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The birth of the assault units represented for the Italian Army an element of absolute innovation. Before then, selected troops had been used for tasks of particular difficulty, but always remaining within their original units. On the contrary, in June 1917, with the first Arditi units, born within the 2nd Army, a corps was created, conceived and realized “to change the organization of the offensive battle” (Giorgio Rochat), in a Moment when it was essential to keep the ranks tight and to reinvigorate the morale of an army that was anything but cohesive. The innovation in the training of the new unit were decidedly advanced by the standards of the common army: Japanese wrestling, fencing and dagger lessons, horseback riding and swimming courses and, finally, simulations of real assaults carried out under artillery fire. The soldier, in this way, was fully prepared both morally and technically, making him a new type of fighter. The motto “live dangerously” was the philosophy of this new soldier. As it has been noted by Luigi Balsamini, the Ardito was “the component of a rustic corporation of those devoted to death” and, this last, was intended as the “extreme limit of destiny”. The recruitment of the men took place on a mixed basis, in order to compensate the voluntary thrusts with the real need of the war machine. From a political point of view, however, most of the Arditi came from the ranks of democratic and revolutionary interventionism. The hard was training to which they were subjected was compensated by a lesser discipline and by a series of benefits: they were exempted from the shifts in the trenches and from the corvèe, they received extra pay and better food, they could enjoy premium leave and, finally, they were provided with a particular uniform that exalted even at first glance their diversity from the rest of the troop.

From August 16, 1917 the soldiers of the assault units wore by regulation the black two - pointed insignia, from which derived the term “black flames” with which the Arditi were from then on distinguished. The choice of black is believed to be a tribute of Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Giuseppe Bassi, one of the creators of Italian arditismo both in terms of training and the establishment of the departments themselves, to his great - grandfather Fortunato Calvi, one of the “Martyrs of Belfiore”, who used to wear a black tie, a conventional sign of recognition among the Venetian Carbonari. The black color was also the one that distinguished the pennants of the assault units. With the name “black flames” were called the assault units “original”, of autonomous birth and that counted among its ranks, in particular, volunteers from the infantry. However, black was not the only color of the Arditi. The Ardite units that came from the Bersaglieri as voluntary recruiting base kept the crimson color for their insignia becoming the “crimson flames”, as well as those that came from the Alpine troops took the name of “green flames”, also keeping the Alpine hat as opposed to the other assault units that had adopted the fez. After the creation of the first training nucleus within the 2nd Army, based in Sdricca di Manzano, the other armies of the Royal Army also set up a school for assault units. The 3rd Army established it in Borgnano, near Cormons, where the XVIII, XIX, XXI and XXI assault units (later renumbered respectively XXVIII, XXIII, XI, XIII, and VIII on the basis of the corps to which they were assigned) were formed.The 4th Army trained at the school of Zortea (not far from Fiera di Primiero) the V, VI, VII and VIII assault units (later renumbered in May 1918 as XXVII, IX, XXX and VI). The 1st Army, at the school of Campo Jolanda in Val d’Astico, the XXIV XVI and IV (Val Posina), (then renumbered in May 1918 X, XXV, XXVI) and IX (Val Posina) then merged into the XVI. The 6th Army formed the XXIII, later renumbered XXIX, based in Val Lagarina.

At the right moment the Arditi were accompanied to the front line and they were entrusted with the task of the surprise assault. Armed with daggers, hand grenades and 1891 muskets, their missions were often greeted with explosions of barbaric joy. During the summer of 1917, the most important action carried out by the Arditi units was the conquest of Monte San Gabriele, north east of Gorizia. Their fame, after the rout of Caporetto, acquired new vigor with the beginning of 1918 when the Arditi conquered the Valbella, the Col Rosso and the Col d’Echele making numerous prisoners. In the following months the fame of the Arditi grew considerably, gaining a prestige that, in any case, went beyond their actual role in the fate of war. At the end of the conflict the constituted assault units were about fifty and framed a number of men oscillating between 30 and 35 thousand units. Some units, after the armistice, were sent on missions in Libya and Albania. Between the end of 1920 and the beginning of 1921 all the assault units were officially disbanded causing a lot of controversy that also had political aftermath in the following years.

Traduzione di Ethan Finn Hopkins, in collaborazione con il Liceo Linguistico Internazionale C. Boldrini di Bologna, marzo 2022.