Corpo Italiano di Liberazione

By Nicolò Da Lio

Forming the Italian Liberation Corps

The Italian Liberation Corps, or Corpo Italiano di Liberazione (CIL for short), was born officially on 18 April 1944. Initially the Italians were quite reluctant to sanction the expansion of the I Raggruppamento Motorizzato. By Italian standards it was becoming as big as a small corps. It had 10,000 troops, but was still too fragile when compared to equivalent Allied formations.

Luckily the Allies had different plans and didn’t care about the name of the Italian unit, they simply required the Italians to form a division-sized unit. It was to be of about 14,100 men, organized in two brigades, and formed from the actual I Raggruppamento Motorizzato, plus what was available of Nembo division. 

When the Italian received the order, they pointed out that actually forcing them to build such a unit without considering the difficulty they were having in mustering replacements was problematic. The I Raggruppamento Motorizzato was already short of manpower and would have led to a quite inefficient formation, which would have to be taken out of combat as soon as substantial casualties were taken.

Despite the initial diffidence, the Allies finally allowed the Italians to raise the total strength of the CIL to 24,000 men, including reserves. It was made clear, however, that the Italian Army as a whole wasn’t allowed to raise its strength above the 375,000 men as stated in the Armistice terms. The various elements had to be taken from existing units, reducing their ranks in turn.

During the reorganisation the CIL was under the V British Corps, but it was transferred to X Corps as soon as planning for the new spring offensive was underway.

Fighting in the Mainards

On 9 May 1944, CIL commander, General Utili, took part in a staff meeting with the commanders of X Corps. In this meeting the offensive intentions X Corps had at the time were made clear.

"Nembo" Paracadutisti Machine-gunners
General Utili (centre hands of table) meets with Italian and British staff.

X Corps main goal was to engage the Germans as much as it could, in order to distract reserves from Cassino sector. At the time it was very important to discover as much information on the enemy as possible, in order to define plans.

As the Allied operations were increasingly successful in other sectors, Utili planned “Operation Chianti”, in which he intended to occupy the line between Monte Marrone and Picinisco, so he could control Valle Venafrana and Abruzzo National Park.

He thought that it would be relatively easy to force the Germans to retreat now that they were heavily engaged in other sectors.

The action was to be complete within 3 days, and was to be divided in 3 phases, one for each day. The operation was divided into one main sector with two secondary sectors that were to provide flank security. 

The main sector was divided between: Column Massimino, with CLXXXV Parachute Battalion and some mortars from 68th Infantry Regiment; Column Briatore, with “Piemonte” Alpini Battalion, with a mountain artillery battery and the IV 75/18 Artillery Group of 11th Regiment; and Column Ciancabilla, with the 4th Bersaglieri Regiment, IX Arditi Battalion, V 75/13 Artillery Group and II 100/22 Artillery Group, as well as some mortars from 68th Infantry Regiment.

The first phase of operation saw Column Massimino acting as a covering force, while Columns Briatore and Ciancabilla moved respectively to Hill 1991 and the line between Monte Mare and Colle Altare.

In the second phase Column Briatore was to continue its advance, flanking Ciancabilla from north east, while Ciancabilla had to act as a covering force and Massimino was to link up with Briatore. XXIX Bersaglieri Battalion was to take Monte Marrone.

The details of the third phase had yet to be planned, since it depended on the outcome of the other two actions. The 68th Infantry Regiment on the right and 184th Parachute Infantry Regiment on the left conducted the supporting operations. 

Monte Marrone
On May 27th, at 7.00am shelling from 11th Artillery Regiment initiated the operation. The preliminary bombardment was raised at 7.25am and the infantry moved from its positions and, despite some difficulty encountered by 68th Infantry Regiment, the objectives of the first day were all met by midday. The decision was taken to push on in order to take the objectives of the second day.

The 68th Infantry Regiment was slowed down in its advance on Monte Mattone and La Rocca. The “Piemonte” Alpini Battalion together with IX Arditi Battalion were caught under heavy artillery fire, but the German guns were slow to react to the Italian advance and it proved easier to run forward and dodge the shelling rather than fall back! The “Piemonte” Alpini Battalion occupied Monte di Mare (a different hill from Monte Mare), reaching objectives set for the second day by the end of the first.

Operations around Monte Marrone and Monte Petroso.

The following day it was decided to proceed with the third phase of the operation and complete the advance to Picinisco. This was easily taken as the Germans broke contact during the night under heavy artillery cover.

The first combat operation of the Italian Liberation Corps had been an outstanding success!

Armed Reconnaissance on Monte Petroso

As the X Corps had notice of the German withdrawal, it ordered CIL to undertake an armed reconnaissance on Canneto Valley. Initially Utili wanted to send only a platoon from the Alpini Battalion, but Major Briatore, commander of “Piemonte” Alpini Battalion, foresaw that an organised German defence might be encountered. It was decided to send the whole battalion.

