EVENTS OF 1942
compiled by David Aldea
War Correspondent Harry Zinder of Time magazine writing about the Italian divisions that fought at El Alamein:
“It was a terrific let-down by their German allies. They had fought a good fight. In the south, the famed Folgore parachute division fought to the last round of ammunition. Two armored divisions and a motorized division, which had been interspersed among the German formations, thought they would be allowed to retire gracefully with Rommel’s 21st, 15th and 19th light. But even that was denied them. When it became obvious to Rommel that there would be little chance to hold anything between El Daba and the frontier, his Panzers dissolved, disintegrated and turned tail, leaving the Italians to fight a rear-guard action.” (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,932852,00.html World Battlefronts: A PINT OF WATER PER MAN, Time Magazine, 16 November 1942)
As operations wound down in the winter of 1941-42, the Russian civilian population is on the point of complete starvation and welcome the Italian commanders that prevent a human catastrophe, providing money, food, transport and medicine to the civilians in exchange for shelter for their soldiers, and ignore German orders to roundup people of military age to be interned in local prison camps and/or be or be sent to Germany as slave labourers. (“It was expressly forbidden to requisition homes forcefully from the locals in the German manner. During the winter of 1941-42, the Russian urban population was on the edge of outright starvation. The Germans had requisitioned all local grain …Italian soldiers picked up many civilians during this period, providing much needed transportation for those moving toward the Don on foot. The Germans were concerned about security to the rear of their lines as masses of civilians entered areas close to the front near the Don River. They ordered civilians without prescribed permits to be interned in prison camps … The Italian military had nothing to do with roundups of civilian workers sent to Germany for forced labor … The troops had a period of quiet while in the zone of Stalino in the Donetz Basin, where their main battle was against the frigid weather. Soldiers frequently sought refuge in Russian homes where stoves offered welcome warmth. Women villagers often did the laundry for soldiers in exchange for part of their bread and rations. As villagers came to know the soldiers, they requested medical help for their children. Italian medical officers offered their assistance and even offered medicine. Numerous soldiers even gave blood for necessary transfusions. In Rikovo, officers of the Torino Division established free outpatient clinics, a rest house for the elderly, and even a clinic for pregnant women run by Italians with Russian personnel paid by the Italians.” Sacrifice on the Steppe: The Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign, 1942-1943, Hope Hamilton, pp. 14-15, Casemate, 2011)
28 January – Raggruppamento Musino fights off repeated Russian attacks near Izium. (“The CSIR survived the hard winter of 1941-2 remarkably well, most likely thanks to their experiences in the campaign against Greece the previous winter. In larger battles in the Izium area to the north, the Italians at the behest of the Germans, repeatedly provided individual combat groups, who stood the test in both defensive and offensive functions. The success of the small Italian expeditionary corps was not least of all thanks to the unflagging commitment of its commander General Messe. The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Foreign Soldiers, Rolf-Dieter Müller, p. 75, I.B.Tauris, 2014)
13 January – On this day alone, Malta receives 14 air raid alerts in 19 hours. (“Tuesday 13 January dawned fine and clear, but the blue skies brought heavy air raids 14 in the space of 19 hours, lasting a total of 9 hours.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20120622003950/ https://maltagc70.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/13-January-1942-14-air-raids-9-hours-under-fire/ Malta War Diary)
A total of 262 air raids are sounded in Malta this month. (“In January 1942, the first month of the blitz, Malta was subjected to 262 air raids, and in the next three months only eleven nights saw no raids at all.” The Rough Guide to Malta & Gozo, Victor Paul Borg, p. 348, Rough Guides, 2002)
ROMMEL’S SECOND DESERT OFFENSIVE
21 January – Thanks to Italian convoys and the efforts of Italian code-breakers using the “Black Code”, Rommel resumes his desert offensive and quickly seizes Mersa Brega (21 January) and Agedabia (22 January).
(“…this time with crucial Italian – not German – intelligence giving him the daily British order of battle, and with the new self-propelled ‘Semovente’ 75/18mm which gave the Marcks Group a powerful Italian punch.” The American Experience in World War II, Walter L. Hixson, p.255, Taylor & Francis, 2003) (“Among the most important was the self-propelled Semovente 75/18 gun firing a shell specially designed to penetrate the 70mm armor of the Allies’ leading tanks. The ‘Effetto Pronto’, or Quick Effect round took its toll of the new Shermans and Grants beginning to make their appearance on North African battlefields…” Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy’s Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45, Frank Joseph, p.159, Casemate Publishers, 2010)
6 February – Rommel’s forces caputure Benghazi and commandeer 1,300 Allied trucks, The British are pushed back to Gazala. The British Commonwealth forces lose 40 tanks, 40 field guns and 1,400 troops. This was a disaster for the Allies in more ways than one. Now the Allied convoys to Malta must pass between Axis occupied Crete and the Benghazi airfield. (“They left 1,300 trucks that would serve the Germans well in the months ahead.” Afrikakorps, p. 100, Time-Life Books, 1990) (“By 6 February, he had pushed the British back to Gazala, just 30 miles west of Tobruk.” Turning the Tide: Decisive Battles of the Second World War, Nigel Cawthorne, p. 52, Book Sales, 2003) (“In the vicious battle that followed on 6 February, the loss of 1,400 Commonwealth troops, forty tanks, and as many pieces of field artillery could not prevent the fall of this strategic port city.” (Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy’s Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45, Frank Joseph, p.160, Casemate Publishers, 2010)
7 February – Malta has 17 air raid alerts in a span of 24 hours.. A total of 236 air raids alerts take place in Malta in February.
13 February – The Spica-class destroyer escort ‘Circe’ sinks the British submarine ‘Tempest’ off Taranto.
25 February – British submarine ‘P38’ is sunk off the coast of Tunisia by Italian destroyers.
SECOND BATTLE OF SIRTE
22 March – Admiral Angelo Iachino, commander of the Italian Navy, sets sail in his flagship, the ‘Littorio’, along with 3 cruisers, the ‘Gorizia’, ‘Trento’ and ‘Bande Nere’ and eight destroyers, ‘Alpino’, ‘Bersaglieri’, ‘Fucilieri, ‘Lanciere’ , ‘Scirocco; ‘Ascari’, ‘Aviere and ‘Orlani’ to intercept a British convoy heading for Malta. The convoy is protected by the the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS ‘Carlisle’, the cruisers HMS ‘Cleopatra’, HMS ‘Dido’, HMS ‘Euryalus’, HMS ‘Penelope’ and sixteen destroyers, practically the entire Royal Navy in the Mediterranean under Admiral Philip Vian.
