NAPOLEONIC ITALY

The Battle of Marengo was fought on 14 June 1800 between French forces under the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte and Austrian forces near the city of Alessandria, in Piedmont, Italy. Near the end of the day, the French overcame Gen. Michael von Melas‘s surprise attack, driving the Austrians out of Italy and consolidating Napoleon’s political position in Paris as First Consul of France in the wake of his coup d’état the previous November.

‘Peoples of Italy!’ the young General Bonaparte proclaimed in April 1796, ‘the French army is coming to break your chains … We shall respect your property, your religion and your customs.’ His words doubtless sounded encouraging to people in Italy who had not heard another speech made by the same officer a month earlier. ‘Soldiers!’ he had told his army, ‘you are hungry and naked; the government [the Directory in Paris] owes you much but can give you nothing … I will lead you into the most fertile plains on earth. Rich provinces, opulent towns, all shall be at your disposal; there you will find honour, glory and riches.’ Here was the voice not of the liberator but of Alaric and Attila, of the eternal barbarian coming through the Alps in search of plunder. For all his Italian and Corsican ancestry, Napoleon would not have been outraged by the comparison; the following year he warned the Venetians he would indeed be their Attila – and he kept his word.

The two speeches reveal some of the ambiguity in Napoleon’s attitudes to Italy. There was another strand as well, not fully formed as yet but apparent in a question he asked subordinates after his Italian victories in 1796. ‘Do you suppose that I triumph in Italy to make the reputations of the lawyers of the Directory?’ It was not difficult to guess the answer. Of all his many conquests, Italy was his favourite, the territory he regarded as his special domain. As first consul, and even more as emperor, he thought increasingly of Italy not as a French interest or a nation to be liberated but as a possession of his own, a fief to be exploited for the aggrandizement of himself and his acquisitive family.

In 1793 Georges Danton had persuaded the revolutionary government in Paris that France’s borders should be its ‘natural frontiers’ – the Rhine, the Alps and the Pyrenees – even though these contained the whole of the Austrian Netherlands (the future Belgium) as well as other Habsburg territories and Savoy. For France the most important of the natural frontiers was the Rhine because beyond the river lay the heartland of the Austrian Empire, its most powerful continental enemy. In 1796 the Directory resolved that Bonaparte should defeat the Austrian and Piedmontese armies in Italy and occupy Milan so that it could use the resulting gains as a bargaining counter, to be offered back to Vienna in exchange for concessions in the Rhineland.

Aged twenty-six, the commander of the Army of Italy possessed little martial experience except for his dogged performance as an artillery officer at the Siege of Toulon in 1793. Yet he came through the Maritime Alps with magnificent self-assurance, brushed aside the Piedmontese in a few days and defeated the Austrians in a series of battles with names still resonant for students of military history: Lodi, Castiglione, Arcola, Rivoli. As he moved eastwards along the Po Valley, Bonaparte offered Venice an alliance against Austria, but the republic – perhaps honourably, certainly foolishly – insisted on remaining neutral. Furious at this defiance, the general declared war, ranting in Italian at the Venetian delegates, ‘I want no more senate, I want no more inquisitors, I shall be an Attila for the Venetian state.’ The state was duly destroyed and replaced by a ‘democratic’ republic, which Bonaparte quickly and brazenly betrayed. He had conquered so much territory that he no longer needed to think of equations between Lombardy and the Rhineland. France could have both, he realized, if he gave Venice and eastern Venetia to Austria. The Treaty of Campoformio in October 1797 formally and conclusively destroyed the Venetian Republic and divided it along the line of the River Adige; its western areas were incorporated into Lombardy and became, under napoleonic rule, successively part of the Cisalpine Republic, the French Republic and the Kingdom of Italy.

One of the goals of the Directory’s foreign policy was the accumulation of foreign wealth. Foreigners, the government decided, should pay for the privilege of being liberated by France and not protest if liberty was accompanied by high taxes, conscription and the theft of their best paintings. Curiously, neither napoleonic nor revolutionary leaders seemed to realize how unpopular this policy would make them. Sometimes they even tried to delude themselves and others about what they were doing: eighteen months after Bonaparte had occupied Milan, his army’s newspaper addressed the people of the Cisalpine Republic: ‘You are the first example in history of a people who became free without sacrifice, without revolution, without torment. We gave you liberty, know how to conserve it.’ By then the actual sacrifices of the republic’s capital, Milan, included the extortion of 20 million francs, the city itself looted by French soldiery, and the removal of many art treasures, though Bonaparte had a tender moment when he saw the poor condition of Leonardo’s Last Supper and gave orders that its convent home should not be used as a billet for his troops.

Two types of pillage were favoured by the occupying forces. One was the immediate sacking of a town after its capture, a practice often condoned by the generals. Bonaparte himself permitted the sacking of the Piedmontese town of Mondovi and the Lombard city of Pavia. One of his divisional commanders, General Masséna, was a notorious looter who did not discourage his soldiers from following his example: after one victory they had gone off plundering when they were surprised by some Austrian battalions, who routed them and captured their guns. Masséna, it was reported, had to flee from a woman’s bed in his nightshirt.

The second form of plunder was more official. French armies would occupy a city, seize its banks and munitions, and demand food and clothing for their soldiers. In their wake officials arrived to collect indemnities and take away paintings. The great treasures of Italy were not stolen and sold to buy provisions for the army: they were stolen to embellish Paris and furnish the Louvre. When the Duke of Parma pleaded with Bonaparte to let him keep a painting by Correggio – and even offered to pay him its value in cash – the general ignored him, insisting that it should adorn the French ‘capital for ages, and give birth to similar exertions of genius’. In Venice the French commander was both greedy and vindictive. Apart from looting numerous works by Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto, he ordered officials to destroy the Venetian emblem – the Lion of St Mark – wherever they found it on the terraferma, and in the city itself he took down the lion from its pillar in the Piazzetta and sent it with the famous bronze horses of St Mark’s to Paris. Even his ‘improvements’, such as the Public Gardens and the west side of the Piazza, required a spate of demolitions.

After the conquest of so much territory, the French government’s goal of ‘natural frontiers’ was superseded by the idea of ‘sister republics’, which led later, under the empire, to the concept of satellite states. In Italy Bonaparte set up sister republics in the north but frequently changed their borders and sometimes abolished them altogether. After eighteen months in the peninsula he tired of his Italian work and became eager to find somewhere to fight England, the country that had captured so many of France’s overseas possessions over the previous half-century. Realizing that an attempt to cross the English Channel might end in catastrophe, he encouraged the Directory to give him an army to take to Egypt with the aim of cutting communications between Britain and its expanding empire in India. As always with Bonaparte, however, personal ambition was the prime determinant of action. ‘We must go to the Orient,’ this aspiring Alexander told his secretary, Bourrienne, ‘all great glory has always been acquired there.’ Although he won a number of battles against Mamelukes and Turkish forces, the expedition to Egypt was a failure. Bonaparte’s fleet was destroyed by Admiral Nelson at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and his army was repulsed by a Turkish garrison assisted by British ships at the city of Acre. After a year in Egypt he felt stranded and frustrated with nothing much to do. Yearning to be in Paris and to be part of the next power struggle there, he sneaked away by boat, abandoning his soldiers without even telling them he was going.

Meanwhile the Directory was helping his career by its foolhardy aggression in Italy. Dispatching its armies to the south, it drove one ruling Ferdinand out of Naples and the other one (Peter Leopold’s son) out of Tuscany. By early 1799 it controlled nearly all the peninsula and had set up another brace of republics, the Parthenopean in Naples and a Roman sister to the north. The naivety in establishing such regimes in places where few people wanted them was confirmed by their brisk collapse. While a British force arrived in Naples, Russian and Austrian armies overran the north, destroying the Cisalpine Republic and occupying Turin. Within a few months, the Directory had lost the whole of peninsular Italy except for Genoa.

France itself was saved from invasion not by Bonaparte’s return from Egypt in October 1799 but by Masséna’s victory the previous month against a Russian army at Zurich. Although the Directory thus seemed to have been saved, Bonaparte was nevertheless determined to overthrow it and in November he staged the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire that established him as first consul. One of his first actions was to send Masséna to Italy, where a starving Genoa had to be defended against an Austrian siege, while he himself organized a fresh army to lead through the Alpine snows into Lombardy. In June 1800, at the Piedmontese village of Marengo, Bonaparte was losing the battle until French reinforcements unexpectedly arrived in the afternoon and reversed the fortunes of the contest. Marengo turned out to be the most decisive victory of his career. Had he lost the battle, he would have lost the war and probably the consulship; his narrow win secured his job and won him Italy.

Marengo gave Bonaparte another chance to indulge his passion for changing the names and boundaries of Italian states. Whimsically he transformed the Grand Duchy of Tuscany into the kingdom of Etruria and gave it to the heir of the Bourbon Duke of Parma, whose own duchy he planned to annex. Further north he also annexed Piedmont and reinstated the Cisalpine Republic, enlarging it with Novara, Verona and papal Romagna. Soon he decided also to change the name of the republic, informing cheering Italian delegates whom he had summoned to Lyon that ‘Cisalpine’ would be substituted by ‘Italian’. Bonaparte made himself president of the republic and chose as his deputy Count Francesco Melzi d’Eril, an intelligent Lombard aristocrat. Melzi’s diplomatic skills managed to secure a certain autonomy for the republic, whose president was usually absent, but he made the mistake of believing in his chief’s occasional, insincere talk about Italy and liberty. He hoped that Bonaparte’s presidency would be temporary and that it would give way to a united and independent state in the north. Yet there was never any chance of this happening because, for personal as well as strategic reasons, the first consul refused to relinquish Italy. As he told the Prussian ambassador in Paris, ‘she is a mistress whose favours I refuse to share with anybody else’.

The Italian Republic became redundant when Bonaparte decided he should be the new Charlemagne rather than the new Alexander and that France should be the heart of a new Roman Empire of the West. He loved the idea of a millennial ‘succession’ and promoted it with remarks about his ‘illustrious predecessor’ and a visit to Charlemagne’s Aachen before his coronation as emperor in 1804 – the occasion when in the cathedral of Notre Dame he snatched the crown from the pope’s hands and placed it upon his own head. The relationship between the papacy and the empire was back to where it had been a thousand years earlier. ‘Your Holiness is sovereign of Rome,’ Napoleon told Pius VII, ‘but I am its emperor.’

In the empire there was no room for republics: its territories were to be ruled by monarchs and viceroys who were relations of the emperor. If Napoleon had Charlemagne’s imperial crown, it was logical for him to have the Italian crown as well, just as it was historically logical for his son (though he did not have one until 1811) to become King of the Romans. Napoleon established the kingdom of Italy in 1805, with his stepson Eugène as viceroy, a move that prompted a further rearrangement of borders. To the territory of the old Italian Republic were added eastern Venetia, the Papal Marches and the Trentino, creating a conglomeration which gave the kingdom some 7 million people, a third of the population of the peninsula.

