Saturday, 8 September 2018

Oggi Parliamo Italiano

Well, let's talk Italian for a change. Over the last months I've been painting away on a small Italian unit for fellow Blogger Pat, well known through his blog -Wargaming with Silver Whistle- and Author of the rather excellent "Setting the Scene: Winter Wargaming".
Right now he's working on a second book focusing on the Mediterranean. I've painted a few figures previously for him which featured in his first book and as he asked me if I'd like to paint something for his upcoming book I took the chance to help the Regio Esercito Italiano to "their place in the sun".

Regio Esercito Italiano (ital. Royal army of Italy) was the official name for the armed forces of Italy from 1861 till the declaration of the Italian Republic in 1946. Italy was the largest ally of Germany during WW2 and as such Italians saw service not only in the desert against the British, but also on the Balkans, in Greece and on the eastern front. As such they're an ideal force for an Axis player to collect when you want something different.
As a bonus, Italian uniform and equipment changed little between 1936 and 1943 and as such you can easily field most of your WW2 Italians in a game set in the Spanish Civil War too.

In my opinion the Italian Army has seen more than their fair share of bad press ever since their ill fated invasion of Egypt in 1940. After their impressive successes during Operation Compass the British regarded the Italian soldier with little more than contempt, while the Germans and Rommel in particular were only too happy to blame them for everything that went wrong. When an operation didn't achieve it's objectives or failed completely and the Italians were involved it was mostly blamed on their performance. Sometimes rightfully, but most often they were just a scape goat. As such it's little wonder that even today you hear little positive about the Italian involvement in WW2.

While the Afrika Korps generally gets all the fame, it's only over the last few years that historians started to approach the Italians with more fairness. When judging the Italian army and its performance one should never forget Mussolini himself thought his army ill prepared for a major war till at least 1943. But impressed by Germanys early successes he wanted part of the spoils for himself and Italy.

On paper Italian strength seemed impressive with three divisions of National Security Militia (MVSN), five mountain divisions as well as three mobile and two tank divisions in addition to the 59 divisions of infantry. And that's not taking into account several divisions of Frontier Guards and colonial units.
In reality though many formations weren't up to their full strength, and even if they were an Italian Divisions fighting strength was hardly comparable to that of other nations divisions.

In a bid to impress the world with the strength of its army, Italian divisions were organized in the so called "Binary divisions". As the name suggests instead of the more common three regiments of other armies, the Italian infantry division was made up of only two regiments. In addition to these two regiments there was also an Artillery regiment, an engineer batallion and a mortar batallion included in an Italian Division.

M13/40 tank. Already obsolete shortly after his introduction in 1940
To further hamper the Italians performance, Italy never was a country rich of raw materiel needed to wage a modern war on a grand scale. The vast oil reserves in Italian controlled Libya were not yet discovered and even basic goods like coal, rubber and steel, had to be imported for its war efforts. As such Mussolini was desperate to secure himself a part of the cake which was to be divided once Germany had inevitably won the war.

Despite its shortcomings the M13/40 was the backbone of Italian tank forces throughout the war
Yet another reason for the mixed combat record of Italian armies lay with the corruption imminent to the fascist regime. While the German Generalstab had its fair share of 'spittle lickers' and political opportunists, its members generally had earned their place within it through competence and good leadership. Contrary to that Italian commanders often were not promoted to their ranks through merit but through connections in the fascist party. This led to many of the Italians defeats during the war.

But despite popular believe the Italians were anything but mere cowards or at best incompetents. Some of their major defeats in the desert the British suffered at the hands of the Italian army. Italian artillery gunners for example were well known for their stubbornness in facing British attacks and often only left their positions when virtually overrun by sheer weight of numbers.
It was the Italians in the form of the Ariete armoured division and a division of Bersaglieri (the 8th) who were at the spearhead of the DAK at the battle of Benghazi or the capture of the British fortress of Mechili. While often credited to the German 90th light Division, the capture of the British fortress of Mersa Matruh was only possible through Italian gunners who stuck to their guns in the face of heavy attacks by air. These were just a few examples of Italian fighting prowess and many more are recorded like the rearguard actions during the Tunisian campaign which finally saw huge numbers of Italians left to their fate by the Germans while those were desperate to withdraw their main forces to Sicily.