The operation involved both Canneto Valley and the crest line that linked Monte Canneto to Monte Irto. The objective was to discover the German forces in the sector and, if possible, to link with the Opi-Barrea road to the north of Monte Irto.

The advance began on 29 May 1944. It was decided to send the 1st Company 45 minutes ahead of the rest of the battalion as an advance guard. The other two companies followed behind, with the 2nd Company on the right as a high flank guard, with the mules that carried all the heavy equipment of the battalion. A 75/13 Mountain Battery followed the rest of the battalion, advancing a section at a time, under the direct control of Briatore.

During the advance a German patrol was spotted, but it easily escaped the Alpini force through a thick wood and, as the Alpini followed it, they finally ran in to the main defensive position.

The German defences were extremely well placed and camouflaged, with many machine gun nests and artillery observation posts.

As the 1st Company progressively engaged the German position, Briatore tried to move his other two companies in a high flanking move across the crest line. The moving 75/13 guns fell back to the rest of the battery in order to bombard the German positions with indirect fire.

German resistance strengthened further as the Italians advanced, and soon the Alpini found themselves under precise shelling from mortars and artillery. Briatore called off the attack to reorganize his forces and wait for orders.

Alpini moving through the Italian mountains.
The situation was anything but easy. Firstly, the German positions were extremely well camouflaged, and the light artillery support of “Piemonte” was insufficient do any damage and it was hard to direct artillery fire against the well-concealed positions! Secondly, because of the thick wood, communication between the companies was extremely difficult, especially as the battalion hadn’t any working radios. Thirdly, it was extremely hard to bring in supplies. They had to be carried for about fifteen hours through the woods before reaching the front line troops! Because of these difficulties Briatore wanted to call off the operation, but X Corps ordered Briatore to try again the next day. The 4th Bersaglieri Regiment was dispatched to reinforce his thrust.
CIL Operations 27 May 1944
Forced to continue the attack, Briatore tried a different approach. This time he tried to take the Germans from a lower position, through the woods of the valley, while he took direct control of the all artillery of the battalion, six 81mm mortars and four 75mm infantry guns, and directed it on the suspected German positions.

As the shelling begun, the Alpini advanced. Because the guns were at the limit of their range, the fire was extremely dispersed. It was virtually impossible to directly observe the German positions, so the unfortunate Alpini ran in a perfectly prepared enemy.

CIL operations 28-30 May 1944

The troops moving through the valley ran into an extremely precise artillery bombardment, even though they were well concealed by the woods. Briatore decided that it was useless to continue the fight and, after a brief firefight, called off the attack to wait for the arrival of 4th Bersaglieri.

At this point it was decided that “Piemonte” had accomplished its mission to reconnoitre the German defence in the area, so X Corps called a stop to the operation and ordered CIL to transfer to V Corps for further operations.

Adriatic Sector – Advance to the Gothic Line

After being assigned to V Corps, the CIL saw some reorganisation within its units. First of all, the brigade structure was made official, and some units were added to strengthen the Italian formation.

I Brigade comprised the 4th Bersaglieri Regiment (XXIX and XXXIII battalions), 3rd Alpini Regiment (“Piemonte” and “Monte Granero” battalions, together with their infantry guns), CLXXXV Paracadutisti battalion and IV 75/13 Pack Artillery Group.

II Brigade was made of the 68th Infantry Regiment (I and II battalion), “Bafile” Marine battalion and IX Arditi battalion with the V 75/13 Pack Artillery Group.

The third main unit was “Nembo” Division, with 183rd and 184th Parachute Regiments (respectively XV, XVI and XII, XIII battalions) and 184th Artillery Regiment (I 75/27 Artillery Group and II 100/28 Artillery Group with a 20/65 AA battery), together with 184th Motorcycle Company and CLXXXIV Guastatori Paracadutisti battalion.

11th Artillery Regiment received some additional units too, in the form of V 57/50 Anti-tank Group equipped with three batteries of 6pdrs.

However, CIL continued to have mobility problems and was extremely short of trucks, a deficiency that would have a greater impact now that the pace of operations quickened. The terrain that the CIL operated was much more suitable to mobile warfare when compared to Mainard sector.

Under V Corps the CIL had the responsibility for the Treglio area, with plenty of supporting arms from the British, a sign that the Allies had begun to trust the Italian unit. They also recognized its lack of modern weapons. The support mainly took the form of artillery, for which the CIL was short by Allied standards, and tank formations, which where completely absent. 

San Marco Regiment Marine
The first operation assigned to the CIL was a simple cooperative action with the offensive of the 4th Indian Division, who were crossing to the right bank of Pescara River.
Operations 8 June 1944 In front of the Italians were the German 992nd, 993rd and 994th Grenadier Regiments and the 278th Schnell battalion, all from the German 278th Infantry Division. The Germans were completely without artillery as it had been withdrawn some time before the arrival of the Italian unit, and was to be followed soon by the rest of the division.

