• As some of you know, the old forum database was deleted by the previous administrator. I am attempting to paste any retrievable discussions back into this forum using the internet archive. It won't look pretty - but at least we can preserve some valuable information. Feel free to add to the discussions as these old posts are restored.

History of the Italian squadra fanteria (Infantry squad)

jwsleser

Member
Staff member
While doing some research for another thread, I began to look at the development of the Italian infantry squad. I decided that it is worth sharing as it helps to clear up some issues in understanding the organization of this basic unit.

All this information is from L'esercito italiano tra la 1ª e la 2ª guerra mondiale USSME 1954.

1918 - A company consists of:
One mixed platoon consisting of the command and support elements.
Three platoons, each with two squads of riflemen and two squads of grenadiers (both hand and rifle launched).
One machine gun section.

1923 - A company consists of:
One mixed platoon consisting of the command and support elements.
Three platoons, each with two squads of riflemen. Each squad had a gruppo fucilieri and a gruppo mitragliatrici leggeri with 1 m.l.

1928 - A company consists of:
One command platoon consisting of the command and support elements.
Three platoons, each with three squads of riflemen and one squad of 2 m.l. There are no m.l. in the rifle squads.

In the discussion of this organization (p. 93), the basic unit for tactical maneuver changed from the squad to the platoon. The platoon leader was now responsible for coordinating the movement of the rifle and m.l. squads to synchronize fire and maneuver.

1933 - A company consisted of:
One command platoon consisting of the command and support elements.
Three platoons, each with three squads of riflemen. Each squad had a gruppo fucilieri and a gruppo fucile mitragliatori with 1 f.m.

Between 1928 and 1933, experience and testing determined that the platoon required additional firepower (p. 95). A third f.m. was added and the separate squadra f.m. was eliminated. This was seen as a return to the 1923 organization with increased firepower.

1936 - A company consisted of:
One command platoon consisting of the command and support elements.
Three platoons, each with three squads of riflemen. Each squad had a gruppo fucilieri and a gruppo f.m. with 1 f.m.

While the organization didn't change, the doctrine did (p. 120). Previously the squad maneuvered as two elements (fucilieri e f.m.). Now the squad moved/maneuvered as a single element. The squad no longer used 'avanzata alterna'.

1938 - A company consisted of:
One command platoon consisting of the command and support elements.
Three platoons, each with two squads. Each squad had a gruppo fucilieri and a gruppo f.m. with 2 f.m.

Here the squad takes in final form before the outbreak of war. The change eliminated one squad, but added a second f.m. to the remaining squads.
 
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Eugen Pinak

New Member
Jeff - thank you very much. I've tried to do similar thing, but was too lazy to gather my wits :)

I'll try to add more data, where I can.

One note for now. 1928 MG squad had not "fucili mitragliatori", but "mitragliatrici leggeri" on tripods.
 

jwsleser

Member
Staff member
Yes, I was using f.m. as shorthand. Corrected.
 

Eugen Pinak

New Member
Regarding 1933 reorganization. I have some doubts, that is actually happened.
Indeed, Italian official history of doctrine and organization says it happened. However, it cites no sources of this new organization. Neither I was able to find anything on such a major reorganization in contemporary "Rivista Militare". The only mention of new organization clearly says all MMGs were in the separate squad.
 

jwsleser

Member
Staff member
Regarding 1933 reorganization. I have some doubts, that is actually happened.
If you mean that the change wasn't formally document until later, I can agree with that. From the discussion in L'esercito italiano tra la 1ª e la 2ª guerra mondiale p. 95, I would state that the change was executed in practice, but not documented until later (likely 1936). From p. 95.

Esperienze e studi vennero intrapresi per migliorare l’armamento e, soprattutto, il volume di fuoco di cui si riteneva necessario dotate i reparti. Nell’àmbito del plotone fucilieri, il rapporto di 2 mitragliatrici leggere e 3 squadra fucilieri fu considerato inadeguato e insufficiente. Volendo aumentare il volume di fuoco del plotone, nel 1933 le mitragliatrici leggere furono portate da 2 a 3, ed anzi, dopo circa un anno di esperienze, si abbandonò addirittura il criterio dell’accentramento organico delle 3 mitragliatrici leggere in una squadra distinta e si ritornò vecchia composizione della squadra, prevista dall’« Addestramento » del 1923, decentrando organicamente le mitragliatrici in ragione di 1 per squadra fucilieri. Il plotone in tal modo risultò costituito di 3 squadra omogenee, composte di una mitragliatrice e di un nucleo fucilieri, e la conseguenza di ciò fu che la squadra tornò ad assumere l’importanza che aveva prima e costituire l’unità elementare di base per il combattimento della fanteria. La funzione del comandante di plotone, prima importantissima per il compito de coordinazione tra fuoco delle mitragliatrici leggere e movimento dei fucilieri, rimase quindi molto semplificata.
Italics in the original

