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Arditi

Discussion in 'Italy' started by Dan Morton, Jan 31, 2016.

  1. Dan Morton A Fixture

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    Arditi was the name adopted by Royal Italian Army elite storm troops of World War I. The name derives from the Italian verb ardire ("to dare") and translates as "The Daring Ones".
    Reparti d'assalto (Assault Units) were formed in the summer of 1917 by Colonel Bassi, and were assigned the tactical role of shock troops, breaching enemy defenses in order to prepare the way for a broad infantry advance. The Arditi were not units within infantry divisions, but were considered a separate combat arm.
    The Reparti d'assalto were successful in bringing in a degree of movement to what had previously been a war of entrenched positions. Their exploits on the battlefield were exemplary and they gained an illustrious place in Italian military history. They were demobilized by 1920.
    The name Arditi was later used in 1919–20 by the Italian occupiers of Fiume who were led by Gabriele D'Annunzio, most of whom had been members of the Royal Italian Army. Their use of a uniform with black shirts and black fez was later taken up by Benito Mussolini's paramilitary forces, the Blackshirts.
    From 1 October 1975 the flag of X Arditi Regiment (formed in 1942 in imitation of the IX Assault unit of the First World War) was adopted by the 9º Reggimento d'Assalto Paracadutisti Col Moschin (9th Parachute Assault Regiment Col Moschin). To this day operatives of Col Moschin and Italian commando frogmen are known as "Arditi Incursori" and are viewed as the heirs of the Arditi of World War I.
    The name is sometimes misapplied as a general term for Italian special units such as Bersaglieri.

    Early Experiments

    The ardito concept can be traced back to 1914 when every regiment of the Royal Army was ordered to create a group of explorers trained to act behind enemy lines. The first Arditi units were formed and trained in Sdricca di Manzano, Udine, where the event is still celebrated on the last Sunday in July.[1]
    Others argue that the so-called "Companies of death", special patrols of infantry and engineers engaged in cutting or blasting enemy barbed wire, should be considered as precursors of the Arditi. They were easily recognizable by their use of armor and "Farina" helmets.[2] The use of explosives in that role resulted in entirely unnecessary sacrifices of the members of these units.
    The task of Arditi units was not to clear the way for regular infantry to attack enemy lines, but to completely overrun enemy positions. The most daring volunteers were chosen, particularly those who were not bothered by loud incoming artillery fire close by. The men also studied fencing and were masters of hand-to-hand combat. Once ready, they were sent to the front armed with a dagger and hand grenades.[citation needed] Most didn't carry rifles or carbines because they would be cumbersome to fire in the confined spaces of a trench. The Arditi approached enemy trenches while they were being shelled by Italian artillery. Just as the barrage was lifted they would jump inside the trench while the enemy was huddling down, and use their daggers at close quarters to suppress enemy resistance. These primitive tactics were surprisingly effective. Arditi had to hold the positions they conquered for 24 hours and then would be replaced by the regular infantry. Arditi might lose 25% to 30% of their numbers during such an attack. Their motto was "O la vittoria, o tutti accoppati" meaning "We either win, or we all die".[3] The typical unit had 13 officers and 400 soldiers selected on a voluntary basis. One such unit was completely wiped out while attacking Monte Osvaldo in April 1916.
    In 1916 the supreme command decided to award special status to Arditi units but was reluctant to create new units.[4] The Arditi badge, to be carried on the left arm, included the monogram VE (for King Vittorio Emanuele), and was designed exclusively as a symbol of distinction for these soldiers. This was the first official use of the word "Ardito" by the Italian army.
    Establishment and use

    In 1917 as a result of proposals put forward by young officers who were tired of the gruesome bloodshed of trench life, assault units were formed within the 48th Division of the VIII Army Corps, commanded by Captain Giuseppe Bassi. As early as March 1917 the Italian Supreme Command had sent a circular communication giving information about the constitution of Austro-Hungarian special units.[5]
    Following a positive evaluation it was decided to establish the new special units,[6] but disagreements on equipment and training delayed the start of operations until July 29, 1917, when King Vittorio Emanuele officially sanctioned the creation of Arditi units.
    The new assault units were formed and then developed independently with training different from that of ordinary soldiers. The better trained German army was the first to adopt the concept of shock assault troops with the Stormtroopers, but the Italians followed their example. A training school was established, as noted above, at Sdricca di Manzano, Udine. The first units were created in the 2nd Army, and by the time of Caporetto there were 27 units, although only a few actually saw combat. In all, approximately 18,000 men made up the Arditi units. Many of these men saw combat on the river Piave, where the advance of Austro-Hungarian troops was halted. Arditi used to swim across the Piave, clenching a dagger between their teeth and assault the Austrian and German positions on the other bank of the river Piave. These men came to be known as Caimani del Piave (the Caimans of the Piave).[7] Because Austrian uniforms had a stiff collar, the "Caimani" preferred to use a resolza knife, typical of Sardinia (Pattada), as this blade could easily penetrate the collar of the enemy uniform (other arditi formations used a simple dagger). Today, the badge worn by COMSUBIN commandoes shows a caiman clenching a dagger in its jaws. This is an emblem chosen to honor the memory of the Caimani del Piave.
    In June 1918 an entire Division of assault troops with nine units was placed under the command of Major General Ottavio Zoppi, and then was expanded to became an Army Corps with twelve units in two divisions. By the end of the war there were 25 assault units, mostly classified as Bersaglieri.[8]
    The Arditi contributed in a major way to the breakthrough on the Piave that in November 1918 made possible the final victory over Austrian armies.

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