25th Infantry Division Bologna
|25th Infantry Division Bologna|
25th Infantry Division Bologna Insignia
|Country|| Regno d'Italia |
Kingdom of Italy
|Branch||Regio Esercito |
Royal Italian Army
|Part of||Italian XXI Infantry Corps|
|Engagements||World War II|
The 25th Infantry Division Bologna (Italian: 25 Divisione Autotrasportabile "Bologna") was an auto-transportable Infantry Division [nb 1] of the Italian Army during World War II. It was stationed in Tripolitania and was sent to Libya for the Italian invasion of Egypt. It fought in North Africa until it was destroyed in the Second Battle of El Alamein.
Garrisoned in Naples, it was made up almost entirely of residents of the city. From 1926 to 1934, it as called 25th Territorial Division of Naples. In 1934 the division was renamed to 25th Volurno Infantry Division and again renamed in 1939 to 25th Infantry Division Bologna. The Bologna was classified as an auto-transportable division, meaning staff and equipment could be transported on cars and trucks, although not simultaneously.
Occupation of Libya
At the beginning of Italian invasion of France 10 June 1940, the Bologna division has stayed at the Libya-Tunisia border. After the conclusion of hostilities in Europe in the end of June, 1940, it was ordered occupation duties in the Bir al-Ghanam town south of Tripoli. In the beginning of 1941, majority of infantry have quartered in Gharyan while artillery regiment with some support troops was sent to the front line between Derna, Libya and Mechili. After overcoming an initial Allied resistance 23–25 January 1941, it was ferried by sea, landing in eastern Libya, and advanced rapidly on the Marj-Benghazi-Qaminis route, reaching destination 5 February 1941. In March, 1941, it together with the elements of 17th Infantry Division Pavia have performed a security duties at Sirte. The Bologna division was called for the siege of Tobruk in the late May, 1941.
Siege of Tobruk
The besieging troops were mainly Italian belonging to the following five Divisions: the Ariete Division and Trieste (the XX Motorised Corps), the Pavia, Bologna, and Brescia Division (the XXI Infantry Corps). The sector manned by the Bologna consisted of several strongpoints manned by infantry and artillery units, all surrounded by minefields. The Italians, after much hard fighting, had possession of most of the positions the Australians had lost on 1 May. Combat engineers under Lieutenant Francesco Tuci, had reportedly captured several of the Australian positions, and the officer was posthumously awarded the Medaglia d'Argento (the Silver Medal), Italy's second highest award for bravery, in helping defend them against an Australian counterattack. On 3 May, the Australians launched a counter-attack employing the 18th Brigade but by 4 May were only able to recapture one bunker from defending Italian troops. During that week, Australian morale took a dive, and it was reported that 30 Australian soldiers shot themselves in order to be evacuated. That month, an underground 'war neurosis clinic' was built in Tobruk and placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel E.L. Cooper and Captain A.J.M Sinclair, and 207 soldiers were admitted for treatment.
On 21 November 1941, the Bologna repulsed a British attempt to approach their positions as part of Operation Crusader. That morning, elements of the British 70th Infantry Division (2nd/King’s Own, 2nd/Black Watch, 2nd/Queen’s, and 4th RTR with Matilda tanks) attacked overrunning a number of positions held by the Bologna, but other attacks were defeated. In summing up the experience of the 2nd Battalion the Black Watch in the attack, the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War wrote that
The superlative élan of the Black Watch in the attack had been equalled by the remarkable persistence of the defence in the face of formidable tank-and-infantry pressure."
On 23 November, the Bologna Division again withstood a determined attack from Tobruk aimed at penetrating into the area of Sīdī Rizq, and bought sufficient time to allow the Pavia Division to mount a counter-attack and defeat the British assault, as a German narrative recorded:
After a sudden artillery concentration the garrison of Fortress Tobruk, supported by sixty tanks, made an attack on the direction of Bel Hamid at noon, intending at long last unite with the main offence group. The Italian siege front around the fortress tried to offer a defence in the confusion but was forced to relinquish numerous strong points in the encirclement front about Bir Bu Assaten to superior enemy forces. The Italian "Pavia" Division was committed for a counterattack and managed to seal off the enemy breakthrough.
The Bologna's front now extended some 8 miles, and on November 25, the thinly spread-out division was assaulted by 50 British tanks and forced to withdraw some distance, although not before the German Böttcher Group had inflicted severe losses on the British tanks. The British advance was finally halted by the timely arrival of reinforcements in the form of a Bersaglieri battalion of the Trieste Division.
