities to be used by the RAF. Metaxas’ immediate response was to reject these demands, with the result that 3 hours later the first Italian troops crossed the frontier into Greece.

The British response to this was to send a naval flotilla into the Ionian Sea on 29 October. It sailed as far as Corfu before returning to the west coast of Crete to await the arrival of a force charged with garrisoning Crete and setting up a naval refuelling base in Suda Bay. This force had been dispatched the same day from Alexandria carrying the 1st Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment. They arrived on 1 November and were followed soon after by what anti-aircraft, engineer and ancillary units the Commander in Chief of the Middle East, General Archibald Wavell, had reluctantly agreed to release. At that stage the only airfield was at Heraklion, 70 miles to the east, and too far away to provide air protection for the naval base so work began on another airfield for fighter aircraft at Maleme. Pleased with these moves, the Greeks withdrew the Crete Division from the island. However, their concern with the non-appearance of British aircraft prompted the British to arrange for the dispatch of Blenheims from 30 Squadron and Gladiators from 80 Squadron, though the Greeks forbade them from being stationed any further north than Eleusis or Tatoi to avoid provoking the Germans.

As it turned out the invading Italian forces were in for a rude shock. Expecting little resistance from the Greeks, the Italians launched their attack in the Epirus sector on the Greek Elaia–Kalamas River Line, with a flanking attack in the Pindus Mountains. Starting in the morning, 51 Divisione di Fanteria ‘Siena’ and 23 Divisione di ‘Ferrara’ backed by the Centauro Armoured Division thrust towards Elaia, prompting the Greeks to begin a slow withdrawal in that direction. On 2 November, despite being under bombardment from the air and artillery, the Greeks easily fought off repeated attacks, while the tanks of the 131 Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ wallowed in the marshy terrain. More success was had to their right as the Littoral Group, after a slow advance along the coast, secured a bridgehead over the Kalamas River on 6 November. On their left flank the 3 Divisione Alpina ‘Julia’ pushed through the mountains to capture the village of Vovousa but was unable to secure the critical pass at the town of Metsovo. Unfortunately at this point disaster struck when their troops found themselves entirely cut off by the arrival of Greek reserves and were virtually wiped out in the subsequent fighting. However, by then the fight had gone out of the Italians and on 8 November their offensive came to a halt.

At this point the Greeks responded by launching a counter-offensive on 14 November. With in a week they had captured Koritsa and Leslovik and re-crossed the Kalamas River. To add insult to injury they not only regained their lost territory but carried the war into Albania, penetrating deep into the mountains in the northwest of Koritsa. In the south they took the port of Santa Quaranta, thus restricting the Italians to the port of Durrës and the size of the forces they could keep in the field. In the centre the Greeks made good progress towards Berat and by 10 January 1941 had secured Klissoura, though were still short of their goal of taking Tepelene. By now, however, the weather, with frequent blizzards, was taking its toll on their troops, with cases of frostbite common. This was not the only reverse Mussolini suffered. In North Africa the British launched their counter-offensive which not only drove the Italians out of Egypt but by January 1941 saw them in headlong retreat along the Cyrenaican coast.

The British were not slow to respond to the fighting in Albania but reacted in quite a different way. Noting the reluctance of the Italian fleet to force the issue at sea, Admiral Cunningham decided instead to launch an attack on the Italian battle fleet in Taranto harbour. Originally planned for Trafalgar Day, 21 October, the attack had to be deferred till 11 November thanks to a fire in the hangar of HMS Illustrious. The attack was carried out in two waves that night, two aircraft dropping flares east of the anchorage and bombing the oil storage depot, while Fairy Swordfish torpedo bombers, coming in from the west, attacked the main anchorage. As a result, two ships were hit and damaged for one aircraft lost. The second wave arrived at the harbour around midnight, hitting one additional ship, also losing one aircraft. By the end of the attack half of the Italian capital ships had been put out of action, two for at least six months. The success was not confined to this as later that night a raiding force sank another four Italian merchant ships in the Adriatic Sea.

