Although the Italians had
dropped supplies and troops to isolated units during the 1917 battle
of Caporetto, the institutionalization of
airborne infantry did not occur until sometime afterwards and mainly
due to Fascist initiatives to showcase these units as a modern means
paratroop units were organized in
Libya in 1938 under the direction of
Italo Balbo and
consisted of two battalions totaling approximately 300 Libyan Ascaris and 50 Italian officers.
1st Rgt. "Fanti dell'Aria" (Air Infantry)
1st Libyian Paratroop Bn. (colonial
2nd Libyian Paratroop Bn.
Libyan battalion was raised in 1940 composed mainly of Italian
colonials and was assimilated with the other two existing units into
the Tonini Modile Group. The Tonini Mobile Group fought at Derna in January 1941 under 10th Army
command and delayed the Australian advance however was eventually
destroyed at Beda Fomm in subsequent fighting.
1st National Paratroop
Bn. Of Libyia (Italians)
Interestingly, Italo Balbo looking
for an opportunity to strike a decisive victory against the British
in 1940 considered organizing two paratroop divisions in a far
reaching attack into Egypt.
schools were formed at Castel Benito in
Libya and in
Italy at Tarquinia and Viterbo
under the direction of the Regia Aeronautica in 1940. Although
training was conducted under the control of the Regia Aeronautica,
the tactical deployment of paratroops rested with the Regio Esercito. Three more battalions of
paratroops were raised in July 1940 including a battalion of
Carabinieri which participated in the Crusader battles of November
1941. This unit covered
the flank of the Ariete armored division, however it was eventually overcome in
mountain fighting at Jebel Akhbar
during the Italo-German retreat at
the end of 1941. In the
fighting at Jebel Akhbar the Carabinieri fought between December
18-20 facing South African armored cars, part of the Central Indian
Horse division and two battalions of the 4th Indian
division and held back the 3/1 Punjabis.
1st Paratroop Bn.
2nd Paratroop Bn.
3rd Carabinieri Paratroop Bn.
other deployments of paratroop units were considered by the Italian
High Command which included air drops on the
Corinth Canal, island drops during the attack on
Greece as well as air drops in A.O.I
Africa). The planned drop in
noteworthy in that SM.82 aircraft would presumably fly non-stop to
the East African destinations. Paratroop drops were successfully
completed during the invasion of
Greece at Zante
and Cefalonia in April 1941 however did
not encounter resistance.
1st Paratroop Division was formed on September 1941 under
the Command of General Enrico Frattini.
The division was composed of two infantry and one artillery
regiment plus the 8th Guastatori (Assault Engineers)
Battalion. The division was named the Folgore (Lightning) on June
1942. The Folgore
trained at Tarquinia and
Apulia for the planned invasion of
Malta (Operation C3 or Herkules, as the Germans referred to it). Upon the cancellation of
operation C3 the division was deployed to North
mid-July 1942 and was formally renamed the 185th Division on
1942. Each regiment had three
battalions and one company of 47/32 antitank guns with an artillery
battalion also equipped with the 47/32 dual purpose gun. The Folgore’s 3rd and 11th
battalions remained in Italy along with the HQ of the
185th infantry regiment that would later form the nucleus
of the Nembo paratroop division. The total number of men of
the Folgore at El Alamein was approximately
1st Paratroop Division
paratroop regiment (5th, 6th, 7th
paratroop regiment (2nd, 4th, 9th,
185th paratroop artillery
8th Guastatori (assault engineers) Paratroop battalion
the Folgore were involved in some initial fighting at Deir el Munassib and
Qaret el Himeimat.
The division was then reorganized in several battle groups
called "raggruppamenti" for the Alam Halfa
battle as follows:
7th, 8th Guastatori Bns.
9th, 10th Bns.
5th, 6th Bns.
PARA. ARTY. BNS.
(2nd disbanded for lack of guns)
battle the Folgore covered the left flank of 90th Light
division, the Ramcke brigade along with
some units of the Brescia division. During Operation
Beresford the Comosso battalions beat off
an attack from New
Zealand infantry on the nights of 3-4
September 1942 and captured Brigadier G.H. Clifton with many
vehicles and weapons.
