1. WHAT HE IS LIKE
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
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.
2. HOW TO IDENTIFY HIM
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.|
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
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