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A modern day Bellona.

"The German soldier has impressed the world; the Italian Bersagliere has impressed the German soldier."

The military of modern day Italy.

A brief history

Italy has had a mixed record on warfare since its unification. While they did a good job during the Crimean War (1856) and in Libya, defeating the Ottomans during the Turkish-Italian War (1911) — where the first aerial bombing in history took place — the Italians had been humiliated during the ambush at Adowa (1896) note , in what was then Abyssinia, a loss they would later avenge in 1936 under the rule of Mussolini.

Italy won WWI by defeating Austria-Hungary, completely destroying its army and that of its German ally after three years (1915-1918) of bloody fighting over the Alpine arch; this triggered the collapse of the multi-ethnic Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

However, the country — due to a combination of factors such as lack of resources, scarce industrial production, inadequate equipment, poor training, inept officers, poor logistics and coordination, mutual distrust between allies and... fighting a war it didn't want against an ex-ally it didn't want to fight, all while being forcibly allied to Germany (which most Italians despised) — did not, as you may have guessed, fare so well in World War II; it was occupied by both the Germans and the Allies, with the Italians joining the latter and fighting the Germans throughout the rest of the Italian campaign. Italy lost all its overseas possessions after the war and some of its north-eastern territories. In the wars aftermath, the country was kept largely demilitarized until the early-50s, when the intensifying Cold War prompted NATO to permit it to rearm.

Nowadays, Italy's military consists of the standard features — namely, an Army (Esercito), a Navy (Marina Militare), an Air Force (Aeronautica Militare) and the Carabinieri, military police who also do domestic law enforcement. Italy is a NATO member and its forces have seen combat action in Lebanon, Somalia, Rwanda, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Due their historical and current engagements, Italian armed forces also have a well-deserved reputation for Combat Pragmatism, born from such things as inventing aerial bombing back when dropping bombs from aircraft had been preventively declared a war crime (the declaration specified from balloons. The Italians used planes), strapping torpedoes to commercial speedboats and sending them into enemy harbours to sink battleships, developing the Human torpedo to complement and replace the aforementioned vessels (which had proven useful against Austria-Hungary, but had become obsolete by the time of World War II), as well as still fielding and using man-portable flamethrowers. In spite of this, they have managed to earn and keep a reputation as 'nice guys' when deployed for peace-keeping missions, mostly by honestly policing and bringing food and useful things to the civilians living in the areas they control.

Law Enforcement in Italy

Italy has eight police forces, but...

...we'll only see those with military relevance (the State and Jail Police have been demilitarised in 1981 and 1990).

  • Carabinieri — Created in 1815 (well before the Italian Unification); served under the banners of the Kingdom of Sardinia; and inspired by the French Gendarmerie), their names coming from the carbines they used as a weapon. The Carabinieri have been historically the First Corps of the Army, but were upgraded to full branch in 2000. They handle serious cases of law enforcement throughout the country by conducting operations against the mafias, other organised crime, and unsanitary preparation of foods and drinks (given how much food and drinks Italy exports and a surprisingly high number of scams involving altering it, sometimes in poisonous ways), and, since their absorption of the Forestry Corps in 2017, crimes against the environment or happening in the national parks. During World War II, after the fall of Mussolini, many carabinieri joined the Resistenza, or the Allied forces and fought bravely against the Germans. In more recent times, they're often employed in peace-keeping operations (Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq).

    • They are also are the butt of many jokes in Italy, which portray them as Book Dumb and simple-minded ("Why do carabinieri always go around in groups of three? Because one can read but can't write, the other can write but can't read, and the third keeps in check the dangerous intellectuals!") note . This is probably because in the past many lower-class citizens enlisted in order to earn some money for their families; despite this, they are still nicknamed respectfully "l'Arma" ("THE Corps") or "la Benemerita" ("The Meritorious") and are well-respected (and invent many of the jokes on themselves). Telling them such jokes when they're on duty still constitutes an offence, as many have learned the hard way). They also tend to be hated by members of the other military forces due their role as Military Police — unless they show up to close the post's refectory for unsanitory preparation of food, as it means the soldiers will eat in restaurants for a while with the State paying!

