Showing posts with label Army. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Army. Show all posts

30 May 2019

General Giulio Douhet - military strategist

Army commander was one of first to see potential of air power

Giulio Douhet aroused opposition with his strident criticisms of Italy's army
Giulio Douhet aroused opposition with
his strident criticisms of Italy's army
The Italian Army general Giulio Douhet, who saw the military potential in aircraft long before others did, was born in Caserta, north of Naples, on this day in 1869.

With the arrival of airships and then fixed-wing aircraft in Italy, Douhet recognized the military potential of the new technology. He advocated the creation of a separate air arm commanded by airmen rather than by commanders on the ground. From 1912 to 1915 Douhet served as commander of the Aeronautical Battalion, Italy’s first aviation unit.

Largely because of Douhet, the three-engine Caproni bomber - designed by the young aircraft engineer Gianni Caproni - was ready for use by the time Italy entered the First World War.

His severe criticism of Italy’s conduct of the war, however, resulted in his court-martial and imprisonment. Only after a review of Italy’s catastrophic defeat in 1917 in the Battle of Caporetto was it decided that his criticisms had been justified and his conviction reversed.

Born into a family of Savoyard exiles who had migrated to Campania after the cession of Savoy to France, Douhet attended the Military Academy of Modena and was commissioned into the artillery of the Italian Army in 1882. He studied science and engineering at the Polytechnic of Turin.

In 1911, Italy went to war against the Ottoman Empire for control of Libya. It was the first conflict in which aircraft operated in reconnaissance, transport, spotting and limited bombing roles.

The wide-winged Caproni CA36 bomber was deployed as part of Douhet's strategy for winning control of the air
The wide-winged Caproni CA36 bomber was deployed as
part of Douhet's strategy for winning control of the air
In 1912 Douhet assumed command of the Italian aviation battalion at Turin, where he wrote a set of Rules for the Use of Airplanes in War (Regole per l'uso degli aeroplani in guerra).

But Douhet's preaching on air power made him enemies among his fellow senior officers, some of whom branded him too radical. After an incident in which he allegedly ordered the construction of Caproni bombers without authorization, he was stripped of his position and exiled to the infantry.

At the start of the First World War, Douhet called for Italy to focus on building their air power, telling military leaders and politicians that command of the air would render enemy troops harmless. When Italy did enter the war in 1915, he was outspoken in his criticisms of the army, branding them “incompetent and unprepared”. He proposed a force of 500 bombers, dropping 125 tons of bombs on the Austrian enemy every day.

However, his relentless criticisms provoked anger and resentment among his superiors and government officials. A court-martial found him guilty and he was imprisoned for one year.

Douhet's book, The Command of the Air, informed the strategy of the major powers
Douhet's book, The Command of the Air,
informed the strategy of the major powers
Douhet’s confinement did not deter him. He continued to write about air power from his cell, proposing a massive Allied fleet of aircraft. Soon after the disastrous Battle of Caporetto, which saw Italy’s 2nd Army routed by Austro-Hungarian forces with the loss of 40,000 troops dead or wounded and 265,000 captured, it was accepted that Douhet’s criticisms should not have been rejected. He was released, then recalled to service in 1918, when he was appointed head of the Italian Central Aeronautic Bureau.

He was fully exonerated by a 1920 enquiry and promoted to general in 1921. He retired from military service soon afterwards, however.

Douhet’s most noted book is Il dominio dell’aria - The Command of the Air - which led to strategic air power becoming an accepted part of military thinking. The US Army Air Corps had a translation of Il dominio dell’aria made by the mid-1920s and controversial though his ideas originally seemed to be, many were adopted by the major powers during the Second World War.

Some of his arguments have not been borne out. He 1928 he claimed that dropping 300 tons of bombs on the most important cities would end a war in less than a month, yet during the Second World War, the Allies dropped more than 2.5 million tons of bombs on Europe without bringing the conflict to an end.

More than 70 years on, however, some of his concepts continue to underpin air power.

A supporter of Mussolini, Douhet was appointed commissioner of aviation when the Fascists assumed power but what was essentially a bureaucrat's job did not suit him and he soon quit to continue writing. He died from a heart attack in Rome in 1930.

