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Thread: ITALY - Page 4

Post#76 at 08-18-2008 01:13 PM by pbrower2a [at "Michigrim" joined May 2005 #posts 15,014]
08-18-2008, 01:13 PM #76
Join Date
May 2005

Quote Originally Posted by The Grey Badger View Post
JoatSimeon on the Stirling lists posted -

"- there's nothing wrong with Italians as such; there were always individuals and some elite units or ones with particularly good officers which did well.

They showed to particular advantage in situations which called for bravura feats of individual daring -- the human-torpedo attacks on the British fleet in Alexandria during WWII, for example. For that matter, an Italian taken prisoner by the jihadis in Iraq a while ago died sneering at his captors and saying: "I will show you how an Italian dies!"
Some situations make courage the only possible response -- such as the prospect of cold-blooded murder. Courage is typically an individual response, and when it is collective, it is usually on behalf of a unit. Effective armies always create cohesion within the unit.

The problem was with the institutional culture of the post-unification Italian military, starting with the inclination of the Piedmontese-dominated officer corps to regard anyone from the rest of Italy, and particularly the south, as backward and inferior "African" types who could only be kept from running away and slacking by firing squads and savage punishments.
Italy looks like a cultural monolith because of a shared language and the illusion that Italy is the successor of the Roman Empire famous for its military prowess. It isn't. Piedmont embarked on the Industrial Revolution not much later than Britain, Holland, and the Rhineland. Central Italy was a bit slower -- but it at least had cultural figures (Dante, Petrarch, Leonardo) that the Piedmontese thought might as well be theirs -- people who defined what it meant to be Italian as opposed to be German, French, or British. Southern Italy was a very backward area, a veritable colony long underdeveloped on behalf of large landowners.

Naturally, the recruits tended to reciprocate. "Run, my son! Run, the fatherland is coming!" as one Sicilian mother said to her child around 1900, when the military came around to round up the conscripts.
Many of those who took that advice ended up on steamships for the New World -- New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro... that was one way to avoid the "Fatherland".

My father -- who was a professional officer from 1939-1964 -- liked to say: "There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers."
Which explains why good armies go to great efforts to find good material for the officer corps. The military academies are selective universities offering excellent education. ROTC scholarship programs are quite generous. I figure that the Italian Army recruited its officers as strictly as possible from the young nobility and doing little to inculcate respect for the troops. That has probably changed dramatically since 1944/1945. You can contrast the armies of such a country as Greece -- generally less-developed than Italy in 1940, but the Greek Army fought well -- damn well. So well that it threatened to drive Italy out of Albania and necessitated a German rescue. (The Germans defeated the Greeks by far greater numbers and better equipment, which also explains their success in Poland).

And the problems went on from there; there was hardly a possible problem which the Italian army of the time didn't have, from inadequate funding to bad staff work, and none of them improved from the disasters of Adowa to the disasters of Caporetto and on to the disasters of Libya.

As a result the Italian armed forces as a whole had a sorry record of brutal indifference by the high command to the welfare of the troops, impassible social gulfs between officers and men, sloth, indifference and incompetence at all levels, lousy motivation, and really, really bad performance.
Numbers alone do not make an effective army.

Add in that in WWII virtually nobody in Italy but Mussolini wanted to be in the war or thought it would turn out well, and the Italian lack of the civic culture of obedience so characteristic of Germans. Even Mussolini didn't really intend to fight; he just wanted to pick up juicy bits of loot falling from Hitler's table, after the Germans had knocked the stuffing out of the French and British.
Note well that except on the Russian Front the Italians faced comparatively humane enemies (France, Britain, Greece, the USA, Canada) and knew that if they put up a token fight and got overwhelmed that they would be treated humanely as POWs. The foot soldier knew that as a POW he would likely be treated better by Allied officers than by Italian officers. There were of course elite Italian units -- fascist units -- who were fighting to restore the glory of Imperial Rome. That also ignores the astounding courage of Italian partisans who displayed consummate courage while facing an enemy (Nazi Germany) that offered no quarter and the Garibaldi Division.

Germans tended to fight well even when they thought the war was lost and Hitler a lunatic leading the country to destruction, and the German military was always technically very competent, with good man-management and an institutional culture which produced consistently excellent results.

(As the saying goes, Germans are superb at doing things and execrably bad at deciding what's worth doing in the first place.)
The Germans won smashing victories because they were better organized than their intended victims even if they had somewhat smaller forces. They crushed Poland because the country was geographically under siege; they took over a defenseless Denmark in a couple of days; they were able to conquer Norway because they were first to the critical areas with troops against a country that lacked the military forces with which to defend themselves; they conquered the Low Countries and France because of disjointed commands of the countries involved. They conquered Yugoslavia because the country was already under siege, surrounded on all but one side by enemies or German-occupied territory; they conquered Greece due to numerical superiority and surprise.

