6 infantry battalions|
2 tank battalions
Italian invasion of Egypt|
|General||Pietro Maletti †|
The Maletti Group (Raggruppamento Maletti) was an ad hoc mechanised unit formed by the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) in Italian North Africa (Africa Settentrionale Italiana or ASI), during the initial stages of the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. The Italian army had three armoured divisions in Europe but all were needed for the occupation of Albania and the forthcoming invasion of Greece, which began on 28 October 1940. The Maletti Group was formed in June 1940, as part of the 10th Army (General Mario Berti) and contained all of the M11/39 medium tanks in Libya.
The medium tanks and tankettes already in the colony were to be combined with medium tanks sent from Italy, to form a new armoured division and a new headquarters, the Libyan Tank Command was established on 29 August. The Maletti Group participated in Operazione E, the Italian invasion of Egypt in 1940 and reached Sidi Barrani on 16 September. The group was destroyed at the Nibeiwa camp on 9 December, during Operation Compass, a British raid against the 10th Army positions inside Egypt. The rest of the command and tank units arriving in Libya were combined in the Babini Group which was also destroyed at the Battle of Beda Fomm (6–7 February 1941), the final defeat of the 10th Army, which led to the British occupation of Cyrenaica.
32nd Armoured Regiment
The 32nd Armoured Regiment was formed on 1 December 1938 and on 1 February 1939 became part of the 132nd Armoured Division Ariete, the second Italian armoured division. At the Italian declaration of war on June 11, 1940, the 32nd Armoured Regiment moved with the Ariete Division from Veneto to the border with France, as part of the Army of the Po but the war ended so quickly that the division was not used. On 28 July 1939, the I and II Medium Tank battalions received 96 Fiat M11/39 tanks to replace its Fiat 3000s. The inadequacies of the M11/39 tanks led to a decision on 26 October 1939, to replace them with M13/40 tanks and the first batch, built by Ansaldo at Genoa in October 1940, were used to equip the III Medium Tank Battalion with 37 of the new tanks.
The I Medium Tank Battalion (Major Victor Ceva) and the II Medium Tank Battalion (Major Eugenio Campanile) and their M11/39 tanks, landed in Libya on 8 July 1940 and transferred from the 32nd Armoured Regiment in Italy to the command of the 4th Armoured Regiment in Libya. The two battalions had an establishment of 600 men, 72 × tanks, 56 × vehicles, 37 × motorcycles and 76 × trailers. The medium tanks reinforced the 324 × L3/35 tankettes already in Libya. The Maletti Group/Raggruppamento Maletti (General Pietro Maletti) was formed at Derna the same day, with seven Libyan motorised infantry battalions, a company of M11/39 tanks, a company of L3/33 tankettes, motorised artillery and supply units as the main motorised unit of the 10th Army and the first combined arms unit in North Africa.
Libyan Tank Command
On 29 August, as more tanks arrived from Italy, the Comando carri della Libia (Libyan Tank Command) was formed under the command of General Valentino Babini, with three Raggruppamenti. Raggruppamento Aresca (Colonel Pietro Aresca) with the I Medium Tank Battalion and the 31st, 61st and 62nd light tank battalions, Raggruppamento Trivioli (Colonel Antonio Trivioli), with the II Medium Tank Battalion, less one company and the IX, XX, and LXI light tank battalions and Raggruppamento Maletti with the LX light tank battalion and the remaining M11/39 company from the II Medium Tank Battalion. Raggruppamento Maletti became part of the Regio Corpo Truppe Coloniali della Libia (Royal Corps of Libyan Colonial Troops), with the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori.
Marshal Rodolfo Graziani revised Operazione E, the plan for the invasion of Egypt by the 10th Army (General Mario Berti) and made Sidi Barrani the objective, six days before the deadline for an invasion imposed by Mussolini. XXII Corps (Generale di Corpo d'Armata Petassi Manella) was in general reserve, XXI Corps (Generale di Corpo d'Armata Lorenzo Dalmazzo) was at Tobruk as the 10th Army reserve with the un-motorized 61st Infantry Division Sirte, 2nd Blackshirt Division (28 October) and a light tank battalion. The XXIII Corps (Generale di Corpo d'Armata Annibale Bergonzoli) comprised the un-motorized 64th Infantry Division Catanzaro and 4th Blackshirt Division (3 January). A northern column with the Italian non-motorised divisions was to advance down the Via Balbia coast road, cross the frontier and attack through the Halfaya Pass, to occupy Sollum and capture Sidi Barrani. A southern column with the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle, 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori and the Maletti Group (Raggruppamento Maletti) were to advance along the track from Dayr al Hamra to Bir ar Rabiyah and Bir Enba south of the escarpment, round the British inland flank.