The rest of the north and centre was annexed to the French Empire, usually on the grounds that Italian rulers could not be trusted to enforce the ‘Continental System’, a policy designed to ruin Britain’s trade. Napoleon had already taken Piedmont and now added Liguria, followed by Etruria (and the deposition of its king), then by Parma and Piacenza, and finally by the rest of the Papal States, whose spiritual and temporal leader was imprisoned and kept in France until the empire collapsed. Only in the south did the borders remain much the same, though the rulers were changed. In December 1805 the emperor decreed that ‘the dynasty of Naples has ceased to reign’ and decided its replacement would be the Bonaparte family. His elder brother Joseph, who called himself head of the family and considered himself next in line to the imperial throne, was duly given the crown of Naples. This rather idle, vaguely liberal man enjoyed life in his Mediterranean capital, where he enriched himself, but after two years he was forced to exchange it for the forbidding task of upholding bonapartist rule in Spain. He was replaced by his sister Caroline’s husband, Marshal Murat.

By 1810 all of peninsular Italy – all the territories of the communes, the popes, the republics, the duchies and the sovereign monarchs – had been reduced to three napoleonic blocks, imperial, Italian and Neapolitan. Only from the islands, protected by the British navy, were the Bonapartes excluded. In Sicily, where the Bourbon royal family had fled, power was in the hands of Lord William Bentinck, the commander of a British force. He persuaded Sicilians to accept a constitution and a parliament, though a more enduring consequence of the English presence was the establishment of the Marsala wine industry. As the Continental System had robbed Britain of its usual wine supplies, the country had to promote the cultivation of vines in territories it controlled. In doing so, British entrepreneurs created an abiding affection back home for the fortified wines of Portugal, Madeira, Jerez and Sicily.

Avid republican though he had once been, Napoleon loved the pomp and glamour of monarchy. As much of a nepotist as any Renaissance pope, he offered titles and courts to all his siblings; even Jérôme, the youngest and most frivolous brother, was made King of Westphalia at the age of twenty-two. Italy offered Napoleon several opportunities to park his relations in useful places, opportunities that he took and which later inspired the opening lines of Tolstoy’s War and Peace: ‘Eh bien, mon prince,’ observes the francophone Anna Pávlovna, ‘so Genoa and Lucca are now no more than estates of the Bonaparte family.’ Not only did Napoleon appoint one brother (Joseph) and one brother-in-law (Murat) kings, but one sister (Caroline) became a queen, his stepson (Eugène) a viceroy, and another brother-in-law (Prince Borghese) governor-general of the departments beyond the Alps (Piedmont, Parma and Liguria). One sister (Pauline) was given the small duchy of Guastalla, which she happily sold back to its donor for 6 million francs, while another (Elisa) became Princess of Piombino, Princess of Lucca and Grand Duchess of Tuscany. Neither of the two most independent-minded brothers ruled in Italy, Lucien because he thought Napoleon a megalomaniac, and Louis because he ruled Holland until 1810, when he was sacked for trying to rule as a Dutch king rather than as a French viceroy. The emperor subsequently annexed Holland.

Napoleon gave his relations the lustrous trimmings of monarchy. Eugène’s court in Milan was very grand, its household containing thirty-five chamberlains and twenty-six ladies-in-waiting; in Naples Murat was even grander, employing forty-four chamberlains, among whom were eighteen dukes and sixteen princes.24 Yet the siblings were treated by their powerful brother more as errant subordinates than as dignified heads of state. Theoretically independent, they were effectively vassals, forced to suffix ‘Napoleon’ to their names so that Elisa became Princess Elisa-Napoleon and Murat was known as King Joachim-Napoleon. Like the others, Joseph was repeatedly admonished, ordered about and reminded that he owed everything to the emperor. Yearning to establish a lasting Bonaparte dynasty, Napoleon tried to improve his family’s status and prospects by marrying his brothers to European royal families. He forced Jérôme to accept an annulment of his first marriage in order to marry a German princess and he exiled Lucien for refusing to divorce his second wife so that he could marry a Spanish infanta. Napoleon left his own wife, Josephine, to espouse the daughter of his defeated foe the Austrian emperor, but he would not allow Louis to leave Hortense, Josephine’s daughter, to whom he was miserably and jealously married.

Eugène had the most difficult job in Italy because his stepfather was always interfering in the affairs of a state with which he was well acquainted and of which he was the official head. The viceroy had to ensure that the kingdom was well defended because the Po Valley was still the most popular battleground in southern Europe, and he also had to provide large numbers of soldiers for service outside Italy. From 1809 the Peninsular War required three Italian divisions, which were forced to fight a merciless and unfamiliar guerrilla war in conditions so bad that the men sometimes had to live off grass soup and bread made from acorns and crushed olive stones; of the 30,000 Italians the kingdom sent to Spain, only 9,000 returned, many of them wounded. The casualties in Russia were even higher: 27,000 men marched with the Grande Armée in 1812, but only 1,000 struggled back through the snows to their homes in northern Italy.

In 1810 Eugène reported that 40,000 men in the kingdom had either deserted or avoided conscription. Naples and the annexed Papal States, which also had to supply troops for Spain and Russia, had a similar problem plus the additional one that their deserters fled and joined bands of brigands in the hills. Napoleon told Joseph to be tougher with his subjects and to execute more lazzaroni, but both kings of Naples managed to achieve a greater degree of autonomy than Eugène. Murat even preferred Neapolitan ministers to French ones and showed sufficient independence of spirit for Napoleon to consider replacing him.

The happiest place in napoleonic Italy was Lucca, which the emperor treated with untypical indulgence. He awarded it, with Piombino, to Elisa, the sister who most resembled him and the one he was least fond of. Energetic and ambitious, she was so commanding a figure she was nicknamed la Sémiramis de Lucques after the legendary Queen of Assyria who is supposed to have founded Babylon. In her principality, with a population of only 150,000, she behaved like an enlightened despot, encouraging industry, carrying out public works and patronizing the arts, including appointing Niccolò Paganini, the greatest violinist in Europe, her director of music and – so it was rumoured – one of her lovers. Gratifyingly for her brother, she renovated the Carrara marble industry so that it was able to provide the municipalities of the empire with 12,000 busts of their emperor. Napoleon, however, was not sufficiently grateful to reward Elisa with the real state and the real power that she craved. Although she was made Grand Duchess of Tuscany in 1809, she ruled from the Pitti Palace not as an independent sovereign but as an unpopular administrator of a department of the French Empire.

Murat, like Eugène, fought with Napoleon in Russia but afterwards, with the French in retreat, he hurried back to Naples to try to save his throne. He quickly made a pact with the Austrians, who, like the Prussians and Russians, were moving westwards towards France, and he brought an army up from Naples to confront – or pretend to confront – Eugène. At the beginning of 1814, three months before Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba, Elisa warned her brother that, although the Tuscans did not like the Neapolitans, ‘the ideas of independence had spread so widely in Italy in the last two months’ that she believed they would submit to them if they could ‘finish up being ruled by a prince of their own’. Her subjects did not, however, have the chance to do so because the allies decided that they wanted the Bourbons back in Naples. In March 1815, on hearing that Napoleon had abandoned planting olives in Elba to have another stab at being emperor, a desperate Murat offered his services to his brother-in-law. Rebuffed, perhaps fatally – Napoleon later recognized that Murat’s skills as a cavalry commander might have changed the result at Waterloo – he made a passionate appeal to patriotism, exhorting Italians to follow him towards his unexpected new goal of independence: ‘From the Alps to the Straits of Sicily can be heard a single cry: Italian independence!’ Yet few people followed him, and his forces were defeated by the Austrians; later, as the defeated Napoleon was sailing into exile at St Helena, he launched a crazy attack on the Calabrian coast, where he was captured and shot. His fate demonstrated that Elisa had been wrong: the cry – if it existed – had not been heard, and the ‘ideas of independence’ had not spread far. A Russian patriotism had resisted Napoleon and driven him out of the tsar’s dominions; in Spain also patriotism had made a significant contribution to the French defeat. Yet in Italy there was no patriotic uprising even when it was clear that Napoleon was done for.

The debit side of napoleonic rule in Italy is easy to catalogue: the loss of life in the endless wars, the taxes and indemnities, the looting of art, the decline of foreign trade, the executions of men unwilling to be conscripted to fight wars they had no interest in. Yet there were some credits too, outweighed though they may have been. Napoleon was seen by many, however mistakenly, as a protector of nationalities and a liberator of the oppressed. The Genoese artist Felice Guascone refused to criticize him and painted a series of pictures celebrating his rule and deploring the return of reaction afterwards. Many people benefited from the introduction of divorce, the improvement in roads, the new and fairer system of inheritance, the religious liberty that demolished ghetto walls, the opportunities provided by la carrière ouverte aux talents. Later some of them realized that the introduction of the napoleonic codes of law, together with fiscal and institutional reforms, were essential foundations for a modern state.

Less easy to quantify than the debits and credits is the effect of French rule on the future of Italy. Revolutionary France had a huge impact on the peninsula for it overturned much of the Ancien Régime, but the republics it imposed south of the Po were disliked by nearly everyone except lawyers and professors. The French made few jacobins in Italy and hardly any in places with traditions of reform such as Tuscany, where the reintroduction of the death penalty in the annexed duchy caused resentment. In the imperial decade Napoleon was no more popular and he ended up being hated by those Italians who believed he had betrayed their hopes of an independent Italy – a state he had never had any intention of creating. Yet he did help indirectly to foster a sense of nation. Italians suffered terribly in his armies, but survivors retained a certain loyalty to their new tricolore flag – the green, white and red adopted in various shapes in the different mutations of napoleonic north Italy – and to its implied recognition of a patria. One veteran of the Russian campaign fought half a century later with Garibaldi.

Napoleon’s influence on the future of Italy was real if unintentional. He encouraged a nationalist mentality with his talk, his armies and his demolition of ancient duchies; and he stimulated a form of adversarial though seldom violent nationalism with his oppression, his arrogance, his exactions and his art thefts. Above all, he showed Italy that it did not need to carry on with its old ways and its old systems; he let it glimpse the possibility of a different future. If the peninsula’s myriad entities could be reduced to three, might they not one day end up as one? In 1805 Napoleon had made himself King of Italy; he did not make himself king of a geographical expression.

1817-1860: KINGDOM OF THE TWO SICILIES II

The Army of the Two Sicilies was the land forces of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, whose armed forces also included a navy. It was in existence from 1734 to 1861. It was also known as the Royal Army of His Majesty the King of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Reale esercito di Sua Maestà il Re del Regno delle Due Sicilie), the Bourbon Army (Esercito Borbonico) or the Neapolitan Army (Esercito Napoletano). Later many ex soldiers of this army joined Italian Royal Army.

