Italian Forces in the Defence of Sicily – 1943

Italian Forces in the Defence of Sicily - 1943

Italian Forces in the Defence of Sicily - 1943
with Adam Brooker
Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily by the Allied forces in 1943 was one of the major campaigns of World War 2. Now that all of the major Mid War books for Version 4 have been released and we are moving into the late war period later this year, it would seem appropriate to look at this campaign. Just as we are currently in between periods in Flames Of War, so is the Invasion of Sicily an interlude between the war in the desert and the fighting in Europe proper.

The Italians learned about modern warfare the hard way in 1940. Now they are back, showing the world what the Italian soldier can do. Fighting under the famous ‘Desert Fox’, General Rommel, they form a crucial part of the Italian-German Panzer Army. Tough, determined, skilled, and aggressive veterans, the Italians broke through the British Gazala Line to save the trapped German Afrika Korps, held the line at El Alamein, and opened the way at Kasserine Pass, before holding up the American offensive at El Guettar. Fight or die for the new Roman Empire!

Click here to find out more about Avanti...

Avanti: Italian Forces In North Africa 1942-43 

The invasion of Sicily was the first step in the Allied counter-attack into Europe itself, the battlefield was moving from the colonial battleground of Africa, and into the Axis territories in Europe. Just the act of the Allies invading Sicily, precipitated the fall of Mussolini as Italian leader, with the Italian King replacing him on the 24th July, as it was clear they were losing and public confidence in Mussolini was low.

The Italian 6th Army in Sicily was made up of two Corps,the XII and XVI, and was commanded by General Alfredo Guzzoni. The German divisions were initially the 15.Panzergrenadier Division and the Luftwaffe Panzer Division Hermann Göring, with the 1. Parachute Division (Fallschirmjager) and 29. Panzergrenadier Division also arriving in mid July as reinforcements. The German field commander was General Fridolin Von Senger und Etterlin, who later took command of XIV Panzer Corps in Italy and was involved in the defence of the Gustav line and the Battle of Monte Cassino.

Italian Forces in the Defence of Sicily - 1943

The Italians had 4 Field Divisions: 4a Livorno, 26a Assieta, 28a Aosta, and 54a Napoli, as well as five coastal divisions, two coastal brigades and a coastal regiment, mostly with low morale and no combat experience. Additionally there was two regiments of Bersaglieri (10° & 177°),185° regiment of Paracadutisti Division(Nembo), a unit of 24 Semovente 90/53, and several fascist ‘Blackshirt Legion’ militia regiments were also incorporated into the field divisions. Additionally much of the XII and XVI Corps mobile assets were broken up into battlegroups, for tactical action, and consisted of units like captured French R35 tanks, Semovente 47/32 self-propelled guns, Bersagalieri motociclisti, and motorised infantry. These units were specifically formed to act as mobile quick reaction forces to counterattack where there was significant enemy gains, and where breakthroughs needed to be stopped. The Germans also had a unit of 17 Tiger I tanks, the 215th Panzer Battalion, that was attached to the Herman Göring Division, which would be a significant force on the battlefield.

An excellent article was done previously which goes into more detail about the specific Axis divisions present during the invasion of Sicily...

The Livorno Division was the only Italian mobile division in Sicily and was considered far superior in quality to the other divisions, it was supposed to be used in the aborted invasion of Malta in 1942 as an assault division, and was sent to Sicily in Feb 1943 as it was going to be sent to North Africa, but the move was cancelled. It had high quality troops and sufficient transport to move all its infantry simultaneously, it also had a battalion of Semovente 47/32 as well as an engineer and assault battalion and was initially held as the Army Reserve. At the start of the invasion it was located in the south of Sicily, with Hermann Göring Panzer Division, and the 54a Napoli Division, protecting the expected landing areas in the Gulf of Gela. It carried out a substantial counter-attack on the 10th and 11th of July at Gela, and threatened to throw the Allies back into the sea, but was stopped just a few hundred meters from the beaches by the US 1st Infantry Division and the Ranger Battalions of Force X with the help of naval bombardment.

Italian Forces in the Defence of Sicily - 1943

Overall the range of equipment available to Italian forces in Sicily was limited, both due to the losses in North Africa, and the limited manufacturing ability of Italian industry. So if you want to represent an Italian force during the Invasion of Sicily, you won’t be able to use the following units from Avanti, as they were simply not present. There were no M14/41 (47mm), no Semovente (75mm), and no 90mm Lancia, there was also no L6/40 tanks nor AB41 armoured cars that saw significant action. There were also no Weapon Platoons, as the AS42 Desert Organisation of “few men, many weapons” that dictated this, was not in effect in Sicily. So you will just have the Rifle Platoons available.

So given these limitations Italian armour in Sicily consisted of the Semovente 47/32, the captured R35 tank, and the Semovente 90/53. You would also have the Autocannone 20mm AA platoon which you could use either to shoot down planes, or attack armoured cars in a pinch. The CR.42 Falco was still in use, but the Ju-87 Stuka, or Picchiatello “Nutter” in Italian service, was also used in the defence of Sicily, not only in support of the ground forces but also in attacking the ships off shore. So you could use the Command Card to replace your CR.42 Falco, for the Ju-87 Picchiatello.

