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WW2 RSI Armor

AB41 in Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service

Italian Social Republic (1943-1945)
Medium Armored Car – At Least 30 Operated

The AB41 was an Italian medium armored car jointly developed by FIAT and Ansaldo for the needs of the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) and for the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (English: Police of Italian Africa) the Italian Colonial Police. During the war, it was mainly employed by the Regio Esercito, which used more than 500 AB41s of the 667 produced until 1945.

After the Italian armistice of 8th September 1943, the armored cars, as the rest of the Italian armored fighting vehicles, were captured by the Germans. The Germans reused them in the Balkans, France, and Italy itself, while a few were recovered by the newly founded Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard) of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic).

An AB41 of the Gruppo corazzato ‘Leonessa’ during a training, probably in Piemonte in Summer 1944. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini – Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa”

Context

After the fall of Tunisia in May 1943, the Italian Fascist Government began to fragment due to the loss of public support caused by the continued military defeats and the hardships civilians had to endure.

On 25th July 1943, the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele III alongside some Royal Army officers and Fascist politicians took over control of the country. Benito Mussolini was arrested on charges of having dragged Italy into the war.

For more than two months, the Kingdom of Italy continued the war fighting the Allied powers, but under a new Monarchical government with Marshal Pietro Badoglio as prime minister.

In late August, Badoglio initiated negotiations for an armistice with the Allies. On 3rd September 1943, the Cassibile Armistice was signed and it went into effect at 19:42 on 8th September 1943.

Italian troops were taken by surprise by the Armistice announcement and were left without orders while the German troops expected these actions and quickly activated Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis). Between 8th to 23rd September 1943, German soldiers managed to kill 29,000 Italian soldiers and captured more than a million others. In addition, the Germans captured over 1.3 millions of rifles, machine guns and submachine guns, 17,058 mortar, anti-tanks, anti-aircrafts and field artillery pieces, 16,631 trucks, cars and motorcycles, and 977 armored fighting vehicles.

During Fall Achse, on 12th September 1943, a group of German Fallschirmjäger performed a daring action, Fall Eiche (English: Operation Oak), freeing Mussolini from prison. On 23rd September 1943, with German backing, he created, in the German-occupied Italian territories, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI.

Design

The Medium Armored Car AutoBlindo Modello 1941 (English: Armored Car Model 1941), or more simply AB41, was the most produced Italian armored car model during the war with 667 built. It was arguably one of the best-armored cars produced during the Second World War.

The AB41 was armed with a 20 mm Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 automatic cannon produced by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English Italian Ernesto Breda Company for Mechanical Constructions). Secondary armament consisted of 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 and had an operational range of 400 km thanks to the 195 liters of petrol and a maximum velocity on roads of 80 km/h. The AB41 had a double driving position, one at the front and one at the rear, allowing the armored car to be driven by two different drivers that could take the control only by lowering a lever. This permitted this fast armored car to quickly disengage from an enemy skirmish in narrow mountain roads and village roads. had an all-drive and all-steering wheels system, giving the vehicle excellent off-road performance.

The crew was composed of a commander/gunner, front driver, rear driver, and machine gunner/radio operator. The AB41 was also equipped with a powerful 60 km range radio with a 7 meters fully extended antenna on the left side.

Operational use

Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano

The Regio Esercito, which had ceased to exist on 8th September, was replaced by the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR . The Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano had some AB41 armored cars in its ranks.

An AB41 of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista supporting the 118. Jäger-Division, September 1943. The tires were Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’. Source: bundesarchiv.com

The first action of these armored cars for the RSI was in September 1943, when the ENR had not yet officially been created. Tank crews of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment), loyal to Benito Mussolini, took part in the actions of the 118. Jäger-Division (English: 118th Light Infantry Division) in Podgorica (modern-day Montenegro). These armored cars were the survivors of the XL Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato.

Another photo, probably of the same armored car supporting the 118. Jäger-Division in Albania. Source: bundesarchiv.com

The armored cars were then assigned to the Plotone Autoblindo (English: Armored Car Platoon) and used in escort and patrol roles.

Gruppo Corazzato ‘San Giusto’

Four AB41s were used by the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ (English: Armored Squadrons Group). These armored cars were delivered by the Germans in Gorizia and were assigned to the Plotone Autoblindo of the Squadrone Comando (English: Command Squadron. The AB41s were used by the unit to escort columns of military trucks or in anti-partisan operations.