The flanking manoeuvre by the Maletti Group misfired, because it lacked adequate maps and navigation equipment for desert travel and the group got lost as it moved to its jumping-off point at Sidi Omar. XXIII Corps Headquarters (HQ) had to send aircraft to guide the group into position. The accompanying 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori were also delayed in reaching the rendezvous near Fort Capuzzo and the fiasco led Graziani to cancel the wide flanking manoeuvre. The 10th Army, in a mass of five divisions and the armoured groups, was ordered to move down the coast road, occupy Sollum and advance to Sidi Barrani through Buq Buq. Once at Sidi Barrani, the army would consolidate, extend the Via Balbia by building the Via della Vittoria to move supplies forward, destroy British counter-attacks and then advance to Mersa Matruh. The immobility of the non-motorized infantry divisions forced Graziani to use the coast road, despite the mechanised forces in the army, to try to defeat the British with mass rather than manoeuvre.
Western Desert Campaign
Invasion of Egypt
XXIII Corps advanced to Sidi Barrani along the coast road, having received enough lorries to motorise one infantry division and partly motorise three more for the advance. Bergonzoli planned the advance with the 1st Raggruppamento Carri forward, followed by the fully motorised 1st Blackshirt Division (23rd Marzo) and the 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica and 63rd Infantry Division Cirene, which had been partly motorised and could shuttle forward. The un-motorized 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori, were to march on foot for the 97 kilometres (60 mi) to the objective and the Maletti Group was to form the rearguard. The 1st Raggruppamento Carri was also kept in reserve, except for the LXII Light Tank Battalion with L3/33 tankettes, which was attached to the 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica and the LXIII Light Tank Battalion assigned to the 62nd Division Infantry Cirene. The 2nd Raggruppamento Carri remained at Bardia, except for the IX Light Tank Battalion which joined the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori. The Maletti Group (3rd Raggruppamento Carri) had the II Medium Tank Battalion with M11/39 tanks and three Libyan infantry battalions, all motorised.
The 10th Army advanced to Sollum then along the coast road two divisions forward, behind a screen of motorcyclists, tanks, motorised infantry and artillery. On 14 September, the rest of the 1st Raggruppamento Carri followed the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori toward Bir Thidan el-Khadim. At Alam el Dab, just short of Sidi Barrani, about fifty Italian tanks supported by motorised infantry and artillery, tried to outflank and trap the British rear guard, which forced the 3rd Coldstream Guards battalion to retreat. By late on 16 September, the 1st Raggruppamento Carri had reached an area south-east of Sidi Barrani, with the 1st Blackshirt Division (23rd Marzo) and the XXIII Corps artillery, having been used cautiously for infantry support. The Maletti Group was west of the objective, having been hampered by lack of supplies and disorganisation. The 1st Blackshirt Division (23rd Marzo) took Sidi Barrani and the advance stopped at Maktila, 10 miles (16 km) beyond.
The 10th Army began to prepare an advance to Mersa Matruh for 16 December but was forestalled by Operation Compass. Only the IX Light Tank Battalion with L3/33 tankettes attached to the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori, the II Medium Tank Battalion with M11/39s, with the Maletti Group at Nibeiwa camp and the LXIII and XX Light Tank battalions, with the XXI Corps HQ, were still in Egypt. The five fortified camps from the coast to the escarpment were well defended but too far apart for overlapping fields of fire and the defenders relied on ground and air patrols to link the camps and watch the British. The camp at Nibeiwa was a rectangle about 1.6-by-2.4-kilometre (1 mi × 1.5 mi), with a bank and an anti-tank ditch. Mines had been laid but at the north-west corner, there was a gap in the minefield for delivery lorries and a British night reconnaissance found the entrance.
