When did it start?

10th June 1940 was the official Italian declaration of war.

But for some Italians, the battles started in Eritrea and Ethiopia (1935), Spain (1936), Albania (1939).

For other recruits, it started with training before 1940.

From 10th June 1940, the Mediterranean Sea was a battlefield for the navy and the airforce; on 3rd August 1940 British Somaliland was taken, by 13th September 1940 the Italian forces had arrived at Sidi Barrani on the Libyan-Egyptian border and on 28th October 1940 the invasion of Greece began.

Benghazi… Tripoli… Bardia… Tobruk…Derna…Martuba…Acroma…Barca… Jarabub… desert forts…oases strongholds…

A special thank you to the families of these men for sharing the following photos: Antioco Pinna, Annibale Arangeli, Fioravante Blasioli, Tullio Brutti, Marino Casadio, Emidio Di Benedictis, Filippo Granatelli and Sebastiano di Campli

When and where did the war begin for your father?

For Biagio di Ferdinando life as a soldier started March 1938 when he was called up for military service. The following extract is from his book Odyssey

I was called up for military service during the month of February 1938. The postcard came from the military district of Teramo asking to present myself for military service. I left home the morning of 5 March 1938.  I farewelled my family and left together with a friend of the same age.  We arrived at the military barracks in good time. After a little while and a medical check up I was assigned to the 116th infantry regiment based in Chieti, a town inland from Pescara and south of my hometown. 

All the recruits from the district of Chieti of my class were assigned to the 116th infantry regiment in Libya.  The following days they gave us the green-gray uniforms.  Before that time the Italian soldiers in Africa wore the khaki colonial uniforms. 

… I wrote a letter to my family to let them know that I was assigned to the infantry in Tobruck, Libya.

We left Chieti on 13 March 1938.  We took the train to Naples and when we arrived we went to the harbour where we embarked on a ship that would carry us to Libya.

When the ship departed and we heard the siren it was a blow to the heart.. Nearly all us recruits had tears to our eyes, for the first time away from home and going so far away.  During the trip the sea was very rough and nearly all suffered sea sickness. 

When the ship arrived at Derna on 17 March 1938 it anchored far away from the land because there was no port.  Several boats came to take us to shore.  That morning the sea was very rough and the waves were breaking over the ship and as a result they could not use the ladders in order to board the boats. To disembark they put us in the nets used to unload goods, lifted us with the crane and lowered us into the boats, when over the boat we had to wait for the waves and the boat to be level in order to jump from the net into the boat. In the boats, to help us exit from the bag, were some Arabs. We approached them with fear, in the way they were dressed with those turbans on their head.   

In every net that came down were ten soldiers. When the net was lowered we had to wait in order to jump into the boat, had to be quick to get out of the bag to avoid falling into the sea.  In fact while the net was being withdrawn one soldier was nearly thrown overboard because one leg was caught in it….

Before leaving for Tobruck we stayed for the evening in the barracks of the 115th infantry in Derna.  We slept in bunk beds…

On 18 March 1938 we left Derna for Tobruck, one column of approximately 170 trucks. There were 170km from Derna to Tobruck and we arrived on 19 March 1938. The barracks in which we were billetted were brand new.  We, the new regiment of the 116 Marmarica infantry, were the first to wear the grey green uniform in Tobruck. I was allocated to the second company.  My serial number was:  8404… 

In Tobruck, and in all of Libya, blows a wind called ‘ghibli’, very hot and the sand is driven like a fog…and the flies were as thick as bees, like large swarms. 

 Drinking water was carried by tanker from Taranto in the south of Italy. The water that we had in Tobruck was not suitable to drink because it was salty.  With that water we only washed the clothes. 

In the first few months we were training every day.  We were the soldiers of the King and because we were the first gray-green uniforms in the Italian colonies, after a few months the King, Victor Emmanuel III, came to inaugurate all the new barracks in which we lived.  Our Colonel of the 116th Regiment Marmarica infantry presented all of us soldiers in the great square, with one beautiful new road around the barracks. 

The King arrived in an open carriage with General Balbo, the commander of all the Italian troops in Libya.  Behind the General was the King, he was small with a large helmet as protection from the sun, he remained seated and we could hardly see him. We filed past [marching] with the Roman step.  The King drove around the barracks and left.

Biagio returned home on leave four times. On the 1st June 1940 Biago returned to Libya.

He served at Sidi Barrani and Sollum, withdrew to Bardia on foot, was deployed inland to Jarabub and was captured 3rd January 1941 at Bardia.

On Christmas day 1940 for lunch they gave us about eight bucatini, strands of spaghetti, cooked with water.  In those last days of 1940 we were very badly situated.  We were full of fleas, unwashed and had almost nothing to eat.

Giovanni Palermo’s journey can be found in Noi Prigionieri Africa 1941-1947

Benghazi, Derna and Giarabub in Libya

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