Italian Co-belligerent Army

The Italian Co-belligerent Army (Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano), or Army of the South (Esercito del Sud) were names applied to various division sets of the now former Royal Italian Army during the period when it fought alongside the Allies during World War II from October 1943 onwards. During the same period, the pro-allied Italian Royal Navy and Italian Royal Air Force were known as the Italian Co-belligerent Navy and Italian Co-belligerent Air Force respectively. From September 1943, pro-Axis Italian forces became the National Republican Army of the newly formed Italian Social Republic.

The Italian Co-belligerent Army was the result of the Allied armistice with Italy on 8 September 1943; King Victor Emmanuel III dismissed Benito Mussolini as Prime Minister in July 1943 following the Allied invasion of Southern Italy, and nominated Marshal of Italy (Maresciallo d'Italia) Pietro Badoglio instead, who later aligned Italy with the Allies to fight the Social Republic's forces and its German allies in Northern Italy.

The Italian Co-belligerent Army fielded between 266,000 and 326,000 troops in the Italian Campaign, of whom 20,000 (later augmented to 50,000, though some sources place this number as high as 99,000) were combat troops and between 150,000 and 190,000 were auxiliary and support troops, along with 66,000 personnel involved with traffic control and infrastructure defence.[1] On the whole, the Italian Co-Belligerent Army made up 1/8 of the fighting force and 1/4 of the entire force of 15th Army Group of the Allied Forces.


The progenitor to the Co-belligerent Army, the Primo Raggruppamento Motorizzato [it] (First Motorized Combat Group) was created on 26 September 1943 in San Pietro Vernotico, Brindisi, based on elements of the "Legnano" and Messina Divisions.[2][3] Some of the soldiers who reported had managed to evade capture and internment by German forces.[4] The unit was composed of 295 officers and 5,387 men and was created to participate alongside the Allies against Germany in the Italian Campaign. The unit was commanded by General Vincenzo Dapino [it] who led it during its first engagement in the Battle of San Pietro Infine in December the same year. This action did much to remove the Allied distrust of Italian soldiers fighting on their side.[5] The unit suffered heavy casualties and was judged to have performed satisfactorily.[3]

Following the service with the American Fifth Army and reorganization, command of the Primo Raggruppamento Motorizzato was put under General Umberto Utili and the unit was transferred to the Polish II Corps on the extreme left of the British Eighth Army.[5] In early 1944 the unit was re-organised and expanded into the Italian Liberation Corps.[6]

Italian Liberation CorpsEdit

On 17 April 1944, the formation (now 22,000 men strong) assumed the name Italian Liberation Corps (Corpo Italiano di Liberazione [it], or CIL). The continuous influx of volunteers made it necessary to form further formations.[5] The CIL was organized in two new divisions: The "Nembo" and the "Utili." The "Nembo" Division was formed around the old Royal Army's parachute division of the same name. The "Utili" Division was formed around the First Motorized Combat Group and was named after its commander, General Umberto Utili. In early 1944, a 5,000 man force of Italians fought on the Gustav Line around Monte Cassino and acquitted itself well. The Italians once again suffered heavy casualties.[3]

Italian Co-belligerent Army from late 1944 to 1945Edit

After the Battaglia di Filottrano [it] in July 1944, Italian troops were sent to the rear lines to rest and re-train. In the meantime they were re-kitted with standard British/Commonwealth equipment including Battledress uniforms and helmets (mostly new and not taken off corpses as hearsay sometimes has it). By early 1945 the CIL had outgrown itself. It was used as the nucleus for six separate Combat Groups (Gruppi di Combattimento): "Cremona", "Legnano", "Friuli", "Mantova", "Piceno", and "Folgore", with sizes equal to weak divisions. The established strength for each was 432 officers, 8,578 other rank, 116 field guns, 170 mortars, 502 light machine guns, and 1,277 motor vehicles. The Combat Groups were given the names of old Royal Army divisions and followed the component numbering system of the component regiments to some extent.[3] These groups were attached to various American and British formations on the Gothic Line. The following is the "order of battle" of the Italian Co-belligerent Army as of April 1945.[7]

The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces High Command was Marshal Giovanni Messe, while the Chief of Staff of the Army was Lieutenant General Paolo Berardi.

Combat groupsEdit

Each infantry regiment fielded three infantry battalions, a mortar company armed with British ML 3 inch mortars and an anti-tank company armed with British QF 6 pounder guns. The artillery regiments consisted of four artillery groups with British QF 25 pounder guns, one anti-tank group with British QF 17 pounder guns and one anti-air group armed with British versions of the Bofors 40mm gun.