While well emplaced, the Germans patrols seemed to be quite nervous, thanks to earlier attacks by other Allied units shortly before the arrival of the Italian unit.

When the CIL responded to 4th Indian request to attack on 8 July 1944, they found that the enemy was eager to fall back. With the exception of 68th Infantry Regiment, the advance was relatively easy ending in the liberation of the city of Chieti, even though it was initially outside the CIL’s area responsibility, being assigned to the 4th Indian Division.

Nembo was ordered to establish bridgehead on the left bank of Pescara River, while I Brigade set-up its main defensive position on the right bank and II Brigade acted as reserve.

In July the offensive restarted, now with the objective of liberating Aquila. Intense patrol activity by Nembo Division, as well as taking some 70 prisoners, revealed that the town itself was free of German troops. The Nembo Division moved to take Aquila, while I Brigade was sent to Rieti. II Brigade was forced to stay where it was as there simply wasn’t enough motor transport available to move it and the rest of the division at the same time, a sign of the problems that would afflict CIL from that point on.

Each day the pace of the offensive quickened, and the CIL found it more difficult to ferry its troops forward while keeping logistic routes opened. As the Italian troops advanced, more trucks were needed to supply the advancing columns, while the troops couldn’t count on their transport for mobility because they were needed to supply them. The only solution was to leave some of the troops behind, while the others kept the advancing with what transport was available. The result was that, by the end of the month, the CIL was dispersed over an area up to 200kms in depth. Only 3 of its 14 battalions were in the front line. The further the troops went, the more difficult it was to regroup them without congesting the few roads available.

While the CIL desperately waited for the 162 trucks that the Allies promised to the unit, it was decided to keep the advance going with just the mobile elements of Nembo Division. This group was detached from CIL, and assigned to the 5th Kresowa Division of the Polish II Corps.

Despite the arrival of about 60 trucks from the allies it was impossible to commit the whole Nembo division, so Nembo Tactical Group was formed. It consisted of every mobile element of the division. It had to continue the advance with as many trucks as it could and comprised only 183rd regiment, with XV and XVI battalions, CLXXXIV Guastatori Paracadutisti (parachute demolisher) battalion, 184th Motorcycle Company and I 75/27 Artillery Group. As soon as they were available II 100/28 Artillery Group, of 184th artillery regiment, and a 57/50 (6 pdr) battery where assigned to Nembo.

Nembo Tactical Group

The first objective assigned to Nembo was a reconnaissance in force of Macerata. On 26 June 1944, at 9:00am XV/183th Regiment crossed Potenza River towards Macerata, while the XVI/183th covered the left flank and I 75/27 Artillery Group gave supporting fire.

The Germans soon reacted to the Italian advance, and by 10:00am the action was called off, having reached the objective and determined that there was a Panzergrenadier battalion from 29th Panzer Division defending the town.

The Germans had evacuated the town by 29 June, so XVI were able to occupy it. Advance elements of XV liberated it from the final German units present. If the Germans hadn’t had left the town it would of likely have taken between 3 and 7 days to organize and carry out an attack!

As it continued the advance, the Nembo tactical group encountered stiff resistance from the German forces in the town of Filottrano, which controlled the left side of Fiumicello River.

On 2 July Nembo deployed in front of the German positions, with XVI battalion on the left side of Fiumicello and XV battalion right behind it, while CLXXXIV Guastatori Paracadutisti covered the right flank.

"Nembo" Group operations 2-4 July 1944
The Germans noticed the relative dispersion of the Italian deployment, the XVI battalion looked almost isolated in front of their position; they decided to organize an attack in order to do as much damage as possible. The night attack that resulted from this decision was extremely fierce, with heavy losses on both sides. After the Germans called off the attack, XVI battalion was ordered to fall back, while XV battalion took its place. Both sides lost about 50 men in the fight!
105/28 Gun being moved Noting the heavy fighting and the extremely good position that the Germans were deployed in, General Sulik of 5th Kresowa Division decided to help the Italians in their mission, and developed a joint attack with Italian and Polish forces.

While CLXXXIV battalion moved to the other side of Fiumicello River, XIII/184th moved in trucks to Appignano in order to engage the German position frontally. In the meantime XV and XVI battalions made a decisive thrust on the right flank supported by the tanks of 2nd Polish Armoured Brigade.

As much artillery as possible was collected for the attack, the 184th Artillery Regiment and I 105/28 Artillery Group and II 100/22 Artillery Group of 11th Artillery Regiment were committed, even though the artillery only had enough ammunition for just one day of action.