An AB41 of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’. It had Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires and a particular three-tone camouflage. Source: pinterest.com

On 31st May 1944, two armored cars were destroyed in a partisan ambush near Dobraule di Santa Croce. A FIAT 665NM Scudato armored personnel carrier was also destroyed in this engagement. The last two AB41s were still in service on 8th April 1945, when the last existing documents of the unit mention the armored cars in its ranks. One was deployed at Ruppa to help the local garrison, while the last one was subject to problems, probably lacking a trained crew, and was left in storage at the unit’s headquarters in Mariano del Friuli.

Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani

The Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani or RAP (English: Anti-Partisans Group) was created in summer 1944 in Turin. It consisted of four Battaglioni ‘Arditi’ (English: Arditi Battalions – Arditi in Italian literally means ‘The Daring [Ones]’). The 1° Battaglione had Bersaglieri (Italian assault infantry) and the 2° Battaglione had Alpini (mountain troops). There were also an artillery group, a cavalry group, and an engineer battalion. This unit had the task of fighting the partisans in the valleys near the city of Turin. The Partisans had managed to increasingly strike at valuable targets during the night. They also contacted factory workers with the aim of organizing strikes and protests.

In late 1944, the unit was equipped with an AB41 delivered by the German Aufstellung-Süd (English: Lineup-South). It was taken from the Deposito di Caselle (English: Caselle Depot) and assigned to the Compagnia Esplorante (English: Reconnaissance Company) of the Group. On 2nd November 1944, the RAP, together with the AB41, participated in the assault on the city of Alba, which was occupied by a substantial Partisan force.

The AB41 armored car of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani lined up with soldiers and the Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the unit in Piazza Castello in Turin on 23rd March 1945. It had an interesting three-tone camouflage and a Repubblica Sociale Italiana flag painted on the side, near the opened door. Source: … Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45

The fate of the RAP’s armored car is unknown. It was probably present during the fight against the Partisans in Cisterna d’Asti on 6th April 1945 where the unit lost its L6/40 due to a mechanical failure and a Lancia Lince captured intact by the Partisans. Some sources claim that the AB41 was destroyed in that fight, while others claim that during that action against the Partisans, only an AB41 was damaged and it was one of the ‘Leonessa’.

During the Partisan uprising in the city of Turin, the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani was deployed to defend the city and their L3 light tanks were used, but nothing is known about the armored car.

The surviving vehicles of the unit left Turin the night between 27th and 28th April 1945, reaching Strambino Romano where they surrendered to US troops on 5th May.

Some damaged vehicles were left in the barrack of Via Arsenale in Turin, the unit’s headquarters.

Other ENR Usage

The Nucleo Esplorante (English: Reconnaissance Squad) of the Plotone Cavalleria da Combattimento (English: Combat Cavalry Platoon) of the Raggruppamento ‘Cacciatori degli Appennini’ received an unknown number of armored cars, some sources claim six, of which one was probably an AB41, while the others were of German origin. The 27° Deposito Misto (English: 27th Mixed Depot) in Verona had 2 AB41s, but their service is unknown.

Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana and Camicie Nere

On 23rd September 1943, together with the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR was also created. This was, theoretically, a military police corps but, in fact, acted as a second-line army countering the actions of partisan units.

On 26th June 1944, the Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (English: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts), better known as the ‘Camicie Nere’ (English: Black Shirt) or ‘Brigate Nere’ (English: Black Brigades), were constituted and put under the control of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana. These units were assigned to each city to maintain public order and to counter partisan actions.

These second-line units, due to the lack of vehicles and the desperate situation of the Axis troops in the last years of war, were equipped with few armored vehicles.

Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) was an exception. In fact, this GNR unit, first based in Brescia and, from January 1944, in Turin, was the largest of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana between 1943 and 1945. It grouped as many as 18 AB41s in its ranks in the 18 months of its existence. Some sources claim that the ‘Leonessa’ also had some AB43s, but there is no photographic evidence of this.

