Nota bene: While there are a number of other organizations referred to as Blackshirts, this writeup deals with the Italian fascist paramilitary forces and not parents' rights in Australia or protest movements in India.

Squadristi and the Fascist Movement In Italy

The original blackshirts were usually disgruntled former Italian soldiers who began to organize in 1919, usually led by nationalist intellectuals, young landowners, and former military officers. While the squadristi drew inspiration from Mussolini's Fascist philosophy, he did not control them; during this period they more closely resembled the Freikorps Of Germany. Like the Freikorps, the squadristi engaged in street battles with Socialists and Communists. Unlike the Freikorps, they also engaged in more explicitly political work such as organizing tax strikes against Socialist city governments, intimidating voters, and strikebreaking.

The squadristi numbered around two hundred thousand by the time of Mussolini's March on Rome in October 1922, and had adopted their black shirts in memory of Italy's elite Arditi storm troops as well as Garibaldi's Red Shirts. Mussolini had managed to gain control of the squadristi through his "pact of pacification" with the Socialists a year before, which headed off the possibility that the squadristi might revolt and choose another leader, most likely Gabrielle D'Annunzio. By the time of the March On Rome, they had been organized into "regiments" of "militia", and in early 1923 they reorganized along Roman lines, e.g. legions, centuries, cohorts, etc. and were renamed the Volunteer Militia For National Security (MVSN).

The Abyssinian Campaign

The original organization of the MVSN was 15 zones controlling 133 legions, one for each province with three cohorts each, and an independent group controlling ten legions. The zones were replaced by four raggruppamenti in 1929. For the war on Ethiopia, six Blackshirt (CCNN) divisions were organized and sent to Africa. Each contained three legions of two infantry battalions with a pack artillery and machine gun company; the divisions also had a machine gun battalion and a regular artillery battalion as well as two replacement battalions. A seventh division, "Cirene", was organized but not fully staffed or equipped, and was never sent overseas.) In 1936, the MVSN reorganized again into 14 zones with 133 legions. Each legion was reduced to two cohorts, one for men 21-36 and the other for men up to 55 years old. There were also special legions such as Mussolini's personal guard, the Albanian Militia of four legions, and the Colonial Militia of seven legions; finally, there were special security police legions for air defense/coast artillery, ports, posts and telegraphs, railways and universities.

The Spanish Civil War

As part of Italy's support for Franco's rebellion in Spain, Mussolini ordered three CCNN divisions and one regular army division to be deployed as part of the the Corps of Volunteer Troops (CTV). The CCNN divisions were formed in Spain in January 1937, and in March the 1st "23rd of March" Division took part in the successful battle of Malaga. The following month, all four divisions of the CTV served as the spearhead for the fourth Madrid offensive, and all three CCNN divisions were severely mauled. By the end of April, the three divisions had been reorganized as the 1st Division and a special weapons group. Some of the officers and technicians were seconded to mixed Flechas (Arrows) brigades, which had Italians in leadership and technical positions and Spaniards as the rank and file. The Flechas were much more successful and by November 1938 the original two brigades had been expanded into three divisions, all of which took part in the final offensive into Catalonia.

World War II

The CCNN divisions underwent reorganization and rearmament before Italy's entry into the war in 1940. Each division now had only two legions, though each legion now had three infantry battalions and a mortar battery added to the pack howitzer battery. Divisional artillery had been expanded to three battalions of 75mm and 100mm guns, along with two batteries of 20mm antiaircraft guns. Only three CCNN divisions were raised, all of which were eventually lost in North Africa. In addition to the divisions, Mussolini ordered the formation of 142 battalions to provide a Gruppo di Asalto to each Army division; these assault groups were similar to the old CCNN legions but with no organic artillery. Mobile Groups were also formed to address the weakness of the Italian Army's two-regiment division structure, but these suffered heavy casualties due to being understaffed, under-equipped, and undertarined.

Legacy

The example of the Blackshirts was followed by a number of other Fascist organizations, most notably the Sturmabteilung Brown Shirts of the Nazi Party, the Blue Shirts of Spain's Falange, the Green Shirts of the Brazilian Integralists, and the Black Shirts of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. Less well known were Fascist groups in Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Romania and the United States.

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