SICILY AND NAPLES 1860

Garibaldi was diverted from the escapade in Nice by news of a revolt in Sicily and pressure from a number of patriotic colleagues who begged him to lead an expedition in its support. In early April a Mazzinian plot in Palermo, which was quickly suppressed, had touched off a wider rebellion in the interior: bands of hostile and impoverished peasants spread across the island, killing or ejecting policemen and tax collectors and eliminating all form of local government. Many educated Sicilians approved of the rebellion against the Bourbons but were nervous of the other aims of an essentially social uprising. A few of them wanted independence and a few others hoped for union with the rest of Italy; Francesco Crispi, a lawyer and a future Italian prime minister, opted for union partly because he considered his fellow islanders incapable of ruling themselves. Most Sicilians were autonomists, however, who would have been content with a revival of the 1812 constitution and the distant sovereignty of the Bourbons. Their dislike of Naples was more vivid than their desire to join Italy.

Garibaldi was delighted by the tidings from Sicily and enthusiastic about the idea of an expedition there. He was an idealistic man with a simplistic ideology. Italy must be free and united, and its enemies – principally the pope, the Bourbons and the Austrians – must be overthrown. Although originally a republican, he now realized that the national cause was only likely to succeed under the leadership of Victor Emanuel.

The Sicilian uprising seemed to be faltering in mid-April, when Bourbon forces regained control of the coastal regions. Garibaldi was disheartened by the news and vacillated over his impending expedition. He had criticized Mazzini for irresponsible adventures and he did not wish to emulate Carlo Pisacane, the socialist patriot whose followers had been annihilated after landing three years earlier on the Neapolitan coast. Another problem was munitions. Garibaldi’s lieutenants had gone off to collect the money, arms and volunteers that were always available for any enterprise commanded by himself, but Azeglio, now the Governor of Milan, blocked a consignment of modern British rifles. ‘We could declare war on Naples,’ wrote the former prime minister, ‘but not have a diplomatic representative there and send rifles to the Sicilians.’14

At the end of the month, after further dispiriting news from Sicily, Garibaldi called the expedition off, but two days later, apparently convinced by Crispi that the rebellion was still active, decided to go ahead after all. As soon as one of his lieutenants had seized two steamships in the harbour of Genoa, he dressed himself up in the outfit he had picked up in South America – red shirt, pale poncho and silk handkerchief – and set off with his ‘Thousand’ volunteers across the Tyrrhenian Sea, a voyage that propelled him and them into legend and into comparisons with the ‘three hundred’ soldiers of Leonidas, the Spartan king who had held the pass of Thermopylae against the Persian army in 480 BC. It was indeed an heroic enterprise but it was also, incontrovertibly, illegal. Apart from stealing the two ships, Garibaldi was making an unprovoked attack on a recognized state with which his country, Piedmont-Sardinia, was not at war. History may have forgiven him for the deed, but it was an act of piracy all the same.

The Neapolitan king, Francesco II, did not at first take the expedition seriously. To him it seemed another adventure in the manner of Pisacane and the Bandiera brothers, a raid by a rabble of revolutionaries who would easily be defeated, despite the support of local rebels, by his troops on the island. Yet Garibaldi was a successful and charismatic guerrilla leader who enjoyed other advantages as well. King Ferdinand had died the previous year at Caserta after a reign of twenty-nine years, and his son, nicknamed Franceschiello, was young, timid and inexperienced. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had few allies except Austria, which was no longer in a position to help, and it had broken off diplomatic relations with Britain and France following their governments’ denunciations of Ferdinand’s ‘despotism’. The current Napoleon was unsympathetic to the Bourbons because he wanted their throne for his cousin Murat, and the British disliked them because Gladstone had convinced his colleagues that they presided over a uniquely awful regime. The hostility of France and Britain was fatal to the Bourbons because those nations had the means to decide whether ships might or might not reach their destinations in the Mediterranean. Had they wished to do so, their navies could have prevented Garibaldi from landing in Sicily in May and from crossing to Calabria in August.

While the expedition enjoyed the support of the small number of southern patriots, it also had backing, equivocal and confusing though this often was, from inside the Piedmontese establishment. Even those who opposed it did so halfheartedly. Cavour tried to dissuade the Thousand from embarking but he did not threaten force to deter them. Later he dispatched the Piedmontese navy to intercept the stolen ships, to prevent reinforcements from reaching Sicily and to delay Garibaldi’s crossing of the Straits of Messina. But the navy’s failure to achieve any of these objectives was not entirely the fault of the commander, the inept Count of Persano. Without some degree of official connivance, it is difficult to see how steamships could have been seized in Piedmont’s principal port, how the expedition could have managed to reach its destinations, and how so many soldiers ‘on leave’ from the Piedmontese army could have enlisted with the volunteers.

Garibaldi was lucky with his landing at Marsala on Sicily’s west coast on 11 May. The Bourbon garrison had just marched off to Trapani, and Neapolitan ships protecting the town had just sailed off to the south; later, when one of these vessels returned, it delayed firing at the red-shirted volunteers who were in the process of disembarking for fear of hitting two British ships in the harbour. The garibaldini had expected a welcome from islanders pining for liberation and were thus surprised to find a complete absence of enthusiasm for their arrival; also disconcerting was the invisibility of the revolt they had come to support. A few days later, however, the Thousand defeated a badly led Neapolitan force at Calatafimi and attracted a small number of Sicilians to their ranks. After the battle Garibaldi marched eastwards, capturing Palermo in June and Milazzo in July, landing on the Calabrian mainland in August and reaching Naples in September, four months after he had set forth from the Ligurian coast. In Palermo, where he established a government with himself as interim dictator and Crispi a secretary of state, he demonstrated his radical zeal by abolishing the grist tax and promising land reform for the peasants. Yet he could not go as far as he wished in this direction since he could not afford to alienate those landowners whose support was crucial for the achievement of political union with the north.

Although Garibaldi displayed courage and military skill in his campaign, the heroics were not quite on the scale that legend suggests. He did not defeat the 25,000 Neapolitan troops on the island with the thousand men he had arrived with at Marsala; over the summer, reinforcements from the north brought his own forces to more than 21,000. Nor was outrageous valour always required to overcome an enemy that, while well equipped, was poorly commanded and widely scattered. The young king was encumbered both with octogenarian ministers and with septuagenarian generals, one of whom had fought at Waterloo. These officers were not only old but also cowardly, incompetent and in some cases treacherous. At Calatafimi the Bourbon forces were positioned on a hilltop, inflicting casualties on the garibaldini attacking up the slope, when they were inexplicably ordered to retreat. One general foolishly suggested a truce which allowed Garibaldi to re-arm and take control of Palermo, another withdrew his troops unnecessarily from Catania to Messina, and officers from both the army and the navy deserted and took bribes. Some of these individuals were subsequently sent to the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, where the guilty ones were lightly demoted.

In Calabria Garibaldi found the opposition even feebler than in Sicily. Although the Neapolitan generals had 16,000 soldiers in the toe of Italy, they put up little resistance and sometimes submitted without firing a shot; one battalion surrendered to six wandering garibaldini who had got lost. Reggio was handed over with hardly a fight, and so was Cosenza. In Naples the minister for war announced in the mornings that he was departing for Calabria to defeat Garibaldi but then changed his mind in the afternoons because he considered his presence in the capital was essential to prevent disorder. Well did he and the other generals deserve a dismissive line in Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier: when the Marschallin thinks she is about to be surprised with her lover, she decides to confront her husband, the field marshal: ‘Ich bin kein napolitanischer General: wo ich steh’ steh’ ich.’ (‘I am not a Neapolitan general: where I stand I stand.’)

On 7 September Garibaldi entered Naples by train, in advance of his army, where he was welcomed by Bourbon officials: the minister of police had already sycophantically told him that the city was waiting ‘with the greatest impatience … to greet the redeemer of Italy and to place in his hands the power and destiny of the state’. King Francesco had left the city the previous day, intending to carry on the war from Gaeta, the coastal fortress town near the border with the Papal States in the north. For all his limitations, he was a conscientious and honourable monarch who realized that a siege of Italy’s largest and most densely populated city would cause terrible carnage. But he did not shirk or run away like the dukes of central Italy had done a year before. He left garrisons in the castles of Naples and marched out, leaving nearly all his money and his personal possessions in his capital. He expected to return.

In the north of the kingdom the Bourbon army was transformed. Loyal regiments from Naples and other provinces of the mainland fought valiantly and were victorious in several skirmishes against the redshirts near Capua. Yet once again the generalship was defective, too slow, too cautious, too lacking in imagination. An urgent and vigorous counter-attack might have defeated the smaller enemy force; but when the advance eventually came, Garibaldi halted it on the River Volturno, a dogged defensive action in which he lost more men than his opponents. Even then the Neapolitans might have remained undefeated if the contest had been limited to themselves and the volunteers.

As soon as Cavour realized that Garibaldi would conquer Sicily, he was eager to annex the island to Piedmont. He had always detested home-grown revolutionaries more than he disliked Bourbons and Austrians, and the last thing he wanted was to see Sicily and possibly Naples in the hands of democrats and other radicals. Once the redshirts had reached Palermo, he therefore sent his representative, La Farina, who arrived in early June with posters proclaiming ‘We want annexation’. It was a strange appointment because La Farina was an insensitive individual and a well-known antagonist of both Garibaldi and Crispi. So much of his time in Sicily was spent intriguing and causing friction among members of the new government that after a month Garibaldi had him arrested and sent back north.

In Naples Cavour chose to employ a tactic similar to that which La Farina had failed with the previous year in the Po Valley: arranging a ‘spontaneous’ uprising in the city – and doing so before Garibaldi arrived. He duly sent Persano to the Bay of Naples with money in his pockets to bribe officials, and soldiers hidden on his ships ready to rush to the aid of the conspirators on land. In the city the Piedmontese ambassador duly gave the signal for revolt but, as so often with these Cavourian schemes, nothing happened. The Neapolitans were sensibly waiting to see which side was likely to win before committing themselves to the conflict.

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Few Europeans mourned the fall of the Bourbons. Nor did later Neapolitans greatly regret the passing of a dynasty that had provided them with five kings over a century and a quarter – longer than the rule of either the Tudors or the Stuarts in England. Sentimental attachment was subdued perhaps by distant memories of earlier dynasties and by the presence of so many monuments of previous ages. The family had indeed produced no outstanding monarch but nor – despite what propaganda said – had it supplied a very bad one. In any case, was the general standard any lower than those of their cousins in Spain, the Savoia in Piedmont or the Hanoverians in Great Britain? The victors and their international supporters claimed that the Bourbon exit was an inevitable episode on the road to Italian unity, a necessary consequence of a war of liberation, the conflict having been simply a logical stage in the process of nation-building, a way of absorbing natural national territory – as Wessex had ingested Mercia or France had taken in Provence. Few people outside the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies saw it for what it ultimately was, a war of expansion conducted by one Italian state against another. The unusual feature of the contest was that it was a three-sided one, two sides playing the recognized parts of protagonist (the garibaldini) and antagonist (the Bourbons) while the third (the Piedmontese) took on a more subtle role, pretending to be a friend of the others but in reality being the enemy (and eventual conqueror) of both.