Your basic formation to represent the Italian defenders of Sicily would be the Bersaglieri Rifle Company, let’s have a look at how to represent historically some of the various forces that would be available. But keep in mind these are forces that should be defending, so they have very limited offensive power, as happened in the real conflict.

4a Livorno – Infantry Division – Rifle Company
As this was considered the best Italian infantry division in Sicily, you would use the standard Bersaglieiri Rifle Company Formation, with their Confident Motivation (4+), Careful To Hit (4+) and Trained Skill of (4+). Your force should consist of Rifle Platoons, Breda MGs, 81mm Medium Mortars, Assault Mortars and 47mm ‘elefantino’ Anti tank guns. You could also include a 65/17 gun battery, these small infantry guns were given to almost all Italian regiments.

Italian Forces in the Defence of Sicily - 1943

They also had a company of Semovente 47/32 attached, so you could also take up to two units of these, or one unit of Semovente 47/32 and a unit of Semovente 90/53 if you needed some very hard hitting anti-tank firepower. You could also attach a platoon or Formation of R35 tanks, these will give you some mobile armour, but will only really be effective versus infantry and light armoured cars

26a Assieta, 28a Aosta, 54a Napoli  – Infantry Division – Rifle Company
These field divisions were considered less experienced and capable than 4a Livorno, so by using the Legions of Rome card, with a lesser Motivation of (5+), To Hit (4+) and Green Skill of (5+), this will represent the lesser quality of these forces. Also as it is 2 points cheaper per platoon, it allows you to bring more forces to the battlefield. But you will get what you pay for, as casualties mount, there is a greater chance of you failing Last Stand rolls.

Blackshirt Legions – Infantry Regiment – Rifle Company
There were also fascist ‘Blackshirt’ Legions or Regiments on the island as part of the local volunteer militia forces. These were all raised locally, and were given some military training, and although they were fighting for their homes, their skills were lacking. Their organisation was similar to the normal Rifle Company Formation, but with fewer heavy weapons, having only Breda MG platoons and Assault Mortar platoons. By using the Blackshirts Command Card, your Rifle Platoons and Assault Mortar Platoons, have a Motivation of (3+), To Hit (3+) and Green Skill of (5+), for -2 points per unit. So while they are more fanatic in their defence, they are easier to hit, and much less likely to pass any skill based checks. But the reduced cost may allow you to more easily include some expensive German allies.

Italian Forces in the Defence of Sicily - 1943

Mobile Battlegroups
These were quick reaction forces that were supposed to quickly advance to the Allied landing areas and attempt to throw them back into the sea. As such they had most of the Italian mobile assets. To represent this you should first have a Formation of R35 tanks, they can be supported by Semovente 47/32 self propelled guns, and some mobile rifle platoons. You could use the Motociclisti Command Card to represent the mobile infantry that was supposed to quickly advance and support the few armour assets that you have. For 2 points a platoon, you become an unarmoured tank team with a 4+ save, but you gain much faster movement speeds, and can dismount and turn back into a normal rifle platoon once you have used your movement to get into position.

Support Unit and Allies
Historically the only Italian support units you would have available would be Assault Engineers from 4a Livorno Field Division, Semovente 90/53 or Semovente 47/32 in place of your Lancia or 88mm Anti tank guns, 100mm Howitzer Batteries, CR.42 Falco or JU-87 Stuka aircraft, and Autocannone 20mm AA platoons. 

But the German Hermann Göring Panzer Division was also present, as well as the 15.Panzergrenadier Division. To represent these you can either take up to two ‘black box units’ from Iron Cross, eg. the Panzergrenadier Platoon or Panzer III (Mixed) Platoon, or take an Allied Formation from Iron Cross. Those units specifically would be typical of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division which was involved in many of the counterattacks in the first few days of the invasion. Other typical units would be Panzer IV Platoons, Stug Assault Gun Battery and Tiger I tanks, to field Tigers you would need to take a German Force with Tiger Is, and allied Italians

So as you can see with a bit of research, imagination and using the flexibility of the new Formation Diagrams, Command Cards, you can represent almost all of the Italian forces and their German allies that were present in Sicily historically. This flexibility allows you to make almost any mix of units that were available historically, and I’m sure you could use this approach to make themed forces for other important battles that interest you. The extra icing on the cake is the addition of some unofficial Community Cards, which gives you the extra flavour that really sets this Italian force apart from the Forces in Avanti.  But they have their limitations, which is important, as it forces you to play it in a different style, and hopefully teaches you new lessons in how you make up for these deficiencies.

For me projects like this are what got me into the hobby! I love the research, giving the force a theme and limiting the lists to what was present historically, and historical camouflage schemes. I find when I am building and painting it, it is not really hard work and units get painted and finished quickly. Then working out how to win with each list, I find it a challenge (some are harder than others!!), but at the end of it you have a force that really means something to you!  

Well I am going to start painting up some Semovente 90/53, those things are brutal and very unique! I’ll see if I can do a better job of defending Sicily! Ciao!|

Click here to field the Semovente 90/53 Self-Propelled Battery...

Click here to field the Renault R35 Infantry Support Tank...

Click here to field the Semovente 47/32 Light Self-Propelled Platoon...

Last Updated On Thursday, May 16, 2019 by Alexander at Battlefront