A lack of Italian air–ground co-operation was exploited by the British to attack Nibeiwa camp from the rear, with the 11th Brigade Group of the 4th Indian Division and the Matilda infantry tanks of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment (7th RTR). Italian air reconnaissance spotted British vehicle movements in the area but Maletti was apparently not informed. On 8 January, Maletti alerted the nearby 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori that unusual low-level flying by the RAF was probably intended disguise the movement of armoured units. At 6:30 a.m. on 9 January, well before the beginning of the main British attack, Maletti had contacted the commanders of the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori, reporting the British preparatory movements.
At 5:00 a.m. on 9 December, British artillery commenced a one-hour diversionary bombardment from the east and at 7:15 a.m., the main 4th Indian divisional artillery opened fire. The 11th Indian Infantry Brigade Group and the 7th RTR attacked from the north-west, with Bren carriers on the flanks, all firing on the move. About twenty Italian medium tanks outside the camp were destroyed in the initial British attack, while warming their engines before breakfast. Italian artillery and machine-gun fire began as isolated parties of Italians tried to hunt the British Infantry tanks with hand grenades. At 7:45 a.m. Scottish and Indian infantry began methodically to sweep through the camp, backed by artillery and the tanks. By 10:40 a.m., the camp had been overrun and 2,000 Italian and Libyan prisoners had been taken, along with a large quantity of supplies and water for a British loss of 56 men. A total of 819 Italian and Libyan soldiers had been killed along with Maletti and 1,338 were wounded. After the battle, Alan Moorehead an Australian war correspondent, visited Nibeiwa after moving around destroyed lorries and Bren carriers, which had run onto mines and past square holes in the ground, which had been dug for machine-gun posts. Dead lay around the fort and light tanks were at the west wall, where the Maletti Group had made its last stand. Other tanks were inside the camp facing in all directions.
In his history of the 32nd Armoured Regiment, Maurizio Parri wrote that a company of the II Medium Tank Battalion with its M11/39s had tried to counter-attack the British Matildas but the crews misunderstood flag signals, which caused delays and the attack failed. In 1944, Moorehead wrote that Maletti was wounded while rallying his men, then retreated to his tent with a machine-gun, where he was killed. Maletti's mortal remains were to be seen at the entrance of his tent when war correspondents visited the camp. Moorehead wrote that he saw unattended donkeys wandering around looking for water and soldiers looting extravagant Italian army uniforms and lunching on luxury foods, wines and Recoaro mineral water. New equipment, weapons and ammunition strewed the ground, already disappearing under the sand and dozens of dug-outs were found to be full of food, new equipment and ammunition.
Orders of battle
|8 July 1940 | December 1940|
- Parri nd.
- Christie 1999, p. 32.
- Christie 1999, pp. 32, 48.
- Walker 2003, p. 61.
- Christie 1999, p. 54.
- Christie 1999, pp. 52–53.
- Christie 1999, pp. 52–54.
- Christie 1999, p. 55.
- Christie 1999, pp. 54–55.
- Playfair 1954, p. 210.
- Christie 1999, p. 57.
- Playfair 1954, p. 266.
- Montanari 1985, pp. 204, 306.
- Playfair 1954, pp. 267–268.
- Playfair 1954, pp. 266–268.
- IOH 1979, I Annex 32.
- Moorehead 1944, pp. 61–64.
- Christie 1999, pp. 88–89.
- Christie, H. R. (1999). Fallen Eagles: The Italian 10th Army in the Opening Campaign in the Western Desert, June 1940 – December 1940 (MA). Fort Leavenworth, KS: U. S. Army Command and General Staff College. OCLC 465212715. A116763. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
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- Walker, I. W. (2003). Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa. Marlborough: Crowood. ISBN 1-86126-646-4.
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- Macksey, Major Kenneth (1971). Beda Fomm: The Classic Victory. Ballantine's Illustrated History of the Violent Century. New York: Ballantine Books. OCLC 473687868.
- Wavell, A. (June 13, 1946). "Archibald Wavell's Despatch on Operations in the Middle East From August, 1939 to November, 1940" (PDF). Supplement to the London Gazette, Number 37609. Retrieved October 31, 2009.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Maletti Group.|
- Photograph of Maletti (Italian site)
- Diary of Colonel Emilio Iezzi, commander, V Medium Tank Battalion
- The Mediterranean and Middle East volume I: The Early Successes against Italy (to May 1941)