Italian Paratroopers Folgore  During World War ll

This story taken from

Italian Paratrooper 1942

Folgore General Frattini

FOLGORE" in Italian means Lightning.     No less a figure than German Field Marshal Edwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, expressed his admiration for the way the Italians had fought at El Alamein.These Italian paratroopers were the best-trained Italian soldiers of WW2 and they well deserve a place among the most glorious units in military history. They were called "Lions" by their enemy’s leader Churchill during a speech in the House of Commons in London after the victory at El Alamein.

They, like their German comrades, "The Green Devils" of the Ramcke Brigade, were specifically trained for airborne jumping operations and they should have been employed to take Malta. But they were wrongly deployed as common infantry to replace lost units in the Desert war. But they were not common infantries at all, they demonstrated this on the battlefield.The Folgore arrived in Egypt extremely well trained and motivated. Their equipment was inferior, as usual in the Royal Italian Army. They had the classic ‘91 musket, Balilla handbombs, the automatic musket ‘38 (given to only 15% of the soldiers), the unreliable automatic rifle Breda 30, a few Breda machine guns 45/81, and some 47/32 anti-tank guns. The supply units were almost non-existent, the water provisions (and water is life in the desert) were totally inadequate. The lack of drinking water, as well as dysentery and diseases, became one of the most dangerous enemies for the Folgore’s paratroopers (it was reported that some isolated Folgore groups could only drink and eat the provisions of killed enemies). The reader may find this situation sadly ironical, but these were the terrible difficulties that the Italian soldiers had to face every day and that made their valor even greater. No soldiers in the whole world could have done better. The first offensive operation in which the Folgore’s paratroopers participated was the battle of Alam-Halfa, at the end of August 1942, a failed advance attempted to circle the first defensive British lines. During these six days the Axis lost many tanks due to the effectiveness of the antitank British/Allied guns and had important supply lines destroyed by the RAF.  At that point Rommel decided to defend his position and the Axis forces began to fortify their lines. The Folgore had to defend the southernmost 14-kms of the defensive line. Its antitank firepower was improved with some guns from other units..

The British soon learned from these clashes that they were facing a completely different Italian soldier from the one they were used to fighting during the World War 2 years in Lybia and Cyrenaica. Therefore they had to study new tactics to deal with the Folgore’s men. Even the Australians and the New Zealanders, who were considered the most dangerous soldiers in the Commonwealth, had an extremely hard time. The Italian paratroopers demonstrated a very aggressive attitude and initiative: they always preferred attack rather than defense. Rommel himself and Ramcke, commander of the German Green Devils (excellent paratroopers who took Crete months before) were worried to risk too much, such an important unit like the Folgore and suggested more prudence.

During this static period the Folgore’s paratroopers did not rest: they performed many raids behind the enemy lines (often, it must be said, in order to take water, food and weapons). Among the prisoners they took were General Clifton, 6th New Zealand Brigade’s commander, and his staff. During these days the paratroopers managed to capture some British A/T guns that proved extremely useful later, during the coming big battle. On September 30th, there was an attempt to destroy that dangerous enemy that was the Folgore.During this static period the Folgore’s paratroopers did not rest: they performed many raids behind the enemy lines.Often, it must be said, in order to take water, food and

Weapons during these days the prisoners they took were General Clifton, 6th New Zealand Brigade’s commander, and his staff.  They managed to capture some British A/T guns that proved extremely useful later, during the coming big battle. On September 30th, there was an attempt to destroy that dangerous enemy that was the Folgore.

The British attacked the Folgore’s  9th battalion positions with an armored group formed by the Queen's Royal regiment, a regiment of the "Desert Rats", after having plastered the area heavily with artillery fire. But the Folgore paratroopers with a furious counter-attack evicted them. Finally on October 23rd, the "big" battle began, and the 7th Armored Division overwhelmed the Folgore's most advanced positions. The Desert Rats managed to destroy the front Italian positions, the Italians fought back strenuously, and the price was high: many tanks were destroyed and hundreds of soldiers of the Greys, the City of London Yeomanry, the Derbyshire, the Queen's, and of the Buffs and Royal West Kent were killed.  Throughout the day of the 24th the British again attacked the Folgore with the 44th Division and the Free French Brigade, but without success. On the night of 25th the British attacked again the 7th Folgore Battalion and once again they were repulsed, but the Folgore suffered serious losses; the next morning it was the Folgore’s 4th Battalion’s turn to be attacked by the 4th Brigade (4/8th Hussars, The Greys, 1st Krcc). The 4th Brigade lost 22 tanks and retreated. By the evening the British had lost 120 tanks and about 1000 men (400 captured). During this battle the Folgore paratroopers, men against steel monsters, managed to destroy the British tanks not only with the few antitank guns that they had, but also by assaulting them on foot with hand bombs and "homemade" petrol bottles.

Go to Italian paratroopers page 2