Home » Camicie Nere: Blackshirts MVSN & CCNN

Camicie Nere: Blackshirts MVSN & CCNN

by Jim H

The MVSN (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale) started out as an organization not unlike the German S.A. (Brown Shirts). They were purely a Party orientated organization, and like their German Counterparts wore a distinctive uniform – a black shirt and a Fez. This led to their popular nickname of Blackshirts (Camicie Nere – Camicie = Shirt & Nere = Black). Later the term CCNN was adopted for Blackshirt military units and is taken directly from the initials of Camicie Nere. MVSN and CCNN are generally interchangeable, however the former primarily refers to political orientated parts of the Blackshirts, while the latter is generally used in reference to combat units.

Mussolini surrounded by Blackshirts on the March to Rome in 1922.

Mussolini in the company of Blackshirts on the March to Rome in 1922.

At least one author (Victor Madeja) has suggested that the Blackshirts may well have been the Red Shirts, adopting the traditional colors of Garibaldi’s famous units from the Italian Wars of Unification, had not red been synonymous with Communism and Marxism. However, it would seem more likely that Black was adopted as it had been the uniform of the Arditi (Shock Troops); who had represented the Elite of the Italian Army in World War I. The Arditi were the Italian equivalent of the German Stosstuppen (Storm Troops), and in both countries, fascist groups adopted these troops uniforms as a means to attract Great War veterans to their ranks, and to generally emphasize their links with Veterans Organizations. This was all part of their political aims/plans to recruit public support. (The politics, however, are not the point of this article and I do not intend to discuss them at any length).

It is possible that many served in the Blackshirt Militia Units for a chance of immortality (or Glory – such as Garibaldi’s Red Shirts achieved), or in support of Republican political views (which didn’t necessarily mean long-term support for the fascists). Either way there was plenty of loyalty towards fascism and the fascist party in the Blackshirts, but certainly none towards the King and the Monarchy.

Benito Mussolini was a sort of de facto Commander in Chief, although only an Honorary Corporal, and just one of the boys, it was he who exercised real power over the organization, rather than the Console Generale. However, unlike their German counterparts (who were literally exterminated in the Night of the Long Knives), the Blackshirts were reasonably secure and stable. Both Mussolini and the Fascist Grand Council required the Blackshirts for muscle since the armed forces were controlled by Monarchists (who saw Mussolini as a threat to their own power) and there was possibly concern (or paranoia) about how much support the Fascists really had. It has been suggested that a sizable portion of the population may have sided with the Monarchists (and the King) if forced to choose, however, support for Mussolini and the Fascists (and also for Hitler and the Nazis in Germany) was probably a lot more widespread in their respective countries than people concede today!

Technically the Blackshirts consisted of volunteers who had completed their 18 months compulsory service. Volunteering meant a term of service of 10 years, albeit very part-time service! Volunteering was usually seen as mandatory (like all totalitarian regimes of the early 20th Century, enlisting in some form of party organization was actively encouraged, but was not usually compulsory unless a Public Official such as School Teacher or Government Officer). It certainly was not enforced, and many avoided enlistment. The MVSN were very short of Officer and NCO material for cadres and this too contributed to the sometimes-low level of enlistment.

As I mentioned I do not intend to discuss the political side of Italian Fascism here, but would mention that it did not seem to include the Genocide and level of Racism promoted by Hitler and the National Socialists in Germany. Furthermore, although the Italians did not have an equivalent of the S.S. (An army of fanatics with allegiance sworn to one man); and although admittedly there were some similar comparisons between the MVSN and the S.S. at the start of the war (both were Para-military organizations not very well equipped for genuine military service); the MVSN was not involved in mass Genocide like the S.S. nor did they (later in the war) become an elite private army who got the best of everything.

Finally, the Blackshirt Officers were often appointed for political zeal, and loyalty (not necessarily to the Fascist Grand Council, but to the Ras – The local Party Organization Chief). The Italians took a very individualistic approach to many things, including politics; so, the Fascist Grand Council often had little input, everything being controlled by the Duce and the Party Secretary (who essentially rubber stamped everything the Duce did). While the Ras in each area did as they pleased since they believed they were directly subordinate to the Duce (including building Militia that was, hopefully, loyal to them personally)! Ultimately this meant the Militias were not always as well led as they could have been, and they suffered correspondingly.

