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17th Infantry Division Pavia[1]
Scudetto Pavia.JPG
Shoulder sleeve insignia
Active 1939 – 1942
it existed since 1860 as Brigade Pavia
Country Italy Regno d'Italia
Kingdom of Italy
Allegiance Axis
Branch Flag of Italy (1860).svgRegio Esercito
Royal Italian Army
Type Infantry
Size Division
Part of

1940 – 1941 Italian XX Corps

1941 – 1942 Italian X Corps
Garrison/HQ Ravenna
Nickname(s) I Verdi di Gorizia (The Greens of Gorizia)
Motto(s) Latin language: Ardeam Dum Luceam
Engagements World War II
Operation Compass
Battle of Agedabia
Battle of Benghazi
Battle of El Mechili
Siege of Tobruk
Battle of Gazala
Operation Crusader
Battle of El Adem
Battle of Ruweisat Ridge
Second Battle of El Alamein

1939–1941 Pietro Zaglio

1941–1942 Nazzareno Scattaglia
Mostrina (collar flash)
Pavia Collar Patch.png

17th Infantry Division "Pavia" (Italian: 17° Divisione Autotrasportabile "Pavia") was an Infantry Division [nb 1] of the Italian Army during World War II. The Pavia was formed in October 1939 and sent to Libya. It was never completely motorised but despite this limitation, it was considered to have fought well in North Africa. It was almost completely destroyed during the Second Battle of El Alamein.[2]


The Pavia Brigade was born during the Risorgimento on 1 March 1860, and was formed of two Infantry Regiments (the 27th and 28th). The Brigade participated in the Third Italian Independence War (1866), the First Italo-Ethiopian War (1896) and the First World War, when it was awarded the Ordine Militare d'Italia. In 1926 it become the XVII Pavia Infantry Brigade and in August 1939 was transformed into the 17th Pavia Division (reinforced with the 26th Artillery Regiment Artiglieria a Cavallo). Until 1939, the headquarters of the Division were in Ravenna, while the 27th Regiment had its barracks in Cesena. In 1940 the Division was deployed in Tripolitania and moved to Cyrenaica belonging to the Italian XX Corps. It participated in the final phases of Operation Compass, retreating from Sabratha to Agedabia. In 1941 – 1942 it fought in North Africa until it surrendered at El Alamein. After the Second World War the 28th Infantry Regiment was reorganized with its headquarters in Pesaro. The Regiment is still in existence and is now specialized in PsyOps.

The North Africa Campaign

The Pavia Division took part in the Axis counterattack of March–April 1941. Under Major-General Pietro Zaglio it attacked via the Balbia coast road from Agedabia on 31 March 1941, driving the British imperial Army rearguards back to Mechili; on the 6th the town was surrounded. The Fabris and Montemurro Bersaglieri Motorised Battalions came up in support, along with the advance elements of the German 5th Light Division and Ariete Armoured Division. On 8 April General Gambier-Parry surrendered to General Zaglio,[3] commanding the Pavia, after an unsuccessful breakout attempt that was largely broken up by the Bersaglieri.[4][5] Some 3,000 British, Indian and Australian soldiers were captured.

The division continued to advance and helped to isolate the Australian garrison in Tobruk. It then took part in the siege of Tobruk, stationed in the southern sector of the lines.

On the night of 11/12 July, two Australian night-fighting-patrols from the 2/12th Battalion attacked the forward elements of the Pavia in the form of a reinforced rifle platoon, dug-in near El Adem Road. Under the cover of artillery fire, one patrol marched off into the night, but soon came under machine-gun fire and seeking cover suffered three casualties due to Italian booby-traps before being able to resume their advance and capture three and kill or wound a number of Italians, but at the cost of another three casualties. In the meantime, the other patrol managed to reach the other part of the Italian platoon at grid reference 40934185 with the help of artillery fire, killing or wounding, according to 2/12th Battalion's war diary, "between 30 and 40" Italians and capturing two, but at the cost of seven more Australian casualties. During the action, Second Lieutenant Cesare Giacobbe, the Italian platoon commander from the 27th Pavia Infantry Regiment, won posthumously the Gold Medal of Military Valour.[6] Despite being wounded, the young officer personally fired an automatic rifle and employed hand grenades, helping cover the retreat of the remainder of his platoon, before being shot a second time and killed.

