Before I did any reading about secondary powers during WW2, most of what I learned about that conflict came from books that gave a more general summary of WW2 or books that were written by people who tried to present themselves or their subject as superior. In most of these the Italians are labelled as worthless or useless and their performance described with 'and they dropped their pants and ran'.
I found such pieces to be rather ridiculous, as if that country did not have any good soldiers or officers. As if that country completely failed to produce some proper tactics and weapons. I am glad that some authors actually try to give you a bit of reality rather than the nonsense we see so often. This is one wuch work that tries to tell you about the Italian performance between 1935-1943. But dont get carried away, the author sometimes does his best to convince you that they were the best. The Italians were good soldiers, but so were their allies and enemies.
The Italian army that entered WW2 was simply not prepared for a world war, because it lacked the industrial capacity to supply its army with weaponry and because it was trained and equipped for a different war. One has to remember that Italy fought on the allied side during WW1 and expected to fight another war just like this, with the threat coming from Austria, Germany and even Yugoslavia. As a result, the infantry remained the 'Queen of the battlefield', tanks had to be light for transport over smaller roads and bridges, they had to be kept small for use on mountain paths. And tanks remained infantry-support, a way of thinking that would only change late, a few years before WW2 broke out. Italy produced some fine specialists like Douhet in the airforce but in the area of tank warfare they did not have any Hart, Fuller, De Gaulle or Guderian to propose a wholly different application of armour. As the enemy could not bring its own armour into the battle in the Alps, the Italians simply did not even have any decent anti tank weapon up until the late 1930's when they adopted an Austrian design (the 47mm Bohler gun).
When they finally started to realize that they would end up on the other side, they quickly had to rearm completely to fight of the allies in the meditteranean. The navy and airforce received priority now and the army had a hard time acquiring new weaponsystems. Never the less, Mussolini chose his moment well and his army could have done some real damage as this books shows, only to see those opportunities squandered and the war in the meditteranean lost.
I would definitly recommend it to anyone interested in this subject as long as you keep that little pinch of salt nearby. The author doesnt use many Italian sources but that should not always be seen as a flaw. A Russian or Allied work on the Italian army is usually based on experiences gathered when fighting them, sometimes resulting in praise(which also came from a few German commanders). It is easier to accept such words when they come from an enemy.
I must put out a serious warning for this book. It is sloppy and lack all form of reference to valid sources. Furthermore, the author reproduces post war fascist myths, such as that the Italians lost all battles and eventually the war because field marshal Rudolfo Graziani was a freemason and was hence more loyal to his fellow freemason in other countries (England) than to Italy (see p 45-46). This is such an idiotic idea that any serious author would attempt to validate this claim and try to finds alternate explanations why Italy lost the war. The truth is that the British had penetrated most of the Italian codebooks and crypts already when Italy joined the Germany in the war. So the Italian catastrophe at Matapan was not because Graziani had tipped off the British admiralty, but because the Britts could read all Regia Marinas wireless communications.
An excellent overview of the Regio Esercito under Mussolini. Well laid out with maps and photographs, this book was exactly what I wanted. My only quibble is that I would have liked some of the maps and photographs to have been in colour.