CCNN – Camicie Nere (Blackshirt Combat Units)

In October 1939 Mussolini announced his plan to create 142 Battalions for combat service, forming them into Combat Legions (each of two CCNN Battalions). The Legions would be incorporated into existing Army formations (principally Infantry Divisions). The basic organization of a Blackshirt Legion was:

CCNN Legion Headquarters Company
Legion HQ Platoon (102 men)
CCNN Legion MG Company
Company HQ Platoon (101 men)
3 MG Platoons (each 37 men & 4 HMG)
2 CCNN Battalions, each:
Battalion HQ Platoon (65 men)
Battalion Recon/Scout Platoon (41 men)
3 Rifle Companies, each:
Company HQ Platoon (63 men & 3 45 mm Mortars)
2 Rifle Platoons (each 37 men & 4 LMG)

The following transport was also allocated:
CCNN Legion HQ: 2 Bicycles, 2 Motorcycles, 1 Car, 1 Truck, ? Carts, 9 Animals.
CCNN MG Company: 4 Carts, 41 Animals.
2 CCNN Battalion HQ: each 5 Bicycles, 2 Trucks, 5 Carts, and 16 Animals.
2 CCNN Recon/Scout Platoons: none.
6 CCNN Rifle Companies: each 1 Bicycle, 20 Animals.

Note that in some cases the Battalions had 3 Platoons per Company with only 3 LMG each.

Blackshirt Legions were identified by number, while Battalions were identified by number and name (the name would be the region the unit came from, or a famous Italian Fascist Hero – including current members of the Fascist Grand Council). In the A.O.I. (Africa Orientale Italiana – Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea) during the invasion of Ethiopia, 7 CCNN Divisions were formed with the hope of establishing a reputation and an Espirit du Corps. Many of these troops subsequently served in the Spanish Civil War (on the Nationalist Side), where casualties were very heavy.

CCNN Divisions that served in Ethiopia (A.O.I.) and Spain

1st 23rd March CCNN Division
2nd 28th October CCNN Division
3rd 21st April CCNN Division
4th 3rd January CCNN Division
5th 1st February CCNN Division
6th Tevere CCNN Division
7th Cirene CCNN Division

These troops provided an experienced Cadre for the new (1940) divisions to be built around, however, due to the losses in Spain only sufficient cadre could be provided for 3½ Divisions (which were duly formed in Libya). This Cadre, however, did go some way towards compensating for the lack of equipment and training in these divisions, but even so, the poor equipment and weapons establishment ensured they would struggle in a modern war.

At this time, Mussolini also envisaged the CCNN Legions as being the Arditi (Shock Troops or Elite) of the Army, despite their lack of heavy weapons, and the need for more extensive training.

CCNN Units in North Africa

In North Africa, in 1940 the CCNN Divisions quickly showed the results of their poor organization and equipment. Although supplied with a cadre of combat experienced troops, and individually brave, they suffered from the lack of heavy weapons and poor command and tactics. The result of this was to cast doubt on them as viable combat troops and provide ammunition for the Monarchists in the army who opposed the use of the MVSN as combat troops.
The CCNN Divisions were loosely modeled on conventional Italian Infantry Divisions; hence, the organization of the Legions differed from that given above and actually mirrored Infantry Regiment organization. The individual CCNN Battalions, however, were organized the same as above, rather than as conventional Infantry Battalions.

