The Ariete Armoured Division is a unit of the Italian military that has existed since 1939.
The Ariete Armoured Division was formed in Milan in February 1939 and designated the 132nd. It was initially made up of the 8th Bersaglieri (motorised infantry) regiment, the 32nd tank regiment (equipped with L3/35 light tanks and a few M11/39 medium tanks), the 132nd artillery regiment, and additional divisional support units. The division was moved to the French border at the outbreak of World War II, but was kept in reserve during the short campaign on that front.
Later, some battalions of the 32nd Tank Regiment (the I and II M11/39 Medium tank battalions and the III and V M13/40 Medium tank battalions) were moved to Libya to become part of the Special Armoured Brigade belonging to General Rodolfo Graziani’s 10th Army. From December 1940 to February 1941, the British Western Desert Force overran the 10th Army, occupying the whole of Cyrenaica and endangering the Italian presence in North Africa. It was then decided to employ the whole Ariete Division on that front line, and on 24 January 1941, the first echelons of the division disembarked at Tripoli. From February 1941 to November 1942, the Ariete Division took part in the North Africa campaign attached to the Italian Corpo d'Armata di Manovra (Mobile Corps), later to become XX Motorized Corps, beside Rommel's Deutsche Afrika Korps.
In particular, reinforced in 1941 with the 132nd Tank Regiment (which later completely replaced the 32nd, disbanded in mid-1942), it took part in the first German – Italian counteroffensive to retake Cyrenaica, and the siege of Tobruk. With this regiment, its battalions (initially the VII, VIII and IX, the former two later replaced by the X and XIII), now equipped with M13/40 and/or M14/41 medium tanks, and starting in early 1942, the V and VI battalions, equipped with M40 75/18mm semoventi (assault gun) from the 132nd Artillery Regiment, the division fought in the deserts of Libya and Egypt. The "Ariete" and supporting Italian infantry units were responsible for capturing 5,000 New Zealand and British troops during the Italo-German counterattacks on November and December 1941. Recalling the loss of the 21st New Zealand Infantry Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Howard Kippenberger, who later rose to command the 10th New Zealand Brigade, wrote that, "About 5.30 p.m. damned Italian Motorized Division (Ariete) turned up. They passed with five tanks leading, twenty following, and a huge column of transport and guns, and rolled straight over our infantry on Point 175." It later took part, during the second counteroffensive, in the invasion of Egypt and the three battles of El Alamein.
During the last of these battles it sacrificed its roughly 120 obsolete tanks in the attempt to counter the enemy offensive and cover the withdrawal of the army. On 4 November at about 15:30, the few surviving tanks, surrounded by an overwhelmingly superior enemy, broadcast their last message, quoting:
On 21 November 1942, following the unfavorable wartime events on North African theatre, the division was disbanded, and its name kept by a task force gathering up its remnants, which kept fighting throughout the retreat and subsequent battle of Tunisia. It was forced to surrender along with the rest of the Axis army in North Africa.
On 1 April 1943, as a tribute (the Division was the most cited unit in the War Bulletin), it was reconstituted as 135th ARIETE II Armoured Cavalry Division, made up of cavalry regiments. The division was located in northeastern Italy, with the following subordinate units:
It comprised the following armoured fighting vehicles:
for a total of 247 tank and semoventi plus 50 armoured car.
The division was moved to central Italy following the fall of Mussolini's government and took part to the defence of Rome from 8 to 10 September 1943, counterattacking German Panzergrenadier and Paratroops units, and performing a last stand at St. Paul's Gate. Because Supreme Headquarters decided to avoid unnecessary sacrifices and losses, the division was ordered to surrender and was then disbanded.
its establishment was completed by
In 1975, following the reorganization of Italian Army, Ariete was reorganized, incorporating the 32nd "Mameli" and 132nd "Manin" Armored Brigades and the 8th "Garibaldi" Mechanized Brigade. It kept this structure until 10 October 1986, when it was downsized to a brigade, its name being taken over by former 132nd "Manin" Armoured Brigade.
In peacetime, during years 1966 – 1976 – 1980 – 1994 – 1998, Ariete units assisted civilians hit by natural disasters (Vajont, Friuli, Irpinia, Piedmont, Campania), earning several awards. During the same period, some of its units took part in peacekeeping support operations in Lebanon and Somalia, and to domestic support and border control operations. On further modification to its task organization, Ariete acquired its current configuration. 132nd Ariete Armoured Brigade is an active member of Italian Army Reaction Forces; it belongs to 1st Operational Command from Vittorio Veneto, and it is attached to 3rd (UK) Division as a part of ACE Rapid Reaction Corps.
Recently, the Brigade's HQ, HQ & Tactical Support Battalion and Combat Service Support Battalion finished a tour of duty in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina – 1998), under the provision of the SFOR mandate for Operation Constant Forge, and three times in Kosovo (1999 – 2000, 2001, 2002) in Operation Joint Guardian, then Operation Consistent Effort, attached to NATO's Kosovo Force.
In 2001, the first enlisted women joined the ranks of some brigade units.
In 2002, elements from 10th Combat Engineer Regiment, and in 2004 the 132nd Artillery Regt, took part to Operation Isaf in Afghanistan. A significant part of the brigade was twice deployed to Iraq in early 2004 and late 2005 to early 2006. The latest overseas commitment started in early October 2007 and is due to last until Spring 2008.
Today, the brigade is composed of: