Italian Co-belligerent Army

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The Italian Co-belligerent Army (Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano), Army of the South (Esercito del Sud), or Italian Liberation Corps (Corpo Italiano di Liberazione) were names applied to various division sets of the now former Royal Italian Army during the period when it fought on the side of the Allies during World War II from September 1943 onwards. During the same period, the pro-allied Italian Royal Navy and Italian Royal Air Force were known as the Italian Co-belligerent Navy and Italian Co-belligerent Air Force respectively. From September 1943, pro-Axis Italian forces became the National Republican Army of the newly formed Italian Social Republic.

Royal Italian Army army from 1861 to 1946

The Royal Italian Army, also known as the Regio Esercito, was established during the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy. During the 1800's Italy started to unify into one country and in 1861, Manfredo Fanti signed a creation decree which created the Army of the Two Sicilies. This newly created army first task was to defend against the repressive power in southern Italy. The Army of Two Sicilies combated against criminals and other armies during this time of unification. After the monarchy ended, the army changed its name to become the Italian Army. The Esercito Italiano has a website and social media accounts, as the militia is still active today.

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the "United Nations" from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.


The Italian Co-belligerent Army was the result of the Allied armistice with Italy on 8 September 1943; King Victor Emmanuel III dismissed Benito Mussolini as Prime Minister in July 1943 following the Allied invasion of Southern Italy, and nominated Marshal of Italy (Maresciallo d'Italia) Pietro Badoglio instead, who later aligned Italy with the Allies to fight the Social Republic's forces and its German allies in Northern Italy.

Victor Emmanuel III of Italy King of Italy from 1900–1946

Victor Emmanuel III was the King of Italy from 29 July 1900 until his abdication on 9 May 1946. In addition, he held the thrones of Ethiopia and Albania as Emperor of Ethiopia (1936–1941) and King of the Albanians (1939–1943). During his reign of nearly 46 years, which began after the assassination of his father Umberto I, the Kingdom of Italy became involved in two world wars. His reign also encompassed the birth, rise, and fall of Italian Fascism and its regime.

Benito Mussolini Duce and President of the Council of Ministers of Italy. Leader of the National Fascist Party and subsequent Republican Fascist Party

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy from his golpe in 1922 to 1943, and Duce of Fascism from 1919 to his execution in 1945 during the Italian civil war. As dictator of Italy and founder of fascism, Mussolini inspired several totalitarian rulers such as Adolf Hitler.

Pietro Badoglio Italian general during both World Wars and a Prime Minister of Italy

Marshal Pietro Badoglio, 1st Duke of Addis Abeba, 1st Marquess of Sabotino, was an Italian general during both World Wars and the first viceroy of Italian East Africa. With the fall of the Fascist regime in Italy, he became Prime Minister of Italy.

The Italian Co-belligerent Army fielded between 200,000 and 260,000 troops in the Italian Campaign, of whom 20,000 (later augmented to 50,000) were combat troops and between 150,000 and 190,000 were auxiliary and support troops. On the whole, the Italian Co-Belligerent Army made up 1/8 of the fighting force and 1/4 of the entire force of 15th Army Group of the Allied Forces.

15th Army Group

The 15th Army Group was an Army Group composed of the British Eighth and the U.S. Fifth Armies, which apart from troops from the British Empire and U.S.A., also had whole units from other allied countries/regions; like 2 of their Corps, 1 Division and 7 Brigades, besides supporting and being supported by the local Italian partisans. It operated in the Italian Campaign during the WWII, between 1943-45.


On 28 September 1943, the first contingent of the Italian Co-belligerent Army assembled near Lecce; some of the soldiers who reported had managed to evade capture and internment by German forces. [1]

Lecce Comune in Apulia, Italy

Lecce is a historic city of 95,766 inhabitants (2015) in southern Italy, the capital of the province of Lecce, the second province in the region by population, as well as one of the most important cities of Apulia. It is the main city of the Salentine Peninsula, a sub-peninsula at the heel of the Italian Peninsula and is over 2,000 years old.

Italian military internees

"Italian military internees" was the official name given by Germany to the Italian soldiers captured, rounded up and deported in the territories of Nazi Germany in Operation Achse in the days immediately following the World War II armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces.

A corps (1° Raggruppamento Motorizzato) was then created. The unit included elements of two divisions that had previously been part of the Regio Esercito: the 18 Infantry Division Messina and the 58 Infantry Division Legnano [2] The corps was composed of 295 officers and 5,387 men.

The corps' first engagement was in the Cassino sector at Monte Lungo. This action did much to remove the Allied distrust of Italian soldiers fighting on their side. [3] The unit suffered heavy casualties and was judged to perform satisfactorily. [2]

Battle of San Pietro Infine

The Battle of San Pietro Infine was a major engagement from 8–17 December 1943, in the Italian Campaign of World War II involving Allied forces attacking from the south against heavily fortified positions of the German "Winter Line" in and around the town of San Pietro Infine, just south of Monte Cassino about halfway between Naples and Rome.