1st 23rd March CCNN Division
Division HQ
219th CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
Legion Mortar Coy (6 x 81 mm Mortars)
Legion Gun Battery (4 x 65/17 Inf Guns)
114th G. Veroli CCNN Battalion
118th Volsca CCNN Battalion
119th N. Ricciotti CCNN Battalion
233rd CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
Legion Mortar Coy (6 x 81 mm Mortars)
Legion Gun Battery (4 x 65/17 Inf Guns)
129th Adriatica CCNN Battalion
133rd Lupi di Matese CCNN Battalion
148th Tavogliere CCNN Battalion
201st MG Battalion
Battalion HQ
3 MG Companies (each HQ & 4 Platoons – 16 HMG)
1st CCNN Anti-Tank Company
Company HQ
4 Gun Platoons (each 2 x 47/32 ATk Guns)
201st (Army) Artillery Regiment
Regiment HQ
1 Gruppo 12 x 100/17 Howitzers
2 Gruppo 12 x 75/27 Guns
2 Batteries 8 x 20mm AA
201st Mixed Engineer Battalion
Battalion HQ
Engineer Company
Signals Company
XLI Light Tank Battalion
Battalion HQ (4 L3/35 and L3 Carro Commando)
3 Tank Companies (each 15 L3/35 & 1 Carro Commando)

Arrived at Taguria, Libya in mid-1940. Invaded Egypt as part of 10th Army in September 1940. Retreated to Libya in December 1940 and was destroyed at Bardia in January 1941.

2nd 28th October CCNN Division
Division HQ
231st CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
Legion Mortar Coy (6 x 81 mm Mortars)
131st M.S. Marrone & G. Paolini CCNN Battalion
132nd Monte Vekino CCNN Battalion
135th Gran Sasso CCNN Battalion
238th CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
Legion Mortar Coy (6 x 81 mm Mortars)
138th R. Padovani CCNN Battalion
140th Aquilia CCNN Battalion
145th Pisacane CCNN Battalion
202nd MG Battalion
Battalion HQ
3 MG Companies (each HQ & 4 Platoons – 16 HMG)
2nd CCNN Anti-Tank Company
Company HQ
4 Gun Platoons (each 2 x 47/32 ATK Guns)
202nd (Army) Artillery Regiment
Regiment HQ
1 Gruppo 12 x 100/17 Howitzers
2 Batteries 8 x 20mm AA
202nd Mixed Engineer Battalion
Battalion HQ

Arrived at Garien, Libya in mid-1940. Invaded Egypt as part of the 10th Army in September 1940. Elements of the Division were detached out to the Libyan units, including both Legion Gun Batteries (each 4 x 65/17), 2 Gruppos of Artillery Regiment (each 12 x 75/27), and the Engineer Company from 202nd Engineer Battalion. Division retreated to Libya in December 1940 and was destroyed between Sollum and Halfaya and at Bardia in January 1941.

3rd 21st April CCNN Division
Division HQ
181st CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
71st Manfreda CCNN Battalion
81st A. di Barbiano CCNN Battalion
102nd Cacciatori di Tevere CCNN Battalion
203rd CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
103rd Clitunno CCNN Battalion
110th Picena CCNN Battalion
143rd Clino Ricci CCNN Battalion
203rd (Army) Artillery Regiment
Regiment HQ
1 Gruppo 12 x 100/17 Howitzers
2 Gruppo 12 x 75/27 Guns
2 Battery 8 x 20 mm AA

This Division was well below establishment and lacking many heavy weapons. It is sometimes described as equivalent in strength to a single Regiment (Legion) from another Division! In some accounts, it is not even mentioned. It arrived in Taguria, Libya in 1939. It invaded Egypt as part of the 10th Army in September 1940. Retreated to Libya in December 1940 and was overrun and destroyed during the retreat.

4th 3rd January CCNN Division
Division HQ
250th CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
Legion Mortar Coy (6 x 81 mm Mortars)
Legion Gun Battery (4 x 65/17 Inf Guns)
150th G. Carli CCNN Battalion
154th D. Mastronuzzi CCNN Battalion
156th Lucania CCNN Battalion
270th CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
Legion Mortar Coy (6 x 81 mm Mortars)
Legion Gun Battery (4 x 65/17 Inf Guns)
170th Agrigentum CCNN Battalion
172nd Enna CCNN Battalion
174th Segesta CCNN Battalion
204th MG Battalion
Battalion HQ
3 MG Companies (each HQ & 4 Platoons – 16 HMG)
4th CCNN Anti-Tank Company
Company HQ
4 Gun Platoons (each 2 x 47/32 ATk Guns)
204th (Army) Artillery Regiment
Regiment HQ
1 Gruppo 12 x 105/28 Howitzers
2 Gruppo 12 x 75/27 Guns
? Anti-Aircraft Battalion (12 x Motorized 75 mm)
? Artillery Battalion (12 x 105/28 Howitzers)
204th Mixed Engineer Battalion
Battalion HQ
Engineer Company
Company Company