The operations against Gibraltar and Greece were scheduled to take place simultaneously in January 1941, while the German offensive in North Africa was to be launched in the autumn of that year. The inversion of the British Isles was also mentioned in this directive, the target date of which was tentatively scheduled for the spring of 1941. The particular difficulty involved in the execution of some of these plans was that the German Army was supposed to conduct operations across the seas even though the Axis had not gained naval superiority in the respective areas. On 4 November even Hitler had voiced doubts as to the advisability of conducting offensive operations in North Africa, since Italy did not control the Mediterranean. That these doubts were well founded became apparent when, on 6 November, British naval fir forces inflicted a severe defeat on the Italian Navy at Taranto.

The German displeasure at the ill-timed Italian attack on Greece found its expression in a letter Hitler addressed to Mussolini on 20 November 1940. Among other things, he stated:

I wanted, above all. to ask you to postpone the operation until a more favorable season, in any ease until after the presidential election in America. In any event I wanted to ask you not to undertake this action without previously carrying out a blitzkrieg operation on Crete. For this purpose I intended to make practical suggestions regarding the employment of a parachute and of an airborne division.

After enumerating the psychological and military consequences of the Italian failure in Albania, the Fuehrer suggested a number of countermeasures to restore the situation. Spain would have to be induced to enter the war as soon as possible ill order to deny the British the use of Gibraltar and to block the western entrance to the Mediterranean. Every possible means would have to be employed to divert Russia s interest from the Balkans to the Near East. Special efforts would have to be made to arrive at an agreement with Turkey whereby Turkish pressure on Bulgaria would be relieved. Yugoslavia would have to be induced to adopt a neutral attitude or, if possible, be led to collaborate actively with the Axis in solving the Greek problem. In the Balkans any military operation that was to lead to a success could be risked only after Yugoslavia’s position had been fully clarified. Hungary would have to grant permission for the immediate transit of sizable German units destined for Romania. The latter country would have to accept the reinforcement of the German troops guaranteeing the protection of its territory. Hitler then continued by stating that he had decided to prevent any British buildup in northeastern Greece by force, whatever the risk may be.

In his reply of 29 November Mussolini expressed his regrets about the misunderstandings with regard to Greece. The Italian forces had been halted because of bad weather, the desertion of nearly all the Albanian forces incorporated into Italian units, and Bulgaria’s attitude, which permitted the Greeks to shift eight divisions from Thrace to Albania.

In December 1940 the German plans in the Mediterranean underwent considerable change when, at the beginning of the month, Franco rejected the plan for an attack on Gibraltar. Consequently, German offensive planning for southern Europe had to be restricted to the campaign against Greece. Upon insistence of the Luftwaffe, the entire country was to be occupied, not just the northern provinces. For this purpose the Armed Forces High Command issued Directive No. 20, dated 13 December 1940, which outlined the Greek campaign under the code designation, Operation MARITA. In the introductory part of the directive Hitler pointed out that, in view of the confused situation in Albania, it was particularly important to thwart British attempts to establish air bases in Greece, which would constitute a threat to Italy as well as to the Romanian oil fields. To meet this situation twenty-four German divisions were to be assembled gradually in southern Romania within the next few months, ready to enter Bulgaria as soon as they received orders. In March, when the weather would be more favorable, they were to occupy the northern coast of the Aegean Sea and, if necessary, the entire Greek mainland. Bulgaria’s assistance was expected; support by Italian forces and the coordination of the German and Italian operations in the Balkans would be the subject of future discussions. The Luftwaffe was-to provide air protection during the assembly period and prepare bases in Romania. During the operation the Luftwaffe was to neutralize the enemy air force, support the ground forces, and whenever possible capture British bases on Greek islands by executing airborne landings.

Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe was to assist the Italians in stabilizing the precarious situation on the Albanian front. This was to be accomplished by airlifting approximately 30,000 Italian troops and great quantities of equipment and supplies from the Italian mainland to Albania.