An AB41 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana in the Lamarmora Barrack in Turin. It had Pirelli tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires but the spare wheel was a Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ for sandy soils. The photo was taken in early to mid-1944 when the armored cars were in Kaki Sahariano monochrome camouflage. A SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta light armored personnel carrier is parked to the right of the AB41. Source: Source: pinterest.com

On 25th February 1945, the unit still had 12 armored cars in service. It is not known if this refers only to the AB41s or to all the armored wheeled vehicles, including the Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43.

The 18 armored cars were recovered from various military depots from late September 1943 to January 1944. They were used in the various detachments of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Emilia, Lombardia, Romagna and Piemonte. The AB41s deployed in Lombardia were used to escort columns of supply trucks from Milan to Bergamo and Brescia and to patrol the Valtellina roads to prevent Partisan ambushes and sabotage.

Another photo of an AB41 in the Lamarmora barrack in Turin getting ready for a night patrol. It had a Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ spare wheel. Note the ‘m’ with lictorian beam and the GNR abbreviation. Source: … Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45

In Piacenza, the 3ª Compagnia of the ‘Leonessa’ arrived on 2nd January 1945, with 7 officers, 113 NCOs and soldiers, an M15/42 medium tank, an L6/40 light tank, 3 L3 light tanks, 2 AB41s, and 10 armored personnel carriers. The unit was tasked with defending the few oil wells of the Azienda Generale Italiana Petroli or AGIP (English: General Italian Oil Company) and supported anti-partisan operations in Val Trebbia and in the Piacenza Apennines. In February, the 4ª Compagnia, with 2 AB41s, was also sent to Piacenza as a reinforcement for the 3ª Compagnia.

One of these armored cars was deployed at Valleia, together with a platoon of the 4ª Compagnia, under the command of Sub-Brigadier Nazzarri. This unit was forced to retreat in late-February, joining the garrison of Gropparello. In Gropparello, 24 soldiers of the 3ª Compagnia of the ‘Leonessa’, together with the soldiers of the platoon from Valleia, were surrounded by partisans. These attacked the medieval castle where the Fascists had barricaded themselves with a 47/32 cannon, forcing them to surrender. When the soldiers surrendered on 2nd March 1945, the Partisans captured the AB41 and an armored personnel carrier.

An AB41 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ during a training in Summer 1944. It had the Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tire for sandy soils and the GNR coat of arms on the sides, frontal fenders, and rear hatch of the turret. Source: … Come il Diamante and I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45, I Carristi di Mussolini – Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MVSN alla RSI

On 4th March 1945, some reinforcements arrived in Gropparello and the Partisans were forced to run away and the vehicles were recaptured. On 20th April 1945, the general order to retreat further north was received, and all the garrisoned cities were abandoned with the help of trucks escorted by an AB41, bringing the remnants of the unit to Piacenza.

From 15th April 1945, the garrisons farthest from Piacenza were evacuated to avoid partisan attacks. The only AB41 of the ‘Leonessa’ in working condition in the Piacenza region was deployed to escort the trucks that transported the soldiers to Piacenza. The armored car was commanded by Legionnaire Medoro Minetti.

At some point between 16th April to 20th April, the armored car was attacked by a US ground attack plane. The armored car hid itself in a bomb crater on the road and the Allied plane, after a brief attack, returned back from where it came. When the airplane disappeared, the armored car restarted its journey, but when coming out of the crater, the differential broke. The armored car was then towed by a truck to Piacenza, where the mechanics had to inform Legionnaire Minetti that the damage was not repairable in Piacenza because of a lack of spare parts.

On 23rd April 1945, when the Fascist forces left Piacenza, Minetti left the city on board his armored car, towed by the other AB41 of the ‘Leonessa’. It arrived in San Rocco al Porto where it waited for three days to be loaded in a ferry that transported the armored car on the other side of the Po River. On the night of 25th and 26th April 1945, Legionnaire Minetti received the order to return to Piacenza with his armored car. He reached the city, now towed by a Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck, at 07:00 on 26th April.

In the province of Turin, where the majority of the armored cars (10) were deployed, some AB41s supported dozens of Italian or German anti-partisan operations in the Val di Susa. They supported the attack on De Gaulle’s Free French forces, which tried to occupy the 3,130 m high Batteria dello Chaberton fort on Mont Chaberton.

