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"The Individual Soldier" from Intelligence Bulletin, December 1942

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following article on the Italian soldier in WWII was originally published in the Intelligence Bulletin, December 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



One of the first things to remember about the Italian soldier is that he entered this war without any strong personal conviction that it was necessary. Italy had no Pearl Harbor to unite her people and fill them with a relentless determination to win. A private belief of this kind can go a long way toward helping men to withstand the heavy psychological strain of combat. The American soldier has it; the Italian does not. As a result, a question commonly asked by American troops--"Is the Italian a good or bad fighter?"--cannot be answered in a single word. The Italian knows how to fight well. What offsets this is the fact that his moods are anything but predictable. Sometimes, when a flood of propaganda temporarily convinces him that the battle is above all for the sake of his homeland, and that there is a fair opportunity for success, he fights with great courage, skill, and imagination. On the other hand, military reverses often have a decided effect on his morale, and can change his attitude from one of bright optimism to one of complete pessimism. It should never be said that his reactions will always be thus-and-so; only tendencies can be pointed out. It is certainly true that as the failure of Fascism becomes increasingly clear in spite of the propaganda, and as events indicate the manner in which Italy is being handed over to Hitler, the Italian soldier shows a tendency to put up a halfhearted fight and then surrender.

The Italian soldier has good reason to be dissatisfied. Italy has been in a practically continuous state of war since 1935--a strange circumstance for an unaggressive and naturally happy people who long had been accustomed to a simple, easygoing existence. Moreover, the Italian soldier is an individualist. Even though he may be excitable and quick to show anger--an anger that usually fades rapidly--he is generally a peace-loving man, a little lazy, and not especially qualified for undertakings that require tedious, thorough preparations and great attention to dull detail. The precision of German military science, to which he has had a first-hand introduction under Rommel's command in North Africa, is not up his street; in fact, the whole increase in German domination is a bad dream, steadily growing worse, from which he would like to awaken.

For all of this, there is no typical Italian soldier. Differences of character, customs, and language are explained by the differences between the various Italian provinces. For example, traces of an old German invasion still characterize the blood of some of the people in the northern part of the country, and in the extreme south a wild mingling of Mediterranean stocks has produced a strangely assorted population. A union of all the Italian states did not take place until as late as 1870. The Italians found it hard to live and work as a federated nation. In 1922, when the Fascist dictatorship was born out of poverty and political unrest, Italy lost her constitutional form of government without ever having settled down to make intelligent use of it.

From childhood the Italian soldier has submitted to the leadership of the Fascist Party, which has steeped him in a militant nationalism and has tried hard to make him a skilled fighter. Fascism, like Nazism, calls for unquestioning obedience to "the next man above." Heading the Fascist system is the Leader, Benito Mussolini, whose ambition has been to make Italy the ruler of all lands bordering the Mediterranean and to recapture for her the magnificence and authority of ancient Rome. The prospect of future greatness is dangled endlessly before the Italians. Since nearly everything in the country is state-controlled, an Italian is drenched with Fascist propaganda not only while he works but during his occasional hours of leisure. The Dopolavoro (literally, "after work"), a huge state-managed federation of clubs, sees to it that he does not stray from the Fascist fold at any time. In his radio programs, his movies, his sports, his government-planned holiday trips--everything--emphasis is placed on the glory of the past and the glory of the future. Less is said about the present.

At the age of 6, a boy must join a society known as the "Sons of the Wolf." This can best be described as a Fascist incubator, in which a child is prepared for membership in the Balilla (between the ages of 8 and 13), the Avanguardisti (between the ages of 14 and 17), and the Fascist Youth (between the ages of 18 and 21). Part-time basic and specialist military training is given continuously to all boys from the ages of 8 to 21, when they begin 18 months of compulsory service in the Army. In wartime this service term is of course prolonged indefinitely. While the boy is in the Balilla and the Avanguardisti, his training is directed by the Fascist Youth organization, which indoctrinates him with Party propaganda besides giving him preliminary military instruction. The Fascist Youth organization is taught, in turn, by the Black Shirt Militia under the direct supervision of the Ministry of War, other interested ministries, and the territorial military authorities.

A young man's only alternative to fulfilling the draft service requirement is to enlist for a minimum of 2 years in an armed force of his own choice.1 For example, he may choose the Air Force, the Forestry Militia, the Finance Guards, the Public Security Police, or one of several other organizations.

[Figure 3. (a) Italian field service uniform (standard); (b) Italian field service uniform (tropical).]
Figure 3. (a) Italian field service uniform (standard); (b) Italian field service uniform (tropical).

A soldier's regular draft term is served with a tactical combat unit. Training is given by the professional cadre of the unit to which he is assigned, and to which he reports in April. The preceding class, which has had 1 full year of training, is still with the unit, and helps to absorb the new men into the organization and whip them into shape for the fall maneuvers. In peacetime the older class is then furloughed to the reserve, while the new class starts its winter course of garrison training, largely in specialist subjects.