As casualties increased among the Australian night-fighting-patrols, some soldiers were court-martialled and there was a near-mutiny in a platoon and other platoons simply did not properly carry out their missions or falsified the reports of their incursions.[7]

Half of the Tobruk garrison was evacuated in August, the rest in September and October because the Australian 9th Division was suffering "to the point where it was not longer capable of resisting attack."[8]

On 19 November a British column of tanks tried to move westwards towards the track that ran up from Bir el Gubi to El Adem, but encountered determined infantry of the Pavia Division and were forced to turn back.[9] On 23 November 1941, during Operation Crusader, the British 70th Infantry Division, supported by 60 tanks[10] broke through part of the 25 Semi-Motorised Division Bologna. The Italians rallied and the Pavia went over to the counterattack, containing the enemy breakthrough.[11] On the night of 25–26 November, the British 70th Division attacked again, but the 9th Bersaglieri Regiment of the Trieste Division counterattacked and checked this British advance.[12] However, on the 27th, the 19th Battalion spearheading the 6th New Zealand Brigade, finally linked up with part of the British 70th Division at El Duda.[13] On 30 November, Lieutenant Francesco Coco of the Pavia Division, although wounded, led the remnants of his company in an attempt to retake the Leopard strongpoint. For his brave action the Italian officer was awarded the Gold Medal for Valour posthumously.[14] On 1 December, the 101 Motorised Division Trieste advanced against the New Zealanders and severed the link with Tobruk.[15] But despite this Italian success, on 4 December, Rommel ordered a withdrawal to the Gazala Line which entailed giving up Tobruk. During the withdrawal, the Pavia served as a rearguard at El Adem where, according to Australian historian Barton Maughan, the Pavia put up a tenacious defence on 5 December before being overcome, delaying the advance for over three hours and allowing Axis forces (including the bulk of the Pavia) to withdraw.[16] On 14 December, the New Zealand 22 Battalion encountered stiff resistance from the Pavia Division that counterattacked twice, but under the cover of darkness took the rearguard position and 382 prisoners at a cost of 3 killed and 27 wounded.[17] On 15 December, the bulk of the Pavia on the Gazala Line fought against the attacking 2nd New Zealand Division and Independent Polish Brigade, containing their advances,[18] allowing a strong Italo-German armoured force to counterattack and overrun the 1st Battalion, The Buffs, (Royal East Kent Regiment).[19]

During the Battle of Gazala, the Pavia played an important role in the capture of 6,000 Allied prisoners on 16 June 1942.[20]

The division was also at the First Battle of El Alamein as part of the Italian X Corps. During the initial phase of the fighting Pavia served as a rearguard for the Ariete Division where, according to US military historian Conrad H. Lanza, the division repulsed the advance of the New Zealand 23rd Battalion with a night counter-attack.[21] Corporal Pasquale Franchi of the Pavia would win the Silver Medal of Military valor posthumously for his role in the counterattack. The Pavia along with the Brescia put up a stubborn defence on Ruweisat Ridge on the night of 14–15 July,[22] allowing a German armoured force to arrive in time the next day to deliver a devastating counterattack against the attacking New Zealand infantry and British armour.[23] Captain Amalio Stagni and Corporal Ugo Vaia of the Pavia would each win posthumously the Silver Medal for Military Valor for their leadership during the action on Ruweisat Ridge.

During the Second Battle of El Alamein, one battalion of the Pavia Division fought alongside the Folgore Parachute Division. At the end of the battle, the Pavia along with the other two divisions of the Italian X Corps were abandoned without transport by the rest of the Axis forces as they retreated from Alamein to Fuka and Mersa Matruh on 4 November 1942. At Mersa Matruh, where several of the survivors of the Pavia had regrouped, including its commander, the remnants of the division had no option but to surrender.[24]

Harry Zinder of Time magazine noted that the Italians fought well and commented that for the Italians::

It was a terrific letdown by their German allies. They had fought a good fight. In the south, the famed Folgore parachute division fought to the last round of ammunition. Two armoured divisions and a motorised division, which had been interspersed among the German formations, thought they would be allowed to retire gracefully with Rommel's 21st, 15th and 19th [sic][nb 2] light. But even that was denied them. When it became obvious to Rommel that there would be little chance to hold anything between El Daba and the frontier, his Panzers dissolved, disintegrated and turned tail, leaving the Italians to fight a rear-guard action.[25]

