Osprey Publishing’s Men-at-Arms booklet Italian Colonial Troops 1882-1960 is #544 in the series. Published in 2022, author: Gabriele Esposito, artist: Giuseppe Rava. Forty eight pages including eight color plates.
Italy like Germany got into the colony business later than Great Britain, Spain, France, and the Netherlands. Italians had moved into Tunisia across the Mediterranean Sea from Sicily and there were ever growing connections. France moved in and made Tunisia a protectorate in 1881 to forestall any Italian annexation.
The first section of the booklet is an overview of Italian empire building.
Italy shifted focus to the horn of Africa. Eritrea on the coast of the Red Sea was colonized starting in 1882. Italy negotiated with the Sultan of Zanzibar to establish a series of bridgeheads in Somalia starting in 1889.
There was the failed attempt to conquer Abyssinia with the disastrous battle of Adowa in 1896 that put an end for the time in empire building.
Italy took possession of Tripoli and Cyrenaica in 1911 in the Italian-Turkish War.
Esposito then devotes the rest of the booklet to the units divided up according to territory. The Italians would move in generally with Bersaglieri (light infantry). They would recruit natives to patrol and keep the peace. Overtime, companies became battalions, battalions would grow into regiments. These units follow the general colonial military similar to the King’s African Rifles, French Senagalese Tirailleurs, Dutch KNIL, American Philippine Constabulary. These native forces were generally light infantry, the Italians did create camel mounted unit. Over time, engineer and machine gun units were added.
The Eritreans were the best native troops. I remember reading that in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, the Eritreans rescued Fascist Black Shirt Militia from getting wiped out more than once. The Eritreans were the point of the spear in that war.
The illustrations are full of sun helmets and fezzes. The native Libyan troops have exotic vests and baggy pants. Lots of Carcano rifles, which is not as bad a rifle as legend had it. Differences in powder used in cartridges were the cause of the Carcano’s supposed failings. The Italian military gets a lot of grief due to WW2. The Italians historically have had good mountain troops and light infantry. Their paratroopers in WW2 were no slouches. They even had a battalion of native Libyan paratroopers.
Some brief space is given to some interesting units.A cavalry reconnaissance platoon in the Boxer Rebellion expeditionary force had Cossack looking hats. Ethnic Italians in the Austro-Hungarian Army in WW1 captured by the Russians made their way across Siberia. They were outfitted in Japanese Army uniforms in Manchuria but with the cappello alpino hat.
If you have an interest in colonial armies, Italian Colonial Troops is a good addition.
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