The Bersaglieri (Marksmen
A marksman is a person who is skilled in precision, or a sharpshooter shooting, using projectile weapons, such as with a rifle but most commonly with a sniper rifle, to shoot at long range targets...

 in English) are a corps
A corps is either a large formation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function such as Artillery or Signals representing an arm of service...

 of the Italian Army
Italian Army
The Italian Army is the ground defence force of the Italian Armed Forces. It is all-volunteer force of active-duty personnel, numbering 108,355 in 2010. Its best-known combat vehicles are the Dardo infantry fighting vehicle, the Centauro tank destroyer and the Ariete tank, and among its aircraft...

 originally created by General Alessandro La Marmora on 18 June 1836 to serve in the Piedmontese Army, later to become the Royal Italian Army
Royal Italian Army
The Regio Esercito was the army of the Kingdom of Italy from the unification of Italy in 1861 to the birth of the Italian Republic in 1946...

. They have always been a high-mobility light infantry
Light infantry
Traditionally light infantry were soldiers whose job was to provide a skirmishing screen ahead of the main body of infantry, harassing and delaying the enemy advance. Light infantry was distinct from medium, heavy or line infantry. Heavy infantry were dedicated primarily to fighting in tight...

 unit, and can still be recognized by the distinctive wide brimmed hat that they wear (only in dress uniform in modern times), decorated with black
Black is the color of objects that do not emit or reflect light in any part of the visible spectrum; they absorb all such frequencies of light...

The Western Capercaillie , also known as the Wood Grouse, Heather Cock or Capercaillie , is the largest member of the grouse family, reaching over 100 cm in length and 6.7 kg in weight. The largest one ever recorded in captivity had a weight of 7.2 kg....

Feathers are one of the epidermal growths that form the distinctive outer covering, or plumage, on birds and some non-avian theropod dinosaurs. They are considered the most complex integumentary structures found in vertebrates, and indeed a premier example of a complex evolutionary novelty. They...

s. The feathers are usually applied to their combat helmets. Another distinctive trait of the Bersaglieri is the fast jog pace they keep on parades, instead of marching.

Origins and history

The relatively poor Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia could not afford large numbers of cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

, so a quick-moving infantry corps of marksmen was needed. These troops were trained to high physical and marksmanship standards. Like the French chasseur
Chasseur [sha-sur; Fr. sha-sœr] is the designation given to certain regiments of French light infantry or light cavalry troops, trained for rapid action.-History:...

s à pied who inspired their creation, a level of independence and initiative was encouraged so that they could operate in looser formations, in which direct command and control was not required. They fired individually and carried 60 rounds instead of the standard 40 rounds of traditional line infantry. The first uniform
A uniform is a set of standard clothing worn by members of an organization while participating in that organization's activity. Modern uniforms are worn by armed forces and paramilitary organizations such as police, emergency services, security guards, in some workplaces and schools and by inmates...

 was black with brimmed hats, called "vaira". These were intended to defend the head from sabre blows.

The first public appearance of the Bersaglieri was on the occasion of a military parade on 1 July 1836. The First Company marched through Turin
Turin is a city and major business and cultural centre in northern Italy, capital of the Piedmont region, located mainly on the left bank of the Po River and surrounded by the Alpine arch. The population of the city proper is 909,193 while the population of the urban area is estimated by Eurostat...

 with the rapid, high-stepping gait (130 paces/minute) still used by the Bersaglieri in 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...

 and later. The modern Bersaglieri still run both on parade and even during barracks duty - on penalty of punishment if they do not. The new corps impressed King Charles Albert, who immediately had them integrated as part of the Piedmontese regular army.

Throughout the nineteenth century, under La Marmora’s leadership, the Bersaglieri filled the role of skirmisher
Skirmishers are infantry or cavalry soldiers stationed ahead or alongside a larger body of friendly troops. They are usually placed in a skirmish line to harass the enemy.-Pre-modern:...

s, screening the slow-moving line and column formations, but acting as special shock troops
Shock troops
Shock troops or assault troops are formations created to lead an attack. "Shock troop" is a loose translation of the German word Stoßtrupp...

 if required. They were originally intended to serve as mountain troops
The Alpini, , are the elite mountain warfare soldiers of the Italian Army. They are currently organized in two operational brigades, which are subordinated to the Alpini Corps Command. The singular is Alpino ....

, as well; the climber Jean Antoine Carrel was a Bersagliere. When the Alpini Corps
The Alpini, , are the elite mountain warfare soldiers of the Italian Army. They are currently organized in two operational brigades, which are subordinated to the Alpini Corps Command. The singular is Alpino ....

 were created in 1872 a strong rivalry arose between the two elite corps.