The division arrived at Taguria, Libya in October 1939. Invaded Egypt as part of the 10th Army in September 1940. Covered the retreat of remnants of 10th Army back to Libya in December 1940 and was destroyed at Sidi Barrani while doing so!

CCNN units would not return to North Africa until 1943, when the 10th Voghera M Battalion would be transferred from Albania to Tunisia, and attached to first the 136th Giovani Fascisti, and then later the 16th Pistoia Division.

Members of a CCNN M Battalion.

Members of a CCNN M Battalion.

CCNN Units in the AOI

Meanwhile, CCNN units were also operational in the A.O.I. (Africa Orientale Italiana – Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea). In the theater Divisions did not operate as such, instead, they served only as administrative organizations. The Brigade (or Regiment/Legion) was the operational unit in the A.O.I., the bulk of the troops being Colonial units of Ethiopians, Somalis, and Eritreans. However several units of the metropolitan (European) and Colonial (Settlers) Italian troops fought in this theater (In the case of the CCNN the latter are marked with the d’Africa notation).

CCNN d’Africa Division
As previously mentioned a holding and Administrative unit – It’s component units operated independently.

Cacciatori d’Africa Division
Again this unit did not operate as a fully integrated Division. It was a regular army formation. Blackshirt formations attached to it:

10th CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
3rd CCNN Battalion
15th CCNN Battalion

This Division’s name was later resurrected for a short period in 1942 as the cover name for the Folgore Parachute Division during its deployment to North Africa.

65th Savoy Grenadier Division
Again a regular army formation with the following Blackshirt attachments:

11th CCNN Battalion

Various Independent Units
The following is a list of units that operated independently in the AOI (including units nominally under the command of the CCNN d’Africa Division):

11th CCNN Legion:
Legion HQ
1st CCNN d’Africa Battalion
2nd CCNN d’Africa Battalion
3rd CCNN d’Africa Battalion

44th CCNN d’Africa Battalion

150th CCNN d’Africa Battalion

170th CCNN d’Africa Battalion

CCNN units in Greece and Yugoslavia

CCNN Galbiati Raggruppamento
Raggruppamento HQ
8th Cacciatori delle Alpi CCNN Battalion
12th Monte Bianco CCNN Battalion
16th Alpina CCNN Battalion
29th Chinotti CCNN Battalion

This formation served in the Greek campaign and was disbanded at its conclusion.

CCNN Diamanti Raggruppamento
Raggruppamento HQ
28th Randaccio CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
79th CCNN MG Company
11th Monteferato CCNN Battalion
28th Randaccio CCNN Battalion
108th Stamira CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
108th CCNN MG Company
102nd Cacciatori di Tevere CCNN Battalion
108th Stamura CCNN Battalion
115th Cimino CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
121st CCNN MG Company
115th Del Cimino CCNN Battalion
121st Coriolano CCNN Battalion
136th TreMonti CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
130th CCNN MG Company
130th L‘Acquila (or Monte Sirente) CCNN Battalion
136th TreMonti CCNN Battalion
152nd Acciaiata CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
152nd CCNN MG Company
152nd Acciasta CCNN Battalion
155th Val Bradano CCNN Battalion

This formation was assigned to the XVII Corps and operated in Yugoslavia. It was disbanded at the conclusion of the Greek & Yugoslavian Campaigns.

