Marshal Ettore Bastico, 1876-1972

Marshal Ettore Bastico (1876-1972) was the Italian commander in chief in Libya during most of Rommel's famous campaigns in North Africa.

Bastico took part in the Italian-Turkish War of 1911-12. He also served during the First World War, during the Italian invasion of Abyssinia and during the intervention in the Spanish Civil War, where he commanded the Italian Corps of Volunteer Troops during 1937. He was a close friend of Mussolini.

Bastico was one of the few Italian generals to have some pre-war experience of commanding tanks in battle, but in November 1937, during a meeting on the future of armour, he described the tank as a powerful tool, but concluded 'let us not idolize it, let us reserve our reverence for the infantryman and the mule'. It is hardly surprising that Italy's pre-war tanks were dreadful.

On 12 July 1941 Bastico replaced Italo Gariboldi as governor and Commander-in-Chief in Libya, officially making him Rommel's boss. He was determined to assert his authority over Rommel, who nicknamed him 'Bombastico'. However Rommel also described Bastico as a 'fundamentally decent man with a sober military understanding and considerable moral stamina'. Other German officers found him difficult, autocratic and violent. Rommel won this particular battle by getting permission to deal directly with the Commando Supremo in Rome.

Bastico is recorded as describing Rommel's habit of commanding from the front and dashing around the battlefield as produces 'excesses the consequences of which I believe Rommel himself does not understand'. Although the Italian army never really got to grips with mobile warfare, in this case Bastico wasn't entirely wrong. Rommel's famous 'dash to the wire' during Operation Crusader had after all failed and nearly caused a disaster, and his eventually successful outflanking move at Gazala also almost went badly wrong.

When Rommel decided to withdraw from the Egyptian frontier towards the end of Operation Crusader, Bastico headed to the front to try and make him change his plans. The result was a massive argument in which Rommel told Bastico the defeat was all his front. The retreat began on the night of 7-8 December.

In 1942 Bastico was promoted to Marshal by Mussolini after Hitler had made Rommel a Field Marshal for taking Tobruk - Mussolini wasn't willing to have Rommel outrank his own representative in Libya.

In August 1942 Bastico's boss, chief of the general staff Cavallero, stripped him of power of logistics and the Italian Air Force in North Africa, a move that reduced his authority at a key moment in the campaign.

On 24 Nov 1942 in the aftermath of the second battle of El Alamein, Bastico, Cavallero, Kesselring and Rommel meet at Marble Arch, Mussolini's triumphal arch on the boundary between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. Rommel was ordered to hold the El Agheila line, rather further east than he would have liked. A few days later Bastico even ordered a counterattack against the leading British troops! Rommel ignored this instruction, and was soon forced out of the El Agheila position.

For all of his failings he did show some understanding of the plight of the Italian army in North Africa, critisising the equipment issued to the Ariette division, and describing his men as feeling like they were 'sentenced to remain until consumed' because of the 34 month tour of duty insisted on in the Italian army.

Bastico returned to Italy in 1943, and retired in 1947. After the war he wrote the three volume Evolution of the Art of War.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 August 2017), Marshal Ettore Bastico, 1876-1972 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_bastico.html

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