The personnel of the unit were gradually pushed back to the "Leopard strongpoint", covering their retreat with mines and machine-gun nests, but by the end of the month the Tobruk breakout was judged a success among British commanders. Meanwhile, the Bologna divisional command 27 November 1941, have started retreat and a series of breakthroughs of units being cut out on the east of Tobruk, leading to Al ‘Adam (now Gamal Abdul El Nasser Air Base). By the 5th December, 1941, the consolidation of forces was nearly complete and Italians have retreated further to ‘Ayn al Ghazālah and then to Derna, Libya.
Despite the German 90th Light Division pulling out of the Tobruk sector on 4 December, the Bologna Division rearguard held out until the night of 8–9 December when trucks were finally assigned to give them some support.
However, it was to take a further assault led by the Polish Carpathian Brigade (SBSK) near Acroma, supported by tanks and artillery, before the siege of Tobruk was finally "lifted" on the morning of December 10. It is unclear if last Axis defenders had any relation to the Bologna division.
An Australian historian, when writing about the Italian role during Operation Crusader, concluded that:
"The Axis units fought well, including the Italian Disivioni 'Ariete' and 'Bologna' - a 'semi-motorized' formation".
The Alamein Battles
Initially, about half of the Bologna division was deployed at Ajdabiya and the rest was dispersed around Qārat al Ghazālah, but about 15 July 1942, the Bologna Division was summoned from Qārat al Ghazālah to reinforce the El Alamein front, lacking vehicles, the division was forced to march some 400 miles, being reviewed by Mussolini on the way. On the night of 25–26 August, the Bologna came under heavy artillery attack and the New Zealand 28th Battalion, under the cover of darkness, breached part of the perimeter, but the New Zealanders lost 25 killed, wounded and captured in the action. The attacking Maoris later reported that there were 100 Italian, dead, wounded or captured during the attack. Nevertheless, the Bologna division arrived to the front near ‘Alam al Ḩalfā 30 August 1942. During the Battle of Alam el Halfa, the Bologna and German 433rd Infantry Regiment attacked several Indian, South African and New Zealand units on Ruweisat Ridge, and managed to capture Point 211 with the Italians reported to have captured 70 British soldiers, but the attackers were later driven back by counterattack. Cyril Falls, a noted military historian, later wrote an article about the Italo-German counterattack: In the first attack on Ruweisat Ridge, during the Second Battle of Alamein, the Bologna Division supported by two battalions of the Ramcke Parachute Brigade achieved some success, taking 40 prisoners.
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.
On the morning of 23 October 1942, Generalleutnant Georg Stumme personally presented German decorations to a number of members of the Bologna division and attached engineers. That day and until 31 October 1942, the Allied forces have launched a multiple attacks, supported by aviation and armor, on the Bologna division. The division defence finally failed 2 November 1942, near western end of wadi Dayr al Bayḑā’. 4 November 1942, the Bologna division was in hasty retreat. The retreat failed, as disparate units were catch by British and annihilated one-by-one. Remnants of division have fought 5 November 1942, in Ra’s al Ḩikmah, 6 November in Fukah and then in Mersa Matruh, where they were all defeated by 21 November 1942. The division Bologna was officially dissolved 25 November 1942. Some escaped detachments went to Tunisia, but all were merged to other units by February, 1943.
Private Sid Martindale, 1st Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, wrote about 25th Bologna Infantry Division, which had taken the full weight of the British armoured attack:
The more we advanced the more we realized that the Italians did not have much fight on them after putting up a strong resistance to our overwhelming advance and they started surrendering to our lead troops in droves. There was not much action to see but we came across lots of burnt out Italian tanks that had been destroyed by our tanks. I had never seen a battlefield before and the site [sic] of so many dead was sickening.
The Bologna and the remainder of Trento Division tried to fight their way out of Alamein and marched in the desert without water, food, or transport before surrendering exhausted and dying from dehydration. It was reported that Colonel Dall'Olio, commanding Bologna, surrendered saying, "We have ceased firing not because we haven't the desire but because we have spent every round." In a symbolic act of final defiance no one in Bologna Division raised their hands. Harry Zinder of Time magazine noted that the Italians fought better than had been expected, and commented that for the Italians:
It was a terrific letdown 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 armoured divisions and a motorised division, which had been interspersed among the German formations, thought they would be allowed to retire gracefully with Rommel's 21st, 15th and 19th [sic][nb 2] 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.
Order of battle
- 39 Bologna Infantry Regiment
- 40 Bologna Infantry Regiment
- 205 Artillery Regiment
- 4 Anti-Aircraft Battery
- 437 Anti-Aircraft Battery
- 25 Engineer Battalion
- 7 Carabinieri Company
- 135 Motorized Transport Company
- 96 Field Hospital
- 528 Field Hospital
- 66 Surgical Unit
- 308 Field Ambulance[nb 3]
- In the Royal Italian Army "Autotrasportabile" ("Truck Moveable" in English) meant that a division could be moved by truck by virtue of its organisation, but that it did not have the transport capacity as part of its own structure to do so, i.e. it would depend on transport being made available to it by higher headquarters to be moved by truck.
