Alamein, 1933-1962, an Italian story

série: 2nd WW Afrika Korps
éditeur: Allen+Unwin
auteur: Caccia-Dominioni
classement: biblio2A
année: 1957
format: cartonné, avec jaquette
état: TBE/N
valeur: 20 €
critère: **
remarques: English book
(translated from the Italian)

1/ prelude in peace and war
- the expedition to the oasis of Siwa through El Alamein (quite unknown then),
may 1933 by 7 men and 5 women, all of European origin but of different nationalities
- 1936 relations between Italy and Great Britain had been strained
and during these years El Alamein remained still an unknown place
- 1939-1942 130'000 Italian prisoners passed through El Alamein

2/ the fall of Tobrouk
- 21.6.42 Tobrouk is occupied, description of the formidable booty found in Tobrouk
- 30.6.42 the pursuit into Egypt
the fatal quadrilateral: Sidi Omar, Bardia, Sollum and Halfaya pass,
85% of the vehicles were British captured vehicles!
the M13 armour-plating of the tank varied from 15 to 40 mm
compared with the British Grant tank with a plating of 90 mm,
the Italian M13 was defenceless and was surnamed: the steel coffin

3/ we reach El Alamein
- 1.7.42 the 7th Bersaglieri reached a point at El Alamein,
only about 70 miles from Alexandria
>> p. 50 one German lieutnant had more power that 5 Italian colonels
>> p. 51 good description of Rommel, for the Italians he had 2 gifts:
luck and being able to keep his bearings
in the midst of all confusion of modern desert warfare
and he had always a good instinct where a situation was developing dangerously

4/ whittaker's ring
- 3.7.42 El Alamein, Hill 33, the Afrika Korps was now at standstill
7- .7.42 3 South African officers were taken prisoners
>> p. 62 the story of Whittaker's ring (of one south African officer)

5/ fierce fighting
the power of the British forces with troops coming from Egypt, Palestine and Syria,
supply coming on short and well protected roads compared to those of the Axis
(mostly from Tripoli 1300 miles away),
arrival of the Folgore and Ramcke parachutists who had been trained
for the invasion of Malta and now used as ordinary infantry-men
>> p. 62 the 2 brave men who defended the Halfaya pass:
captain Bach and major Leopold Pardi

6/ the last battles of July
- battle for the Hill 33, on 20.7.
Mussolini returned to Italy after having spent 3 weeks in Libya
expecting a triumphal entry in Cairo and without having been visited by Rommel
>> p. 81 the night attacks of the New Zealand maoris with knife and axe
>> p. 85 the weak part of the Grant tanks of 29 tons was when they were attacked sidewise

7/ a major of the long range
- the importance of the sand rises in the desert as good observation points
(about 6 miles in each direction),
the British called them Hill, the Arabs El Alam and the Germans AP,
the minaret of Sidi Abd el Rahman at El Alamein was an irresistible fascination
for the pilots of the RAF, sometimes attacked up to 50 times a day
- the operations of the Long Range Desert Group was a nuisance
and one Italian group commanded by major Sillavengo
was ordered to organize defending operations
>> p. 97 cui exhibetis vos servos ad obediendum, servi estis eius"
(when you obey someone like slaves, you become his slave)
and that was what mostly happened to the Italians towards the Germans
>> p. 97 the story of the British agent Paniakoff surnamed "Popsky"

8/ Rommel
visit of Rommel to the Italian sappers to resume a new offensive,
as they were highly respected by Rommel, however 3 Rommel's collaborators
disliked the Italians: Gause, Bayerlein and Westphal
- the poor supply received by the Axis troops
(15'000 tons a week compared to the 300'000 tons required),
it was only thanks Auchinleck that the Axis troops were halted in El Alamein,
despite this fact Chuchill had Auchinleck replaced by Montgomery

9/ S.O. Book 129
>> p. 116 the story of book S.O. 129 (for service orders) found in the British lines
which served later on as a diary for an Italian officer,
the acoustic recognition of enemy's and friend's planes!

10/ rains upon the pines
- 22.8.42 the heat was like a turkish bath with 43° in the shade,
the difference between the ill-armed Italians and the warlike legions of Rommel
>> p. 134 29.8. beginning of the last offensive of Rommel: the usual swinging right hook,
a letter arriving from Italy with the words: "it rains upon the pines"
to consolate fellow soldiers in the desert!
>> p. 138 the holy communion in the desert,
next objective for an Italian regiment: Hill 63 of Ruweisat
- a new German machine gun has arrived
with 1600 rounds a minute (about 30 rounds a second)

11/the six day race
the offensive was however not shaping according to plan,
4 German commanders were killed:
Nehring (Afrika Korps), von Vaerst (15th PD),
von Bismarck (21st PD) and Kleeman (90th light),
however the Folgore division fought well and the Littorio reached its objective,
on 3.9. Rommel ordered a general retreat,
the offensive was known as "the six day race" or by the British " battle of Alam Halfa"
- it was Montgomery's trial run but without great merit on his part:
in the last 2 weeks he received 500'000 tons of supplies
compared with the 13'000 tons received by the Germans and Italians

12/ twelve ghosts
- the 12 crosses taken as 12 thost by a wounded soldier,
3 Italian prisoners succeeded in reaching the Italian lines
from a much-feared reprisal camp in Egypt (about 100 miles across the desert by foot)

