«The historical truth about the X MAS»

Above and in the cover image, Enrico Montesano at the “Dancing with the Stars” rehearsals with the X MAS t-shirt.

So it happens that a famous comedian wears in a famous public TV program, in prime time, an X Mas t-shirt, like this, d’amblé, as if it were any other t-shirt. Specifying that he also has a portrait of Che Guevara at home…
“First let me say something outside the specifics. I don’t want to get into the t-shirt thing. I don’t even watch that show. I will limit myself to a general consideration: when a tragic and in many respects horrendous and violent past is not known and trivialized, a mess is still made. You can’t get away with a joke. Among other things, when it is said that next to a black shirt of that kind there is also a red one, or portraits of myths of the left that are, as if everything were the same, the matter gets worse, not lightened. This flattening, this trivialization is dramatic. And it is terrible and alarming that civil society does not react to these manifestations of ignorance. It’s not a good sign. We end up losing the hierarchy, the entity and the ranking of responsibilities in the face of facts and crimes committed in history”.
Behind the X Mas shirt that the comedian Enrico Montesano had at the Dancing with the Stars rehearsals there was not exactly an association of boy scouts but the division that after 8 September became one of the most ferocious Nazi-fascist militias in the Republic of Salò . To the historian Nicola Labanca, professor at the University of Siena, author of numerous essays on that historical period and director of the journal of historical studies Contemporary Italy We ask you to help us understand what we are talking about.

Does it help us explain what the X Mas was?

“There is a longer story that needs to be understood. The story is full of raiders or similar departments. The MAS, acronym of Motobarca Armata Svan, already existed in the First World War. Svan was the acronym of the factory that built these rudimentary vehicles. They already existed in 1915 under the acronym Mas. On the basis of this acronym, someone who knows Latin like D’Annunzio, the decadent rhetorical Latinist D’Annunzio, invents other acronyms, such as Memento Audere Semper, remember to always dare or Motum Arma Spes, hope arms the movement. The acronym will remain, the acronym will also change technically. Over time these departments become Torpedo Armed Motorboats. Fascism and the Decima (Mas) have nothing to do up to this point».

The historian Nicola Labanca, director of "Contemporary Italy".

The historian Nicola Labanca, director of “Italia Contemporanea”.



But then, in the Second World War, the Mas, small military boats used as a fast assault vehicle by the Regia Marina, they become one of the symbols of Mussolini’s army.

«These instruments of war continued to be used in the twenty years and are of great importance because Fascist Italy does not have the strength to arm a large Navy capable of competing with France and England. And so he uses this tiny ship led by brave people. After all, even in the First World War who was a submariner? The daredevils, the daring. All of this already exists before. The fascist regime did not invent it».

Why then with the advent of the Duce do they acquire a great propaganda and military importance?

‘To give the British and French navies a hard time. They are insidious and devastating ships. In 1918 comes the mockery of Buccari di D’Annunzio, in 1935, the year of the war in Ethiopia, they move in the Mediterranean and threaten the English fleet. In the Second World War they are equally present. They are numbered. The I MAS, the II MAS, the III MAS, up to the X Mas, in Roman numeral, like Caesar’s legions. Until September 1943 they were regular departments of an armed force such as the Regia Marina. The mas of the 1940-43 fascist war must never be confused with the mas of the post-armistice period of 8 September. Important date, because immediately after Junio ​​Valerio Borghese, commander of the X Mas, offers himself to the occupying Germans. Which Germans accept it because these marines who want to represent the old military honour, a bit Gascony, can come in handy».

Junio ​​Valerio Borghese, commander of the X MAS.

Junio ​​Valerio Borghese, commander of the X MAS.

Some historiographical theses portray Borghese as an officer more interested in fighting to restore the lost honor of the Royal Army than in collaborating with the Germans. So much so that initially, before joining the forces of the Social Republic during the civil war, he would have allied himself with the Anglo-American forces. There are also those who speak of episodes of conflict with the Germans”

“It is not so. Borghese passes immediately with the Germans even before with the Social Republic. Borghese is a charismatic figure, out of the ordinary, because he immediately wants to differentiate himself from the tradition of the royal armed forces. He introduces uncommon elements. For example, all those who belong to the MAS after 8 September wear the same uniform, officers and simple soldiers eat at the same canteen. Furthermore, they salute each other militarily in a different way than in the military tradition. The soldier who met an officer greeted him declaiming: “Decima, commander!” and the commander replied “Decima, Sailor!”. Very D’Annunzio-like shapes».

