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The Italian invasion of France, June 1940


Staff member
orlando lorenzini posted on 21 July 2010

Hello dear Sirs!:
In other posting I have seen that anybody asks information about the Italian invasion of France in June 1940.I have made a small work about this short campaign.I hope that this information can useful.

Italy entered in the Second World War the June 10,1940;Mussolini had said to his generals of the "Comando Supremo" that the Italian Army was to the defensive in the earth and in the sea but they only attacked in the air.Mussolini as the commander in chief of the "Comando Supremo" (high staff off the Italian Army) had said to the Prince of Piamonte who led one group of armies that he was to the deffensive with his troops,but the day June 17,1940 Mussolini said to him that he attacked to France with the bulk troops in a front comprised between the Alpes mountain "Mount Blanc" and the Mediterranean Sea.In that time the French Army was retreating owed to the great German offensive on the western front,the French Army was defeated practically.The Marshall Pietro Badoglio tried to explain to the Duce that the French Army was defeated and that if Italy launched a great atttack against France in the Alpes for to invade to she that action would be a treasonable act and very few honourable,furthermore that campaign needed 25 days of military arrangements.Although Mussolini blinded anxiety of conquest and thinking only in the military glory of the fascism,he decided that the Italian Army ought to attack to France,a brother country of Italy as both are country Latins.Furthermore for to invade France the Italian commander would be one Italian prince,the Prince of Piamonte,one member of the royal family of the Saboya.

For to attack France in the Alpes mountains the Italian Army deployed two armies:

1.- Between the "Mount Blank" and "Viso Mount" the 4º Army led by the Gen. Guzzoni would hthattack with the Alpini troops joined to the 1º and 4º Armies Corps,in whole this great force comprised three Alpini groups and nine infantry divisions.

2.- Between "Viso Mount" and Ventimiglia was the 1º Army led by the Gen. Pintor,the 1º Army was formed by the 2º,3º and 15º Armies Corps.Here in this zone the Italian Army had 13 infantry divisions.

This force described formerly constituted the first big wave,in this first attack the Italian Army would attack with 188 battalions of infantry and 2.949 guns of differents calibers,after of this great attack then would attack eight fast divisions belonged to the "Po Army" led by Gen. Vercellino,this mechanized force had as main mission to exploit the breach in the deffensive line of the French after that the Italian infantry had broken the French deffensives.Finally the 7º Army led by the Duke of the Bergamo and composed by five divisions constituted a reserve force of infantry prepared for to help to the Prince of Piamonte when he asked it.
The 4º Army had to conquest Mountiers-en-Terentaise as first objetive while that Niza would be the main target of the 1º Army which had as final objetive Marseille.

On the other slope of the Alpes Mountains the French troops led by the Gen. Olry were very weaks,Orly had few troops for to defend his positions.In the left flank of the French lines was the 14º French Army Corps led by the Gen. Beymet,this force had to face to the 4º Italian Army,the 14º French Army Corps was composed by two divisions of infantry,the French divisions 66ª and 64ª led by the generals Boucher and De Saint-Vincent respectivately,furthermore in the fortified sectors of Saboya and Delfinado were the troops led by the Colonel De La Baume.In the right flank of the French Army was the 15 French Army Corps led by the Gen. Montagne,here was deployed the 65ª infantry division led by the Gen. De Saint-Julien and the French troops of the fortified sector of the Alpes that was near of the shore,this troops was led by the Gen. Magnien.In whole in the Alpes campaign faced 185.000 French troops against 450.000 Italian troops.The battlefield was a land very mountainous and this geographical condition made the defence easier to the defenders,concretly the zone compraised between Mount-Blanc towards the mountain port of Zarche was a zone favourable to the defence,although more towards the south in the frontier Italo-French in the summer station the troops could to move across of the high valleys owed to the thaw.The French military engineers had built solid and strong defensives fortifications.When Mussolini declared the war to France and Great Britain the day June 10,1940 the Gen. Olry put in action one plan of the destruction in the French dispositive of defence with the objetive of delay the Italian advance.

The Italian offensive started in the sector of the Alpes situated near of the shore owed to the bad weathe.The Italian troops were led by the Prince of Piamonte,the offensive started the day June 2,the following day the Italian offensive converted in general in whole front Italo-French.The day June 25 France surrendered to the German Army,for the day June 25 the Italian troops had advenced some kilometers in France and they situated near of the some French forts deployed in the Alpes but the Italian troops were never threat for the French troops.