Zara Garrison
107th F. Rismondo CCNN Company

CCNN Biscaccianti Raggruppamento
Raggruppamento HQ
180th Alessandro Farnese CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
80th CCNN MG Company
26th Alberto da Guissano CCNN Battalion
67th Volontari del Reno CCNN Battalion
109th Corridoni CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
109th CCNN MG Company
109th Fillipo Corridoni CCNN Battalion
116th Sabina CCNN Battalion
93rd Giglio Rosso CCNN Battalion

This unit served in Yugoslavia in the Librazhd sector.

Later both The 10th Voghera and 29th Arona Battalions would serve in this theater on anti-partisan duties. They would later be joined by the Raggruppamento 21 Aprile CCNN.

CCNN 180th Legion Farnese blackshirts

CCNN 180th Legion Alessandro Farnese

CCNN Units that operated actively in various theatres 1940-43

The following is a brief list of CCNN units that saw active service and are not covered elsewhere in this article. It is not exhaustive.

5th CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
5th Valle Scriva CCNN Battalion
34th Premadura CCNN Battalion

15th CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
14th Garibaldina CCNN Battalion
15th Leonessa CCNN Battalion

30th CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
6th Lomellina CCNN Battalion
30th Roberto Forni CCNN Battalion

63rd CCNN Legion
Legion HQ
63rd Tagliamento CCNN Battalion
79th Cispadana CCNN Battalion

1st CCNN Marine Gruppo
Gruppo HQ
42nd Berica CCNN Marine Battalion
43rd Alpina Piave CCNN Marine Battalion
50th Trevignana CCNN Battalion
60th Istria CCNN Marine Battalion

Miscellaneous Independent Battalions

38th V. Alfieri CCNN Battalion

41st Cesare Battisti CCNN Alpini Battalion

85th Apuana CCNN Battalion

CCNN integration with regular army units

In Italy Blackshirt Territorial Defence (Home Guard) Battalions were also organized, and grouped into Zone Commands. Each of these corresponded to the area controlled by an Army Corps. Before mobilizing, these units were identified by number (Roman Numeral) and were referred to as Cohorts, their subunits being Centuries (Companies) and Maniples (Platoons). These units would be mobilized as required to form Combat legions.

Meanwhile, in April 1940, Mussolini discovered that the Army had been resisting the integration of the Blackshirts into their divisions. The Duce responded with a new program to force the execution of his policy! Meanwhile, in North Africa, the CCNN divisions had performed poorly, principally for the reasons mentioned previously (poor equipment and senior command), and this appears to have been used as an excuse by the Monarchists in the army to further resist Mussolini’s instructions. In the A.O.I. however the CCNN units performed quite adequately, probably due to the lack of mechanization on both sides (it was a cross between modern warfare and the old colonial era), which proved that the basic quality of the troops was probably acceptable – providing they had reasonable equipment and leadership that was comparable to that of their opponents.

The following is a list of some of the regular army divisions that incorporated Blackshirt units (including many who still had Legions present at the time of the armistice in September 1943):

  • 14th Isonzo Infantry Division (98th CCNN Legion)
  • 20th Fruili Infantry Division (88th CCNN Legion – later renamed 387th Infantry Regiment when the Division served on the Allied side after the armistice in 1943)
  • 21st Sardinian Grenadier Infantry Division (55th CCNN Legion)
  • 22nd Cacciatori delle Alpi Infantry Division (105th CCNN Legion)
  • 26th Assietta Infantry Division (17th CCNN Legion)
  • 28th Aosta Infantry Division (171st CCNN Legion)
  • 31st Calabria Infantry Division (177th CCNN Legion – later renamed 359th Infantry Regiment when the Division served on the Allied side after the armistice in 1943)
  • 44th Cremona Infantry Division (90th CCNN Legion – later renamed 321st Infantry Regiment when the Division served on the Allied side after the armistice in 1943)
  • 47th Bari Infantry Division (152nd CCNN Legion – later renamed 340th Infantry Regiment when the Division served on the Allied side after the armistice in 1943)