At 9:30 A.M., Italian torpedo bombers begin the attack on the convoy and it’s escorts, causing no damage. The Luftwaffe then appears but also fails to inflict damage on the British. At 1:30 P.M., most of the Italian and British warships make sight of each other. The British ships release smoke to prevent accurate firing by the Italian warships. The Italian heavy cruisers open fire and turn away once the ‘Carlisle’ and a destroyer fire back. The British assume the Italians have abandoned the fight. It was, however, a ruse to attempt to get the Allied ships within effective firing range of the 380mm guns of the ‘Littorio’. However, Admiral Vian realizes this.
At 4:30 P.M., the opposing sides again make sight of each other. Italian shells knock out the radar of ‘Cleopatra’ , and puncture the ‘Euryalus’ and the destroyer HMS ‘Havoc’, forcing ‘Havoc’ to retire to Malta for repairs. In the British evasive manaeuveres to avoid German Stukas and Italian torpedo-bombers, the ‘Carlisle’ collides with the destroyer HMS ‘Avon Vale’.
AT 17:15 P.M., with the worsening weather and British smoke screen, it becomes increasingly difficult for Iachino to engage the British warships. When the ‘Vittorio Veneto’ finds a clearing, it sustains a hit and catches fire but it’s brought under control. Italian return fire, damages the destroyer HMS ‘Kingston’ forcing it to retire to Malta for repairs. With darkness having fallen and gale-force winds, both sides retire, but much too late for Admiral Iachino, who loses the destroyers ‘Lanciere’ and ‘Scirocco’ when caught in a severe storm.
March – There are 275 air raids in Malta for the month of March. Ninety of them at night.
April – 283 air raids occurred in Malta this month and the island absorbed 6,728 tons of bombs. Thanks to limestone houses and the ability of the British to defend Malta, the Maltese continued to handle the attacks well.
1 April – Italian cruiser ‘Giovanni Delle Bande Nere’ is sunk near Stromboli by British submarine HMS Urge.
14 April – The British submarine HMS ‘Upholder’ is sunk by the Italian destroyer escort ‘Pegaso’ off the coast of Tripoli, Libya. (“A number of theories exist as to the fate of Upholder, the most likely is that she fell victim to a depth charge attack by the Italian anti-submarine vessel Pagaso on 14th April east of Tripoli although no debris was seen and the position of the attack would have put Upholder some 100 miles out of position, however, this can be explained by the submarine changing position to find ‘richer pickings’.” ( http://rnsubs.co.uk/boats/subs/u-class/upholder.html RN Subs).
29 April – British submarine HMS ‘Urge’ is sunk by ‘Pegaso’ off the coast of Libya (“On 27th April 1942 HMS Urge left Malta on passage to Alexandria, where she was due to arrive on the 6th. The submarine failed to arrive. It is possible that Urge struck a mine outside Malta or that she was sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Pegaso in the eastern Mediterranean.” http://rnsubs.co.uk/boats/subs/u-class/urge.html RN Subs)
29 May – Italian destroyer ‘Emanuelle Pessagno’ is sunk off the coast of Libya by British submarine ‘Turbulent’.
BATTLE OF GAZALA
27 May – ‘Ariete’ overruns the British-officered 3rd Indian Brigade, capturing 1,000 troops. (http://www.avalanchepress.com/Ariete.php Ariete at Gazala)
30 May – ‘Trieste’ rescues the trapped Afrika Korps preventing their entire capitulation. (“At this time the British thought they had Rommel cornered and he himself contemplated surrender, but the Italian ‘Trieste’ Division managed to open a route through the minefield and get a supply column to him.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20150220115417/; http://desertrats.org.uk/battles1942.htm Engagements – 1942)
31 May – ‘Ariete’ destroys dozens of British tanks near Sidra Ridge. (“Ariete repelled repeated British tank attacks on the 29th, delivered with great bravery but little coordination. Italian 88mm and 90mm anti-aircraft guns, used in an anti-tank role, destroyed dozens of British tanks.” (http://www.avalanchepress.com/Ariete.php Ariete at Gazala )
1 June – Rommel’s forces break through the Gazala line, destroying 100 British tanks and taking 3,000 British POW’s.
5 June – ‘Ariete’ again successfully covers the back of the Afrika Korps. (http://www.avalanchepress.com/Ariete.php Ariete at Gazala)
12 June – In what is considered the “greatest defeat in the history of the British armor”, the ‘Trieste’ ensnares the British 22nd Armoured Brigade, and the British tank unit retreats with heavy losses. (“Bismarck and Nehring struck on June 12 and their timing was perfect. The distinguished British historian Correlli Barnett called the ensuing battle the greatest defeat in the history of the British armor. When the British XIII Corps commander, General Norrie, realized what was happening, he sent the 22nd Armoured Brigade to rescue the trapped 7th Armoured. The 22nd, however, was pinned down by the Italian Trieste Motorized Division and was taken in the rear by Bismarck and the 21st Panzer. It retreated with heavy losses. Bismarck then returned to the Battle of Knightsbridge, where he, Nehring, and Rommel crushed the 7th Armoured.”( Rommel’s Lieutenants: The Men Who Served The Desert Fox, Samuel W. Mitcham, p. 98, Praeger, 2006)
16 June – The Italian Army overruns several units & capture 6,000 Allied troops. (“The Italians finished mopping up the Gazala Line on June 16, capturing 6,000 prisoners, thousands of tons of supplies, and entire convoys of undamaged vehicles in the process”. (The Rise of the Wehrmacht: The German Armed Forces and World War, 2 Volumes, p.564, Samuel W. Mitcham, Praeger, 2008)
21 June – General Hendrik Klopper surrenders Tobruk to the Afrika Korps. The spoils include 35,000 POW’s, roughly 2,000 vehicles, 30 tanks, 400 guns and much needed fuel.
Italian destroyer ‘Strale’ abandoned off Tunisia is destroyed by British submarine HMS ‘Turbulent’.
With the capture of Tobruk all preparations for ‘Operation Hercules’ (the invasion of Malta planned for July) wind down and eventually cancelled on 21 July. (“As we now have Tobruk”, wrote Jodl, Chief of the Army High Command, on 22nd June, 1942, “we no longer require Malta.” The German and Italian troops intended for “Herkules” were sent to Rommel, and on 21st July all orders for “Herkules” were cancelled.” Key to victory: the triumph of British sea power in World War II, Peter Kemp Kemp, p. 222, Little Brown, 1957)
22 June – Rommel is promoted to Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal).
In the last week of June, Mussolini visits Tobruk and British soldiers at the POW camp at Derna, but is unable to meet up with Rommel at the front.
