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  • Italian "cowardice", justified?

    To clarify, while there definitely were Italians units who fought with great courage and determination (Ariete, the Bersaglieri), my current opinion is that most Italian formations were indeed lacking in the bravery department and rather prone to turn tail and beat it when push came to shove, though if this is not true, feel free to enlighten me.

    However, assuming that most Italians conducted themselves rather "cowardly", weren't they entirely justified to do so? I mean why should they have acted differently? Why should they have risked life and limb?
    Could it be that they simply realized that they were righting for Mussolini's ego and decided that something worth dieing for was something completely different? Again, can anyone give a reasonable reason why the Italians should have given their utmost in combat?
    On a side-note, if the Italians were just cowards, how would you explain the partisan movement springing up after the armistice? Taking it up against the Germans isn't something for the faint of heart or for those who feel considerable attachments to their lifes.

    As a German, I wish we had taken a note from the Italians in World War II.
    Reaction to the 2016 Munich shootings:
    Europe: "We are shocked and support you in these harsh times, we stand by you."
    USA: "We will check people from Germany extra-hard and it is your own damn fault for being so stupid."

  • #2
    There's a difference between cowardice and not having the will to fight.
    The Italian troops weren't cowards, they simply didn't want to lay down their lives for that clown Mussolini..

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Poor Old Spike View Post
      There's a difference between cowardice and not having the will to fight.
      The Italian troops weren't cowards, they simply didn't want to lay down their lives for that clown Mussolini..
      I think you've hit that nail smack on the head. Motivation is certainly an important factor; and World War One was horrific enough on the Italian front that Italians, who were not inherently expansionist like their German counterparts under Nazism, simply saw no reason to die for territory nobody but Il Duce wanted in the first place.

      The history of Italy suggests anything but cowardice as a national trait.
      Go is to chess as philosophy is to double-entry bookkeeping. - Nicholaļ Hel in Shibumi

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      • #4
        Badly led and ill equipped will destroy the moral of any troops, not just Italian.

        Originally posted by Acheron View Post
        As a German, I wish we had taken a note from the Italians in World War II.


        How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: http://grist.org/series/skeptics/
        Global Warming & Climate Change Myths: https://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Nick the Noodle View Post
          That was hilarious! Where was that from?
          Go is to chess as philosophy is to double-entry bookkeeping. - Nicholaļ Hel in Shibumi

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          • #6
            Originally posted by trebuchet View Post
            That was hilarious! Where was that from?
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/That_Mi..._and_Webb_Look
            How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: http://grist.org/series/skeptics/
            Global Warming & Climate Change Myths: https://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Acheron View Post
              To clarify, while there definitely were Italians units who fought with great courage and determination (Ariete, the Bersaglieri), my current opinion is that most Italian formations were indeed lacking in the bravery department and rather prone to turn tail and beat it when push came to shove, though if this is not true, feel free to enlighten me.
              www.comandosupremo.com

              Excellent site that deals with the Italian Armed forces and their activities during WW2.
              Signing out.

              Comment


              • #8
                It wasn't cowardice that caused the failure of morale in so many Italian units in WW 2 but rather a combination of other problems.

                First, there was a vast gulf between the officers and enlisted in most units. Officers were drawn primarily from the upper middle and upper class of Northern Italy, were urbane and cultured. Most enlisted were rural farm workers or lower class "blue collar" workers. In Italy at the time this class strata was well defined in society with little socal movement possible.
                The officers considered their men inept bumpkins and held them in a degree of contempt. Needless to say that contempt was returned in kind.
                Officers also lived privilaged lives in quarters and in the field while the enlisted were treated fairly badly. This too eroded morale in units.
                When you combine these social ills with poor unit orgainzation, a general lack of communications equipment and, poor military equipment in general most Italian army formations were simply ripe to disintegrate in combat.

                The troops were not going to fight hard for officers they had contempt for. The units couldn't handle modern combat because of their cumbersome orgainzation and lack of material. Lack of communications only ensured that units quickly dissolved into small groups of men trying to fight on their own rather than an orgainzed defensive or offensive structure.

                Had Italy had the ability to have a military that was well led by officers whom the men believed in and orgainzed along modern lines, say with half of the formations it originally raised, it likely would have been a force to reckon with. As it was, Italy was 30 years behind the times with a military that was socially still in the 19th century.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                  It wasn't cowardice that caused the failure of morale in so many Italian units in WW 2 but rather a combination of other problems.

