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Book Review: Italian Partisan Weapons in WWII

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“Italian Partisan Weapons in WWII” was originally written and published in Italian by Gianluigi Usai, and recently (2016) translated into English by Ralph Riccio and published by Schiffer in the US. It was intended to fill the hole in histories of the Italian Resistance and partisans during WWII regarding the actual arms used. Most histories on that subject say little or nothing about the actual details of the arms being used, which leaves lots of questions for those who take an interest in firearms. I have seen the same thing in books about the French Resistance, where the few references to specific guns are generally vague or nonexistent.

This work is split into about 100 pages of context and commentary first, discussing historical documents, how arms were acquired and traded among partisan groups, how different arms were viewed by the partisans, attempts by the government to disarm the resistance units after the war, and such. Part of the reason for the lack of clarity in most history books becomes clear reading original communiques from fighting units…these were often politically motivated volunteers with little or no military training. Even the military veterans among them often had little exposure to arms beyond those they had been issued, and so understanding of the wide variety of foreign and obsolete arms is very slim. The book documents a large number of different colloquial names for different guns. To quote the author at one point:

“Various heavy machine guns were turned in, including the Breda 37, Fiat 35, Saint Etienne, and Okhis, and all invariably unserviceable (but then again, in the case of the Hotchkiss, how could it be expected to function properly when it was missing so many letters of its name that it became the Okhis?)”

This first section of the book is definitely the most interesting to me. The remaining ~180 pages are devoted to profiles of all the weapons used by the partisans. This is a very large number of different weapons, and each one receives only a quite cursory description. Those with a good knowledge of WWI and WW2 small arms will find little new information there (and a few factual mistakes). However, each of these profiles is accompanied by one or more photographs of partisans with the weapon in question. These pictures are very interesting, I think, and between them and the analysis in the front section of the book I think it is worth the $40 cover price.

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