The Italian Co-belligerent Army (Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano), Army of the South (Esercito del Sud), or Italian Liberation Corps (Corpo Italiano di Liberazione) were names applied to various division sets of the now former Royal Italian Army during the period when it fought alongside the Allies during World War II from October 1943 onwards. During the same period, the pro-allied Italian Royal Navy and Italian Royal Air Force were known as the Italian Co-belligerent Navy and Italian Co-belligerent Air Force respectively. From September 1943, pro-Axis Italian forces became the National Republican Army of the newly formed Italian Social Republic.
The Italian Co-belligerent Army was the result of the Allied armistice with Italy on 8 September 1943; King Victor Emmanuel III dismissed Benito Mussolini as Prime Minister in July 1943 following the Allied invasion of Southern Italy, and nominated Marshal of Italy (Maresciallo d'Italia) Pietro Badoglio instead, who later aligned Italy with the Allies to fight the Social Republic's forces and its German allies in Northern Italy.
The Italian Co-belligerent Army fielded between 200,000 and 260,000 troops in the Italian Campaign, of whom 20,000 (later augmented to 50,000) were combat troops and between 150,000 and 190,000 were auxiliary and support troops. On the whole, the Italian Co-Belligerent Army made up 1/8 of the fighting force and 1/4 of the entire force of 15th Army Group of the Allied Forces.
The progenitor to the Co-belligerent Army, the Primo Raggruppamento Motorizzato (First Motorized Combat Group) was created on 26 September 1943 in San Pietro Vernotico, Brindisi, based on elements of the "Legnano" and Messina Divisions. Some of the soldiers who reported had managed to evade capture and internment by German forces. The unit was composed of 295 officers and 5,387 men and was created to participate alongside the Allies against Germany in the Italian Campaign. The unit was commanded by General Vincenzo Dapino who led it during its first engagement in the Battle of San Pietro Infine in December the same year. This action did much to remove the Allied distrust of Italian soldiers fighting on their side. The unit suffered heavy casualties and was judged to perform satisfactorily.
Following the service with the American Fifth Army and reorganization, command of the Primo Raggruppamento Motorizzato was put under General Umberto Utili and the unit was transferred to the Polish II Corps on the extreme left of the British Eighth Army. In early 1944 the unit was re-organised and expanded into the Italian Liberation Corps.
On 17 April 1944, the formation (now 22,000 men strong) assumed the name Italian Liberation Corps (Corpo Italiano di Liberazione, or CIL). The continuous influx of volunteers made it necessary to form further formations. The CIL was organized in two new divisions: The "Nembo" and the "Utili." The "Nembo" Division was formed around the old Royal Army's parachute division of the same name. The "Utili" Division was formed around the First Motorized Combat Group and was named after its commander, General Umberto Utili. In early 1944, a 5,000 man force of Italians fought on the Gustav Line around Monte Cassino and acquitted itself well. The Italians once again suffered heavy casualties.
After the battle of Filottrano (July 1944), Italian troops were sent to the rear lines to rest and re-train. In the meantime they were re-kitted with standard British/Commonwealth equipment including Battle Dress uniforms and helmets (mostly new and not taken off corpses as hearsay sometimes has it).
By early 1945 the CIL had outgrown itself. It was used as the nucleus for six separate Combat Groups (Gruppi di Combattimento): "Cremona", "Legnano", "Friuli", "Mantova", "Piceno", and "Folgore". Each Combat Group was the equal to a weak division and was equipped with British uniforms, materiel and weapons. The established strength for each was 432 officers, 8,578 other rank, 116 field guns, 170 mortars, 502 light machine guns, and 1,277 motor vehicles. The Combat Groups were given the names of old Royal Army divisions and followed the component numbering system of the component regiments to some extent. These groups were attached to various American and British formations on the Gothic Line. The following is the "order of battle" of the Italian Co-belligerent Army as of April 1945.
The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces High Command was Marshal Giovanni Messe, while the Chief of Staff of the Army was Lieutenant General Paolo Berardi.
Each infantry regiment fielded three infantry battalions, a mortar company armed with British ML 3 inch mortars and an anti-tank company armed with British QF 6 pounder guns. The artillery regiments consisted of four artillery groups with British QF 25 pounder guns, one anti-tank group with British QF 17 pounder guns and one anti-air group armed with British versions of the Bofors 40mm gun.
In addition to the Combat Groups the Italian Co-belligerent Army included also a force of 8 Auxiliary Divisions (Divisioni Ausiliarie, largely intended to perform labouring and second lined duties), around 150,000-190,000 men strong, largely employed by the Allies in various support and logistical activities, those auxiliary units were the following:
Not directly dependent from the Allied Headquarters in Italy the Co-Belligerent Army also deployed three Internal Security Divisions (Divisioni di Sicurezza Interna) for internal security duties:
The Italian Liberation Corps suffered 1,868 killed and 5,187 wounded during the Italian campaign; the Italian Auxiliary Divisions lost 744 men killed, 2,202 wounded and 109 missing. Some sources estimate the overall number of members of the Italian regular forces killed on the Allied side as 5,927.