German SdKfz. 131 Marder II like it served on the Italian peninsular
While throughout the war Italian units often were of mixed quality, the common soldier was often courageous and not better or worse than its German, British, American or Russian counterparts. It was mostly the disastrous political and military leadership which led to Italian defeats and thus to the popular image of Italian soldiers surrendering en masse to the Allies.

Truth be told I didn't really enjoy painting these Perry castings as they were, like most Perry metals, of poor quality. Nonetheless I'm quite pleased with how they turned out and I hope they will encourage the one or other prospective reader of Pat's upcoming next masterpiece to maybe collect an Italian force of their own.

In the meantime, for all those interested in the Italian army (and not only those), keep an eye on Pat's blog linked above to stay up to date with the newest developments of "Setting the Scene 2: The Mediterranean". I might have smuggled the one or other tutorial into its pages. We'll see ;-)
In the unlikely event I've made you curious on Italy WW2 and you want to know more, I encourage you to give "Iron hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa"by Ian W Walker a read. Also the Osprey titleson the topic are a good primer as well as this article on quora, from which I also took some inspiration for this post: "Was the Italian army really as bad as the common knowledge paints it in WWII, or is there a good deal of propaganda in that assumption?"
by Pablo Nero.

So, that's it for today. I hope you've enjoyed my blurb as well as some of the miniatures.
Stay well and till next time!


  1. Fabulous brushwork as always. And of an underrepresented army too, IMO.

  2. Thanks for the background info on the Italians and lovely work as always.
    cheers John

  3. To say I am happy with the standard of painting that you have done with these Nick, is the understatement of the year. They will greatly enhance the pages of the new book and as discussed, you will have your own guest painter's section with your tutorial on how they were done.

    I may well include your historical piece on the Italians as it has been an eye opener for me on the unfair press that they have received over the years and the fighting soldier of whichever nation, needs to be remembered with the honour that they deserve.

    I will be showing these off on my blog Nick, at the end of the week along with my new terrain mat and a link back to your blog.



  4. Very nice! I like to read the insights on the italians as's always interesting to nuance bold statements and the jokes that exist about certain nations during WW2.
    Painting is really good as usual and the vehicles are pure eye-candy! Thank you for the inspiration!

  5. Absolute superb brushwork as is your normal standard! Also that is an excellent pocket bit of history as well that sheds some light on the Italians. Wonderful all around!


  6. Fantastic paint job and a fair historical analysis / and just to make things clear, I am Italian and a STRONG anti-Fascist. To your excellent survey I could only add, as an additional incentive, that with almost no change you can table these forces as fighting along the Allies after 1943, first in the Primo Raggruppamento Motorizzato and then as Corpo Truppe Volontarie.

  7. Lovely work as usual. Nice historical background too. Agree about the Perry Metals, I think they need a new moould maker.

  8. Splendid work on both vehicles and figures, most inspiring.

  9. Great painting job! As im starting an Italian platoon for CoC, I'm very interested in the colours you used for the uniforms.

  10. Lovely painting as always and yes an Italian force as a gateway into the Spanish civil war,now that's not a bad idea!
    Best Iain

  11. Stunning! Beautiful work Nick and I really enjoyed your write-up as well. I'm thinking that I need some Italians for my SCW, so this is great inspiration.

  12. Love both the painted scale models as well as the historical background info. As a history buff, (almost) everything in the past is interesting to me!

  13. Perfection, this is simply perfection. Congrats and getting published as well!

  14. Nice choice of colours for the uniforms. Great work!