185 Airborne Division Folgore
185. Airborne Division Folgore or 185. Divisione Paracadutisti Folgore was an Parachute
A parachute is a device used to slow the motion of an object through an atmosphere by creating drag, or in the case of ram-air parachutes, aerodynamic lift. Parachutes are usually made out of light, strong cloth, originally silk, now most commonly nylon...

Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

 of the Italian Army
Royal Italian Army (1940–1946)
This article is about the Italian Royal Army which participated in World War II.The Italian Royal Army was reformed in 1861 and lasted until 1946. The Royal Army started with the unification of Italy and the formation of the Kingdom of Italy . It ended with the dissolution of the monarchy...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...



It was formed in September 1941, as the 1 Division Paracadutisti. The division was intended to be used in Operation Hercules - the planned Italian invasion of Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

, but was instead sent to North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

 when the invasion was cancelled. It took part in the Battles of El Alamein where the division distinguished itself and was virtually destroyed. The true elite of the Italian Army
Royal Italian Army (1940–1946)
This article is about the Italian Royal Army which participated in World War II.The Italian Royal Army was reformed in 1861 and lasted until 1946. The Royal Army started with the unification of Italy and the formation of the Kingdom of Italy . It ended with the dissolution of the monarchy...

, able to stand against overwhelming enemy forces, well equipped with modern automatic weapons (Beretta submachine gun, Breda M37
Breda M37
The Breda Modello 37 was an Italian heavy machine gun adopted in 1937. It was the standard machine gun for the Royal Italian Army during World War II...

 and Breda M38 heavy machine gun) and heavier support weapons in big numbers, the paratroopers of the Folgore division had serious firepower and were formidable close-combat fighters and excelled in tank hunting
Anti-tank warfare
Anti-tank warfare was created by the need to seek technology and tactics to destroy tanks and their supporting infantry during the First World War...


El Alamein

During the Second battle of El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein
The Second Battle of El Alamein marked a major turning point in the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The battle took place over 20 days from 23 October – 11 November 1942. The First Battle of El Alamein had stalled the Axis advance. Thereafter, Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery...

 the Folgore Division was under attack from three British divisions 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division, 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division, 7th Armoured Division, and the 1st Free French Brigade
1st Free French Division
The 1st Free French Division was one of the principal units of the Free French Forces during World War II, and the first Free French unit of divisional size.-World War II:...


Operation Lightfoot launched on 24 October 1942, was designed to break through the supposed "weak" Italian-held southern sector of the Alamein line where the Bologna, Brescia, Pavia and Folgore Divisions anchored the right flank.

The British attack began with a devastating artillery barrage, followed by an all out assault by the 7th Armoured and 44th Infantry divisions. However, all that was achieved at a high cost of life and equipment was a small salient
Salients, re-entrants and pockets
A salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. The salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant...

, which was soon recaptured by the Italians of the "Folgore".

In the following days between 25 October and 4 November, the 50th, 7th, 44th divisions, 1st and 2nd Free French and the Royal Hellenic Brigades, supported by artillery and armour, had failed to break through in the southern sector.

The Folgore used every thing at their disposal including letting the enemy advance into a "cul-de-sac" and then launching a counter attacking from all sides.

They also used their 47mm Anti Tank guns from enfilade positions and Molotov cocktails to knock out the advancing tanks.

In the initial British assault alone the Folgore had destroyed over 120 armoured vehicles, and inflicted over 600 casualties. The remnants of the Folgore were withdrawn from El Alamein without being defeated.

On 6 November, after having exhausted all its ammunition, the remainder of the Division surrendered.

The survivors being reorganized into the 185 Folgore Parachute Battalion and fought in Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

, they surrendered to the British in 1943, but without having to show a white flag and without having to raise their hands while surrendering.

On 11 November 1942, the battle by now concluded, London Radio transmitted the famous official announcement:

Battle analysis

At El-Alamein, throughout several engagements, the paratroopers were either able to drive back the attacks or, when the enemy had been successful in completely wiping out the first line of outposts, to reform again, usually counterattacking. In spite of the overwhelming numbers, the British made little headway against them, and in the end, the Folgore was ordered to fall back because the enemy obtained a breakthrough elsewhere.

The reasons behind this limited victory of sorts are two: mines
Land mine
A land mine is usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage a target—either human or inanimate—by means of a blast and/or fragment impact....

 and "guts". The mines were of course an invaluable asset for the defense. Here the minefields were extensive, thick, and treacherous; furthermore, the mines were in multiple fields. They forced the attackers to move slowly and to stick to the bottlenecks of the cleared pathways, often under observed artillery fire. Whenever the exit of the cleared track was within reach of one of the short-ranged Italian 47mm AT guns, it was easy to block the attack, provided that the first tank or two were disabled.

But the British had brave and effective mine-clearing task forces, flail tanks (the Scorpions) and Valentine tanks
Valentine tank
The Tank, Infantry, Mk III, Valentine was an infantry tank produced in the United Kingdom during the Second World War. More than 8,000 of the type were produced in 11 different marks plus various purpose-built variants, accounting for approximately a quarter of wartime British tank production...

, and incredibly heavy artillery barrages to move behind. All of their main attacks, in the end, came through the minefields. There, the outnumbered paratroops, after hours of artillery fire, counterattacked the infantry and close assaulted the tanks, with grenades and molotov cocktails. Notwithstanding the heavy casualties they suffered, and temporary British successes in occupying several positions in the first outpost line, they held their ground.

The main British effort, of course, was in the northern part of the line of the "Battle of El Alamein". However, the four divisions attacking the Folgore positions in the south, had also been given breakthrough objectives, that they did not reach. The 7th Armoured Division had been ordered to spare their tanks, so their attacks were called off after the bloody fighting during the night of October, 24th: 31 British tanks were destroyed or disabled during that night alone.

At the end of the battle of El Alamein, Harry Zinder of Time magazine noted that the Italians paratroopers fought better than had been expected, and commented that: In the south, the famed Folgore parachute division fought to the last round of ammunition

Order of battle

  • 186. Parachute Regiment
    • 5. Parachute Battalion
    • 6. Parachute Battalion
    • 7. Parachutist Battalion
    • 186. Anti-Tank Company

  • 187. Parachute Regiment
    • 2. Parachute Battalion
    • 4. Parachute Battalion
    • 9. Parachute Battalion
    • 187. Anti-Tank Company

  • 185. Artillery Regiment

  • 8. Parachute Demolition Engineer Battalion

  • 20. Mortar Company

  • 185. Signal Company

  • 185. Pioneer Company

  • 185. Mixed Carabinieri
    The Carabinieri is the national gendarmerie of Italy, policing both military and civilian populations, and is a branch of the armed forces.-Early history:...


  • 260. Field Post Office

  • 20. Supply Section

  • 185. Transportation Unit

  • 185. Medical Section

Further reading

  • George F. Nafziger. Italian Order of Battle: An organizational history of the Italian Army in World War II (3 vol)
  • Irving, David. La pista della volpe Mondadori editore. Milano, 1978
  • Krieg, E. La guerra nel deserto - vol. 2 - La battaglia di El Alamein. Edizioni di Crémille. Ginevra, 1969
  • Petacco, Arrigo. L'armata nel deserto. (Capitolo: Folgore). Mondadori editore. Milano, 2001
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