The American Italian Military Society portrays and displays a wide variety information on the Italian Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Civilians, etc. The following is not meant to be an all-inclusive listing of the impressions that the Society portrays; nor are they meant to be in-depth histories. These are a snapshot of some of what the Society covers in our presentations and displays. If you have any questions or comments please contact the Webmaster.

Pre-1943 - Italian Royal Military

(Left) An Italian Bersaglieri, ca. 1940-1943 (Collection of the Bundesarchiv)
     The origins of the Italian Royal Military date to the founding of the country in 1861, and the majority of its components would continue as part of the Royal Military until 1946, when the monarchy was replaced by the Italian Republic and the Military was re-designated accordingly. The three main branches of the Royal Military were the:

  • Royal Army (Regio Esercito)
  • Royal Navy (Regia Marina)
  • Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica)
  •      In addition to the standard branches of service (Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry, etc.); these forces contained such specialized units as the Bersaglieri (Riflemen & Sharpshooters), Alpini (Mountain Troops), Arditi (Assualt Troops), Paracadutisti (Paratroops), and others.

         With the surrender of Italy in September 1943, the Royal Military became highly disorganized, with units being dispersed across the globe, some being killed or captured by the Germans & Japanese, some surrendered to the Allies, others were being held as prisoners of war by the allies, while many more faded into the mountains to join partisan bands. It is estimated that during the Second World War around 4-million Italians served in the Italian Army, of which an estimated 500,000 died between June 1940 and May 1945.

    Post 1943 - Allied

    Allied Prisoners of War (POW - Prigioniero di guerra)

         During the course of the Second World War countless men and women found themselves as prisoners of war in enemy hands. These POW's were held by the various nations at camps around the world; and would be used in various capacities. For Italian prisoners of war, a large number would be put to agricultural work, being used as a supplemental labor force for famers and businesses whose regular workers were serving in the military. At the time of Italy's surrender in September 1943 there were over 600,000 Italian prisoners of war were being held by the Allies; of that number 51,500 were held by the Americans, 315,966 by the British and 104,000 by the Russians.

         Despite the surrender, the Italian POW's in Allied hands were not released until after the war; the trouble of sorting out loyal from dis-loyal prisoners was next to impossible, and repatriation in the middle of the war was not feasible either. With the wars end in 1945 most of the prisoners were quickly returned to their homes; the balance of those in American and Russian hands being returned before the middle of 1946. However, in Britain due to the need of an additional labor force following the war, the last Italian POW's would not be repatriated from that country until 1947.

    Italian Service Units (ISU - Unita di servizio italiana)

         Beginning in October 1943 the Military started organizing from the Italian prisoners of war held in the Mediterranean units designated as "Italian Service Units." In March 1944 the U.S. Army officially established these units as a part of the "Army Service Forces" (ASF); per orders they were composed of "Italian personnel assigned to the units will remain prisoners of war but will be released from stockades and placed in the custody of American officers attached to the units." These ISU units would play a useful role in the Allied War effort, performing almost all those duties of regular units, minus combat roles, including ordnance duty in the inspection and packaging of ammunition, engineer duty in the construction of railways, roads, etc., as bakery units providing rations for troops, on postal duty delivering and sorting mail, as laundry units, as attendants in hospitals and medical units, in vehicle maintenance and repair, in battlefield salvage and recovery and in countless other roles. Of their contribution Lieutenant Colonel George G. Lewis, U.S. Army, wrote that: "It is possible that the effective use of PW labor in the Mediterranean Theater hastened the fall of Germany. Without the use of Italian service units, American troops, eventually used in the invasion of France, would have had to be diverted to North Africa and Italy. Without the use of such units, it would have been impossible to sustain both the Italian campaign and the invasion of southern France at the same time. . . And without the use of PW units, rehabilitation of war-torn countries would have been delayed." The exact number of members of the ISU is not known for certain, however, by February 1945 there were reported in the United States and in the European Theater of Operations approximately 69,000 ISU's.

