Italy's knife-wielding special operators were WWI's most devastating shock troops

Throughout history, Italy wasn’t known for its dominance or military strength, but these knife-wielding operators made crucial advances using only a small force.

The Arditi, meaning “the daring ones,” were a group of volunteers, chosen from the most courageous of men and considered to be Italy’s most elite soldiers during WWI. Getting their name from the Royal Italian Army in 1917, they were known for engaging the enemy with vicious hand to hand combat and swift tactical movement.

The Arditi

The Arditi.

The Arditi organization was much smaller than the regular infantry units, consisting of only five officers, 41 NCOs, and 150 men. Their unique strategy relied heavily on surprise, speed, and their sheath as they strategically advanced towards their opposition behind a curtain of allied artillery fire.

According to The Great War Youtube channel, once the bombardment ceased, the men would charge forward into enemy trenches, with only daggers in their teeth and grenades in their hands, with the goal of clearing and then holding their newly-earned positions until the relief of their fellow troops arrived, which could take up to a full day.

The Arditi

The Arditi’s motto “O la vittoria, o tutti accoppiati” translates to “Either we win or we all die”

Due to their outstanding production, they were paid almost three times what the regular Army received.

Then, a bonus system was employed for taking enemy prisoners — 10 lire for a Private, 20 for an NCO, and 50 for an officer. Not to mention there was compensation for capturing enemy weapons, ranging from anywhere between 5 to 500 lire depending on the weapon’s size and caliber.

The Arditi seized 3,600 prisoners, 63 machine guns and 26 pieces of artillery over their course of the war. The Arditi were making bank back in 1917 and deserved every cent — according to History Answers.

The Arditi

Arditi soldiers pushing advancing towards the enemies’ front lines. (Photo: The Great War Channel)

As their losses in personnel grew, new soldiers were assigned to Arditi units by recommendation only. Before they could officially join, they had to complete a specialized school that mimicked the dangers and conditions of the front lines.

The fatality rates among the recruits were extremely high due to the realistic training methods.

The Arditi

Aridity soldiers training to head for the front lines.

The Great War Channel reports that wasn’t until Battle of Vittorio Veneto Offensive in October of 1918 when the Arditi would make its largest impact on the war.  A dozen Arditi units combined, making two monstrous assault divisions. The brave men lead one another on a forceful charge on the Austro-Hungarian forces, resulting in a climatic victory.

The Arditi

The historic Arditi charge on Austro-Hungarian forces. (Photo: The Great War Channel)

Although the Arditi was disbanded in 1920, their bravery, patriotism, and impact on the Great War lives on in Italian military historical lore.