[From] Experience and studies [that] were undertaken to improve the armament and, above all, [focused on] the volume of fire that was deemed necessary within the units. In the purview of the rifle platoon, the ratio of 2 light machine guns and 3 rifle squads was considered inadequate and insufficient. Wanting to increase the volume of fire of the platoon, in 1933 the [number of] light machine guns was increased from 2 to 3, and indeed, after about a year of experience, the criteria to centrally organize the 3 light machine guns in a separate team was abandoned and the old composition of the squad returned, foreseen by the "training [manual]" of 1923, decentralizing the machine guns in the ratio of 1 per rifle squad in the organization. The platoon in this way turned out to be made up of 3 homogeneous squads, [each] made up of a machine gun and a rifle unit team, and the consequence of this was that the squad returned to assume the importance it had before and constitute the basic elementary unit for infantry combat. The function of the platoon commander, before the very important for the task of coordination between the fire of light machine guns and the movement of the riflemen, therefore was left very simplified.
Italics in the original, [ ] are mine additions to clarify reading in English.

Note that the placement of the m.l. in the squads was allowed/started in 1934 or 1935 ("...after about a year of experience"...). It would be great to find any discussion of the organization/use of the m.l. in Rivista.

This is what I have.
 
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Eugen Pinak

New Member
I see. So that's the reason I was unable to find anything in 1933 issues of "Rivista Militare"!
Unfortunately, it seems, that from 1935 till 1944 "Rivista Militare" stopped to exist. And I was unable to find any other official publications after 1933 :(
Had to find some foreign sources, than.
 

Eugen Pinak

New Member
Though the story is still strange. Such change still required changes in the doctrine - yet even Italian official history fails to mention them, though describing other doctrinal documents in great details :\
 

jwsleser

Member
Staff member
I am not sure I understand your point :)

From the paragraph above, it is likely the increase to 3 LMGs were done by a directive or circular. The placement of the LMGs in the squads was likely done the same way. These changes were placed in doctrine in 1936.

I have experienced this same pattern of change in the US Army. Changes were first done by issuing a directive to do X, with the comment in the directive that this change would be documented in the next TO&E cycle, or in the next rewrite of a manual, whatever document would be changed.

In L'esercito italiano tra la 1ª e la 2ª guerra mondiale pp. 118 discusse the changes in the 1936 regulation. It does discuss the f.m.

Il fucile mitragliatore, quale « punta infuocato » e quale arma del combattimento ravvicinato, delle penetrazione e dell’assalto, venne impegnato con semplicità in tiri normalmente frontali, rifuggendo dalle ricercate manovre laterali di fuoco e costituendo in attacco la punta di fuoco che precedeva per aspire la strada alla squadra.
Italics in the original.

The automatic rifle, as a "burning tip" and as a weapon of close combat, penetration and assault, was simply engaged in normally frontal shots, avoiding the sought after sideways movement of fires and constituted an attack by fire at a point that preceded to open the way for the squad.
This statement clearly indicates that the changes discussed on p. 95 were incorporated in 1936.
 

Eugen Pinak

New Member
It's easy to increase platoon strength and armament, when organization is not changed much. Italian units were seriously under-strength, so nobody in the regiments (save HQ officers, who made mobilization plans) actually felt it.

But when you make serious changes in the organization, everybody in the regiments will feel it. Changes in the organization require change in the tactics, training, etc., etc. To avoid chaos, you need centralized guidance - immediately. Yet this guidance came only a year after the change, with the introduction of a reduced rifle platoon. Thing like this never happened in the interwar Italian army.
 

jwsleser

Member
Staff member
Yet this guidance came only a year after the change, with the introduction of a reduced rifle platoon.
Why do believe no guidance was given before the 1936 addestramento? What do you base your belief on? Have you check all the circulars and directive issued during this time period?

