The Savona division had been in North Africa since the start of the war. It was brought forward to help defend Tripolitania after Operation COMPASS, and then placed in the border defense position during late summer 1941. There it stayed, eventually commanding Sector East, the Halfaya Pass, Sollum, and the southern ring of defenses running west towards the Libyan border at Libyan Omar (Sector West was Bardia) until it had to surrender to 2nd South African Division on 17 January 1942 (ironically also the birthday of its commanding officer), when it had run out of food and water. The sector contained both German and Italian forces, but was under command of de Giorgis. Following its surrender, the division was not reformed.
General Officer Commanding – Fedele de Giorgis
The Savona division’s commander, General Fedele de Giorgis, was awarded the Ritterkreuz for the defense according to German records. He survived the war and later became commander of the Corps of Carabinieri in Italy. His biography is on the website of the Carabinieri, translated by me below.
It is of particular interest that the German commander of Sektor West accused de Giorgis of seeking excuses to surrender as quickly as possible. Rommel wasn’t having any of this, and strongly defended de Giorgis from these accusations. It turned out that de Giorgis defended his sector for more than two weeks after General Schmitt had surrendered Bardia. Panzergruppe Afrika was fully cognizant of the enormous contribution this defense had made to its ability to retreat, and regroup. Both commanders were awarded the Ritterkreuz in recognition of the defensive effort. A picture showing de Giorgis wearing the Ritterkreuz is used e.g. in the English Wikipedia, but is almost certainly a fake.
General de Georgis in an official Italian Army picture prior to 1942.
De Georgis was born at Chivasso (Torino) on 17 January 1887 and died in Rome on 4 February 1964. He entered the Military School at Modena on 3 November 1905, and become a Sub-Lieutenant in the 5th Alpini (Mountain Troops) Regiment on 5 September 1907, and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1910. Further promoted to Captain, he participated in World War I. He was again promoted to Major in 1917. In 1924 he joined the military mission in Ecuador for 10 years, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1926.
He was promoted to Colonel 2 March 1931, and in 1934 took command of the 7th Infantry Regiment “Cuneo” (an Alpini regiment). He was nominated as a Major General on 31 May 1940, and took command of the Alpini division “Julia”, following which he took command of the regular infantry 55th “Savona” Division with which he went into Empire captivity on his 55th birthday, 17 January 1942. Returning from captivity he was promoted to Lieutenant General, and from 16 May 1947 to 24 May 1950 took command as Commandant General of the Carabinieri, an independent arm of the Italian armed forces.
The major decoration he received was the Commander’s Cross of the Military Order of Savoia. He also was decorated with the Silver Medal and two Bronze Medals for Military Valor.
General de Giorgis as Commandant General of the Carabinieri. (Carabinieri.it)
Order of Battle 55th Infantry Division Savona (A.S. 40 Type), ca. September/October 1941
Three platoons 4.7cm anti-tank guns
1 platoon 2cm anti-aircraft machine guns
15th Infantry Regiment
One 81mm mortar company (6 mortars)
Three battalions (2nd battalion in Bardia)
Each battalion staff, three rifle companies with 12 light MGs each, and one support company with 18 4.5cm mortars and 8 anti-tank rifles.
16th Infantry Regiment
As 15th Regiment, 2nd battalion also in Bardia.
Additionally one 6.5cm infantry gun company with 5 guns.
Light tank company with 13x L33 tanks (sunk on transport)
12th Artillery Regiment
1st battalion (10cm howitzers) 1st and 2nd batteries (4/5 howitzers, respectively) sunk; 3rd battery of 4 howitzers in Naples.
2nd battalion (10.5cm guns), 3 batteries of four guns each 3rd battery in Naples
3rd battalion (7.5cm guns), 1st battery 6 guns, 2nd and 3rd 4 guns.