Order of battle

As of May 1941

  • 27th Infantry Regiment Pavia
    • Command Coy
    • Rifle Bn
    • Rifle Bn
    • Rifle Bn
    • 81 mm Mortar Coy
    • 65/17 Artillery Battery
  • 28th Infantry Regiment Pavia
    • Command Coy
    • Rifle Bn
    • Rifle Bn
    • Rifle Bn
    • 81 mm Mortar Coy
    • 65/17 Artillery Battery
  • 6th Armoured Battalion
  • 5th Armoured Car Battalion
  • 26th Artillery (Artiglieria a Cavallo) Regiment Rubicone
  • 77th Anti Aircraft Battalion
  • 679th Carabinieri Platoon
  • 207th Motorized Transport Section
    • 135th Motorized Transport Company
  • 21st Medical Section
    • 66th Field Hospital
    • 84th Field Hospital
  • 71st Field Bakery
  • 54th Field Post

from June 1942, the 17th Mixed Engineer Battalion[nb 3] was added.


  1. In the Royal Italian Army "Autotrasportabile" ("Truck Moveable" in english) meant that a division could be moved by truck by virtue of its organisation, but that it did not have the transport capacity as part of its own structure to do so, i.e. it would depend on transport being made available to it by higher headquarters to be moved by truck.
  2. Presumably a confused reference to the 90th Light Division. There was no 19th Light Division on the German Order of Battle
  3. An Italian North African Infantry Division of the 1940 structure normally consisted of two Infantry Regiments (three Battalions, one mortar, one 65mm gun company each), an Artillery Regiment with one heavy and two light battalions and an anti-aircraft battery, a light tank Battalion with 46 tankettes, an Anti Tank Company, a reserve and a machine-gun battalion. Each Division had 10,978 men if at full strength. In 1942 the North African divisions were reorganised on a much smaller scale.[1]
  1. 1.0 1.1 Dr. Leo Niehorster. "Divisione Autotrasportabile di Tipo Africa Settentrionale 1940, 10.06.40". Archived from the original on 30 May 2009. Retrieved 28 May 2009. 
  2. Wendal, Marcus. "Italian Army". Axis History. Archived from the original on 2 May 2009. 
  3. A don at war, By Sir David Hunt, p. 59, Routledge, 1990
  4. "The victory must have been especially sweet for the men of the Ariete Division, partly as recompense for past humiliations at British hands, and partly because it was an all-Italian triumph; Generalmajor Streich, Oberstleutnan Dr. Olbrich and Panzer Regiment 5 arrived too late to take part in the action and Gambier-Parry actually surrendered to Colonna Montemurro." Tobruk: The Great Siege, 1941–42, William F. Buckingham, , Random House, 2010
  6. Le Medaglie D'Oro D'Africa (1887-1945), pg. 18, Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, 1961
  7. "The 9th Division tried sixty-four soldiers between June and October 1941 ... Patrols grew less popular and more dangerous as the siege went on ... Soldiers became more reluctant to take risks, or even to go out on patrol at all. Lieutenant Samuel Cooper of the 2/12th Battalion 'nearly had a mutiny on my hands' when he had to order some recalcitrant soldiers to join a patrol ... In a few cases, patrollers did not go so far as ordered or faked their reports ... Corporal C.B. went on patrol in June and returned alone, having become separated from the rest of his patrol. He reported that he had gone more than 9000 yards into Axis lines and gave valuable information about enemy armour. The story was actually a complete fabrication." Armies of Empire: The 9th Australian and 50th British Divisions in Battle 1939–1945, Allan Converse, pp. 86-87, Cambridge University Press, 2011
  8. Australians at Tobruk; General's Clash With Government, The Age, September 14, 1964
  9. "Other tanks tried to move westwards towards the track that ran up from Bir el Gubi to El Adem, but these too met the dug-in infantry of the Italian 17a Divisione 'Pavia' and turned back". Operation Crusader 1941: Rommel in Retreat, Ken Ford, p. 40, Osprey Publishing, 2010
  10. Das Afrika Korps: Erwin Rommel and the Germans in Africa, 1941–43, By Franz Kurowski, pg. 111, Stackpole Books (March 2010)
  11. "... The Italian siege front around the fortress tried to offer a defence in the confusion but was forced to relinquish numerous strong points in the encirclement front about Bir Bu Assaten to superior enemy forces. The Italian “Pavia” Division was committed for a counterattack and managed to seal off the enemy breakthrough." German Experiences in Desert Warfare During World War II, in 2 volumes, Generalmajor Major Alfred Toppe (et al), Combat Studies Institute/Combined Arms Research Library, 1952
  12. Das Afrika Korps: Erwin Rommel and the Germans in Africa, 1941–43, By Franz Kurowski, pg. 117, Stackpole Books (March 2010)