    (Above) Members of the 321st Italian Quartermaster Battalion from Camp Letterkenny, Pennsylvania. (From the Association for the Memory of Italian Prisoners in Letterkenny)

    Italian Liberation Corps (CIL - Corpo Italiano di Liberazione)

         The origins of the Italian Liberation Corps (CIL) date to September 1943 with the organization of the 1st Motorized Combat Group (Primo Raggruppamento Motorizzato) of 6,000-men to fight alongside of the Allied forces in Italy. In 1944 the unit was enlarged and designated as the Italian Liberation Corps (CIL), and by the wars end this force would grow to 260,000 volunteers. These volunteers would fight alongside their allied counter-parts in the actions against the Gothic Line from 1944 to 1945; suffering 5,027 casualties during its service.

    Partisans (Partigiano)
         With the 1943 surrender, Italian citizens and soldiers found themselves caught between the two sides, and countless political parties. Anti-Fascist, and Anti-German, elements soon begin to organize to resist the Axis forces, and soon grew in number as those escaping the forced conscription of the National Republican Army (ENR) sought refuge with partisan bands. These partisan (partigiano) bands varied in size, and beliefs as to what they were against, and the political parties organized groups according to their own doctrines. The Communists formed themselves into Garibaldi Brigades, the Action party organized the Justice & Freedom Brigades (GL - Giustizia e Liberta), the Socialists into Matteotti Brigades, the Republicans into Mazzini Brigades and the Catholics into the Green Flame Brigades (Fiamme Verdi); to these bands were countless other factions and non-party partisan bands. Despite the differences, politically and religiously, all of these bands were unified together under the leadership of the Committee for National Liberation (Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale). Exact numbers are not known; however, it is estimated that over 250,000 Italians served with the various partisan bands at different times.

    (Left) Senor Prigile, a partisan in Florence, 14 August 1944. (Collection of the Imperial War Museum)

    Post 1943 - Axis

    Italian Military Internees (IMI - Internati Militari Italiani)

         Following the September 1943 surrender of the Italian Government to the Allies, over 700,000 Italians soldiers, sailors and citizens were seized by German Units throughout Europe. Refusing to recognize them as Prisoners of War, the Italians were classified as 'Military Internees,' under this classification they were demined the international protection of the Geneva Convention or any assistance from the Red Cross. As such they sent to countless labor and work camps throughout the Third Reich, where they were forced to perform various tasks throughout the remainder of the war. From 1943 to 1945 between 30,000 to 50,000 of them would die in camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, etc.

    Italian Volunteers (Italienisches Freiwillige)

         Following the surrender several Italian fascists volunteered their services with German units to continue fighting, these volunteers were known as Italienisches Freiwillige. They were soon augmented by the addition of those Italian Military Internees who took advantage of a chance to get out of the labor camps; numbers vary, however around 10% of IMI's volunteered for service with German or RSI units. These included volunteers for units such as the 29th Waffen Grenadier Division Der SS, which was first organized in November 1943 as the Legione SS Italiana; and the 716th Infantry Division which later served in the actions of June 1944 during the Normandy landings.

    National Republican Army (ENR - Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano)

         The National Republican Army (ENR - Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano) was organized in October 1943 from those fascist units of the Royal Army still loyal to Mussolini, and were then augmented by pro-fascists volunteers, as part of the new Italian Socialist Republic (RSI - Repubblica Sociale Italiana). By 1945 the RSI was organized into four main divisions, the 1st "Italia" Bersaglieri, the 2nd "Littorio" Infantry, the 3rd "San Marco" Marine and 4th "Monterosa" Alpine Division. It is estimated that 300,000 volunteered for service with the RSI, of which they lost 34,000 killed.

    Italian soldiers being disarmed by the 2nd Fallschirmjager Division, during Operation Achse, in September 1943. (Collection of Bundesarchiv)

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