Alpini on the Don
Every once in a while a new book comes out that really creates a buzz. A recent book on Italian actions in World War Two titled Sacrifice on the Steppe: The Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign 1942-1943, written by Hope Hamilton and published by Casemate is one such book.
Yesterday, I received an email from Melissa Wright of Casemate, who kindly provided me the author’s press release on this book. I have asked her permission to publish this information and she has kindly agreed. I am looking forward to my copy and you can order your own copy from the Amazon link in the article if this press release interests you.
Press Release for Sacrifice on the Steppe
The impact of Mussolini’s disastrous decision to send Italian troops to Russia during World War II still resonates within Italy. Although historical accounts of the Second World War exist in all languages, this little-known event outside of Italy has received scant attention in most books written in the English language. In Sacrifice On the Steppes, the Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign 1942-1943, published by Casemate Publishing (908 Darby Road, Havertown, PA 19083), Hope Hamilton provides this first full English language account of one of WWII’s legendary stands against great odds, drawing on interviews, massive research, and written documentation by Italians who survived this tragic conflict.
When Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941, his Italian ally Mussolini declared war on Russia and wasted no time to send a hastily organized Italian Expeditionary force of 62,000 men to join the Russian campaign even though Hitler discouraged such a move. Although entirely unprepared militarily, Mussolini meant to be at Hitler’s side partaking of the spoils following an imagined rapid Nazi victory on the eastern front.
The following year he provided even more troops. By late summer of 1942, allied Hungarian and Romanian armies and a force of 227,000 soldiers of the Armata Italiana in Russia the ARMIR (also known as the Italian Eighth Army), aligned along a front on the Don River to protect the left flank of the German assault on Stalingrad. Sixty thousand of these were Alpini, Italian mountain troops serving in three divisions of the Alpine Corps. In November of 1942, the first of three Russian offensives encircled German Sixth Army in Stalingrad. In December, Russian forces smashed through Italian infantry divisions on the lines to the southeast of the Alpine Corps. Although units of one alpine division fought valiantly to protect the remaining two alpine divisions to their north, enemy forces rapidly encircled the entire Alpine Corps necessitating their withdrawal from the Don in January 1943.
This story of Italian troops sent to Russia is tragic, complex and unsettling, but most of all it is a human story, which the author narrates “from the bottom up”, giving voice to the men who experienced the conflict on the ground. Mussolini sent thousands of poorly equipped soldiers far from their homeland to a country few could have pointed to on a map, on a mission with an unclear mandate to wage war against a people they didn’t consider their enemy. Raw courage and endurance blend with human suffering, desperation, and altruism in the harrowing saga of the withdrawal from the Don lines, the capture, and imprisonment of thousands and survival of the few.
At war’s end, authorities declared 95,000 soldiers of the ARMIR dispersed. By 1946, 10,000 of these returned from Russian prisoner of war camps, but the fate of most of the remaining 85,000 missing remains unclear to this day, a source of anguish within many Italian families.