8 June – Italian submarine smg. ‘Alagi’ sinks the Italian destroyer ‘Antonio Usodimare’ by tragic mistake.
14 June – The Regia Marina sends the Italian 7th cruiser division (cruisers, submarines and torpedo bombers) under Admiral da Zara in the flagship Eugenio di Savoia from Palermo, Sicily to intercept. In the following battle the Regia Marina’s direct attack sank the British destroyer Bedouin and forced an altered and delaying route on the British, allowing the Axis air forces to reduce the convoy from 6 to 2 transports. Only 2 merchant ships, the Orari and Troilus, along with the Welshman, were able to make it to Malta.
15 June – Italian cruiser ‘Trento’ is sunk off Malta by British Submarine ‘Umbra’.
Mid June – Operation Vigorous, which included 11 merchant ships, seven cruisers and 28 destroyers was the largest convoy to set sail for Malta. The convoy had to turn back around and return home to Alexandria, Egypt once it was noted that the Italian Battleships Littorio and Vittorio Veneto, along with 2 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 12 destroyers were dispatched to intercept them.
Total Allied damage included: 2 merchant ships sunk, 2 damaged, 3 cruisers damaged, 3 destroyers sunk and one torpedo boat sunk. Only 1 Italian heavy cruiser was lost, scuttled by the Italians due to severe damage.
These two operations were major Italian naval victories, but the downfall was that the oil shortages became so great for the Italian military machine, that such large Italian naval operations were rarely seen again.
26 June – General Ettore Baldassare (commander of the Italian XX Corps), General Guido Piacenza (his artillery commander), and Colonel Vittorio Raffaelli (his engineer commander), are killed while reconnoitering the British fortress of Mersa Matruh. (“The loss of these three important officers was a major blow to the Italians, particularly that of Baldassare, who had led them successfully through the battles of May and June” in Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini’s Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa, Ian Walker, Crowood, 2012)
27 June – Germans censors and radio station Deutschlandsender give away the secret of the ‘Black Code’ in a radio play. According to Wilhelm F. Flicke, an officer with the Afrika Korps this breach in security dooms the Axis war effort in North Africa:
“Then the miracle occurred. No, it was no miracle; it was a tragicomedy. It was as idiotically funny as a passage from a dime novel. It was Saturday, 27 June 1942. I tuned in the Deutschlandsender’s six p.m. broadcast. “We are offering a drama with scenes from the British or American information bureau,” the announcer said. “This is going to be some stuff,” I thought, but left the receiver on while I went ahead with some work. Suddenly I pricked up my ears: the drama had as its subject “Events in North Africa” and was commenting on political and military matters. One of the characters represented the American military attache in Cairo, and now there followed a discussion of his extensive supply of information and the way he sent it to Washington. I was speechless. To think that the German broadcast was putting on something that countless people were trying to keep secure! The drama was authentic, and only too well played…
On 29 June, 36 hours after this radio drama, the messages from Garrulus to Washington suddenly ceased. The German intercept operators listened and searched in vain. No further MILID or AGWAR message was ever heard. When messages began to flow again, the Americans were using a system which defied all our efforts at solution. Rommel, on the Egyptian threshold, remained without information. The British regrouped their forces; he knew nothing about it. They introduced new units; he was not told. New weapons were unloaded in Alexandria and Port Said; Rommel did not find out about them. The great general now had to rely upon himself and his reconnaissance at the front.” (https://www.cia.gov/library/ center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol3no4/html/v03i4a06p_0001.htm The Lost Keys to El Alamein)
28 June – The massing of Italian troops near Mersa Matruh forces the British to abandon Siwa Oasis, the patrol base of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), the original Special Air Service in North Africa. (“This great withdrawal on the coast had an obvious effect on the LRDG’s continued use of Siwa as a base.” The Long Range Desert Group 1940-1945: Providence Their Guide, David Lloyd-Owen, p. 99, Pen and Sword, 2009)
28-30 June – ‘Littorio’ surrounds Mersa Matruh & Bersaglieri capture 8,000 Allied soldiers. (“The Mersa Matruh positions came under heavy artillery fire from the Brescia and Trento Divisions, while the 90th Light and the Littorio Divisions tried to complete the encirclement from the south … Late in the day on 27 June, Gott, worried that his New Zealand 2nd Division was about to be cut off, ordered the withdrawal of XIII Corps. Because of a breakdown in British communications, X Corps did not learn until 0430 hours on 28 June that XIII Corps was in full retreat, and their southern flank was open. Later that day, the 90th Light Divison and the Littorio Divison completed the encirclement of Mersa Matruh … During the night of 28 June, groups of the Indian 10th Division tried a breakout of the Mersa Matruh position at the head of Wadi Ngamish, but they were driven back by the Littorio Armoured Division … On the morning of 29 June, the garrison of Mersa Matruh was overwhelmed. At 0930 hours, the Italian 7th Bersaglieri Regiment entered the conquered stronghold, taking 6,000 Allied prisoners.” World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, David T. Zabecki, p. 1578, Taylor & Francis, 1999) (“Most of the garrison of Matruh, the better part of another corps, broke out before that position was overrun on June 29, with Italian Bersaglieri playing a leading role in a close-quarters fight resulting in the capture of six thousand prisoners and a division’s worth of equipment.” Patton And Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century, Dennis Showalter, Penguin, 2006) (“By 30 June the situation had stabilized again, but Mersa Matruh was now in Axis hands. Rommel had gained a significant victory through almost outrageous bluff—a victory that had cost his opponents 8,000 prisoners and a great deal of equipment.” War in the Mediterranean, Bernard Ireland, p. 140, Pen & Sword, 2003)
FIRST BATTLE OF ALAMEIN
1 July – Bersaglieri forward troops round up 1,000
3 July – The New Zealand 19th Battalion dislodges the “Ariete’, capturing 531 New Zealanders stragglers near Minqar Qaim, 24 miles south of Mersa Matruh. (https://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/ misc/ngatoa/articles/orm.aspx Interview with Orm Poppleton)men and several artillery batteries. The New Zealand 21st and 22nd Battalions also attack but are unable to dislodge the ‘Brescia’.
10 July – The Australian 2/48th Battalion captures 835 troops from the ‘Sabratha’ Division defending Tel el Eisa. The Italians had initially resisted, but were unable to maintain their positions after being heavily shelled by 100 field artillery guns supporting the Australian advance. (“The advance to the next triangulation point on the ridge, Point 23, 2,000 yards further on, was not so easy against the now alerted defence but soon the rifle and machine-gun fire of the Italian defenders was drowned out by the drone of hundreds of shells. The guns of all three Australian field regiments and both South African field regiments as well as the 7th Medium Regiment, amounting to more than 100 25-pounder field guns, 4.5-inch and 5.5-inch medium guns in all, began firing their artillery programme in support of the attack”. Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p.105, Random House, 2010)
11 July – General Enea Navarini, reacts vigorously and the 7th Bersaglieri Regiment and 46th Artillery Regiment from the ‘Trento’ and a company of tanks from the ‘Trieste’ are rushed forward. The Italian reinforcements halt the Australian advance and the Bersaglieri retake part of Tel el Eisa. (“That afternoon Italian tanks counter-attacked both Australian battalions in an attempt to retake Hill 33 near the coast. Maj. Gabriele Verri, commanding 11th Armd. Bn. of the Trieste Motorised Division, sent a company of M13 and M14 tanks into the assault under Capt. Vittorio Bulgarelli.” War in the Desert, Neil D. Orpen, p.367, Purnell, 1971) ( “At approx 2000 hours enemy tanks–number unknown– and inf attacked D Coy front. They overran psn and enemy inf forced D Company to withdraw and occupied their psn” (2/48th Battalion War Diary)).