The attack began on 8 July at 7:00am after a preliminary bombardment that lasted an hour. By 11:30am the XV battalion had reached the east side of Filottrano. The fighting became a house-to-house struggle through Filottrano. The Germans counterattacked at 3:00pm with the support of a StuG battery, the Italians are forced to fall back, but the 45th Company held out alone in the outskirts of the town.

At 7:00pm the remaining two companies of XV battalion, together with a tank troop from the Polish brigade, attacked the Germans in order to allowed 45th Company to disengage. The Germans, shocked by the fierce attack and fearing that they could be overwhelmed during the night decided to withdraw from the town, falling back under cover of heavy artillery fire.

The following day the Italian flag was raised over Filottrano.

After taking the town it was discovered it had been defended by two German battalions of 994th Grenadier regiment, supported by a StuG battery, some armoured cars, and a good amount of artillery and mortars.

Losses were heavy on both sides, and the situation looked very grim after the first German counterattack. However, the determination of the Paracadutisti again overcame the odds!

Supplies being moved up to the front by Pack Mule.
From Sassoferrato to Urbino – The last CIL battles

After Filottrano the CIL was reunited and used to force the Musone River together with 2nd Polish Armoured Brigade. Unfortunately the Polish tanks moved too quickly and left the 68th Infantry Regiment behind, allowing the Germans to inflict heavy losses on the Italian troops.

As the Allied advance continued, it was decided to reduce the strength of the Italian unit in order to improve its efficiency and solve its many logistical problems.

CIL operations 6-9 July 1944

When CIL arrived in the Sassoferrato-Gubbio sector it was decided that Nembo should be taken under Polish command as a reserve. The other units were retired to Loro Piceno. The only fighting unit was to be II Brigade, which now consisted of San Marco Marine regiment (“Grado” and “Bafile” battalions), “Monte Granero” Alpini battalion and XXIX Bersaglieri battalion with a section of 57/50 guns, plus the 1st Bersaglieri Motorcycle Company and IX Arditi battalion. The whole unit was supported by I and II Groups of 11th artillery regiment equipped with 105/28 and 100/22 guns.

This new organization reflected the move to form more efficient “combat groups” to be used as reinforcing units for the normal divisions. As soon as it was possible, future combat groups were to be equipped entirely with British equipment to lighten the logistical weight of those units. Immediately after the liberation of Urbino the CIL was officially disbanded (30 August 1944).

Its combat operations proved useful lessons in the development of combat groups, with which the Italian Army would continue the war.

As well as valuable combat experience, their will to fight allowed a semi-motorized unit like the CIL to keep pace with the much more mobile infantry and tank formations of the Allies. It proved an example of the Italian ability to overcome difficulties, even if the Italians themselves caused many of those difficulties (like the jealously guarded trucks held by the Italian army that were not assigned to the CIL, despite its pressing need).

The spirit of sacrifice of the few of the CIL, who gave their lives to redeem the many that had simply been sacrificed for nothing during the fascist era, is worthy of remembrance, especially as even in Italy it is too often forgotten.

Order of Battle of CIL (maximum expansion):

I Brigade:
- 4th Bersaglieri Regiment (XXIX and XXXIII battalions, 1st Motorcycle Company)
- 3rd Alpini Regiment (“Piemonte” and “Monte Granero” battalions, both with a 75/13 battery)
- CLXXXV Reparto Arditi Paracadutisti
- IV 75/13 Pack Artillery Group (battalion, 3 batteries)

II Brigade:
- 68th Infantry Regiment (I and II battalion, V Anti-tank battalion with 47/32 guns and two regimental mortar companies)
- “San Marco” Marine Infantry Regiment (“Bafile” and “Grado” battalions, 65/17 battery)
- IX Reparto d’Assalto (Arditi)
- V 75/13 Pack Artillery Group (battalion, 3 batteries)

184th “Nembo” Parachute Division:
- 183rd Paracadutisti Regiment (XV and XVI battalions)
- 184th Paracadutisti Regiment (XII and XIII battalions)
- 184th Parachute Artillery Regiment (I 75/18 Group, II 100/22 Group, 20/65 Anti-aircraft Battery)
- CLXXXIV Guastatori Paracadutisti battalion
- 184th Motorcycle Company

11th Artillery Regiment:
- I 105/28 Group
- II 100/22 Group
- III 75/18 Group
- IV 75/18 Group
- V 57/50 (6pdr) Anti-tank Group
- 363rd 20/65 Anti-aircraft battery 

Fielding the Corpo Italiano di Liberazione in Flames Of War

We have prepared a new Official Intelligence Briefing covering the CIL in 1944.

Corpo Italiano di Liberazione (PDF 5.7MB)...

The miniatures from our current mid war Fucilieri and Paracadutisti ranges can be used to field the CIL.
Fucilieri advance through a cutting.

Last Updated On Thursday, March 24, 2011 by Wayne at Battlefront