Unified Italy

During the First War of Italian Independence (1848–1849) the Bersaglieri distinguished themselves by storming the bridge at Goito
Goito is a comune of Lombardy, Italy, in the Province of Mantua, from which it is some 20 km, on the road to Brescia. It is situated on the right bank of the Mincio River near the bridge.-History:...

. The most famous action of the Bersaglieri occurred on 20 September 1870, when they entered Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 through the Porta Pia
Porta Pia
Porta Pia is a gate in the Aurelian Walls of Rome, Italy. One of Pope Pius IV's civic improvements to the city, it is named after him. Situated at the end of a new street, the Via Pia, it was designed by Michelangelo in replacement for the Porta Nomentana situated several hundred meters...

, ending the temporal power of the Pope
Papal States
The Papal State, State of the Church, or Pontifical States were among the major historical states of Italy from roughly the 6th century until the Italian peninsula was unified in 1861 by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia .The Papal States comprised territories under...

, and completing the unification of Italy.

The Bersaglieri were deployed abroad for the first time during the Crimean War
Crimean War
The Crimean War was a conflict fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. The war was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining...

, by order of Prime Minister Cavour. They were involved in the Battle of the Cernaia, but suffered more casualties due to a cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 epidemic. While in the Crimea the Bersaglieri acquired their undress headdress - a purple/red fez
Fez (clothing)
The fez , or tarboosh is a felt hat either in the shape of a red truncated cone or in the shape of a short cylinder made of kilim fabric. Both usually have tassels...

 with a blue tassel in imitation of that worn by the French zouave
Zouave was the title given to certain light infantry regiments in the French Army, normally serving in French North Africa between 1831 and 1962. The name was also adopted during the 19th century by units in other armies, especially volunteer regiments raised for service in the American Civil War...

s with whom they served.

When the Armata Sarda became the Regio Esercito (Royal Italian Army) in 1860, the number of Bersaglieri regiments was set at 12. The Bersaglieri served as the light infantry battalions of the brigades and divisions of the new army of united Italy. Army doctrine later in the century called for them to be held back as corps-level reserves.

World War I

During World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the 12 regiments of Bersaglieri fought with distinction. Of the 210,000 members of Bersaglieri regiments, 32,000 were killed and 50,000 wounded during the war. Italy's last surviving World War I veteran, Delfino Borroni, served in the 6th Bersaglieri Bologna
Bologna is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, more specifically, between the Reno River and the Savena River. Bologna is a lively and cosmopolitan Italian college city, with spectacular history,...


After the war, restructuring of the Italian Army reduced the number of Bersaglieri battalions to two per regiment. A new role was seen for the light infantry
Light infantry
Traditionally light infantry were soldiers whose job was to provide a skirmishing screen ahead of the main body of infantry, harassing and delaying the enemy advance. Light infantry was distinct from medium, heavy or line infantry. Heavy infantry were dedicated primarily to fighting in tight...

 as part of Italy’s commitment to mobile warfare
Mobile warfare
*For various forms of wars based on mobility, see Maneuver warfare.*For the specific military methods of Mao Zedong, yundong zhan, see Mobile Warfare....

. The post-war Bersaglieri were converted into bicycle troops to fight alongside cavalry in the Celeri (fast) divisions. Elite units with high morale and an aggressive spirit were seen as one way to break such tactical stalemates as the trench warfare of 1915-18. The Bersaglieri gave Italy highly-trained formations suitable for service with both cavalry and tanks. When the armoured divisions were formed in 1939, the link between the Bersaglieri and mobile warfare continued. Each new armoured and motorised division was allocated one Bersaglieri regiment.

World War II

Italy’s Bersaglieri regiments were expanded to three battalions each during the Second World War. However, the Army resisted any temptation to dilute their quality, and recruits continued to be of above-average size and stamina. They endured intense physical training, just as their great-grandfathers had, as well as having to qualify as marksmen.

The Bersaglieri fought in southern France
Italian invasion of France
The Italian invasion of France in June 1940 was a small-scale invasion that started near the end of the Battle of France during World War II. The goal of the Italian offensive was to take control of the Alps mountain range and the region around Nice, and to win the colonies in North Africa...

 and Greece
Greco-Italian War
The Greco-Italian War was a conflict between Italy and Greece which lasted from 28 October 1940 to 23 April 1941. It marked the beginning of the Balkans Campaign of World War II...

 in 1940. The first Bersaglieri to see combat in North Africa was the 10th Bersaglieri Regiment. They arrived in Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

 in early 1941. Later, they were also deployed on the Eastern Front.


