Milizia Volontaria
per la Sicurezza Nazionale
MVSN insignia, helmet stencil version

Blackshirts with Benito Mussolini during the March on Rome on 28 October 1922
Paramilitary organization overview
Formed 23 March 1923
Preceding paramilitary organization
Dissolved 8 December 1943
Superseding agency
Type Paramilitary, Gendarmerie
Jurisdiction Italian Empire
Headquarters Rome
Minister responsible
Parent paramilitary organization PNF

The Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (MVSN, "Voluntary Militia for National Security"), commonly called the Blackshirts (Italian: Camicie Nere, CCNN, singular: Camicia Nera) or squadristi (singular: squadrista), was originally the paramilitary wing of the National Fascist Party and, after 1923, an all-volunteer militia of the Kingdom of Italy. Its members were distinguished by their black uniforms (modelled on those of the Arditi, Italy's elite troops of World War I) and their loyalty to Benito Mussolini, the Duce (leader) of Fascism, to whom they swore an oath. The founders of the paramilitary groups were nationalist intellectuals, former army officers and young landowners opposing peasants' and country labourers' unions. Their methods became harsher as Mussolini's power grew, and they used violence and intimidation against Mussolini's opponents.[1] In 1943, following the fall of the Fascist regime, the MVSN was integrated into the Royal Italian Army and disbanded.


The Blackshirts were established as the squadristi in 1919 and consisted of many disgruntled former soldiers. It was given the task of leading fights against their bitter enemies – the Socialists. They may have numbered 200,000 by the time of Mussolini's March on Rome from 27 to 29 October 1922. In 1922 the squadristi were reorganized into the milizia and formed numerous bandiere, and on 1 February 1923 the Blackshirts became the Volunteer Militia for National Security (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, or MVSN), which lasted until the 8 September 1943 Armistice of Cassibile. The Italian Social Republic, located in the areas of northern Italy occupied by Germany, reformed the MVSN on 8 December 1943 into the National Republican Guard (Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR).


Benito Mussolini was the leader, or Commandant-General and First Honorary Corporal, of the blackshirts, but executive functions were carried out by the Chief of Staff, equivalent to an army general. The MVSN was formed in imitation of the ancient Roman army, as follows:

Basic organization

The terms after the first are not words common to European armies (e.g., the Italian battaglione has cognates in many languages). Instead, they derive from the structure of the armies of ancient Rome.

These units were also organized on the triangular principle as follows:

  • 3 squadre = 1 manipolo (maniple)
  • 3 manipoli = 1 centuria (centuria)
  • 3 centuriae = 1 coorte (cohort)
  • 3 coorti = 1 legione (legion)
  • 3 legioni = 1 divisioni (field division)
  • 3 or more legioni = 1 zona (zone an administrative division)

Territorial organization

The MVSN original organization consisted of 15 zones controlling 133 legions (one per province) of three cohorts each and one Independent Group controlling 10 legions. In 1929 it was reorganized into four raggruppamenti, but later in October 1936 it was reorganized into 14 zones controlling only 133 legions with two cohorts each, one of men 21 to 36 years old and the other of men up to 55 years old. There were also special units in Rome, on Ponza Island and the black uniformed Moschettieri del Duce ("The Leader's Musketeers", Mussolini's Guard), the Albanian Fascist Militia (four legions) and Milizia Coloniale in Africa (seven legions).

Security militia

Special militias were also organized to provide security police and gendarmerie functions, these included:

Ethiopian Campaign

During the 1935–36 Abyssinian Campaign seven CCNN Divisions were organized:

The first six Divisions were sent to Ethiopia and participated in the war.

Blackshirt Division organization

Organization of Blackshirt Divisions (3 October 1935)

  • Divisional HQ
  • 3 x Legions each with:
    • 1 Legionary Machine Gun Company with 16 machine guns
    • 2 Legionary Infantry Battalions, each with:
      • 1 Machine Gun Company with 8x8mm Breda machine guns and
      • 3 Infantry Companies each with 9 light machine guns and 3x45mm mortars
      • 1 pack-artillery battery with 4x65mm L17 each.[3]
  • 1 x Artillery Battalion (Army) with 3 batteries (65/17)
  • 1 x Engineers company (mixed Army and Blackshirts)
  • 2 x Replacements Battalions (1 Infantry, 1 Mixed)
  • 1 x Medical Section
  • 1 x Logistics Section (food)
  • 1 x Pack-Mules unit (1600 mules)
  • 1 x Mixed Trucks unit (80 light trucks)

The Blackshirts Rifle Battalions had three rifle companies but no MMG company. The rifle companies had three platoons (three squads with one LMG each). Each Legion had a MMG company with four platoons of three weapons each (plus two spare ones). The Blackshirts replacements battalions were organized as the Blackshirts Rifle Battalions, but its platoon were overstrength (60 men each) and with only 1 x LMG in each platoon.[4]