Moral and historical justifications for the conquest of Naples are perplexing. According to G. M. Trevelyan, the doyen of British eulogists of the Risorgimento, unification was necessary because of ‘the utter failure of the Neapolitans to maintain their own freedom when left to themselves in 1848’. Yet other people have failed in similar fashion without needing or deserving conquest. Another argument, still favoured by certain Neapolitan historians, is that the rapid collapse of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860 proved that it was rotten and required elimination. Again, other regimes have collapsed before a sudden onslaught only to be resuscitated later by their allies. A distinguished historian of Naples, an elderly man whose great-grandparents were all Neapolitans, insists that his country could not have become a modern nation by itself after 1860, that it needed the partnership of Piedmont to give it the apparatus of a modern state. His argument does not convince. Piedmont was undoubtedly a richer and more liberal state than the Two Sicilies in 1860, but for most of the eighteenth century Naples had possessed a more enlightened regime than Turin, and only a generation before union it had had more industry and more progressive codes of law. The belief that Naples, unlike other countries in western Europe, was incapable of evolving by itself is simply illogical, an example of that southern inferiority complex which was engendered by the triumphalism of the Risorgimento and reinforced by much subsequent talk, northern and condescending, about ‘the southern question’ and ‘the problem of the mezzogiorno’.

 

Italian Renaissance Infantry

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It is a commonly held view that disciplined and effective infantry largely disappeared from the Italian military scene in the second half of the fourteenth and in the fifteenth centuries. Indeed even the great masses of ill-trained levies, which provided the numbers of thirteenth-century armies, seemed to play little part in fifteenth-century warfare. However, the emergence of smaller groups of more professional, more specialised, infantry was an early development, and, although there was perhaps a period when such troops were still relatively few and the mass levy was either discarded or clearly recognised as a separate auxiliary force, this period was short, and throughout the fifteenth century the number of genuine and effective infantry in Italian armies was growing.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century the effective infantry were still divided into three groups: the infantry lances, the shield bearers, and the crossbowmen. An infantry company was usually made up of equal proportions of each, and, although only the larger condottiere companies contained infantry, there were many wholly infantry companies available. It is true that the role of such infantry was largely defensive; the lancers and the shield bearers with their long cumbersome shields could form a wall behind which cavalry could reform. The other main role for such infantry was in siege warfare, when both the defence of the besieging encampment against sorties and the actual assault were entrusted to them.

Although the crossbow was the main missile weapon of Italian infantry and had been since the early thirteenth century, there were still some companies of English archers to be found in Italy as late as 1430. Thirty archers under John Clement and Godfrey Reynolds were in Florentine service in that year, and in 1431 Walter of England was employed by Venice with 90 archers. The pay of these men was rather better than that of the average Italian infantryman, but this was perhaps because they were still mounted in the tradition of Hawkwood and his archers, rather than because their services as infantry were particularly prized. There was still a slight predominance of Genoese amongst the crossbowmen but, on the whole, ability to use the crossbow was widespread. Venetians all learnt to fire a crossbow as part of their civic obligations, and it was the standard weapon of garrison troops and town guards.

Infantry units maintained this threefold division until around the middle of the century, although the prestige of infantry was certainly growing. Both Sforza and Braccio attached particular importance to their infantry. Francesco Sforza developed a highly disciplined infantry force, commanded by such men as Pietro Brunoro and Donato del Conte, in which crossbowmen, and later hand-gun men, predominated. In this emphasis one can see an intention to use infantry in a more offensive role, and Braccio had the same ideas, as he developed a lighter type of infantry armed with sword and round shield which took part in the assault on Perugia in 1416. By the 1440’s the leading infantry commanders were men of considerable reputation and were regarded as the equals of the best of the cavalry leaders. Diotisalvi Lupi, who commanded the Venetian infantry for many years in the 1430’s and 1440’s, was a close associate of Carmagnola and Colleoni, received large estates and rewards, and was knighted by the Republic in 1447. His successor, Matteo Griffoni, had commanded the Florentine infantry in the 1440’s and was brought to Venice about 1447. He still commanded the Venetian infantry in 1470. He also was knighted for his services and was second only to Colleoni in the military hierarchy of the Republic. He commanded a company of 500 infantry of his own as well as his overall command of the Venetian infantry.

The emergence of men such as these, and the Venetians were by no means exceptional, is indicative of the way in which the wars in Lombardy between 1425 and 1454 changed the nature of Italian warfare. The central Lombard plain, the area of the subsequently famous Quadrilateral, was ideal country for campaigning. It is open and flat and yet intersected with several rivers and many canals. Here increasingly large armies could be deployed, and there was room to manoeuvre large bodies of cavalry. At the same time the natural barriers could be readily converted into massive field fortifications, and there was plenty of peasant manpower available for digging. This development brought the infantry to the fore, while the new size of armies and their subsequently retarded speed of manoeuvre enabled infantry to participate much more fully in the campaigns.

It was to combat the new emphasis on field fortifications that a new type of infantry became popular in Italian armies. This was the so-called ‘sword and buckler’ infantry, first experimented with by Braccio. They were lightly armed, agile, and equipped for hand-to-hand offensive fighting. The type had already been developed in Spain in fighting with the Moors, and the establishment of the Aragonese in Naples in the 1440’s clearly had something to do with their appearance in Italy at this time. But the best infantry forces appeared in Lombardy and were clearly a development from the special conditions of Lombard warfare. Florence, for example, retained the traditional types of infantry well into the 1470’s, and, despite its Spanish antecedents, there is no indication of a particularly effective Neapolitan infantry growing up. After Milan and Venice, it was the papal army which had the best infantry in the middle of the century. This was partly a matter of having some of the best recruiting grounds in the mountain valleys of Umbria, the Romagna, and the Abruzzi, but it also in part perhaps reflected the Spanish influence of Calixtus III and his entourage. A number of the leading infantry captains in the papal army in the 1450’s were Spaniards.

It was at about the same moment that the other major development in Italian infantry took place—the large scale introduction of hand firearms. The earliest hand firearm was the schioppetto or hand-gun, and the introduction of these has been postulated as early as the late thirteenth century. By the second half of the fourteenth century there is a good deal of sporadic evidence of their use but almost entirely in the defence of towns. The primitive hand-gun was three or four feet long, rather cumbersome and shapeless and had to be fired with a match. It cannot have been an easy weapon to use in the field or without a rest. However, by the 1430’s there was growing evidence of groups of specialist hand-gun men in the field armies. The emperor Sigismond had 500 in his following on his visit to Rome in 1430, but these were clearly intended for display and their presence does not indicate that the hand-gun had arrived as an infantry battle weapon. But the presence of schioppettieri companies in the Milanese and Venetian armies in the next two decades, and descriptions of their activities, clearly do indicate just such an initiative. Both Francesco Sforza and his cousin Micheletto Attendolo, who commanded the Venetian army between 1441 and 1448, had hand-gun contingents in their companies, and Colleoni and the Venetian infantry commander, Diotisalvi Lupi, were others who were associated with the new weapon in this period. In the 1440’s the Venetian senate was alarmed by reports that the Milanese army had superior numbers of hand-gun men and that these were causing considerable casualties in the Venetian army. In 1448 at the battle of Caravaggio, Francesco Sforza had so many hand-gun men firing that they could not see each other for the smoke from their guns. In the next year when the short-lived Ambrosian Republic of Milan sought to oppose Francesco Sforza, it was claimed that it could put 20,000 Milanese citizens into the field equipped with hand-guns. This was clearly pure propaganda intended to frighten Sforza off, but the very fact that such a claim could be made and thought to be efficacious indicates the extent to which the hand-gun had arrived by this time. Certainly hand-gun men captured in the battles of the 1440’s received short shrift and were usually executed on the spot; this was a tribute to their effectiveness rather than a sign of abhorrence for their unchivalrous weapon.

In the years following the Peace of Lodi in 1454 hand-gun companies became a part of all the Italian standing armies. As in so many of the military developments of the period, Florence seemed to be behind in the use of the new weapon, but hand-gun men appeared in the papal army from at least the mid-1450’s. At the siege of Rimini in 1469, the papal army had a company of 77 hand-gun men led by a German commander, and by this time a number of Germans appeared in this role in Italian armies. But there is no evidence that hand-gun development was exclusively a preserve of Germans. In 1476 one-fifth of the Milanese infantry, 2,000 men, were equipped with hand-guns, and in 1482, in the preparations for the War of Ferrara, the Milanese contingent was issued with 1,250 hand-guns, 352 arquebuses, but only 233 crossbows. By this time in fact the old hand-gun was beginning to be superseded by the arquebus, a more sophisticated weapon, perhaps heavier, but fitted with a trigger. The Milanese hand-gun man was equipped with a steel skull-cap and breastplate, and in addition to his gun and powder he carried a sword and a halberd. By the 1490’s mounted hand-gun men and arquebusiers were being used by Camillo Vitelli and Cesare Borgia, and thus a new dimension was added to the light cavalry as well as the infantry forces.

It has been usually thought that the hand-gun was a largely ineffective and despised weapon before 1500, but both the evidence of its growing use in Italian armies and of the growing numbers of casualties inflicted by hand-gun men would suggest differently. No serious comparison of the range, firepower or practicability of the hand-gun and the crossbow has yet been attempted, but it is clear that the former was steadily replacing the latter as the principal infantry missile weapon from a fairly early moment in the fifteenth century. This was to some extent because the hand-gun and its ammunition were cheaper to produce and easier to use than the crossbow, rather than because of its superiority as a weapon. At the same time the stage had not yet been reached when trained and disciplined bodies of hand-gun men could swing the course of a battle by controlled and concentrated fire. The hand-gun was still used, as the crossbow had been used, to harass the enemy and protect the flanks of an army in the field and even more effectively, both by besiegers and besieged, in siege warfare.

Infantry forces, therefore, formed a significant part of fifteenth-century Italian armies. It is true that there was no disciplined pike infantry of the Swiss type, which was enjoying brief, but lastingly significant success beyond the Alps. It is also true that, because of the nature of the Italian mercenary system, the companies tended to be small and unused to operating en masse. But large numbers of specialist and well-trained infantry were available and played an increasing part in the warfare. Only infantry and light artillery could deal with the field fortifications, which were so much in vogue, and the decisive victory won by Roberto Malatesta over the Duke of Calabria at Campomorto in 1482 was won by an infantry assault over marshy ground on a fortified camp.

