- Autocannone da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE
- Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43
- Lancia 3Ro Blindato
- SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata
After the arrest of Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Fascist government that ruled the Kingdom of Italy, on 25th July 1943, the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) continued to fight the Allies on the German side.
The new Monarchist Government, under Prime Minister Marshal Pietro Badoglio, began to organize an armistice with the Allied forces in August.
On 3rd September 1943, the Armistice was signed in Cassibile, Sicily, and was publicly announced by the Allies on late afternoon of 8th September 1943 and by Italian national radio at 1942 hrs of the same day.
While the German forces subsequently occupied all the territories in Europe under Italian control, an elite unit of German Fallschirmjäger (English: Paratroopers) freed Mussolini from prison and took him to Germany. There, he discussed with Adolf Hitler about the fate of Italy. On 23rd September 1943, he returned to Italy as a hero and founded the new Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic) and the new Partito Fascista Repubblicano (English: Fascist Republican Party).
The Regio Esercito, which was disbanded during the German occupation, was substituted with the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard), its military police.
Before the Armistice
The Regno d’Italia (English: Kingdom of Italy) officially joined the Axis side in the Second World War on 10th June 1940, attacking France from north-western Italy. In September 1940, the North African Campaign started, with Italy attacking the British forces deployed in Egypt. In October 1940, Italy invaded Greece which was defended by Greek and British troops. During the subsequent two years, Italian divisions were also deployed in the Soviet Union and the Balkans, participating in the German occupation of these nations.
In May 1943, after bloody fighting against the Allied forces, which since November 1942 also counted with US forces, the German and Italian troops in North Africa surrendered, ending the African campaign.
This created problems in the Italian mainland. The Kingdom of Italy had been under embargo since the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. This meant that the Italian population had been under severe rationing of food and other basic necessities for years. The need for raw materials for the Second World War led the Army to requisition most civilian trucks and made it nearly impossible to find fuel for civilian purposes.
Popular dissatisfaction increased slowly every day, along with the disappointments over the fall of the colonies of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia in East Africa, the retreat from Russia, where thousands of soldiers lost their lives and, finally, the fall of North Africa.
Some Fascist leaders realized that Fascism had failed in its attempt to make Italy great and decided to change things by dismissing Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy since 1922. On 24th July 1943, there was a meeting that began at 1815 hrs, with the 28 members of the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo (English: Grand Council of Fascism) in attendance. One of them, Dino Grandi, proposed to depose Mussolini as the leader of Fascism and to establish a Monarchist government with the prime minister chosen by the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III.
The proposal was voted on at around 02:00 of 25th July 1943, with 19 votes in favor, 8 against, and one abstention. At 1700 hrs of the same day, Vittorio Emanuele III received Mussolini in the king’s private residence in Rome.
During the 20 minute private meeting, the king informed Mussolini that the new leader of Italy would be the Marshal of the Regio Esercito, Pietro Badoglio. When Mussolini came out of the palace at about 1730 hrs, he was arrested by the Carabinieri, accused of having brought the Italian people into the Second World War, of having allied himself with Nazi Germany, and for being responsible for the defeat in the invasion of Russia. Mussolini was first taken to the Podgora barracks and, after a few hours, to the Carabinieri School in Via Legnano.
That night, the Italian king and the new prime minister announced Mussolini’s ‘resignation’ as Prime Minister and leader of Italy on the radio. At the same time, Badoglio announced the intention of the Regio Esercito to continue the war alongside the Germans and the Axis powers.
Mussolini was moved on 27th July to the Ponza island prison until 7th August and then moved to Villa Weber on Maddalena island, where he was imprisoned until 27th August 1943.
Adolf Hitler ordered SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny to find the secret prison in which Mussolini was held and to free him with the help of the Fallschirmjäger-Lehrbataillon (English: Paratrooper Training Battalion). Skorzeny found information about Villa Weber on 27th August 1943, on the same day Mussolini was transferred by a CANT Z. 506 seaplane to a hotel in Campo Imperatore on Monte Gran Sasso.
A great number of German troops was already present in Italy from late-May early-June 1943, in preparation for the Allied invasion of Sicily. The arrest of Mussolini took Hitler and the German generals by surprise. In a few days, they reorganized their plans in order to take control of the Italian peninsula.
