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Cold War Italian Armor

AB41 in Italian Republic Service

Italian Republic (1945-1954)
Medium Armored Car – Unknown Number Operated

After the Second World War, the surviving AB41 armored cars, formerly of the Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army), were put in service with the new Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army), the Polizia di Stato (English: State Police), and the Arma dei Carabinieri (English: Arm of Carabinieri).

Their presence and operational service was greatly reduced with the entry into service of British and US production armored cars, despite the fact that they still performed their work very well.

Alongside the AB41s, some powerful AB43s were also used.

Some AB41 of the 1° Reparto Celere in Rome during a parade for the Police Corp’s foundation anniversary on 18th October. Rome 1951.Source: pinterest.com

Italian Units Situation after the War

After the Second World War, Italy was largely abandoned by Allied troops which only left a small amount of troops on the peninsular territories, but they abandoned thousands of trucks, armored cars, tanks, and guns all around Italy.

The vehicles stored in depots were: Allied destroyed vehicles abandoned, Axis destroyed or damaged vehicles or intact vehicles donated by Allied forces to Italy before leaving the Peninsula. Many British and US were abandoned because it was more expensive to bring the vehicles back than build new ones.

Thousands of GMC, Dodge, and Bedford trucks, T17 Staghound and Humber Mark IV armored cars, and other vehicles were put in service with the Esercito Italiano, Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (English: Royal Carabinieri Corps) and the Corpo degli Agenti di Pubblica Sicurezza (English: Public Safety Agents Corps).

Former Axis vehicles were found in the Captured Enemy Materials (CEM) Camps placed all over the Italian peninsula. These camps were full of damaged or intact Italian and German vehicles, captured in Italy and abandoned by the Allies after cataloging them and in the case of the armed vehicles, destroying gun barrels or cannon breeches to render them unoperational. Here, the new Italian Army and police corps found hundreds of trucks that were put in service in their ranks.

Italian Political Situation after the War

The Kingdom of Italy was one of the nation’s worst off in the post-war period. Five years of war, including two within its borders, had destroyed 40% of buildings with about 500,000 civilian and military losses during the war out of about 43 million inhabitants before the war.

The Italians no longer trusted the Italian Government after dozens of years of Fascist rule and the bloody civil war of the last two years of war that, especially in northern Italy, had created great ideological rifts in the population.

The royal family of Savoia which had ruled over the nation since 1861, and had for longer in the preceding Kingdom of Sardinia, had become associated by the majority of Italians to the hardships and sufferings of Fascism and war. On 2nd June 1946, in the first votes using universal suffrage in Italy, the population had to decide the future of the nation, monarchy or republic. The republic option won with a small majority, but peace was far from arriving.

The industrial situation in the years after the Second World War was tense, with many strikes, riots, and even some armed factory occupations by the workers who demanded more rights and increased wages.

Peasants also went on strike for similar reasons with many striking and violent reprisals. Even the partisans, the true liberators of the nation together with the Allied troops, on several occasions, after the war, protested with arms against some actions of the Italian government that went against them.

Another serious problem that often involved the use of violence was the Italian police force. Due to the clauses of the 1947 Peace of Paris, the Esercito Italiano was greatly limited, with a maximum of 185,000 men and 200 tanks. The Allied powers, however, feared that the proximity to the Warsaw Pact nations to the east and the presence of still armed partisans of communist ideology would cause a coup that would overthrow the government, as had happened in Czechoslovakia in 1948. To prevent a situation like this, in the peace treaty of 1947, the Police and Carabinieri were not subject to war restrictions, and to all intents and purposes, the Police became a civilian police force organized and equipped as a military corps.

Design

The Medium Armored Car AutoBlindo Modello 1941 (English: Armored Car Model 1941) or more simply AB41, was an Italian armored car developed by FIAT and Ansaldo of which 667 were produced during the Second World War. Scores were captured and reused by many nations that participated in the conflict.

The AB41 was armed with a 20 mm L/65 Mod. 1935 automatic cannon produced by Breda and two 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine guns, one coaxial and one in a spherical support on the rear of the vehicle. It was developed as a long-range reconnaissance vehicle for the Regio Esercito and the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (English: Police of Italian Africa), the Italian colonial police.

