Home » Italian Special Forces: The X “Arditi” Regiment

Italian Special Forces: The X “Arditi” Regiment

by Giulio Poggiaroni

Italian Special Forces: The X “Arditi” Regiment

Birth and organization

During the first years of the war, the endeavors of British special forces like Commandos, Long Range Desert Group, and the Special Air Service largely impressed the leadership of the Italian Army. Thus, the Army General staff started the training of its special unit, aimed at carrying out sabotage operations behind the enemy lines.

In April 1942, the 1st Arditi battalion was established, with the name “Arditi” recalling the Italian shock troops of the Great War, thus a synonym for bravery and boldness. Only volunteers with previous combat experience were selected to join the ranks of the new formation.

The battalion had three companies, each one specialized in three different kinds of operations.

The 101st Paratrooper Company (Arditi Paracadutisti), was meant to carry out airdrops behind enemy lines to sabotage valuable targets.

The 102nd Swimmers company (Ariditi Nuotatori), was meant to raid or hit targets in coastal areas.

The 103rd Jeep-mounted company (Arditi Camionettisti), was equipped with excellent SPA-Viberti AS42 cars and meant to carry out raids into enemy territory, resembling the operations of the British LRDG.

In total, 45 officers, 78 NCOs and 205 men.

While the First Battalion was undergoing training, in August 1942, the Army opted for the creation of another Arditi Battalion, again with three companies (111th, 112th and 113th) with the same specialties.

In September, the two battalions were grouped in the X Arditi regiment, which by October counted 87 officers, 150 NCOs, and 493 men. Each company operated in patrols made by one or two officers and 10-20 men (depending on the situation).

Sabotage and combat

In January 1943, the 103rd Camionettisti company was transferred to Tunisia, together with 8 SPA-Viberti AS42. They were rushed to the front, acting as a scout unit of the Trieste motorized division, operating in an environment (Tunisia), very different from the Western Desert, for which it was originally conceived.

This company fought bravely for the rest of the Tunisian campaign in the battles of Mareth, Wadi Akarit, and Enfidaville, surrendering in May with the remaining Axis forces.

On the 16th of January 1943, a patrol of the 101st Paratrooper Company (two officers, two NCOs, and 7 men) was parachuted into the region of Algiers, to destroy the railway bridge of Eddous.

They safely reached the target and destroyed the bridge. Their escape plan was quite audacious since they were supposed to walk back to the Axis lines in Tunisia (some 800km away). On the next day, they clashed with French colonial troops and were forced to surrender once ammunitions went out.

After this partial success, the X Arditi regiment launched more sabotage operations, in Allied-controlled North Africa, but all of them earned no results.

In February 1943, the submarines Volframio and Malachite departed from their ports to land two patrols of the 102nd Swimmer Company in Algeria. The targets were two railway bridges, considered vital for the Allies.

Due to bad sea conditions, only the Malachite could land the patrol, who failed to locate the target due to a misidentification of the landing zone. The patrol was subsequently captured. 

Other airborne operations were launched by the 101st paratrooper company, but none achieved significant results, like the mission against the bridge of Beni Mansur.

Lack of experience and insufficient intel compromised the Arditi actions, without considering that the Allies were usually aware of the incoming raids, thanks to ULTRA. In the memoirs of several survivors, they report about Allied officers saying “We were waiting for you”.

The X Arditi patrol that attacked the bridge of Beni Mansur

The X Arditi patrol that attacked the bridge of Beni Mansur

Operation “African Airfields”

After the fall of Tunisia, the Italians conceived a bold operation, aimed at hitting 9 large airfields in Allied-controlled Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. The operation was conceived by the Army and Air Force General staffs

On the 13th of June 1943, 14 squads (120 men) were parachuted over North Africa. However, many of the S.M.82 carrying the paratroopers missed the landing zones by several kilometres. Once the paratroopers touched the ground, far away from their targets, new troubles began. Most of the squads were intercepted or captured by allied patrols in the first days.

The attack zones of the "African Airfields" operation

The attack zones of the “African Airfields” operation

After the fall of Tunisia, the Italians conceived a bold operation, aimed at hitting allied airfields located in Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. The operation was conceived by the Army and Air Force General staff as a last-ditch attempt to counter Allied air supremacy. The men assigned to the task were a mix of Arditi and paratroopers of the Regia Aeronautica.

On the 13th of June 1943, 14 patrols (120 men) were parachuted over North Africa. However, many of the S.M.82 carrying the paratroopers missed the landing zones by several kilometers.

 None of the Arditi arrived on target and all the men were captured. Only two paratroopers of the Regia Aeronautica managed to successfully attack the airport of Benina, (near Benghazi), where they destroyed 25 aircraft.

Sicily

By the time of the Allied invasion of Sicily, the 112th and 113th companies of the X Arditi Regiment were deployed on the island and took part in several clashes that occurred in the eastern part of the island, facing the British 8th Army.

Most notably, the Arditi took part in the battle of the Primosole Bridge, supporting the German paratroopers of the 1st Fallschirmjager Division (3rd regiment). During the battle, the Arditi charged against the British paratroopers on their SPA-Viberti 42, pushing back the enemy, which in turn disabled most of the Italian vehicles with mortar gunfire.  The intervention of the Arditi in the battle helped the Germans to secure control of the bridge on that day.

Another noteworthy operation was carried out by the 4th Patrol of the 112th Landing (former swimmers) Company, under the command of Lieutenant Cesare Artoni. On the evening of 30 July 1943, the patrol landed 5 km from Augusta, disembarking from M.A.S. boats of the Regia Marina.

Despite having lost part of the material during the landing, the patrol crossed the enemy lines, getting closer to the target, a large material and fuel depot. After spending some time hidden in the house of Artoni’s family, the Arditi reached the allied depots and planted their explosives. Subsequently, they began their escape, using an abandoned boat.

Around 1:30 AM on the 1st August, they heard the explosion of the depots. In the morning, their boat came under fire from British units onshore and the Arditi jumped into the sea. They swam for hours and ultimately reached the positions held by an Italian Coastal Battalion.

Epilogue

The remnants of the 2nd Arditi battalion were evacuated from Sicily in the first half of August, together with the rest of the Italian and German units that made it to the port of Messina. They then returned to their headquarters in Rome and after the announcement of the armistice, they took part in the battle for the defense of Rome.

Later, most of these men fled to the south, together with other elements of the first battalion coming from Sardinia, and joined the Italian co-belligerent army (fighting alongside the Allies).

A minority of the 2nd Arditi battalion chose to keep fighting alongside the Germans and formed, together with other units, the Paratrooper force of the Italian Social Republic.

The legacy of the Arditi lives on in the modern Italian army, the 9° Assault Battalion “Col Moschin” being the descendent of the X Arditi regiment.

Sources

Crociani P., Battistelli, P.P. (2011) Italian army elite units and special forces, 1940-43

Longo, L.E., (1991) I reparti speciali Italiani nella seconda guerra mondiale

Ciavattone, F. (2022). PARACADUTISTI! Storia delle Aviotruppe Italiane. STORIA MILITARE Dossier n.61.

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