Giovanni Messe (10 December 1883 – 18 December 1968) was an Italian
general, politician, and field marshal (Maresciallo d'Italia). He is
considered by many to have been the best Italian general of the Second
1 Early life and career
2 World War II
2.4 Post armistice
3 Life after the army
4 Awards and decorations
Early life and career
Messe was born in Mesagne, in the
Province of Brindisi
Province of Brindisi in the Apulia
region of Italy on 10 December 1883.
Giovanni Messe pursued a military
career in 1901. He saw action in the Italian conquest of Libya and in
the First World War. During this conflict, he gave an important
contribution to the creation and training of the "Arditi", elite
infantry units, and with the rank of maggiore was the commander of the
IX Nono Reparto
Arditi that fought in the zone of Monte Grappa.
Emerging considerably decorated from these conflicts, he became
aide-de-camp to King Victor Emmanuel III, holding this post from 1923
to 1927. From this date until 1935, Messe commanded a unit of
Bersaglieri and held the rank of colonel.
Main article: Italian East Africa
In September 1935, Messe assumed command of a motorised brigade in
Verona, with the rank of brigadier general. Following a successful
period of service with this unit in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War,
Messe was promoted to rank of major general and he became commander of
the 3rd Cavalry Division.
World War II
On April 1939, following the Italian invasion of Albania, Messe was
appointed to serve under Albania's governor, General Ubaldo Soddu.
Main article: Balkans Campaign (World War II)
Messe commanded a corps during the
Greco-Italian War of late 1940 and
early 1941 and achieved some success against Greek forces commanded by
Alexandros Papagos. Before winter had even set in however, the Italian
forces were forced onto the defensive, as Greek forces launched a
counter attack and moved into parts of Italian controlled Albania.
In April 1941, with the help of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht),
Battle of Greece
Battle of Greece ended in an Axis victory.
Main article: Italian participation in the Eastern Front
In other circumstances, the armoured warfare experience Messe
possessed might have caused him to be given a command alongside Erwin
Rommel in North Africa. But, instead, he was chosen to be the
commander of the
Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia
Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia (Corpo di
Spedizione Italiano in Russia, or CSIR). The CSIR was a mobile
infantry and cavalry unit of the Italian army that took part in
Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union.
Initially, the number of Italian troops in southern Russia numbered
around 60,000. Messe never thought that this force was properly
outfitted or supplied for the extreme conditions of the "Russian
Front". By July 1942, the far larger
Italian Army in Russia
Italian Army in Russia (Armata
Italiana in Russia, or ARMIR) replaced the CSIR and General Italo
Gariboldi replaced Messe. On 1 November 1942 Messe left Russia.
The number of Italian troops in Russia had grown to about 200,000.
Although the troops fought well during the initial summer campaign,
they lacked anti-tank weaponry suitable in winter conditions. During
the German defeat at Stalingrad, the campaign in the Soviet Union
turned heavily against the Axis powers. Alongside Romanian, Hungarian
and German forces, the Italian army was severely mauled during
Operation Saturn on the flanks of Stalingrad while trying to hold back
the Soviet forces.
In February 1943, Messe was appointed as the new commander of the
Italo-German Tank Army (Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee) formerly
commanded by Erwin Rommel. The name was changed to 1st Italian Army in
recognition of the fact that the army consisted of one German and
three Italian corps. Rommel was promoted to the command of the new
Army Group Africa (Heeresgruppe Afrika).
Messe fought a defensive campaign against the advancing American and
British forces and was defeated at the Mareth Line. His continuous
tactical delay of the Allied offensive could not prevent the
inevitable defeat of the Axis in North Africa.
On 12 May 1943 Messe was promoted to the rank of marshal of Italy
(Maresciallo d'Italia). On 13 May, after the collapse of the 5th
German Tank Army, the fall of Tunis and the surrounding of the 1st
Italian Army, still holding the line at Enfidaville, he formally
surrendered to the Allies.
As a loyal supporter of the
Royalist cause, like many Italian officers
Messe soon found himself re-employed, when after the Italian armistice
in September 1943, he was made chief of staff of the Italian
Co-Belligerent Army (Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano), consisting of
those units loyal to King Victor Emmanuel, many of which were
reconstituted from Italian
POWs and armed by the Allies. He served in
this post with distinction until the war's end and then retired from
the military in 1947 after 46 years of distinguished service.
Life after the army
His later life was not uneventful. Following the conclusion of the
war, he wrote a book about his experiences, entitled Come finì la
guerra in Africa. La "Prima Armata" italiana in
Tunisia (How the war
in Africa ended. The "First Army" of Italy in Tunisia). His military
popularity remained with him in civilian life and from 1953 to 1955,
Messe was a democratically elected representative in the Italian
Senate. He was also president of the Italian Veterans Association, a
post which he held until his death. His life was profiled in a
biography written by Luigi Argentieri titled Messe—soggetto di
un'altra storia (Messe—subject of another history) published in
Giovanni Messe died on 18 December 1968, at the age of eighty-five.
Awards and decorations
Silver Medal of Military Valor
Silver Medal of Military Valor – Gorizia, 21–23 May 1917
War Merit Cross
War Merit Cross – Albania, 19 June 1920
Promotion for War Merits – to Lieutenant General, Valona –
Promotion for War Merits – to Lieutenant Colonel, 1918
Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa
2 February 1943 – 13 May 1943
Governor-General of Italian Libya
2 February 1943 – 4 February 1943
List of Italian First Marshals and Marshals of Italy
First Marshal of the Empire
(Primo Maresciallo dell'Impero)
King Victor Emmanuel III
Prince Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Aosta
Guglielmo Pecori Giraldi
Emilio De Bono
Umberto, Prince of Piedmont
Paolo Thaon di Revel
Marshal of the Air Force
ISNI: 0000 0001 0186 1185
BNF: cb14449779m (data)
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