It had an operational range of 400 km thanks to the 195 liters of petrol and a maximum velocity on road of 80 km/h. It had a number of particular characteristics, including a double driving position, one at the front and one at the rear, allowing the armored car to be driven by two different drivers who could take over driving by simply lowering a lever. This permitted this fast armored car to disengage from an enemy skirmish only by lowering a lever in the narrow mountain roads or African villages in which it fought.

It had all-drive and all-steering wheels systems giving excellent off-road performances to the vehicle. It was also equipped with a powerful 60 km range radio with a 7 meters full-extended antenna on the left side.

During the war, many AB41s were abandoned by the Germans or Italian Fascist troops and were captured by Italian Partisans or Allied troops that rarely reused them and more often abandoned them in some depots where the enemy captured material was stocked.

Operational Use with the Italian Republic

After the war, the MLI Battaglione Carristi Autieri (English: 1051st Tank Driver Regiment) in Padova, a detachment of the Centro Addestramento Carristi (English: Tanker Training Center), under British command in Rieti, the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin), and the Parco Veicoli Efficienti ed Inefficienti per Officina Riparazioni Mezzi Corazzati (English: Efficient and Inefficient Vehicle Fleet for Armored Vehicle Repair Shop) in Bologna received some AB41s from the CEM camps and from other origins that were then restored, rearmed, and delivered to new units.

AB41 of one of the three Reparti Celeri of the Polizia di Stato in 1947. It was not equipped with the radio antenna, and unfortunately, the plate is unreadable.Source. polizianellastoria.it
Colorization by Johannes Dorn

AB41 and AB43 armored cars, light tanks of the L3 series, L6/40 light reconnaissance tanks, and even M13/40 medium tanks were recovered and given with priority to the Public Order units of the Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali and Corpo degli Agenti di Pubblica Sicurezza. In October 1945, the only armored vehicles of the Italian Army units were Bren and Loyd carriers used only as prime movers. After the proclamation of the Italian Republic in 1947, these were renamed into Arma dei Carabinieri (English: Carabinieri Wing) and Polizia di Stato (English: State Police) respectively.

The Polizia di Stato officers all came from the Regio Esercito, Polizia dell’Africa Italiana, Italian paramilitary militias (such as border guards, port and railroad militias, etc.), former Italian soldiers that had fought in the Allied ranks, and former Partisans, all of which were already trained to a certain degree.

The Arma dei Carabinieri officers all came from the Regio Esercito or previous police corps, while the Esercito Italiano was composed of former Regio Esercito or Co-Belligerent Army or new recruits.

Polizia di Stato

In 1946 and 1947, the I° Reparto Celere in Rome, II° Reparto Celere in Padova, and III° Reparto Celere in Milan (English: 1st, 2nd and 3rd Fast Departments) were created.

In 1948, the Reparti mobili (English: Mobile Departments) from the I° Reparto Mobile of Turin to the XX° Reparto Mobile of Cesena were also created. In February 1948, the Polizia di Stato had in service 200 armored cars plus another 100 bought in 1950. The majority were Humber Mark IV, T17E1 Stanground, and other British or US produced vehicles, but some were also AB41 and AB43 armored cars.

These 300 armored cars were assigned in 45 compagnie mobili (English: mobile companies), 11 nuclei celeri (English: fast companies), 16 sottonuclei celeri (English: fast platoons), 14 compagnie autoblindo (English: armored car companies), and 27 sezioni autoblindo (English: armored car sections) of the 20 reparti mobili and the 3 reparti celeri or of independent units.

Two AB41s of the Polizia di Stato, license plates: ‘POLIZIA 2563’ and ‘POLIZIA 7026’ without markings but with a cop sleeping during a turn guard. The two armored cars seem to be in adequate condition. The radio antennas were removed.Source: polizianellastoria.com

Each reparto mobile and reparto celere had in its ranks a compagnia autoblindo (English: armored car company) composed of one plotone motociclisti (English: motorcyclist platoon), and 2 or 3 plotoni autoblindo (English: armored car platoons) with a total of 8 or 12 armored cars.

