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27th Motorised Division Brescia
File:Elal div brescia.jpg
Brescia Division insignia
Active 1939–1943
Country Italy
Branch Italian Army
Type Infantry
Role Motorised infantry
Size Division
Part of Italian XXI Infantry Corps
Garrison/HQ Catanzaro
Nickname(s) Brescia
Engagements World War II
Siege of Tobruk
Battle of Gazala
Second Battle of El Alamein

The 27th Motorised Division "Brescia" (Italian: 27° Divisione Autotrasportabile "Brescia") was a Motorised Infantry [nb 1] Division organized from the 27th Infantry Division Sila prior to the start of World War II.
It was made up of draftees from Calabria. The division was part of the Italian XXI Infantry Corps in the North Africa. along with the 17 Motorised Division Pavia and the 25 Motorised Division Bologna together they took part in the Siege of Tobruk, the Battle of Gazala, the Battle of Mersa Matruh, the First Battle of El Alamein and the Second Battle of El Alamein. On 12 April 1941, as Italian and German forces commenced their Siege of Tobruk, the Brescia Division along with the German 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion captured the port of Bardia, taking several hundred prisoners and a large quantity of booty.

Siege of Tobruk[edit | edit source]

On 12 April, the Brescia Division and the Germans attack the Tobruk defences, but the attack fails and Rommel is forced to call for reinforcements. On the night of 30 April, a strong Italo-German force attacks the Tobruk defences again, and the Ariete, Brescia, 8th Bersaglieri Regiment and Guastatori (combat engineers) involved capture seven strongpoints( R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7 and R8).[1] On the night of 3 May, the Australians counterattack but the Italians in the form of the Trento, Pavia Divisions and some panzergrenadiers repel the attack[2] and the attackers are only able to recapture one strongpoint from the defending Italian troops[3] On the night of 16 May, the Brescia Division retaliates with the help of two platoons of the 32nd Combat Engineer Battalion and breaches the defensive perimeter of the 2/9th and 2/10th Battalions. With the obstacles removed, the Brescia troops involved, who bring flame-thrower parties and tanks, capture S8, S9 and S10 strongpoints.[4] The Australians fight back and the Commanding Officer of the Guastatori's, Colonel Emilio Caizzo is killed in a satchel attack and wins a posthumous Gold Medal for valour. Although the Australian Official History admits losing three positions, it claims the attackers were 'Germans'.[5] However, an Italian narrative has recorded:

With great skill and speed the Guastatori open three lanes in the mines and obstacles to let the Brescia Fucilieri through. Side by side with the Brescia assault troops they inflict heavy loses on the enemy and take out further strong points with explosives and flamethrowers.[6]

Australian military historian Mark Johnston states there was an "unwillingness to acknowledge reverses against Italians" in Australian official accounts.[7]

Major-General Leslie Morsehead was furious and ordered the Australians to be far more vigilant in the future.[8] Among the objectives initially selected during the planning of Operation Brevity was the recapture of S8 and S9 strongpoints, but this was abandoned when it was discovered the Australians had recovered them.[9]

On 24 May, the Brescia Division which had taken over the western front of Tobruk, repelled an attacking infantry force, supported by tanks. On 2 August, another attack was launched to recover the lost strongpoints, but the attacking forces from the Australian 2/43rd Battalion and 2/28th Battalions are repulsed. This was the last Australian effort to recover the lost fortifications. As part of the besieging forces around Tobruk, the Brescia held out until December 10, 1941[10] when the British 70th Division finally broke through the Brescia rearguards and lifted the siege of Tobruk during Operation Crusader. Advancing in broad daylight on 11 December, a battalion of the Brescia came within 50 yards of the 23rd New Zealand Battalion, but were cut down by the machine guns of the New Zealanders. On 15 December, the Brescia Division held its ground on the Gazala Line against the attacking 2nd New Zealand Division and Polish Brigade, allowing a strong Italo-German armoured force to counterattack and overrun the 1st British Battalion, The Buffs.[11]

Battle of Gazala[edit | edit source]

During the Battle of Gazala, the 'Brescia played an important role in the capture of 6,000 prisoners on 16 June 1942, after the Trieste and 15th Panzer Division had destroyed the British 2nd and 4th Armoured Brigades.[12]

Battle of Mersa Matruh[edit | edit source]

During the brief siege of Mersa Matruh in late June 1942, the Brescia with the Trento Division and Bersaglieri troops played an important part, in the capture of 6,000 defenders of the Xth British Corps, along with large quantities of supplies.[13]

First Battle of Alamein[edit | edit source]

During the First Battle of El Alamein in July 1942, the Brescia deployed on El Mreir, repelled a strong force of the 5th New Zealand Infantry Brigade in the initial fighting,[14] and during the defence of Ruweisat Rige, the 19th Regiment of the Brescia put up a tenacious defence, losing a battalion and three company commanders in the night action,[15] before being partly overcome at dawn on July 15, delaying the Allied advance for several hours and allowing German armoured forces to launch a devastating counteratack[16]

Division locations before the Second Battle of El Alamein

Order of Battle June 1940[edit | edit source]

  • 19 Infantry Regiment "Brescia"
  • 20 Infantry Regiment "Brescia"
  • 55 Artillery Regiment
  • 27 Mixed Engineer Battalion
  • 27 Tank Battalion [nb 2]

Notes[edit | edit source]

Footnotes
  1. The division never has the required amount of Motor Transport to move all its units at the same time and is sometimes referred to as a Semi Motorized Division
  2. 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.[17]
Citations
  1. XXXII BATTAGLIONE GUASTATORI
  2. The Forgotten Axis: Germany's Partners and Foreign Volunteers in World War II, J. Lee Ready, p. 310, McFarland & Co., 1987
  3. That magnificent 9th: An Illustrated History of The 9th Australian Division, Mark Johnston, p. 38, Allen and Unwin, 2002
  4. XXXII BATTAGLIONE GUASTATORI
  5. Maughan (1966), p.250
  6. GUASTATORI IN NORTH AFRICA. The XXXI and XXXII Guastatori Battalions in the North African Campaign
  7. Fighting the Enemy: Australian soldiers and their adversaries in World War II, Mark Johnston, p. 13, Cambridge University Press, 2002
  8. Maughan (1966), p.251
  9. Tobruk 1941, The Desert Siege, Timothy Hall, p. 183, Methuen Australia, 1984
  10. The Bologna Division: 19 November – 10 December, 1941 By David Aldea & Joseph Peluso, Comando Supremo: Italy at War.
  11. The Bologna Division: 19 November – 10 December, 1941 By David Aldea & Joseph Peluso, Comando Supremo: Italy at War.
  12. The Rise of the Wehrmacht: The German Armed Forces and World War, 2 Volumes, p.564, Samuel W. Mitcham, Praeger (June 30, 2008)
  13. Script error: No such module "citation/CS1".
  14. Rommel's North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942 By Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani, Page 196, Da Capo Press, 1999
  15. Rommel's North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942 By Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani, Page 203, Da Capo Press, 1999
  16. Script error: No such module "citation/CS1".
  17. Paoletti, p 170
  • Paoletti, Ciro (2008). A Military History of Italy. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-98505-9. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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