The Folgore were again attacked on September 30 by the newly
arrived 131st British Infantry brigade supported by tanks
of the Scots Greys and preceded by a heavy
artillery barrage. The
British infantry were repulsed with heavy losses and the Folgore
inflicted 400 casualties on the British while only losing 45
Montgomery launched his main offensive and
the Folgore was again attacked, this time by the 44th
Infantry and the 7th Armored Division. Two Free French battalions
also attacked the Folgore at Naqb Rala on the 24 October and were beaten back by
the Folgore’s 5th Battalion and
were then pursued by the 33rd German Recce who unfortunately attacked both friend and
foe alike. On 25 October the British 4th Armored brigade
and the 69th Infantry brigade struck the Folgore again at
but lost 22 tanks. More
attacks followed however this time with the 50th Infantry
and 7th Armored Division which failed with considerable
losses once again. The
Folgore reported the destruction of 110 British tanks. These defeats
compelled Montgomery to switch his main attack from the
"Southern Soft Spot" to his North flank. These new operations were
called Supercharge and thus ended operations against the Folgore
until a general retreat was called by Rommel on 2 November,
1942. Without transport the
Folgore were doomed and final resistance ended on the 5th
when the Folgore were surrounded. Only few hundred survived to
join the rebuilt 285th Folgore battalion under Cpt. Lombardini which
fought again in Tunisia as an organic unit of the
Trieste motorized division. The few
remaining survivors returned to
Italy to join the 185th
paratroop regiment belonging to the second Italian Paratroop
Division known as the Nembo (Storm Clouds)
As in the case of Folgore, the Nembo was employed primarily as an Infantry
Division. The Nembo fought against the British 8th
Army advancing through Calabria in 1943.
183rd paratroop regiment (10th,
15th, 16th Bns.)
185th paratroop regiment (3rd,
8th, 11th Bns.)
paratroop division was also proposed named the Ciclone (Cyclone) and 4 battalions were formed
in August 1943. The
Italian Navy and Air force also organized some minor units for the
invasion of Malta but were used in air drops in
attack air bases near Benghazi.
interest, in 1942 a paratroop unit was formed composed of former
Indian POWs named the Azad-Hindustani
Bn. of the Frecce Rosse (Red
Arrows) group. The 101st coy, 1st Bn./10th Ariditi (Commandos) and the 1st
Paratroop Unit (Airforce) and a paratroop
battalion of the San Marco Marines was also formed in
airborne unit formed by the RSI was the Italian Paratroop Volunteer
Group which was formed from elements of the ADRA, 10th
Arditi Reg., 17th,
18th and 20th Ciclone Bns., the
12th and 8th Nembo
Bns and one replacement unit of the Nembo then in training at Viterbo. The group was renamed the
Nembo Paratroop Group and was assigned to
the 2nd Fallschirmjager (FJ)
Division. One company
of the 10th Arditi Regiment
joined the 2nd FJ in its recce units and followed the German Division to
Russia and then to
Holland where it fought in Operation
Market Garden. The
Independent Paratroop Bn. Nembo was formed in 1943 from 1,200 paratroopers
training with the 4th FJ Division at Spoleto and fought
tenaciously against the Allies at Anzio losing about 70% of its strength.
Other paratroop units involved in fighting the Allies included the
3rd Azzuro Bn. at Anzio.
not fully utilized in their primary role, Italian paratroop units
represented the best in the Italian Fascist Military effort in
WWII. Italian paratroop
units were generally hand picked, relatively well equipment, well
trained and highly motivated and proved fearsome in battle to such
an extent that Winston Churchill referred to them as the Lions of
the Folgore at El Alamein. Such was their elan.
- Greene, J. and Massignani, A., "Rommel's North African Campaign," Da Capo Press, 1994.
- Lorioli, A., "Paracadutisti," Axis Europa Journal, Volume III, Number III, Issue