The Manuale per il graduato dated 1935 states otherwise. From p. 380, III -- Addestramento della Squadra al combattimento

33. Generalità. — La squadra fucilieri è composta di uomini armati di fucile, di uomini armati di moschetto con tromboncino, e comprende una mitragliatrice leggere che ha lo scopo di moltiplicare il volume di fuoco della squadra e non dare appoggio al movimento dei fucilieri.
Italics in the original.

33. General. - The rifle squad is made up of men armed with rifles, men armed with a carbine with a grenade launcher, and includes a light machine gun those purpose is to multiply the firing volume of the squad and not support the movement of the riflemen.
Not only does this manual state the squad has a f.m., but it even states that the f.m. is not there to support the movement of the riflemen, just as I stated above in the 1936 addestramento.

Again 1935, not 1936. How further back can we go with this change already in place?

Thing like this never happened in the interwar Italian army.
Apparently it happened here.
 
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Eugen Pinak

New Member
Apparently it happened here.
But you himself proved, that it did not :)
You see, when I've read official history "La Storia della dottrina e degli ordinamenti dell’Esercito Italiano", I was surprised to find absolutely nothing on the official sources about 1933 reorganization - just a passing mention without even exact date (other infantry reorganizations are described in detail and clearly sourced). Naturally, I've found this suspicious. But, thanks to you I now know, that author of this book just hasn't bothered to dig the sources.

BTW, does this Manuale has the month it was published in 1935?
 

jwsleser

Member
Staff member
But you himself proved, that it did not :)
How so? If you feel I haven't demonstrated the possibility, then discuss why.

Your disclaimer without facts has no merit with me. ;)

You see, when I've read official history "La Storia della dottrina e degli ordinamenti dell’Esercito Italiano", I was surprised to find absolutely nothing on the official sources about 1933 reorganization - just a passing mention without even exact date (other infantry reorganizations are described in detail and clearly sourced).
Again I feel we are getting hung up on a word. I used the word organization for lack of a better term. You have now read the passage I referenced. What the passage states is that from experience and discussion, the Italians decided to modify their squad, both in actual structure and in function over a period of a year (give or take).

In 1933 they decided to add a third f.m. The structure stayed the same (3 squadre fucilieri and one squadra f.m.). Sometime in 1934, they decided to eliminate the squadra f.m. and move the f.m. permanently to the squadre fucilieri.

What is not in the passage I quoted (and I didn't state happened in 1933) was that at some time also in 1934, they decided that the squadra would no longer operate as two sections/teams/gruppi (choose the word you wish) and would now move and fight as a single element. This must had been in 1934, as we find that a 1935 manual incorporates both changes. You also need to have one f.m. per squad to implement such a change. We do know that this change wasn't driven by the higher leadership, but came from experience with the new structure.

At some point after these decisions, the Italians decided to codify them into the regulations (or they decided once the second decision was made, we don't know the exact timeline). We have one manual that did this in 1935, the 1936 addestramento was another.

So what I stated was a reorganization in 1933 is actually at T/O modification in 1933 (adding an f.m.), followed by a change in structure change, then either at the same time and a bit later, a change tactics (single element). All this happened between 1933 and 1936. We have the sequence of the changes, we don't have exact dates.

Can you please quote the entire 'passing reference' (the paragraph) from La Storia della dottrina? It appears to be relevant.

BTW, does this Manuale has the month it was published in 1935?
No it doesn't. What is the month of the 1936 addestramento? I hope we are not going to play 'count the month games'.

I have modified the first post.
 
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jwsleser

Member
Staff member
One note for now. 1928 MG squad had not "fucili mitragliatori", but "mitragliatrici leggeri" on tripods.
The Italians didn't see such a difference. In fact, in the 1936 addestramento they simplified the language. A mitragliatrici pesanti would now be a mitragliatrici; a mitragliatrici leggere would now be a fucili mitragliatori. The same was applied to the mortars, a mortai leggere would be a mortai d'assalto; a mortai pesanti would be a mortai da 81. L'esercito italiano tra la 1ª e la 2ª guerra mondiale p. 118.
 