As we have seen, permanent infantry forces in the pay of Italian states were appearing beside the companies of the mercenary constables. The increased status of the infantryman was indicated by the fact that the organisation of professional infantry was beginning to resemble that of the cavalry lance, with an infantryman attended by two or three followers who looked after his equipment and supported him in battle. This improvement in status was also evident amongst the infantry leaders, who were more often than not drawn from noble families in the later fifteenth century. Finally the ranks of the infantry companies were more filled with foreigners than were those of the cavalry, and this was a factor in ensuring professionalism and progressive developments. Corsicans were particularly prominent both as constables and in the ranks, and there were increasing numbers of Spaniards, Germans and Albanians. Of the eighteen commanders in the Milanese regular infantry in 1467, three were Spaniards, three Corsicans and one Albanian. These men did not command integrated companies of their own nationals, and it seems to be true that the proportion of foreigners amongst the leaders was higher than amongst the rank and file. All this, however, was a world apart from the untrained militia and country levies who certainly played their part in Renaissance warfare, but in different capacities to those so far described.

Operation Wowser

No 250 Squadron Mustang III KH538/T heads this line. The fighter-bombers were active all day on 9 April, in the case of the Mustangs attacking pre-briefed targets just beyond the front line. Each of the rocket rails accommodated four 3in rockets.

An Auster V wearing the Q code of No 654 Squadron and the D of its `C’ Flight, confirmed by the section number 10. According to its operations record book, 654 provided the `entrée’ for `Wowser’ with 11 aircraft directing counterbattery gunfire simultaneously.

This was a US concentrated air attack by Major General Nathan F. Twining’s 15th AAF against German forces, positions and dumps in northern Italy, especially those around Bologna, in preparation for the ‘Craftsman’ breakthrough of Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott’s US 5th Army in this sector just to the north of the ‘Gotisch-Linie’ defences (15 April 1945).

As the headquarters of the 305th Fighter Wing moved to Lesina, along with the 1st Fighter Group, the USAAF 15th Air Force’s war drew near its close. Targets became tactical as the number of strategic targets dwindled. The disbandment of the Jockey Committee that selected strategic bombing targets on April 3, 1945 underlined the change. The Brenner Pass line and rail communications in northern Italy and Austria now became primary targets as the Fifteenth attacked bridges and marshalling yards to interdict supply and escape routes for German troops. The effort was so successful that flak units transferred from Italy to Munich in early April used roads, since attacks on railways made the latter very unreliable.

Following the capture of Vienna on April 13, Linz became an important German supply center and the target of the last large mission flown by the fifteenth on April 25. The Soviet advance stopped at Sankt Pölten and Kreuz in the middle of April and any future attacks on rail targets in much of Austria could be made only with Russian approval. With the last Anglo-American offensive in Italy in the offing, Operation Wowser began several days of close support for ground troops on April 9, with the Fifteenth flying missions against troop concentrations, supply dumps, headquarters, and gun positions facing the British 8th Army southeast of Bologna.

Planning for the final offensive was easily completed by early April. In fact, planning for the air phase of the spring offensive was briefer than for any other operation undertaken in the Mediterranean, indicating not only that the Allies had complete mastery of the air but that long experience in the theater had welded the ground forces and air forces into a nearly perfect team. Indeed, Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (MAAF) issued only one major directive for the whole operation and it is significant for its brevity, consisting of but five paragraphs. Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force (MATAF), charged with the detailed planning, published the final plan on 7 April, naming the operation WOWSER and setting forth its purpose as “the employment of maximum air effort in coordination with 15th Army Group during the initial stages of the Ground Forces’ forthcoming Spring Offensive.” After the initial assault the primary task of MATAF would be to maintain the isolation of Italy in accordance with current directives.

The plan did not call for a sustained pre-assault softening-up program by the air forces. Consequently, the air forces during March and, indeed, right up to the beginning of the final drive, concentrated on severing the enemy’s lines of communication with the object of denying him supplies and at the same time of preventing his escape from 15th Army Group. By far the largest share of Tactical’s March effort was devoted to communications targets, and before the end of the month the primary routes north of the Po were so thoroughly interdicted that there were no longer suitable targets in Italy and medium bombers began to attack rail lines in northern Yugoslavia and southern Austria. As a result of these intensive efforts and increasing assistance from MASAF early in April, on D-day (9 April) of the spring offensive every major rail line north of the Po was cut at multiple points. The enemy could not depend on his rail net either to sustain or to evacuate his troops. It should be noted also that although emphasis in the interdiction campaign had long since passed to north of the Po Valley, from January onward a sufficient number of medium and fighter-bomber missions had been directed against the Po River bridges to keep that barrier to enemy mass movement completely interdicted. Furthermore, dumps had continued to be priority targets for XXII Tactical Air Command (TAC) and Desert Air Force (DAF), and beginning late in March and continuing with rising intensity early in April, the greatest effort MATAF had yet applied to these targets was carried out until April, MASAF was governed by directives that placed targets in Italy last in its priority list and limited such attacks to those specifically requested by MATAF.

More missions followed on April 10, and then April 15 through 18 to bomb similar positions barring the advance of the American 5th Army, also near Bologna. These missions used radio beacons and visual markers to ensure that bombs did not hit Allied troops and lead bombardiers and navigators of bomb groups flew almost two hundred familiarization flights in droop snoot P-38s over these targets. These efforts were largely successful, with only one incident that accidently killed forty soldiers from the 8th Army, on the first day of the offensive. Ground troops supported these missions by shelling flak positions within their range and the Fifteenth considered the missions very satisfactory.

Complementary Bombing Missions

To supplement this effort, bombers also attacked Italian arms and munitions factories and ammunition dumps, as German forces in Italy depended on them for resupply. Besides these tactical missions, the Fifteenth also tested new fragmentation bombs when the 304th Bomb Wing flew two missions against flak batteries, on April 1 and 19, with fair results. These missions must have been very satisfying for the crews involved, as flak was their main adversary since the previous summer.

Almost a week after the Allied offensive began, General Spaatz formally announced the strategic air war at an end, on April 16. Henceforth, the Fifteenth Air Force would work with the Twelfth Air Force in support of the ground troops in a tactical role, bombing bridges in northern Italy to prevent German troops, reeling from the Allied offensive, from withdrawing in good order. Communications targets gained top priority at the beginning of the month, with the heavy bombers of the Fifteenth preoccupied with Italian targets for much of April.

Bombing by fighters was also an important operational feature in April, with missions mounted against bridges in Austria and Italy. Results were good, with a number of bridges out of commission, at least temporarily. Strafing of ground targets continued, with a number of missions flown to southern Germany and Austria against railroads and airfields. Bombers only attacked one enemy airfield, at Udine in northeastern Italy early in the month, to deal with a surprising increase in single-engine fighters in northern Italy. The end of the month saw the expansion of fighter bombing, strafing, and sweep missions in Germany and Austria to northern Italy. Two fighter sweeps at the end of the month were strictly tactical operations in direct support of advancing Allied troops. Soviet Air Force fighters, however, occasionally presented a problem. On April 2, Russian fighters jumped American fighters near Bratislava, but fortunately, neither side lost any aircraft.

Last Strategic Bombing Missions

The penultimate bomber mission on 25 April, to the marshalling yards at Linz, tallied the highest losses of the month, fifteen bombers lost to flak. The mission employed Visar radar for the first time in combat and heavily damaged the yards. Visar was an improvement over PFF radar bombing since its radar relayed target information directly from the bombsight to the bombardier, unlike the PFF system in which the PFF operator sent this information to the bombardier.

All bomb wings of the Fifteenth took part in the last major American bombing raid in Europe, escorted by seventy-four-P-38s from the 1st and 14th Fighter Groups and ninety-five P-51s from the 52nd and 325th Fighter Groups. One hundred fifty-nine Fortresses and 310 Liberators bombed the main station and the marshalling yards at Linz. Some groups used PFF and others the new Visar radar to inflict major damage on the yards. Bombs cut all main rail lines and many sidings, badly damaged or destroyed more than 400 rail cars, and damaged the main station, the freight station, workshops, warehouses, a road overpass, buildings in the Hermann Goering Factory, and residential structures. Of the several enemy fighters, including Me 262s, seen during the mission, only a single FW 190 made one pass at the bombers, but quickly broke away. Intense, accurate flak shot down fifteen bombers. The 99th, 463rd, and 483rd each lost a Fortress and twelve Liberators also went down. Two each from the 451st, 460th, and 465th Bomb Groups went down while the 455th, 456th, 459th, 461st, 484th, and 485th each lost one, the latter crashing behind Russian lines.

The Fifteenth’s last bombing mission, and the last strategic bombing mission in Europe, also used Visar, at Salzburg on May 1. Only one bomb group, escorted by one fighter group, took part, without any losses, a fitting end to the previous eighteen months of the Fifteenth Air Force’s war.

The final bombing mission by the Fifteenth Air Force took place when twenty-seven Fortresses from the 2nd Bomb Group bombed the Main Station Marshalling Yards in Salzburg, with an escort of forty-three P- 38s from the 14th Fighter Group. There was no opposition as the aircraft bombed through complete cloud cover, using both PFF and Visar, to cut all main rail lines and sidings and damage or destroy about seventy freight cars in the yards.

Close Call RAF Close Air Support in the Mediterranean Volume 1 & 2

By Vic Flintham

Close support for the Army by the Royal Air Force evolved during WWII from being virtually non-existent to a fully developed part of the battle plan. Nowhere was co-operation more refined and developed than in the Mediterranean theatre.

The first part of this work traced the evolution of close air support through the inter-war years to disaster in France and the first attempts at immediate on-call cover in East Africa provided by the South African Air Force. This led to a much-improved system from el Alamein onwards.

Volume II takes the story on from the assault on Sicily through a succession of battles in Italy and southern France where the Allied armies could depend on an immediate air cover, made possible by Allied air forces having total air supremacy. The war in Italy saw much innovation in terms of weapons and also in the role of the air observation post squadrons, both of which are fully discussed.

These volumes include references to official sources and documents, including squadron operational record books, as well as to logbooks, diaries, and autobiographies of many who participated.

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THE GALLEASS

The galleass, which was also known affectionately by the playful nickname “The Bastard.” Combining characteristics from both sailing ships and galleys, these ships, a type yet to be seen in other countries, were the latest weapons dreamt up by the late-sixteenth-century Venetian navy.

At forty meters long, they seemed small compared to the flagships. Yet they were close to ten meters wide and could function as sailing ships since they rose ten meters high from the surface of the sea.

Sailing ships primarily used triangular sails, but the galleasses were also equipped with square sails. While most ships had three main masts, the galleasses had a fourth on the stern. As a hybrid sailing ship and galley, oars were naturally part of the design to ensure free movement regardless of whether or not winds were favorable. Unlike those on war galleys, however, oarsmen on these ships were stationed directly below, rather than atop, the deck. Galleasses fired on the enemy from a distance; they didn’t engage in close-quarter combat like the galera sottile warships, thus obviating the need for oarsmen to double as soldiers. Placing oarsmen below deck also protected them from enemy fire.