    • The ordinary carabiniere uniform is black with a white sash and a red stripe on the trousers; it comes with a black Commissar Cap with a heraldic grenade (with a spread-out flame) in silver on it, definitely a nice hat. In the past, their hats were even nicer. Of course, when employed in war zones and peacekeeping operations they wear sensible camouflage. The Carabinieri also have a paratrooper regiment and a special regiment of guards of honour called Corazzieri ("Cuirassiers"), who are quite blinged out and whose duty's to protect the President or — before 1946 — the King of Italy. Finally, we've got the the G.I.S. (Gruppo di Intervento Speciale, "Special Intervention Group"), an élite counterterrorism force.

    • By the way, before they were absorbed into the Carabinieri, the State Forestry Corp had been heavily armed, had an extremely good sport section (members of it won 15 gold medals at the Olympics), and took part in a planned neo-fascist coup in 1970. For maximum irony, said coup tried to get support from the Sicilian Mafianote , and the Carabinieri made up the vast majority of the forces responsible for putting down the coup. Another interesting fact is that the Forestry Corp actually predated the unification of Italy, having been established in 1822 by the Kingdom of Sardinia.

  • Guardia di Finanza — Also known as the Fiamme Gialle ("Yellow Flames"), from the golden colour of their uniform's collar patches, they are in charge of financial crimes: smuggling, money laundering, drug trafficking, fraud and such. They depend on the Minister of Economy and Finance, but they're still technically a military Corps (like the Carabinieri, although they don't count as a full service branch) so, in the unlikely event of a full-scale war, might well still be employed on the front just as they were during WWI. They have a Commissar Cap like the Carabinieri, but it's grey instead of black (like the uniform), and with a golden grenade with an upright flame instead of a silver one with a spread-out flame (the female version of the hat is flat on top but looks to be some odd combination of a bowler hat, cowboy hat with the sides pushed up to the crown, and top hat. Here's a look at the female version of the uniform.

  • Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) — They guard the metric fuckton of coastline Italy has, obviously - though the sheer amount of coastline means that the Carabinieri and the Guardia di Finanza have to help with their own ships. They work for the Ministry of Transports, and as such their ship are lightly armed or outright unarmed; despite being a police force, the CG is technically part of the Navy, thus their ships have the capacity to mount much heavier weapons than normal if necessary. Oddly enough, they seem to prefer the baseball cap.

...can you say "Interservice Rivalry" and "Jurisdiction Friction"?

Special Forces of the Italian Army

Besides "ordinary" infantry, the Army has a few special corps:

  • Folgore ("Thunderbolt") Parachute Brigade — created in 1941, they're an élite airborne unit (among the best in the world) that fought bravely at El Alamein. Erwin Rommel, no great admirer of Italian martial skills, hailed them as easily the equal of any German unit, a tribute that speaks volumes. Italy also raised the Nembonote  division of paratroops, which saw limited action, and a third division, Ciclone, was in formation in 1943. A brigade of Carabinieri was also trained for paratroop war. After the war, their successors have been deployed as part of peace-keeping missions in Lebanon, Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan.

  • Bersaglieri ("Marksmen") — founded in 1836, they're a high-mobility, light infantry Corps with a penchant for sharp-shooting (as the name suggests). They fought at the Battle of the Chernaya river, during the Crimean War, where they earned a fame as Crazy Enough to Work for countercharging the Russian cavalry and routing it (to be fair the Russians got charged on the side while they were busy, and could have won by regrouping and charging again but panicked when they tried and saw that those madmen with strange hats were not only giving chase but almost on top of them); they were also the first corps to enter Rome on September 20, 1870, thus ending the temporal rule of the Pope and completing the Unification of Italy. Being the shock troops of the Regio Esercito (Royal Italian Army), they suffered enormous casualties during WW1. In WW2, they fought in Africa (distinguishing themselves at the battle of Mersa Matruh and El Alamein), Greece and on the Eastern Front; after the war, they served in Yugoslavia, Somalia and Iraq. They're easily recognisable due to the wide hat decorated with black capercaillie feathers and their fast pace they keep on parades (instead of marching) while playing trumpets. Their hat outside of combat and parades is the fez, given to them by the French Zouaves as a sign of admiration after their performance during the battle of the Chernaya.