On 5th August 1943, plan Fall Achse (English: Case Axis) was ready. However, from 27th July 1943, more German divisions arrived in Italy and in Rome, generating surprise among the Italian generals, who had not been informed of this.
The Armistice was made public by the Allied powers at 18:30 on 8th September 1943 by Radio Algeri, while the Italian troops were informed only at 19:45 by the Ente Italiano per le Audizioni Radiofoniche or EIAR (English: Italian Body for Radio Broadcasting).
On 8th September, the German Ambassador in Rome, Rudolf Rahn, was also taken by surprise and was only informed by the German Command at 19:00. He escaped from Rome without any problems along with other German officers and reached Frascati, north-west of Rome, where General Albert Kesselring had placed the headquarters of the German forces deployed in Italy, until that moment only used against the Allies.
The German reaction began at 19:50 of 8th September, 5 minutes after Badoglio’s proclamation to the Italian population. Rome, the Italian capital, was captured after 2 days of fierce fighting during which about 100 German soldiers died, along with 659 Italian soldiers, 121 civilians, and 200 unrecognized bodies.
By 15th September 1943, 1,006,730 Italian soldiers were disarmed and 29,000 were killed. The Germans also captured 1,285,871 rifles, 39,007 machine guns, 13,906 submachine guns, 8,736 mortars, 2,754 anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, 5,568 artillery pieces, 16,631 motorized vehicles, and 977 armored fighting vehicles.
Italian Fascism after the Armistice
Meanwhile, Otto Skorzeny found that Benito Mussolini was imprisoned in a hotel on the Gran Sasso, a mountain near Rome. On 12th September 1943, Skorzeny was on board one of the 10 DFS 230 gliders of the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division (English: 2nd Parachute Division) that landed near the hotel.
Unternehmen Eiche (English: Operation Oak), also known in English language sources as the ‘Gran Sasso raid’, was a success for the Germans. They freed Mussolini with only 10 paratroopers wounded (the majority during the landing) and 2 Italian soldiers killed.
Mussolini was then safely transported to the Pratica di Mare Airport, where he took a Heinkel He 111 to Vienna and then to Münich in Germany. On 14th September 1943, he met Adolf Hitler in Rastenburg where, for 2 days, they spoke about the future of the northern part of Italy, which was under German control.
On 17th September 1943, Mussolini spoke for the first time on Radio Munich saying to the Italian population that he was alive and that a new Fascist government would be created soon in the part of the Italian peninsula not yet occupied by the Allied forces.
On 23rd September 1943, Mussolini returned to Italy and the Repubblica Sociale Italiana was officially created. In Salò, a small city near Brescia, Lombardia region, many offices and headquarters of the new republic were created. For this reason, in Italy, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana is also known as Repubblica di Salò (English: Salò Republic).
This new republic was only a puppet regime, roughly comparable to the Nezavisna Država Hrvatska or NDH (English: Independent State of Croatia). Mussolini’s actions and speeches had to be first approved by German generals and he was under house arrest and constant surveillance apart from some particular occasions, such as parades or speeches. The RSI had very limited recognition, with only Germany and Japan and their own puppet regimes recognizing it. Even Spain, which had previously held close relationships with Italy, as had Franco and Mussolini, abstained from recognizing the RSI.
Luckily for Mussolini, after the Armistice, many Italian far right-wing extremists and soldiers loyal to Fascism reopened the Fascist headquarters in the cities, starting to self-administer some cities remaining under Fascist control.
In this situation, many Italians saw in Mussolini a new hope because, after the Armistice, they were, in their minds, abandoned by the Monarchic Government. After 8th September, in many cases, the Monarchists quickly abandoned their positions without organizing a defense.
Mussolini created two different armies for his new republic. These were the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, which was created as a military police corps, but slowly became an independent army with its own armored units.
