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Post RSI Combatants: Volunteers and Conscripts
Created by John Eipper on 06/24/19 2:29 PM

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RSI Combatants: Volunteers and Conscripts (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 06/24/19 2:29 pm)

A very good question from our moderator: "Are there statistics on how many of the nearly 1 million RSI combatants went voluntarily?"  (See my post of June 23rd.)

Before trying to answer, I applaud the project of our friend Roy Domenico (also 23 June).  May I suggest that he pay attention to the articles of Carlo Silvestri in Il Corriere? An interesting fellow; in 1924 Silvestri was the main accuser of Mussolini for the murder of of Matteotti, then he became convinced of Mussolini's innocence, became a friend and also his main defender after the war. By the way, the Matteotti family was also convinced of Mussolini's innocence. Roy should also consult the newspaper L'Italia del Popolo of the Partito Repubblicano Socialista Italiano, appreciated by Mussolini but opposed by the Nazis and extremist Fascists.

Back to the volunteers. The first armed forces to fight for the RSI were volunteers only. The RSI had the greatest ever number of volunteers in all history of Italy.

For a few months there was a fierce debate inside the government about the necessity of a conscript army (this was the view of General Graziani, Minister of War) or not (the preference of the die-hard fascists). In the end Graziani won and on 18 April 1944 the classes of 1922, 1923, and 1924 were called to arms. Graziani was legally correct but wrong for the time being, as these were not the conditions for a large army. There were not enough supplies, as well as distrust from the Third Reich. These adverse conditions caused a certain number of deserters and many of them ended up with the partisans. On 25 April and 28 October 1944 amnesties were made for the draft dodgers and many returned.

The conscripts largely went to the great divisions San Marco, Monterosa, Littorio, Italia, plus to the Navy and Air Force, but the base was formed of volunteers. The volunteers were in X Mas of Borghese, Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, the largest (145,000 men), followed by the Brigate Nere (110,000), the various regiments of Bersaglieri who covered themselves of glory fighting in Istria, Ausiliarie, Legione Autonoma Muti, Cacciatori degli Appennini, Fiamme Bianche (teens of 15-17 years old; they were attacked by partizans and easily defeated them), battalions of Italians from abroad, etc.

The first volunteers were arranged by the Germans within the Wermacht and the Waffen SS (see the 29 Waffen Grenadier Division de SS Italienish n° 1), and it was very difficult to have them returned to the army of the RSI. Following an accord between Mussolini and Hitler in the spring of 1944, about 100,000 Italian POWs in Germany volunteered, while others became free workers in agriculture and industry. Only the monarchists (see the author Guareschi of Don Camillo) and a strongly antifascist minority remained in the POW camps. The new Italian republic--lay, democratic and antifascist--does not want to acknowledge such facts and speaks only of Italian prisoners in Germany as member of the resistance (sic).

Here is something absolutely not known about D-Day. On the small island of Cezembre in front of Saint-Malo there was an Italian San Marco battalion with the Germans. Only 69 survivors, most of whom were wounded, surrendered on 2 September 1944 when ammunition, food and water ran out. The Italians in Bordeaux surrendered only in early May. Cezembre was the most bombed place in the world.

Immediately after the war survivors from the volunteers of the RSI and their relatives joined the Anti-Bolshevik International Front ("Stay Behind") sponsored by the US:

About morale and willingness to fight:  Maybe in the USSR morale improved following Stalin's order n° 270 of 10 August 1941: "if some Red Army men prefer to surrender they shall be destroyed by all possible means, whereas their families shall be deprived of the state allowance and relief and are liable to be arrested."

Such order was followed by a prohibition to the International Red Cross to care for the Soviet POWs in Germany.

JE comments:  Perhaps we've found another WWII shibboleth for dissection:  did Stalin really put most returning Soviet POWs in Gulags--or execute them?  And did the Soviets likewise go after the prisoners' families?

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  • Stalin and Returning Soviet POWs (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/29/19 4:56 AM)
    JE posed this question: "Did Stalin really put most returning Soviet POWs in Gulags--or execute them? And did the Soviets likewise go after the prisoners' families?"

    I would be most interest to hear what Boris Volodarsky has to say about this.

    I have known, and have loved, the ptitomtsev--the descendants, I don't actually know the English word for this, of the families who were destroyed by this policy. Yes, Stalin murdered POWs returned from Germany, and in mass quantities, and arrested and exiled family members. The idea was that if a Soviet soldier surrendered rather than dying for the cause, then prima facie, he was a traitor, and he was treated as such. The monstrosity of this is unspeakable.

    JE comments:  Some shibboleths, like some stereotypes, exist for a reason: because they're true.  Warfare reveals two types of attitudes towards POWs:  those that treat them as traitors (Japan, USSR in WWII), and those who make them heroes (think of John McCain and yellow ribbons in general).  I prefer to think of the "our" group as more civilized, but there's a tactical logic behind the former view.  You fight harder.  Remember the Spartans:  "come back with your shield, or on it."  (Full disclosure:  Cameron Sawyer and I are Michigan Wolverines, not Michigan State Spartans.)

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