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Italian Black Shirts on the Eastern Front 1941-1943


Staff member
When it comes to books on the R.E. in English, beggars can’t be choosers. Overall, that is the best I can say about Pierluigi Romeo di Colloredo Mels’ book Italian Black Shirts on the Eastern Front 1941-1943. This book is one of a series of books called Witness to War. This is the only book of the series that I have read, and if this is an indication of the quality of research and writing, it is unlikely that I will buy any of the others.

What the book has going for it in a positive light is that it covers the R.E. (specifically the MVSN) during the campaign in Russia. One would hope that such a narrow topic would offer the reader a detailed look at the Blackshirts during their time in Russia, but that isn’t the case. The writing and research is overall very superficial and is more of chronology of events without detailed discussion. At 98 pages, this book offers less than a comparable Osprey.

To start, no information is provided on the organization and equipment of the MVSN units sent to Russia. While the units of origin for the legione are given, no discussion of sub-organization, weapons, training, etc. are provided. The brief opening paragraph of the book is all that is provided.

The discussions of the fighting suffers as well. The situations are not set-up for the reader, listing the units involved, their location/relative positions, strengths, support etc. Instead the reader is thrown into the battles with no way to gain an understanding of what he/she was reading. I had to use the USSME histories to gain any understanding of overall action being described. The book lacks transitions between the events described, jumping from event to event with no discussion of how the next situation manifested.

Some maps, some maps, give me some maps.

There are only two maps in the book, both of the 2nd Battle of Don, and both from the USSME history. These maps cover the entire front, basically useless in following the actions of company/battalion sized units. No sketches or drawings to set the stage for the reader’s understanding.

There are many photos, but I can’t be sure that all of them are actually of the MVSN units. If supported by well written text, this would be plus. As it is, the photos might be the only redeeming quality, but it wasn’t enough for me.

All this is made worst by the use of machine translation from Italian to English without editing/correction. Unità is translated as department (it should be unit), organica is organic instead of assigned, etc. Having often used computer translation, I recognize the words used out of context. The phrasing is awkward and the translation lacks flow. This compounds the challenge in finding any useful information.

In all, I can’t recommend this book. A reader must already possess a solid understanding of this campaign to ferret out any useful information. As it is, the book is a collection of incomplete stories that offer very little to understanding the Italian part of the Eastern Front.

Pista! Jeff