Sacrifice on the Steppe

The Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign, 1942-1943

Hope Hamilton

Date Published :
June 2011
Publisher :
Illustration :
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Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781612003924
Pages : 268
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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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.

About The Author

Hope is a graduate of the University of California at Berkley, with advanced degress from the University of Michigan, and currently lives in Modesto, California.



1. The Invasion of Russia
2. Summer of 1942
3. The Trek of the Alpini
4. On the Don Lines
5. General Conditions on the Don Front
6. The Russian Winter Offensive Begins
7. Transfer of the Julia Division
8. Encirclement of the Alpine Corps

9. Retreat During the Height of Winter
10. The Cuneense and Julia Continue to Withdraw
11. Disaster on the Steppe
12. Withdrawal of the Tridentina Division
13. Out of the Encirclement—The March Continues
14. Survivors of the Withdrawal Return to Italy

15. Capture at Valuiki
16. Marches of the Davai
17. Prisoner of War Transports
18. Prisoner of War Camps—The First Months
19. Camps Suzdal and Krasnogorsk

20. The Homeward Journey
21. Le Perdite—The Losses

Epilogue: A Sign of Hope
Composition of the Italian Alpine Corps



“…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, Summer 2011

“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 WW2

“…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...”

- The NYMAS Review

“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

“…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

”… 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

“…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)

"... powerful and affecting human story. It is well presented and can be very highly recommended."

- War in History

"makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Italian involvement in the war against the USSR. Hope Hamilton's highlighting of the combatants' own experiences and memories, previously common only in Italian histories, is most welcome in this work meant for Anglophone readers"

- Michigan War Studies Review

" will see how Hitler's war machine and Mussolini's deference to it led Italian soldiers into a war that was not theirs against a country they did not want to fight...Sacrifice on the Steppe and its many remarkable anecdotes will not simply bring you in touch with your most empathetic side, it will make you thankful for every opportunity you have in life after traveling alongside a group of soldiers who had none.

- Italian America

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