by Michele Armellini


The "Folgore" (Lightning bolt) paratroop Division was a chosen unit within the Italian army and the X Corps during the African campaign. It had been formed for the invasion of Malta, which never took place; so it was sent to Africa. Actually, it was officially renamed 185th Infantry Division "Cacciatori d'Africa", and not without reason (apart from counterintelligence), since the well-trained, highly motivated paratroopers were never used as such. Indeed, they always fought as infantry.

In this role, the Division was seriously hampered by its being a paratroop unit in the first place. The basic concept of engagement for the Italian paratroops was a short-term "vertical outflanking maneuver" (Source 1); they were intended for a quick coup, immediately supported by advancing conventional troops. Artillery was therefore considered unnecessary, apart from light anti-tank guns. For the same reason, the Division had almost no motor vehicles of its own, an extremely serious handicap in desert warfare. Finally, most of the units arrived in North Africa by plane, from Greece and Italy, leaving behind whatever vehicles or heavy equipments they could have had (including, in some instances, all the Battalion's field kitchens!). Supply by sea was already difficult at that time.

So, even if the paratroops were much more determined and better trained (many of them were veterans coming from other units) than the average Italian infantry units, they should have been doomed to their same sad destiny: forced to fight in static positions, lacking not only mobility and supply capability but also artillery support, they were likely to be overrun or encircled by armored and motorized infantry formations. But this did not happen. 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 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 ATGs, it was easy to block the attack, provided that the first tank or two were disabled (Source 2).

But the British had brave and effective mine-clearing task forces, flail tanks (the Scorpions), 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 (Sources 1 and 7). 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. However, the four divisions attacking the Folgore and Ramcke 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 (Sources 2 and 3), so their attacks were called off after the bloody fighting during the night of October, 24th: 31 tanks were destroyed or disabled during that night alone (British source 2).

When the Folgore retreated on foot, that was the beginning of the end: leaving behind everything but small arms, with no transport, almost no food and ammunitions, little water, no meaningful orders, many of these gallant men were simply cut off by the advancing enemy. Even so, the few surviving Folgore paratroopers continued to fight to the bitter end in Tunisia, and the battle at the southernmost tip of the El- Alamein line, which is "their finest hour", remains something we gamers can still find interesting to recreate.



FOLGORE DIVISION. Order of battle at El-Alamein

Division HQ: command stand, car, telephone staff stand, recon m/c stand

   Support Companies: 4 support stands

   Mortar Company: command stand, FO stand, 3 81mm MTR stands (ds)

   186th Paratroops Regiment (Reggimento Paracadutisti)

   HQ Company: command stand, paratroops stand, 81mm MTR stand (ds)

      2 Battalions (V, VI), each with:

      HQ Company: command paratroops stand, MMG stand, 20mm Solothurn ATR stand

         3 Companies, each with: command paratroops stand, 2 paratroops stands

      AT Company: gun crew stand, 47L32 ATG

   187th Paratroops Regiment (Reggimento Paracadutisti)

   HQ Company: command stand, paratroops stand, 2 81mm MTR stand (ds)

      4 Battalions (II, IV, IX, X), each with:

      HQ Company: command paratroops stand, MMG stand, 20mm Solothurn ATR stand

         3 Companies, each with: command paratroops stand, 2 paratroops stands

      AT Company: gun crew stand, 47L32 ATG

   Ruspoli Regimental Group (Raggruppamento Ruspoli)

   HQ: command stand

      Paratroops Battalion (VII)

      HQ Company: command paratroops stand, MMG stand, 20mm Solothurn ATR stand

         3 Companies, each with: command paratroops stand, 2 paratroops stands

      Assault Engineer Battalion (Guastatori) (VIII)

      HQ: command paratroops engineer stand

         3 Companies, each with: command paratroops engineer stand, paratroops engineer stand, flamethrower paratroops engineer stand

   185th Paratroops Anti-Tank Regiment (Artiglieria


   HQ: command stand

      3 AT Groups, each with: command stand, 2 gun crew stands, 2 47L32 ATGs


   Attached troops:

   31st Assault Engineer Battalion (Guastatori d'Africa)

   HQ: command stand, car

      2 Engineer Companies, each with: 3 engineer stands, 3 med trucks (partly loaded with mines)

   II/28th Infantry Battalion (Fanteria) (Pavia Infantry Division)

   HQ: command stand

      3 Companies, each with: 3 infantry stands, MMG stand

      1 Company: 3 gun crew stands, 2 47L32 ATGs, 1 20L65 AAG, 1 light truck

   Bersaglieri Anti-Tank Company (V Battalion): 2 gun crew stands, 2 47L32 ATGs, 2 light trucks