Eugen Pinak

New Member
How so? If you feel I haven't demonstrated the possibility, then discuss why.
I don't understand you. How should I discuss your mention of "Addestrameto..." of 1935?

BTW, I've found the mention of this platoon reorganization in French "Annuaire Militare" from July 1934. And if I understood it correctly, it mentions this reorganization as an accomplished fact.


at some time also in 1934, they decided that the squadra would no longer operate as two sections/teams/gruppi (choose the word you wish) and would now move and fight as a single element.
"Single element", divided into two teams :)
It's worth mention, that even 1929 "pure" infantry squad had two teams.

At some point after these decisions, the Italians decided to codify them into the regulations (or they decided once the second decision was made, we don't know the exact timeline). We have one manual that did this in 1935, the 1936 addestramento was another.
That's what bothers me. Unless you give centralized guidance to units before reorganization, you'll have different tactics in each unit. As I don't believe in "stupid Italians", it means I'm missing some doctrinal documents :(

Can you please quote the entire 'passing reference' (the paragraph) from La Storia della dottrina? It appears to be relevant.
I'll do it in the evening (CET time :) ).

No it doesn't. What is the month of the 1936 addestramento?
That info I also had to look at home for.

I hope we are not going to play 'count the month games'.
You don't want to find more info on infantry organization? It's a pity :(
 

jwsleser

Member
Staff member
Let me see if I can clarify a few things.

But when you make serious changes in the organization, everybody in the regiments will feel it. Changes in the organization require change in the tactics, training, etc., etc. To avoid chaos, you need centralized guidance - immediately. Yet this guidance came only a year after the change, with the introduction of a reduced rifle platoon. Thing like this never happened in the interwar Italian army.
Apparently it happened here.
But you himself proved, that it did not :)
How so? If you feel I haven't demonstrated the possibility, then discuss why.
I don't understand you. How should I discuss your mention of "Addestrameto..." of 1935?
The position you have argued is that until the changes were published as part of an addestramento, the change had not been put into effect. IBWs, 'the Italians would never put out a change until after they had fully published all the details of the change, and the only mechanism to do so is in an addestramento'. If this is an incorrect understanding of your position, please clarify. It is basically what you have written.

Change can be documented in various ways, several which I have previously mentioned. It is clear that the change was published in at least one manual (the 1935 Graduato manual) prior to the publication of the 1936 addestramento. If we could find other similar manuals in the 1934-1935 timeframe, I feel it is likely these too would document the change. We have not read all the directives, circulars, etc. from the G.M. which can also document and direct change. An addestramento isn't the only option available. The change is definitely codified as part of doctrine when it is published as part of an addestramento. If it hadn't been in the 1936 addestramento, we would be discussing whether it was permanent ;)

BTW, I've found the mention of this platoon reorganization in French "Annuaire Militare" from July 1934. And if I understood it correctly, it mentions this reorganization as an accomplished fact.
Thank you for fixing that. Another bit of conformation. Again, change was directed without writing a new addestramento (which happened in 1936).

"Single element", divided into two teams :)
It's worth mention, that even 1929 "pure" infantry squad had two teams.
Yes. Purely administrative in 1934. The two teams were tactical elements in 1929. No longer in 1934.

That's what bothers me. Unless you give centralized guidance to units before reorganization, you'll have different tactics in each unit. As I don't believe in "stupid Italians", it means I'm missing some doctrinal documents :(
Yes, but these missing documents are not addestramenti, but some other form of authority (as I have mentioned above).

You don't want to find more info on infantry organization? It's a pity :(
If we are in agreement that the R.E. implemented the change prior to the publication of the 1936 addestramento, them putting together a defined timeline is useful. If we still disagree that the change happened prior to 1936, knowing the month of publication is only useful to split hairs and doesn't affect the discussion.