Even though Hitler had decided to attack Greece, he wanted to tread softly in the Balkans so as not to expand the conflict during the winter. If Turkey entered the war against Germany, the chances for a successful invasion of Russia would diminish because of the diversion of forces such a new conflict would involve. Moreover, at the beginning of December 1940 the British launched an offensive from Egypt and drove the Italians back to the west. Toward the end of the month the situation of the Italians in Libya grew more and more critical. By January 1941 their forces in North Africa were in danger of being completely annihilated. If that happened, Italy with its indefensible coast line would be exposed to an enemy invasion. To forestall such disastrous developments, German air units under the command of X Air Corps had previously been transferred to Sicily, and the movement of German Army elements to Tripoli via Italy was begun immediately. In February initial small contingents of German ground troops arrived in North Africa, and the critical situation was soon alleviated. The first German troops to arrive were elements of a panzer division under the command of General Erwin Rommel. Hitler ordered these forces to protect Tripoli by a series of limited-objective attacks, thus relieving the pressure on the Italian troops. The political objective of this military intervention was to prevent Italy’s internal collapse which would almost certainly result from the loss of her African possessions.

Italian Air Force Attacks Britain 1940


LIST OF Operations flown by the Corpo Aereo Italiano:

24 October – night raid – Felixstowe and Harwich

27 October – night raid – Ramsgate

*29 October – daylight raid – Ramsgate

1 November – daylight fighter sweep over Kent

5 November – night raid – Felixstowe and Ipswich

8 November – daylight fighter sweep over Kent

10 November – night raid – Ramsgate

11 November – daylight raid – Harwich

17 November – night raid – Harwich

20 November – night raid – Norwich

23 November – daylight fighter sweep over Kent*

25 November – daylight fighter sweep over Kent

27 November – night raid – Ipswich

28 November – daylight fighter sweep over Kent

29 November – night raid – Ipswich and Harwich

5 December – night raid – Ipswich

13 December – night raid – Harwich

21 December – night raid – Harwich

22 December – night raid – Harwich

2 January 1941 – night raid – Harwich

*This was the only other raid intercepted in strength by Fighter Command. Twelve Spitfires of 603 Squadron attacked off Folkestone claimed seven CR.42s shot down and two probables. Two CR.42s were actually shot down and several others damaged. (Coincidentally, it was also the day that Belgium formally declared war on Italy.)

The Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) was instructed by Mussolini in 1940 to send a force to northern Europe to `assist’ the Luftwaffe in its campaign against Britain – unfortunately Göring and the Luftwaffe High Command were not so enthusiastic and reasoned that they could probably manage without them. Even so, a force named the Corpo Aereo Italiano was formed under the command of Generale sa Rino Corso- Fougier in September 1940.

The organisational structure of the Regia Aeronautica was broadly similar to the RAF, comprising `Stormo’ (Wings) which had a number of `Gruppo’ (Groups) which, in turn, consisted of several `Squadriglia’ (Squadrons). The formation had two `Stormo’ of Fiat BR. 20 twin- engined bombers; the 13 th and 43rd. There was also one `Stormo’ of fighters, the 56 th , which had two `Gruppo’. The 18 th `Gruppo’ was made up of three `Squadriglia’, equipped with Fiat CR. 42 bi-planes, and the 20 th `Gruppo’ with three `Squadriglia’ of Fiat G. 50 all-metal monoplanes. Finally, there was an assortment of transport, communications and reconnaissance machines; in total, a force of around 200 aircraft.


In late September, under orders to commence operations against mainland Britain, the Corpo Aereo Italiano headed north to their assigned bases in Belgium. First to leave Italy were the Fiat G. 50 fighters. After heading off on 22 September they landed at their first stop-over at Treviso, where they remained until 6 October having been delayed by fog. Next stop was Bolzano, where they spent 11 more days waiting again for suitable weather, this time in order to attempt a crossing of the Alps, then on to Munich, Frankfurt and finally Ursel. The Fiat CR. 42 bi-planes made the journey with comparative ease.

A total of 77 Fiat BR. 20 bombers attempted the four-hour flight over the Alps and direct to Belgium on 27 September, but only 60 made it all the way. Two aircraft were completely destroyed and the remaining 15 were scattered along the route, having landed due to mechanical failures.

The men and machines were a strange sight to the Germans, the men having been issued with newly designed Luftwaffe-style uniforms to replace their First World-War style tunics and `breeches’. However, their machines retained the bright `camouflage’ which was rather better suited to the sunnier climes of the Mediterranean.

