One of the biggest myths of the years leading up to the Second World War is that of Germany being the first Facist State. We all know that after the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 Hitler eventually came to power in 1933. Most people seem to assume that Italy became fascist on Germany’s coat-tails, but while Hitler was languishing in prison for his role in the failed putsch, Mussolini was already established as the head of the fascist Government. Hence fascism had a much longer history in Italy than it did in Germany.
As with most totalitarian regimes, Mussolini depended on loyal, committed and trustyworthy stormtroopers to seize power, and then to maintain it. Think of the Praetorian Guard. Step forward the Blackshirts – the counterparts of their much more famous German cousins, the Brownshirts. They had their ancestry in the action squads of the fascist party, and soon after coming to power in 1922 Mussolini organised them into a paramilitary force.
As with the SS, the Blackshirts went on to fight as conventional troops in Ethiopa, the Spanish Civil War, and then in a range of theatres after Italy’s entry into the war in 1940. Perhaps most well known was Italy’s involvement in the North African War, and least well known is the Italian cotingent who fought on the Eastern Front. Another great myth about the war is the performance of Italian troops – popular wisdom tells us that they all ran away. Having looked at the Blackshirts, however, I doubt very much whether these politically loyal, fearsome looking men ever did much running away.
This book follows the tried-and-tested Osprey concept of experts covering a particlar unit or battle in amazing detail. Particularly for a oftenn ignored aspect of the war, such as the Blackshirts, this approach really pays dividends. Perhaps this might not have the general appeal to a wide audience, but as someone who really does not know enough about Italy’s role in the war, reading this book has filled the gap nicely. Theres an Osprey book for every gap!