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Italians in Normandy: D-Day and beyond


Staff member
Posted 08 July 2010 - 01:07 PM by Gian

Both on purpose and by chance, I have come across several texts dealing with the involvement of Italians in operations Overlord and Neptune. You already know about the island of Cezembre, defended by WH units that included Italian artillerymen and Marine infantrymen. This small outpost off St. Malo became a thorn in the Allies' side which resisted continuous shelling from the mainland and the sea, as well as carpet bombings from the air. The defenders finally yielded when the Allies resorted to napalm. For the intensity of the bombings compared to its small size, Cezembre maintains the infamous record of being the most intensely bombed area in Europe and perhaps in the world. So fierce were the attacks that, despite some mine-clearing efforts made post war, the Northern part of the island remains fenced off to visitors.
They were not the only ones though. Many Italian POWs were pressed into labor battalion to build the fortifications of the Atlantic Wall. Others who chose the German side were employed in catering and Flak. (I wonder if any of you has info on Italians who fought on the Allied side too).

Italians became again involved after the war, when divers were on demand to assist the clearing of the landing zones and the recovery of scrap metal to be "recycled" in foundries: especially the wrecks of ships sunk or scuttled during the battle, as well as tanks. Ships were floated before being scrapped, while other heavy wreckage was cut up directly underwater. The job was made easier by a large number of amphibious "Ducks", likely of D-Day vintage, which carried scrap from the sea onto the beaches. Whatever was on board was to be brought back, including the ship's load and human remains. A diver experienced a memorable fright when it grabbed "something round" in the dark of a submerged box, only to discover that it was a human skull with a full set of false teeth in gold. Dental prints later identified it as belonging to the Captain of the ship ("Neubarth"). Cold, little visibility and streams hardened the job of the Italian divers, used to working in the "quiet" Mediterranean. Besides, obviously, the risks of dealing with explosives. Unexploded ordnance was plentiful and was to be set off from a safe distance. But when the wreck of cargo Iddlesight blew up with a majestic explosion, two Italian divers were involved (one of them, Luciano Ambrogini, was a veteran of WWII). All of their equipment was blown off, but they survived. After two months in a hospital they started over. The enterprise declined in the 70s after flourishing for two decades, but to this date, much steel might still be resting in the deep of the Channel.

Posted 24 March 2012 - 05:58 AM by histjunky


I am curious did you ever find anymore information on this subject? Units, how many, etc. This very topic has come to light on the American Italian reenactors yahoo group. I am in search of facts etc. I have the book ATTILIO VIZIANO RICORDI DI UN CORRISPONDENTE DI GUERRA, La storia di un operatore della C.O.P 1943-1945 A cura di Carlo Cucut, Roberto Bobbio .. Marvia Edizioni which shows pictures of Italians training in Germany but non in France.

However this discussion lies around troops or rather photos of so called German soldiers in what looks to be Italian uniforms in France. I am looking for references to this. Now I am not talking about the well known shots of Italian POW's with organization TOT being captured by Americans on the invasion beach but rather ones more inland. Also some references to this can be found on this thread on another forum http://forum.axishis...pic.php?t=48913 and also in this forum http://reenactors.fo.../?t=26469626... however I cannot get the later to translate on line and I cannot read Italian so I can not vouch for what it says.

I am very interested to get to the bottom of this as this topic has come up several times and with mixed facts and opinions.

Posted 24 March 2012 - 12:28 PM by madmike

In italian, but some interesting links,

And, yes: there were many italians, in Normandy, in 1944.



in english:


a video


Posted 24 March 2012 - 01:38 PM by Gian

Perhaps I have already seen the picture of the so-called "German soldiers" wearing a mix of civilian and military clothing, including Italian bustinas, and carrying striped blankets. Their attire looks a little bit tattered and they're still wearing puttees so I imagine that they were there to act as forced laborers. Yet, the RSI did not issue new uniforms until summer 1944, so...laborers or combatants?

Certainly many Italians were there to fight. I cannot name many units, but I know of 500-SS-Wehrgeologe-Battalion, which was deployed among Veneto, Friuli, Emilia-Romagna and Brittany. Its main duty was to supervise the building of fortifications and Doodlebug launching sites but its leader, Obersturmbannfuhrer Rolf Hohne, also carried out archaeological researches for Himmler. However SS-500 always remained a combat unit and it may have been involved in some reprisals against Italian civilians. Of course a book has been written on this unit, but it is in Italian.

Nino Arena's book mentioned in the Axis History Forum lists 645. Kust.Art.Rgt., 651. Fest.Art.Rgt., and 855. Fest.Art.Rgt. as being WH units incorporating RSI soldiers. Very few Italian veterans of the Normandy Campaign are known by their name. One of them was Walter Chiari: he was a X Mas volunteer who sketched comics for the Corps magazine "L'Orizzonte" and meanwhile drove German trucks in France. In 1994 Italian newspapers also reported of two Italian serving with the Allies: Ferruccio Giglio and Adalberto Hunek (from Zara).

Posted 05 May 2012 - 12:50 PM by Alpin094

Well, my grandad fought there with other 3000 Alpini troops, he was taken prisoner by canadian paratroops after the bombing of Caen

Posted 14 May 2012 - 10:39 AM by Gian

An Italian film director (not one of those you see at Venice or Cannes festival, but a breakthrough anyway) made a docu-film on the Italian contribution to both sides of D-Day. I understand that the DVD has no subtitles since no publisher or distributor has been found yet in the UK or USA. Will anybody step forward?