One of the most heroic acts of World War II took place on October 23, 1942 in the sand dunes of North Africa: the resistance of the Folgore Brigade to British 8th Army’s offensive. The bravery and valor shown by these few Italian soldiers was recognized by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who, in a speech to Parliament, he recalled: “We must honour the men that were the Lions of the Folgore.”
In the battle of El Alamein, the Axis forces played a vital match against the troops of General Montgomery. The Italian Army in Africa was not in good condition: it was poorly led and badly equipped. Italian tanks (nicknamed “tin of sardines”) couldn’t compare with the British Armoured Corps; the infantry divisions had good elements, but were low on weapons and very low on morale. Italian soldiers had lost confidence in their commanders and the motivation to fight. Rommel’s Afrika Korps was without doubt a first-rate power, however, they had the same problems as the Italians.
Long months of fighting and the situation in Europe (the bloody Russian Campaign) had made difficult the replacements both soldiers and tanks which had no more fuel to move. In this scenario, the Folgore Parachute Brigade was deployed to the South, occupying the entire front with only 3.000 men and 80 guns. Alongside them were the foot soldiers of the “Pavia” Brigade and the famous 31 Battalion “Cacciatori d’Africa.” To protect the rear of the infantry brigade, there were Germans of the 21st Panzerdivision and the “Ariete” Armoured Division.
Facing the Italians was the 3rd British Army Corps of 50,000 men and about 250 tanks strong; moreover, the Allied troops had the air superiority. For General Frattini’s paratroopers was only one chance: “Don’t give up.” In those conditions, resisting resembled suicide, but the Lions of Folgore didn’t lose their fighting spirit. On the evening of October 23, 1942 the British offensive attempted to overwhelm the front held by the Italians.
The Folgore paratroopers rushed to counterattack, using all the weapons at your disposal. It was a desperate struggle of men against men and tanks. Crews of the British Tank Corps did not believe their eyes: soldiers launched themselves against their armor! On the same night, the 5th battalion (led by Lieutenant-Colonel Giuseppe Izzo) was attacked by units of the French Foreign Legion: once again the courage and cunning of just 100 Italian paratroopers prevented the collapse of the entire front.
The Folgore paratroopers had managed to separate the English infantry from their tanks; doing so, the British soldiers became more vulnerable and, with the same weapons, the Italian defense created considerable difficulties for their opponents. The British army attempted to break through the lines of Folgore throughout the night of October 24, without major progress.
After four days and four nights of fierce resistance to the surviving paratroopers, the order to withdraw was sent: the Lions of Folgore entered into legend!
Every year, in October, the Folgore Brigade recall that day of glory and death: today’s paratroopers ideally embrace their predecessors. The 31st October 2014, in Livorno (Tuscany), the airborne troops celebrated the 72nd anniversary of El Alamein: a significant day in which the Commander of the Brigade, General D’Addario, summarizes the activities of his men involved abroad (jointly with NATO forces), but also in Italy.
For several years the paratroopers brigade has been subject to various reforms that have altered its composition, but not its specific character. Last year, for example, the Airborne Brigade incorporated the glorious 3rd Cavalry Regiment “Savoia Cavalleria” with his three Reconnaissance squadrons. The 185th R.R.A.O., Parachutist Reconnaissance and Target Acquisition Regiment came out from “Folgore” to enter in the COMFOSE. In its place was re-founded the 185th Parachute Artillery Regiment, heir of the Battalion “Viterbo,” based in Bracciano.
The real protagonists of the event were former members of the Brigade (conscripts of all ages), but especially the veterans still alive, like the legendary El Alamein’s veteran Santo Pelliccia, a paratrooper of 91 years old: a “man of steel” who in the Airborne community is a myth – no matter whether paratroopers, infantrymen, or mountain trooper. Santo Pelliccia is a “Holy military institution,” an old lion who still believes in the values of the flag and Country.
One of the most exciting moments of the ceremony was the salute to the colours, accompanied by the notes of the regimental band. On each flagpole hanging several gold and silver medals for bravery: each parachutist would die to defend his regimental colours, he would kill to defend his honor. At the end of the ceremony, six paratroopers jumped from 4,000 meters and opened their parachutes just above the public.
The Airborne regimental traditions are preserved by ANPd’I (National Association of Italian Paratroopers), which through its seats all over Italy, gathered the paratrooper of all ages: veterans, former conscripts and associated partners. The many banners present at the ceremony confirm the importance of this association.
The Folgore Brigade is an Italian treasure that must be guarded jealously. The guys who wear the Maroon beret are the best of the new generation, honoring who lost their lives doing their duty.
Today’s Folgore Brigade:
- C. a. Par. – Centro Addestramento Paracadutismo (Parachute Training Center)
- 183rd Parachute Regiment “Nembo”
- 186th Parachute Regiment “Folgore”
- 187th Parachute Regimet “Folgore”
- 185th Parachute Artillery Regiment “Folgore”
- 3rd Parachute Cavalry Regiment “Savoia Cavalleria”
- 8th Parachute Engineer Regiment “Folgore”
- 6th Parachute Logistic Regiment
- Command and tactical support Department
Featured Image Courtesy: Wikipedia
Photos courtesy: Viviana Cariola