14 July – Colonel Erminio Angelozzi’s 1st Battalion, 85th Infantry Regiment, ‘Sabratha’ Division, launch a counterattack on the Australians deployed along Tel el Eisa and succeed in recapturing the position. (“La controffensiva inglese premeva a Nord, dove la Divisione Sabratha si battè in una serie di assalti e contrassalti. Ad essa, oramai allo stremo, fu affidato il compito di riconquistare la quota di Tell el Elsa: l’azione fu condotta dal solo battaglione operativamente valido, il I dell’85°, comandato dal colonnello Angelozzi: la quota, dopo aspra battaglia, fu riconquistata. Fu l’ultima azione della Sabratha, che fu sciolta.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20150221044819/ ; http://www.carabinieri.gov.it/arma/ieri/storia/cc-nel-900-italiano/fascicolo-30/1942-l%27anno-decisivo-pag-2 MINISTERO DELLA DIFESA)
15 July – The ‘Pavia’ & ‘Brescia’ Divisions derail 2nd New Zealand Division’s attack on Ruweisat Ridge. Several hundred attackers are captured. (While the attacking brigades had been able to cut large gaps through the defences held by the Italian infantry, they had not been able to subdue all the resistance. Not surprisingly, most of the smaller outposts and defended localities had fallen easily but some of the larger posts had been bypassed during the night. The outposts which remained contained substantial number of anti-tank guns, machine guns and infantry. When daylight came, these posts were able to cover the area south of the ridge by fire and shot up any trucks foolhardy enough to drive forward.”‘ Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 131, Random House, 2010)
16 July – The Australian 2/23rd Battalion attempts to retake Tel el Eisa, but are forced to retreat after suffering heavy casualties. (Later, recounting the 2/23rd Battalion attack, Australian historian Mark Johnston wrote that “On 16 July, they were ordered to retake it and the rest of Tel el Eisa Ridge. After initial success, they suffered nearly 50 percent casualties and had to withdraw.”) (In his diary, Rommel writes:”Next day, the 16th July, the British attacked again, but this time only locally. After intensive artillery preparation, the Australians attacked in the early hours of the morning with tank support and took several strong-points held by the Sabratha“).
17 July – The ‘Trento’ supported by tanks from the ‘Trieste’ overrun part of the 9th AIF Division, capturing no less than 200 Australians. The incredulous Australians assume the attackers were crack Panzergrenadiers, even though German records later proved that Italians from the 3rd Battalion, 61st Trento Infantry Regiment delivered the blow. Australian historians doctor the wartime accounts, with the The Australian Official History only admitting that “two forward platoons of the 2/32nd’s left company were overrun, 22 men were taken prisoner”. Australian historian Mark Johnston in the book Fighting The Enemy (Cambridge University Press, 2000) puts this down to “an unwillingness to acknowledge reverses against Italians.” (“The attack began on 17 July at 2.30 am. The 2/32nd captured the Trig 22 and linked with the 2/43rd but the Germans resisted fiercely and counter-attacked with tanks. The 2/32nd suffered heavily: nearly half its number were either killed or wounded and nearly 200 became prisoners of war.” https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U56075/ 2/32nd Australian Infantry Battalion) (“Soon the companies had seized the enemy positions on the ridge, but, in the dark, the men of A Company overshot their objective, Point 22, by 1,500 yards. By the time they realised their mistake they were under such heavy fire that they could not withdraw. By 08.00 hours Italian tanks and infantry began to encircle their positions and eventually forced the entire company to surrender.” Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 148, Random House, 2010)
22 July – The ‘Brescia’ and ‘Trieste’ Divisions on Ruweisat Ridge contain another attack from the 2nd New Zeaaland Division, and 800 attackers caught out in the open are captured when German tanks arrive. Two Italian regimental commanders (Colonels Gherardo Vaiarini de Piacenza and Umberto Zanetti ) are killed defending Ruweisat Ridge proving that Italian officers fought and died alongside their men. (“The fighting which assumed particular tenacity has ended in favour of the Axis. The enemy has been everywhere repelled with counter-attacks and has sustained grave losses in men and materiel. Eight hundred prisoners, mainly New Zealanders, and Indians have fallen into our hands and 130 tanks were destroyed on the field. During that action the German Afrika Korps and the Italian Brescia and Trieste divisions particularly distinguished themselves.” https://web.archive.org/web/ 20100409154641/; http://www.comando supremo.com/1elalamein.html – ‘First Battle of El Alamein’ COMMANDO SUPREMO/ITALY AT WAR). (“A mixed German-Italian combat team held on and proved that not all Italians had lost the will to fight. Many of these men resisted to the last bullet. Their heroic stand gave Rommel time to concentrate his Afrika Korps against the 23rd Armoured Brigade.” Rommel’s Desert War: The Life and Death of the Afrika Korps, Samuel W. Mitcham, p. 122, Stackpole Books, 2007). (“Colonel Gherardo Vaiarini de Piacenza, commanding the 65th Trieste Infantry, was killed; he met his death with such gallantry that he was posthumously awarded the Gold Medal … . The Trieste’s other infantry colonel, Umberto Zanetti, commanding the 66th, was also killed – on July 22nd.” Alamein 1933-1962: An Italian Story, Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo, p. 83, Allen & Unwin, 1966).
27 July – The 3rd Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment, ‘Trento’ Division derails the attack of the Australian 2/28th Battalion. (“We could see the Australians and British advancing rather spread out, about 750 yards in front of us, all in groups corresponding with their units. We ceased fire with the machine-guns — there was still plenty of time for them — but continued with our 47/32s … . When they got within 300 yards, we opened up with everything. The noise was terrific; you could only tell a gun was firing by the smoke and powder coming out of its muzzle. It was almost eleven o’clock. My tommy-gun broke down after about 3,000 rounds — ejector broken! The machine-gun also played up a bit after 5,000 rounds. But by that time the attack was beginning to peter out. The British artillery had packed it in. By midday it was all over. After the withdrawal, followed by our counterattack, the ambulances returned to start ferrying back the dead and wounded, but we got suspicious after an hour or so because they seemed to be hanging about too much. We fired a few shots over their heads to let them know it was time to break it up. They took the hint and went — and didn’t come back.” Alamein 1933-1962: An Italian Story, Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo, p. 87, Allen & Unwin, 1966).
