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North Africa Raggruppamento Ruspoli
A brief History of the Folgore Division

By Nicoló Da Lio

The Folgore Parachute Division was officially formed on September 1st 1941. The Division was supposed to take part in the planned "C3" plan, the invasion of Malta, thus the Folgore was sent to southern Italy to begin training for the operation.

After the success earned during the Ghazala battle, the OKW and Comando Supremo thought that the "C3" operation was no longer necessary. They thought that the forces freed up by abandoning the operation would be much more useful in the final attempt to reach Alexandria. So the Folgore division was sent to North Africa between July and August 1942.

The division saw its baptism of fire during the battle for Alam-el-Halfa, which the Italians call "corsa dei sei giorni" or "six days run". Placed under the XX Corps, the Folgore division, with the Brescia and Pavia divisions, was ordered to advance in the center of the offensive, as the left flank of the armoured units of the Italian-German Tank Army.

This force intended to break through the southern defense of the British Army, in the same manner as they did during the Ghazala battle.

As soon as the attack has begun on 30th of August 1942, the Italian and German forces where caught by intense RAF bombing and found themselves slowed down by significant minefield defenses.

Italian Folgore Paratroopers on parade

In addition the British defense intensified as the axis forces advanced. After two days of fighting, on 1st September 1942, Rommel called off the attack and ordered his units to return to the starting positions.

As the attack ceased the British forces began Operation Beresford, their counter attack, on the 4th of September 1942, focusing their efforts in the southern sector, where Folgore had created a “bulge” in the British defensive position. 

The attack, begun by the 6 New Zealand brigade and by the 132 British brigade, was repulsed with heavy casualties by IX and X battalions. The latter was incorporated in the IX after the battle because of its losses, which included the commander, Aurelio Rossi, killed in the counter attack. It was in this battle that the soldiers of the IX captured Clifton!

Forming Raggruppamento Ruspoli

After Alam-el-Halfa the two armies took time to rest and refit. In this period the Axis forces dug in, reinforcing their position in order to resist the coming British offensive.

Folgore division was assigned to the extreme southern sector of the army, within the X corps. It’s deployment lay between Haret-el-Himeimat and Deir-el-Munassib. The central portion of the division was held by "Raggruppamento Ruspoli" ( Ruspoli Group), which comprised the VII/186° and VIII Btg, with the II/28th from Pavia division. The raggruppamento had various artillery forces taken from other divisions, which comprised some 88/56, 90/53, 100/17 and 75/27 batteries. 

Directions to the divisions
The Battle The Battle

October the 23rd, 1942, at 21:40 the British begun their attack on the Italian line. Raggruppamento Ruspoli was one of the main objectives of Monty’s assault, as he attempted to find a weak spot in the Axis defenses.

The attack began with a heavy shelling from British artillery which lasted until 23:30, after that the Infantry of the 50th Infantry and the tanks of the 7th Armoured divisions attacked the Folgore front.

The first night saw fierce combat, with the 6/II company being surrounded and destroyed: the 19/VII having only 16 survivors.

The VIII battalion suffered the heaviest losses of the Raggruppamento, with the 24th company being the only formation emerging almost intact from the bitter fight.

Despite these heavy losses the British attack was repulsed, with the exception of some ground in the sector of 20/VII. By 2:30 AM the fighting ceased, the raggruppamento having also lost a mortar platoon and 6 AT guns.

On the second day of the offensive Ruspoli counterattacked, sending forward his 20/VII company supported by three Semoventi 75/18 and a number of German Panzers. 

A Folgore 47/32 gun team
A Folgore throws a grenade

The counter attack begun at 16:00, with the fighting ceasing by 16:30, with the company having retaken all the ground lost.

Between the 25th and 26th October the British resumed their efforts, advancing in the sector of the 20/VII and 21/VII companies. Their aggressive offensive was again frustrated by the fierce defense of the paratroopers, with many local assaults and counterassaults. The British gained a foothold though, with their forces now threatening the flank of the raggruppamento.