How should I discuss your mention of "Addestrameto..." of 1935?
There wasn't one, and I have not stated there was one. :)
 

Eugen Pinak

New Member
First - the quote.
It's from p.449 of volume 2, tome 1 of "La Storia della dottrina e degli ordinamenti dell’Esercito Italiano".
"Il rapporto 2 mitragliatrici leggere — 3 squadre fucilieri si dimostrò inadeguato ed insufficiente, sicché ben presto le mitragliatrici leggere, ferma restando la loro riunione in un’unica squadra, furono portate a 3. Tale provvedimento appesantì la squadra mitragliatrici leggere (22 uomini), complicò ulteriormente la già complessa azione di comando del comandante di plotone, non valse a migliorare la coordinazione tra fuoco delle mitragliatrici leggere e movimento delle squadre fucilieri. Queste, inoltre, accusarono sempre di più la carenza di fuoco con il venire meno delle speranze riposte nel tromboncino e con il manifestarsi in misura sempre più evidente della modestia delle prestazioni dei fucili e dei moschetti mod. 1891 dei quali continuavano ad essere armate. Si dovè, pertanto, abbandonare il criterio dell’accentramento organico delle 3 mitragliatrici leggere in un’unica squadra e tornare al decentramento della mitragliatrice leggera alla squadra fucilieri, e cioè alla composizione dalla squadra fucilieri del 1922. Venne meno così quella che era stata una delle principali innovazioni del regolameno del 1929: il trasferimento dalla squadra al plotone del coordinamento fuoco-movimento. La squadra fucilieri tornò a costituire effettivamente l’unità elementare di base del combattimento della fanteria e venne articolata nuovamente su di un nucleo mitragliatrice leggera e su di un nucleo fucilieri. Il plotone fucilieri, composto di 3 squadre omogenee, divenne la minore unità in grado di disporre di un rincalzo e, conseguentemente, di manovrare i suoi tre elementi costitutivi a seconda delle situazioni e del terreno. Delle varie soluzioni adottate dal 1918 in poi, quella del 1933 fu senza dubbio, per quanto consentito dall’armamento allora in distribuzione, la più rispondente alle esigenze di equilibrare il fuoco ed il movimento e di equilibrare altresì l’azione di comando del comandante di squadra e del comandante di plotone, semplificandola il più possibile ai due livelli."

It's worth mentioning, that CCNN and Regia Marina infantry platoons had only 2 rifle squads for 2 LMG in MG squad, thus avoiding this problem.

As for the exact date of "Addestramento di fanteria" of 1936 - that book has no date for either this, or any other AdF. The author gives exact dates and numbers for small tactical documents, but major changes are not recorded in detail 0_o

IBWs, 'the Italians would never put out a change until after they had fully published all the details of the change, and the only mechanism to do so is in an addestramento'. If this is an incorrect understanding of your position, please clarify. It is basically what you have written.
Yes, I indeed claimed, that Italians would never put out a change until after they had fully published all the details of the change.
No, I've never claimed, that the only change in in infantry tactical doctrine could be via "Addestramento di fanteria", though I was sure, that major changes had to be reflected there.


It is clear that the change was published in at least one manual (the 1935 Graduato manual) prior to the publication of the 1936 addestramento. If we could find other similar manuals in the 1934-1935 timeframe, I feel it is likely these too would document the change.
Indeed. But there had to be single document, that begun this process. Official manuals and handbooks are not written on a whim.


If we are in agreement that the R.E. implemented the change prior to the publication of the 1936 addestramento, them putting together a defined timeline is useful.
Of course, it implemented changes before 1936 AdF. It had to do it to ensure common tactical doctrine in all units.


How should I discuss your mention of "Addestrameto..." of 1935?
There wasn't one, and I have not stated there was one. :)
The Manuale per il graduato dated 1935 states otherwise. From p. 380, III -- Addestramento della Squadra al combattimento
???
 

jwsleser

Member
Staff member
Thank you for the quote. Yes, clearly states that the changes happened prior to 1936.

No, I've never claimed, that the only change in in infantry tactical doctrine could be via "Addestramento di fanteria", though I was sure, that major changes had to be reflected there.
And it was in the 1936 AdF.

Indeed. But there had to be single document, that begun this process. Official manuals and handbooks are not written on a whim.
Agree as I have previously stated. This document is likely a directive or circular.

That is literally what the section in the Manuale per il graduato where the quote is from. On p. 380 of that manual is III -- Addestramento della Squadra al combattimento. The difference between using addestramento as a noun (Addestramento della fanteria, a specific type of manual) and a verb (Combat Training of the Squad). So there isn't a 1935 addestramento, only a section on training the squad with the new changes in a different manual.
 

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Eugen Pinak

New Member
Thank you for clarifying this issue. I wonder, if those books were also official sources of the doctrine and not merely a handbooks to clarify it to the troops?
 
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