In the late 1940s and in the early 1950s, there were many strikes by workers in Italy, demanding better working conditions. They often ended up occupying entire factories for days, slowing down the country’s economy and creating quite a few inconveniences for the political establishment and factory owners.

Some AB41s of the I° Reparto Celere of Rome waiting to start their engines for a parade in Rome in 1950. Note the presence of half-lowered antennas painted white and the painted width-limit indicator. The first vehicle (plated ‘Polizia 8237’) also had a headlight, new horn and siren, and all the crew members were wearing Italian tank crew uniforms.Source: polizianellastoria.it

The Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI) (English: Italian Communist Party) supported workers’ strikes and trade union struggles and gained more and more support among the population. The situation caused concern in the Italian state, which feared a coup. In fact, many leaders of the PCI had been partisans during the war and some of them were on good terms with members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). For example, Enrico Berlinguer and Palmiro Togliatti, two of the leading figures in the Party at the time, were received by Stalin himself during a visit to the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. This was the reason why priority was given to equipping the public security forces with armored cars and even tanks, even at the expense of the new Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army).

The AB41s plated ‘Polizia 8237’ and ‘Polizia 7301’ of the I° Reparto Celere during a parade on 18th October 1953 in Rome for the anniversary of the Police Corp’s foundation. The AB41 plated 7301 was of the last production batch and retained the hooks for 20 liters can support on the fenders. They had new sirens on the left side, new horns on the right side, and a headlight placed where there was the commander periscope. Antennas and width-limit indicators were painted white and are present on the frontal armor alongside the Police’s coat of arms.Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

In June 1945, the Squadrone ‘F’ of the Corpo di Liberazione Nazionale (CIL) (English: National Liberation Corps) allied with the US forces, now renamed Squadrone Speciale da Ricognizione ‘F’ (English: Special Reconnaissance Squadron) in which some AB41s were deployed was disbanded together with the Reconnaissance Squadron of the Brigata Partigiana ‘Maiella’. The armored cars were probably donated to the Esercito Italiano or the police units.

The Polizia di Stato units equipped with AB41s were deployed in Padova, Rome Turin, and Udine. The city of Trieste, historically belonged to Italy, after the war was disputed between Italy and Yugoslavia. It was considered a contested area and was garrisoned by British and Yugoslav troops until 1953 when riots between the Italian and Yugoslav populations led to several dozen deaths.

Italy could not intervene but sent army and police troops to the border while diplomacy was running its course. On 5th October 1954, an agreement was signed and Trieste became Italian again.
In 1953-54, during the Trieste Crisis, the Italian Government deployed its forces along the border with Yugoslavia. Among these were the AB41s of the 2° Raggruppamento Celere from Padova’s II° Reparto Celere. These were the first that reached Trieste on 26th October 1954, when Trieste returned to Italian control.

At least three armored cars AB41 of an unknown Reparto Celere in 1950, during a break. These were not equipped with radio antennas and were probably in service with the 2° Reparto Celere of Padova.Source: polizianellastoria.it

The unit was used to escort vehicles and buses from Trieste to the other Italian cities to protect them from any type of threat until a police corp was created in the city.

After 1954, the AB41s were withdrawn from service, and almost all of them were scrapped, though a couple were sold to museums and private collectors.

Arma dei Carabinieri

In Autumn 1945, the Battaglione Mobile dei Carabinieri (English: Mobile Battalion of the Carabinieri) was created with an armored car company, a motorcyclist company, and 3 motorized companies. In April 1946, thanks to the newly repaired vehicles, the Battaglione Mobile dei Carabinieri was reorganized with a command company, a compagnia motocorazzata (English: armored/mechanized company) composed of a command platoon, 3 armored cars platoons and a motorcyclist platoon, and 3 mechanized companies.

In 1948 the Battaglione Mobile dei Carabinieri was reorganized again with three compagnie autotrasportate (English: motorized transported companies) and a compagnia motocorazzata with a total of 12 armored cars, probably the majority of the AB series, and 3 British troop carriers.

At the time, there were 13 battaglioni mobili (English: mobile battalions) and 29 nuclei autocarrati (English: motorized companies) deployed in the Italian peninsula.