  13. Combat: The War with Germany, World War II, By Don Congdon, Page 131, Dell Pub. Co., 1963
  15. The Bologna Division: 19 November – 10 December, 1941 By David Aldea & Joseph Peluso, Comando Supremo: Italy at War.
  16. "The operation proceeded without opposition until the 1/Durham Light Infantry had advanced some 5,000 yards. Here the Pavia Division had established a rearguard position which was tenaciously defended but overcome after midnight by an attack made in conjunction with tanks of the 32nd Army Tank Brigade". Australia in the War of 1939-1945, Volume 3, Barton Maughan, p. 509, Australian War Memorial, 1966
  17. "At 3 a.m. on 14 December the guns opened a 15-minute concentration and the Maoris closed in with bayonets fixed, meeting mortar, MG and anti-tank fire and using grenades freely to overcome it. In little more than an hour resistance ended and C and D Companies began to dig in just west of the foremost defences, while A Company extended the position on lower ground to the east-north-east. B Company, which had advanced farthest, struck trouble, however, from another enemy position on the escarpment to the west and was twice counter-attacked. " The Relief of Tobruk, W. E. Murphy, p. 496, War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1961
  18. "The Poles and New Zealanders made good initial progress, taking several hundred Italian prisoners; but the Italians rallied well, and by noon it was clear to [General Alfred] Godwin-Austen that his two brigades lacked the weight to achieve a breakthrough on the right flank. It was the same story in the centre, where the Italians of ‘Trieste’ continued to repulse 5th Indian Brigade’s attack on Point 208. By mid-afternoon the III Corps attack had been fought to a halt all along the line." Crusader: Eighth Army’s Forgotten Victory, November 1941-January 1942, Richard Humble, p. 187, Leo Cooper, 1987
  19. The Bologna Division: 19 November – 10 December, 1941 By David Aldea & Joseph Peluso, Comando Supremo: Italy at War.
  20. "The Italians finished mopping up the Gazala Line on June 16, capturing 6,000 prisoners, thousands of tons of supplies, and entire convoys of undamaged vehicles in the process" The Rise of the Wehrmacht: The German Armed Forces and World War, 2 Volumes, p.564, Samuel W. Mitcham, Praeger (30 June 2008)
  21. "One of the night attacks was made by New Zealand troops, a Maori unit which entered and held an enemy strong point in a bayonet attack. They were later counterattacked by the Italian Pavia Division and lost a part of their gains during a severe fight under a fading moon". Aldea, David. "First Battle of El Alamein". Commando Supremo: Italy at War. Archived from the original on 29 April 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2009. 
  22. '"While the attacking brigades had been able to cut large gaps through the defences held y the Italian infantry, they had not been able to subdue all the resistance. Not surprisingly, most of the smaller outposts and defended localities had fallen easily but some of the larger posts had been bypassed during the night. The outposts which remained contained substantial number of anti-tank guns, machine guns and infantry. When daylight came, these posts were able to cover the area south of the ridge by fire and shot up any trucks foolhardy enough to drive forward."' Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 131, Random House, 2010
  23. '"On the right, Indian 5th Division (XXX Corps) attacked Point 64 on the centre of the feature, the New Zealand Division (XIII Corps) was on the left attacking Point 63 at the western end of the ridge and the 1st Armoured Division gave support along the line of the inter-corps boundary. The night attack was preceded by Albacore aircraft dropping flares and fighter-bombers strafing the enemy lines. At first both divisions made good progress as they fought their way through the Italian Brescia and Pavia Divisions who were holding the ridge. The advance slowed down when they met extensive minefields and there was some loss of cohesion when the New Zealanders were attacked by tanks from 8th Panzer Regiment of 15th Panzer Division and lost 350 prisoners."' El Alamein 1942: The Turning of the Tide, Ken Ford, p. 42, Osprey Publishing, 2005
  24. Ottawa Citizen, November 7, 1942
  25. Zinder, Harry (16 November 1942). "A Pint of Water per Man".,9171,932852,00.html. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  • Paoletti, Ciro (2008). A Military History of Italy. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-98505-9. 
  • Montanari, Mario (1985–1993). Le operazioni in Africa Settentrionale. Roma, Italy: Ufficio Storico SME. 

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