When news of Corpo Aereo Italiano’s arrival reached the Belgian Government, now exiled in London, they declared war on Italy. The Corpo Aereo Italiano came under the command of the Luftwaffe’s Fliegerkorps 2 and was allocated the area from Ramsgate to Harwich over which to operate. On the evening of 24 October 1940 the first attack was launched – a night raid by 18 BR. 20 bombers on Harwich and Felixstowe. Only minutes after take-off one of the BR. 20s crashed, killing its six crew. Ten crews reported that they had successfully bombed the target, but on their return two aircraft were wrecked and one badly damaged.

The first daylight raid was made on 29 October. This was an elaborate and large-scale raid on Ramsgate in Kent made by 15 BR. 20 bombers with a fighter escort of 39 CR. 42s, 34 G50s and a few Me109s from the Luftwaffe. The armada flew along the Channel and then swung in over the coast at 10,000 feet near Ramsgate – all in formation as if at an air show. On the ground the anti-aircraft gunners were at first baffled by the sight and the unusual `rattling’ noise that the engines made – quite unlike RAF or Luftwaffe aircraft – but after further deliberation began firing anyway. 75 bombs fell in the area and the Italian press could be truthfully told that their air force had indeed attacked England. Remarkably, and most fortuitously for the Italians, Fighter Command did not appear in the sky. Five bombers were hit by the gunners, but all returned to Belgium.

On November 11 at midday ten BR. 20s, each loaded with three 250kg bombs, took off from Chievres with the intention of attacking Harwich. They were to be escorted by a strong fighter force of 42 CR. 42s, 46 G. 50s and a few Me109s from the Luftwaffe, but almost immediately the G. 50s and Me109s turned back in the face of bad weather, leaving the ten bombers and 42 CR-42 bi-planes to carry on.

By the time the raid was nearing the English coast heavy cloud and poor visibility had scattered the aircraft into small groups spread over several miles, each unable to see the others.

In England the coastal Chain Home and Chain Home Low radar stations had spotted the incoming raid and 12 Group scrambled the Hurricanes of 17 and 257 Squadrons. Flights from two already airborne squadrons, 46 and 249, were also vectored towards the incoming raid.

257’s nine Hurricanes, Red, Blue and Green sections, were led by the Canadian Flight Lieutenant HP `Cowboy’ Blatchford, `Red 1′ who sighted the bombers flying on a north-north-west heading at 12,000 feet some 10 miles east of Harwich. 17 Squadron, with which they were to rendezvous, was spotted 7,000 feet below and took no part in the engagement. As Blatchford led his squadron to gain more height, two formations of fighters were seen some miles away, one above and one below the bombers. `Cowboy’ Blatchford later recalled his part in the battle for a BBC broadcast:

“When we were about 12,000 feet up, I saw nine planes of a type I had never seen before, coming along. Bombers, big and fat, like flying slugs. They were in a tight V formation. I didn’t like to rush in bald-headed until I knew what they were, so the squadron went up above them to have a good look. Then I realised that at any rate they were not British and they were armed and that was good enough for me. I led the boys in from the back, line abreast. We went into attack starting with the rear starboard bomber and crossing over to the port wing of the formation. It was then, when we got in close, that I saw the Italian markings.

“They kept their tight formation and were making for the thick cloud cover at 20,000 feet, their gunners firing all the way. But our tactics were to break them up before they could reach the clouds and we succeeded at the second pass. Two of them were badly shot up and when they dropped out the others started turning in all directions. I singled out one of the enemy and gave him a burst. Immediately he went he went straight up into a loop. I thought he was foxing me – trying to make me break off – as I had never seen a bomber do anything so violent before. He was right on his back. I thought to myself the crew must be rattling around inside there like peas – unless, of course, they were strapped into their seats. Anyhow, I followed him when he suddenly went into a vertical dive. I still followed, waiting for him to pull out. Then I saw a black dot move away from him and a puff like a white mushroom – someone baling out. The next second the bomber seemed to start crumpling like a wet newspaper and it suddenly burst into hundreds of small pieces. They fell down to the sea like a snowstorm.

