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Sadurian Mike
718105.  Thu Jun 10, 2010 3:21 pm Reply with quote

The common perception of the Italian military during WWII is that of faintly laughable comic-opera chaps who were more likely to surrender than to fight. We have all heard the jokes; "how many gears has an Italian tank got?"*, and so on.

These perception are largely down to the early desert war against the British, and the Italian collapse at Stalingrad which led to the Russians surrounding and destroying the German 6th Army. Some also point to the Italian fleet's refusal to venture out of harbour after the British attack at Taranto, and the failures of the Italian army in their attacks on southern France and Greece.

However, this is certainly not the whole story. The attacks on both France and Greece were into mountainous terrain which always favours the defender. The Italians had very poor armour and only a mediocre airforce, and so they did not enjoy the spectacular successes of their German allies (against whom they are frequently compared). It was Mussolini's attempts to emulate Hitler's successes that led the Italians into their ill-advised invasions, but they were simply not ready for them.

In North Africa, the problem was not one of individual ability so much as poor leadership. Italian generals were very often aristocrats rather than competant military leaders, and they waged war according to a romantic ideal that bore little resemblance to real life. The Italian army invaded Egypt in 1940 and successfully pushed back the British outposts, but then they were told to consolidate and dig in. This allowed the British to swiftly counter-attack and eliminate each fortified position one at a time, and therefore succeed against overwhelming odds. The Italians were soon in general retreat, which inevitably leads to huge numbers being captured if your foe has fast vehicles, which the British did.

However, in 1942 in the Second Battle of El Alamein, the Italian part of the Italian-German army was left behind as a rearguard while the Germans retreated, mainly because the Italians did not have motorised transport. These forces, far from rolling over and surrendering, fought bravely and stubbornly against a numerically and materially superior enemy with no hope of rescue or retreat. Had they not done so, the Allied forces would almost certainly have destroyed a much larger part of Rommel's retreating army, and possibly led to a faster victory in North Africa.

At Stalingrad, the Italians had second-rate anti-tank guns and armour that had been shown to be obsolete even in 1940. Against the crack Russian divisions thrown against it, including both the magnificent T-34 and the heavy KV tanks as well as massive air attacks, they were woefully ill-equipped.

They did have their fair share of victories on the Eastern Front, however. One example that stands out is the mounted cavalry charge of a single squadron of the 3rd Dragoons "Savoia Cavalleria" against an estimated 2 000 Russian infantry at Isbushensky in 1942.

On sea, as well, the Italians had many victories. Although their big ships were kept in harbour, the élite Italian Decima Flottiglia MAS (forerunners of the British SBS and US Navy Seals) used commando attacks on harboured shipping which included both frogmen and mini-subs. Indeed, the use of the latter prompted the British to develop their own mini-subs, which were used on German ships within occupied Europe. Italian successes with these attacks included the sinking of the British battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant at the supposedly "safe" anchorage of Alexandria.

The Italians have been criticised and made fun of since (and during) the War, but much of their dire reputation is undeserved. They were let down by their leaders, both political and military, and their equipment, and were in the uneviable position of being allied to (and therefore compared to) one of the most remarkable military nations the world had seen.

*Four; one forward and three reverse.

<edited by Jenny to change the thread header from "Italy in WWII" to the more generic "Italy">

718255.  Fri Jun 11, 2010 5:25 am Reply with quote

The role of Italy in WWII was complex. Don't forget that the Italian resistance to fascism was also huge. According to wiki, over 300,000 armed fighters (among them 35,000 women) took part in the resistance. If you include the workers taking part in the 1944-1945 strike movement in the factories of major industrial cities (many of whom were deported to German concentration camps to punish their "sabotage" of the war effort), then it's clear that support for the Allies was widespread in Italy.

Reprisals were brutal, and (again, according to wiki) over 40,000 Italian partisans were killed in fighting: if true, that's twice the number of casualties as the French resistance.

Curious Danny
718320.  Fri Jun 11, 2010 8:25 am Reply with quote

One fact I have heard is that in WW2, the Italian army's health facilities spent more time dealing with malaria than wounds caused by enemy action.

747486.  Tue Sep 28, 2010 8:30 pm Reply with quote

A post from Voblin on the delightfully-named 'Breasts of nuns' thread in Quite Interestrings.

Voblin wrote:

747190. Tue Sep 28, 2010 8:52 am

While travelling around the Abruzzo area of Italy I came across something curious.

There is a small bakery/pasticceria in a beautiful hillside town of Guardiagrele which is famous for making "sise delle monache" (“breasts of nuns”). It is a small cake made of tender sponge - a base, then a layer of custard-like cream, and a top, shaped like breasts. What is QI about it is that there are THREE breasts on each cake.

And they are delicious!

Here is the photo of the cartoon that I took inside the pasticceria.

According to the Abruzzo tourism web site:
There are many legends on the origins of the name, according to one, the nuns used to put a piece of fabric between their breasts trying to make them less noticeable: giving rise to gossip that they were endowed with three.

Alternative explanations are easy enough to find on Internet. I came up with my own original suggestion, a rather sacrilegious one I am afraid, so those who might be offended please look away now...
Could it be that one is for the Son, one for the Father, and one for the Holy Spirit? :-)

Any QI alternatives anyone?


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