Additionally, single Blackshirt Battalions were motorized and incorporated into Motorized Bersaglieri and Infantry Regiments (these formations usually had 2 Rifle and 1 Support Battalion, so the CCNN Battalion increased their infantry strength quite significantly). The organization of these units varied slightly from the normal:

CCNN Motorized Battalion:
Battalion HQ Platoon (Cars/Light Trucks)
Battalion Recon/Scout Platoon (Motorcycles)
3 Rifle Companies, each:

Company HQ Platoon (Trucks)
2 Rifle Platoons (Trucks)

The exact manpower of these battalions varied – from 570 in a battalion attached to a Motorized Infantry Regiment, to 614 in a battalion attached to a Motorized or Bicycle Bersaglieri Regiment. Note the Rifle Companies in some cases had 3 Platoons.

The “Third” Infantry Regiment idea

Experience in the Greek Campaign in 1940 quickly showed the weakness of the Italian formations, exposing the error of adopting a Binary organization. Italy had, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, reorganized its Infantry Divisions to a new establishment of only 2 Regiments each (hence the Binary term). Effectively this allowed them to significantly increase the number of Divisions, but (in retrospect) at a cost in fighting power – it was clearly proved that Infantry Divisions of only 6 Battalions simply did not have enough resources, either on offense or defense. This became evident in Greece where as soon as a Division was heavily involved and had significant casualties it was forced to pull out of the line due to lack of manpower, it was further evident in 1941 in North Africa where during the 2nd Siege of Tobruk (1941) there were not enough troops to rotate units in and out of the front line.

This therefore indirectly supported Mussolini’s call, and it began to be envisaged that the Blackshirt Legions would become the third Regiment of each Division. At this time, Mussolini still envisaged the CCNN Legions as Elite Shock troops who would spearhead the attack. The third regiment idea eventually failed, it was 1942 before the incorporation was completed, and the mobilization effort was inadequate. Blackshirt units generally failed to reach anywhere near their official establishments (not that many regular army units were any better), and although the Army eventually conceded (admitting it had no choice due to a desperate need for manpower) it was still obstinate and unenthusiastic about the system. Furthermore, the separate division idea had been somewhat discredited by the results in North Africa – which was an unfair indictment of the troops that had fought in those divisions. Although in that case, everyone ignored the fact that the fault lay just as equally with the Army (who failed to supply adequate modern equipment) and Mussolini (who forced the campaign to begin despite such obvious shortcomings)!

By late in 1942 there had been 41 Legions incorporated into Army Divisions, despite the fact that many were well below strength. By this time, however, CCNN battalions were being withdrawn from first-line divisions just as quickly. Usually, because their training and leadership was not up to a suitable standard, but also occasionally because of poor performance in actual combat situations. Some were caught in an Italian Army Merry-Go-Round and were ceaselessly transferred from one Division to another. Finally, some of the better battalions were given independent assignments as GHQ, Army, or Corps troops, to be attached to Army units as and when required.

The “M” Battalions

A member of the M battalion.

A member of the M battalion.

During all this confusion the better units were being built up into respectable combat groups. They were given the designation M alongside their names in the Army OOB to indicate their status; that they had received specialist assault and combat training, or had proven themselves in combat and had received a battlefield promotion to this status. The M may have stood for Mussolini since the insignia was actually designed to match the Duce’s handwriting (although it has been suggested by one author it stood for Morte – Death).

Russia – CCNN units on the Eastern Front

In August 1941 the Gruppo Battaglioni Tagliamento CCNN arrived on the Eastern Front, followed by the Raggruppamento 23 March CCNN in February 1942, and the Raggruppamento 3 January CCNN (which incorporated the Tagliamento Gruppo); later in 1942. By early 1943, these units had all been destroyed during the Soviet Winter Offensive, the few survivors returned to Italy.

