Italian Expeditionary Force in Russia

    CSIR card

    Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia

    Germany invaded Russia on 22 June 1941. Four days later 60,000 Italian soldiers were parading in Verona on their way to Russia. Mussolini boasted that his troops were superior to the Germans in men and equipment. This force was named the "Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia, C.S.I.R." (Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia).

    The CSIR was composed of three divisions. The semi-Motorized Divisions: "Pasubio" (two infantry regiments, 79th and 80th and the 8th artillery regiment). The "Torino" (the 81st and 82nd regiment, plus 52nd Artillery Regiment). The Cavalry Division "Principe Amadeo Duca d'Aosta" also known as the "Celere" (two mounted cavalry regiments plus the Bersaglieri Regiment, a light tank group, an artillery regiment and service units).

    Later a fourth division composed of Fascist personnel who were accustomed to wearing black shirts was added. This division was called the 63rd Assault Legion M Tagliamento. The CSIR was attached to the German 11th Army, which followed the German forces through the Ukraine, mainly on foot. The C.S.I.R. was tasked the responsibility of taking certain strategic sectors of the Dnieper region. By March 1942, the C.S.I.R. was dissolved to form the XXXV Corps.


    VIII Corpo d'Armata

    The newly arrived Divisions Sforzesca, Ravenna and Cosseria made up the II Corps. The German 294th and 62nd Infantry Divisions were attached to what became known as the Italian 8th Army.



    CSIR card

    "No march on Moscow without the march on Rome."

    In July 1942, General Italo Gariboldi took over command of the 8th Army. Mussolini also sent two Blackshirt Brigades the "3 Gennaio and 23 Marzo."

    In August 1942, the Italian 8th Army was restructured and organized as the following corps:
    the II Italian Corps composed of the Ravenna and Cosseria Divisions, with the "23 Marzo Brigade."
    The XXXV Italian Corps had the Pasubio, Sforzesca and Celere Divisions and 3rd Gennaio Brigade.
    The XXIX German Corps had the 294th and 62nd Infantry Divisions and the Italian Torino Division.
    In September 1942, the elite Alpine Corps arrived to the Eastern Front, which had the Cuneense, Julia and Tridentina Divisions. The purpose of the elite Alpine Units was to support the German Mountain troops fighting in the Caucasus region.



    CSIR card

    Interesting propaganda card mailed by a member of the Pasubio Division illustrating drawing images of Alpini troops fighting in the harsh winter climate of the Eastern Front.

    As was expected on 16 December 1942, the Soviets launched "Operation Small Saturn." Prepared for the attack were four Soviet Armies, with a total of 425,426 men, 1030 tanks and almost 5000 artillery guns.

    The main blow was delivered by the Soviets 6th, 1st Guards and 3rd Guards Armies against the Italian 8th Army. The Italian 8th Army Corps crumbled immediately, leaving the German and elite Alpine Corps stranded.
    The Alpine Corps fought courageously, but was overwhelmed by the Russians. The remnants of the Italian 8th Army was destroyed and left a huge gap in the Don defenses. The Italians lost 3010 officers and 81,820 men who were either killed or missing in action.
    In addition some 28,400 men were wounded or frostbitten. The 8th Army also lost all their heavy weapons, which included 100% of their tanks, 90% of their artillery and 80% of their anti-tank and motorize transportation. With the destruction of the Italian 8th Army and their Romanian and Hungarian Army counterparts, the German relief forces of Army Group "Hoth" could not reached Stalingrad and save the trapped German 6th Army. By early January 1943, Field Marshal von Paulus surrendered his forces to the Russians.

    In January 1943, the remaining Italian survivors regrouped and set up defensive positions in the Ukraine but they were sent back to Italy. The last forces returned to Italy by early May 1943.

    Legion

    Very nice written letter from the Legione Tagliamento.

    Declaration/Certification from a Superior Officer that the soldier has been wounded during a fire that occurred in a military facility. Declaration has C.S.I.R. seal and sign by the Comander of the Legione Tagliamento.

    Italian CSIR Postal History

    CSIR Posta Militare

    On 5 July 1941, a Special Military Postal Service for the East was created for the CSIR, which was set up in Cremona and was later transferred to Brescia, Italy. Postcards and covers up to 250gms were free of charge to all military personnel.

    Mail coming from the Eastern Front, was usually transported by truck and rail. Postal military mail returning to Italy was handled under the direction of a special military force in Russia called "l'Intendenza Speciale Est" (the section of finance and logistics in the East) designated under Posta Militare 102, located in Bucharest, Budapest, Belzy and Krivoi Rog. Mail was then sent to a concentrated military postal site in Bologna, Italy (PM 3200), where it was dispatched to and from the front to various locations for distribution.

    Because of the shear amount of mail returning and going from the Eastern Front, other branches of "Intendenza" military units were assigned to handle mail from different occupied regions in Russia. Initially during 1941, it took 30-40 days for packages and up to 60 days for mail to reach the front.

    CSIR mail



    The field post above were mailed by C.S.I.R. servicemen. On the top you'll see a card with the "C.S.I.R." purple color markings. Next to it is a very rare card that was mailed from Russia. The card commemorates the Pasubio Division in Russia.

    By spring 1942, the service became more efficient and regular service was reduced to 12-15 days. On 15 August 1941, airmail service was added. Airmail service was initially collected at Krivoi Rog and Dniepropetrovsk, Ukraine. Usually mail from the front was transported by rail or truck to military airfields located in Russia, which was then picked up by military aircraft and transported to the logistic sections (PM 88/102). From there a commercial Airline "Ala Littoria" was used to transport mail to the homeland. All such letters had to be submitted for censorship. Sealing tapes with the word "VERIFICATO PER CENSURA" were applied to envelopes that were opened. In addition some mail were censored with a double ring circular cancel.

    8th Army mail



    On top you'll see a Posta Militare cover from "PM-108" an artillery battalion of the Alpini Army Command Corps. This cover was mailed via the commercial airline "Ala Littoria." Below is a Posta Militare air cover that was mailed by a soldier in the elite 3rd Italian Alpine Division "Julia." Notice the postal cancel was dated September 10, 1942, arriving just ten days to the Russian Front-lines. A month later this unit was overrun by Russian forces.

    Battalione M

    Illustrated is a scarce military airmail card dated September 1942 sent by a member of the elite Black Shirt volunteer 34th Battalion Mussolini.

    Note: I have a nice article relating to the C.S.I.R. & 8th Army military and postal history with list of military three digit postal numbers assigned to Italian units that fought on the Eastern Front as well as illustrations for those interested please contact me for details. There will be a small fee charged, which covers postage and handling.

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