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The Blackshirts (Italian: camicie nere, CCNN, or squadristi) were Fascist paramilitary groups in Italy during the period immediately following World War I and until the end of World War II. Blackshirts were also known as the National Security Volunteer Militia (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, or MVSN).
Inspired by Giuseppe Garibaldi's Redshirts, the Fascist Blackshirts were organized by Benito Mussolini as the military tool of his political movement. The founders of the paramilitary groups were nationalist intellectuals, former army officers or members of the special corp Arditi, young landowners opposing peasants' and country labourers' unions. Their methods became harsher as Mussolini's power grew, and they used violence and intimidation against Mussolini's opponents.
The ethos and sometimes the uniform were later copied by others who shared Mussolini's political ideas, including Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, who issued brown shirts to the "Storm Troops" (Sturmabteilung) and black uniforms to the "Shield Squadron" (Schutzstaffel, also colloquially known as "Brownshirts", because they wore black suit-like tunics with brown shirts), Sir Oswald Mosley in the United Kingdom (whose British Union of Fascists were also known as the "Blackshirts"), William Dudley Pelley in the United States (Silver Legion of America or "Silver Shirts"), in Mexico the Camisas Doradas or "Golden Shirts", Plínio Salgado in Brazil (whose followers wore green shirts), and Eoin O'Duffy in the Irish Free State (Army Comrades Association or "Blueshirts"). "Blueshirts" can also refer to Canadian fascists belonging to the Canadian National Socialist Unity Party; And blue were, also, the shirts of the members of Falange Española, the party which ruled Spain during Franco's dictatorship. The paramilitary fascist Iron Guard members in Romania also wore green shirt.
The Blackshirts were established as the squadristi in 1919 and consisted of many disgruntled former soldiers which may have numbered 200,000 by the time of Mussolini's March on Rome from October 27 to October 29, 1922. In 1922 the squadristi were reorganized into the milizia and formed numerous bandiere, and on 1 February 1923 the Blackshirts became the Volunteer Militia for National Security (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, or MVSN), which lasted until the Italian Armistice in 1943. The Italian Social Republic, located in the areas of northern Italy occupied by Germany, reformed the MVSN into the Republican National Guard (Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR).
Benito Mussolini was the leader, or Commandant-General, of the blackshirts, but executive functions were carried out by the Chief of Staff, equivalent to an army general. The MVSN was formed in imitation of the ancient Roman army, as follows:
The terms after the first are not words common to European armies (e.g., the Italian battaglione has cognates in many languages). Instead, they derive from the structure of the armies of ancient Rome.
These units were also organized on the triangular principle as follows:
The MVSN original organization consisted of 15 zones controlling 133 legions (one per province) of three cohorts each and one Independent Group controlling 10 legions. In 1929 it was reorganized into four raggruppamenti, but later in October 1936 it was reorganized into 14 zones controlling only 133 legions with two cohorts each, one of men 21 to 36 years old and the other of men up to 55 years old, plus special units in Rome, on Ponza Island and the black uniformed Moschettieri del Duce ("The Leader's Musketeers", Mussolini's Guard) and the Albanian Militia (four legions) and Colonial Militia in Africa (seven legions). Special militias were also organized to provide security police functions, these included:
During the 1935-36 Abyssinian Campaign seven CCNN Divisions were organized:
The first six Divisions were sent to Ethiopia and participated in the war.
The Blackshirts Rifle Battalions had three rifle companies but no MMG company. The rifle companies had three platoons (three squads with one LMG each). Each Legion had a MMG company with four platoons of three weapons each (plus two spare ones). The Blackshirts replacements battalions were organized as the Blackshirts Rifle Battalions, but its platoon were overstrength (60 men each) and with only 1 x LMG in each platoon.
Three CCNN Divisions were sent to Spain to participate in the Civil War there as part of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie. The Blackshirt (Camicie Nere, or CCNN) Divisions contained regular soldiers and volunteer militia from the Fascist Party. The CCNN divisions were semi-motorised.
The 3rd CCNN Division was disbanded and consolidated with the 2nd CCNN Division in April 1937 after the Battle of Guadalajara. After the northern campaigns in October 1937, the 2nd CCNN Division was consolidated with the 1st CCNN and renamed the XXIII de Marzo Division "Llamas Negras".
In 1940 the MVSN was able to muster 340,000 first-line combat troops, providing three divisions (1st, 2nd and 4th - all three of which were lost in the North African Campaign) and, later in 1942, a fourth division ("M") and fifth division Africa were forming.
Mussolini also pushed through plans to raise 142 MVSN combat battalions of 650 men each to provide a Gruppo di Assalto to each army division. These Gruppi consisted of two cohorts (each of three centurie of 3 manipoli of 2 squadre each) plus Gruppo Supporto company of two heavy machine gun manipoli (with three HMG each) and two 81 mm mortar manipoli (with 3 Mortars each).
Later 41 Mobile groups were raised to become the third regiment in Italian Army divisions as it was determined through operational experience that the Italian arm's binary divisions were too small in both manpower and heavy equipment. These mobile groups suffered heavy casualties due to being undermanned, under equipped and under trained. The three divisions were destroyed in combat in North Africa. The MVSN fought in every theater where Italy did.
Mussolini as Comandante Generale was made Primo Caporale Onorario (First Honorary Corporal) in 1935 and Adolf Hitler was made Caporale Onorario (Honorary Corporal) in 1937. All other ranks closely approximated those of the old Roman army as follows: