From Academic Kids

The Blackshirts (Italian: camicie nere) were Fascist paramilitary groups in Italy during the period immediately following World War I and until the end of World War II.

Inspired by Garibaldi's Redshirts, the Blackshirts were organized by Benito Mussolini due to his disgust with the corruption and apathy of the liberal and later socialist Italian government. Originally envisioned as reformers, their methods became harsher as Mussolini's power grew, and they used violence, intimidation, and murder against Mussolini's opponents. One of their distinctive techniques was force-feeding castor oil, often laced with petrol.

The ethos and sometimes the uniform were later copied by others who shared Mussolini's political ideas, including Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, who issued brown shirts to the Sturmabteilung and black uniforms to the Schutzstaffel (also colloquially known as "Blackshirts", although in fact they wore black tunics with brown or white shirts), Sir Oswald Mosley in the United Kingdom (whose British Union of Fascists were also known as the "Blackshirts"), William Dudley Pelley in the United States (Silver Legion of America or "Silver Shirts"), Plínio Salgado in Brazil (whose followers wore green shirts), and Eoin O'Duffy in the Irish Free State (Army Comrades Association or "Blueshirts").

More recently, in northern Italy, Umberto Bossi's Lega Nord, which has a quite xenophobic attitude to immigration (Bossi himself suggested shelling rafts carrying immigrants to Italy) and other similarities to fascist parties, has organized a paramilitary group wearing green shirts. These had however limited success.



Established as the squadristi in 1919 and consisted of many disgruntled former soldiers which may have numbered 20,000 by the time of Mussolini's March on Rome in 1922. In 1922 the squadristi were reorganized into the milizia and formed numerous bandiere, and on 1 February 1923 they became the MVSN or Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, which lasted until the Italian Armistice in 1943. The Italian Social Republic, northern Italy occupied by Nazi Germany, reformed them into the GNR or Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana.


Benito Mussolini was always the Commandant-General, but executive functions were carried out by the Chief of Staff, equivalent to an army general. The MVSN especially was formed in imitation of the old Roman army as follows:

These units were also organized on the triangular principle as follows:

  • 3 squadre = 1 manipolo (maniple)
  • 3 manipoli = 1 centuria (century)
  • 3 centurie = 1 coorte (cohort)
  • 3 coorti = 1 legione (legion)
  • 3 legioni = 1 divisioni (field division) or
  • 3 or more legioni = 1 zona (zone - an administrative division)

The MVSN original organization consisted of 15 zones controlling 133 legions of three cohorts each and one Independent Group controlling 10 legions. In 1929 it was reorganized into four raggruppamenti, but later in October of 1936 it was reorganized into 14 zones controlling only 133 legions with two cohorts each, one of men 21 to 36 years old and the other of men up to 55 years old, plus special units in Rome, on Ponza Island and the black uniformed Moschettieri del Duce ("The Leader's Musketeers", Mussolini's Guard) and the Albanian Militia (four legions) and Colonial Militia in Africa (seven legions). Special militias were also organized to provide security police functions, these included:

  • the Anti-aircraft and Coastal Artillery Militia,
  • the Forestry Militia,
  • the Frontier Militia,
  • the Highway Militia,
  • the Port Militia,
  • the Posts and Telegraph Militia,
  • the Railway Militia, and
  • the University Militia.

During the 1936 Abyssinian Campaign or Invasion of Ethiopia, the MVSN were able to raise six field divisions:

  • 1st MVSN Division "23 Marzo"
  • 2d MVSN Division "28 Ottobre"
  • 3d MVSN Division "21 Aprile"
  • 4th MVSN Division "3 Gennaio"
  • 5th MVSN Division "1 Febbraio"
  • 6th MVSN Division "Tevere"

In 1940 the MVSN was able to muster 340,000 first-line combat troops, providing three divisions (1st, 2nd and 4th) and provided a Gruppo di Assalto of two cohorts (each of three centurie of 3 manipoli of 2 squadre each) plus Gruppo Supporto company of two heavy machine gun manipoli (with three HMS each) and two 81 mm mortar manipoli (with 3 Mortars each), to each army division. The three divisions were wiped out in combat in North Africa. The MVSN fought in every theater where Italy did.

The fall of the fascist regime in Italy and the disbandment of the MVSN saw the establishment of the GNR, and the emergence of the brigate nere or Black Brigades. The 40 Black Brigades consisted of former MVSN, former Carabinieri, former soldiers and others still loyal to the fascist cause. They, like their German counterparts, the SS, committed many atrocities.


Mussolini as Commandante Generale was made Primo Caporale Onorario (First Honorary Corporal) in 1935 and Adolf Hitler was made Caporale Onorario (Honorary Corporal) in 1937. All other ranks closely approximated those of the old Roman army as follows:

  • Comandante generale = Commander in chief
  • Comandante = general
  • Console generale = brigadier general
  • Console = colonel and commanded a legion
  • Primo seniore = lieutenant colonel
  • Seniore = major who commanded a cohort
  • Centurione = captain who commanded a centuria
  • Capomanipolo = First Lieutenant
  • Sottocapomanipolo = second lieutenant
  • Aspirante sottocapomanipolo = officer cadet
  • Primo aiutante = First or Master Warrant officer
  • Aiutante capo = Chief Warrant Officer
  • Aiutante = Warrant officer
  • Primo capo squadra = First Sergeant
  • Capo squadra = Squad Leader or Corporal or Sergeant
  • Vicecapo squadra = Vice Squad Leader or Lance Corporal
  • Camicia nera scelta = Private First Class
  • Camicia nera = Private


The MVSN wore the basic army uniform, either the grey green or khaki drill with a black shirt and tie, black collar patches bearing silver metal fascio (the Roman bundle of sticks wrapped around an axe which represented legal authority) and a black fez with tassles.

Rank insignias were similar to those of the army, with enlisted rank stripes in black braided chevrons, and officer ranks stripes in black braid with the topmost having a lozenge shaped loop instead of the army's round or oval loop.

They also wore a black-colored version of the standard Italian army helmet, again with a silver fascio on the front, although later in the war they war a standard grey-green army helmet with a black stenciled fascia on the front.

The GNR wore a black shirt or turtle necked shirt or sweater with black helmets and Italian army trousers.

See also

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