Italian Army

The Italian Army in World War One.
Uniforms, strength, units and corps, organization and casualties from 23 May 1915 to 3 November 1918.

Italian infantry WWI
Italian infantry WWI (from left to right): Infantryman (1915-1918); Arditi assault troops officer (1918); Infantry N.C.O. (1915-1918).

Similarly to various major powers, Italy announced conscription within the 1870s, establishing the time of obligatory army service at 3 years. In several ways the military was the sole unquestionably nationwide organization within the brand-new state of Italy; however it had been by itself an amalgam associated with old regional military combined across the Piedmontese Army, just as Italy had herself united around the Piedmontese monarchy. While its element sections had their particular pleased traditions the Piedmontese traditions dom­inated, leading to disappointment as well as bitterness whenever Piedmontese officers enjoyed preferential treatment and promotion. There were, needless to say, exceptions – particularly General Armando Diaz who, regardless of being a Neapolitan of Spanish ancestry, went up to command the Italian Army over the last year of World War One.

Regardless of the restrictions enforced by Italy’s economic and educational deficiencies, the Italian Army was really an innovator in a variety of features of army modernization. The Italians were the first to employ planes in warfare (in Libya, from Oct 1912) and also to make extensive usage of armored cars, even though an expanding passion for motorized transportation could have indicated the nation’s traditional lack of horses.

Economic and governmental difficulties resulted in a much-needed re­-equipment program was performed really slowly. By 1914 the Italian Army had still not replaced material lost in Libya, however between August 1914 and May 1915 things went more rapidly with the background of warfare towards the north; there was a spectacular decrease in squandering of resources, and a major boost in the amount of junior officers. The military seemed to be assisted by the phenomenon of ‘volontarismo’, which demonstrated the popular feeling.

The plan of employing the military to enhance national unity concluded in a complicated procedure of conscription as well as mobilization. Each regiment received its recruits coming from two different areas after which directed these to a third one. As soon as their duration of military service was finished, nevertheless, men came back home as reservists. Whenever recalled to the colors, these men become a member of their regional instead of their original regiments. As a result such regiments of reservists created territorial identities.
The sole exclusions to this system of combining and switching recruits were the Alpini, enrolled from the Alpine areas of northern Italy in which they continued to be based.

Within the recruitment plan of 1907, all able-bodied men were chargeable for call-up in 3 classes between the ages of Nineteen and Thirty eight years. The first class spent 2 years with the colors, 6 in the reserve, 4 in the Mobile Militia, and 7 in the Territorial Militia. The 2nd class spent 6 months with the colors, 7 and 1 / 2 years in the reserve, and the same periods in the militia as class one. The 3rd class spent all 19 years in the Territorial Militia, however gotten simply no valuable exercise.

The truth is, nevertheless, simply a fraction of those suitable actually served in the army; e.g. in 1911 lower than 25 per cent of those chargeable for military service were in fact called up for exercise. Consequently, the ‘active army’ con­sisted of regular officers – always lower than needed – in addition to class 1 recruits. To make situations even worse, the recruits were expected to review in November annually, on the other hand real military service was postponed until the subsequent March. Because the difference wasn’t, in reality, filled up with class 2 soldiers under training, there was basically simply no army in being throughout the winter season. Even in summer several units had below 10 % of their nominal strength.
Difficulties were worsened by a severe lack of NCO’s, who were typically drawn from Italy’s tiny literate lower middle class. In spite of this, the army did accomplish significant improvements during the instant prelude to World War One.


By May 1915 the Chief of the General Staff, General Cadorna, had mobilized 23,039 officers, 852,217 other ranks and 9,163 civilians. King Vittorio-Emanuele was nominally commander-in-chief and spent the war behind the front, nevertheless General Cadorna in fact worked out control as the king mediated between his chief of staff and the government in Rome.

Italy joined the war with Twelve army corps inside Italy, each with 2 active infantry divisions.

The corps were located as the following:

  • I Corps ­Turin,
  • II – Alessandria,
  • III – Milan,
  • IV – Genoa,
  • V – Verona,
  • VI ­- Bologna,
  • VII – Ancona,
  • VIII – Florence,
  • IX – Rome,
  • X – Naples,
  • XI ­Bari,
  • XII – Palermo/Cagliari (being unique with 3 divisions).

There were additionally 2 corps from the colonies. These Fourteen corps were split between 4 armies.

Italian soldiers
Italian soldiers (from left to right): Private Alpini in winter clothing (1917); Bersaglieri rifleman; Alpini soldier (1914).
Together with 2nd line reserves there were 35 infantry divisions plus 12 militia divisions (adding up to 2 grenadiers as well as Ninety four line regiments); a division of Bersaglieri (Twelve regiments); two Alpini Groups (Fifty two battalions in 8 regiments); four cavalry divisions; Fourteen battalions of combat engineers; 467 field artillery batteries with almost 2,000 guns and howitzers; plus battalions of para­military Carabinieri and Guardi di Finanza (militarized customs police) to aid the field army.

Throughout the war the army extended hugely and its arrangement was changed to reflect the modern facts of trench warfare. By late 1915 there were actually 181 new combat battalions including 72 of line infantry, 4 of Bersaglieri, Twenty six of Alpini, 4 of mountain artillery, Eighteen of heavy artillery, Twenty of super heavy artillery, and Thirty seven of combat engineers. This enhanced even more by October 1917, when there were theoretically 26 army corps adding up to Sixty five infantry and 4 cavalry divisions (in fact there were Twenty-seven infantry corps, because the 35th Division in Macedonia was as powerful as a corps).

The catastrophe at Caporetto in October 1917 and the resultant Italian retreat to the Piave river cost the army some 300,000 men killed, wounded and captured, 3,150 artillery guns, 1,732 mortars, 3,000 machine guns and 300,000 rifles, therefore requiring the practical reconstructing of the Italian Army. The new Chief of the General Staff; General Armando Diaz, disbanded the destroyed remnants of Forty six infantry regiments, 4 Bersaglieri regiments, Fifteen Alpini battalions and various support units.

The army shrank to Thirty-three divisions; but 1917-18 observed an impressive restoration, with the raising of new units and the creation of new formations. By the end of World War One some 5.2 million soldiers were under colors, in 9 numbered armies and numerous rear echelon companies.

Each corps made of 2 infantry divisions, one Bersaglieri regiment, one cavalry regiment, one 8-battery field artillery regiment, 2 or 3 batteries of heavy howitzers, and support units.

ITALY (May 23, 1915 – November 3, 1918)

  • Soldiers available on mobilization = 3,450,000
  • Army strength during the war = 5,615,000
  • KIA Military = 460,000
  • Wounded Military = 947,000
  • Civilian losses = unknown, but low

References and literature

History of World War I (AJP Taylos, S.L. Mayer)
Der Erste Weltkrieg – Storia illustrata della Prima Guerra Mondiale (Hans Kaiser)
Army Uniforms of World War I (Andrew Mollo, Pierre Turner)
World War I Infantry in Colour Photographs (Laurent Mirouze)
The Italian Army of World War I (Raffaele Ruggeri)

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1 thought on “Italian Army”

  1. Anthony Arthurton

    I am trying to find out details of a Antonio ADELIZZI who died during the 1st World War in Italy. I am trying to find his connections to Norwich as his name is on a plaque in The Catholoic Cathedral in Norwich..

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