With German tanks still en route, the armoured reconnaissance squadron of the ‘Trieste’ arrives and captures the Australian 2/28 Battalion caught out in the open. (“The names of certain units were on everyone’s lips up and down the line following particularly brilliant actions, among them the reconnaissance Group of the Trieste. It had been set up some time previously: it was hardly a homogeneous unit on the German pattern, but did reflect admirably the Italian genius of improvisation. They had no more than nine vehicles–Morrises, Fords, Dingos and Jeeps, all captured from the enemy–armed with small caliber guns and machine-guns of all descriptions, British, Italian and German, together with two British 88 guns and their carriages, and two small supply lorries.” Alamein 1933-1962: An Italian Story, Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo, p. 79, Allen & Unwin, 1966) (“The Bn was completely surrounded by armored cars which worked forward under cover of fire from enemy tanks further back, while 20mm, MMG and mortar fire kept the heads of our own troops well down. In this manner the enemy was able to cut off and dispose of sections and platoons one by one, until at 1030 hrs Bn HQ area was occupied by several armored cars and surviving personnel taken prisoner. An effort had been made to hinder the enemy armored vehicles by bringing Arty fire to bear on them before they dispersed. Unfortunately the only communication with Bde was by one wireless set WT repaired by Sigs, after about eight hours work. Messages reporting the situation were sent immediately once this set was capable of functioning, i.e., about 0930 hrs onwards. Last message was “All up, overrun!” ” July 1942 Diary by Lieutenant S. A. Walker (available online)).
German and Italian armoured attacks, and Italian officers, NCOs and recruits save Rommel from certain defeat, and the Afrika Korps commander confirms this:
“The Italians were willing, unselfish and good comrades in the front line. There can be no disputing that the achievement of all the Italian units, especially the motorized elements, far outstripped any action of the Italian Army for 100 years. Many Italian generals and officers earned our respect as men as well as soldiers.” (Rommel and His Art of War, John Pimlott, p. 150, Greenhill Books, 2003)
July – Mussolini sends reinforcements – the ‘Sforzesca’, ‘Ravenna’, ‘Cosseria’, ‘Vicenza’, ‘Tridentina’, ‘Julia’ and ‘Cuneense’ Divisions, and the CSIR of General Messe is renamed ARMIR (Armata Italiana in Russia – Italian Army in Russia).
3 August – Italian fast attack craft cripple the Russian cruiser ‘Molotov’. (“Italian MTBs torpedoed the cruiser Molotov after a bombardment of Feodosia on August 3, 1942.” Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Beyond MEDITERRANEAN, Timothy C. Dowling, p. 128, ABC-CLIO, 2014) (“They were attacked by three Italian motor-boats, but only one torpedo launched by Captain Legnani’s MAS 568 found its target, crippling the Molotov with a nineteen-meter-long gash in her hull.” Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy’s Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45, Frank Joseph, p.159, Casemate Publishers, 2010)
7 August – Italian destroyer escort ‘Pegaso’ sinks British submarine HMS ‘Thorn ‘off Tobruk, Libya. (Note: Pegaso sinks 3 British submarines in 4 months.) (“On the 7th August 1942 HMS Thorn encountered the Italian torpedo boat Pegaso, escorting the steamer Istria from Benghazi, 30 miles south west of Gaudhos Island, off southern Crete. At 1255 an escorting aircraft was seen to machine-gun the sea’s surface and Pegaso moved in to investigate. Just four minutes after the aircraft’s attack the Pegaso picked-up a contact and carried out seven attacks after which contact was lost. HMS Thorn failed to return from the patrol and is believed to have been lost in this attack.” Sunken Ships, World War II, Karl Erik Heden, p. 236, Branden Books, 2006)
22 August – Italian Generali-class destroyer ‘Antonio Cantore’ sinks after hitting a mine.
24 August – The Savoia Cavalleria overruns part of the Russian 304th Infantry Division. (“Three days later, the 3rd Cavalry Division Amedeo Duca d’ Aosta, comprising 600 horse-soldiers … charged 2,000 Soviets defending themselves with mortars and artillery on the Isbuschenski Steppe. The lead squadron achieved complete surprise by attacking head-on, while the other, armed with sabers, rode down the Reds from behind their positions. These were overrun in history’s last significant cavalry charge. It destroyed two soviet battalions, forcing another battalion to withdraw, while capturing 500 prisoners.” Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy’s Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45, Frank Joseph, p.147, Casemate Publishers, 2010).
25 August – Italian troops defeat Russian counterattacks. (“Elsewhere on the Don front Russian counter-attacks were reported “frustrated” by Italian troops.”https://news.google. com/ newspapers?nid=1917&dat=19420825&id=JGhGAAAAIBAJ&sjid= 4ugMAAAAIBAJ &pg=975,5654334&hl=en ‘Soviets Are Fighting Desperately Against Huge Tank Forces,’ Schenectady Gazette, 25 August 1942)
26 August– Italians repel more Russian attacks on the Don front. (“Italian troops operating on the Don front repulsed several enemy attacks in hand-to-hand fighting.” German High Command Communique. The New York Times, 26 August 1942)
ALAM EL HALFA
During the Battle of Alam el Halfa (30 August – 5 September) , the ‘Bologna’ Division and German 433rd Infantry Regiment attack several Indian, South African and New Zealand units on Ruweisat Ridge, and manage to capture Point 211. Although the Official History of New Zealand In The Second World War 1939–45 refers to the largely Italian action as simply ‘feints’, a noted British military historian, wrote that it was a counterattack requiring a strong response:
“In the centre of the British front a good Italian division, the Bologna, delivered a strong attack on the Ruweisat Ridge, and a considerable counter-attack was required to expel it from the footing it gained.”
(AFTERMATH OF WAR: THE EIGHT ARMY FROM ALAMEIN TO THE SANGRO. The illustrated London News, Volume 212, Issues 5672-5684, p. 262, The Illustrated London News & Sketch Ltd., 1948)
The Axis attacks come to a halt and the British Commonwealth forces start their counterattack (Operation Beresford) on 4 September, but the 2nd New Zealand Division suffers a reversal at the hands of the ‘Folgore’ Airborne Division as Colonel Fritz Bayerlein (one of Rommel’s key officers) points out:
“An attack by our Luftwaffe against the 10th Indian Div, which was in the assembly area for a counter attack against the centre of the front, caused the units which were assembled there to scatter to the winds. Also, all other attacks launched by other units against our flanks, especially the New Zealanders, were too weak to be able to effect a penetration—they could be repulsed. A night attack conducted against the X Italian Corps resulted in especially high losses for the British. Countless enemy dead lay on the battlefield and 200 prisoners were taken among whom was Gen (sic) Clifton, commanding general of the 6th New Zealand Brigade.”(https://web.archive.org/web/2009 0622151503/http://www-cgsc.army.mil/carl/resources/csi/hart/hart.asp A Battle Report: ALAM HALFA).
