In the military, symbols develop a considerable value: They encourage soldiers to build a sense of belonging, and they bond them to their unit. In recent decades, there’s been a significant increase in new unit insignia designs, mainly related to missions, detachments, or companies. But no one among any special operations units in the world can boast an emblem with a tradition as longstanding as that of Italy’s 9th Parachutist Assault Regiment, “Col Moschin.”
Seventy years after the conclusion of World War II, the unit’s original symbol—a dagger between oak and laurel leaves—is back to decorate the arms of the “Col Moschin” Raiders, taking the place of the eagle, parachute, and anchor patch.
Dagger, skull, and eagle
In 1917, soon after their establishment at Sdricca of Manzano (Udine), the Arditi—the Royal Italian Army’s elite storm troops—began to stand out from other infantry units, changing their uniforms to make them more unique and less formal. They added new ornamentation to them, including the “black flame” insignia and the symbol of the assault divisions: a dagger wrapped in leaves of laurel and oak, under which rested the Savoy’s motto, FERT (HOLD).
Thus the official badge of the Arditi was born, which only added to their formidable reputation—striking fear into the enemy Austrians hiding in their trenches. At the end of the First World War, the rise of fascism and propaganda carefully exploited the full potential of martial symbology. The “squadristi” (fascist military squads), for example, used various badges and pennants belonging to the Arditi (including one featuring a skull with a dagger or knife).
In 1942, the dagger symbol regained its military dignity, adorning the uniforms of the newly established X Battaglione Arditi—the only battalion that directly represents the legacy of “Black Flames.” After September 8, 1943, special forces that joined the fascist R.S.I. (Repubblica Sociale Italiana) Italian Social Republic wore a variation of the same symbol, only the now-hated Savoy’s motto FERT was exchanged in favor of the more patriotic ITALIA.
The patch bearing the imagery of the dagger had been all but forgotten following the war, but a parachutist, Lieutenant Franco Falcone, who had just begun a new adventure in the Cesano School of Infantry as a member of a “plotone speciale” (special platoon), reintroduced one to replace it. The new patch showcased a golden skull (shown above). Although the new coat of arms featured the Sabotatori title and the regiment’s official title, this was not considered a real qualification badge or unit insignia.
A decree on February 23, 1977 instituted, for the first time, an insignia for Raiders-qualified soldiers—an oval with an eagle, an anchor, and a parachute surrounded by oak and laurel leaves. It had good graphical composition that tied in key imagery representing the Col Moschin Raiders.
In 2008, then-regimental commander Col. Giuseppe Faraglia made the first attempts to reclaim the famous line “FERT” (preserving the Savoy’s motto), not as a slogan for the unit, but simply as part of the regiment’s emblem. The Army chief of staff had some concerns, and so it was not officially approved.
Meanwhile, the A.N.I.E. (Associazione Nazionale Incursori Esercito—National Association of Army Raiders), keeper of regimental traditions, assumed the dagger with “FERT” as its membership symbol (designed by Barbara Frediani).
An old symbol on new Raiders
Beginning October 6, 2015, the Col Moschin Raiders can once again pride themselves on their longstanding symbol. The first to wear these new/old insignias just emerged from a tough two-year training regimen. The new coat of arms appears slightly changed from the original, but the substance remains intact.
In speeches made before the delivery of the new patch, the regiment commander, Col. Paolo Attilio Fortezza, emphasized how the old symbol maintained its significance through the years. Indeed, many Raiders throughout history have made huge sacrifices with that symbol on their arms, and so for new members of the unit to wear it, they will be expected to preserve the memory of those who came before them and keep the insignia’s significance and respect intact.
In attendance at the ceremony were ANIE’s former Raiders, who gave out the new patches to the new recruits—two warrior generations coming together to reflect the values, sacrifices and a lifestyle that goes far beyond a “small piece of cloth” placed on the uniform.
Article published with kind permission of the commander of the 9th Parachutist Assault Regiment, “Col Moschin.” Featured image courtesy of Viviana Cariola.