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Mussolini's Eastern Crusade (Mussolini's War series)


Staff member
I have been a bit remiss in not having discussed Mussolini’s Eastern Crusade before now. My energy has been focused on other projects. Given that another book on the CSIR is in the offing, I felt I needed to provide my thoughts on Marek Sobski second volume of his work on the Italian military.


Mussolini’s Eastern Crusade is the second book in Marek Sobski’s Mussolini’s War series. I will first say that it is an improved book over his East Africa book. The campaign itself, and the associated operations of the CSIR were less complex than those in the AOI. That lends itself to a more lineal presentation of the activities of the CSIR in Russia. There is also significantly more material available on which to write a history of the campaign. Mr.Sobski has taken some advantage of both of these to provide a solid narrative of the CSIR in Russia.

An English reader, new to the history of the Italian involvement on the Eastern Front, will find this book a good starting point for further research. To those familiar with the Eastern Front and the Italian role during that campaign, there isn’t any new material/ground covered within these pages.

When I compare this volume with that written by the Italian Army Historical Office (USSME), Mr. Sobski has added some new material. A major improvement over the official history is the addition of information on the Soviet side of the campaign. Soviet unit identification and their movements are better presented in this account. He has included the stories of individual Italian soldiers and their acts of valor which assists the reader to appreciate the nature and the human cost of the fighting in the east. It is a more complete telling of the story of the CSIR in Russia than any other English language book currently on the subject.

The addition of a detailed Order of Battle for the Italian forces is present. This is a direct lift from Le operazione delle unità italiane al fronte russo (1941-1943), but this book now makes this detailed OB available to English readers. The discussion of the Soviet organization and forces is mixed, with the infantry divisions given only as totals while a more detailed breakdown of the cavalry division is provided. Soviet armor formations are not addressed. As the CSIR faced Soviet infantry divisions the majority of time, this mix of information is odd. Task organization diagrams or OB narratives in the text would have been useful to support the discussions of the various battles but are lacking within these pages. No detailed presentation of the positioning of forces at the outset of the battles described are given. The Christmas Battle (Battaglia di Natale), a significant battle fought by the CSIR, lacks a complete lay-down of the Italian forces that includes identifying units, task organization, and locations to set the conditions for the events that followed.

Detailed maps could have been substituted for a narrative presentation, but the few maps in the book fail to fill this gap. This shortfall remains a major weakness of this series. The book has only eight maps, all which have been redrawn from the Italian Official History. This is fewer than the 19 maps in the official history that cover the same material. Unfortunately the redrawing actually removed much of the detail found on the original maps. Where disegni (drawings) 15 and 16 in the official history provide unit identification, locations, and actions for the Christmas Battle, the one map in Eastern Crusade only provides general locations, no unit information, and completely omits the location of the divisione «Pasubio».

Where this book does shine is the additional detail of the actions of the Italian forces. Mr. Sobski provides extra information on the subordinate/minor Italian units and their actions during the campaign than that presented in the official history. A brief chapter on “Behind the CSIR Lines” discusses a few of the interactions of the Italians with the Soviet population. On the other hand, much of the strategic/operational discussion involving the CSIR is omitted.

There are some translation hiccups throughout the book. Some are small such as the battaglione sciatori alpini (alpine ski battalion) «Monte Cervino» identified as Alpine Rifles (p.123). There are some mis-identifications such the Corpo d’armata di Manovre del Po (and an odd translation of that title); a unit that never existed (it was the Armata del Po) (p.33). There are some awkward statements like “The Fast Division, which we will call Celere (which literally means “fast”) as in other publications, …” (p.36). This is awkward as the actual name of the division is the 3ª divisione celere. Some weird phrasing of sentences do appear from time to time. There are fewer of these translations glitches, but they are still present.

Then there are some editing issues. The discussion of the two Italian infantry divisions that ends on p.33 suddenly jumps to a discussion of the bersaglieri regiment on p.35, omitting any overarching discussion of the divisione celere. I wondered if two of the paragraphs on p.36 discussing the celere were to lead the discussion of the division on p.35 rather than follow it?

While I can recommend this book to the English reader, it appears this series will only be a minor improvement over the Italian official accounts. The main strength of the series will be making these accounts available in English. That in itself is an accomplishment but reflects a missed opportunity. Mr. Sobski had an opportunity to not only expand the readership on the Italian military during the war, but to improve the narrative of what is available in both English and Italian. It appears that effort will need to wait for a future book.
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