The ‘Trieste’, ‘Brescia’ and 90th Light Division, assisted by tanks from the ‘Ariete’ and ‘Littorio’ Divisions, counterattack in the area of the Munassib Depression the New Zealand 26th Battalion and 5th Brigade and the British 132nd (Kent) Brigade, forcing them back to practically their starting lines, after the New Zealanders and British had made good progress. (“During the early morning hours, the New Zealand Division, composed of the two New Zealand brigades, which occupied the box, assisted by a brigade of another infantry division, laid down an artillery barrage and followed with an infantry attack. This attack advanced south and along the trails in square 88-27. The attack advanced 3 miles, but with the coming of daylight the Trieste, Brescia, and the 90th Light Division, supported by the Ariete, and Littorio Divisions, in a series of three counterattacks, forced the attacking troops back nearly to their original positions.” The Afrika in Combat, Bob Carruthers, Pen & Sword, 2013 ).
13-14 September – The British attempt an amphibious landing at Tobruk but are defeated by the Italian San Marco Marines and Italian (not German) shore batteries that sink the British destroyer ‘Sikh’. Italian fighter-bombers from 13° Gruppo sink the British destroyer ‘Zulu’. About 300 British are killed with the Royal Marines reporting the loss 81 men, and Royal Navy admitting the loss of another 217 men. Axis losses are fifteen Italians and one German killed and 43 Italians and 7 Germans wounded. A total of 576 British attackers are captured. Some 30 supporting LRDG commandos are also captured and appear in the Italian Giornale Di Guerra No. 285 newsreel. (Desert Raiders: Axis and Allied Special Forces 1940-43, Duncan Anderson, Andrea Molinari, p. 71, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007) (“The Rome and Berlin high commands announced the capture of 576 prisonoers in Sunday night’s raid on the Libyan base.” https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2199&dat=19420916&id=92deAAAAIBAJ&sjid= KWENAAAAIBAJ &pg=6169,4990797&hl=en TWO DESTROYERS LOST, Lawrence Journal World, 16 September 1942)
HMS ‘Sikh’, according to the survivors was hit by Italian Marine 155 mm (6 inch) guns:
“The Sikh was sunk by cross fire from two batteries of six inch guns which the freed prisoners said had been especially mounted in anticipation of the raid. Despite this gunfire and the subsequent bombardment of small boats after they had abandoned ship, the Sikh lost only 17 men, although many more of the marine landing party were lost.” (https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19430323&id=xDAaAAAAIBAJ &sjid= JyUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4461,2852440&hl=en Tobruk Raid Was Washout, The Milwaukee Journal, 23 May 1943)
23 September – Rommel leaves North Africa on sick leave, leaving General Georg Stumme in command of the Afrika Korps.
29-30 September – The 131st ‘Queen’s’ Brigade supported by tanks from the 4th Armoured Brigade launches Operation Braganzar in an attempt to capture the Deir el Munassib area through the supposedly weak Italian lines. The ‘Folgore’ Airborne Division repels the attack, killing or capturing over 300 attackers. ( “At 05.25 hours the barrage fired by nine regiments of field artillery crashed down in support of the advancing infantry. The 1/6th Queen’s advanced along the northern lip of the depression and met with little opposition. Similarly the 1/7th Queen’s encountered no difficulty in taking the eastern edge of Munassib. However, its sister battalion, the 1/5th Queen’s, had the more difficult task of seizing the southern lip of the depression. When its C Company approached the minefield in front of the enemy positions, the defenders, drawn from the Folgore Parachute Division, put down heavy mortar and machine-gun fire which pinned the troops to the ground. Meanwhile, A Company penetrated the Italian positions only to find itself surrounded and overwhelmed. The reserve companies were then held up by fierce defensive fire and made little progress. After day of heavy shelling, the 1/5th Queen’s were withdrawn from their exposed posts. The operation cost the brigade 328 casualties for little gain.” Pendulum of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 269, Random House, 2005)
The incredulous British assume that Fallschirmjägers (German Paratroopers) had derailed the attack, but the Afrika Korps’s war diary points out that the ‘Folgore’ “bore the brunt of the attack. It fought well and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy.” (Afrika Korps War Diary, 30 September 1942).
11 October – Heinrich Himmler flies to Rome to visit Mussolini. The German government is very worried about the health of Mussolini. Himmler’s visit was to assess Mussolini’s health and the state of Fascism in Italy. Himmler later reports back to Hitler that if Mussolini remains alive, then so will the Fascist state.
19 October – Italian Navigatori-class destroyer ‘Giovanni Da Verrazzano’ is sunk off Tripoli by British submarine HMS ‘Unbending’.
13 October – General Alessandro Predieri, commander of the ‘Brescia’ Division is killed in action. (“The Italian high command announced today that General Alessandro Prodieri, commander of the “Brescia” division had been killed in action on the Egyptian front on Oct. 13.” https://news.google.com/newspapers?d=336&dat=19421015&id General Killed The Desert News, 15 October 1942)
23 October – British 8th Army under command of General Montgomery attacks El Alamein. The 12 Italian and German divisions amounted to 80,000 men (53,000 of which were Italian). The British Commonwealth forces amounted to 230,000 men divided among 10 divisions. As far as the tanks are concerned, only the German Panzer IV (35 total) were equal to the American Sherman (252 total ) and Grant (170 total) tanks.
24 October – ‘Ariete’, ‘Brescia’ & ‘Folgore’ successfully defend the Alamein Front. (“The Ariete Division, the Bersaglieri Battalion and units of the Brescia and Folgore Divisions fought magnificently. Montgomery’s 13th Corps was able to make minor break throughs in the eastern minefield, but did not reach the main front line.” The Foxes of the Desert, Paul Carell, p. 279, Bantam Books, 1962)
General Stumme dies of a heart attack when his truck is caught in crossfire, and General Wilhelm von Thoma assumes command of the Afrika Korps.
