By Piero Angela
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Officers, NCOs, flamethrower operators, and the LMG and mortar teams carried only a handgun (usually the 9mm Beretta M34 pistol) for self-defence. 5mm MannlicherCarcano M91 carbine with its folding integral bayonet. Every Guastatore also carried as many hand grenades and smoke candles as possible, the former (mainly the light OTO M35, known as ‘red devils’ from their painted colour), having too weak a charge and fragmentation to be really effective. A Guastatori sergeant in North Africa demonstrates for the photographer how hand grenades should be thrown.
In May the Monte Cervino Bn was back in the front line; on 18 May, during the battle for Izyum, it seized the village of Klivonoi at a cost of 15 killed and 40 wounded. Pulled out of the line into quarantine due to an outbreak of infectious fever, the battalion was back at the front on 19 June. Between 20 and 25 August 1942 it took part in the first defensive fighting on the River Don, pushing back Red Army assaults against its forward positions, and eventually counter-attacking to retake a position lost by a Bersaglieri unit.
Despite a series of recruitment drives in POW camps in Italy, the strength of the Centro Militare ‘I’ increased only slowly; up to 31 August 1942 just 193 Indian volunteers had joined the four Italian officers and 11 other ranks, forming three platoons. com The Indian volunteers received only basic infantry training, apart from a selected 44 men who, in mid-September 1942, were sent to Tarquinia for the parachute course. Some other promising individuals were also sent to North Africa, where they co-operated with Italian field intelligence personnel.