Telling the story of special forces regiment is not an easy task, especially if we speak of the “Col Moschin” or better known as “The Ninth.” The Regiment’s origins date back to the First World War when a few brave men – inspired by the German Sturmtruppen – formed the Arditi units, specialising in enemy trench assaults. World War II was certainly one of the most difficult periods for the IX Regiment even though, despite the incompetence shown by the Italian General Staff, there were some brave acts, especially during the Italian Campaign (1943/1945).
The 1950s marked the “turning point” for special forces around the world. Almost every Allied country – even with many doubts – began to acquire small specialized units for the war behind enemy lines. Also in Italy – which had gained a leading role for relations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact – made its first steps. The first to regroup were veterans of the glorious X MAS (Italian Navy) followed by paratroopers in which arose the “Special Platoon.” The young lieutenant Franco Falcone gathered a daredevil paratrooper unit, asking them to attend the divers course at the Navy commando school (Comando Subacquei Incursori – COMSUBIN). In this way the paratroopers would get the specialization in amphibious combat, extending their range of skills. If we read the “Ninth” history from the 1950s through the 1980s; it shows a fairly serious relationship with American special troops.
In 1953, Lt. Falcone’s bravest were transferred to the “Cesano Infantry School” where they took the name ” Saboteurs Paratroopers Company” (Compagnia Sabotatori Paracadutisti). Captain Edoardo Acconci was appointed as the first Unit Commander. A clever choice for the company future because from May to July 1952 the Italian officer had attended U.S. Army Ranger School. In the 1950s, the US Rangers were considered one of the world’s most renowned elite forces. The battle experience gained during the Korean War had further enhanced their operational capacities. The enlisted volunteers in Acconci’s Saboteurs had to have similar characteristics to the requirements contained in the General J. Lawton Collins manual Table of Organization and Equipment. The paper published by the US Army explained the selection criteria and the various training stages to become a Ranger: everyone had to be paratroopers and be over 19 years old. During the course, every recruit learned combat techniques with different weapons, but especially became an expert in reading maps, topographic surveys, communications and moving in all geographical environments. Clearly, the Saboteurs unit couldn’t rely on the same resources of overseas allies: the Italian Army Chiefs of Staff knew very little about their existence and how many there were. The Italian Commander didn’t care anything about the numbers or the economic possibilities: he could count on men who would overcome all difficulties. From that moment the saboteurs’ operative profile began to change; thanks to the Ranger courses, they found a new training basis to fit new fighting techniques to their needs. The link with US Army Special Forces continued over the years, reaching its peak in the 1970s when two other saboteurs went in the United States to improve knowledge on the Guerrilla Warfare.
Captain Franco Angioni sailed from Livorno to attend the Fort Benning Ranger Course, while Valdimiro Rossi arrived in Fort Bragg to face the Green Beret course. Thanks to Captain Valdimiro Rossi laying the foundation to an Italian study about guerrilla and counter-guerrilla warfare, the Italian military applied them in NATO. The text on which Valdimiro Rossi spent several nights of study was the Field Manual 31-16 Counterguerrilla Operations, first published in February 1963.
On their return to Italy, Angioni and Rossi, were confronted with a completely different situation. Their job was to adapt the American lessons to the Italian reality: in fact, the Green Berets were not only a strictly military tool, but also political; and what happened in Vietnam showed him clearly. The Italian Government – or part of it – continued to have a certain distrust of the military. The kind of war fought by saboteurs was important, but for politicians and other officers of the General Staff, it was most comfortable to deny their existence. In some ways they were viewed as potential subversives! Even the name “Saboteurs” was judged too hazardous and so it was changed to “Raiders” (Incursori), certainly more appropriate and current.
The relationship with US Special Forces continued getting better, especially when Valdimiro Rossi was appointed Unit’s Commander (1972-1974). During those years, Italian and American Special Forces began a succession of annual exercises called “Muflone” and “Flintlock.” The Green Berets had many lessons to teach, but soon realized that the Italians had reached a very high readiness level.
The American contribution was essential at the time of the first HALO/HAHO jump trainings. In the early 1980s, thanks to the arrival of an aircraft and some instructors from Fort Bragg, the “Ninth” Col Moschin started the first course for HALO/HAHO jump. Unfortunately American paratroopers stayed only for HALO jumps, while the HAHO training was entirely organized by the 9th Battalion.
The relationship between the Green Berets and Italian Raiders consolidated over the years, especially during missions abroad. Although in Lebanon and Somalia relations were not so narrow, especially from an operational standpoint, things changed with the Global War on Terror. In Afghanistan and in Iraq the Italian TF45 worked closely with the US military which has always confirmed the qualities of the 9th Regiment and all Italian special forces. It is clear that the 9th Regiment owes a debt of gratitude to American allies, but we must remember that much of the work done by the Raiders is the consequence of ongoing experimentation and great sacrifice.
Related in this article is only a small part of the “Ninth” Col Moschin Regiment’s incredible history. Thanks to the Regiment and its commander, Colonel Paolo Attilio Fortezza. Also thanks to the many veteran saboteurs who gave their stories. I can only hope that I have managed to write a sufficient story about these men who gave their lives for this country.
I wish to thank especially SOFREP, Jack Murphy, and Brandon Webb for hosting the stories of Italian troops.
The Col Moschin history book is available in Italian language at IL MAGLIO Publisher and can be ordered at the following email address: [email protected]
ANIE – Associazione Nazionali Incursori Esercito Archive
9° Reggimento d’Ass. Par. “Col Moschin” Archive
Featured image courtesy of Pinterest