Some of the divisions
had been active in peacetime, including a number found in
Italy's African possessions and formed of local residents both
settler and native, but most were reserve formations, activated
by inducting reservists.
In addition to the regular Army, a
Fascist militia existed (Milizia Volontaria Sicurezza Nazionale
or Blackshirts) which supplied several full divisions to the
Army and a number of Legions or Cohorts (regiments or
battalions) to regular formations.
The bulk of the Army was
infantry, but it included three armoured divisions (Ariete,
Littorio, Centauro), three Celere or light armoured divisions,
two motorized divisions (Trento and Trieste), two parachute
divisions (Nembo and Folgore) and six alpine divisions.
infantry of the armoured, light, and motorized divisions was
provided by the Bersglieri (light infantry) regiments.
Formations above divisions were corps and army.
A division contained two infantry regiments of three battalions
each, an artillery regiment of nine batteries of four field guns
each, an anti-aircraft and an anti-tank battery and an engineer
company; many divisions also incorporated a Blackshirt legion of
two battalions, a Bersglieri regiment of two battalions and a
small self-propelled artillery regiment. The infantry divisions
had little or no mechanical transport.
Italian equipment was old and poor, and in many cases lacking.
Standard infantry weapons were the Mannlicher 6.5mm rifle,
Hotchkiss 6.5 light machine gun and Schwarzlose 7.92 machine
gun. Italian artillery was mostly of World War I design and the
armoured vehicles were all notoriously under-armoured, under-powered,
and under-gunned. The L/3, a three-ton carrier, served as the 'tank'
in many armoured units until well on in the war. The M/ll, a
true tank, had only a hull-mounted 37mm gun and the M/13, a
useful vehicle with a 47mm turret gun, joined the Army only in
1941 and even then in small numbers.
Some Italian formations were excellent, particularly the alpine
and Bersglieri regiments, but the bulk of the infantry, who
were badly paid, badly fed, and poorly cared for, had no heart in the war,
which they did not see as serving the country's interests. Those
sent to Russia in 1942 were quite un-acclimatized.
Italian High Command (Commando Supremo) contained numbers of
officers whose enthusiasm for Mussolini and Fascism was less
than absolute. The guiding principle of the officer corps was
loyalty to the Royal House of Savoy, which Mussolini had
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