Organization of Blackshirt Divisions (10 June 1940)

  • Division Command
  • 2 Black Shirt Legions - each
    • 3 Battalions
    • 1 81mm Mortar Company
    • 1 Accompanying Battery 65mm/17 Mtn guns
  • 1 Machine Gun Battalion
  • 1 Artillery Regiment:
    • 2 Artillery Groups
    • 1 Artillery Group
    • 2 AA Batteries 20mm
  • 1 Mixed Engineering Battalion
    • 1 Ambulance Section Sanita
    • 3 Field Hospitals (Planned when available)
    • 1 Supply Section
  • 1 Section Mixed Transport[5]



Commandant-General of the MVSN
Comandante generale della MVSN
Rank insignia
Command flag
Longest serving officeholder
Benito Mussolini
12 October 1926 – 25 July 1943
Blackshirts (MVSN) of Fascist Italy
Status Commanding officer of a paramilitary organization
Member of Stato Maggiore della MVSN
Appointer Benito Mussolini
Formation 1 February 1923
First holder

Held simultaneously by:

Final holder Renato Ricci
Abolished 8 December 1943
Commandant−GeneralTook officeLeft officeTime in officeParty
De Bono, EmilioMarshal of Italy
Emilio De Bono
one of the Quadrumvirs
1 February 192331 October 19241 year, 273 daysFascist Party
Balbo, ItaloMarshal of the air force
Italo Balbo
one of the Quadrumvirs
1 February 192321 November 19241 year, 294 daysFascist Party
De Vecchi, Cesare MariaArmy corps general
Cesare Maria De Vecchi
one of the Quadrumvirs
1 February 192310 July 19252 years, 159 daysFascist Party
Gandolfo, AsclepiaGeneral
Asclepia Gandolfo
1 December 192431 August 1925 273 daysFascist Party
Gonzaga, Maurizio FerranteGeneral
Maurizio Ferrante Gonzaga
12 September 19259 October 19261 year, 27 daysFascist Party
Mussolini, BenitoFirst marshal of the empire
Benito Mussolini
12 October 192625 July 194316 years, 286 daysFascist Party
Armellini, QuirinoGeneral
Quirino Armellini
26 July 19438 September 194344 daysIndependent
Ricci, RenatoRenato Ricci
20 September 19438 December 194379 daysIndependent

Chiefs of Staff

Chief of Staff of the MVSN
Capo di stato maggiore della MVSN
Rank insignia
Command flag
Longest serving officeholder
Attilio Teruzzi
1929 – 1935
Blackshirts (MVSN) of Fascist Italy
Status Chief of staff of a paramilitary organization
Member of Stato Maggiore della MVSN
Appointer Benito Mussolini
Formation 1 February 1923
First holder Francesco Sacco
Final holder Renzo Montagna (acting)
Abolished 20 September 1943
Chief of StaffTook officeLeft officeTime in officeParty
Sacco, FrancescoLieutenant general
Francesco Sacco
1 February 19231 December 19241 year, 304 daysFascist Party
Bazan, EnricoLieutenant general
Enrico Bazan
1 December 192423 December 19284 years, 22 daysFascist Party
Teruzzi, AttilioLieutenant general
Attilio Teruzzi
192919355–6 yearsFascist Party
Russo, LuigiLieutenant general
Luigi Russo
3 October 19353 November 19394 years, 31 daysFascist Party
Starace, AchilleAchille Starace
3 November 193916 May 19411 year, 194 daysFascist Party
Galbiati, EnzoLieutenant general
Enzo Galbiati
25 May 194126 July 19432 years, 62 daysFascist Party
Montagna, RenzoConsul general
Renzo Montagna
17 September 194320 September 19433 daysIndependent

Spanish Civil War

Three CCNN Divisions were sent to participate in the Spanish Civil War as part of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie. The Blackshirt (Camicie Nere, or CCNN) Divisions contained regular soldiers and volunteer militia from the Fascist Party. The CCNN divisions were semi-motorised.

The 3rd CCNN Division was disbanded and consolidated with the 2nd CCNN Division in April 1937 after their defeat at Guadalajara. After the campaigns in Northern Spain ended in October 1937, the 2nd CCNN Division was consolidated with the 1st CCNN and renamed the XXIII de Marzo Division "Llamas Negras".

World War II

In 1940 the MVSN was able to muster 340,000 first-line combat troops, providing three divisions (1st, 2nd and 4th all three of which were lost in the North African Campaign) and, later in 1942, a fourth division ("M") and fifth division Africa were forming.

Mussolini also pushed through plans to raise 142 MVSN combat battalions of 650 men each to provide a Gruppo di Assalto to each army division. These Gruppi consisted of two cohorts (each of three centuriae of three manipoli of two squadre each) plus Gruppo Supporto company of two heavy machine gun manipoli (with three HMG each) and two 81 mm mortar manipoli (with three Mortars each).