   26th Light Artillery Battalion (Pavia Infantry Division)

   HQ: comand stand, FO stand, 2 cars

      3 Batteries, each with: 3 gun crew stands (ds), 3 75L27 FGs, 3 med trucks

   III/1st Light Artillery Battery (Brescia Division): gun crew stand (ds), 75L27 FG, med tractor

   AA Artillery Battery (Ariete Division): gun crew (ds), 88L56 AAG, med truck


   Available Artillery Support (the following units were not directly and permanently attached, and could move away without warning along with their parent formations)

   I/21st Field Artillery Battery (Trieste Division):

   HQ: comand stand, FO stand, 2 cars

      3 Batteries, each with: 3 gun crew stands (ds), 3

      100L16 HWs, 3 med trucks

   AA Artillery Battery (Ariete Division): 90L53 AA truck gun

   AA Artillery Battery (German): gun crew stand (ds), 88L56 AAG, hvy tractor


   Other Artillery (the following off-board artillery was X Corps and German artillery support; when available at all, they reacted with long delays)

   X Corps: 3 105L32 FGs, 3 149L19 HWs

   German artillery: 3 105L28 HWs, 1 210L31 HW


   Armor Support: during the battle, two small German armored detachments made a brief appearance:

   Tank Platoon: command PzIIIH

   Armored Car Column: 2 recon SdKfz222


Note: all Company command stands in the paratroops and assault engineer Battalions have a Polish ATR as integral anti-tank weapon.




The 186th, the 187th and the Ruspoli Group were deployed on the line; in most places they had a forward outpost line, thus exploiting the two lines of minefields. The 185th AT Regiment provided AT guns to all of them, in addition to their Regimental AT Companies. The position of all paratroops and assault engineer Companies is outlined in the enclosed map. The northern part of the line, bordering on the left with the German paratroops Battalion commanded by Major Hubner (Ramcke Fallschirmjäger Brigade), was manned by the 187th Regiment. The II (minus the 6th Company) and IX Battalions were in the main line, and  the IV Battalion in the outpost line. These units were supported by three gun Platoons of the 185th AT Regiment, the 47mm ATG Company of the 187th and by 75mm field guns of the attached artillery units (the 75/27s were HE-only guns, next to useless against tanks).

The central sector was manned by the Ruspoli Group, with the VII paratroops and the VIII assault engineers Battalions, plus the II/6th and the infantry Battalion from the Pavia Division. They had two gun Platoons, two mortar Platoons, and the 47mm ATG Company of the 186th Regiment. The main line had the support of 75mm and 100mm attached guns, and also a couple of well-camouflaged 88mm AA guns for ambushing tanks. The II/6th, VIII/22nd engineers, and the VII/19th were in the outer positions that were swept and occupied by the British attack, that obtained its deepest penetration here.

The southern part of the line was manned by the 186th Regiment with all its units, plus a gun Platoon from the 185th, a mortar Platoon, attached 75mm field guns, and the German 88mm Battery. The outpost here was the important El Himeimat hill, the only significant elevation in the area. To the right, the line in front of the Qattara depression was held by the Pavia Division. The Bersaglieri AT Company was attached only after the first attacks.

As usual in the desert, the main defensive assets were the extensive minefields; in this case, most of them were old British minefields, but the paratroops had checked and strengthened them.

With regard to the attached troops, the 31st Engineers took care of the minefields, while the attached Pavia infantry Battalion, as mentioned above, plugged a gap in the line. Folgore, as a paratroop Division, had no guns, apart from the 47mm ATGs; so the attached units were the only artillery available. Some of the 88mm AAGs were deployed in the front line with a specific tank-ambushing task. The artillery which was not directly attached to the Division wasn't always available, and those units could move away without warning if their parent formations did so. While the 88mm German Battery was deployed at the southernmost tip of the line, the rest of the German artillery was obviously in the rear areas.

The armor support wasn't a significant contribution. The tank Platoon did nothing good, and it actually leveled a few paratroopers in their holes. On the other hand, the armored cars helped drive back the Free French. At the end of the battle, a German tank group from the 21st Panzer Division was deployed just behind the line, for fear of a British breakthrough; since it never occurred, those tanks were never committed.

The Division fielded a number of captured British guns and vehicles, mostly mortars, 2-pdr. ATGs, and Carriers. However, no specific units were equipped with them only, and they were of course short of ammo; so they aren't represented.

There are a few differences from the "book" TO&E. First of all, one of the Regiments has two Battalions, while the other, strangely, starts with four; however, the IX and X Battalions suffered heavy losses during the fights on September 3rd and 4th, and they were later merged in one Battalion, named the IX.

