Greatest Generals Italy ever produced?

Jul 2013
I figured this would be a rather interesting discussion, for a variety of reasons.

None the less, who do you think was the greatest Italian born general in military history? Who would you list if you could? Could someone classify Napoleon and Caesar as ethnic Italians at the very least, what about Eugene or Spinola?


Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
Canary Islands-Spain
Hard to tell, Italy produced top quality generals in the 16-17th centuries, but among them these three dominates:

Alfonso d'Avalos
Alessandro Farnese
Ambrogio Spinola
Jan 2015
Ontario, Canada
This is an interesting question because of those mentioned Alfonso d'Avalos was of Spanish descent and served the Spanish Hapsburgs, Napoleon was a Corsican with some Genoese and Tuscan ancestry who was educated in France and became Emperor of France though I suppose he was also king of Italy.
Eugene of Savoy though technically from Savoy he was raised and educated in the French court of Louis XIV though chose to serve the Austrian Hapsburgs.


Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
I figured this would be a rather interesting discussion, for a variety of reasons.

None the less, who do you think was the greatest Italian born general in military history? Who would you list if you could? Could someone classify Napoleon and Caesar as ethnic Italians at the very least, what about Eugene or Spinola?
The first point is about that "Italy". From the OP I get that we are reasoning about ethnicity. So "Italian" is connected with the development of the conception of an Italian Province during the Roman Age. The isles [Sicily and Sardinia came a bit later, under Diocletian].

So, we should analyze many centuries ...

Caesar was "Italian" from this perspective [he was born at Rome]. So he's a good candidate.


Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
On the other hand we could approach the matter from a different perspective: to divide the Italian history in ages:

Roman age,
Germanic age,
Municipalities and Republic age,
Renaissance and Lordships,
The Unification,
The Kingdom,
The Republic.

And about some of these ages we could have some surprises.


Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
A mention: Giovanni Messe

If regarding the Unification, all Italians have got in mind only a name, Giuseppe Garibaldi, regarding the Kingdom of Italy, Italians have got different opinions.

In the early years of the Kingdom Garibaldi passed his time dealing with politics [also being elected in the assembly in Paris, but he resigned to dedicate himself to the Italian Kingdom] more than with military matters. After his death, the Royal Army knew some interesting commanders who deserve to be mentioned.

But probably a few persons out of Italy [a part some experts of American or British military recent history] reminds who has been defined the best Italian general during WW II: Giovanni Messe.

First of all his career: he has been the only Italian General to have passed through all the degrees of the hierarchy ... from soldier to Marshal of Italy [!]. If this wasn't enough, after the war he had elected to the Republican Parliament [1953-1968].

Who was this general?

In 1901 he was a young volunteer in the Army. Already in 1903 he was Sergent and he had sent to China where he served until 1905. In 1908 he was at Modena to attend the legendary military school and to become officer [1910, September 10th].

His first actions were in Libya, during the Italy - Turkey war and there he gained his first medals [near Tripoli]. In 1913 he was a Lieutenant of the 3rd Battalion, 84th Regimental in Libya, in 1915 he was captain and in 1916 the Command sent him from Libya to the European fronts.

Messe was with the 57th Infantry and in particular with assault ranks [he personally leaded the IX Assault Rank on Monte Grappa, that IX was the "Grandfather" of the Col-Moschin]. He got wounded two times and he kept on fighting. He obtained two promotions [to Major and to Lieutenant Colonel because of war merits and some other medals].

After the war, in 1919 he joined Freemasonry [it was quite common for Italian officer, before the arrival of Fascism]. In 1920 he was in Albania to deal with local rebellions and in 1923 he was in the military team of the King ... becoming Colonel in 4 years.

He commanded the 9th Bersaglieri until 1935 when he got the command of the legendary "Celere" at Verona [and he got the degree of General of Brigade].

With the division Cosseria he took part to the military operations in Eastern Africa [Ethiopia]. After that expedition he became General of Division [3rd Celere, Amedeo Duca D'Aosta].

In 1939 he was in Albania to conquer the country [Albania was an Italian protectorate]. During the initial phases of WW II he was back in that region, commanding the Special Army Corp.

In 1941, because of war merits, he became General of Army Corp.


Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
The CSIR ... Russia

But probably the highest point in his career is connected with the greatest tragedy of the Royal Army during WWII: the expedition to Russia.

On July 14th, 1941, Messe obtained the command of the CSIR [Italian Expedition Corp to Russia] heading for Dnepr and Don with 62,000 in 3 divisions [Celere, Pasubio, Torino] and the 63rd Assault Legion Tagliamento.

His first actions against the Soviets [August 11st] were successful but the Germans hadn't enough ranks of quick infantry, so that they ordered to Messe to move towards the core of the front line, under the command of Von Kleist [where the German armored divisions needed infantry support]. This changed totally the perspective of the Italian Expedition Corp.

German General Schobert wrote to Messe saying that the contribution of the division Pasubion had been pivotal for the victorious action of the 11st Army. And the bridges on rivers Dniester, Bug e Dnepr had made by Italian military engineers [and Germans thanked: the IX Battalion received the congratulations by Eberhard von Mackensen].

But the problem was about the equipment and the low quality of the vehicles [Italian tanks included ... not great tanks ...]. When on August 29th Mussolini visited the Italian troops Messe asked further supplies and better vehicles ... Mussolini sustained that he had signed an agreement with the Germans who would have had given logistic support to the Italian Expedition Corp. Messe underlined that during the transfer to Dnepr the Germans had reduced drastically these supplies.

The great occasion was the battle for Kiev. Messe obtained the command of the forces and the battle of Petrykivka saw probably his most impressive victory against the Soviets [with few casualties and 10,000 Russian prisoners]. It was September 27th - 30th, 1941.

When the operation had stopped because of the winter, Messe was organizing the Italian operative command at Stalino ... where the Soviets attacked around Christmas [in fact that was the "Christmas Battle]. Messe rejected the Soviets keeping the position.

During that winter Messe tried to obtain not more troops, but better weaponry and equipment [he wanted the Italian Corp ready to take part with more efficiency to the offensives of the Axis of the incoming season].

But the tragic destiny of the Italian Corp in Russia wasn't his destiny.


He had sent to Tunisia, under Rommel to face the allies [he commanded the 1st Army after becoming General of Army].

Ciano talked with Messe after the new assignment and the General said he had got the command of a band of lowlifes ... at Rome they wanted him to be defeated!

And this happened, despite his capability to organize the troops and to resist even after the defeat of the German forces. He refused to surrender if the allies didn't recognize to his forces the honors of war and he declared to be ready to surrender only to the Britons, not to the French.

The allies didn't concede the honors of war and the Italians kept on resisting. Mussolini solved the stalemate: he made Messe Marshal of the Kingdom, ordering him to surrender [!!!]. The Marshal surrendered and he became prisoner.

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