Now, more than ever, the Italian soldier respects the famed standard of living in America, which has traditionally been his idea of a successful country, and to whose shores so many of his relatives have immigrated. And he marvels at his government's choice of Germany as an ally--for, again traditionally, he has always regarded Germany as a cruel and dishonorable neighbor.

The Italian Army pay scale is amazingly low. An Italian private receives $1.51 a month, and a rank comparable to our private first class, $1.60. Other comparable ranks receive monthly pay as follows: corporal, $1.85 to $2.21; staff sergeant, $18.98 to $25.71; technical sergeant or first sergeant, $25.57 to $29.60; master sergeant, $27.99 to $29.51. A monthly allowance of $12.80 is made for the wife of an enlisted man, to which $4.80 is added for each child. The maximum pay of a second lieutenant, including all possible allowances for quarters, maintenance, and family, is $845 a year. A first lieutenant's maximum pay is $1,027 and a captain's, $1,232.

The recreational facilities provided for a soldier in the field are sketchy. Although sports are encouraged, equipment is likely to be scarce. Occasionally an entertainment truck rolls up, and propaganda movies are shown. This escape from reality is welcome. In the movies, at least, no one is tired or ragged, there is plenty to eat and drink, and if the picture happens to be about the present war, the Italians are winning.


a. Standard Field Service Uniform (see fig. 3a)

All ranks, including officers, wear the same type of field uniform. This consists of a garrison ("overseas") cap,2 a shirt and tie, a coat, knickerbockers, and puttees3--all of gray-green cloth--and black leather shoes. A steel helmet is worn under orders in place of the garrison cap. Formerly, more elaborate field uniforms were worn. Some of these still may be encountered from time to time.

b. Tropical Field Service Uniform (see fig. 3b)

In hot climates officers and men wear a khaki shirt, sometimes substituting a shirt-coat, with a turned-down collar, which can be worn open or buttoned up to the neck; khaki knickerbockers or breeches with puttees, leggings, or stockings—less often, khaki shorts or khaki trousers which fit tightly above the ankles; a steel helmet or a khaki sun helmet; and black leather shoes.

In North Africa a combination of a dark green coat and silver-gray breeches is occasionally seen. The Italian textile situation is so disorganized that departure from regulation dress is widely practiced and permitted in the field.

c. Insignia of Grade (see fig. 4)

(1) Officers.--On the gray-green field uniforms, patches with insignia of rank are worn on the sleeves of officers' coats and overcoats, just above the cuff. On the tropical uniform, a system of stars is worn on the shoulder straps--for example, three stars for a capitano, two for a tenente, one for a sottotenente. The addition of embroidery or braid to the stars denotes higher ranks.

(2) Warrant officers.--Warrant officers wear shoulder straps, as illustrated. Similar designs appear on the garrison cap.

(3) Noncoms.--On all coats and overcoats, noncoms wear chevrons, the wings of which point upward when the chevrons are worn just above the cuff, or point downward when the chevrons are worn on the upper arm.

[Figure 4. Italian insignia.]
Figure 4. Italian insignia.

d. Other Distinguishing Marks

(1) Arms and services.--Unlike the German Army, the Italian Army does not designate each arm and service by means of a single distinctive color. Instead, a wide variety of metal badges of elaborate design are used. These appear on the front of all types of headgear (stenciled in the case of steel helmets). Embroidered gold and black badges with the same designs were worn before the war, and still can be found on the shoulder straps of officers' tropical uniforms. Regimental numbers often appear in the center of this badge. In addition, all infantry regiments of the line wear brightly colored rectangular patches (mostrine) on each side of the coat collar, while other arms and services substitute their own devices (mostreggiature) in widely varying designs and colors. These patches and devices do not appear regularly on the tropical uniform.

(2) Personal papers.--Italian noncoms and privates carry a booklet known as a libretto personale, which lists the holder's age, name, rank, number, and unit (down to company or equivalent level). It also contains many useful particulars about the holder's civil and military history, together with details about the arms, equipment, and clothing on issue to him. It does not serve as a "pay book." One libretto only is issued to cover the whole of a soldier-citizen's military career.

The book carried by officers and warrant officers is almost exclusively a pay book and is renewed each year. Much less information is obtained from it, but age, name, rank, and unit are recorded.

(3) Identification tag.--Italian military personnel wear an identification tag (piastrina di riconoscimento) on a chain around the neck. The tag is made of cheap metal, and records--not always in the following order--the holder's conscript class (that is, year of birth), number, code number of military district, religion, surname, Christian name, father's Christian name, mother's maiden name, mother's Christian name, and home town and province.

A tag can be split lengthwise into two identical plates.

1 All conscripts are enrolled on the draft rolls of the Army, except certain specially qualified men who are placed on the draft rolls of the Navy. Distribution of personnel to the various arms and services is made by the Army on the basis of each individual's qualifications.
2 Alpine troops, Blackshirt militiamen, pack artillery personnel, and customs guards wear a gray-green "Swiss yodeler" hat with a single upright feather; Bersaglieri wear a gray-green oval hat or a steel helmet, both with a dark green plume.
3 Cavalry, tank, motor transport, and some artillery personnel wear black leggings.


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