“I think my burst must have killed the pilot. I think he fell back, pulling the stick with him – that’s what caused the loop. Then when the plane fell off the top of the loop, he probably slumped forward again, the weight of his body putting the plane into an uncontrollable dive. She kept on building up speed. What usually happens then is that the wing or tail falls off, and it was a surprising sight to see the plane just burst into small pieces.”


The CR. 42 fighters had now caught up with the bombers and Blatchford began to engage one of them in a quarter-attack:

“We did tight turns, climbing turns and half-rolls ’till it seemed we would never stop. That Italian could certainly fly! Neither of us was getting anywhere until one of my bursts seemed to hit him amidships and for just a moment he looked to be `waffling’. Suddenly he did something like an `Immelmann’ turn and came in at me head-on. I went into a diving turn and we started all the merry-go-round business all over again. I got in two or three more bursts and this time knocked some fair sized chunks out of his wings and fuselage. Then my ammunition ran out. That put me in a bit of a fix and I didn’t know what to do next. I was afraid if I left his tail he would get on mine the moment I broke off. So we kept on this turning and twisting routine until suddenly – more by luck than judgement – I found myself bang on his tail only 30 yards ahead and a few feet higher.

“If I had even a dozen bullets I could have finished him off easily. It was enough to make anyone swear. In a flash I decided that if I could not shoot him down, I would try and knock him out of the sky with my aeroplane.

“I went kind of haywire. It seemed to me that the biplane was only made of boxwood and string and could not possibly damage a Hurricane. But just as I started to close with him, I had second thoughts and decided I would just try scaring the living daylights out of him. I aimed for the centre of his top main- plane, did a quick little dive and pulled up just before crashing into him. The idea was to pass very close over his head and maybe send him into a spin. I felt a very slight bump and a shudder and reckoned I must have misjudged. I climbed and circled, but I never saw him again. Somehow, I don’t think he got back.”

`Cowboy’ Blatchford knew his Hurricane was damaged for the engine and airframe were vibrating badly, so he set off back to Martlesham Heath. However, his day wasn’t over:

“As I was flying back, keeping a good look-out behind, I saw a Hurricane below me having the same kind of affair with a Fiat as I had just had and run out of ammunition. I went down and did a dummy head-on attack on the Italian. At around 200 yards he turned away and headed out to sea. Again I thought: `Good! I really can go home this time’ but just before I got to the coast, still keeping a good look-out behind, I saw another Hurricane with three Fiats close together and worrying him. So I went down again, feinting another head-on attack, and again when I was about 200 yards away the Italian broke off and headed for home.”

When 257 Squadron’s Intelligence Officer, Flt Lt Geoffrey Myers, compiled the squadron’s report of the action he added: `On landing, two blades of Flt. Lt Blatchford’s machine had 9 inches missing and the propeller was found splashed with blood’.

Blatchford’s actions that day, particularly in coming to the assistance of the two Hurricanes whilst being out of ammunition, led to the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.


On hearing of 257 Squadron’s success a press photographer was sent to RAF Martlesham Heath in order to take a series of photos recording the historic engagement with the Italians. Prominent among the resulting images is Squadron Leader Robert Roland Stanford Tuck DFC, the enigmatic CO of 257 Squadron at the time.

However, Tuck took no part in the combat of 11 November whatsoever. On that day he was suffering from ear-ache, caused by problems with an ear-drum, and the squadron’s Medical Officer had grounded him. Tuck therefore set off to hunt a few rabbits nearby and saw `his’ Hurricanes fly over him as they were scrambled. Already, Tuck had developed a reputation for considerable good fortune and his various adventures and hair’s-breadth escapes had led to the sobriquet `Lucky Tuck’. Today, though, his `luck’ had deserted him and he was grounded and unable to join what he later called a `turkey shoot’.

The newspapers, though, were not necessarily specific that Bob Tuck had not taken part. Indeed, in The People journalist Arthur Helliwell reported on `Chianti Tuck’ and went on to make a racially disparaging remark about Italians before announcing that: `For weeks he and his men had been waiting for just such an opportunity. They descended upon the Macaroni airmen like avenging furies and played swift havoc among these ancient `planes from Rome. `They were easy’ he (Tuck) said `Just dead meat of the skies.’

