Sacrifice on the Steppe

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Overview

When Germany's Sixth Army advanced to Stalingrad in 1942, its long-extended flanks were mainly held by its allied armies—the Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians. But as history tells us, these flanks quickly caved in before the massive Soviet counter-offensive which commenced that November, dooming the Germans to their first catastrophe of the war. However, the historical record also makes clear that one allied unit held out to the very end, fighting to stem the tide—the Italian...

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Overview

When Germany's Sixth Army advanced to Stalingrad in 1942, its long-extended flanks were mainly held by its allied armies—the Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians. But as history tells us, these flanks quickly caved in before the massive Soviet counter-offensive which commenced that November, dooming the Germans to their first catastrophe of the war. However, the historical record also makes clear that one allied unit held out to the very end, fighting to stem the tide—the Italian Alpine Corps.

As a result of Mussolini's disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany, by the fall of 1942, 227,000 soldiers of the Italian Eighth Army were deployed on a 270km front along the Don River to protect the left flank of German troops intent on capturing Stalingrad. Sixty thousand of these were alpini, elite Italian mountain troops. When the Don front collapsed under Soviet hammerblows, it was the Alpine Corps that continued to hold out until it was completely isolated, and which then tried to fight its way out through both Russian encirclement and "General Winter," to rejoin the rest of the Axis front. Only one of the three alpine divisions was able to emerge from the Russian encirclement with survivors. In the all-sides battle across the snowy steppe, thousands were killed and wounded, and even more were captured. By the summer of 1946, 10,000 survivors returned to Italy from Russian POW camps.

This tragic story is complex and unsettling, but most of all it is a human story. Mussolini sent thousands of poorly equipped soldiers to a country far from their homeland, on a mission to wage war with an unclear mandate against a people who were not their enemies. Raw courage and endurance blend with human suffering, desperation and altruism in the epic saga of this withdrawal from the Don lines, including the demise of thousands and survival of the few.

Hope Hamilton, fluent in Italian and having spent many years in Italy, has drawn on many interviews with survivors, as well as massive research, in order to provide this first full English-language account of one of World War II's legendary stands against great odds.

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Editorial Reviews

Recollections of WWII
"Raw courage and endurance blend with human suffering, desperation and altruism in the epic saga of this withdrawal from the Don lines, including the demise of thousands and survival of the few."
Italian America
“…tragic account of the fate of the Alpini, Italy’s elite mountain troops… Historian Hamilton tells their story through interviews with survivors, extensive historical records and archival photos.”
Strategy Page (The NYMAS Review)
...a ground-breaking study of Italy's participation in the Second World War on the Russian Front... an excellent addition to any library on Italian participation in World War II...
Books Monthly UK
With the Italian Army often the butt of cruel jokes, this book sets at least one of the records straight. Hope Hamilton's account of the Italian Eighth Army on the Steppes of central Asia is compelling and informative.
History of War
...a useful addition to the literature on the Eastern Front, giving an interesting picture of an army normally only mentioned in foot notes"
Military Modelcraft International
... a well told story, complex and unsettling and Casemate have picked a rich subject which has been concealed and misrepresented, even in Italy.
Kepler's Military History
...draws on personal interviews, exhaustive research and the written accounts of Italians who participated in and survived Mussolini's tragic decision of Italian involvement....includes good notes, is well indexed, and has a great bibliography ...If you're looking for a good overview and an understanding of what the Italian soldiers experienced then you'll enjoy the book. I give it four stars. It is a must addition to any military historian's library. It is a good first volume to fill a long void of an English language account of the Italian involvement on the eastern front.
War in History
...powerful and affecting human story. It is well presented and can be very highly recommended.
Reenactor's Magazine
Raw courage and endurance blend with human suffering, desperation and altruism in the epic saga of this withdrawal from Don Lines, including the demise of thousands and survival of few.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612000022
  • Publisher: Casemate Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/19/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Part I Italian Troops Are Sent to Russia