Sicily – The last large-scale use of CCNN units

When the Allies came to invade Sicily in 1943 CCNN units were a significant presence in the defending force. The following is a list of the CCNN units present:

Included in the 26th Assietta Division
17th CCNN Legion, with:
18th Constantissima CCNN Battalion

Detached from above division to the Campobello (or Licata) Group
259th CCNN MG Company
17th Cremona CCNN Battalion

Detached from 28th Aosta Division to the Alcamo-Partinico Group
171st CCNN Legion, with:
168th Ibla CCNN Battalion
171st Vespri CCNN Battalion

Included in the 54th Napoli Division
173rd CCNN Legion, with:
(No troops)

Detached from the 54th Napoli Division to the Comiso-Ispica Group
174th CCNN MG Company
173rd Salso CCNN Battalion

Detached from the 54th Napoli Division to Mobile Group G

169th Siracusae CCNN Battalion

Assigned to Reggio Calabria, Messina Naval Base
95th CCNN Legion, with:
94th Fedele CCNN Battalion
95th Sante Ceccharini CCNN Battalion

Assigned to Pantelleria Island Garrison
Elements of the 9th Milmart Legion, CCNN Coastal Artillery, with:
1 Artillery Battalion
1 AA Battalion
1 AAMG Battalion
20 AA/Anti Ship Batteries

Assigned to Lampedusa Island Garrison
6th Milmart Independent Artillery Battalion (CCNN), with:
6 x light AA/Anti Ship Batteries

Other Blackshirt Special Militias

The University Militia was primarily responsible for pre-military training, and it was the main source of Junior Officers for Fascist units. A Legion of University Militia fought in Ethiopia, and many members of this Militia served in Spain.

The Anti-aircraft and Coast Defence Command was an HQ that controlled 2 militia organizations, the units would be assigned to the local Military command and issued equipment from army stocks. This was one of the most powerful Fascist organizations, and although not of a very high (military) quality they still controlled a large number of weapons and equipment (The bulk of which was handed over to the Germans in September 1943). All males between 18 and 37 years of age who were unfit for normal military service were drafted into these 2 Militias.

The Anti-aircraft Artillery Militia was responsible primarily for the general AA defense of the country; they were a sort of second line force, equipped with antiquated and/or obsolete weapons (including the 75/27 and 75/46) lacking modern fire control. In mid-1943, attempts began to re-equip these units with a new generation of Italian AA weapons, including 37 mm, 102 mm, and 105 mm weapons. Typically, each Legion would have 64 Guns and 32 HMG, divided into 2 battalions (each of 4 batteries). Total strength of this force was about 60,000 men.

The Coast Defence Militia staffed coastal batteries (other than those in port areas which were manned by the Navy). Strength unknown, but possibly around 20-30,000 men.

The Railway Militia primarily were responsible for railway security and provided guard detachments for trains and stations, however, on occasions, they also supplied personnel to operate the trains as well. Strength 30,000 men.

Forest Militia was responsible for logging and forestry, but also for the protection of these resources (such as fighting forest fires). In Ethiopia and Greece, some specially trained Forest Militia units served as Combat Troops. Strength 5,000 men.

The Frontier Militia were used to assist the GaF (Frontier Guards) and the GdF (Finance Guards) in securing the borders, collecting customs and taxes, and so on. All members were mountaineers with a good knowledge of Italy’s wilder frontiers. Strength was about 2,400 men.

Finally, there were 3 minor militias: Post and Telegraph, Roads, and the Ports Militia. The names pretty much describe the function, and all 3 combined contained less than 3,000 men.


I highly recommend Victor Madeja’s Italian Army Order of Battle for anyone starting out on researching units of the Italian Army in WWII, while Rex Trye’s book provides an excellent starting point for the Italians in general. Finally special thanks to Rex Trye (New Plymouth, New Zealand) and Arturo Lorioli (Rome, Italy) who have helped me with my Italian research and especially Arturo who has been a great source of information himself!

Italian Army Handbook – Victor W Madeja
Handbook on the Italian Army – Terrence Wise
Italian Order of Battle WWII (3 Volumes) – George F Nafziger
Mare Nostrum, Italian Army Handbook (2nd Edition) – Jack Greene
Mussolini’s Soldiers – Rex Trye
Rommel’s North African Campaign – Greene & Massignani
Miscellaneous other publications & Articles

Article provided by John Moher

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