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.
“…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.”
ITALIAN AMERICA, 0000-00-00
“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.”
RECOLLECTIONS OF WWII, 2011-07-27
“…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...”
STRATEGY PAGE, THE NYMAS REVIEW, 2011-08-15
“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. “
BOOKS MONTHLY , 2011-08-31
“…a useful addition to the literature on the Eastern Front, giving an interesting picture of an army normally only mentioned in foot notes”
HISTORY OF WAR , 2011-10-10
”… a well told story, complex and unsettling and Casemate have picked a rich subject which has been concealed and misrepresented, even in Italy.”
MILITARY MODELCRAFT INTERNATIONAL, 2011-11-11
“…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.”
KEPLER’S MILITARY HISTORY
“..the rarely told story of 227000 Italian troops fighting and dying in Russia in WII…details the Italian defense of their sector with tactical placements and actions in harrowing details of logistical failures, indefensible positions and bitter cold endurance…”
LTCOL THOMAS L. ROBERTS USMCR (RET), 2012-05-03
"... powerful and affecting human story. It is well presented and can be very highly recommended."
WAR IN HISTORY , 2013-01-30