So Borghese goes immediately with the Germans…

«To the point that when the Social Republic is established, the Minister of War, General Graziani, fears that Borghese wants to create his own armed force. There is immediate friction between the commander and his defense minister. Borghese actually ends up in jail for 10 days in January 1944 for this friction».

Why this clutch? After all, both operated in a spirit of alliance with the Nazis …

«Graziani wants to join the army of the Social Republic and fears that Borghese will remain enslaved to the Germans. After all, neither Mussolini nor Graziani will control the armed forces of the CSR, a handful of departments and groups that are difficult to manage, such as the Black Brigades. Within this dispersion there is this department which at the beginning is small. After 8 September, Borghese has a quarter of the men left. This is to tell the false myth of Borghese’s charisma. Above all, officers and cadres remain, fewer soldiers. From then, from September until January 1944, Borghese expanded his structure, transforming it. So that’s why you shouldn’t confuse it.”

The display of the body of the partisan Ferruccio Nazionale, hanged by the men of the X MAS.

The display of the body of the partisan Ferruccio Nazionale, hanged by the men of the X MAS.



8 September was therefore the watershed between a X Mas until then part of the Royal Army and a ferocious militia in the service of the Nazis…

“Not only. Until 8 September 1943 she was made up of daring and contemptuous raiders and divers. Little by little it becomes an armed land force that fights against the partisans».

Some historians maintain that Borghese and the Decima, until then intent on defending the honor of the country, began to fight and pursue the partisans as a response, because they were provoked by their attacks, having begun to suffer losses in the division.

«German armed forces and their allies provoked by the Italians? It is the Nazi-fascists who occupy the country and begin to round up, deport and kill civilians. Let us not forget that on 16 October 1943 the roundups of Jews began in Rome. Where is the national honor is not to be seen. They are myths made on purpose, which take root because there has not been sufficient knowledge of the story».

Meanwhile, the Decima is guilty of atrocious episodes and war crimes, such as the exposure of the body of the 22-year-old Garibaldian partisan Ferruccio Nazionale, in the square of the Town Hall of Ivrea. During the torture, the men of the X MAS Flotilla branded or engraved the “X” of the Tenth on the chest of the unfortunate. The bodies of partisans hung from the trees in the streets with a placard around their necks: “The Tenth has passed”…

«In May 1944, the members of the Decima were no longer daring raiders but a group of neo-fascists and “volunteers by force”».

By force?

“There is a letter to the family of a young RSI soldier in which he explains: “Here they all say they are volunteers but they are necessarily volunteers”. He also changes the name of this militia: “Tenth Division”. In letters no longer in Roman numerals. From May 1944 it lost all sailor character and became a force that the Germans used to support the partisan war. Some departments will be used to fight on the Anzio front of the Gothic line. They will be some of the few Italian units that the Germans bring to the front line. They don’t trust others. This Tenth Division doesn’t even number 5,000 when it’s formed. Usually a Division consists of twenty thousand men. The Tenth commits crimes and the Germans are very satisfied to have this military force ready to wage anti-partisan warfare. There is an atlas of Nazi-fascist massacres which calculates that at least 300 Italians died in operations involving units of the Decima”.

What were the responsibilities of Junio ​​Valerio Borghese?

«Just as Graziani did not control the armed forces of the RSI, neither did Borghese control the various regiments and battalions that bore the Decima in their name. Even more dangerous departments because being small the Germans used them as they wanted. If 300 Italians died in official calculations who knows what the total figure will be. Other areas of operation of the Decima are towards Gorizia, on the eastern front, against the armed forces of Tito’s resistance, then between Vicenza and Treviso and in recent months on the Gothic Line, in a vain attempt to stem the Allies. All these forces are overwhelmed by the Anglo-US advance. To all this it must be added that from May 1944 to April 1945 these departments, like all the departments of the RSI, lost men for the continuous desertions.

In short, if I had to summarize this story, I would question many of the characteristics attributed to Borghese (we are talking about the Borghese of the war and not the one who after the war becomes a manager of the MSI, the Borghese who organizes the attempted coup of December 1970 and who flees to Spain ). He was presented as impolitic and only military, but the choice made after 8 September was highly political. He was declared autonomous, but he was perhaps autonomous from Graziani, certainly not from the Germans. The honor of Italy proclaimed it in the mottos of its departments, but where this honor stood in the operations from 8 September 1943 onwards and in particular from May 1944 is very, very doubtful».

«The historical truth about the X MAS»