                  First, there was a vast gulf between the officers and enlisted in most units. Officers were drawn primarily from the upper middle and upper class of Northern Italy, were urbane and cultured. Most enlisted were rural farm workers or lower class "blue collar" workers. In Italy at the time this class strata was well defined in society with little socal movement possible.
                  The officers considered their men inept bumpkins and held them in a degree of contempt. Needless to say that contempt was returned in kind.
                  Officers also lived privilaged lives in quarters and in the field while the enlisted were treated fairly badly. This too eroded morale in units.
                  When you combine these social ills with poor unit orgainzation, a general lack of communications equipment and, poor military equipment in general most Italian army formations were simply ripe to disintegrate in combat.

                  The troops were not going to fight hard for officers they had contempt for. The units couldn't handle modern combat because of their cumbersome orgainzation and lack of material. Lack of communications only ensured that units quickly dissolved into small groups of men trying to fight on their own rather than an orgainzed defensive or offensive structure.

                  Had Italy had the ability to have a military that was well led by officers whom the men believed in and orgainzed along modern lines, say with half of the formations it originally raised, it likely would have been a force to reckon with. As it was, Italy was 30 years behind the times with a military that was socially still in the 19th century.
                  Mussolini was well aware his military wasn't ready for war and warned Hitler his army wouldn't be fully combat ready until 1943 or '44, but when Hitler started snapping up quick victories Mussolini's ego drove him to try to get some "glory" for Italy.

                  The rest, as they say, is history.
                  Go is to chess as philosophy is to double-entry bookkeeping. - Nicholaļ Hel in Shibumi

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                  • #10
                    Hilarious, Nick! (but they weren't Italian?)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      My father in law was at Tobruk with the 18th Brigade of the 7th Division, 2nd AIF.

                      I was fortunate to be often invited to 'Rats of Tobruk' functions, and some of these included most interesting chats about the Siege.

                      The subject of the Italians and the Africa Corps came up one evening over a glass or three of cleansing ale, and the consensus was that the Italians were NOT cowards, but simply did not believe in what they were fighting for and were not committed to that fight.

                      The Germans were the exact opposite, and the 'Rats' held them in high regard.



                      John.
                      The PLO claims ALL of Israel!!! There will and can NEVER be a "2 State solution".

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                      • #12
                        I wanted to point out that under the direct command of Rommel the Italians fought very well on many occasions.

                        The consensus seems to be the soldiers were average conscripts that were no different from any conscript from any European country but Italian officers lacked military professionalism and initiative.

                        "Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a ugly brawl."
                        --Frederick II, King of Prussia

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Acheron View Post
                          To clarify, while there definitely were Italians units who fought with great courage and determination (Ariete, the Bersaglieri), my current opinion is that most Italian formations were indeed lacking in the bravery department and rather prone to turn tail and beat it when push came to shove, though if this is not true, feel free to enlighten me.

                          However, assuming that most Italians conducted themselves rather "cowardly", weren't they entirely justified to do so? I mean why should they have acted differently? Why should they have risked life and limb?
                          Could it be that they simply realized that they were righting for Mussolini's ego and decided that something worth dieing for was something completely different? Again, can anyone give a reasonable reason why the Italians should have given their utmost in combat?
                          On a side-note, if the Italians were just cowards, how would you explain the partisan movement springing up after the armistice? Taking it up against the Germans isn't something for the faint of heart or for those who feel considerable attachments to their lifes.

                          As a German, I wish we had taken a note from the Italians in World War II.
                          In his recent book Bardia: Myth, Reality and the Heirs of Anzac, Craig Stockings asks similar questions in relation to the battle of Bardia and concludes that while in raw numbers the Italians had an advantage over the attacking Commonwealth force, in reality the Commonwealth troops had an enormous military advantage over the defenders. Partly this was down to operational factors, such as the presence of almost invulnerable British armour and enormous amounts of artillery support; but it also came down to institutional factors within both military systems. In examining these Stockings relies pretty heavily on Macgregor Knox's work; and if you get a hold of Knox's books, it's almost impossible to open a page and not find a staggering example of incompetence or failure on the part of Italian leadership in relation to the preparedness and conduct of the war.