In March 1944, an AB41 of the ‘Leonessa’ was used, together with about 500 soldiers of the Battaglione ‘Debica’ of the Italienische Waffenverbände der SS (English: Italian SS Weapons Units), against the Partisan’s IV Brigata Partigiana ‘Pisacane’ (English: 4th Partisan Brigade) in the Valle Lucerna, near Pinerolo.

On 21st March 1944, an AB41 commanded by Second Lieutenant Valerio Cappelli, with driver Equilio Cerri, and radio operator Mario Bonomi, and 50 militants of the ‘Leonessa’ were deployed in Val Chisone and Val Pellice on anti-partisan duties. During a patrol, the Partisans managed to separate the armored car and a medium tank (the only two vehicles of the patrol) from the rest of the soldiers using an explosion. The vehicles were then attacked with hand grenades and improvised explosive devices thrown from above. The AB41 was hit and fell, ending up in a creek. The three crew members died in the incident.

After March 1944, the 1ª Compagnia and 2ª Compagnia, deployed in Turin, operated almost every day against the Partisan brigades in the sector, breaking through their roadblocks towards the Valle d’Aosta and Valle di Susa.

Between 10th and 18th May 1944, an AB41 commanded by Second Lieutenant Raffaele Cocomello was deployed during Operazione Habicht, an anti-partisan operation between Val Susa, Val Chisone, and Valle del Sangone. The armored car was under the orders of Oberstleutenant Weiss, the commander of the SS-Polizei-Regiment 15 (English: 15th SS Police Regiment), and was used as a liaison and escort vehicle.

The first public appearance of the unit was on 23rd May 1944, when some vehicles of the ‘Leonessa’, including at least one AB41, participated in a parade from the Porta Nuova train station to Piazza Castello, Turin’s main square together with other Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ equipment.

On 28th May 1944, a vast anti-partisan operation in the area north of Turin started, called Operation Hamburg, and the ‘Leonessa’ took part in it. A company-seized force of the Gruppo Corazzato, with two tanks and two armored cars (models not specified), were deployed.

In June 1944, the continuous arrival of volunteer soldiers and the recovery of armored vehicles allowed the reorganization of the two companies. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was now composed of the 1ª Compagnia Carri (English: 1st Tanks Company) equipped with tanks, 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo (English: 2nd Armored Car Company) equipped with armored cars and autoprotette (equivalent for English: armored personnel carriers), and the 3ª Compagnia Arditi (English: 3rd Arditi Company) with infantry.

A company-seized force with 5 tanks of the ‘M’ series and 10 AB41s was used to reoccupy Asti and Val d’Ossola in Autumn 1944. In the same period, an AB41 was detached to Novara, where it was assigned temporarily to the Brigata Nera ‘Cristina’ that extensively used the vehicle in anti-partisan actions.

A propaganda film of Italian Istituto Luce showing Fascist and Italian SS soldiers from the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (italienische Nr. 1) (English: 29th SS Mechanized Division Division (Italian No. 1)) during on 1st June 1944. It also shows one of the six PaK 40 anti-tank gun of the Brigata SS Italiana (English: Italian SS Brigate) of Pinerolo.

The AB41 shown in the video was from the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ as the coat of arms on the turret rear suggests.
In the book ‘…Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-45’ the authors Marco Nava and Sergio Corbatti mention that this video was taken during Operazione ‘Nachtigall’ (English: Operation Nightingale) anti-partisan operation.

Between 29th July and 20th August 1944, two AB41s and some tanks were used in an anti-partisan operation between Val Susa, Val Chisone, and Valle del Sangone, called Operazione ‘Nachtigall’. An AB41 was used against a roadblock in Perrero on 7th August 1944 created by the Partisans to block the road for the Germanasca Valley to the ‘Leonessa’ units supported by the Kampfgruppe ‘Celebrano’ of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (italienische Nr. 1).

The AB41 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ used near Perrero during Operazione ‘Nachtigall’. Source: … Come il Diamante, italie1935-45.com and I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45

From 5th September to 15th September, Operazione Straßburg took place. When the operation was completed, an AB41 was placed at the town hall of Viù, near Germaniano in Val di Susa. The armored car had been immobilized by the launch of improvised explosive devices and the wounded and terrified crew had barricaded themselves inside. Only the intervention of the Italian SS allowed the soldiers to be evacuated and hospitalized, but the car could not be repaired.