The bulkier galleasses generated more water and wind resistance than the low-lying galera sottile and thus maneuvered less easily. They were conceived, however, as floating batteries. Artillery positioned on the bridge used the entirety of the ship’s circular bow, which was divided into three levels to allow ten cannons to fire across a 270- degree range. The left and right flanks were both equipped with four cannons, and ten to twelve small cannons were attached to the stern bridge: calling the ship a “battery” is thus no exaggeration. Including muskets, these ships were theoretically capable of firing sixty rounds simultaneously.

The number of sailors on board had to increase accordingly: each galleass required four to five hundred men. Venice had a limited population and it was out of the question for it to fight by using the kinds of “human waves” that the Ottoman Empire was able to muster. Mobilizing cannons at sea was the most economical and effective use of its limited resources.

That said, Venice couldn’t fight naval battles with galleasses alone. The Turks often attacked using small galleys, which rendered the hulking vessels’ lack of mobility a major drawback. Venice’s strategy was thus to use both galleasses and galera sottile. They couldn’t rely too much on sails when fighting on the Mediterranean, where winds shifted rapidly.

By early 1570, Venice’s shipyard was launching one war galley per day. It continued at this pace over several months and produced a hundred and fifty war galleys, twelve galleasses, and over thirty large sailboats. Although the sailing ships played no direct role in battle, they ferried food and ammunition. In the late sixteenth century, only Venice could build ships in such numbers.

But victory in war is not determined by technical prowess alone. This was particularly true in the sixteenth century, which saw the rise of large nations possessing far more territory than a mere city-state like Venice. And Venice’s opponent in this case was the Ottoman Empire, which controlled more territory than any other state at the time.

Lepanto

While many of the Venetian ships were compelled to take on Spanish soldiers, those vessels that would play a decisive role in the battle fought fiercely to maintain a Venetian-only crew. There wasn’t a single foreign soldier on any of the six galleasses. Capitano Generale de Mare Veniero’s ship and that of Barbarigo, Provveditore Generale, along with those of Provveditore Quirini and Provveditore Canale, also faithfully upheld this policy.

The six galleasses followed the vanguard out of the harbor. There was no wind early that morning, so they were towed out by scout ships. These six “floating batteries” were to move to the frontmost line as soon as they encountered the enemy. By wreaking havoc on the enemy with their cannon fire, they would create the perfect opening for the war galleys, which were in fact the backbone of the force.

The six galleasses had been stationed in pairs on the front line directly ahead of the left flank, main force, and right flank. The two that had been in front of the right flank were no longer in proper position. Galleasses couldn’t maneuver as well as the galleys, so these two were now positioned in the gap between the right flank and the main force.

To occupy the middle part of a bow formation, the main force of sixty-two ships assumed positions recessed behind the left flank and right flanks.

Don Juan’s flagship was in the center, with Veniero and his Venetian flagship on his left, and Colonna and his papal flagship on his right. The flagships of Savoy, Florence, and various other contingents filled out the core of flagships that secured Don Juan’s flanks. The leader of the Maltese Knights of the Order of St. John commanded the flagship on the far right of the main force and the far left was held by the flagship of the Republic of Genoa.

Like the Muslim fleet, the Christian fleet had braced the extreme left and right positions with experienced sea captains, but they were not able to place similarly experienced naval officers everywhere along the tripartite battle formation.

The two ships containing the palace guard of the Spanish king had their prows virtually attached to the stern of Don Juan’s ship. Additionally, the reserve flotilla led by the Marquis de Santa Cruz held its position directly behind the main force, the reinforcement of which was its main priority. In truth, as retainer of the King of Spain, the Marquis de Santa Cruz had no concern other than protecting Don Juan’s ship.

Two galleasses had positioned themselves in front of the main force. Francesco Duodo, the overall commander of the six galleasses, was in one of them. The remaining galleass captains were from the Venetian aristocracy, but in actuality the power displayed by the galleasses owed to the Venetian middle class, its engineers and master shipbuilders.

It was a little past noon when the cannon sounded from Ali Pasha’s flagship. Don Juan’s ship immediately answered with its own cannon.

The cannons of the six galleasses on the front line belched fire almost simultaneously in a thunderous signal for battle. They made several direct hits on the Turkish warships, which were advancing with their oars. After this initial round, the “floating batteries” of the Christian forces continued the bombardment. They made direct hits again and again on a number of ships, some of which caught fire and listed in the water. The Turks’ crescent-shaped battle formation was broken in several places as they attempted to advance. Seeing the Turkish formation break up like this greatly lifted the spirits of the alliance fighters waiting behind the galleasses.

The Turkish ships seemed to be trying to get past the galleasses as quickly as possible. Christian slaves were chained to the decks, and the slave drivers whipped them like madmen to make the ships move at top speed. The Turkish ships started to surge past the galleasses. The gun ports on both the left and right gunwales of the “floating batteries,” however, were open, and they certainly weren’t silent.

The battle formation of the Turkish fleet was in complete disarray, but the relatively small size of their ships saved them from falling prey to the large cannons. The ships that did make it through the galleasses plunged ahead toward the allied fleet, which was also advancing.

It would take time for the galleasses that had been bypassed to change position. Now the galleys were the main players.

The galleasses, now in a supporting role, provided cannon fire to assist the galleys in their close-quarter combat. The barrage coming from the far left galleass commanded by Ambrosio Bragadino was particularly intense and amply demonstrated the awesome power of the “floating batteries.” Ambrosio was a relative of Marcantonio Bragadino, the commander on Cyprus who had been flayed alive. Ambrosio Bragadino had repositioned his massive ship faster than any of the other galleass captains and was showering the enemy’s right flank with artillery fire.

Doria moved his fleet far to the south at the beginning of the battle in an attempt to block Uluch Ali’s mobility by circling to his right. Because of this, Doria’s right flank didn’t benefit from the artillery support from the galleasses enjoyed by the left flank and the main force. The lumbering galleasses couldn’t keep up with Doria’s sudden change in tactics and thus simply remained in their predetermined locations, turning their attention to the enemy’s main force instead. In other words, Uluch Ali’s fleet didn’t sustain much damage at all from the galleass bombardment.

In fact, all of this had been Uluch Ali’s plan from the very beginning. He intended first to go around the left side of Doria’s fleet and then to strike Don Juan’s main fleet from behind. Doria had sensed this and moved his ships to prevent him from outflanking him. Uluch Ali wasn’t foolish enough to face Doria’s fleet head-on, quickly and skillfully turning the prow of his ship towards the northwest. Doria’s movement towards the south had opened up a gap between his fleet and Don Juan’s main force. Uluch Ali now focused on this gap, which presented an opening for him to attack Don Juan’s fleet from the rear-his intention all along.

Even at sea, a “battleground” of sorts was formed when war galleys locked oars. Hand-to-hand combat became the only possible way of engaging the enemy, which rendered the galleasses essentially ineffective. They could still knock down enemy masts with their cannons, but there was also a real possibility that the falling masts and yardarms would kill friendly forces fighting beneath them. The galleasses thus inevitably became mere observation posts after the middle stage of the battle. Francesco Duodo, the commander in charge of the six galleasses, gave the following official report when he returned to Venice after the battle:

“The Christians and the Muslims were like hunters in a forest. Though a lot was happening in other parts of the forest, the hunters remained focused on their own quarry, not paying any attention to what was happening elsewhere. This was the case at Lepanto, time and again.”

MTM: the Italian Navy’s Explosive Motorboat I

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The true pioneers of manned EMBs, as distinct from remote-controlled craft, were the men of the Royal Italian Navy. Some accounts of Italian operations suggest that the country’s interest in EMBs also began with a World War I craft, the Grillo (“Cricket”). In fact, the Grillo was called a barchino saltatore (“jumping boat”) and, as a weapon, fell somewhere between a conventional motor torpedo boat and the Maiale (“Pig”) manned torpedo. Designed by the Italian Navy’s Instructor-General Pruneri, it was a four-man, 8 ton (8.13 tonne), 52.5ft (16m) long craft, powered by two 10hp electric motors giving a maximum 4kt (4.6mph, 7.4kmh), and armed with two 17.7in (450mm) torpedoes in dropping gear aft. Caterpillar tracks ran around both sides of the hull in a layout similar to that of the early tanks, and with this aid it was hoped that the four examples built might clamber over the net-and-boom defences of Pola harbour to torpedo Austrian warships. An attempt was made on the night of 13 May 1918, when a Grillo commanded by LtCdr Antonio Pellegrini was sighted and fired upon by the Austrian battleship Radetzky while negotiating the defences. After scuttling their craft, the Italian raiders were taken prisoner.

The Tenth Light Flotilla

Between the wars, the Italian Navy continued to display interest in small-boat warfare and, in 1936, formed the unit which was to become famous as the Decima Flottiglia MAS (10th Light Flotilla) specifically for operations of this type. At about the same time, General Duke Amadeo of Aosta of the Italian Air Force and his brother, Admiral Duke Aimone of Spoleto, conceived the project of mounting small explosive boats between the floats of obsolescent Savoia-Marchetti S.55 flying-boats. The boats were to be released at close range for mass attacks on enemy naval bases immediately after the beginning of hostilities. The prototype, a flimsy wood-and-canvas craft with a small, bow-mounted, impact-fuzed explosive charge, was designed by the engineer Guido Cattaneo and by Cdr Mario Giorgini. The project was thereafter allowed to languish until the appointment to the command of the Italian Navy’s light forces, in 1938, of Cdr Paolo Aloisi. While the training of personnel continued under Aloisi’s direction, Cattaneo and the Baglietto yard at Varazze worked to produce an ingenious and effective EMB that was available for use by the time of Italy’s entry into the war on 10 June 1940.

The basic EMB employed by the 10th Light Flotilla during World War II was the MTM (Motoscafi da Turismo modificati, “modified tourist motorboat”); these were commonly known as barchini esplosivi (“explosive boats”) or simply barchini. (An authoritative Italian source refers to the MTMs as “E-boats”: I have avoided this usage in order not to confuse the MTM with the German MTB to which this name is most often applied.)

The one-man, 17ft (5.2m) MTM displaced 1.5 tons (1.52 tonnes) and was powered by an Alfa Romeo 2500 internal combustion engine of 95bhp. It had a maximum speed of 34kt (39.1mph, 62.9kmh) and an action radius of some 60nm (69 miles, 111km) at high speed or a total endurance of some five hours. Its propeller and rudder were mounted as a single outboard unit which could be lifted by the pilot in order to cross defensive netting. It was armed with a 660lb (300kg) bow-mounted explosive charge.

Having reached an attacking position, the MTM’s pilot, who wore a frogman’s suit and was housed in a partly shielded cockpit at the stern, set his boat on a collision course, locked the rudder, increased to maximum speed and then, when less than 100yds (90m) from his target, tripped a lever that freed the wooden back-rest of his cockpit, before himself taking to the water. In the few seconds between his ditching and the MTM’s impact with the target, the pilot scrambled on to his wooden life-raft in order to escape the shock-wave caused by the explosion of the boat’s warhead.