Churchill tank of 'C' Squadron, North Irish Horse of the Italian Co Belligerent Army carrying Italian infantry of 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry (Italian), north of Castel Borsetti, 2 March 1945

Auxiliary divisionsEdit

In addition to the Combat Groups the Italian Co-belligerent Army included also a force of 8 Auxiliary Divisions (Divisioni Ausiliarie, largely intended to perform labouring and second lined duties), around 150,000-190,000 men strong, largely employed by the Allies in various support and logistical activities, those auxiliary units were the following:

  • 205th Division (assigned to US Army Air Forces Command in the Mediterranean)
    • 51 Gruppo Aviazione (Infantry and AA Artillery Air Force Regiment)
    • 52 Gruppo Aviazione (Infantry and AA Artillery Air Force Regiment)
    • 53 Gruppo Aviazione (Infantry and AA Artillery Air Force Regiment)
    • 54 Gruppo Aviazione (Infantry and AA Artillery Air Force Regiment)
    • 55 Gruppo Aviazione (Infantry and AA Artillery Air Force Regiment)
  • 209th Division (in support of the British 1st District)
  • 210th Division (assigned to US Fifth Army)
  • 212th Division, the largest of the Auxiliary Divisions, at its heights its complements exceeded 44,000 men operating in an assigned area of operations extended from Naples to Pisa and Livorno
  • 227th Division (in support of the British 3rd District)
  • 228th Division (assigned to UK Eighth Army)
  • 230th Division (in support of the British forces)
    • 541 Infantry, Coast Artillery and AA Artillery Regiment
    • 403 Pioneer and labour Regiment (Engineer Corps)
    • 404 Pioneer and labour Regiment (Engineer Corps)
    • 406 Pioneer and labour Regiment (Engineer Corps)
    • 501 Security Battalion
    • 510 Security Battalion
    • 514 Security Battalion
    • XXI Supply trains Group (Gruppo salmerie, a Regiment size unit)
  • 231st Division (assigned to British XIII Corps of the US Fifth Army)

On the whole the Italian Co-Belligerent Army made up 1/8 of the fighting force and 1/4 of the entire force of 15th Army Group of the Allied Forces.[8]

Internal security divisionsEdit

Not directly dependent from the Allied Headquarters in Italy the Co-Belligerent Army also deployed three Internal Security Divisions (Divisioni di Sicurezza Interna) for internal security duties:

Italian ArmyEdit

In 1946, the Kingdom of Italy became the Italian Republic. In a similar manner, what had been the royalist Co-Belligerent Army simply became the Italian Army (Esercito Italiano).


The Italian Liberation Corps suffered 1,868 killed and 5,187 wounded during the Italian campaign;[9] the Italian Auxiliary Divisions lost 744 men killed, 2,202 wounded and 109 missing.[10] Some sources estimate the overall number of members of the Italian regular forces killed on the Allied side as 5,927.[11]

Famous membersEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Di Capua, Resistenzialità versus Resistenza, p.87
  2. ^ Ordine di Protocollo n. 761 del Comando LI Corpo d'Armata. Cfr. Riccardo Scarpa, Vecchio e nuovo nelle Forze Armate del Regno d'Italia in La riscossa dell'Esercito. Il Primo Raggruppamento Motorizzato - Monte Lungo, atti del convegno del Centro Studi e Ricerche Storiche sulla Guerra di Liberazione.
  3. ^ a b c d Jowett, The Italian Army 1940-43 (3), p. 24
  4. ^ Holland, Italy's Sorrow, p. 53
  5. ^ a b c Mollo, The Armed Forces of World War II, p. 100
  6. ^ Roggero, Roberto (2006). Le verità militari e politiche della guerra di liberazione in Italia. Greco & Greco. ISBN 88-7980-417-0.
  7. ^ "Order of Battle: Italian Co-Belligerent Forces". Military History Network. 11 March 2004. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
  8. ^ Fatutta, Francesco: "L'Esercito nella Guerra di Liberazione (1943-1945)", Rivista Italiana Difesa, n°8 Agosto 2002, pag. 82-94.
  9. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (2016-09-06). World War II: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection [5 volumes]: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. ISBN 9781851099696.
  10. ^ "Le divisioni ausiliarie: Soldati operai".
  11. ^ "Numero delle vittime della II Guerra Mondiale". 28 November 2011.