There is little information about the Carabinieri service of these armored cars. The Carabinieri units were badly equipped after the war because after the Second World War. Even though the units were deployed all over Italy, but because of the losses suffered in the war and the few replacements received, the Carabinieri played only a secondary role in the security of Italy in the immediate aftermath of the war, and were mainly employed in operations against brigandage in southern Italy. A good example of this is the Legione Carabinieri in Palermo in 1947 which was still operating with an armored car of German origin abandoned in 1943 and restored to running condition.

Esercito Italiano

The AB41s in the new Esercito Italiano were completely replaced by Allied-built armored cars, mainly 3-axles M8 Greyhound heavy armored cars and T17 and T17E1 Stanground of US origin and Humber medium armored cars of British origin.

An AB41 after restoration outside the Arsenale di Torino in the late 1940s. It had non-original tires of British or US production.Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

In summer 1946, the Italian infantry division ranks were organized and each division was equipped with 60 British Bren and Loyd carriers, 11 medium armored cars, and an imprecise number of scout cars for the artillery units.

In 1947,the cavalry units assigned to the Italian infantry divisions were also reincorporated. The 1° Reggimento ‘Nizza Cavalleria’ was created in Pinerolo in February 1947, and in July 1948 was equipped with 50 Bren and Loyd carriers and 17 armored cars of unspecified models. The Scuola di Cavalleria (English: Cavalry School) that trained the drivers of the AB series during the war was in Pinerolo, so it is logical to suppose that at least among some of these 17 armored cars present in 1948 were some old AB41s.

It would have been a similar situation with a number of other regiments, including:

  • 2° Reggimento ‘Piemonte Reale Cavalleria’ founded in Merano but transferred to Florence with 11 armored cars and 60 British carriers
  • 3° Reggimento ‘Savoia Cavalleria’ of Milan with 36 British carriers and 10 armored cars in July 1947 and 51 British carriers, 14 armored cars, 4 scout cars, and even 2 Stuart light tanks in 1949.
  • 4° Reggimento ‘Genova Cavalleria’ of Albenga, then transferred to Albanuova with 19 armored cars of unspecified model in 1948.
  • 5° Reggimento ‘Novara Cavalleria’ was the only regiment of which the exact model of armored car has been recorded and was equipped with 11 T17 and T17E1 in December 1947.
Another AB41 restored by the Arsenale di Torino in 1950. It was a ‘Ferroviaria’ with steel wheels for railway patrols. Besides the armament, which was not present, and the antenna, which was not the original, the rest it is identical to a Second World War ‘Ferroviaria’. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

By late 1949, not a single AB41 or AB43 had survived in the ranks of the Italian infantry. Only the motorized and armored divisions had some few in their ranks. The only units that maintained the AB41s were some infantry regiments deployed as public order units. These armored cars were in service with the mixed armored platoons or company of these second-line units until 1954, when they were reorganized into three squadroni di cavalleria blindata (English: armored cavalry squadrons) assigned to Bologna, Florence, and Genoa with 2 plotoni carri armati, one with M5 and M5A1 Stuart light tanks and another with Italian-produced tanks, and 2 plotoni autoblindo with eight M8 Greyhounds.

At least eight AB43s and an unknown number of AB41s were converted after the war into the ‘Ferroviaria’ (English: Railway) version. This version, developed to patrol the Yugoslavian railways against the Yugoslav Partisan sabotages during the war, was readapted for the Reggimenti Genio Ferroviario (English: Railway Engineering Regiments) of the new Esercito Italiano. The adaptations were performed by the Arsenale di Torino which was one of the companies that examined and re-commissioned hundreds of light and heavy vehicles and artillery for the Italian Army.

While the AB41 and AB43 armored cars were withdrawn from the Police, Carabinieri, and Italian Army service in 1954-55, the Reggimenti Genio Ferroviario’s ABs were withdrawn only in the mid-1960s. The last ones were rearmed in 1961 with 12,7 mm Browning M2 Heavy Barrel heavy machine guns instead of the 20 mm automatic cannon. It had less penetration capabilities, but its rate of fire and muzzle velocity was superior. The armored car could also transport more 12,7 mm ammunition boxes.