These two armies had a force of fewer than 500,000 soldiers at their maximum strength. They were composed of former Regio Esercito soldiers, civilians considered no longer needed in the factories, or young people recruited before they came of age. Of the former soldiers, many of them enlisted in the new armies not because they were loyal to Mussolini or Fascism, but because, after capture, they were imprisoned. In order to avoid prison, they enlisted into the new armies. However, for this reason, many of them, when possible, escaped the new Fascist army to join the Allied or partisan forces.
In 1944, the Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (English: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts) were also created, better known as the ‘Camicie Nere’ (English: Black Shirt) or ‘Brigate Nere’ (English: Black Brigades). These were under the control of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana.
The GNR units and the Camicie Nere were mainly employed in anti-partisan operations in the rear of the battlefront. This was meant to permit the better-trained German and ENR units to fight the Allied forces on the frontline, leaving the anti-guerrilla operations to not-so-trained or untrained units.
The Germans were unwilling or even unable (having huge problems acquiring armored vehicles from themselves) to provide the Repubblica Sociale Italiana with any large numbers of armored vehicles. The RSI was thus forced to make do with any vehicle it got its hands on. These were often vehicles that were left behind for training or abandoned for various reasons. Determining the precise number or even type of each vehicle operated by the RSI is almost impossible due to the rather chaotic situation and lack of information and documentation.
In this situation, the Italian factories, occupied by the Germans after the Armistice, slowly restarted the production of tanks, armored cars, guns, and logistic vehicles. These were often built for the German armed forces.
The production of medium and heavy tanks restarted, with a total of 24 Carri Armati M15/42 medium tanks and about 100 Carri Armati P26/40 heavy tanks produced until early 1945.
Another 17 L6/40 light reconnaissance tanks were produced between November 1943 and December 1944. These were delivered to anti-partisan German units in Italy and the Balkans.
A total of 192 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 (English: L40 Self-Propelled Guns [armed with] 47/32 guns) were captured by the Germans or produced for the Germans and reused in Italy and the Balkans. These were accompanied by 55 brand new Semoventi M42 da 75/18 (English: M42 Self-Propelled Guns [armed with] 75/18 guns) which were delivered to the Germans. A total of 80 new Semoventi M42M da 75/34 (English: M42M Self-Propelled Guns [armed with] 75/34 guns) were produced and delivered to the German Army, while 36 more were captured intact by Italian soldiers after the Armistice. Another 91 Semoventi M43 da 105/25 (English: M42 Self-Propelled Guns [armed with] 105/25 howitzers) were also captured or produced, but only a single vehicle was used by the RSI troops.
Around 100 AB43 medium armored cars were produced for the Germans alongside 23 AB41s, earlier models with different engines and turrets. In total, about 300 AB armored cars were used by the Germans, captured or produced for the Wehrmacht.
Unluckily there are few infos on the AB armored car series in Repubblica Sociale Italiana service, 18 were used by the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ that used them in Turin, Milan, Brescia and Piacenza against the partisans.
The Germans also used 263 Lancia Lince scout cars developed by Lancia Veicoli Industriali (English: Lancia Industrial Vehicles), partially copying the British Daimler Dingo scout car. This light armored car was developed for the Regio Esercito, but not a single vehicle was delivered before the Armistice. At least one was used by the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani. It was captured by partisans on 6th March 1945 after fighting in Cisterna d’Asti, a few dozen kilometers from Turin.
A few Camionette SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Metropolitane’ were captured in Rome and reused by the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division with Italian crews in Ukraine on the Eastern Front. An unknown number of lighter and cheaper Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 were taken and modified as improvised armored vehicles.
German forces also captured a number of Italian vehicles no longer in production, reusing them against the Allied forces or Italian Partisans. At least one Carro Armato M11/39 medium tank, some dozens of Carro Armato M13/40 and Carro Armato M14/41 medium tanks, an unknown number of L3 series fast tanks, and even some First World War-era Lancia 1ZM armored cars, which had not been in production for decades.
