Book Review: "Luck Was Lacking, But Valor Was": Not The Italian Army in North Africa, 1940-43


by Ralph Riccio & Massimiliano Afiero

Warwick, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2021. Pp. xviii, 300+. Illus., maps, gloss., personae, appends., notes, biblio. $59.95 paper. ISBN: 1913336166

Dispelling Some Myths

In recent years, the record of the Italian armed forces, and particularly that of the army during W.W. II has been rising. Scholars such as John Gooch, Brian Sullivan, Vincent P. O'Hara, and Jack Greene, have taken a closer look at their performance, and have demonstrated that their reputation, albeit rooted in some real failures, was greatly affected by hostile propaganda which has become embedded in much of the literature on the war.

In this work, Riccio, a retired U.S. army officer who writes on Italian and Irish military history, and Italian independent scholar Afiero, take a close look at the myths and the realities of the Italian Army’s performance in North Africa.

The authors do not paper over the flaws of the Italian Army, including it’s relatively poor equipment, inadequate training, and inept strategic direction, and indeed opens with an excellent account of the disaster that befell the Italian Tenth Army from December 1940 – February 1941, against a better prepared, albeit smaller British force, noting the reasons for the outcome. They follow the actions of the Italian Army in the subsequent campaigns in North Africa, in which Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps were prominent. They point out, while often deprecating their performance and rarely crediting them with any success, that Rommel was heavily dependent on Italian troops, who always formed the bulk of Axis forces in Africa. As they cover the campaign from the start of the desert war in late 1940 through Rommel’s arrival in early 1941 and on to its end in Africa in May of 1943, the authors point to many instances in which Italian troops put in stellar performances against great odds, such as at Giarabub, Halfaya Pass, Bir el Gubi, Sidi Rezegh, Rugbet el Atasc, Alamein, the Mareth Line, and more. Yet Italian troops were – and in most instances still are – rarely credited in both German and British accounts of the war.

Although the lack of notes and an index are grievous flaws, this is an important read for anyone interested in the war in North Africa.



StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   

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