The Ruspoli Group is an ad-hoc formation, putting together a paratroops and an assault engineer Battalion to man the line. The assault engineer units are defined as "paratroops engineer stands" because they were armed and trained as paratroops (therefore, they have a small-arms ROF of 2); but they were also trained as assault engineers, and equipped with demolition charges.

The "book" organization does not provide a divisional staff; this is understandable if the Division is air-dropped. But at El-Alamein extensive telephone communications were laid and a signals Company isn't represented in the above organization because it functioned as a divisional telephone staff, as well as providing linemen.

Each paratroops Battalion had 3 81mm mortars, not listed in the "book" TO&E. This isn't enough for a mortar stand at Battalion level, but it seems fair enough to allow for a Regimental 81mm MTR double-size stand for each two Battalions in the Regiment (one in the 186th and one or two in the 187th). This also takes into account the additional available mortar firepower, which is otherwise unaccounted for, given by 45mm short-ranged mortars and captured British mortars. Alternatively, the Battalion's MMG stand could be converted into a weapons stand (with its indirect fire capability and a ROF of 3); but this kind of stand is not listed in the Italian tables. Also, the 81mm mortar Platoons of the divisional Company were often attached where needed.

With regard to special infantry weapons, there are problems with anti-tank rifles and flamethrowers. Each Company had a Polish ATR; this should be represented by giving each command paratroops stand an integral infantry ATR, even if not listed by the "book". Actually, they weren't really much used, nor appreciated, because they were considered not very effective; however, in game terms, they appear even better than their British or German equivalents. Furthermore, at least some regular paratroops Companies seem to have been equipped with a flamethrower. There are accounts of flamethrowers being used against British tanks, even where no engineers were present. Given the noticeable killing power a flamethrower has in the game, it could be wiser to leave them only in the engineers' hands; alternatively, one paratroops stand per paratroops Battalion could be converted in a paratroops flamethrower stand.

Finally, all accounts report that the Division was understrength. However, by computing the hard numbers available, it seems that ten stands per Battalion (one in the HQ and three for each Company) might be an almost adequate match for those numbers. A referee could optionally rule that each Battalion field nine stands instead of ten (one Company with one command paratroops stand and one paratroops stand).



According to the rules, the Folgore Division units should be Experienced troops, with Morale 8. While the quality rating seems reasonable, the morale rating is probably too low.

Folgore as a whole wasn't a veteran division. However, most officers and many other ranks came to the paratroops after years of active service with other units (some were veterans of Abyssinia or Spain), and some regiments and battalions had fought in North Africa before or had been air-dropped on Greek islands. Even before the first days of September 1942, most of the units had been for a long time under artillery fire and air attacks. So, the paratroopers are certainly to be considered as Experienced for the early September fighting. After that, they could probably be rated as Veterans.

With regard to their Morale, 8 is too low. When, after long and intense artillery barrages, their foxholes were swarmed by overwhelming numbers of enemy infantry, the paratroopers counterattacked with hand grenades and SMGs. When they were overrun by tanks, they close assaulted them with molotov cocktails and grenades. The short-ranged 47mm ATGs were manned until destroyed by 75mm grenades or smashed under the tracks of the enemy tanks themselves. Throughout the battle, the British attackers often caused fearful casualties, but made few prisoners. Surrendering paratroopers were usually out of ammunition and often wounded. This behaviour should grant at least a Morale of 9. The paratroopers thought they were hardy, solid elite soldiers, and fought that way.

Of course these assessments could be biased, since they are an Italian's point of view. But they seem well-founded, if one considers the judgements by German allies and British enemies alike, at the time of the fighting and afterwards (the British usually considered them as tough as the German paratroops).

Naturally, the attached units have their parent formation's Quality and Morale (more or less). Thus, the attached infantry should be rated as Trained with Morale 6, the artillery units as Experienced with Morale 7, the Bersaglieri anti-tank unit as Experienced with Morale 8; the 31st Assault Engineers, a small, seasoned elite unit, should be rated as Veterans, Morale 9.




1) R. Migliavacca - La Folgore nella battaglia di El Alamein

2) C.E. Lucas Phillips - Alamein

3) Jacobsen & Rohwer - Battaglie decisive della II Guerra Mondiale

4) E. Krieg - La guerra nel deserto

5) B. Liddell Hart - The Rommel Papers

6) F. Scalettaris - Appunti africani

7) G. Bedeschi (ed.) - Fronte d'Africa: c'ero anch'io

8) N. Arena - I paracadutisti