Of all these vehicles, some were delivered to the Repubblica Sociale Italiana units, which deployed them against the Allied forces, for example during the Battle of Anzio, or in second line anti-partisan units.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana operated the largest concentration of armored vehicles in Repubblica Sociale Italiana service. It operated at various bases in Italy, first in Brescia in October 1943, and then also in Bergamo, Milan Piacenza, and Turin. The vehicles operated by this unit included 35 ‘M’ series tanks (M13/40s, M14/41s, M15/42, and command tanks), 16 L3 series fast tanks, one L6/40 light tank, five Semovente L40 da 47/32, 18 AB41 medium armored cars, and some improvised vehicles, such as 2 to 6 Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43, 4 light improvised armored personnel carriers, 2 medium improvised armored personnel carriers and some armored trucks. In the last days of war, the ‘Leonessa’ also used a pair of AB43 armored cars.
Another well-equipped Repubblica Sociale Italiana unit was the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ (English: Armored Squadron Group). The ‘San Giusto’, which operated in the eastern part of the north of Italy, had in its inventory a series of armored vehicles, including AB41 armored cars, AS37 Autoprotetto armored personnel carriers, FIAT 665NM Scudato armored personnel carriers, M13/40s, M14/41s, Semoventi M41 da 75/18s, M42 da 75/34s, some Semoventi L40 da 47/32, and some improvised armored trucks, one of which was equipped with a flamethrower. In addition, it had another Squadrone L (English: Light Tank Squadron) unit which was mostly equipped with the weak L3 fast tanks and flamethrowing vehicles based on this chassis. In total, the combat strength of ‘San Giusto’ was 34 armored vehicles.
The Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani (English: Anti-Partisan Group) was an anti-partisan unit that operated in Italy in late 1944. It used various equipment, including an M13/40 medium tank, L3 fast tanks, L6/40 light tank, Semovente M42 da 75/18, and two armored cars.
The Gruppo Carazzato ‘Leoncello’ was created at the start of 1945. Its main purpose was to protect the Repubblica Sociale Italiana Armored Forces Ministry located in Milan. For this, it was equipped with 12 L3 fast tanks, 7 ‘M’ series tanks (M13/40s and M15/42s), a single Semovente M43 da 105/25, and at least four AB41 medium armored cars.
In addition, there were some dozen or so smaller units equipped with various armored vehicles that were at hand. For example, the I° Battaglione “M” ‘9 Settembre’ (English: 1st M Battalion 9th September) operated 5 numbers of AB41 armored cars.
Somewhat surprisingly, despite being built at the start of the war and small production number, two M11/39s managed to survive up to 1944. These were stationed at the Cavalry School at Pinerolo, where they were likely used for training. The RSI, in a desperate search for armored vehicles, relocated these two to the Ribet military barracks located at Torre Pellice. At that time, this was the base of operation for the GNR. Border Legion ‘Monviso’. These two were rarely used, mainly due to a lack of spare parts and their generally poor condition. There were only two major uses of the M11/39 by the RSI. In the summer of 1944, they were successfully used to clear the area of Appennino roads which was fortified by the Italian Partisans. Another engagement happened at the start of September 1944. While driving toward Santa Margherita, one M11/39 was ambushed and immobilized by the Partisans.
Due to the low production rates and the fact the Germans no longer trusted the Italians, the RSI units, mainly the GNR ones, rarely used armored fighting vehicles. For these reasons, many smaller units were forced to independently produce improvised armored vehicles, armored trucks or armored personnel carriers that increased their firepower and protection during anti-partisan operations.
These created some of the strangest and curious vehicles used by the Italian Fascists during the war, such as the Lancia 3Ro Blindato used by the XXXVIª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) of Lucca, the Autocannoni da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ (English: Autonomous Mobile Legion) or the FIAT 666N Blindato of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico (English: 630th Public Order Company) of Piacenza.
The RSI units were mainly employed to fight partisan forces in northern Italy and, to a smaller extent, in Yugoslavia. The ‘San Giusto’ unit operated in the area around Gorica in Slovenia in February 1944. It was placed under direct German control and was known as Italienische Panzer Schwadron (English: Italian Panzer Squadron) ‘Tonegutti’ (which was the name of the unit commander). It was tasked with protecting vital communication and supply lines.
In reality, this unit was rarely used against the Partisans, despite having some 34 armored vehicles in their inventory. In one engagement with the Partisans in May of 1944, the unit lost an M14/41 tank, two Fiat 665NM Scudati armored trucks, and two AB41 armored cars. After this point and almost to the war’s end, the ‘San Giusto’ unit simply stayed away from Partisan-held territories. Some of its elements were also involved in protecting the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in Italy.
