“I Bersaglieri,” famous for their dramatic and extraordinary performances on the parade ground, are an elite Italian military unit. Sporting unique uniforms, with 400 beautiful black Grouse/Capercaillie feathers flowing from their wide-brimmed hats, they are recognized for their quick, high-stepping march. To witness one of their live presentations is an excellent experience.
But, the Bersaglieri are more than just a handsome “façade.” Besides their impressive ceremonial recitals, they are an aggressive, battle-hardened military fighting force.
Founded in 1836 by Captain Alessandro La Marmora, they became part of the Piemontese military. Impressed with their might and mobility, King Charles Albert ordered the Bersaglieri into the Royal Italian Army. On September 20, 1870, they earned some notoriety when they seized Rome, freeing the city of the Pope’s rule, and further consolidating Italy’s total unification.
Noted for their agility, sharp shooting skills and tough, physical standards, the Bersaglieri are fierce fighters. Not unlike the American Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALs or the Air Force Special Tactics Teams, they are capable of maneuvering as rapid independent units.
The distinctive plumes worn on the hat were once more than decorative. They served a military purpose, providing shade for the shooting eye of the marksmen, camouflage for the rifleman, and, before the days of helmets, deflected the assault of many a saber blade. Currently, these same plumes are a badge of honor, attracting new recruits and fostering esprit and solidarity among a proud Corps of soldiers
From foot soldiers to motorcycle troops, the Bersaglieri today are a formidable modern, mechanized fighting group, respected by the global community. They have performed valiantly in numerous national and international conflicts. More recently, they served as peacekeepers in the Multinational Force in Lebanon, Yugoslav and the Somali Civil Wars, and were part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Italy has embarked on a major defense reform to create a new national ‘Defense Model,’ and favors the development of a European Force. Italy’s objective, on its defense, is to have a small, well-balanced military force, high in quality. No doubt, the Bersaglieri will have a significant role in Italy’s new defense configuration.
An interesting note: during the American Civil War, Italian-American units, notably the famed 39th New York Infantry Regiment, i.e., “The Garibaldi Guard,” styled their uniforms to resemble those of the famous Italian Bersaglieri.