  • Alpini ("Alpine Troops") — They're the mountain troops of the Italian Army; having been founded in 1872, they are the oldest active mountain infantry in the world (and arguably, one of the best). They fought all over the Alpine arch during WW1 and took part in some of the bloodiest battles of that war and engaged in a contest on who would manage to blow up more pieces of mountains with their Austro-Hungarian counterparts (the Austro-Hungarians won: they blew up the top of an Italian-held mountain before the Alpini could do the same to them, and at that point they both decided to stop before escalating too much); during WW2 the Corps fought in Greece, suffering heavy casualties due to the valiant resistance of the Greek soldiers, and in Russia, where they were deployed in the plains (as the Axis never quite reached the Caucasus mountains) and terrified the Red Army by outfighting them in winter (there's a rumour in Italy that the Red Army declared them the only invading army that left Russia undefeated). After the war, they served in Iraq and are currently deployed in Afghanistan.

    • They have a... uhm, somewhat unhealthy rivalry with the Bersaglieri as they used to fill the role of mountain infantry before the Alpini were created.

    • The Alpini can be recognised by their traditional hat, which has a bird feather on it. And recently, some politicos suggested for it to be replaced by a modern-looking cap, as the Army was undergoing a major modernisation effort. They didn't take it well (and the glorious ol' hat's still in its place).

  • Sassari Mechanised Brigade — The Brigade, whose soldiers originate mostly from Sardinia, dates back to WW1 when many Sardinians were hastily called to arms after the defeat at Caporetto. The Brigade suffered heavy casualties through the war but was nevertheless one of the most feared by the enemy. Nowadays, it's one of the toughest Corps of the Army (they've been nicknamed dimonios, or "devils" in the Sardinian language).

    • The Brigade's own anthem, written (and sung) entirely in that language, is also called Dimonios.

Special Forces of the Italian Navy

  • The COM.SUB.IN. is the élite combat frogmen force of the Italian Navy; their origins go back to WW1 (Italy developed the idea of modern combat frogmen forces). Their rooster: sinking of the Austrian-Hungarian warships Szent István and Viribus Unitis (1917, 1918); raids against the British naval bases of Souda Bay, Gibraltar and Alexandria (1940, 1941); sinking of the HMS Valiant, of the HMS Queen Elizabeth and of other Allied ships throughout WW2. After the war, the early U.S. Navy SEALs were partially trained and advised by former Italian frogmen...

  • The Brigada San Marco is the Italian Navy's Marine corps; the so-called Lagunari ("Lagoon Troopers") are under its jurisdiction but, actually, they're the amphibious troops of the Army. Their origins go back to the jolly good ol' times of the Republic of Venice, their "ancestors" being the 17th-century Fanti da Mar — that is, "Marine Infantry" in Venetian. They're still based in Veneto, more precisely at Mestre (near Venice). The current brigade is comprised of 2 Marine Regiments (Italy's only units of full size, the remaining ones in the Army are battalion sized), and a training and security regiment.

Equipment of the Italian Army

- Beretta AR70/90, standard-issue assault rifle, now being the replaced by the ARX-160.

- Beretta ARX160, the (newer) standard-issue assault rifle.

- M4 Carbine — 5.56 mm assault rifle

- Beretta 92FS — 9 x 19 mm pistol

- Minimi — 5.56 mm light machine gun

- MG42/59 — MG3 — 7.62 mm machine gun. In case you were wondering, yes, that's the one the Nazis used (and we love it as well).

- Franchi SPAS-15 — Shotgun

- Sako TGR-42 — .338 Lapua sniper rifle

- Barrett M82A1 — .50 BMG sniper rifle

- OD-82 — grenade. And a highly controversial model, at that.

- M203 — 40mm grenade grenade launcher

- Breda Folgore — Recoilless Gun

- Tirrena T-148/B — Flamethrower

- Panzerfaust 3 — Anti-tank rocket launcher

- MILAN 2T — Anti-tank guided missile

- Spike MR/LR — Anti-tank guided missile

- FIM-92 Stinger — Man-portable air-defence system

Combat Vehicles:

- Ariete ("Ram") Main Battle Tank

- B1 Centauro, Tank Destroyer (actually a reconnaissance vehicle which just happens to have the firepower of a MBT, and can pull double duty as a light tank. Copied by multiple armed forces around the world after proving its worth during peacekeeping missions in the 2000s).

- VBM Freccia ("Arrow"), Infantry Fighting Vehicle

- Puma 4x4/6x6 Wheeled Armoured Personnel Carrier/Recon Vehicle

- VTLM Lince ("Lynx"), Infantry Mobility Vehicle


- M109L, Self-Propelled Howitzer

- PzH2000, (same as above).