The incredible two-mile long watercourse that stretches down towards the northern facade of the Royal Palace
The incredible two-mile long watercourse that stretches down
towards the northern facade of the Royal Palace
Travel tip:

Caserta’s is best known for its former Royal Palace - the Reggia di Caserta - which is one of the largest palaces in Europe, built to rival the palace of Versailles outside Paris, which was the principal residence of the French royal family until the French Revolution of 1789. Constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples, it was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century and has been described as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque”.

Turin's Royal Military Academy, which was destroyed in the Second World War, was near the Royal Palace (above)
Turin's Royal Military Academy, which was destroyed in the
Second World War, was near the Royal Palace (above)
Travel tip:

Turin has a strong military tradition. The Royal Military Academy in Turin was the oldest military academy in the world, dating back to the 17th century. It was created by Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy, who had the idea of creating an institute to train members of the ruling class and army officers in military strategy.  It was inaugurated on January 1, 1678, which predates the Royal Academy at Woolwich in Britain by 42 years and the Russian Academy in Petersburg, by 45 years. The court architect Amedeo di Castellamonte designed the building, work on which began in 1675. Unfortunately, the building was almost totally destroyed in 1943, during Allied air attacks.

More reading:

Why Luigi Cadorna was blamed for Caporetto defeat

The Neapolitan general who led Italian troops to decisive World War One victory

Pietro Badoglio, the controversial general who turned against Mussolini

Also on this day: 

1811: The birth of neurologist Andrea Verga, one of first to study mental illness

1875: The birth of Fascist intellectual Giovanni Gentile

1924: The murder of socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti


26 August 2018

Carlo Camillo Di Rudio - soldier

Italian aristocrat who survived Battle of the Little Bighorn

Carlo Camillo Di Rudio spent 32 years in the United States Army
Carlo Camillo Di Rudio spent 32 years
in the United States Army
Carlo Camillo Di Rudio, a military officer who became known as Charles Camillus DeRudio and gave 32 years’ service to the United States Army in the late 19th century, was born in Belluno in northern Italy on this day in 1832.

Having arrived in New York City as an immigrant from England in 1860, he served as a volunteer in the American Civil War (1861-65) before joining the Regular Army in 1867 as a 2nd lieutenant in the 2nd Infantry, an appointment which was cancelled when he failed a medical. Undeterred, he was readmitted and joined the 7th Cavalry in 1869, eventually attaining the rank of Major.

He participated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in which the US Army suffered a defeat to the combined forces of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribesmen. The battle was part of the Great Sioux Wars of 1876, fought for possession of the Black Hills in South Dakota, where gold had been found.

DeRudio was thrown from his horse as the American forces under Major Marcus Reno were driven back across the Little Bighorn River to regroup on the eastern side. He was left stranded on the western side and hid for 36 hours with a private, Thomas O’Neill. They were twice almost captured but eventually managed to cross the river to safety.

DeRudio had led an eventful life even before his experiences in the US military, during which he also took part in the Nez Perce War on 1877, another conflict with Native Americans.

A scene from the Battle of the Little Bighorn, as depicted by the artist Charles Marion Russell
A scene from the Battle of the Little Bighorn, as depicted
by the artist Charles Marion Russell
Born the son of Count and Countess Aquila di Rudio, he attended an Austrian military academy in Milan before leaving at the age of 15 to join the Italian patriots during 1848 uprising known as the Five Days of Milan. Later, he fought in Rome and Venice against the Austrians.

Soon afterwards, he tried to sail to America but was shipwrecked off Spain. By 1855, he was living in east London and had married Eliza, the 15-year-old daughter of a confectioner from Nottingham, with whom he eventually had six children.

In 1858 he took part in a failed attempt to assassinate the Emperor of France, Napoleon III, at the Paris Opera.  The attempt, led by another Italian revolutionary, the Carbonari leader Felice Orsini, involved three bombs and killed eight people, wounding another 150, but missed its intended target.

