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The "FOLGORE" : The 285th Paracadutisti Battaglione in Tunisia

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The Final Story of the Legendary "Folgore" Paratroop Division in Africa

The FOLGORE 285th Paracadutisti Battaglione in Tunisia:  At El Alamein the Folgore Para Division numbered some 3,500 to 4,000 men. By the end of their epic stand on the southern end of the Axis battle line over 1,100 men had been killed or wounded, with probably an equal number taken to the POW cages over the coming months retreat. Only a handful of the Division’s personnel managed to escape to Tunisia.  About 500 to 600 paratroopers, accompanied by some Bersaglieri and German troops successfully broke through the British "cul de sac" and continued a running fight across the desert.  The retreat across Libya to Tunisia lasted some three months and covered 2500Km, mostly on foot while suffering hunger, thirst, the cold of the night, the heat of the day,  a complete lack of sufficient supplies and under continuous attack from the ground and the air.  

 

In Libya the 500 surviving Italian paratroopers were formed into the 285° Battaglione Folgore under the command of Capitano Alpino Lombardini.  The unit contained five companies, the 107/a Compagnia of Cap.Caroli, 108/a Compagnia Autonoma of Ten.Giampaolo, 109/a of Ten.Artusi, 110/a Compagnia of Ten.Raffaelli, adding the later constituted 111/a of Ten.Bosco Corradini.  This new unit was attached to the 66°Rgt. Fanteria of the Division TRIESTE.   They were positioned in the southern part of Tunisia along the Mareth Line where they were involved in combats at MEDENINE, GABES, at EL MARETH and UADI AKARIT.  During several of these combats they were forced to fight the enemy with an almost complete lack of ammunition and only knives, bayonets and a few grenades as weapons.  These early 1943 combats decimated the 285°Btg.  The 180 survivors from all 5 Companies reached TAKROUNA in April of 1943, where they were formed into the last 2 Compagnie: Autonoma commanded by Ten.Giampaolo and Ten.Orciuolo.   

 

As part of the opening moves of Operation VULCAN, just before midnight on Monday April 19, 1943, elements of the New Zealand Division began their assigned assault to take Takrouna, a 600 foot high limestone hill rising out of the plain before Enfidaville and crowned with a mosque, an old Berber fort and an adobe village.  Italian General Messe had garrisoned this outpost with some 400 Italian and German infantry.  The 28th NZ Battalion composed of Maori tribesman spearheaded the mountain assault and succeeded in gaining a foothold in the hilltop village.  On the 20th, General La Ferla, leader of Divisione Trieste, ordered to the two Folgore Para Compagnie to counterattack the village.  The Italian paras were forced to make an up-hill assault using ropes on the facing vertical walls and cliffs, while exposed to enemy fire from the peaks above and to the artillery fire from the hills behind them.  One company assaulted from the left flank and one from the right flank with the Italians singing loudly “ All’armi Arditi dell’Aria ” while under continuous enemy fire. 

 

For two days the battle raged up and down the mountain side, through houses, the old fortress and in underground tunnels.  Witnesses stated that there was never a moment that the top of Takrouna was not half hidden in shell bursts, with tracer shells arcing across the valley and ricocheting among the cliff side structures.  At one point with the battle out of control, Italian troops threw grenades into an aid station, prompting reprisals that included chasing Axis soldiers over the precipice at bayonet point and tossing two prisoners after them.  

 

After several days of hand to hand combat during which the hilltop positions were taken and held for some time by both sides, a New Zealand counter attack finally drove off the Axis troops.  The two Folgore Companies lost most of their complement during the battle, with most of the Officers and NCOs killed or seriously injured and a number of troopers cornered and captured.  A number of Silver (M.A.V.M.) and Bronze (M.B.V.M.) Medals for bravery were awarded to the survivors and the dead.  Some 400 Axis prisoners were taken but the NZ Kiwi losses amounted to some 459 dead and wounded, including 34 officers.

 

By the May14th surrender of Axis forces in Tunisia, only 50 Folgore Paracadutisti survived, with many of them being walking wounded.  They were sent into captivity in Egyptian Camps, where most were held until the spring of 1947. 

FOLGORE AFRICA FIELD UNIFORM & KIT
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Para Impression Fine Tuning:  The following comments relate only to the Folgore in Africa during the Tunisian Campaign Period. 

 

Uniform:  By the Tunisian Campaign uniforms and especially trousers would have been in a poor state of condition.  They can/should be ripped, dirty, faded, cloth patched, with some mismatched buttons!   Italian, German, looted British, looted U.S. khaki and period correct civilian shirts can be worn under the tunic.  Rank insignia is placed the same as on the Bersaglieri tunics.   Para brevet badges were taken off in the early stages (El Alamein) for security,   You could have one on your shoulder, or they were sometimes seen sewn on left breast tunic pocket or upper chest. 

 

Field Gear:  Helmet, web gear ammo belts, canteen, M-35 mask bags (long thin type), fighting knives, grenades and Berretta M-34 pistols if you have one.  Period correct leather sandals and looted British khaki shorts are also allowed for camp attire. 

 

Para Helmets:  Cloth camo cover, or gray-green painted, or can be painted sand camo or mud washed.  There is no photo evidence that the Folgore in Africa ever had a black para stencil on the front of their helmets.  

 

Pith Helmets:  Pith helmets can be plain, with a hand stenciled Para insignia, with an embroidered para cap badge alone, or over a tri-color kocard.   It was common for Italian troops to write religious or patriotic fraises, or battle listings on their pith helmets.  They also commonly collected enemy unit or rank badges and pinned them on their piths.

 

Boots:  Repro Italian pattern paratrooper boots are not readily available.  The CHG desert scenario is always Tunisia in the Spring of 1943.  By that time period most likely all of the rubber soled jump boots used by the 600 or so surviving Folgore paras would have been worn out during the retreat out of Libya.  Standard M-1914 infantry boots would have been the most common replacements.

 

Unit Made…..Non-Vender Items:  Post War Helmet Conversions, Fighting Knife Upgrade Conversions, Pith Helmet Size Conversions, Camo Helmet Covers, Ribbon Bars, Metal I.D. Tags, Red Devil Grenades.

CHG Disclaimer:

The CHG, founded in 1979 and incorporated in 1992, is a non-profit organization that is recognized by the Department of Defense as a World War II educational and reenactment organization. The CHG's 5th Bersaglieri Unit is a non-political group whose sole purpose is to preserve World War II history through uniform, equipment and vehicle restorations, static displays, and historical reenactments. We do NOT support or CONDONE any activities involving Neo-Nazis, extremist, or anti-American organizations. We are not involved, nor do we have any involvement with any anti-government activities.
 

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