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Italian Alpini
Alpini.jpg
Alpini in a parade
Active 1872 - today
Country Italy
Branch Italian Army
Type Mountain troops
Size 2 Brigades
Part of Alpine Corps Command
Nickname Le Penne Nere ("The Black Feathers")
Patron San Maurizio
celebrated every September 22nd
Motto Di Qui Non Si Passa! ("Nobody passes here!")
Anniversaries October 15th 1872
Date of Foundation
Engagements First Italo–Ethiopian War
Boxer Rebellion
Italo-Turkish War
World War I
Second Italo-Abyssinian War
Greco-Italian War
World War II
War in Afghanistan
Decorations 9 Croci di Cavaliere dell'O.M.I.
16 Gold Medals of Military Valor
22 Silver Medals of Military Valor
5 Bronze Medals of Military Valor
1 War Cross of Military Valor
2 Bronze Medals of Army Valor
1 Gold Medal of Civil Valor
1 Bronze Medal of Civil Valor
1 Silver Cross for Army Merit
1 Cross for Army Merit.
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Luigi Reverberi

The Alpini, (English: the Alpines), are the elite mountain warfare soldiers of the Italian Army. They are currently organized in two operational brigades, which are subordinated to the Alpini Corps Command. The singular is Alpino (Alpine).

Formed in 1872 they are the oldest active mountain infantry in the world. Their original mission was to protect Italy's northern mountain border with France and Austria. In 1888 the Alpini were sent to their first mission abroad, in Africa, a continent to which they continued to return for various wars of the Kingdom of Italy. They distinguished themselves during World War I when they fought a three year long campaign in the alps against Austro-Hungarian Kaiserjäger and the German Alpenkorps in what has since become known as the "War in snow and ice". During World War II, the Alpini fought alongside Axis forces principally on the Eastern Front and in the Balkans Campaigns.

In the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, due to the reorganization of the Italian Army three of five Alpini brigades and many support units were disbanded. Currently, the Alpini are permanently engaged in Afghanistan.

Contents

History

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1872 to 1887

A Cappello Alpino of an Alpino Engineer: with Raven feather, Amaranth nappina and the heraldic symbol of the 2° Alpine Engineer Regiment
A pair of Fiamme Verdi collar patches
Life size image of a Nappina

In 1872 Captain Giuseppe Perrucchetti published in the May edition of the Rivista Militare (Military Review) a study, in which he proposed to entrust the defense of the mountain borders of the young Kingdom of Italy to soldiers recruited from these areas, who through their knowledge of the terrain and their connection to the area would be capable and highly motivated to defend it successfully. Perrucchetti drew heavily on the work of Lieutenant General Agostino Ricci, who in 1868 had begun to conduct exercises in the mountains to study the feasibility of a special mountain infantry corps. Five months after Perrucchettis publications the first 15 Alpini companies were formed by Royal decree nr. 1056. The units became active on October 15, 1872 making the Alpini the oldest active Mountain Infantry in the world. At first the Alpini were organized as a militia, capable of defending Italy’s northern mountainous borders. Italy faced major problems in defending its new land borders, which, after the 1866 war against Austria, coincident in large parts with the Alpine Arch. Homeland defense had previously been based on the so called Quadrilatero strategy, which called for the defense of the Po Valley ("Pianura Padana") and left the Alpine region undefended as it was considered a territory unsuitable to military operations.

