Basic Regio Esercito Uniforms
The WWII service uniform for soldiers was introduced in 1933 as part of the reforms of General Baistrocchi. The uniform was progressive in many areas but still retained some features from the 1909 uniform. The uniform was made in wool in the Italian grigio-verde (g-v) color (bluish green-grey). The initially painted wood buttons were replaced by g-v Bakelite in the later years. Like most nations, Italy simplified the design of Regio Esercito uniforms during the war to ease production time and costs.
Two main versions of the basic uniform existed: continental/metropolitan (worn in Europe), and overseas (mainly worn in the Italian colonies and other hot climates). Versions of the uniform are the M33, M37, and M40. These only vary in small details. The M40 version was the most common, so it is the one described here.
The M40 Service (Field) Uniform
The tunic (giubba) was an open, lay down collar with front lapels. The tunic was closed by three large buttons evenly spaced. The front had two smallish breast pleated patch pockets with scalloped flaps, and two larger waist pleated pockets with scalloped flaps, all closed by a single small button. The shoulder straps are attached to the tunic and of the same material as the tunic. Two hunter pockets were placed in the back, closed by a small button without a flap. The tunic was finished with a cloth waist belt of the same material, closed with two small buttons. Two inside pockets on the left side were design to carry the soldier’s personal service book (libretto personnale) and a first aid bandage.
The tunic collar between 1933 and 1937 was in the branch color (black, red, blue, etc.). After 1937, the collar was in the same g-v material as the tunic. Branch/specialty insignia, called mostrine, was worn on the collar. The mostrini identified unit of assignment and specialty (infantry, armor, technical, etc.) in a complex system of shapes and colors. An aluminum star for the House of Savoia was worn on the lower part of the mostrine. Rank was worn on the center of the sleeves between the top of the shoulder and the elbow. In 1940, smaller rank insignia was adopted, worn in the same manner.
Specialty insignia (machine gunner, skier, driver, etc.) was worn on the left sleeve immediately below the rank. Awards and service ribbons were worn above the left breast pocket, normally sewn onto the tunic. Specialty badges and other pin-on medal insignia were worn on either breast pocket according to the award.
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The shirt (camicia) was either in cotton or wool (summer or winter) in the g-v color. It was a pull-over design, with the neck closed by either a zipper (until 1939) or by small buttons (two to four). The collar had three points; two in the front at the collar ends, and one in the back in the middle of the collar. Earlier shirts had a small button fastening the rear point, but this was discontinued during the war. The cotton shirt lacked pockets; the wool shirt had two pleated breast patch pockets closed by scalloped flaps.
The pants (pantaloni) were a breeches style, with the pant leg bloused (tied) under the knee. The pants were g-v wool, baggy in design. They had two slash front pockets and one rear slash pocket. the latter closed by a button without a flap. The pants had a high waist (level with the belly button) and worn with a belt. No watch pocket was provided.
One of the dated features of the uniform was the need to wear puttees (mollettiere). These are long g-v wool strips cut in such a way as to be wrapped around the lower leg (calf) below the pants. Successfully wrapping puttees takes practice. If not done correctly, the puttees tend to become loose and unwind during wear. The Italian soldiers wore puttees throughout the war, long after most major armies had abandoned them for long pants and high boots. Some specialty units wore leather gaiters (gambali); some Alpini (mountain) troops wore high wool socks.
The M1912 boots were an ankle boot, laced, with a heel and toe cap. The boots were hob-nailed but didn’t use heel or toe plates. While the general rule of thumb was blackened boots were worn on the continent and natural (brown) boots were worn overseas, both were worn anywhere. Socks were worn with these boots but had an unusual design. The sock was normal but left the toes uncovered (a strap between the big and second toe held the sock in place). A small square cloth was folded over the toes to cover them.
The undress cap was the M35 bustina. This was an envelope design (similar to the US overseas cap) but had a front peak and ear flaps. The front brim was normally worn folded up. A unit insignia (fregio) was sewn to the brim. The brim was rarely folded down. The ear flaps cover the ears and part of the back of the head when folded down and buttoned under the chin. When not in use, the flaps were folded over the top of the bustina and secured using the same buttons.
Like most other armies, a g-v or black tie (cravatta) completed the uniform for dress or special occasions. A white shirt and a g-v service cap with the unit fregio on the front could be worn to complete the look. White gloves (guinti) were worn if the soldier was part of an honor guard.
Tropical M40 Uniform
Tropical M40 Regio Esercito uniforms were made in the same cut as the M40 g-v uniform, using khaki cotton fabric instead of wool. Rank, insignia, mostrini, etc., were the same. A tropical helmet (casco) was generally issued instead of the steel helmet. The casco was light-weight, comfortable to wear, and gave protected the wearer from the heat, but didn’t offer any ballistic protection. A tricolor in the Italian national colors with a brass fregio was worn on the front of the casco.
The Italian Army likely had more authorized variations in uniform dress than any other during the war. All variations had different insignia. The following list only highlights the major uniform differences.
Bersaglieri (motorized infantry): Red fez with a blue cord and tassel instead of a bustina. Leather leggings instead of puttees. Dress uniform included a low crowned, black waxed leather hat with plume.
Alpini (mountain troops): Tyrolean hat with feather. Often wore high socks instead of puttees (but puttees were often worn). Mountain boots.
Paracadutisti (airborne): M41 g-v uniform (collarless tunic, long pants), g-v beret with fregio, tall parachutist jump boots.
Corazzato (armored): Black leather coat.
Camicia Nera (Black Shirt): Black shirt instead of the g-v, black fez with black cord and tassel. Black puttees.
Uniform images above courtesy Italian Regalia.
In The Field
The M40 overcoat was made from the same g-v wool as the uniform. There was a dismounted and mounted version, distinguished mainly by the size of the collar and cut of the coat skirts. The dismounted version had a smaller, angular collar and straight skirts. The mounted had a large, rounded collar and the skirts flared from the waist. Both were single-breasted with two large slit hip pockets, closed by a straight flap. No button was provided to secure the flap. There were two small slit breast pockets without flaps, closed by a small button. These pockets were unusual, as the pocket opening was vertical, not horizontal.
The attached shoulder straps were of the same material and fixed with one small button. The large straight cuffs could be rolled down over the hands for protection. A small button on the back of the sleeve secures the cuffs when not being used in this manner. No mostrini was worn on the collar, only large size aluminum stars.
The M1929 Tenda Telo (tent cloth) served both as a poncho and could be assembled with other telos into a tent. The telo was a square cloth made from cotton duck material, printed with a camouflage pattern on one side. The telo has an array of buttons and buttonholes for connecting multiple telos, and the necessary poles and ropes. No other rain gear was provided to the soldier.
In all, the Italian service uniform was both distinctive and striking. The very functional bustina and the open-collar belted tunic made for a very modern appearance. This was counterbalanced by the old-style pants and puttees. This combination gave the Italian soldier a unique appearance from other armies during the war.
Coccia, Sergio Le uniformi metropolitane del Regio Esercito dalla riforma Baistrocchi all’inizio della Seconda Guerra Mondiale
Marizatti, Paulo Uniformi e distintivi Italiani 1933-1945
Viotti, Andrea Uniformi e distintivi dell’Esercito Italiano nella seconda Guerra mondiale 1940-1945