Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Black berets of the Battalion of Death

The Battalion of Death (Battalion Malatesta) was an Italian anarchist unit during the Spanish Civil War.
The battalion was formed by a few hundred Italian anarchist exiles in France.  It was organized and funded by Diego Abad de Santillan and commanded by the Italian Camillo Berneri.
Late March 1937, the battalion made ​​its debut parading through the Paseo de Gracia and the Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona wearing their smart uniforms and brandishing the slogan "without God nor master". It made quite an impression on the audience, partly due to the resemblance with Italian fascist units’ uniforms.

They wore black turtleneck jerseys, olive-green uniforms with ammunition belts and a black beret with a skull and a dagger badge. The battalion consisted of both men and women. 


  1. Actually both the first fascists and the first anarchist/communist formations took the uniforms of the WWI Arditi ("commandos", kind of), special units of stormtroopers of the Italian Army of the time.

    Those "Arditi" adopted the uniform of the Bersaglieri Ciclisti (bike-mounted Bersaglieri), and the "fatigue cap" of the Bersaglieri was, and still is, a red fez with a blue tassel, which was offered them by the French Zouaves during the Crimean was as a token of respect.
    So the Arditi made it black, wore black shirts and skulls insignia, signifying their contempt of death, and post-war paramilitary formations, mainly formed by demobilized troops, kept their tradition.

    BTW, nowadays the Bersaglieri have adopted also a beret (which tops their collection of headgear...) for daily wear, a black beret with a small cockade of cock feathers, resembling their typical hat with wild cock feathers...

    Paolo from Italy

    1. Thanks so much, Paolo! Excellent information, as always.