One for the Wargamers – OOB of Italian 21 Army Corps

Below a table showing how the Italian 21 Army Corps was structured for the attack on Tobruk, dated 18 November 1941. My thanks to Michele who found this in the Italian archives.

The corps was commanded by General Enea Navarini, who unlike many other Italian commanders remained with his command from 1941 to 1943. It was a relatively powerful formation, with over 200 field and medium guns, and 19 rifle battalions and a good number of support battalions. For the attack, the Corps was subordinated to Panzergruppe Afrika, together with the D.A.K., and it was supposed to play a crucial role in the attack, and had been reinforced for this, e.g. by the addition of the 31st Assault Engineer Battalion. It is however of note that while it had a lot of guns, most of them were quite out of date, with design dates for guns ranging back to 1890. Furthermore, the light guns of the Italian infantry divisions simply could not deliver the weight of fire and/or range required to support typical combat in World War 2. Nevertheless, it had substantial firepower, and if a troop of British tanks were to encounter the truck-mounted naval 76/40 guns, it probably wouldn’t have made the tank commanders feel better to know that it was first designed in 1898.

A WW1 vintage 152/37mm heavy gun being transported on a trailer in North Africa. This was a standard mode of transport for guns which had not been modernised with rubber wheels between the wars. Note that this form of transport did nothing to the mobility and agility of the guns. Source: Wikipedia

Italian Artillery Positions, Tobruk, 18 Nov 1941.

Italian Artillery Positions, Tobruk, 18 Nov 1941. Roman numerals are the Group, Arabic the Regiment. Trento and Bologna sectors only. Red line indicates position of main defensive line. Source: Attachments to War Diary of Corps Artillery Command, 21 Army Corps (Click on the link to open better picture in new window)

While it may appear weak in anti-tank (47mm Boehler) and anti-air (20mm Breda) guns, these were part of the support battalions in infantry regiments, so the Corps as a whole would have been reasonably well equipped with these weapons, although the Corps had only a very small floating reserve for allocation in critical situations, and none left once that had been parcelled out prior to the attack taking place.

It lacked armour however, and in fact for its role in the attack on Tobruk requested a German medium tank company in support. Nevertheless, as a operations in October around the seizure of the Bir el Azazi had shown, armour was quickly brought up from the frontier in support of operations around Tobruk.

A note on the number of guns – this is always an extrapolation by me, assuming 4-gun batteries (bty) were standard throughout. More importantly though, in a few cases I also had to make assumptions on the number of batteries in a group (I assume it’s always 3 batteries/group). I would welcome corrections on this. Some other questions I would be interested in are the number of companys (coys) and tanks in V Light Tank Battalion, and the number of companies in XXXI Assault Engineer Battalion. I also assumed that both Regia Marina units were equipped with truck-mounted guns.

Order of Battle 21 Army Corps 18 November 1941
Command Level/Unit

Type

Strength

 

Guns

Comment

Origin

Corps Troops
VI Group Lancieri Aosta Cavalry Machine Gun Squadrons          
V Battalion Carri ‘L’ CV33 Light Tanks          
IV Battalion Carri ‘L’ dto 2 coys        
Corps Artillery
16 Corps Artillery Regiment XV Group 105/28 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
  XLIV Group 105/28 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
  XLIX Group 105/28 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
5 Artillery Regiment 149/35 XX Group 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
  XXI Group 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
  XXII Group 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
8 Artillery Regiment XXXIII Group 149/40 3 bty  

12

Modern Italian
  LII Group 152/37 2 Bty  

8

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
  CXXXI Group 149/28 2 Bty  

8

Modern German
  CXLVII Group 149/28 2 Bty  

8

Modern German
Mixed Regiment XIX Group 149/35 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
  Group 120 Regia Marina 3 SP bty  

12

Obsolete British
Corps Engineers
XXXI Battalion Guastatori Assault Engineers 3 coys        
X Battalion Artieri Pioneers 1 Coy        
Services            
LXV Battalion Collegamenti Signals 1 coy+        
Pavia Infantry Division            
Various units            
Two motorised ambulances            
Pavia Infantry Division
Divisional Command            
Infantry 27 Inf Regiment 2 rifle batt        
    1 support batt        
  28 Infantry Regiment As 27 Regiment        
  XVII Battalion a.a. e c.c. Support        
Artillery 26 Artillery Regiment I Group 100/17 3 bty