When the unmanned boat struck the target, small impact-fuzed charges set centrally around its hull broke the MTM apart. When its fore-part had sunk to a depth pre-set according to the estimated draught of the target ship, hydrostatic pressure triggered the main charge. In theory, therefore, the MTM was not a suicide weapon. Nevertheless, such a complex detonation system was obviously liable to malfunction and for this reason, as well as to ensure that his boat actually struck its target, the MTM pilot was often tempted to set his fuze to explode on impact and to stay with his craft until it was too late to save himself. As the brief account of MTM operations given below shows, pilots were on occasion asked, or ordered, to sacrifice themselves in order to ensure success.

MTMs were generally carried to their operational areas aboard warships specially equipped for such duties with deck clamps for transport and electrically-powered hoists for launching. When thus equipped, the 970-ton (986 tonne) Sella-class destroyers Francesco Crispi and Quintino Sella proved capable in trials of launching six MTM apiece within 35 seconds.

A smaller version of the MTM, the MTR, was designed to be carried to its attack zone in a metal cylinder (the same cylinder designed to house the Pig manned torpedo) on the hull of a submarine. Also operated by the 10th Light Flotilla were the MTSM (Motoscafi da Turismo, Siluranti, Modificati, “tourist motorboat, torpedo, modified”) and its later development the SMA (Silurante, Modificato, Allargato, “torpedo, modified, enlarged boat”). These were not EMBs but small MTBs, somewhat resembling the British CMBs of World War I, and they do not fall within the scope of this book.

In view of the remarks made elsewhere in this book concerning Japanese criteria for selecting personnel for suicidal duties, it is worth noting a major aspect of Italian selection procedure. At the Training Centre for Sea Pioneers, San Leopoldo, Livorno, established in September 1940 to train crews for assault craft duties, the emotional stability and general moral character of the volunteers was considered to be even more important than their physical aptitude for such work.

Soon after Italy’s entry into the war, command of what by now had become the 10th Light Flotilla was assumed by Commander Vittorio Moccagatta. The Flotilla’s “surface division”, responsible for EMB operations, was headed by LtCdr Giorgio Giobbe. The Pigs were soon in action; the operational debut of the MTM explosive boats was, however, delayed to await a suitable target. A favourable opportunity came early in 1941, with the increasing buildup of Allied shipping off Greece and, particularly, in the anchorage of Crete.

Date: 26 March 1941

Place: Suda Bay, Crete

Attack by: MTM boats of the Italian 10th Light Flotilla

Target: Allied warships and transports at anchor

During early 1941, close aerial surveillance was maintained on Suda Bay, the Allied fleet anchorage in northwest Crete; while at Parteni Bay on the Dodecanese island of Leros the 10th Light Flotilla waited to sortie. Twice, in January and again in February, the Francesco Crispi and Quintino Sella sailed with MTMs aboard – and twice the mission was aborted because air reconnaissance reported a lack of suitable targets. Nevertheless, in spite of British air raids that inflicted casualties on the unit, the Flotilla’s morale remained high. On 25 March, the two destroyers lay at Astypalaia Island in the Dodecanese, with MTMs aboard. Weather conditions were good – sea calm and moon dark – and reconnaissance reported a large cruiser, two destroyers and at least 12 transports in Suda Bay. Immediately after an air raid that caused slight damage to Crispi, a sortie was ordered. Each destroyer carried three MTMs, the boat unit being commanded by Lt Luigi Faggioni.

The MTMs were launched some 9nm (10.3 miles, 17km) off the entrance to Suda Bay at 2330 on 25 March. Sailing in formation, the small craft reached the mouth of the 6 mile (10km) long Bay before 0100 on 26 March and moved into the narrow inlet leading to the anchorage. Barring their way were three buoy-and-net booms, covered by artillery batteries ashore and periodically swept by searchlights. By 0445 the shallow-draught boats had successfully negotiated all three barriers undetected. Gathering his force together, Lt Faggioni ordered them to stop engines and await the light of dawn before making their attacks. They lay so close to the Allied ships that the sounds of reveille aboard could be clearly heard at 0500, when, under minimum power, the MTMs of SubLt Angelo Cabrini and CPO Tullio Tedeschi moved to within about 300yds (275m) of the major objective, the 8,250-ton (8382-tonne) cruiser HMS York.

At 0530, as the light rapidly improved, Cabrini and Tedeschi opened their throttles and headed at maximum speed, side by side, towards York. The attack went according to the book: ditching some 90yds (82m) short of the target, both pilots were safe aboard their life-rafts when their boats struck the 575ft (175m) long cruiser. With a gaping wound in her side, York began to list almost immediately, while gunners aboard and ashore opened up at the invisible “low-flying aircraft” which were presumed to be attacking. (Lt Faggioni, taken from the water and made prisoner, was immediately asked what had happened to his aircraft.)

Meanwhile, CPO Lino Beccati had scored a crippling hit on the Norwegian tanker Pericles (8,324 tons, 8457 tonnes), while the MTMs of Master Gunner Alessio De Vito and Sergeant Gunner Emilio Barberi narrowly missed other transports. Lt Faggioni himself had held back, intending to make a run on York if necessary: seeing the cruiser hard hit, he picked a nearby warship (thought to be the cruiser HMS Coventry) as his target, but missed. All the Italian pilots survived to be taken prisoner. York was towed inshore and settled on the bottom, where German aerial bombing soon rendered her a constructive total loss. (Italian sources claim that no further damage was inflicted by German aircraft, and that British demolition charges completed the work the 10th Light Flotilla had begun.) Pericles broke in two and sank when an effort was made to tow her to Alexandria for repair.

MTM: the Italian Navy’s Explosive Motorboat II

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Date: 26 July 1941

Place: Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta

Attack by: Italian MTM boats and Maiali torpedoes

Target: Allied warships and transports at anchor

The MTM pilots who had made the hazardous and successful attack at Suda Bay had all survived, but the last major operation in which MTMs were deployed (their role subsequently being taken over by the small, torpedo-armed MTSM and SMA boats mentioned above) proved to be a true suicide mission – both in execution and, it may be suspected, in planning. At Suda Bay, the frail explosive boats had been pitted against an unprepared enemy and improvised defences at a location that had been thoroughly reconnoitred. This was not the case with the newly-chosen target: after MTMs had been launched to make seaborne reconnaissance of such Allied anchorages as Porto Edda (Sarandë) in southern Albania, and Corfu, the choice fell on the Allies’ Mediterranean bastion – Malta. In spite of its formidable defences and the lack of intelligence concerning them, Grand Harbour at Valletta was designated the target.

It must have been obvious at the planning stage that self-sacrifice would be unavoidable if the attackers were to penetrate the anchorage and that, even if the penetration were made, there would be little chance of survival for the crews of small boats under concentrated fire in the narrow, crowded harbour. This was certainly realized by Maggiore Genio Navale (Major, naval rank) Teseo Tesei, co-inventor of the Pig, who maintained that the attack should be made simply as a demonstration of Italian gallantry and determination, as an inspiration to “our sons and Italy’s future generations”. Tesei, who had already been told that his exploits in Pigs had overstrained his heart and that he faced death if he did not retire from operations, wrote a farewell letter shortly before the Malta mission in which he stated his intention of “winning the highest of all honours, that of giving my life for the King and the honour of the Flag.” Tesei’s determination was matched by that of Cdr Moccagatta and, faced with such enthusiasm, Admirals de Courten and Campioni of the Naval Chiefs of Staff gave somewhat grudging approval to the mission. It will be noted that, as in Japan, the employment of suicidal weapons and tactics was, at first, more enthusiastically advocated by junior officers than by their superiors; ie, by the men who would be intimately concerned with the operation of such weapons.

After a further series of seaborne reconnaissances, it was decided to mount the attack on Malta on the night of 27–28 June. Late on 27 June, a small task force of MTMs towed by MTBs sailed from Augusta, eastern Sicily, where training had been underway since April. Foul weather forced a return to base. Two nights later, Moccagatta’s force tried again: this time, engine failure on two MTMs resulted in a further postponement – until the corresponding dark of the moon in July. Profiting from experience, Moccagatta now changed the composition of his task force: instead of being towed to the operational area the MTMs would be carried aboard the fast sloop Diana (1,764 tons, 1792 tonnes; originally built as Mussolini’s official yacht) and would be led into the attack by an MTSM and, at the insistence of Major Tesei, by two Pigs. The human torpedoes would, in fact, spearhead the attack: one would blow a hole in the net defences of Grand Harbour; the other would make a diversionary raid on the Royal Navy’s submarine base at Marsa-Muscetto, in the western arm of Valletta harbour. An air raid was timed to coincide with the surface attack and was expected fully to occupy the harbour batteries.

Moccagatta’s force sailed from Augusta at sunset on 25 July. Aboard Diana (LtCdr Mario Di Muro) were nine MTMs; an MTSM, in which LtCdr Giobbe would direct the attack; and a small, electric- powered (and therefore silent-running) motorboat which would carry the two Pigs to their launching point. The Pigs were carried from Augusta on the 20-ton (20.3 tonne) motor torpedo boats MAS 451 (SubLt Giorgio Sciolette) and MAS 452 (Lt G. Batta Parodi). The Pig crews were Major Tesei with CPO Alcide Pedretti and Lt Franco Costa with Sgt Luigi Barla. Thus, the commander of 10th Light Flotilla (Moccagatta, aboard MAS 452) and all his principal officers intended to play an active part in the desperate enterprise; even the Flotilla’s chief medical officer, Captain Surgeon Bruno Falcomatà volunteered as a member of MAS 452’s crew. Although the mission had not been planned to take advantage of the fact, Valletta now offered an excellent selection of targets, for the transports of the hard-fought “Substance” convoy had entered Grand Harbour on 24 July.

Gallant Failure at Valletta

Nine MTMs were launched from Diana some 20nm (23 miles, 37km) off Malta at some time before midnight on 25 July. One sank immediately. The remaining eight, with the electric launch carrying the Pigs, headed inshore, escorted by the MTSM and the two MTBs. By 0300 on 26 July, the electric launch was within 1,100yds (1000m) of the entrance to Grand Harbour, at which point the Pigs were to launch. Engine failure on the Pig of Costa and Barla delayed the launching time by at least one hour (en route to their target, Marsa-Muscetto, the engine failed again and, unable to complete their mission, the two men were later taken prisoner). Tesei and Pedretti had the vital task of destroying the steel-plate-and-mesh anti-torpedo net, suspended from a two-span bridge, that guarded the narrow passage leading into Grand Harbour below Fort St Elmo. In spite of the delay in launching, Tesei made it clear that he intended to destroy the net at the appointed time (0430) – even if, as seemed likely, this entailed the self-destruction of himself and Pedretti. Meanwhile, Giobbe told the MTM pilots that if, following up Tesei, they found the barrier still intact, the leaders must sacrifice themselves in order to ensure that at least one boat penetrated the harbour and reached Allied shipping.