A platoon from the 1ª Compagnia of Turin, with 2 AB41s and three M14/41 medium tanks from the 2ª Compagnia, were used during the reoccupation of Alba, near Cuneo, on 2nd November 1944.

On 21st February 1945, two AB41s, 2 M13/40 medium tanks, and some armored personnel carriers took part in an anti-partisan operation in the Villanova d’Asti region. The last major clashes between the ‘Leonessa’ and the Partisans took place in March 1945.

One of these actions, started on 6th March 1945, had the objective of reoccupying the towns of Cisterna d’Asti and Santo Stefano Roero, captured in the previous days by the Partisans that also sabotaged the Genoa to Turin railway.

In Santo Stefano Roero, between 8th and 9th March, a column composed of a platoon of the 1ª Compagnia Carri and two platoons of the 3ª Compagnia Arditi equipped with a SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta and one AB41 (in the book 1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione writer Marco Nava mentions the presence of two AB41s of the unit, maybe one was of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani).

Some units from the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani with a Lancia Lince scout car, about 80 militiamen of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (English: 1st Black Brigade), a company of the Battaglione Ordine Pubblico (English: Public Order Battalion) of Turin, the Compagnia Arditi Sciatori (English: Arditi Skiers Company), and 25 soldiers of the Distaccamento ‘Umberto Cumero’ of the Xª Divisione MAS (English: 10th MAS Division) for a total of about 350 soldiers and auxiliaries was ambushed by about 1,000 Partisans. The partisan units were: 6ª Divisione Autonoma Alpina ‘Asti’ (English: 6th Alpine Mountain Division) with three brigades, Divisione Matteotti ‘Tre Confini’ (Matteotti Division) composed of socialist Partisans with five brigades, and 103ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Rolandino’ (English: 103rd Garibaldi Division) composed of communist Partisans.

The AB41 commanded by Lieutenant Fossati was the leading vehicle of the column, followed by a FIAT 666NM truck with a trailer full of militiamen, Lieutenant Berneschi’s SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta, and some more trucks full of soldiers and a Lancia Lince scout car of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani.

The bullets pierced one of the AB41’s tires, while the FIAT 666NM behind was set alight, with many of the soldiers on board killed. Lieutenant Fossati was wounded by a ricocheting bullet as he got out of the armored car trying to repair the pierced tire. In the afternoon, with the help of some artillery pieces of the RAP which had arrived from Turin, the two towns were occupied by the Fascist forces. In the fighting on 8th March, 9 Fascist soldiers were killed and 32 were wounded, while the Partisans suffered only minor losses.

On 23rd March 1945, the AB41s took part in the last Fascist parade in Turin’s streets. They shared the fate of the Fascist troops in the city. After 24th April 1945, some tanks were deployed to protect strategic points in the city, while the armored cars were used to patrol the streets and as a reserve to launch counterattacks. On 26th April 1945, the Partisans attacked the city, occupying the town hall, the railway stations, some manufacturing plants, and the Prefecture of Turin, which was protected by two M13/40 tanks and an AB41.

Tanks and armored cars in the city were used to counterattack the Partisan forces. Around 18:00 the same day, 4 tanks, 3 armored cars (models unknown), a platoon of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, and one of the I Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ attacked and recaptured the barracks on Cernaia Street, the headquarters of the Black Brigade. The intervention of an ‘M’ series tank and an AB41 armored car made it possible to regain control of the town hall and free Podestà (Major) Michele Fassio. For the rest of the night, two armored cars (again, the models are unknown) and 5 tanks continued to patrol the part of the city still in Fascist hands. It was clear that it was impossible to repel the Partisans, so the Fascist command in Turin decided to resist to the bitter end, hoping for the arrival of Anglo-American troops to surrender to them.

On 27th April 1945, an armored car escorted a truck of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ to the Casa Littoria, the headquarters of the Italian Fascist Party of Turin, at Carlo Alberto Street number 10. There, a group of Avanguardisti of the ‘Fiamme Bianche’ (English: White Flames) had barricaded themselves in for unknown reasons. The Avanguardisti were 14 to 18 years olds who voluntarily joined the RSI troops but, being too young, were not assigned to front line units. The armored car (of unknown model) managed to provide adequate supporting fire, helping evacuate all the young men from the building, escorting them to safety at the Caserma Cernaia barrack.