When the war ended, it still had some armored vehicles in its inventory including two AB41s, some six L3s, two Semovente L40 da 47/32, four M13/40s, three Semoventi da 75/18, and one Semovente M42M da 75/34. The condition of these vehicles is not known, but it is likely that most would be in a poor mechanical state at best.
RSI armor and units were mostly only used in anti-partisan operations. However, a few Italians did take part in some of the most famous battles of the Italian Campaign.
In Anzio (January to June 1944), only some Xª Divisione MAS battalions with some SPA-Viberti AS42 and some paratrooper units took part. In the Gothic Line Offensive (August 1944 to March 1945), only the Armata Liguria was deployed with the 1ª Divisione Bersaglieri ‘Italia’, the 3ª Divisione Fanteria di Marina ‘San Marco’, and the 4ª Divisione Alpina ‘Monterosa’ of the RSI, which were trained in Germany by German instructors. On the rearguard and right wing of the defensive line, the Legione “M” Guardie del Duce, the Battaglione ‘Mameli’ of the 8º Reggimento Bersaglieri ‘Manara’ were deployed. From December 1944, the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ of the Xª Divisione MAS was also deployed. All these units had fewer than a dozen tanks and armored cars each.
The Fall of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana
During its 20 months of existence, the RSI and its soldiers constantly fought the Partisan units that increasingly grew during the last months of war. In early 1945, only the main cities of northern Italy and the countryside around them were under real Fascist control. The rest of the cities and small villages were under Partisan control.
In mid-to-late April 1945, the Allied troops launched a final operation against German and RSI troops in the Italian peninsula, Operation Grapeshot. In the meantime, the Italian Partisans, which by this point had thousands in their ranks, left the mountains where they were hiding and arrived in Bologna, Genoa, Milan, and Turin to fight the last remaining Italian and German units. The battles lasted for a few days, from 25th April to 28th-29th April, and the Partisan managed to free all the cities before the Allied arrival.
All the surviving Italian and German forces tried to reach the Valtellina Valley where they wanted to wait until the US arrival to surrender to the Allied troops. Benito Mussolini understood that he would not survive the capture by the Partisans and tried to reach the Swiss border by passing through Lake Como. He was in Menaggio on 26th April 1945 when 178 trucks with about 5,000 soldiers and female auxiliaries arrived to escort him to Merano and then to Switzerland. On the night of 26th and 27th April, a German FlaK convoy joined the Italian forces.
On the morning of the 27th, in Musso, the convoy, led by the Lancia 3Ro Blindato improvised armored car, with all the Fascist leaders inside, was stopped on the road that runs along Lake Como at a checkpoint of the 52ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Luigi Clerici’ (English: 52nd Partisan Brigade). The partisans only allowed the German trucks and FlaK guns to continue, so Mussolini, dressed as a German soldier, got into a German Opel Blitz which turned onto the road to Merano. The remaining vehicles, among which was the Lancia armored car, turned back, until, for unknown reasons, there was a clash and the Italian forces were destroyed.
The German column was once more stopped in the town of Dongo, where Mussolini was recognized and arrested. He was imprisoned in the Mayor of Dongo’s house for the night.
The Partisans initially wanted to transport Mussolini to Milan to be put on trial. The Fascist presence in the area was still too strong to permit the Partisans to safely transport him to Milan, so they shot at him and Claretta Petacci, his lover. The bodies, alongside with other high-ranking Fascist politicians, were transported to Milan and hanged by the feet in Piazzale Loreto.
From this moment on, Italy returned to being a monarchy. On 2nd June 1946, there was a universal suffrage referendum to decide if it should remain a monarchy under the Savoia royal family reign or a republic. The Republicans won and, on 1st January 1948, the new Repubblica Italiana (English: Italian Republic) with its new constitution was formed.
D. Guglielmi Italian Self-propelled Guns Semoventi M41 and M42, Armor Photo Gallery
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Le Camionette del Regio Esercito – Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta
I corazzati Di Circostanza Italiani – Nico Sgarlato