The idea of recruiting the inhabitants of the mountain valleys and forming them into a special corps, thereby taking advantage of both their knowledge of the mountain territory and their adaptability to Alpine conditions, was an innovative one. For this purpose the mountain regions were divided into seven military districts, each commanded by an officer and home to at least two Alpini companies. At first each company consisted of 120 men. Soldiers were equipped with the Vetterli 1870 rifle. In 1873 nine additional companies were raised bringing the total to 24 companies. In 1875 the companies doubled in size and were now composed of 250 soldiers and 5 officers, which were then formed into 7 Alpini battalions. Each battalion was named after one of the seats of the seven military districts:

Cuneo, 2° Mondovi, 3° Torino (Susa), 4° Torino (Chivasso), 5° Como, 6° Treviso, 7° Udine

In 1877, five Alpini mountain artillery batteries were formed and, in the following year, the Alpini had already grown to 36 companies of mountain infantry organized into 10 battalions. On November 1, 1882, the Alpini doubled in size to now 72 companies in 20 Alpini battalions. The 20 battalions and 8 Alpini mountain artillery batteries were now organized into six numbered Alpini regiments and two Alpini mountain artillery brigades. Each battalions was named after the area it was tasked to defend in case of war:

Regiment Garrison/HQ 1st Btn. 2nd Btn. 3rd Btn. 4th Btn.
Mondovì Nappina bianca.png Alto Tanaro Nappina rossa.png Val Tanaro Nappina verde.png Val Camonica
Brà Nappina bianca.png Val Pesio Nappina rossa.png Col Tenda Nappina verde.png Val Schio
Fossano Nappina bianca.png Val Stura Nappina rossa.png Val Maira Nappina verde.png Monti Lessini
Torino Nappina bianca.png Val Pellice Nappina rossa.png Val Chisone Nappina verde.png Val Brenta
Milan Nappina bianca.png Val Dora Nappina rossa.png Moncenisio Nappina verde.png Valtellina Nappina blu.png Alta Valtellina
Conegliano Nappina bianca.png Val d'Orco Nappina rossa.png Val d'Aosta Nappina verde.png Cadore Nappina blu.png Val Tagliamento

The numbers used earlier to distinguish the battalions were dropped while at the same time the companies were now numbered from 1 to 72. To distinguish the battalions, soldiers and non commissioned officers were issued thread tufts of various colors, which were added to the Cappello Alpino: white for the first, red for the second and green for the third battalion of each regiment. Special and 4th battalions were issued blue tufts. Soldiers of the Mountain Artillery units were issued a green tuft with a black patch in the middle onto which the number of the battery was written in golden numbers.

On June 7, 1883, the "fiamme verdi" (green flames) collar patch was introduced thus making the Alpini officially a specialty within the Italian infantry corps. The distinctive headdress the Cappello Alpino with its black raven feather was also introduced, which quickly led the Alpinis to be nicknamed "Le Penne Nere" ("Black feathers"). Officers hats replaced the black feather with a white eagle feather. At first the hat was a black felt hat, but with the introduction of the new green-grey uniform in 1910 the hat was changed to the distinctive grey felt hat that is still retained today. The Alpini were also distinguished by green cuffs on their dark blue tunics and green piping on their light blue/grey trousers. When grey-green service uniforms were introduced for the Alpini in 1906 the distinctive green collar patches and Alpine headdress were retained.

The material, weapons and equipment of each battalion was stored in the major village of the area they were tasked to defend in case of war. Soldiers of a battalion were only recruited from this area. In 1887 the battalions names were changed from the areas to defend to the names of the villages. Therefore i.e. the Edolo battalions soldiers were recruited in the vicinity of the village Edolo, where the arsenal and the training ground of the battalion were based and the battalions officers were housed. This local recruitment led to a strong identification of the population with the Alpini units, as men from the same village were all drafted into the same company and the companies from one valley were all part of the same battalion.