12

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
    III Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
Engineers XVII Mixed Engineer Batt.          
Services            
Reinforcements 3 Light Artillery Regiment II Group 75/27 2 bty

8

Obsolete German
    III Group 75/27 2 bty

8

Obsolete German
    2 batteries 20mm        
  24 Corps Artillery Regiment I Group 105/28  

12

Obsolete Italian
  36 battery 65/17    

4

Obsolete Italian
  90 battery 65/17    

4

Obsolete Italian
  XXXI Batt. Guastatori 2 coys        
  XXVII Batt. Artieri 1 Coy        
Bologna Infantry Division
Divisional Command            
Infantry 39 Infantry Regiment 2 rifle batt        
    1 support batt        
  40 Infantry Regiment 2 rifle batt        
  III/40: 2 platoons 20mm        
    1 platoon 47mm        
    1 MG platoon        
    1 81mm platoon        
  XXV Battalion
a.a. e c.c.
Support        
Artillery 205 Artillery Regiment I Group 100/17 3 bty

12

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
    III Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
    IV Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
    1 battery 20mm        
    1 battery 47mm        
Engineers XVII Mixed Engineer Batt.          
Services            
Reinforcements 24 Corps Artillery Regiment II Group 105/28  

12

Obsolete Italian
  XXXI Batt. Guastatori 2 coys        
  XXVII Batt. Artieri “Sabratha” 1 Coy        
  1 battery 20mm “Brescia”          
Brescia Infantry Division
Divisional Command            
Infantry 19 Inf Regiment 3 rifle batt        
    1 coy 81mm        
    1 bty 65/17  

4

   
  20 Infantry Regiment 3 rifle batt        
    1 coy 81mm        
    1 bty 65/17  

4

   
Artillery 1 Light Artillery Regiment III Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
    IV Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
    1 battery 20mm        
Engineers XXVII Mixed Engineer Batt.          
Services            
Reinforcements   1 Group 100/17  

12

Obsolete Italian
  340 Guardia Alla Frontiera 1 Group 77/28  

12

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
  858 Bty Guardia Alla Frontiera 1 bty 149/12  

4

Obsolete German
Trento Motorised Infantry Division
Divisional Command            
Infantry 61 Infantry Regiment 2 rifle batt        
    1 support batt        
  62 Infantry Regiment As 61 Inf Rgt        
  7 Bersaglieri Regiment 2 motorised battalions        
  DLI Battalion a.a. e c.c. Support        
Artillery 46 Artillery Regiment I Group 100/17 3 bty

12

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
    III Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
    IV Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
    1 battery 20mm        
Engineers LI Mixed Engineer Batt.          
Services            
Reinforcements 340 Guardia Alla Frontiera 1 Group 77/28  

12

Obsolete Italian
  1 battery 76/40 Regia Marina 1 SP bty  

4

Obsolete British
  IX Group 105/28 “Trieste” 1 Group  

12

Obsolete Italian
Artillery Strength

Number of Guns 100mm or above calibre

 

220

   

Of which no. of Guns 149mm or above

 

88

   

Number of guns 65mm to 77mm calibre

 

144

   

Source: Attachments to the War Diary 21 Army Corps, Ufficio Storico Esercito

Command Conference, HQ of 21 Italian Army Corps, El Adem, 21 Nov. 1941, from left:
Seated: General Enea Navarini, Commander 21 Army Corps, General Rommel, Commander Panzergruppe
Standing: Unknown, Colonel Diesener, German Liason Officer to 21 Corps, Unknown, General Gause, Chief of Staff Panzergruppe – Source: Bundesarchiv, Wikipedia

2 thoughts on “One for the Wargamers – OOB of Italian 21 Army Corps

  1. Hi Andreas, let me start by saying that this website is an excellent resource and I hope you continue posting new information in the long term.

    I hope I’m not being nitpicky, but the text notes the XXI Corps had 19 rifle battalions. By the counts in the table and by my own OOB research, it looks like there were 20 rifle battalions. This could just be a typo, but one rifle battalion that seems to either exist or not exist is the III/19 in Brescia. Some forums show 19th Regiment with only 2 rifle battalions and others with 3. Some note that III/19 was assigned to Pavia in December 1941. I don’t know if this contributes to the miscount (but if III/19 was with Pavia and Pavia was still with XXI Corps then the total would’ve still been 20 rifle battalions total).

    Thanks

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