Italiani brava gente (Attack and Retreat) (1999)



Director:  Giuseppe De Santis

Starring:  Arthur Kennedy (Ferro Maria Ferri), Zhanna Prokhorenko (Katya), Raffaele Pisu (Gabrielli), Tatyana Samojlova (Sonya), Andrea Checchi (Sermonti), Riccardo Cucciolla (Sanna), Valeri Somov (Giuliani), Peter Falk (Medic Captain), Nino Vingelli (Amalfitano), Lev Prygunov (Bazzocchi), Grigori Mikhajlov (Russian Partisan), I. Paramonov (German Deserter), Gino Pernice (Collidi), Boris Kozhukhov (Major), Vincenzo Polizzi (Sicilian).

Country:  Italian film dubbed in English

Black and white movie, 140 minutes.


This is an o.k. movie.  Not bad, but not really good either.  (The quality of the picture was not the greatest.)

The movie deals with the Italian fight and aftermath at the Battle of the Don during the larger campaigns focusing in and around the Battle of Stalingrad. 

The movie follows a group of Italian soldiers as they, via train, enter into the vast wheat and sunflower fields of the Soviet Union until the total defeat of the Italian Army.  It soon draws a contrast between the brutality of the German soldier and system and the Italian soldier.  The Italians are lax toward the civilians compared to the rigid Germans who are much more likely to kill civilians.  The Germans are somewhat contemptuous of the Italians, referring to them as "romantic."  And the Italians soldiers feel the Germans are too rigid and too eager to kill civilians. 

The cover for the movie stresses that Peter Falk is the main star.  But he only plays a small role of an Italian soldier pretending he is a doctor so that he can receive better treatment in the army.

The movie follows the Italian unit into the Battle of the Don and its aftermath.  The Italians and the Germans suffer terribly from the wintry weather with many of them freezing to death.  Many others were taken prisoner by the Soviet troops. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1941 (22 June)  --  Axis powers attack the Soviet Union. 

1941 (14 July)  --  beginning of the Italian campaign in the Soviet Union.  Mussolini joined Hitler's Operation Barbarossa by ordering the preparation of a military contingent to fight at the Russian front. The Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia was comprised three divisions (Torino, Pasubio and Celere, the latter being the only one motorized). It consisted of about 62,000 men with no tank and was placed under the command of the 11th German Army.

1941 (August)  --  the Italians fought against withdrawing Russian troops between the Bug and Dniestr rivers. 

1941 (20 October-2 November)  -- the Italian Expeditionary Corps was latter attached to General Von Kleinst's Armored Corps.  They helped assault the city of Stalino and the occupation of the neighboring towns of Gorlowka and Rikovo.

1941 (Christmas day)  --  the Soviets launched a strong attack against the Celere Division in “the first battle of Christmas,”. which was repelled with heavy losses.

1942 (28 June)  -- German Army group A opens the offensive on Stalingrad. 

1942 (July)  --  Mussolini sends in more Italian infantry divisions.  They became part of the 8th Italian Army in Russia. 

1942 (November)  --  the 8th Italian army had 235,000 men in 12 divisions, including three Legions of Camicie nere (Black Shirt fascist volunteers).  They had few tanks and little winter equipment. General Gariboldi was the man in charge of this army.

1942 (by July)  --  the Italian Army reached the right bank of the Don River. 

1942 (August)  --  the Bersaglieri troops of the Celere division removed the Soviet bridgehead at Serafimovic.  They also repelled a Soviet attack with the support of German tanks (the “first defensive battle of the Don”).

August 23 -- German General Paulus’s advance units reached the Volga River just north of Stalingrad.

1942 (by late autumn)  --  the Italian army took the left flank of the German 6th Army, which was then attacking Stalingrad.

1942 (19 November)  --  the Russians begin their counteroffensives at Stalingrad. 

1942 (11 December)  --  the Soviet Army attacked the weakest of the Italian positions on the Don River, which was held by the Ravenna and Cosseria infantry divisions.  The Italians were driven back.

1942 (17 December)  --  the Romanians were attacked and defeated.

The 298th German, Pasubio, Torino, Celere and Sforzesca divisions were surrounded and destroyed by the Soviet 1st Guards Army.

1943 (14 January)  --  the Soviet 6th Army attacked and destroyed most of the Julia and Cuneense divisions.  Overall, about 130,000 Italians were surrounded by the Soviets.

1943 (26 January)  --  the Tridentina division escaped the encirclement after heavy fighting at the Battle of Nikolaiewka.

Since the beginning of the campaign, the Italians lost 30,000 men, while another 54,000 died in captivity.

1943 (by the end of February)  --  the Italians were completely routed.  He withdrew the 85th army, which was now reduced to less than 150,000 men.  (And of this number, 34,000 were wounded.)



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