Orsini and his co-conspirator, Giuseppe Pieri, were executed but DeRudio’s sentence was commuted to a life sentence to be served on Île Royale, a neighbour of Devil’s Island in the western Atlantic off French Guiana.  But he and 12 others escaped from the island and landed in what was then British Guiana, more than 800km (500 miles) along the northern coast of South America.

From there he returned to England but his taste for action would not be contained and he emigrated to the United States, specifically to fight on the Union side in the Civil War.  Once commissioned to serve in the Regular Army, he was never entirely trusted by his superiors, including the then Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, who tended to disbelieve his accounts of his own military service career.

He retired on his 64th birthday and spent his final years in California, where he died in 1910 at the age of 78, while living in Pasadena.

Belluno sits in the shadow of the Dolomites
Belluno sits in the shadow of the Dolomites
Travel tip:

Belluno, where DeRudio was born, is a beautiful town in the Dolomites, situated just over 100km (62 miles) north of Venice. The town sits in an elevated position above the Piave river surrounded by rocky slopes and dense woods that make for an outstanding scenic background. The architecture of the historic centre has echoes of the town's Roman and medieval past. Around the picturesque Piazza Duomo can be found several fine buildings, such as the Palazzo dei Rettori, the Cathedral of Belluno and Palazzo dei Giuristi, which contains the Civic Museum.

The Scuola Militare "Teulie" is in Corso Italia in Milan
The Scuola Militare "Teulie" is in Corso Italia in Milan
Travel tip:

The military academy in Milan attended by DeRudio is known today as the Scuola Militare "Teulié", a highly selective institution attached to the Italian Army and, having been founded in 1802, one of the oldest military academies in the world. It was closed by the Austrians in 1848 after the cadets, of which DeRudio was one, took part in the Five Days of Milan, the uprising against the Austrians. It became a military hospital. During the early part of the 20th century it was a military barracks, becoming the headquarters of the III Corps of the Italian Army, before reverting to its former status as a military academy in 1996.

More reading:

How the citizens of Milan rose up to throw out the Austrians

The story of fighter pilot Silvio Scaroni

The pope from Belluno who was in office just 33 days

Also on this day:

303: The martyrdom of Sant'Alessandro of Bergamo

1498: Michelangelo accepts the commission to sculpt his masterpiece, La Pietà


27 March 2017

Alessandro La Marmora - military general

Founder of Italy's famed Bersaglieri corps

A painting, by an unknown artist, that shows General Alessandro La Marmora, in his Bersaglieri uniform
A painting, by an unknown artist, that shows General
Alessandro La Marmora, in his Bersaglieri uniform
The general who founded the Italian army's famous Bersaglieri corps was born on this day in 1799 in Turin.

Alessandro Ferrero La Marmora was one of 16 children born to the Marquis Celestino Ferrero della Marmora and his wife Raffaella.  The family had a strong military tradition. Alessandro was one of four of the male children who grew up to serve as generals.

La Marmora was a captain when he came up with the idea for the Bersaglieri in 1836.

He had spent much time in France, England, Bavaria, Saxony, Switzerland, and the Austrian county of Tyrol studying armies and tactics and he approached King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont-Sardinia with the idea of creating a new corps of light infantry.

He envisaged a mobile elite corps similar to the French chasseurs and Austrian jägers, trained to a high physical level and all crack marksmen.  He suggested they should act as scouts, providing screen for the main army, operate as skirmishers and use their sharpshooting skills to weaken the flanks of the enemy during a battle.

From this proposal emerged the Bersaglieri, soldiers who were trained to be bold, carrying out their duties with patriotic fervour despite personal danger.

A painting by Carlo Ademollo from 1880 shows Bersaglieri  soldiers storming Rome's Porta Pia in 1870
A painting by Carlo Ademollo from 1880 shows Bersaglieri
 soldiers storming Rome's Porta Pia in 1870
They wore distinctive headgear, both for ceremonial occasions and in action, that sported generally black grouse or capercaillie feathers, which was seen to symbolise their flair and bravery on the battlefield, setting them apart from others.