25 October – Rommel arrives back in Africa.
26 October – 12th Bersaglieri Regiment overruns the Austalian 2/17th Battalion.(“Attacks were now launched on Hill 28 by elements of the 15th Panzer Division, the Littorio and a Bersaglieri Battalion, supported by the concentrated fire of all the local artillery and A.A … In the evening part of the Bersaglieri Battalion succeeded in occupying the eastern and western edges of the hill.” El Alamein: Desert Victory, John Strawson, p. 119, J M Dent & Sons Limited, 1981) ( “On the morning of 28 October, tanks, lorried infantry and some of the groups of men who had dug in after previous unsuccessful attempts gathered for another attempt to retake Point 29. The 2/17th Battalion, which had taken over the positions around Point 29, had suffered heavy casualties and eventually it was decided to pull the infantry back from the exposed height to better positions in the open desert.” Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 360, Random House, 2010).
28 October – The ‘Littorio’ Armoured Division overruns part of the British 133rd Brigade, 300 British are captured. (“In the early morning they attacked 133 British Lorried Infantry Brigade, which had been sent to relieve ‘Snipe’, but ended up to the north of it and was unable to dig its anti-tank guns into the rocky ground. The Axis assault virtually annihilated the British unit, knocking out their exposed anti-tank guns, killing sixty men, including their commander Colonel Murphy, and capturing 300 others.” Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini’s Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa, Ian Walker, Crowood, 2012).
30 October – The 10th Bersaglieri Battalion defeats several Australian attacks. (“These costly German attacks did succeed in restoring contact with the beleaguered 125th Panzergrenadier Regiment. 90th Light Division later praised the regiment and the Italian X Bersaglieri who clung to their posts even when ‘surrounded on all sides, short of ammunition, food and water, unable to evacuate their many wounded; while withstanding ‘attacks by an enemy superior in numbers and equipment’. During the morning, many of the German and Italian wounded were evacuated and more supplies brought into the salient.” Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 380, Random House, 2010).
2 November – Italian anti-tank gunners hold their ground and knock out 70 British tanks. (“The Italian gunners proved especially effective as daylight broke and they opened fire from ranges as little as 20 yards. The consequences were predictable and destructive. In a matter of hours the 9th Armoured Brigade lost 70 of of it’s compliment of 94 tanks.” Battlefield Documentary Alamein, Dave Flitton, 2001) (“Already at midnight on 2 November, the air bombardment suggested a new offensive was about to start and the headquarters of Panzer Army Africa issued its own order: all the positions were to be held no matter what, not an inch of terrain was to be surrendered without a hard fight … one battalion of 90th Light Division in the north, along with another one of 15th Panzer Division in the south, were soon overrun and at 4.45am it was reported that only one Italian BERSAGLIERI INFANTRY BATTALION was still holding the line … A little while later, the tanks of 9th Armoured Brigade arrived, immediately attacking the enemy positions along the Rahman track … with its three battalions deployed as follows from north to south: 3rd Hussars, Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry and Warwickshire Yeomanry, supported by the anti-tank guns of 14th Sherwood Foresters. El Alamein, Pier Paolo Battistelli, The History Press, 2011) (“La mattina del 2 novembre, dopo il sacrificio di un’intera divisione corazzata, la Littorio, che nella notte si era frapposta insieme ai pezzi da 88 tedeschi per cercare di fermare la 9° inglese dipingendo una delle pagine più eroiche della Seconda Guerra Mondiale.” http://www.ilprimatonazionale.it/cultura/el-alamein-battaglia-folgore-32837/ El-Alamein: la battaglia che consacrò il valore del soldato italiano).
3 November – ‘Ariete’, ‘Trieste’ & ‘Trento’ successfully cover the retreat of Rommel. (“Enormous dust-clouds could be seen south and south-east of headquarters [of the DAK], where the desperate struggle of the small and inefficient Italian tanks of XX Corps was being played out against the hundred or so British heavy tanks which had come round their open right flank. I was later told by Major von Luck, whose battalion I had sent to close the gap between the Italians and the Afrika Korps, that the Italians, who at that time represented our strongest motorised force, fought with exemplary courage.” The Rommel Papers, p. 325).
6 November – The Germans High Command makes public the role of the ‘Ariete’, ‘Littorio’, ‘Folgore’ and Bersaglieri Corps, “the British were made to pay for their penetration with enormous losses in men and material. The Italians fought to the last man.” ( https://www.webcitation.org/5gQKcoplt?url=http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWdesert.htm Desert War).
Even the Afrika Korps commander Erwin Rommel was impressed and speaking to the Italian people on Rome radio admitted,
“The German soldier has impressed the world; however, the Italian Bersaglieri soldier has impressed the German soldier.” (Nebraska POW Camps: A History of World War II Prisoners in the Heartland, Melissa Amateis Marsh, p. 52, The History Press, 2014).
Italian Pegaso-class destroyer escort ‘Centauro’ is sunk off Benghazi by British bombers.
1 November – Italian troops defeat Russian attempts to cross the Don River. (“On the Don front Italian troops again repulsed enemy attempts to cross the river.” https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19421102&id=rr4tAAAAIBAJ&sjid= 05gFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3023,205737&hl=en The Montreal Gazette, 2 November 1942)
Mid-November – German intelligence confirms that the Russian 5th Tank Army is massing for operations in the Italian sector, despite the danger a German officer attached to the ‘Cosseria’ reports that the Italian officers of the division and supporting ‘Ravenna’ Division were confident their men would hold off the Russian attacks. (“In spite of the unfavourable balance of forces – the ‘Cosseria’ and the ‘Ravenna’ faced eight to nine Russian divisions and an unknown number of tanks – the atmosphere among Italian staffs and troops was certainly not pessimistic…. The Italians, especially the officers of the ‘Cosseria’, had confidence in what they thought were well built defensive positions.” All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust 1941-43, Jonathan Steinberg, p. ?, Routledge, 2003)
11 November – The “Friuli” & “Cremona” Divisions invade the French island of Corsica. (“…Italian troops landed on the French Island of Corsica, off the Italian coast, which Fascist Italy has long coveted.” https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1350&dat=19421111&id=Wd0iAAAAIBAJ&sjid=YP8DAAAAIBAJ&pg=1139,3116174&hl=en German Troops Invade Vichy France, Tunisia, Toledo Blade, 11 November 1942 )
8 November – Operation Torch is set in motion. 107,000 Allies, mostly Americans, land in Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. In fear of an outflanked Rommel, Axis air and ground units are routed to Tunisia, eventually numbering 250,000 troops.
Mid-November – The ‘Superga’ Division plays an important part in fighting off the British 78th Division. (“In the meantime, the British 78th Infantry Division had advanced on Bizerta and passed Abiod and the mountain of the same name, where it encountered Major Witzig’s airborne combat engineers. Witzig and his men held up the British for 48 hours. The heavy weapons from the Superga Division supported the paratroopers, and the Luftwaffe supplied much needed help from the air.” Das Afrika Korps, Franz Kurowski p. 202, Stackpole Books, 2010)
21 November – The Italian 50th Special Brigade under the command of General Giovanni Imperiali di Francavilla helps German Paratroopers repel U.S.tanks outside Gabes.(“When U.S. tanks showed up outside of Gabes 48 hours later, they were turned back by the paratroopers and two battalions of the “Brigade L” of General Imperiali. The Italian force had arrived as reinforcements.” Das Afrika Korps: Erwin Rommel and the Germans in Africa, 1941-43, Franz Kurowski, p. 202, Stackpole Books, 2010).
