Pizza in the East

Today Martin takes a look at something that some consider as missing from the new Eastern Front compilation; the Italians!

There is no specific Eastern Front book covering them, hence why they aren’t in the compilation which was maybe a missed opportunity.  However, there is some information in the North Africa compilation and the Avanti standalone book on them, as well as some specific Command Cards in the Avanti deck to use for them.

The Italian Army arrived in Russia as part of Operation Barbarossa in late 1941 as part of Mussolini’s support for Hitler. It went through a couple of iterations during its time on the Eastern Front being withdrawn early in 1943. In this time it advanced further than any other Axis army, over 1100 kms (685 miles) into Soviet territory.

It started out as a poorly equipped force of some 62,000 men and some pretty outdated equipment as the Corpo Spedzione Italiane Russia; the Italian Expeditionary Force. This comprised of two regular motorised divisions, a cavalry division (partly mechanised) an artillery regiment and a motorised Legion of the Fascist Black Shirt militia. Plus it was well supported from the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force). Now ‘mechanised’ shouldn’t be confused with the thinking of German motorized forces in FOW; this is basically referring to the fact that they had enough trucks and vehicles to move about with rather than fight.  Not to mention they had 45 or so different makes of truck to maintain.  Hardly ideal!

The Italians were fully mechanised, sort of…

To look at this I am going to stick with what is available in terms of the the existing FOW formations and Command Cards. To start, what you want is the standard Rifle Formation from Avanti.  This will form the basis of your force, either regulars or Black Shirts, and to support this with artillery and aircraft.

To mimic the cavalry component that fought in the CSIR’s most successful action, the Christmas Day Battle (oddly it was actually fought on December 26th), you can take the movement stats from the Motorcyclisti Command Card and use some Romanian Cavalry models to make your platoons horse mounted. The CSIR was also equipped with a small number of CV33 tankettes which were essentially equivalent to British bren gun carriers.

The last cavalry charge

So to represent the CSIR Force I would use these units.  They shouldn’t be elite so I would ignore the ‘8 million bayonets’ rule for this force, if you are wanting to be truly historic.  Note I have not listed out all the generic force type Command Cards like ‘Lucky’ just the dedicated ones to fit the Italians on the Eastern Front. To model the Rifle and Black Shirt Militia use the same force list and apply the ‘Blackshirt’ Command Card. For the cavalry I would use the Motor Cycle Company Command Card to create my Force.

  • Rifle/Blackshirt Formation
    • Rifle HQ
    • 2-3 Rifle Platoons
    • Assault Mortar Platoon
    • 81mm Mortar Platoon
    • Breda MG Platoon
    • 0-2 47mm Anti-tankgun Platoon
  • Rifle/Blackshirt Company Support Units
    • 0-2 100mm Artillery (up to 2 platoons)
    • Autocannone 20mm AA Platoon (use 2 team option)
    • AB41 Armoured Car Platoon (use 3 team option)
    • AB41 OP Observation Post
    • Falco Flight
  • Comand Cards
    • Blackshirts
    • Soft Skin Transports
  • Cavalry Formation
    • Rifle HQ
    • 1 or 2 Rifle Platoon (5 team platoons)
    • 1 Breda MG Platoon 
    • 0-1 47mm Anti-tankgun Platoon
    • 0-1 Autocannone 20mm AA Platoon
    • 0-1 AB41 Armoured Car Platoon
  • Cavalry Support Units
    • 0-2 100mm Artillery
    • AB41 OP Observation Post
    • Falco Flight
  • Comand Cards
    • Motorcycle Company
    • Motorcyclisti

The next Italian troops sent to Russia were the Alpini, elite mounteering troops sent as winter closed in on the ill equipped CSIR.  The Alpini were not only trained for the weather but were equipped properly for the harsh conditions. However, they spent most of their time traipsing across the flat Steppe and were nowhere near the mountains where they could have been more useful. In a series actions these elite troops were repeatedly attacked by Russian offensives and less than 10% of them made it back home to Italy.  It should be noted that on 26 January 1943 Radio Moscow reported the Italian Alpini as the only force to be considered unbeaten on the entire Eastern Front. Again they lacked any real mechanised element beyond transport and whilst they had the best Italian equipment on the Eastern Front they were still outclassed in equipment by the Red Army.

The Alpini in Russia (image from 

The Alpini were organised after a standard Italian Infantry Formation but they are all Elite so they should all be using the better profile scores and any infantry unit gains the Mountaineers Rule, meaning they can scale impassable cliff faces, this makes little difference in point terms so can be safely ignored from that perspective. They should have lighter guns but we don’t have an option for those available so will have to stick with the trusty Skoda 100mm artillery gun and again they had good air support.

The Force list would be the same as the CSIR but without the specific Command Card options and all units are Elite. This force would have been supported by the Wehrmacht so including an German Allied Platoon would be appropriate or have them fight alongside a regular German Formation.

Setting off on the long march

In 1942 Il Duce committed yet more divisions this time of regular army troops backed up with some armour in the shape of the Armato Carro L6/40 light tank, so loved by MW desert players.  However, unlike in the desert, these were used in place of the better, if just as obsolete, M14/40 and were backed up by a few batteries of assault guns. Luckily BF have provided us with a Command Card to represent these L6/40 tanks in Russia. So we have two Formations to choose between for our 1942/43 Force. The Rifle Company and the L6/40 Tank Formation.

The Italian army in Russia now numbered over 270,000 men, it was renamed the Italian 8th Army. For representing the Italian 8th Army in Russia I would use these units and roll the 8 million bayonets die as normal for each unit.

  • Rifle Formation
    • Rifle HQ
    • Rifle Platoon (2 or 3 platoons)
    • Assault Mortar Platoon
    • 81mm Mortar Platoon
    • Breda MG Platoon
    • 47mm Anti-tankgun Platoon (up to 2 platoons)
  • Eatern Front Tank Formation
    • HQ with L6/40 tanks
    • Tank platoon of L6/40 (2 or 3 platoon)
  • Support Units
    • 100mm Artillery (up to 2 platoons)
    • Autocannone 20mm AA Platoon (2 team option)
    • AB41 Armoured Car Platoon
    • AB41 OP Observation Post
    • Falco Flight
    • Semovente Platoon (3 team option)
  • Comand Cards
    • L6/40 Light Tank Company

If you want to know more about the Italians on the Eastern Front  check out this article A Brief History of the Italian 8th Army in Russia on the Battlefront hobby pages by Erik Mozolik.

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