Later 41 Mobile groups were raised to become the third regiment in Italian Army divisions as it was determined through operational experience that the Italian army's binary divisions were too small in both manpower and heavy equipment. These mobile groups suffered heavy casualties due to being undermanned, under equipped and under trained.

Late in the war Mussolini decided to create 22 highly trained combat battalions called M Battalions. These battalions were given the designation M alongside their names in the Army OOB to indicate their status; that they had received specialist assault and combat training, or had proven themselves in combat and had received a battlefield promotion to this status. By the end of the Fascist regime only 11 battalions had been fully formed.

The MVSN fought in every theater where Italy did.


The Blackshirts wore the same uniform as the Italian army with the addition of a black shirt and tie and a black fez.


With translated material from the corresponding Italian Wikipedia article

Mussolini as Comandante Generale was made Primo Caporale Onorario (First Honorary Corporal) in 1935 and Adolf Hitler was made Caporale Onorario (Honorary Corporal) in 1937. All other ranks closely approximated those of the old Roman army as follows.


Rank Insignia Royal Italian Army equivalent (with UK/US equivalent)
Primo Caporale d'Onore
(First Honorary Corporal of the MVSN)
First Marshal of the Empire (None/General of the Armies)
Caporale d'Onore
(Honorary Corporal of the MVSN)
Marshal of Italy (Field Marshal/General of the Army)
Comandante Generale
(Commandant General)
Army General (General)
Luogotenente Generale Capo di Stato Maggiore
(Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General)
Corps General (Lieutenant-General)
Luogotenente Generale
Divisional General (Major-General)
Console Generale
Brigade General (Brigadier/Brigadier General)
Primo Seniore
(First Senior)
Capo Manipolo
(Chief Maniple)
Lieutenant (Lieutenant/First Lieutenant)
Sotto Capo Manipolo
(Sub-Chief Maniple)
Sublieutenant (Second Lieutenant)

Other Ranks

Rank Insignia Army Equivalent (with UK/US equivalent)
Primo Aiutante
(First Adjutant)
Marshal-Major (Conductor/Command Sergeant Major)
Aiutante Capo
(Chief Adjutant)
Chief Marshal (WO1/Sergeant Major)
Ordinary Marshal (WO2/Master Sergeant)
Primo Capo Squadra
(First Squad Chief)
Sergeant-Major (Staff Sergeant)
Capo Squadra
(Squad Chief)
Vice Capo Squadra
(Vice-Squad Chief)
Corporal-Major (Corporal)
Camicia Nera Scelta
(Select Blackshirt)
Corporal (Lance-Corporal/PFC)
Camicia Nera
N/A Appointee (Private)
N/A Recruit/Soldier (Recruit/Private)


The ethos and sometimes the uniform were later copied by others who shared Mussolini's political ideas, including Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, who issued brown shirts to the "Storm Troops" (Sturmabteilung) and black uniforms to the "Defense Squad" (Schutzstaffel, also colloquially known as "Brownshirts", because they wore black suit-like tunics with brown shirts), Sir Oswald Mosley in the United Kingdom (whose British Union of Fascists were also known as the "Blackshirts"), the Warriors for the Advancement of the Bulgarian National Spirit who wore red shirts, William Dudley Pelley in the United States (Silver Legion of America or "Silver Shirts"), in Mexico the Camisas Doradas or "Golden Shirts", Plínio Salgado in Brazil (whose followers wore green shirts), and Eoin O'Duffy in the Irish Free State (Army Comrades Association or "Blueshirts"). "Blueshirts" can also refer to Canadian fascists belonging to the Canadian National Socialist Unity Party and to the members of Falange Española, the most influential party within Franco's dictatorship in Spain. The paramilitary fascist Iron Guard members in Romania wore green shirts.

After the Armistice of Cassibile was signed, the Blackshirts were dissolved; in the pro-fascist Italian Social Republic they were replaced by the National Republican Guard and the Black Brigades in the militia role, alongside the Republican Police Corps.

See also



  1. Bosworth, R. J. B, Mussolini's Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915–1945 (Penguin Books, 2005), p. 117
  2. The Blackshirt Division Order of Battle comes from "Storia delle Unità Combattenti della MVSN 1923-1943" by Ettore Lucas and Giorgio de Vecchi, Giovanni Volpe Editore 1976 pages 63 to 116 plus errata.
  3. Italian Army Infantry Regulation of 1939 (Page 472/473)I
  4. The Blackshirts Division TO&E comes from an original document (order sheet "Ministero della Guerra, Comando del Corpo di Stato Maggiore - Ufficio Ordinamento e Mobilitazione . Prot.2076 del 18-06-1935").
  5. The Blackshirts Division TO&E comes from an original document (order sheet "Ministero della Guerra, Comando del Corpo di Stato Maggiore - Ufficio Ordinamento e Mobilitazione. dated 1939").
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