The Italian mountain troops "Alpini" advanced across the way towards Bourg-Saint-Maurice although they couldn´t to occupy the abandonated French fortification situated in the first line.In Maurienne the Italian 1º Army Corp took smalls defensives positions in the high part of differents mountains and severals Italian battalions could to penetrate in the Arc Valley thus the Italian troops could to occupy the French towns of Zanslebourg and Teermignon,but the guns of 75 mm of the Turra fort defended by French troops avoided to the Italians to follow the advance towards Mont-Cenis;here in this part of the frontline the Count Ciano says that if in that time France didn´t surrender to Germany then the situation of the Italian troops in some sites of the Alpes front had been very difficcult,concretly the guns of the Turra fort had paralized to the Italian troops as these troops couldn´t use the road towards Mount-Cenis which was the main road of Italian supplies.

In the Mount Genévre the 4º Italian Army Corp also had great problems for to advance.Afterwards of three days of intense fighting the Italian division of infantry "Assiette" had conquested the French old fort of Chenoillet,the Chenoillet fort was defended only by 19 soldiers and two officiers.The Chenoillet fort was situated in a very mountainous zone and here a small contingent of troops could to stop any advance of the enemy troops.The conquest of the Chenoillet fort was presented by Mussolini as a great conquest of the Italian Army,he said that this fort belonged to the system of fotifications of the "Maginot line of the Alpes".For to reach Briançon the Italian troops ought to have neutralized the Janus fort which had steel bunkers armed with powerful naval guns,when the Italian artillery made target in the bunkers of the Janus fort,it didn´t make any damage in the structure of this solid fort.On the other side the powerful French artillery with guns of 280 mm got to destroy one Italian position of artillery armed with eight guns of 149 mm installed in the Chaberton fort which the Italians troops had conquested formerly,the Chaberton fort was a eagles nest situated to 3130 mts height,this fort was situated over Briançon.In this battle is necessary to speak of the good performance of the Italian artillery even when their depots of anmunitions exploited owed to the impact of the French shells.

In the sector of Alpes situated near of the shore,the 1º Italian Army had got to advance in the night of June 24 two or three kilometers only across to the vanguard position of the 15ª Army Corp and they could to conquest owed to this massive attack Menton,here the Italians launched regiments against French companies.Here the French defenders faced to the great numerical superiority of the Italian troops which attacked Niza in a massive attack,the Italians made a bombardement of artillery with 472 guns much of them of the calibers superior to the 155 mm,against this the French troops couldn´t to make anything.Over the French defensive positions fell a hell of fire,afterwards of the hard bombardement of the Italian artillery then three Italian infantry divisions launched one attack,these divisions were "Cosseria","Modena" and "Livorno",but the defence made by the French troops was very hard and they could to held the fierce Italian attack.In this campaign the Italians couldn´t to make use of the tanks owed to the conditions of the land that was very mountainous.In the small stronghold of Pont-Saint-Louis one small unit composed by nine soldiers and one officier,the sub-lieutenant Gros could to avoid the advance of the Italian troops during the campaign of the Alpes,when France surrendered to the Germany and after Italy then the small garrison of the stronghold of Pont-Saint-Louis retreated to the French rearguard.

The French Army in the Alpes campaign faced to the German troops concretly the German troops consisted in a tank unit,"16ª Division Panzer" led the Gen. Hoeppner in Chambéry,Grenoble and Romansand here the French troops had success.In the campaign of the Alpes the French casualties were 37 soldiers dead,42 wounded and 150 missing (probably deads).By part of the Italians the casualties were higher,631 Italian soldiers deads,2.631 wounded and 616 missings (of the Italian missings were considerated dead as when France surrendered to Italy all Italian prisioners were released,furthermore in the Italian Army during this short millitary campaign had 2.151 cases of freezing between the soldiers.

This campaign demostrated the miserable character of Mussolini,when Italy entered in the war against France and Great Britain,the French Army almost was defeated,France ever had been a good allied of Italy,France helped to Italy in his process of independence and political unification in 1870 and by above of all this things Italy and France are brother countries,they are Latin countries and they have the same culture,their culture systems are very seemed.France had a democracy with political parties and with a system that guaranteed the freedoms individuals of the persons and Italy unfortunately had a dictatorial political system fascist led by one dictator that few to few he was distancing of the reality.To Mussolini liked the war,he was a "lordwar" in Italian "condottiero",therefore he allied with Hitler and with the German Nazi Party.In the campaign of the Alpes the adventage had the defenders,with small parties garrisoned in strongholds which dominated the mountain roads the French troops demostrated that with small forces could to stop a great army in attack,furthermore the attackers risked to have greats causalties as thus occurred.In the military campaign of the Alpes saw the diferences of thinking between the Duce and the Italian Army representated by the Marshall Badoglio who was the chief of the Italian staff of the Army.


1.- VV.AA. "Historia de la Segunda Guerra Mundial",Editorial Salvat,Pamplona,1979
2.- Liddel Hart,Sir Basil "Historia de la Segunda Guerra Mundial"

Pedro-Manuel Ruíz