13/ five documents
the raid into British lines by Italian sappers,
the German paratroopers are damned good soldiers,
but the Italian sappers are equally good
>> p. 169 the "Rommelei" (Rommel's actions)

the differences between Goethe-like Germans (humane) and their counter-part
the Wagnerian Germans (warlike fighters),
but also sometimes a spirit of friendship between Germans and Italians
19.9.42 the failed British sea raid on Tobrouk organised by John Haselden,
one of the commanders of the LRDG who was killed in that action

14/ majestic cloud
this cloud remembered one over the Alps but this one was caused by the explosion
of a lorry containing 500 anti-tank mines

15/ the landing of a fighter
the fighter returning from an air raid which had to land in a mine-field!
and many other glorious Italian pilots lost their lifes in air battles
>> p. 202 description of Stumme commander of the Afrika Korps
during Rommel's absence,
description of the Italian Red Cross and their doctors,
disentery and other odd wounds had weakened the strength of the men

16/ fighting on the Northern front
- the state of silence which always betokens an imminent offensive
24.10. Trento front, air attack from "flying forteresses" (?),
- the Sherman tanks made their first appearance,
they were like giant tortoise monsters with no flat surface to be hit,
150 Axis guns against 950 Allied guns
and some Italian guns came still from the First World War!
then there was a British breakthrough between Hill 28 and Bir el Alash

17/ the Southern battle
the Folgore division fought well and repulsed all British assaults

18/ Tafkir
but on 6.11.1942 Folgore, Littorio and Ariete were wiped out,
300 out of 5000 Italian soldiers had surrendered,
Rommel tried to stem the flood that was now pouring in
with 37 panzer left against about 1000 enemy tanks,
however the general Rommel had successfully ensured
that his retreat would be in no way interfered with massive Italian columns
and so 70'000 Germans out of 90'000 were saved,
the Trieste division was the only one still in reasonable condition,
they met with 600 paratroopers of the Ramcke division (the green devils)
who managed to get through,
- the Italian and German air forces could hardly been expected to play a major role
(in fact many had even to be destroyed by their own troops because of lack of petrol!)
- 200 Axis planes were available against 1585 Allied aircraft with enough petrol
to make air raids up to Tripoli,
a British officer confirmed that the Folgore were the best fighters
he had encountered so far but for the Axis forces, it was now Tafkir = expiation

19/ Interlude
later on, a number of Italian prisoners were ordered
to clean up the battlefield of El Alamein
but the menace of the mines till hung over the future

20/ S.O. Book 129 reopened
- the arranging of Italian/German cemeteries after the war from 1948 on,
a memorial was also built together with 5000 tons of wrecked tanks (steel and horror)
- during 1950-1953 a lot of work was done by Italian and German missions
to identify the dead of El Alamein

n.b. the author mentions also the book "Rommel" by Desmond Young
which contains insulting comments to the Italian troops

>> very detailed account made of diaries and personal notes
of Italian soldiers and officers during the campaign of North Africa
- most parts of the book consists of numbering and depicting
various Italian regiments and divisions with their commanders
and their actions during the battles, there are among them
some quite interesting feat of arms to the glory of the Italian soldier
- with the Germans, the author is rather neutral, he admires Rommel
but do some critics to the German arrogance,
he recognized that the Italian equipment was very poor
and the material superiority of the Allied very high,
so Montgomery did not get great merit in El Alamein
- the whole name of Caccio-Dominioni is also the aristocratic title
of "14th viscount of Sillavengo" and therefore the brave officer Sillavengo,
as mentioned in the book, is most certainly the author himself
- it should also be mentioned that the author made quite a good job after the war:
identifying many unknown Italian dead soldiers,
however the book was also written primarily
to enhance the bravery of the Italian soldier
whose image had been mostly dishonoured by many other writers in their books

n.b. notes from the editor
Paolo Caccia-Dominioni, count of Sillavengo, made his first acquaintance
of El Alamein over 30 years ago,
no one at that date had ever heard of El Alamein,
but he passed that way on what was then almost a pioneer journey
by car on the way of Marsa Matrouh to the Siwa Oasis
which lay due west of the now famous Qattara depression,
less than 10 years later he war there again as an officer in the Italian army
that had just driven the British 8th Army back
to within striking distance of Alexandria,
in 1948 he was back again with the mission of discovering
what had happened to the Italian dead, and there he remained for many years
recovering the remains and bringing them all together
into a suitable resting place at Hill 33

this is his story of the historical battle,
in which his own experiences are recording with astonishing detachment
as those of a third party named Sillavengo,
at the same time this is not just another description of the battle
in comprehensive survey but as seen from inside
by the 31st Combat sappers of the Folgore, who were always in the midst of the fighting
and in constant movement about the battle zone,
they suffered extreme casualties: many were killed, many were captured
and at the end of the battle the regiment scarcely existed

there are many accounts already of the battle of El Alamein,
but this one is really different and very moving,
it may help to correct the low esteem popularly held of the Italian army in the desert,
when we read of how they fought and what they had to endure against immense odds,
not always very loyally supported by their German colleagues,
the book ends with a brief account of the author's experiences
in the dangerous task of clearing the battlefield and recovering the dead

Copyright 2008 - 2024 G. Rudolf