In 1887 the Ispettorato delle truppe alpine (Alpine Troops Inspectorate) was created in Rome, which took administrative command of all Mountain troops. This led to a reorganization of the Alpini: on August 1, 1887 the 7° Alpini regiment was formed in Conegliano Veneto receiving two battalions from the 6th regiment. The number of battalions was increased by two to a new total of 22. On November 1, 1887 the 1° Mountain Artillery Regiment was formed in Turin with nine batteries, each equipped with four 75 mm howitzers. The new layout of the Alpini thus was:

Regiment Garrison/HQ 1st Btn. 2nd Btn. 3rd Btn. 4th Btn.
Mondovì Nappina bianca.png Ceva Nappina rossa.png Pieve di Teco Nappina verde.png Mondovi
Brà Nappina bianca.png Borgo San Dalmazzo Nappina rossa.png Vinadio Nappina verde.png Dronero
Torino Nappina bianca.png Fenestrelle Nappina rossa.png Susa I Nappina verde.png Susa II *
Ivrea Nappina bianca.png Pinerolo Nappina rossa.png Aosta Nappina verde.png Ivrea
Milan Nappina bianca.png Morbegno Nappina rossa.png Tirano Nappina verde.png Edolo Nappina blu.png Rocca d'Anfo **
Verona Nappina bianca.png Verona Nappina rossa.png Vicenza Nappina verde.png Bassano
Conegliano Nappina bianca.png Feltre Nappina rossa.png Pieve di Cadore Nappina verde.png Gemona
* (renamed "Exilles" in 1889) ** (renamed "Vestone" in 1889)

1888 to 1914

Although created as a defensive force specializing in Alpine combat, in 1887 the 1° Battaglione Alpini d’Africa (1st African Alpini Battalion) was formed. The battalions four companies were formed from volunteers from all other Alpini battalions. As part of the Corpo Speciale d'Africa (Special African Coprs) the battalion was sent to Eritrea to take revenge for the lost battle of Dogali. The battalion returned on April 27, 1888 to Naples having lost its commanding officer and 13 men to tropical diseases.

Back in Italy in 1888 eight mules were assigned to each Alpini company. The Vetterli 70 rifle was substituted by the newer Vetterli-Vitali mod. 70/87 rifle. Also with a general reorganization of the Italian militia system it was decided to assign 38 Alpini companies and 15 mountain batteries to active units of the Regio Esercito (Royal Italian Army). In 1892 the Alpini were the first troops to be issued with the new Mod. 91 rifle, which was replaced in 1897 by the Mod. 91TS version and remained in service until 1945.

When the tensions between Italy and Ethiopia escalated into the First Italo–Ethiopian War the 1° Battaglione Alpini d’Africa was reformed and sent gain to Eritrea. It was to become the first Alpini unit to engage in combat. Also four batteries from the 1° Mountain Artillery regiment were sent to Eritrea to augment the four brigades there under command of Oreste Baratieri. The battalions first engagement was on March 1, 1896 in the Battle of Adowa in which it was badly mauled by superior numbers of Ethiopian troops. Over 400 of the battalions 530 men died including the commanding officer Lt. Col. Menini. After the battle the first Medaglia d'oro al valor militare (Gold medal for military valor) was awarded to a member of the Alpini corps: Capitan Pietro Cella and his Alpini from the 4th company occupied and held Amba Rajo (Rajo mountain) until March 2, thus securing the escape of the remnants of the beaten Italian Army. Capitan Cella and all his men died and for this sacrifice he was awarded the Medaglia d'oro al valor militare.[1] After this disaster an Alpini expeditionary regiment with 5 battalions was formed and sent do Eritrea on March 7, 1896, but it saw little combat and was repatriated in June of the same year.

During the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, a Mountain Artillery Battery was sent to China as part of the international relief force that lifted the siege of the International Compound in Beijing and afterwards remained on garrison duty in Tianjin until the end of 1901. On November 13, 1902 after a brief period of experimentation with skis the Alpini began to form specially equipped and trained Compagnie Sciatori (Skiing Companies). After a heavy earthquake on September 8, 1905 in the Calabria region of Southern Italy Alpinis are sent south for three months to assist in the clearance and reconstruction efforts. The same happened in 1908 after the devastating Messina earthquake.

