Italian 101 Motorised Division Trieste

Italian 101 Motorised Division Trieste

The Italian 101st "Trieste" Motorized Division was mobilized in 1940 and was held in reserve in Italy until the summer of 1941 with the exception of the artillery regiment that was sent to Albania were it was destroyed.

In August 1941 it was sent to Libya where it became part of XX Motorised Army Corps, together with the "Ariete" Armoured Division. It fought continuously in North Africa until the surrender of Italo-German forces in early 1943.

Order of battle (May 1942)

65th Valtellina Infantry Regiment

66th Valtellina Infantry Regiment

8th Bersaglieri Armored Car Regiment

21st Po Artillery Regiment (mot)

11th Medium Tank Battalion

101st Anti-Tank Battalion

32nd Engineer Battalion (mot)

90th Medical Unit

80th Heavy Motor Transport Unit

176th Supply Unit

22nd Carabinieri Unit


*Lieutenant-General Aldo Aymonio (pre-1933 exact date unknown)
*Lieutenant-General Arnaldo Azzi (pre-1941 exact date unknown)
*Lieutenant-General Emilio Garavelli (1939)
*Major General Vito Ferroni (1940)
*Lieutenant-General Alessandro Piazzoni (1941)
*Major General Francesco La Ferla (1941 to 1942)
*Major-General Francesco Ronco (acting) (1943)

Although the Australian and New Zealand Official Histories of the Second World War reflect very poorly on the Italian units, the "Trieste" Infantry Division played a very important role in the campaign, containing and defeating the Allied counterattacks in the initial fighting at El Alamein. On 14 July and 22 July 1942 the Commonwealth forces attacked Ruweisat Ridge. The position was in the main part held by Colonel Gherardo Vaiarini's 65th Regiment and Colonel Umberto Zanetti's 66th Regiment both from the "Trieste" Motorised Infantry Division and the 9th Bersaglieri Regiment. The battles which erupted between 14 and 22 July exploded British propagandist claims that the attack in the Italian sector would lead to a speedy collapse of the Axis forces. Instead of Italian troops being taken prisoners, they encountered fierce resistance in the strongpoint such on 17 July. The Italian High Command reported on this day stiff resistance in the battlefield and the loss of Australian soldiers and equipment:

"On the Egyptian front a strong infantry and motorized attack launched against the sector of the Italian Trento and Trieste divisions has been repulsed. The enemy left in Italian hands about 100 prisoners most of whom were Australian." []

In the second battle the Italian 101st "Trieste" Motorized Infantry Division held off an attack by 23rd Armoured Brigade giving Rommel time to concentrate and counterattack with German tanks. The inexperienced British tankers came under furious anti-tank fire and turning to avoid it, found themselves in a minefield. 5th Panzer Regiment launched what one observer described "a real balaclava charge" and destroyed more than forty British tanks. The rest of the 21st Panzer then destroyed what was left of the brigade. The determination of the "Trieste" infantry and the resulting failure of British armour to reach their infantry in time led to the loss of 700 men. More than 2,300 New Zealanders were killed, wounded, or forced to surrender to the Italians in the two battles.

Italian press reports cited claims by soldiers of the Trieste and Brescia infantry that some 800 soldiers were taken prisoners in the fighting:

Yesterday stubborn fighting took place in the zone of El Alameet. The fighting which assumed particular tenacity has ended in favor of the Axis. The enemy has been everywhere repelled with counter-attacks and has sustained grave losses in menand materiel. Eight hundred prisoners mainly New Zealanders and Indians have fallen into our hands and 130 tanks were destroyedon the field. During that action the German Africa Corps and the Italian Brescia and Trieste divisions particularlydistinguished themselves. []

It was during these battles that Vaiarini and Zanetti were mortally wounded and, for their gallant actions decorated posthumously. (Paolo Caccia-Dominioni, Alamein 1933-1962: An Italian Story, Allen & Unwin, page 83, 1966).

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