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17th Infantry Division "Pavia" (Italian: 17° Divisione Autotrasportabile "Pavia") was an auto-transportable 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 as a formation. It was almost destroyed during the Second Battle of El Alamein.[2] The Pavia was classified as an auto-transportable division, meaning staff and equipment could be transported on cars and trucks, although not simultaneously.

17th Infantry Division Pavia[1]
17a Divisione Fanteria Pavia.png
Unit insignia
CountryKingdom of Italy
AllegianceAxis powers
BranchRoyal Italian Army
Part ofItalian XX Corps (1940–1941)
Italian X Corps (1941–1942)
Nickname(s)I Verdi di Gorizia (The Greens of Gorizia)
EngagementsWorld War II
Operation Compass
Battle of Agedabia
Battle of El Mechili
Siege of Tobruk
Battle of Gazala
Operation Crusader
Second Battle of El Alamein



The Pavia Brigade originated 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 became 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 fought until November 1942, when it has surrendered near the El Alamein. After the Second World War the 28th Infantry Regiment Pavia was reorganized with its headquarters in Pesaro. The Regiment is still in existence and is now specialized in PsyOps.

North Africa CampaignEdit

Advance from Tunisia to TobrukEdit

The Pavia division was originally deployed 10 June 1940 on the Tunisian-Libian border and stayed on the same positions until 25 June 1940, when it was ordered to move to the Tripoli, Libia to perform the coastal defence in the Sabratha-Surman sector.[3] By March, 1941, it was transferred closer to the Benghazi to participate in the Axis counter-attack of March–April 1941. Under Major-General Pietro Zaglio it attacked via the Balbia coast road from Ajdabiya on 31 March 1941, driving the Australian 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. On 8 April General Michael Gambier-Perry surrendered to Axis forces. In the aftermath of the counter-attack, the elements of the Pavia division were placed in Sirte area to defend an airfield near the Wādī Thāmit. The bulk of forces has continued an advance to reach the Derna, Libya and Martuba by 22 May 1941. In June, 1941, it started to participate in the Siege of Tobruk, and was involved in often intense action from highly aggressive Australian probing attacks.

Allies counter-attack under TobrukEdit

On 19 November 1941 a British column of tanks tried to move westwards towards the track that ran up from Bi’r al Ghabī to Al Adm, but encountered infantry of the Pavia Division and were forced to turn back.[4] 23 November 1941, the British 70th Infantry Division, supported by 60 tanks[5] broke through part of the nearby 25 Semi-Motorised Division Bologna. The Pavia containing the enemy breakthrough. 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.,[6] weakening the position of Pavia division. Further British attacks were launched on the positions of the Pavia division 3–4 December 1941. On the 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 the Pavia managed a brief but competent defence.[7] The heavy rearguard action has continued from 7 December 1941, until 16 December 1941. The Pavia division rearguard was annihilated 14 December 1941, when the New Zealand 22 Battalion encountered weak resistance from the Pavia Division, apart from two brief counterattacks, and under the cover of darkness took the rearguard position and 382 Italian prisoners at a cost of 3 killed and 27 wounded.[8] On 15 December, the bulk of the Pavia on the Gazala Line fought against the attacking 2nd New Zealand Division and Independent Polish Brigade, managing to hold their lines after a poor initial beginning (with the loss of some hundreds taken prisoner),[9] allowing a strong German armoured force to counterattack and overrun the 1st Battalion, The Buffs, (Royal East Kent Regiment).[10]

From this point, retreat of the Pavia division has become faster. 17 December 1941, it fought at Timimi 70 km west of Tobruk, then on the Mechili-Derna, Libya line. The retreat route has passed through the Marj, Benghazi, Ajdabiya, finally reaching El Agheila 24 December, from south-west of which it began to fortify at Bir es Suera on the southern bank of Al Wādī al Fārigh. At this point, the British advance was halted due logistics problems following a rapid advance, giving the Pavia division a quiet time.

From Libya to EgyptEdit

The Pavia division has started to advance gradually from late January, 1942, reaching the initial positions west of Tobruk 26 May 1942. 28–29 May 1942, it helped to encircle residual British forces at Tobruk and `Ayn al Ghazālah. During the Battle of Gazala, the Pavia were used in a mopping up role, taking charge of 6,000 Allied prisoners on 16 June 1942.[11] 27 June 1942, it reached Bardīyah and continued to advance for Al Sellum and ultimately Sidi Barrani. 1 July 1942, the Pavia division has reached the Dayr al Abyaḑ, south of El Alamein. The division was the part 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 132nd Armoured Division Ariete where it had an isolated, limited defensive success.[12] A few elements of the Pavia along with the Brescia put up a stubborn defence on Ruweisat Ridge on the night of 14–15 July,[13] allowing a German armoured force to arrive in time the next day to deliver a counterattack against the attacking New Zealand infantry and British armour.[14] Captain Amalio Stagni and Corporal Ugo Vaia of the Pavia would each win the Medaglia d'Argento al Valore Militare for their leadership during the action on Ruweisat Ridge. The advance when stalled until 30 August 1942, but attempts to advance were largely beaten back as the Italian supplies has dwindled.

During the Second Battle of El Alamein, one battalion of the Pavia Division fought alongside the Folgore Parachute Division. It has commenced an attack 24 October 1942, on Qārat al Ḩumaymāt, taking over Naqb al Ralah over the steep El Diffa plateau edge, but failed to hold the majority of the plateau positions after the Allied counter-attack. The British attacks intensified and 3 November 1942, the Pavia division was ordered to retreat from the plateau to the Qattara Depression. At the end of the battle, the Pavia along with the other two divisions of the Italian X Corps were abandoned without transport (mostly useless anyway because of the harsh landscape on the division retreat route) by the rest of the Axis forces as they retreated from El Alamein to Fūkah and Mersa Matruh on 4 November 1942. The Pavia division has tried to follow the suit, but lost its rearguard at Deir el Nuss to the Allied armoured units. As the result, the Pavia division has suffered heavy losses while on march to the Fūkah. 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 7 November 1942.[15] The Pavia division was officially dissolved 25 November 1942.

Order of battleEdit

Coat of Arms of the 27th Infantry Regiment "Pavia", 1939

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 2] 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. ^ 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. ^ a b 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 3 May 2009.
  3. ^ "Regio Esercito - Divisione Pavia". Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  4. ^ Operation Crusader 1941: Rommel in Retreat, Ken Ford, p. 40, Osprey Publishing, 2010
  5. ^ Das Afrika Korps: Erwin Rommel and the Germans in Africa, 1941–43, By Franz Kurowski, pg. 111, Stackpole Books (March 2010)
  6. ^ Combat: The War with Germany, World War II, By Don Congdon, Page 131, Dell Pub. Co., 1963
  7. ^ "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
  8. ^ "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
  9. ^ "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
  10. ^ The Bologna Division: 19 November – 10 December, 1941 By David Aldea & Joseph Peluso, Comando Supremo: Italy at War.
  11. ^ "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)
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ '"While the attacking brigades had been able to cut large gaps through the defences held by 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
  14. ^ '"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
  15. ^ "Axis Runs". Ottawa Citizen. 7 November 1942. pp. 1 & 10.
  • 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.