While in the past the mobility of the Bersaglieri was helped by their training in running and by the aid of bicycle
A bicycle, also known as a bike, pushbike or cycle, is a human-powered, pedal-driven, single-track vehicle, having two wheels attached to a frame, one behind the other. A person who rides a bicycle is called a cyclist, or bicyclist....

s, regiments currently in service are all mechanised.

The modern Bersaglieri have served, as part of the Garibaldi Bersaglieri Brigade
Garibaldi Bersaglieri Brigade
The Garibaldi Bersaglieri Brigade is a mechanized infantry brigade of the Italian Army, based in the south of the country.- Formation :The Brigade was formed in the north-eastern city of Pordenone on November 1, 1975 by augmenting and renaming the existing 8th Bersaglieri Regiment of the Armored...

, as peacekeepers in the Multinational Force in Lebanon
Multinational Force in Lebanon
The Multinational Force in Lebanon was an international peacekeeping force created in 1982 and sent to Lebanon to oversee the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization...

, and in Yugoslav
Yugoslav wars
The Yugoslav Wars were a series of wars, fought throughout the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995. The wars were complex: characterized by bitter ethnic conflicts among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, mostly between Serbs on the one side and Croats and Bosniaks on the other; but also...

 and Somali Civil War
Somali Civil War
The Somali Civil War is an ongoing civil war taking place in Somalia. The conflict, which began in 1991, has caused destabilisation throughout the country, with the current phase of the conflict seeing the Somali government losing substantial control of the state to rebel forces...

s, and were also active in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Bersaglieri traditions are still stressed. The Bersaglieri collar patches are purple-red "flames". Enlisted troops still wear the red fez. Officers wear black berets with their ordinary uniforms, but the feathered "vaira" in ceremonial uniform. They also wear black gloves, while other Italian regiments wear white ones. Each Bersaglieri unit had a band called a "fanfara", who played their instruments at the run while on parade. The "fanfara" does not contain percussion instruments. Today only the Garibaldi Brigade, Ariete Brigade and 7th Bersaglieri regiment retain a "fanfara", although brigade bands play appropriate music at the fast pace for Bersaglieri units integrated into the brigade structure.

Regiments today

  • 1° Rgt. Bersaglieri, Garibaldi Brigade, in Cosenza
    Cosenza is a city in southern Italy, located at the confluence of two historic rivers: the Busento and the Crathis. The municipal population is of around 70,000; the urban area, however, counts over 260,000 inhabitants...

    Calabria , in antiquity known as Bruttium, is a region in southern Italy, south of Naples, located at the "toe" of the Italian Peninsula. The capital city of Calabria is Catanzaro....

  • 3° Rgt. Bersaglieri, Sassari Brigade, in Teulada
    Teulada, Italy
    Teulada is a comune in the Province of Cagliari in the Italian region Sardinia, located about 40 km southwest of Cagliari....

    Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

  • 6° Rgt. Bersaglieri, Aosta Brigade, in Trapani
    Trapani is a city and comune on the west coast of Sicily in Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Trapani. Founded by Elymians, the city is still an important fishing port and the main gateway to the nearby Egadi Islands.-History:...

    Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

  • 7° Rgt. Bersaglieri, Pinerolo Brigade, in Bari
    Bari is the capital city of the province of Bari and of the Apulia region, on the Adriatic Sea, in Italy. It is the second most important economic centre of mainland Southern Italy after Naples, and is well known as a port and university city, as well as the city of Saint Nicholas...

    Apulia is a region in Southern Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. Its most southern portion, known as Salento peninsula, forms a high heel on the "boot" of Italy. The region comprises , and...

  • 8° Rgt. Bersaglieri, Garibaldi Brigade, in Caserta
    Caserta is the capital of the province of Caserta in the Campania region of Italy. It is an important agricultural, commercial and industrial comune and city. Caserta is located on the edge of the Campanian plain at the foot of the Campanian Subapennine mountain range...

    Campania is a region in southern Italy. The region has a population of around 5.8 million people, making it the second-most-populous region of Italy; its total area of 13,590 km² makes it the most densely populated region in the country...

  • 11° Rgt. Bersaglieri, Ariete Brigade, in Orcenico Superiore (Friuli-Venezia Giulia
    Friuli-Venezia Giulia
    Friuli–Venezia Giulia is one of the twenty regions of Italy, and one of five autonomous regions with special statute. The capital is Trieste. It has an area of 7,858 km² and about 1.2 million inhabitants. A natural opening to the sea for many Central European countries, the region is...


External links

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