Seeing the danger of an outflanking maneuver Ruspoli ordered his VII Btg to counterattack the British foothold. The btg was supported directly by the 100/17 guns, taken into the front line in order to shoot at tanks over open sights. The assault was so ferocious that the British forces retired back to their starting line, losing a half battalion in the process! 

On the 28th October, the 20th anniversary of the march upon Rome, the British forces retired to their starting line, 500 m back from Folgore positions. The operation took two days. The men from the Folgore division couldn’t rest though, as the British resumed their attack the 31st upon the position of the 21/VII company, threatening the position of the battalion commander. They were repulsed, but during the night they mounted another assault upon the 20/VII that lasted until dawn, when the British retired.

By this time it the 100th enemy tank lay destroyed in front of the Raggruppamento.

20mm Solothurn anti-tank rifle
75/27 modello 1906 gun Despite their heroic resistance the division was ordered to withdraw in the night between 2nd and 3rd of November 1942. They had to retreat 15km back from the line while destroying everything that wasn’t transportable. The situation looked increasingly grim as the hours passed.

By the 4th of November the division was supposed to fall back to Fuka, but without any kind of motor transport, their ammunition depleted, without water nor food while continually harassed by British armoured car squadrons, the exhausted paratroopers, returned fire with their last 47/32 while refusing the British proposal to surrender.

On the 6th of November the survivors of the division surrendered to the British forces at the gates of Fuka, receiving the honour of keeping their personal weapons (onore delle armi in Italian, honour of arms/weapons). The division destroyed some 120 enemy tanks, while inflicting heavy losses to 51st HD, 7th AD, the Free French brigade and the Greek brigade.
Raggruppameno Ruspoli OOB

Along the first minefield from north to south:

• 6/II company, Capitano Paolo Emilio Marenco with a 2km front
• 1/I company, Tenente Carlo Massoni with 4 47/32 Anti-tank guns
(These two companies had support from two mortar platoons )
• 19/VII company, Capitano Alfonso Salerno with some battalion Anti-tank guns with the 16/VII to his south

Behind the first minefield and behind 6/II:

• 22/VIII "Guastatori Paracadutisti" company, Tenente Stelio Silleni supported by
the 1/II artillery section with two 47/32 Anti-tank guns

Behind the second minefield ( resistance minefield, “fascia minata di resistenza”),
directly behind the 22/VIII, Northern Sector:

• 20/VII company, Capitano Carlo Lombardini
• 24/VIII "Guastatori Paracadutisti" company, Capitano Scalettaris

Behind this position was the command post of the VIII Battalion "Guastatori Paracadutisti", Maggiore Giulio Burzi, directly behind the 24/VIII

Southern Sector:

• 21/VII company, Capitano Gino Bianchini, with one of his platoons deployed in
front of the main line of resistance
• 16/VI company between the first mine layer and the main line of resistance

Between 20/VII and 21/VII was the command post of the VII battalion of Capitano Carlo Mautino with two mortar platoons (one with captured 3" mortars).

Between the 24/VIII and 20/VII were deployed the reserve, formed by the II/28 "Pavia" of Maggiore Priano, with only three under strength companies. Among the reserves, on their right flank, was the command post of the Raggruppamento, commanded by Tenente Colonnello Marescotti Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa and the command post of the I Anti-tank gun group of Capitano Giovanni Curti.

The artillery strength:

• I/21st "Trieste" battery, with 100/17 howitzers
• II/27th "Pavia" battery, with 75/27 and 100/17
• IV/26th "Pavia" battery, with 75/27 and 100/17
• "German mixed heavy group" from 21st panzer, with 210mm howitzers and
25pdr cannons (some sources state that they had normal 105s).

This was the artillery assigned to the raggruppamento, the division had some more pieces, the raggruppamento also had some 88s and 90s nearby.

The raggruppamento had a strength of around 1300 soldiers.

Last Updated On Tuesday, September 8, 2009 by Wayne at Battlefront