The other feature of the Bersaglieri was that, on parade, they moved in a fast jog rather than marching.

The feathers were important to morale, reinforcing belief in corps members that they were a force to be reckoned with against any opposing troops.  Battlefield helmets carried about 100 plumes compared with 400 on dress helmets.

The feathers served a practical purpose, too. Worn on the right side of the hat, they helped shade the shooting eye of the soldier as an aid to taking aim.  Also, because adornments to military headgear were normally worn on the left, they had the potential to confuse enemy spotters over the direction in which they were moving.

When, during the First World War, it was decided that feathers would make the Bersaglieri too conspicuous in trench warfare and the corps were ordered to wear plain tin helmets, morale suffered so much that the order had to be reversed.

Bersaglieri in action at the Battle of Novara
Bersaglieri in action at the Battle of Novara
The Bersaglieri made their first public appearance at a military parade on July 1, 1836 and so impressed King Carlo Alberto they were immediately integrated as part of the Piedmontese regular army.  The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia was relatively poor and a quick-moving infantry corps with sharpshooting skills helped compensate for their army's lack of numbers.

Led by La Marmora, the Bersaglieri distinguished themselves during the First Italian War of Independence by storming a bridge in the Battle of Goita - in which La Marmora suffered a broken jaw when he was shot in the face - and became famous on September 20, 1870 when they charged through a breach in the walls of Rome at Porta Pia. Their assault led to the capture of the city, completing Italian unification.

Elements served in the expeditionary force sent by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to Russia during the Crimean War and during the First World War many Bersaglieri saw service on the front with Austria and in the Middle East. Their valour and bravery was noted.

In the Second World War, although largely disastrous for Mussolini's armies, the Bersaglieri regiments performed so effectively they not only impressed Italy's German allies, particularly during the North African campaign, but also their adversaries on the Allied side.

Today's Bersaglieri regiments are no longer foot soldiers but mechanised units. They have served as peacekeepers in the in Lebanon, Yugoslavia and in the Somali civil wars, and were also active in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A modern Italian Bersagliere in the  service of Nato
A modern Italian Bersagliere in the
service of Nato
La Marmora had joined the Piedmontese army at the age of 15 in the regiment of the Grenadier Guards and became a second lieutenant. At the age of 22, during the First Italian War of Independence, he fought at the Battle of Novara and was awarded the cross of justice by the Mauritian Order.

In 1849, he was appointed Chief of Staff of the army and inspector of the Bersaglieri. He was in charge of the division stationed in the Ligurian city of Genoa and at the command of his brother Alfonso, the Royal commissioner, who had been sent to quell an anti-monarchy revolt.

In 1852 Alessandro was regular commander of the military division of Genoa and in the same year was promoted by King Vittorio Emanuele II to lieutenant general. He stayed in the Ligurian capital until 1854, when he married Rosa Roccatagliata,

In 1855, at the age of 56, he was lieutenant general in command of the second division of the army corps sent to the Crimea, but died at Balaklava from cholera. A memorial bust was erected outside among the statues and monuments of patriots on the Janiculum Hill in Rome.

Porta Pia and the monument to the Bersaglieri in Rome
Porta Pia and the monument to the Bersaglieri in Rome
Travel tip:

The achievements of the Bersaglieri are commemorated in Rome at the Historical Museum of the Bersaglieri, which was inaugurated by King Victor Emanuel III in June 1904, at the La Marmora barracks in the Trastevere district. From May  1909 it housed the medals won by the Bersaglieri corps.  The museum was moved to the area of Porta Pia in 1921.

Travel tip:

In addition to the bust at the Janiculum Hill in Rome, La Marmora is commemorated in Turin with a statue in bronze in the Giardino La Marmora on Via Cernaia in the centre of the city. The statue, which shows La Marmora in action with his sword drawn, was created in 1867 by the sculptors Giuseppe Cassano and Giuseppe Dini.

More reading:

How the capture of Rome completed Italian unification

Italy's decisive victory of the First World War

The Milanese uprising that drove out the Austrians

Also on this day:

1969: The birth of Gianluigi Lentini, once the world's most expensive footballer