What isn't so well understood about the German armed forces is that they did not fight so effectively in France in 1944. German troops put up some tough resistance in Normandy, only to be hit from the rear (George S. Patton) in a military stroke about as deadly as Operation Uranus (the Soviet thrusts that cut off Stalingrad). From then on the Germans had military successes, abortive as they were, with elite troops making counterattacks as at Arnhem and the Battle of the Bulge. In Italy, the war was one of bloody defensives that invariably resulted in calamity for the Germans. Under withering fire and with the perception that being a POW was safer than being a soldier in battle, the regular German soldier often showed his rationality, surrendering to the US, British, Canadian, Free French, and even to Italian or Yugoslav partisans. Such was very different on the Russian Front, where regular German soldiers might have to account for the crimes of their top leadership. The Germans fought hard for Berlin as they didn't for Munich or Hamburg.

In essence, Italians were too civilized and rational(*) to fight well in wars they didn't much care about or actively opposed, and the structure of the Italian military and the way it treated them gave them absolutely no reason to reconsider once they'd been conscripted.
The Italians were at war, almost as a rule, with enemies less brutal with captives than the Soviet Army: Greece, Britain, the Free French, the US, or even Tito's Partisans -- until Italy changed sides. Then Italian partisans and Royal soldiers -- you can imagine how the Americans and British transformed the Italian units to fit British and American norms of conduct -- had every incentive to fight bravely against the cruelest overlords that Italians have ever known.

A commonplace propaganda poster made by the Allies offered the rhetorical question:

Why die for Hitler?

Given a cause they valued and officers who didn't have their heads rammed so far up their fundaments that they were at close quarters with their molars they'd do fine.
As shown from 1943-1945! But even at that, southern Italy was a battlefield somewhat analogous to eastern Tennessee in 1864 or Spain in 1812 for Britain: horrible terrain for military maneuvers, but with a populace friendly to invaders. It probably helped that southern Italy had sent hundreds of thousands of emigrants to the US. Mussolini had badly misjudged the descendants of Italians in America, expecting them to be a fifth column willing to serve Fascism -- and found to his amazement that southern Italy was riddled with people who had more cause to respect FDR than Mussolini.

Italian weapons tended to be crummy, but no more so than those of -- for example -- the Japanese Army. The difference was that the Japanese used theirs with fanatical dedication.
Fanatical dedication because the Japanese understood what would happen if they were caught, in view of atrocities throughout their zones of conquest. The Italian armed forces fought honorably on all fronts, almost never committing atrocities. Notice how leniently Italy was treated after World War -- much like Finland. That said, no army is ever fully satisfied with the weapons that it has.

Doesn't this sound as if southern Italy were on a different timeline?
Possibly -- to the extent that the South and the North in the US had different experiences in the Civil War -- different levels of development and different cultures despite sharing the same language.
The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" (or) even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered... in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by (those) who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern."

― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Post#77 at 12-10-2012 12:47 PM by TimWalker [at joined May 2007 #posts 6,368]
12-10-2012, 12:47 PM #77
Join Date
May 2007

H2 Megadisasters Consider vulcanology in Italy. According to the show, Vesuvius has a pattern of minor erruptions over the centuries, with major eruptions every few thousand years. The last major eruption was 79 AD, when Pompeii was entombed. There was a major eruption during the bronze age. A minor eruption occurred during WWII, when Allied troops helped with a small scale evacuation. If there should be a major eruption in the near future, Naples will be a sitting duck.
Last edited by TimWalker; 12-10-2012 at 01:00 PM.

Post#78 at 04-20-2013 11:48 PM by Chas'88 [at In between Pennsylvania & Pennsyltucky joined Nov 2008 #posts 9,432]
04-20-2013, 11:48 PM #78
Join Date
Nov 2008
In between Pennsylvania & Pennsyltucky

Like the deal that gave us John Q. Adams, Italy now has Napolitano again... after a few months of functioning without a government.

"There have always been people who say: "The war will be over someday." I say there's no guarantee the war will ever be over. Naturally a brief intermission is conceivable. Maybe the war needs a breather, a war can even break its neck, so to speak. But the kings and emperors, not to mention the pope, will always come to its help in adversity. ON the whole, I'd say this war has very little to worry about, it'll live to a ripe old age."