F is actually for Folgore.
"Whut in tarnation kind o' vegetable is a folgore? Ain't never heard of it."
Never mind, Agnes, its time for your bottle and I'm pretty sure I saw Leatherface carrying a few cases of Jack Black into the kitchen. Run along!
World War II is over 75 years behind us and it is unlikely that many today remember or for that matter have ever heard of an obscure Italian parachute unit generally referred to as the Folgore Brigade. The Folgore Brigade was a force of about 5000 picked men who were well trained, highly motivated and well lead; even well armed by Italian standards. They were training to spearhead an attack on the British Island fortress of Malta in mid 1942 when a badly misguided change of Axis plans caused them to be unceremoniously bundled off to the Egyptian desert in time to participate in the run up to and actual battle of El Alamein.
|FOLGORE ON PATROL|
Italian infantry formations - and this was what paratroopers morphed into once their boots hit the ground - tended to crumble when hit by mixed forces of allied infantry and armour. Therefore British General Montgomery expected little real resistance from the relatively small and unknown group holding the extreme left flank of the Axis line during September of 1942.
It must have come as a rude surprise when attacks on the Folgore positions over September 3rd and 4th were repulsed bloodily, with no gains for the attacking New Zealand Brigade. A subsequent investigation of the situation on the battlefield by the Brigades' commanding General, Brigadier G.M. Clifton resulted in his capture by an aggressive Italian patrol.
|ITALIAN 47mm ANTI-TANK GUN|
Folgore soldiers were not entirely on their own during this fight. Their modest anti tank capabilities, limited to the air transportable 47mm dual purpose gun were bolstered by a unit of crack anti tank gunners from the Ariete Division equipped with the effective Italian 75 and German 88mm anti tank weapons. Also in Folgore service was a battery of British 75mm weapons stolen complete with ammunition by another far ranging Folgore patrol.
|THE DREADED 88mm DUAL PURPOSE GUN ON ITS TRANSPORTER|
The British tried again at the end of September, this time with the 131st Infantry backed by heavy guns and a contingent of tanks and armored cars. This attack fared even worse than that which had taken place earlier in the month. Folgore inflicted casualties at a 9 to 1 ratio and knocked out the majority of attacking armored vehicles while again refusing to yield real estate.
October found Folgore occupying new positions, this time on the far right of the Axis line, the last unit in place to the north of the impassable Qatarra Depression. This sector was vital to the overall British offensive scheme which was to use their significant advantages in man power, artillery, tanks and supplies to attack along the entire Axis line from the Mediterranean Sea to the Qattara Depression. Meanwhile, a mobile force would break through on the southern flank, turn north and in one great battle put the entire axis army in the bag. This would have effectively ended the war in North Africa.
Except for those damned Italian paratroopers.
|US GRANT TANK, USED BY THE BRITISH IN NORTH AFRICA|
When the great offensive got underway with a tremendous bombardment on October 23rd Folgore would be attacked by the Free French Brigade, the first Greek Brigade and elements of the British 7th armored division. Forward Italian positions were overrun but the main line held and as in the September battles, inflicted tremendous damage upon their attackers.
The British 44th Infantry took its shot on October 25th and 26th and made a few gains at first only to be bounced back to their initial positions with heavy casualties after a battalion strength counterattack by Folgore. By the 27th the British Howards regiment, the 8th hussars, the Royal West Kents and the Free French for the second time had tried and failed to break the Italian roadblock, losing over 1100 men and most of their armor in the process.
But Folgore was being slowly ground down and their unusual tactic of deliberately opening "holes" in their defensive line was a costly one. British armor immediately poured through these openings only to come face to face with masked anti tank guns while concealed paratroopers attacked from the flanks with grenades, gasoline bombs and tank killers improvised from land mines. There were inevitable losses associated with this kind of anti tank operation and Folgore was running low on men.
But, the British could not break them, and the "left hook" to trap the Axis forces never developed.
Something had to give and under the relentless pressure of an all out Allied attack the Axis line to the north began to give way. Bowing to the inevitable Irwin Rommel ordered a general retreat to the west on the evening of November 2nd. The Axis forces began to draw back.
With no motorized transport to speak of what was left of Folgore would have to walk out with what they could carry or pull. On foot, they could not break contact with their motorized pursuers. Dragging the guns by hand they used them to blunt one attack after another until the shells, followed by the food, water and small arms ammunition ran out.
On the morning of November 6th the remaining 400 men surrendered to a somewhat stunned British column.
It was a remarkable feat of arms by any stretch of the imagination. A military truism holds that even an elite unit loses cohesion and effectiveness once casualties exceed 35%, Folgore was still dangerous after sustaining a 90% reduction.
And that is why F is for Folgore.
Well, that, and because they had a really cool shoulder patch.
"Air yew sure it ain't some kind of pertater?"
Be quiet, Agnes.