- Presumably a confused reference to the 90th Light Division. There was no 19th Light Division on the German Order of Battle
- An Italian Infantry Division normally consisted of two Infantry Regiments (three Battalions each), an Artillery Regiment, a Mortar Battalion (two companies), an Anti Tank Company, a Blackshirt Legion (Regiment of two Battalions). Each Division had only about 7,000 men, The Infantry and Artillery Regiments contained 1,650 men, the Blackshirt Legion 1,200, each company 150 men.
- Takfír: Cronaca dell'ultima Battaglia di Alamein, Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo, Giuseppe Izzo, p. 18, Ugo Mursia Editore, 1967
- That magnificent 9th: An Illustrated History of The 9th Australian Division, Mark Johnston, p. 38, Allen and Unwin, 2002
- "In one five-day period in early May 1941, after the second major German assault on the Red Line, medical units treated 30 cases of self-inflicted bullet wounds." A Medical Emergency: Major-General 'Ginger' Burston and the Army Medical Service in World War II, Ian Howie-Willis, p. 187, Big Sky Publishing, 2012
- "More disturbing was the large number of self-inflicted wound (SIW) cases. During a single week in May the division reported thirty SIW cases..." Armies of Empire: The 9th Australian and 50th British Divisions in Battle 1939–1945, Allan Converse, p. 86, Cambridge University Press, 2011
- "In May 1941 a 'war neurosis clinic' of 70 beds was established in an underground concrete shelter in the city. Of the 204 admissions treated by Lt Colonel E.L. Cooper and Captain A.J.M Sinclair 61% were reported as serving with fighting units..." Shell Shock to PTSD: Military Psychiatry from 1900 to the Gulf War, Edgar Jones, Simon Wessely, p. 67, Psychology Press, 2005
- "The front was a series of strongpoints and not continuous trench lines. One was the Tugun position held by the Bologna infantry division, anything but an elite formation. The New Zealand Official History states, "The more elaborate attack on Tugun went in at 3 p.m. and gained perhaps half the position, together with 250 Italians and many light field guns; but the Italians in the western half could not be dislodged and the base of the break-out area remained on this account uncomfortably narrow." The Official History goes on to comment on the "...strong Italian opposition at Tugun as part of the reason for the decision to halt the sortie at this time." Rommel's North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942, Page 110, Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani, (Combined Books, 1994)
- Murphy & Fairbrother, p.93
- Toppe, p. A-8-8
- The Bologna Division: 19 November – 10 December, 1941 By David Aldea & Joseph Peluso, Comando Supremo: Italy at War.
- "When the New Zealanders attacked again after the onset of darkness, they were able to take Balhamed in the course of the night. Early in the morning of 26 November, a portion of the Tobruk garrison, supported by 50 tanks, broke out once again. A crisis arose when El Duda fell. It was only through a bitter and bravely conducted immediate counterattack by the Bersaglieri of the Trieste Division that the positions in the north could be held." Das Afrika Korps: Erwin Rommel and the Germans in Africa, 1941-43, By Franz Kurowski, pg. 117, Stackpole Books (March 2010)
- The rise of the Wehrmacht: the German Armed forces and World War II, Volume 1, 1941-43, By Samuel W. Mitcham, pg. 552, Praeger (30 June 2008)
- El Alamein: The Battle That Turned the Tide of the Second World War, Bryn Hammond, p. 27, Osprey Publishing, 2012
- ROMMEL OPENS DRIVE IN EGYPT
- German Attack at El Alamein: August 31-September 5, 1942" from Tactical and Technical Trends
- 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
- "General Stumme spent the morning presenting German decorations to some Italians of the Bologna infantry division and an engineering battalion." Alamein, Stephen Bungay, p. ? Aurum Press, 2013
- Spirit, Martin; Martindale, Sid (2005). "Sid's War: The Story of an Argyll at War". Archived from the original on 2011-06-22. Retrieved 2011-06-18.
- Watson (2007), p.27
- Zinder, Harry (16 November 1942). "A Pint of Water per Man". Time Magazine (16 November 1942). Archived from the original on September 26, 2010. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Paoletti, p 170
- Paoletti, Ciro (2008). A Military History of Italy. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-98505-9.
- Toppe, Generalmajor Alfred (1990) [~1947]. German Experiences in Desert Warfare During World War II, Volume II (PDF). Washington: U.S. Marine Corps. FMFRP 12-96-II. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-03.