Book Review: Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa


by Ian W. Walker

Marlborough, Wilts.: Crowood/St. Paul, MBI. Publishing, 2006. Pp. 208. Illus., maps, tables, diagr., append., notes, biblio., index. $22.95 hardcover. ISBN: 1-86126-839-4

 Accounts of the war in North Africa invariably focus on British and German leaders and forces, largely ignoring, when they are not denigrating, the Italian role in the campaign.  This work is a fairly successful effort to provide a more balanced account, giving Italian troops in North Africa, and particularly Italian armored forces, their proper credit. 

Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts is by no means an attempt to paper over the problems the Italian Army had in North Africa.  It begins with a concise, but excellent discussion of the political, command, strategic, and military weaknesses that plagued Italy going into the war. 

There follows a brief history of the origins of Italy?s struggle to mechanize its forces, including a look at early operational experience in Ethiopia and Spain that was often quite successful, but generally ignored or viewed through a veil of hostile propaganda. 

The Italian disaster in the Western Desert in opening months of the war in Africa is given in considerable detail, with some valuable analysis. 

Then the reader is treated to a series of chapters that cover the role of Italian armored forces in the many campaigns that followed, through the final Axis surrender in Tunisia in the Spring of 1943.  The author points out that that at time much of the success attributed to German forces and Erwin Rommel, was at least partially, often primarily, accomplished by Italian troops, including the much-maligned ?leg? infantry. 

While there?s no effort to conceal failures by Italian forces, much is done to correct any impression that all of the fighting was done by the Germans.  Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts is an essential read for anyone with an interest in North Africa

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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