- FH70, Howitzer

- SIDAM 25, Self-Propelled AA weapon. Also known as "yet another relic of the Cold War the Army desperately needs to do away with".

- 120mm F1, Mortar

Equipment of the Italian Navy/Air Force

Italy's ever-upgrading Navy possesses also:

- Giuseppe Garibaldi — the country's first, and soon-to-be-retired, aircraft carrier.

- Cavour — another, newer, STOVL aircraft carrier (which will be equipped with F-35Bs "very soon").

- AV-8B Harrier IIs

The country's Air Force owns:

- Tornado IDS, an aging ground-attack aircraft to be replaced by the fabled F-35.

- AMX International AMX Ghibli, another good ol' jalopy scheduled to be scrapped "soon".

- Eurofighter Typhoon, multi-role fighter

- A-129 Mangusta ("Mongoose"), attack helicopter. The nickname's actually a contrived coincidence on the manufacturer's part, for a mongoose can kill a cobra...

- A few MQ-9 "Reaper", an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Designed to Blow Talibans Up From the Comfort of Your Own Bunk.

The Air Force was also notorious for holding to the F-104 Starfighter (and fielding the Italian-designed F-104S version) for a long time in spite of the fighter having very poor reliability (indeed, the indigenous version was developed specifically to correct the reliability issues. Being faster and capable of acting both as interceptor and fighter-bomber were just bonus). The last F-104S has been retired in 2004, being replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Conscription and other amenities

Since 1846, conscription is mandatory for every able-bodied citizen... despite it having been suspended (not abolished!) in 2005.

And since 1999, women too are allowed serve in the Army — to the delight of an entire generation of drill instructors.

The Forze Armate in fiction:

  • In Gunslinger Girl, most of the SWA's black ops personnel are either from the ranks of the Italian military, police or intelligence services. For instance, Amadeo and Giorgio are formerly with the Gruppo di Intervento Speciale before they were placed in Section 2 to support the cyborg operators in the field when needed. The Croce brothers were ex-Carabinieri officers stationed with the Tuscania Regiment. Raballo was also ex-Carabinieri with GIS forced to retire due to a leg injury when his rifle misfired (anime)/pistol misfired (manga).
  • In Jormungand, R used to be with the Italian Army's Bersaglieri during the 1990s in Bosnia as a UN peacekeeper before Koko recruited him. And he became a double agent working for the CIA.
  • In the Rainbow Six series, Antonio Maldini is with GIS prior to his Rainbow assignment.
    • In EndWar, he is a Colonel with the European Federation Army's Battlegroup 4 and is their commanding officer.
    • In Rainbow Six Siege, defensive operators Maestro and Alibi both are drawn to Rainbow from the GIS.
    • In the original Tom Clancy novels (introduced in The Bear and the Dragon), an Italian Carabineri named Ettore Falcone was recruited to Rainbow because at one point, his wife was killed by the Mafia during a shootout and avenged his wife's death by putting down the killers who were the sons of a high-ranking mafia boss. Because the Italian government feared that his potential rampage against the mob might spark another war between the mafia and the police, he was seconded to Rainbow for his own safety. He is said to be the best marksman in the Rainbow team.
  • In World in Conflict, the Italian military is represented by their A-129 Mangusta attack helicopters as part of the NATO faction.
  • The Royal Italian Army is a playable faction in Battlefield 1 for the Allies side, in which they fight against the Austro-Hungarians.
  • Isonzo features the Royal Italian Army as the only Allied faction in-game, with their opponents being the Austro-Hungarian Army. As the game's name suggests, it's set entirely on World War I's Italian Front, during the titular battles of the same name.
  • Sniper Elite III: Amongst the Axis Troops that Karl Fairburne encounters are soldiers of the Italian Army, who serve as additional manpower for their German counterparts. They return in Sniper Elite 4, serving in a similar capacity.
  • Season 5 DLC of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) features a former Col Moschin member Sergio "Morte" Sulla as part of the Warcom subfaction lineup.

The Polizia in fiction:

  • In Gunslinger Girl, Marco was with the Polizia di Stato's Criminal Police Central Directorate, plus he had combat experience with NOCS. Priscilla was an ex-officer with the Guardia di Finanza.


Video Example(s):


Fanfara dei Bersaglieri

Bersaglieri are special light infantry and sharpshooter units of the Italian Army. They're distinguished by the capercaillie feathers on their hats and practice running instead of marching.

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