The year 1909 saw a massive expansion of the Alpini. On July 15 the 2° Mountain Artillery Regiment regiment was formed in Vicenza with four artillery groups and a total of 12 batteries. Already in 1908 two new battalions, the Tolmezzo and Pallanza (renamed Intra in 1909) had been formed and assigned to the 7° respectively the 4° regiment. On October 1, 1909, the “Tolmezzo” and "Gemona" battalions from the 7° Alpini regiment, along with the newly raised Cividale battalion became the three battalions of new 8° regiment, which was stationed in the city of Udine. The first commander of the 8° Alpini regiment became Col. Antonio Cantore, who would become a legend to the Alpini during World War I. With the formation of the 8th regiment the Alpini now compromised 25 battalions in 8 regiments, 2 mountain artillery regiments, with 24 batteries organized in 8 groups and 75 reserve companies organized in 22 battalions. The reserve battalions were named after the valleys from where its soldiers, former Alpinis, were recruited (so called Valle battalions).

Regiment Garrison/HQ 1st Btn./Grp. 2nd Btn./Grp. 3rd Btn./Grp. 4th Btn./Grp.
Udine Nappina bianca.png Gemona Nappina rossa.png Tolmezzo Nappina verde.png Cividale
1° Mountain Artillery
Torino Nappina artiglieria.png Oneglia Nappina artiglieria.png Mondovì Nappina artiglieria.png Torino-Susa Nappina artiglieria.png Torino-Aosta
2° Mountain Artillery
Vicenza Nappina artiglieria.png Conegliano Nappina artiglieria.png Bergamo Nappina artiglieria.png Vicenza Nappina artiglieria.png Belluno

In 1910 the last pre-war Alpini battalion was raised: the Nappina verde.png Belluno in the city of the same name.

When Italy declared war on Turkey in 1911 with the aim to conquer Libya Alpini units were once again assigned to dessert combat. From 1911 until 1914, the battalions Saluzzo, Mondovi, Ivrea, Verona, Tolmezzo, Feltre, Susa, Vestone, Fenestrelle and Edolo along with the artillery groups Torino-Susa, Mondovì and Vicenza are employed for various durations in Libya. The first units to be sent to Libya were the Saluzzo (25 October 1911), Mondovì (3 November 1911), Ivrea (3 November 1911) and Verona (16 December 1911) battalions. When the unexpectedly stubborn Turkish resistance led to an embarrassingly slow advance of the Italian forces, reinforcements were sent to Libya. On October 18, 1912 Turkey and Italy signed the Treaty of Lausanne ending the war between their two nations, but Italy now faced a full scale rebellion by the local population and required more troops than during the war to suppress it. Therefore in October 1912 the Tolmezzo, Feltre, Susa, Vestone were sent to Libya and formed in Zanzur the 8° Reggimento Alpini Speciale (8th Special Alpini Regiment) under the command of Colonel Antonio Cantore. The last Alpini unit to leave Libya was the Feltre battalion. It arrived in Italy in August 1914, while in Libya the Bedouin rebellion continued unabated.

World War I

Celestino Ellero, World War I . He wears the 1st issue Italian Gas mask container strapped over his right shoulder. ca. 1916.
Italian positions on Cinque Torri summit today.
Col di Lana after the detonation of the Italian mine.

During World War I the 26 peacetime Alpini battalions were increased by 62 battalions and saw heavy combat all over the alpine arch. During the war years the Alpini regiments consisted of the following battalions (the pre-war raised battalions are in bold; their first line reserve battalions, named after valleys (in Italian: Val or Valle) and their second line reserve battalions, named after mountains (in Italian: Monte) drawn from the same recruiting areas as the original battalions follow below the pre-war battalions):

