Italian Volunteers in the Waffen SS
The enlistment of Italian soldiers in various units of the Waffen SS began soon after 25 July 1943, with the fall of Fascism and the removal of Benito Mussolini as head of the government. In the midst of the disorder and the climate of disintegration that gripped the country, many Italian soldiers decided to continue to fight alongside their German ally, foremost being members of the Militia, who voluntarily presented themselves to the German military commands. It was clear to everyone that the new Italian government, presided over by Marshal Badoglio, was ready to betray the Germans and sell itself to the Allies. News began to filter in to SS-Reichsführer Himmler from various places of the influx of Italian volunteers to SS military commands. For example, on 28 July 1943, numerous Italian soldiers belonging to the Fascist Militia in Zagreb, reported to the local German command, asking specifically to be enlisted in the Waffen SS. A few days later there was news of similar episodes at headquarters in the South Tyrol; even there many members of the Militia were reporting in to training centers as volunteers that had been set up for ethnic German South Tyroleans, who based on agreements between Hitler and Mussolini could choose to enlist in German units. Despite the fact that official historiography has always spoken of Himmler’s diffidence toward the Italian volunteers and his conviction that the Italians were not good fighters, the SS-Reichsführer quickly issued orders to welcome them as best as possible and saw to it that they were accorded special treatment. To be sure, Himmler did not have a great love for the Italians, but after having accepted volunteers from every corner of Europe and Asia into his Waffen SS, he certainly did not want to miss the opportunity to organize SS units with members of the Fascist Militia who had immediately shown their desire to continue to fight against their old enemies. During the following weeks, reports of Italian units that asked to continue to fight alongside the Germans multiplied, as a result of which on 31 August Himmler sent a secret message to a number of recruitment centers in which the specified the behavior to assume with respect to Italian volunteers: an important distinction was quickly made, as Army soldiers were to be incorporated into Wehrmacht units while members of the Fascist Militia were to serve in the Waffen SS.
To be continued