8th independent battery with 2 coastal defense guns of unknown calibre
27th independent battery with 6 coastal defense guns of unknown calibre
503rd and 504th independent battery with 8 coastal defense guns each of unknown calibre
55th Field Replacement Battalion with two companies (in Naples)
255th anti-tank battalion with 8 3.7cm and 4 4.7cm anti-tank guns
Pioneer and Signals Troops
127th Mixed Radio and Telephone Company
55th Specialist Engineers
Further signals troops in Naples
27th Bakery Detachment (motorised) Motorised V.A. Detachment Supply Columns
155th Mixed Supply Column (motorised)
45th Field Medical Detachment
75th Carabinieri Detachment (motorised)
Field Postal Services
55th Field Postal Detachment (motorised)
I would be interested in comments and corrections, and also further information on the coastal defense guns.
This order of battle is based on German records, and is likely to not be 100% accurate.
Most interesting and useful. I’ve been looking for an Italian unit history of this Division, but no luck so far. Judging from Rommel’s on-point placement of Savona pre-Crusader, and its apparently solid performance during the battle, this must have one of the better – if not the best – Italian infantry divisions.
Hi, and thanks for the comments. Your view appears to be confirmed by this:
All Italians captured on November 22 and 23 in the Omars belonged to the Savona Division and were reported to be tougher on the whole and better disciplined than the Italians of the Trento Division captured in December 1940 and June 1941. The prisoners were a well-clothed, well-disciplined group, who had put up a good fight and knew it. The 6 German and 52 Italian officers, as well as the 37 German technicians, were very bitter about their capture and would not speak.”
I very much doubt a unit history exists. Basically the division only fought in this battle, it was not involved in combat before. I do know that there is a memoir from one of the Colonels who served with the division, but it is only available in Italian.
All the best
I’d like the name of this officer and title of his book, if you have it; always on the lookout for f/h Italian material, and I have a good book source in-country. At present I’ve got an in-progress essay on CRUSADER going at my site – chaosandconspiracy.wordpress.com; so far only thru 20 November events, but it’ll grow, like the battle. Sometime you might take a look and give me a critique. You are way ahead of me on this topic, in fact I’m not a professional writer at all, but you may find it interesting. I’ll certainly read your book when it appears. Link-wise, I gave you one, and perhaps you could reciprocate; right now I’m getting hits, but from all the wrong places.
Off on holidays for a week – to Brescia and Trento funnily enough. Remind me week after next if I forget to be in touch.
Here you go: Verde A. – In Libia con i miei soldati, pp. 208, alcune ill., La Prora, 1971. Memorie di un colonnello della Divisione ‘Savona’.
My pleasure. Good luck finding a copy!
Nice bit of information here, thanks. I am in the course of designing a miniature wargame scenario for 21st New Zealand Battalion’s unsuccessful Nov. 22, 1941 attack on the Savona headquarters position at Bir Ghirba. There are two (at least) New Zealand accounts of this fight, available on-line, which you might find of interest: http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2Tobr-c8.html and http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-21Ba-c5.html.
De Fidelis as divisional commander? Are you sure that isn’t Generale di brigata Fedele di Giorgis? I believe Osprey’s book on Tobruk 1941 gives di Giorgis as 55th’s C.O. at the time of Crusader. The year before it was Pietro Maggiani (Nazfiger, Niehorster).
You account for one company of light tanks. An A.S.40 “truck moveable” (i.e. partly motorized) type division such as Savona would have an organic light tank battalion – all L3 tankettes (Nafziger, Niehorster). The New Zealand accounts say there were at least a few Italian “tanks” dug in at Bir Ghirba.
As you point out, the 2nd battalions of both 15th and 16th Infantry were part of the Bardia garrison (as were, probably, those coastal batteries you cite). The 1st and 3rd battalions of each regiment were distributed in strong-ponits along the Libya-Egypt border (the “Omars”, etc.), either alone or mixed with some German “Oases” and anti-tank units.
Again, I am glad to have found your web page. Keep plugging away!
Many thanks for the kind words, and glad you find it useful. I meant Fedele de Giorgis. Brain short circuit on my part. Thanks for pointing that out.
All the best
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