Regiment Nappina bianca.png Nappina rossa.png Nappina verde.png Nappina blu.png
Ceva
Val Tanaro
Monte Mercantur
Pieve di Teco
Val Arroscia
Monte Saccarello
Mondovi
Val d'Ellero
Monte Clapier
Borgo San Dalmazzo
Val Stura
Monte Argentera
Cuneo
Dronero
Val Maira
Bicocca
Saluzzo
Val Varaita
Monviso
Pinerolo
Val Pellice
Monte Granero
Fenestrelle
Val Chisone
Monte Albergian
Courmayeur
Exilles
Val Dora
Monte Assietta
Susa
Val Cenischia
Moncenisio
Ivrea
Val d'Orco
Monte Levanna
Pallanza
Aosta
Val Baltea
Monte Cervino
Intra
Val Toce
Monte Rosa
Morbegno
Val d'Intelvi
Monte Spluga
Monte Mandrone
Tirano
Valtellina
Stelvio
Tonale
Edolo
Val Camonica
Monte Adamello
Monte Ortler
Vestone
Val Chiese
Monte Suello
Monte Cavento
Verona
Val d'Adige
Monte Baldo
Vicenza
Val Leogra
Monte Berico
Monte Pasubio
Bassano
Val Brenta
Sette Comuni
Feltre
Val Cismon
Monte Pavione
Pieve di Cadore
Val Piave
Monte Antelao
Belluno
Val Cordevole
Monte Pelmo
Monte Marmolada
Gemona
Val Tagliamento
Monte Arvenis
Tolmezzo
Val Fella
Monte Canin
Cividale
Val Natisone
Monte Matajur
Monte Nero

Most of the above battalions were regular Alpini battalions, while some were units raised for special tasks: in example the Monte Marmolada battalion was a Skiing battalion tasked with combat on the Marmolada glacier.

The Alpini battalions were divided in 233 companies of 100 to 150 men each. The Alpini regiments were never sent into battle as a whole, instead single companies and battalions were given specific passes, summits or ridges to guard and defend on their own.

The war has become known as the "War in snow and ice", as most of the 600 km frontline ran through the highest mountains and glaciers of the Alps. 12 meters (40 feet) of snow were a usual occurrence during the winter of 1915/16 and thousands of soldiers died in avalanches. The remains of these soldiers are still being uncovered today. The Alpini, as well as their Austrian counterparts: Kaiserschützen, Standschützen and Landeschützen occupied every hill and mountain top around the whole year. Huge underground bases were drilled and blown into the mountainsides and even deep into the ice of glaciers such as the Marmolada. Guns were dragged by hundreds of troops on mountains up to 3,890 m (12,760 feet) high. Roads, cable cars, mountain railroads and walkways were built up, through and along the steepest of cliffs. Many of these walkways and roads are still visible today, and many are maintained as Via Ferrata for climbing enthusiasts. In addition, along the former frontline it is still possible to see what is left of hundreds of kilometers of barbed wire.

In this kind of warfare, whoever occupied the higher ground first was almost impossible to dislodge, so both sides turned to drilling tunnels under mountain peaks, filling them up with explosives and then detonating the whole mountain to pieces, including its defenders: i.e. Col di Lana, Monte Pasubio, Lagazuoi, etc.[2]

Climbing and skiing became essential skills for the troops of both sides and soon Ski Battalions and special climbing units were formed. It was during these years that the Alpini, their spirit and their mules became famous, although at the cost of over 12,000 casualties out of a total of 40,000 mobilized Alpinis.

Many of the famous Alpini songs originated during this time and reflect upon the hardships of the "War in Snow and Ice".

World War II

An Alpino Corporal, Louis Celotti. ca. 1925 (note the Cappello Alpino under his left arm)

After World War I all battalions with the exception the pre-war battalions were dissolved. In 1919 the Alpini gained the 9° Alpini regiment. In 1935 the fascist government of Italy reorganized its Armed Forces, creating six Alpine divisions and forming two new Alpini regiments: the 11° Alpini regiment and the 12° Alpini regiment. The 5 Alpine Division Pusteria formed of the 7th and 11th Alpini regiment was quickly dispatched to Eritrea were it participated in the Italian attack on Abyssinia.