Later, Tuck would profess to have been embarrassed by this embellishment of facts although it has to be said that he exhibited no shyness or reticence when it came to posing with his pilots and their trophies that had been `liberated’ from the downed Italian machines.


As a BR. 20 had fallen close by, `Cowboy’ Blatchford, Bob Tuck and Karol Pnaik immediately set off in a car to have a look. It is widely reported that the crew were still at the crash site under guard of the local police and that the body of Armando Paolini, the wireless operator, was still in the wreck. This was certainly how things are recorded in Tuck’s biography by Larry Forrester `Fly For Your Life’:

`Just inside the door the top gunner was still in his harness, swinging gently, and full of bullets. The harness creaked faintly and the floor beneath him was slippery. They had to flatten themselves against the side of the fuselage to wriggle past. On the way Tuck looked up and saw a holster at the gunner’s waist. He reached up, extracted a Beretta automatic and stuck it in his pocket. Since ten years of age he’d been a keen collector of firearms, he still couldn’t resist a chance to augment his personal armoury.

`In the waist they found two hampers, large as laundry baskets. One was stuffed with a variety of foods – whole cheeses, salami, huge loaves, cake, sausages and several kinds of fruit. The other held still more food, and over a dozen straw- jacketed bottles – Chianti.’

Two steel helmets and a bayonet were added to the collection, and finally they cut four badges from the aircraft’s twin tails with the bayonet, the resulting holes clearly visible in `photos of the wreck. Meanwhile, the triumphant RAF pilots headed back to their airfield with this aerial picnic. The day’s events were surely going to be celebrated in style.

Whilst the British press made much of the Italian’s use of apparently `outdated’ bi-plane aircraft, and just a few hours after the Italian air force had ventured to attack the British port of Harwich, Britain launched its own attack on shipping in an Italian port, also using bi-planes. This, of course, was the port of Taranto, and the bi-plane torpedo bombers were Fairey Swordfish of the Fleet Air Arm. Three Italian battleships were put out of action, and in one night the Italian fleet had lost half its complement of capital ships.

The tables had certainly been turned, and in a fashion so spectacular that it only served to highlight the miserable and embarrassing failure that had been the Italian raids over Britain’s east coast. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was later prompted to comment of the Corpo Aereo Italiano’s attempted interference in Britain’s domestic affairs by saying: “They might have found better employment defending their fleet at Taranto.”

Despite the fact that British newspapers of the period rather poked fun at this Italian escapade and intimated that the Italians had run for home at the first sight of opposition, this was certainly not the case. The intercepting RAF pilots noted that their opponents flew skilfully and with spirit and courage, particularly in the face of superior opposition. `With Valour To The Stars’ is the Italian Air Force’s motto. They had certainly flown with valour albeit they hadn’t reached Harwich, let alone the stars, that day.


BOMBERS: Seven BR. 20s destroyed

FIGHTERS: Five CR. 42 destroyed, Three probables, One damaged

Although referred to by some of the Hurricane pilots as a `turkey shoot’ they would have been amazed to know the true number of aircraft lost. According to Italian records, only three BR. 20s and three CR. 42s were actually brought down in the engagement, although `misclaiming’ of this nature was quite normal, for all sides, particularly in large-scale aerial engagements.

Of the BR. 20s, MM22267 of 242 Squadriglia flown by Sottotenente Enzio Squazzini and MM22620 of 243 Squadriglia flown by Sottotenente Ernesto Bianchi crashed into the sea. As parachutes had been reported the Aldeburgh lifeboat was launched, but found only one empty parachute.

MM22621 of 243 Squadriglia flown by Sottotenente Pietro Appiani made a crash landing near Woodbridge.

The CR. 42s were MM6978 of 83 Squadriglia flown by Sergente Enzo Panicchi, which went into the sea. MM6976 of 85 Squadriglia flown by Sergente Antonio Lazzari, which crash landed near Corton Railway Station, and MM5701of 95 Squadriglia flown by Sergente Pietro Salvadori which landed near Orfordness.

The worsening weather caused further losses on their return to Belgium. Four BR. 20s crash landed near the coast and 18 CR. 42s made emergency landings with varying degrees of damage. Sergente Mario Sandini wandered over Amsterdam, where he crashed into a town square and was killed.