                          What's interesting is that motivation is never really seriously questioned. Yes, the sense of Italian nationalism was weaker than in comparable countries and the north/south divide compounded this. But one could just as easily ask where the obvious motivation lay for the multitude of Commonwealth soldiers - what benefit for Indian or Australian soldiers in defending Egypt from Italians? Enough Italian soldiers fought bravely to suggest that 'cowardice' was down to factors other than willingness to fight for their country.

                          As has already been said, the Italian office corps was a joke. Service in the military was not seen as a glamorous career and consequently, as one commentator lamented, it tended to attract the 'dumb son'. Officers were encouraged to remain aloof from their men, weakening the trust in leadership necessary for effective functioning in combat. This was compounded by the terrible, terrible lessons the Italians took from WW1. They actually regressed, returning to something equivalent to the 'cult of the offensive' and believing that initiative and elan within the infantry were the keys to victory. Training was already enormously inadequate, yet when units were dispatched to Libya officers were informed to train their men less in order not to dull initiative. Ironically the Italian experience in East Africa and Spain pre-war, combined with an awareness amongst senior officers about the inability of the Italian economy to sustain a lengthy conflict, led to the creation of a new doctrine - 'War of the Rapid Decision'. But most Italian officers deliberately tried to avoid operational postings in the late '30s and consequently the ideas weren't disseminated through the army. Training between branches was rare to non-existant, meaning the armour, artillery and infantry essentially fought separate battles.

                          This obviously meant that when units went into combat they were horrendously underprepared, and it can hardly be surprising that they broke under the strain. Men and junior leaders were well aware of the failures above them; one came up with this devastating portrait:
                          [c]overed with medal ribbons...their heads crammed with texts and the tactics of Hannibal and old Prussia ...[doomed to] fall back on the experience of the war in 1914, re-hashing it and dishing it up ad nauseam without remembering that time has overtaken them and tactics and the principles of war have passed them by.
                          With not trust in their leaders and little training in the realities of combat, it's little wonder Italian units broke easily. This is emphasised by the fact that the artillery - which absolutely necessitated at least some training - tended to fight harder and longer than the infantry. At Bardia the Australians found battery of gunners dead by their guns who had obviously fought until they'd run out of ammunition (a symptom of chronic italian undermotorization - their was plentiful ammunition, but no trucks to move it from dumps to the frontline) and been overrun. At Giarabub the oasis held out for 100 days, most of it on half-rations, because the commandant was a stubborn man who had some understanding of modern war and made an effort to beat the Australians at their own game. Both instances demonstrate that with better training and leadership Italian units could fight well.

                          The other major factor was weapons - Italian weapons were simply rubbish, and this cannot be emphasised enough. Their tanks were enormously outclassed, they had no real way of stopping British Matildas, and the plethora of small-arms employed created logistical nightmares. One out of every ten shells didn't explode, others did explode but didn't fragment, and even when shells did explode and fragment as designed, they usually produced a cone of shrapnel that moved out and to the rear of the shell - meaning the lethal zone was extraordinarily narrow. Their grenades weren't designed to fragment, meaning they had to be in direct contact with a person to kill them. Numerous Australian sources I've read highlight how even a moderate improvement in the quality of Italian munitions would have resulted in heavier Commonwealth casualties - and I imagine it's pretty demoralising when you shoot accurately and your opponents still don't die.
                          Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by ozjohn39 View Post
                            My father in law was at Tobruk with the 18th Brigade of the 7th Division, 2nd AIF.

                            I was fortunate to be often invited to 'Rats of Tobruk' functions, and some of these included most interesting chats about the Siege.

                            The subject of the Italians and the Africa Corps came up one evening over a glass or three of cleansing ale, and the consensus was that the Italians were NOT cowards, but simply did not believe in what they were fighting for and were not committed to that fight.

                            The Germans were the exact opposite, and the 'Rats' held them in high regard.



                            John.
                            John - do you know what battalion he was in?
                            Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

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                            • #15
                              "John - do you know what battalion he was in?"


                              Bob was in the 7th Div Supply Column, (Ron Barassi's unit) and normally attached to the 2/9th Batt. He "used as Infantry" during the Siege as were most not directly need for other duties.

                              He came back to take part in the Battle of Milne Bay, and he caught malaria there, and was returned to Australia as he was about 8 years over age.



                              John.
                              The PLO claims ALL of Israel!!! There will and can NEVER be a "2 State solution".

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