22 November – Tanks from the Italian 50th Brigade force US Paratroopers to abandon Gafsa. (“From here, the paratroopers were forced to withdraw as the jaws of a pincer movement of Italian tanks closed in from Sened and Keili.” The Bloody Road to Tunis: Destruction of the Axis Forces in North Africa, November 1942-May 1943, David Rolf, p. 35, Greenhill Books, 2001)
27 November – Italian Spica-class destroyer escort ‘Circe’ sinks off Sicily after accidentally being rammed by a merchant vessel it was escorting.
2 December – Italian destroyer ‘Folgore’ is sunk off Tunisia by British Force Q. Spica-class destroyer escort ‘Lupo’ is sunk by Royal Navy destroyers.
4 December – Italian cruiser ‘Muzio Attendolo’ is sunk in the port of Naples by U.S. bombers.
3 December – 10th Bersaglieri Regiment overruns part of the British 2nd Parachute Battalion and US 509th Parachute Regiment. (“On December 3d 1942 minor Axis offensives continued. Some British parachutists were dropped in rear of the Axis lines. It seems that they fell just near a place where a battalion of Italian Bersaglieri (special infantry type) happened to be, who report capturing the entire detachment of about 300 men.” https://web.archive.org/web/20110617054745/ ; http://sill-www.army.mil/FAMAG/1943/FEB_1943/FEB_1943_PAGES_143_149.pdf) (“La sua prima brillante azione risale al 2 dicembre, quando reparti del XVI° catturarono un folto gruppo di paracadutisti inglesi e americani del Col. Raff, in un’ardita azione di rastrellamento nella zona di Donar Cheti, facendo meritare al Reggimento un encomio del comando della Divisione “Superga”. http://www.qattara.it/60-131-bersaglieri.html I BERSAGLIERI IN AFRICA SETTENTRIONALE)
6 December – Italian Army Headquarters reports that Italian forces have overrun an Allied unit in Tunisia. (“In Tunisia, during hard fighting which we reported in yesterday’s communique and which resulted in our capture of an important locality, we took 400 prisoners. We destroyed or captured twenty-five tanks, seven armored vehicles, forty-one guns, roughly 300 motor vehicles and a large amount of ammunition.” Italian High Command Communique, The New York Times, 7 December 1942)
13 December – The ‘Centauro’ Armoured Division forces a British armoured force to retreat at El Agheila. In his diary, Rommel writes:
“Late in the morning, a superior enemy force launched an attack on Combat Group Ariete, which was located south-west of El Agheila, with its right flank resting on the Sebcha Chebira and its left linking up with 90th Light Division. Bitter fighting ensued against 80 British tanks and lasted for nearly ten hours. The Italians put up a magnificent fight, for which they deserved the utmost credit. Finally, in the evening, the British were thrown back by a counter attack of the Centauro’s armoured regiment, leaving 22 tanks and 2 amoured cars burnt out or damaged on the battlefield. The British intention of cutting off the 90th Light Division had been foiled.” (The Rommel Papers, US version, p. 373)
17 December – British submarine HMS ‘Spendid’ sinks Italian destroyer ‘Aviere’.
12 December – Italian reconnaissance troops penetrate Russian forward defences and bring back prisoners & war booty. (“Italian troops, in an aggressive reconnaissance engagement, broke into enemy positions and brought back prisoners and booty.” German High Command Communique, The New York Times, 12 December 1942)
16 December – At 0800 hours the Russians launch Operation Little Saturn, which aims at breaking the Italian lines with 15 divisions and several hundred heavy tanks. The ‘Cosseria’ and ‘Ravenna’ Divisions, although outnumbered 9 to 1, hold their ground for three days, as German and Russian records show. (“During this phase, the Germans praised the steadfastness of Italian infantry, who held out tenaciously even in isolated strongpoints but eventually reached their breaking-point under this constant pressure. ” The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Foreign Soldiers, Rolf-Dieter Müller, p. 83-84, I.B.Tauris, 2014) (“On 17 December, Kuznetsov committed General-Major Pavel P. Poluboiarov’s 17th Tank Corps, General-Major Boris S. Bakharov’s 18th Tank Corps and General-Major Petr R. Pavlov’s 25th Tank Corps into an infantry support role and finally broke through the front of the Italian II Army Corps.” Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942, Robert Forczyk, Pen and Sword, 2014)
19 December – With German reinforcements turning up late, Italian headquarters orders the battered Italian divisions to withdraw to new lines. (“The attack at dawn failed to penetrate fully at first and developed into a grim struggle with Italian strongpoints, lasting for hours. The Ravenna Division was the first to be overrun. A gap emerged that was hard to close, and there was no holding back the Red Army when it deployed the mass of its tank forces the following day. German reinforcements came too late in the breakthrough battle.” The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Foreign Soldiers, Rolf-Dieter Müller, p. 84, I.B.Tauris, 2014)
20 December – Italian reinforcements in the form of the ‘Sforzesca’ Division fight hard near Stalingrad, against strong Russian infantry and tank formations. (“On the Don river front German and Italian troops were said to be “still engaged against strong Soviet infantry and tank formations .”https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1129&dat=19421221&id=DcRRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BWoDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6103,2537671&hl=en Nazis Admit Heavy Blows In Russia, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 21 December 1942)
The Russian attack causes panic amongst the supporting Wehrmacht staff officers and combat troops. The German 298th Division, located between the ‘Ravenna’ and ‘Pasubio’ Divisions, retreats without authorization as well as the German liaison officers attached to the Italian 29th Corps Headquarters, abandoning their posts and leaving the Italians alone to contain the Russian attacks. (“The German 298th Division stopped taking orders from the Italian 35th Corps and began taking orders from the German staff of the Italian 29th Corps. The division retreated from its positions, and did not bother to inform General Francesco Zingales, the Italian commander of the 35th Corps.” The Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini’s Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, pp. 156-157, Lulu Press, 2013) (‘”Germans efforts to cut themselves loose from the Italians and escape on their own, brought little success: abandoning joint defense eased the Russian task of encircling Axis forces. The German 298th Division and the German staff of the Italian 29th Corps Headquarters still ended up behind enemy lines with their Italian comrades-in-arms.” The Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini’s Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, p. 157, Lulu Press, 2013)