But by the time the Pigs were on the way, the harbour defence force was on the alert. Diana’s arrival and departure had been logged by surface radar and, because the diversionary raids by Italian aircraft were sporadic and ill-timed, the small boats’ engines had been heard. Even so, the Pig crewed by Tesei and Pedretti was able to reach the St Elmo bridge where, at 0425, true to his word, Tesei detonated the warhead of his torpedo immediately, sacrificing himself and Pedretti – but failing to breach the net. To seaward, hearing the explosion, Giobbe ordered the MTMs in to the attack.

In the first light of dawn, the MTMs hurled themselves at the still-intact barrier. In the leading boat, SubLt Roberto Frassetto flung himself clear just before the impact: his MTM struck the netting but failed to detonate. Following him, SubLt Aristide Carabelli remained at the helm until the last, perishing in a massive explosion that seriously wounded the swimming Frassetto, breached the netting – and brought down one of the bridge spans, rendering the boat channel impassable. As SubLt Carlo Bosio led in the remaining boats, their path was illuminated by searchlights, and 6-pounder batteries, Bofors AA guns and machine guns opened up from the shore. Caught in the blocked channel under a savage crossfire, the MTMs were soon sunk; Bosio was killed and the surviving pilots, all wounded, were captured.

As the light improved, some 30 Hawker Hurricanes joined the battle and, although opposed by 10 Macchi C.200 Saetta fighters (which succeeded in shooting down one Hurricane, but lost three of their number) located and attacked the two MTBs and the two smaller motorboats which had been standing by to take off any surviving MTM and Pig crewmen. MAS 451, raked by cannon fire from the Hurricanes, blew up and sank, killing four of her 13-strong crew. The electric launch was also sunk, and aboard MAS 452, Moccagatta, Giobbe, Falcomatà, Parodi and four other men were killed by gunfire. Abandoning MAS 452, 11 survivors succeeded in reaching Diana. Fifteen men had been killed, among them the senior officers of the 10th Light Flotilla, and 18 captured in the gallant but ineffective action.

Abortive Missions with MTR boats

Thereafter, the MTMs played little part in the 10th Light Flotilla’s activities. However, the explosive boat concept was adopted by the German Navy and Cdr J. Valerio Borghese (who succeeded Moccagatta in command), remaining faithful to the Axis cause even after Italy’s surrender, passed on his experience to German volunteers.

Before Italy’s collapse, however, two abortive missions were launched with the smaller MTR explosive boats. In mid-1943, following the Allied invasion of Sicily, it was planned to attack shipping in Syracuse harbour with MTRs. The submarine Ambra (LtCdr Renato Ferrini), carrying three MTRs in the deck cylinders originally designed for the transportation of Pigs, stood off Syracuse on the night of 25 July 1943. But the activities of German U-boats had put the harbour defences on full alert: picked up on the radars of patrolling aircraft, Ambra was bombed, depthcharged, and forced to retire with heavy damage, including the crushing of the MTRs’ cylinders.

A similar mission was planned for 2 October 1943, when the submarine Murena (Cdr Longanesi), equipped with four transportation cylinders, was to launch four MTRs on the Spanish side of Algeciras Bay. The boats were to make their way along the neutral shore and, at 1100 hours, carry out a suicidal daylight attack on merchant shipping at Gibraltar. In the resultant confusion, it was hoped, a Pig launched from the secret base aboard the Olterra would penetrate the military harbour and attack the largest warship in sight. The operation was forestalled by Italy’s surrender on 8 September 1943.

The Battle of Garigliano

Second Italian War

In the aftermath of the First Italian War, Cordoba overhauled the Spanish army. He reorganised his infantry by replacing the bulk of his swordand-buckler foot soldiers with pikemen and arquebusiers. His pike and shot troops were taught to manoeuvre over rough ground, resist cavalry attacks, and deliver shock attacks.

Charles VIII died in 1498 and was succeeded by Louis XII. Louis was keen on retaining some portion of the Kingdom of Naples and therefore proposed to Ferdinand that they divide the Kingdom of Naples between themselves. Pope Alexander, who condoned the agreement, conveniently deposed the Trastamara ruler of the kingdom. A treaty signed in 1500 gave Charles the northern part of the kingdom and Ferdinand the southern part.

Ferdinand, who became dissatisfied with the arrangement, went to war in 1502 to win control of the Kingdom of Naples for Spain. The French made the first strategic move when Louis d’Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, besieged Cordoba in the Apulian fortress of Barletta. After receiving a large body of reinforcements in early 1503, Cordoba seized the nearby French base at Cerignola.

Cordoba ordered his troops to widen a ditch at the base of the hilltop town. His men drove sharp stakes into the bottom of the ditch to prevent the enemy from crossing the ditch. The excavated dirt was then used to build a parapet behind the ditch.

As the French approached Cerignola, Cordoba deployed his 2,000 arquebusiers four ranks deep in the centre behind the parapet. To protect them, he placed 1,000 pikemen on each side of the arquebusiers. Any French troops near the ditch would be within the 40-metre range of the arquebusiers. Spanish guns on the hillside supported the troops behind the rampart.

Clash at Cerignola

Even with the field works the Spanish were in for a desperate battle. Nemours’s 9,000-strong army was nearly twice the size of Cordoba’s army; however the various arms were not well integrated. The French right division consisted of lance-wielding heavy cavalry, the centre division was composed of mercenary Swiss pikemen, and the left division was made up of French and German crossbowmen.

Nemours attacked before his artillery had a chance to deploy. Cordoba’s Spanish jinetes screened the ditch so superbly that the French had no knowledge of the existence of a ditch until their heavy cavalry reached it.

The French cavalry attack stalled at the ditch. As Nemours looked for a way through the ditch he was slain by the arquebus fire. When the surviving French gendarmes withdrew from the ditch, the Swiss pikemen attacked with all of their fury. Although they tried desperately to fight their way into the Spanish position they could not breach the field works.

As the French army began withdrawing Cordoba launched a counterattack with his pikemen. The Spanish swept the field, inflicting 5,000 casualties on the French at the loss of a few hundred Spanish troops.

Stalemate on the Garigliano

The remnant of Nemours’s army withdrew to the safety of the citadel at Gaeta to await the arrival of a new French army. King Charles XII sent 20,000 French troops overland to Naples and gave overall command of the army to Italian Condottiero Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. Meanwhile Cordoba took possession of the city of Naples on 13 May 1503.

Cordoba deployed his 12,000 troops behind the Garigliano River in October to block the anticipated French advance against Spanish held Naples. As expected Mantua marched south only to find Cordoba’s army heavily entrenched on the south bank.

After his pioneers laid a pontoon bridge over the lower Garigliano, Mantua established a tete de pont on the far bank in early November, but Cordoba bottled up the forces in the bridgehead. When Mantua was stricken with a fever command devolved to Marquis Ludovico II of Saluzzo.

A six-week stalemate followed. Troops on both sides suffered acute hardship encamped on the marshy ground during the rainy season. While Cordoba remained at the battlefront with his troops throughout this time, the high-ranking French commanders billeted themselves in comfortable quarters in nearby towns. Believing the Spanish would remain on the defensive the French did not keep a close watch on the Spanish.

Flank attack

Spanish ally Condottiero Bartolomeo d’Alviano reinforced Cordoba’s army with 5,400 troops in mid-December. In preparation for a surprise attack on the French army Cordoba instructed his chief engineer, Pedro Navarro, to construct a pontoon bridge that could be deployed in a matter of hours when needed.

In a driving rain in the pre-dawn darkness of 29 December Navarro’s pioneers laid the bridge on a narrow portion of the swollen river opposite the extreme left flank of the French army.

For the surprise attack Cordoba had organised his army into three divisions. Alviano led the vanguard, Cordoba led the centre division, and Fernando Andrada commanded the rearguard. Alviano’s Italian troops streamed across the bridge at dawn while the French and Swiss foot soldiers were fast asleep in their huts. His light cavalry swept past the disorganised French infantry and turned east to secure the village of Castleforte to prevent the French from using it as a strongpoint. Believing the day was lost the troops on the French left streamed north towards Gaeta.

Cordoba then led his mounted Spanish men-at-arms and pikemen across the pontoon bridge to the north bank. He caught the French centre in the flank and dislodged it from the river line. At that point Saluzzo ordered a general retreat to Gaeta. A heroic French nobleman, Pierre Terrail, Seigneur de Bayard, began rallying the retreating French at a defile between the mountains and the sea near the village of Formia.

Meanwhile Andrade crossed the French bridge on the lower Garigliano and captured most of the French artillery since the French gendarmes had fled north to Formia.

Up to that point there had only been light fighting, but the two sides became locked in furious combat for an hour at the defile. When Andrada’s troops arrived to reinforce the Spanish forces already engaged at Formia, it proved too much for the French. Those French soldiers who had not been taken prisoner proceeded west to Gaeta.

Viceroy of Naples

On 1 January 1504 the French capitulated. Cordoba freed his French prisoners on the condition that they return home by sea. At the end of the month, Charles XII and Ferdinand of Aragon signed the Treaty of Lyon by which Charles ceded the Kingdom of Naples to Spain. In appreciation for the military achievement of defeating the French, King Ferdinand made Cordoba the Viceroy of Naples.

Isabella, who had always championed Cordoba, died in November 1504. Ferdinand who grew jealous of Cordoba’s reputation recalled him to Spain in 1507. He was called out of retirement in 1512 to command the Spanish forces in Italy after a major reverse at the hands of the French at Ravenna during the War of the League of Cambrai. Three years later, at the age of 62, he returned to Spain stricken with malaria. He died at Granada on 1 December 1515.

Cordoba’s genius lay in his ability to correct the shortcomings of his forces by adopting the best tactical concepts of his enemies. He readily embraced the greater use of firearms in the belief that they would transform infantry tactics. In this he was correct, for his initial integration of shot and pike troops laid the foundation for the Spanish tercios. From a geopolitical standpoint his decisive victories in the First and Second Italian Wars enabled Spain to control Sicily and southern Italy for two centuries.

Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard (1474-1524)

Nobleman, military leader Known in legend and tradition as “chevalier sans peur et sans reproche” (fearless and blameless knight), Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, considered a model of chivalry, was born in Dauphiné, near GRENOBLE. As a young soldier, he came to the attention of CHARLES VIII, and was knighted for his bravery after the battle of Fornovo in Italy (1495). He was cited for contributing to LOUIS XII’s conquest of Milanais (1499-1500) and distinguished himself in the defense of the bridge at Garigliano (1503) against a Spanish force, and in the battle against the Venetians at Agnadel (1509). Such was Bayard’s reputation for valor that several incredible stories were told of him, including one in which he singlehandedly defended a bridge against 200 of the enemy. He was captured twice, but his chivalrous character and reputation secured his release without a ransom payment. During the war between FRANCIS I of France and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Bayard held the fortress town of Mezieres with only 1,000 men for six weeks, against a force of 35,000. He also played a part in the decisive victory of Marignan (1515). Bayard was mortally wounded while covering the retreat at the Sesia River in Italy.