During World War II, Italy fielded six Alpine divisions:

Each division consisted of two Alpini regiments with three battalions each, one Alpine Artillery Regiment with three Artillery groups, one Mixed Engineer Battalion, one Logistic Battalion and some support units. The strength of each division was 573 officers and 16,887 NCOs and soldiers for a total strength of 17,460 men. Also each division had almost 5000 mules and 500 vehicles of various types at its disposal.
The divisions saw combat in France, Africa, Italy, Albania, The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Greece. One Alpini battalion was employed in East Africa. In 1942, Tridentina, Julia and Cuneense division were sent to fight in the Soviet Union. In Russia, instead of being deployed in the Caucasus mountains as expected, the Alpini were tasked with holding a front on the plains of the Don River. As a result of this disastrous strategic decision, troops armed, trained, and equipped for mountain warfare were pitted in the plains against tanks and mechanized infantry, to counter which they were neither equipped nor trained. Despite this, the Alpini held the front until January 1943, when, due to the collapse of the Axis front, they were encircled by the advancing Soviet Army. The Alpini were able to break the encirclement and fight their way towards the new line of the front established after the Axis retreat. Only about one third of the Tridentina division (4250 survivors of 15000 troops deployed) and one tenth of the Julia (1200/15000) were able to survive this odyssey. The Cuneense division was annihilated.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's fascist government in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic, had one division of Alpini, the 4th Italian "Monte Rosa" Alpini Division.

.

Alpini today

Structure

Recruiting areas of the five post-war Alpini brigades

After World War II, five Alpine Brigades were formed and assigned to the IV (Alpine) Army Corps. Each brigade recruited its soldiers from specific parts of the mountainous areas of Italy thus creating a strong bond with the local populations.

Alpini from the Taurinense Brigade on exercise.

After the end of the Cold War, all but the Julia and Taurinense Brigades were dissolved, thus leaving the following Alpini units, that still carry the "fiamme verdi" collar insignia:

Collar Patches worn by Alpinis today
4th Alpini in Afghanistan

Armament

Currently an Alpino is equipped with a Beretta SC70/90 assault rifle, a Beretta 92 FS pistol, OD/82SE hand grenades, a Type III AP/98 bullet-proof vest and a 3rd generation night vision device.

The squad automatic weapon is the FN Minimi or, alternatively, the Rheinmetall MG3 (sometimes still called MG42). Supporting fire can be provided also by M2 Browning (0.50") machine gun, the Hirtenberger M6C-210 Commando 60 mm, man-portable light mortar or by the MO-120-RT-61 120 mm heavy mortar.

Mobility is provided by the use of Iveco VTLM Lince 4WD tactical vehicles, Puma 6x6 Armored Personal Carriers and Bv 206 / Bv 206S all terrain tracked vehicles.

The anti-tank weapons are the Panzerfaust 3 rocket propelled grenade and the MILAN 2 and TOW II anti-tank guided missiles. The later two will be replaced by the Spike anti-tank guided missile over the next years.

Recently the artillery regiments have been issued with the FH-70 howitzer. This has led to a great increase in firepower compared to the previously used OTO Melara Mod 56 pack howitzer, but also reduced their versatility. Indeed they are not designated now as "mountain artillery", but as "Field Artillery (Mountain)" regiments.

National Alpini Association

The ANA (Associazione Nazionale Alpini or National Alpini Association) is a registered society representing the "Veci" or former members of the Alpini corps. As the "Veci" see themselves as merely "on leave" rather than veterans, the ANA is colloquially known to be the 10° Alpini Regiment. Since 1920 every year ANA organizes a national reunion the "Veci". Hundreds of thousands of Alpini congregate with family and friends to an Italian city for a weekend in the late spring to celebrate, drink heavily and have a good time while remembering old times. [4]

See also

Notes

Sources

Italian Army- The Alpini
COMALP- Alpine Troops Command
ANA Conegliano- History of Alpini units

External links


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