Following service with the American Fifth Army, commanded by Mark W. Clark, and re-organization, command of the 1° Raggruppamento Motorizzato was transferred to the Polish II Corps on the extreme left of the British Eighth Army under the command of Lieutenant General Oliver Leese. [3]

Italian Liberation Corps

On 17 April 1944, the formation (now 22,000 men strong) assumed the name Italian Liberation Corps (Corpo Italiano di Liberazione, or CIL). The continuous influx of volunteers made it necessary to form further formations. [3] The CIL was organized in two new divisions: The "Nembo" and the "Utili." The "Nembo" Division was formed around the old Royal Army's parachute division of the same name. The "Utili" Division was formed around the First Motorized Combat Group and was named after its commander, General Umberto Utili. In early 1944, a 5,000 man force of Italians fought on the Gustav Line around Monte Cassino and acquitted itself well. The Italians once again suffered heavy casualties. [2]

Italian Co-belligerent Army from late 1944 to 1945

After the battle of Filottrano (July 1944), Italian troops were sent to the rear lines to rest and re-train. In the meantime they were re-kitted with standard British/Commonwealth equipment including Battle Dress uniforms and helmets (mostly new and not taken off corpses as hearsay sometimes has it).

By early 1945 the CIL had outgrown itself. It was used as the nucleus for six separate Combat Groups (Gruppi di Combattimento): "Cremona", "Legnano", "Friuli", "Mantova", "Piceno", and "Folgore". Each Combat Group was the equal to a weak division and was equipped with British uniforms, materiel and weapons. The established strength for each was 432 officers, 8,578 other rank, 116 field guns, 170 mortars, 502 light machine guns, and 1,277 motor vehicles. The Combat Groups were given the names of old Royal Army divisions and followed the component numbering system of the component regiments to some extent. [2] These groups were attached to various American and British formations on the Gothic Line. The following is the "order of battle" of the Italian Co-belligerent Army as of April 1945. [4]

The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces High Command was Marshal Giovanni Messe, while the Chief of Staff of the Army was Lieutenant General Paolo Berardi.

Combat groups

Each infantry regiment fielded three infantry battalions, a mortar company armed with British ML 3 inch mortars and an anti-tank company armed with British QF 6 pounder guns. The artillery regiments consisted of four artillery groups with British QF 25 pounder guns, one anti-tank group with British QF 17 pounder guns and one anti-air group armed with British versions of the Bofors 40mm gun.

Churchill tank of 'C' Squadron, North Irish Horse carrying Italian infantry of 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry (Italian), north of Castel Borsetti, 2 March 1945 The British Army in Italy 1945 NA22739.jpg
Churchill tank of 'C' Squadron, North Irish Horse carrying Italian infantry of 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry (Italian), north of Castel Borsetti, 2 March 1945

Auxiliary divisions

In addition to the Combat Groups the Italian Co-belligerent Army included also a force of 8 Auxiliary Divisions (Divisioni Ausiliarie, largely intended to perform labouring and second lined duties), around 150,000-190,000 men strong, largely employed by the Allies in various support and logistical activities, those auxiliary units were the following:

On the whole the Italian Co-Belligerent Army made up 1/8 of the fighting force and 1/4 of the entire force of 15th Army Group of the Allied Forces. [5]

Internal security divisions

Not directly dependent from the Allied Headquarters in Italy the Co-Belligerent Army also deployed three Internal Security Divisions (Divisioni di Sicurezza Interna) for internal security duties:

Italian Army

In 1946, the Kingdom of Italy became the Italian Republic. In a similar manner, what had been the royalist Co-Belligerent Army simply became the Italian Army (Esercito Italiano).


The Italian Liberation Corps suffered 1,868 killed and 5,187 wounded during the Italian campaign; [6] the Italian Auxiliary Divisions lost 744 men killed, 2,202 wounded and 109 missing. [7] Some sources estimate the overall number of members of the Italian regular forces killed on the Allied side as 5,927. [8]

Famous members

See also

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  1. Holland, Italy's Sorrow, p. 53
  2. 1 2 3 4 Jowett, The Italian Army 1940-43 (3), p. 24
  3. 1 2 3 Mollo, The Armed Forces of World War II, p. 100
  4. "Order of Battle: Italian Co-Belligerent Forces". Military History Network. 11 March 2004. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
  5. Fatutta, Francesco: "L'Esercito nella Guerra di Liberazione (1943-1945)", Rivista Italiana Difesa, n°8 Agosto 2002, pag. 82-94.