1 The Invasion of Russia 3

2 Summer of 1942 19

3 The Trek of the Alpini 32

4 On the Don Lines 37

5 General Conditions on the Don Front 59

6 The Soviet Winter Offensive Begins 69

7 Transfer of the Julia Division 76

8 Encirclement of the Alpine Corps 98

Part II La Ritirata: Withdrawal of the Alpine Corps from the Don

9 Retreat During the Height of Winter 111

10 The Cuneense and Julia Continue to Withdraw 129

11 Disaster on the Steppe 140

12 Withdrawal of the Tridentina Division 145

13 Out of the Encirclement-The March Continues 176

14 Survivors of the Withdrawal Return to Italy 184

Part III Prisoners of War

15 Capture at Valuiki 195

16 Marches of the Davai 201

17 Prisoner of War Transports 211

18 Prisoner of War Camps-The First Months 218

19 Camps Suzdal and Krasnogorsk 237

Part IV Il Ritorno: Returning Home

20 The Homeward Journey 275

21 Le Perdite-The Losses 298

Epilogue: A Sign of Hope 308

Postscript 311

Composition of the Italian Alpine Corps 318

Acknowledgments 321

Notes 325

Bibliography 351

Index 359

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 21, 2011

    a very interesting story, from an over looked part of World War Two History

    when most people think of the Italian army during world war two, they think of khaki clad soldiers running for their lives from advancing British soldiers in the flat arid deserts of North Africa. They think of these soldiers throwing down their weapons faster than the French (also a common misconception. However, there is a little known portion of Italian Military history during World War Two that is far less known, and in my opinion much more intriguing than the stories of fleeing Roman Hoards in the desert; and that is the ill-fated Italian experience on the Russian front in the vicinity of Stalingrad. This thrilling and enticing book tells the story of the Italian Aplini (Alpine Soldiers)on the Don River protecting the German 6th Army's left flank during the summer/fall of 1942 through their withdrawal, encirclement and subsequent capture in late January 1943. This book not only infuses historical data from a birds eye/ historians point of view of the Italian 8th Army, especially the Italian Apline Corp, but this book also has personal testimony from survivors, and journals of the dead. The author does a great job at making you sympathize with the Alpini, for they were far away from home, most were not supports of fascism, and most seemed to get along better with local Russian civilians better than their German overseers. The author also does a great job at dispelling the notion that the Italian Army was full of cowards who would rather make love and not war. Of course, all of these men that were interviewed did not support the war, and would have preferred to make love, but they did their duty, and did not give up as easily as history would have us believe. These brave men also did not fight in their element (they were trained for mountain warfare, not for war on the open steppe), and had sub-par weapons, clothing and food.The only qualm I have with this book is that it tells the story of only the Alpini, and the Alpini are mostly from Northern Italy, and a lot of them seemed patronizing or snobbish when talking about their Southern Italian and Sicilian compatriots in the infantry, and even their own mule drivers, who were also mostly from the south. This air of superiority to me was kind of ironic, because they talked about how the Germans looked down on them, and then they in turn look down on their own comrades. I will be honest that put me off a little bit, since I'm of partial Sicilian heritage. However, these feelings seem to only come up every once in a while through out the book. And after all they were specialized soldiers, where as their infantry counterparts were not...The author has an amazing way with words. If you are, or even if you are not familiar with the Russian front, especially in human terms (and not birds eye text book terms)then this book will have you clenching your teeth and feeling your legs, it makes you feel like you are almost there, in the bitter cold, with snow and rain relentlessly pouring down, all while you are in a hole in the ground getting shot at, starving, and in clothes meant for a summer campaign. You can almost see the waves of khaki-green Soviet hoards sprinting across the thick ice of the don,all the while yelling their blood curdling war cry of "HURRAH!" This book is really well written, and is an easy read, and gripping and will have you turning the pages. this book is also great because it tells a virtual unknown story, inside of a story that is told often..more books like

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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