The Bersaglieri Helmet: North Africa Exhibit

The Bersaglieri Corps were an elite and high-mobility infantry first formed in Sardinia on the 18th of June 1836. As mobile infantry, the Bersaglieri were expected to rapidly deploy across the battlefield, running from location to location and acting as effective skirmishers. They used bugle calls to coordinate their movements, hence the crossed bugles of the regimental plate on the helmet seen in the picture on the right.

The Bersaglieri were elite soldiers with strict height, strength and endurance requirements enforced, as well as every soldier qualifying as a marksman. In keeping with their elite and highly mobile nature, the Bersaglieri maintained a higher-than-average marching rate of 180 beats per minute, double the usual marching pace, and to this day always run when conducting barracks duties or parading.

Serving in every major Italian conflict since their formation, the Bersaglieri earned a reputation as the most elite of the Piedmontese Army and later of the Italian Army. In the First World War they were mostly effective foot troops, but began to use bicycles for faster travel, thus creating cyclist battalions. During the Second World War Bersaglieri troops served across all fronts but were primarily concentrated in North Africa where six Bersaglieri regiments were ultimately defeated in the North African Campaign. They were noted to have performed remarkably well despite battling poor supply lines and equipment as well as fighting the enemy.

This modified M1935 pith helmet, a lightweight cloth-covered helmet worn famously in arid and tropical locations, is the North African version of the Vaira. The Vaira is a traditional headdress of the Bersaglieri decorated with black capercaillie feathers (feathers from a large grouse). According to tradition, the helmets of officers were decorated with one hundred feathers, more than what decorated the helmets of soldiers. The feather plumes are a tradition that continues to this day including on combat helmets, although using synthetic feathers instead.

In keeping with their long-established history, the Bersaglieri are today employed as light mechanised infantry staying true to their motto:

Ictu Impetuque Primus
“First in Striking and Assaulting”


Below is a picture of Italian Bersaglieri soldiers (note the feathers in their helmets) at Rafa, Egypt, 1917.