An AB41 of the last production batch (recognizable by the new muffler) converted to ‘Ferroviaria’ after the war. It was restored by the Arsenale di Torino.Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

Camouflage and Markings

The AB41s of the Italian Polizia di Stato were painted entirely in amaranth, a reddish-rose shade of red. This coating was chosen after the war for all the Corpo degli Agenti di Pubblica Sicurezza vehicles because at the time sirens were hardly ever used and a red vehicle was more visible in the city traffic. Another reason for this particular color was because this particular shade of red covered all the camouflage schemes previously used on the vehicles now in the police ranks.

In the first few years, each unit applied the coat of arms independently, for example, without mentioning which unit it belonged to or which company. From 1949, the coat of arms were modified, and all the vehicles had “Reparto Celere di P.S.” (P.S. for Polizia di Stato) painted in white on the side, and a small number painted white in a circle indicating to which compagnia autoblindo it belonged to. On the front fenders, two rectangles, one with “Celere” written, meaning it belonged to a reparto celere, and on the other, the city where it was used, were painted.

An AB43 used by the Nucleo Celere of the Rome capitol police. Even if it differs in unit, the markings were the same. Note that for parade purposes the wheel rims and the mud guard sides were painted white.Source: polizianellastoria.it

The Polizia di Stato coat of arms, an eagle with open wings, and a crown were painted on the front armored plate. It was adopted in 1919 by the Corpo della Regia Guardia per la Pubblica Sicurezza, basically the Italian Police. The latin motto ‘Sub Lege Libertas’ (English: Under Legality, Freedom”) was written alongside the eagle. The registration plates were painted directly on the armor, on a white painted line.

Italy 1950, three police officers of a Compagnia Autoblindo of a Reparto Celere, probably the Rome ones, are posing with their vehicle after a training exercise. The symbol painted on the armor is the Polizia di Stato coat of arms and the Latin motto is “Sub Lege Libertas” (English: Under Legality, Freedom).Source: polizianellastoria.it
Colorization by Johannes Dorn

The Arma dei Carabinieri AB41s were probably painted in olive drab as the US vehicles. This was probably done because there was a lot of paint leftover in Italy by US troops. The vehicles also receive a small Italian flag on the left front fender and right rear fender and a military identification code on the other two fenders. The Arma dei Carabinieri was a paramilitary corps under Esercito Italiano so they received the military plates registered with EI (Esercito Italiano).

The Esercito Italiano’s AB41 were painted in olive drab or other dark green shades. Their coat of arms differs from unit to unit. Not all the vehicles received military plates painted in white or military identification code.

Conclusion

The AB41 had performed excellently during the Second World War, but with the advent of the post-war era, and available and cheap Allied-built armored cars, it was quickly withdrawn from frontline service and used by the Police Corps for public order and by the Italian Army as a railway vehicle.

The few AB41s barely survived the ‘monopoly’ of allied vehicles until the early 1950s. Although surpassed in armament and performance, the AB41s remained to represent the elegance of the Italian vehicles until the early 1960s as vehicles for the railway engineers.

AB41s of the I° Reparto Celere. Illustration by Godzilla.

AB41 Specification

Size (L-W-H): 5.20 x 1.92 x 2.48 m
Weight, battle-ready: 7.52 tonnes
Crew: 4 (front driver, rear driver, radio operator/machine gunner, and commander/gunner)
Engine: FIAT-SPA 6-cylinder petrol, 88 hp with 195 liters tank
Speed: 80 km/h
Range: 400 km
Armament: Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 (456 rounds) and Two Breda Modello 1938 8 x 59 mm machine guns (1,992 rounds)
Armor: 9 mm Hull Turret: Front: 40 mm Sides: 30 mm Rear: 15 mm
Production: 667 in total, unknown in Italian Republic service

Sources

Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume III, Tomi I and II – Nicola Pignato

Italian Armored and Reconnaissance Cars 1911-45 – Filippo Cappellano and Pier Paolo Battistelli

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One reply on “AB41 in Italian Republic Service”

I am so glad you made this article as only a few months ago I was looking for information on Italian armour immediately post war but I couldn’t find much. I really would love to see more about Italian armour in the late 1940s early 1950s. Keep up the good work.

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