The situation worsened by the minute so, at 01:40 on April 28th 1945, all the surviving Fascist forces in the city, about 5,000 soldiers, gathered in Piazza Castello and fled towards Lombardia to gather at the “Ridotto Alpino Repubblicano” (English: Republican Alpine Gathering). The protection of the column of trucks was entrusted to the tanks and armored cars of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’. The column reached Valtellina and waited with about 10,000 more men until 5th May 1945, when they surrendered to Anglo-American troops.

Two of the Gruppo Corazzato’s armored cars were captured by the Partisans in the Caserma ‘Cavalli’ barrack on 1st May 1945, along with a medium tank and a P26/40.

Other GNR Units

Two AB41s were deployed to Brescia and then, on 26th April 1945, they reached Bergamo, where the Batteria Leggera Motorizzata (English. Light Motorized Battery) was deployed. One of the two armored cars broke its rear axle shaft and it was impossible to repair it in a short time, so it was set on fire by its crew. The surviving armored car (which some veterans claim was an AB43) joined the column that had to reach Valtellina from Bergamo, where all the forces still faithful to Mussolini would form the last resistance to the Allied forces. During the night march (in order to avoid Allied air attacks) the AB lost the rest of the column and reached Como, where it was blocked and captured by the Partisans.

The Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: Provincial Command of the GNR) in Varese had in its ranks an AB41 armored car recovered somewhere in its territory by the commander of the Compagnia Comando (English: Company Command), Captain Michaud. Used to escort convoys, in September 1944, it was meant to be used in an anti-partisan operation in Val d’Ossola, but it was unable to because of a mechanical failure, brought back to Varese for repairs, and then given to another GNR unit.

The AB41 and a medium tank of the ‘M’ series inspected by some officers of the Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana. Source: Paolo Crippa

In the first months after September 1943, the Battaglione ‘M’ ‘9 Settembre’ (English: ‘M’ Battalion 9th September), one of Mussolini’s most loyal units (they fought after 9th September 1943 along with the Germans), had in its ranks an AB41. During its operations with the Bansen Battalion of the 2. Regiment of the Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg, another 5 AB41 armored cars were put in service with this unit. The unit was used by the Germans as an anti-partisan unit in the rear of the Gustav Defensive Line.

Afterward, it was sent to the rear of the Ortona, where it carried out more anti-partisan activities. Before the transfer to the province of Macerata, the Battalion was formally disbanded from the Brandenburg Division and officially accepted in the Republican Army of the RSI with the denomination of I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ (English: 1st M Black Brigade Battalion). In the Marche region, the unit established its headquarters in Camerino and carried out some counter-partisan operations together with Kampfgruppe Hettinger of the 3. Regiment of the Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg.

One of the AB41s of the I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ during a training exercise in the Marche region. It had a German-style camouflage and Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires. The soldier standing near the armored car is armed with a German MG42. Source: Paolo Crippa

After the breakthrough at Cassino, the unit withdrew and, passing through Pesaro and Castrocaro, reached Val d’Aosta on 20th September. After a short operational period, the Battalion followed the destiny of the Brandenburg Division, on which it still depended, and fought for the defense of the Reich in East Prussia until January 1945. The armored cars were destroyed by Allied ground attack planes near Vittorio Veneto during the return to Italy on 29th and 30th April 1945.

The same armored car in the same training exercise. The German-style camouflage is difficult to see while the German-style identification number ‘752’ is visible. The soldiers were armed with Moschetto Automatico Beretta Modello 1938 Submachine gun and Carcano Modello 1891/1938 Cavalleria. Source: Paolo Crippa

The Brigata Nera Mobile ‘Attilio Pappalardo’ (English: Mobile Black Brigade) of Bologna had four AB41s assigned to the Compagnia Corazzata ‘Tupin’ commanded by Captain Cortonesi. During 1944, the streets of Emilia Romagna were crossed weekly by German and Italian convoys heading to the front and were threatened by attacks and ambushes. The brigade kept the roads safe and had the reputation of being the most ruthless Black Brigade in Italy.

In late summer 1944, 2 AB41s of the Black Brigade, under Cortonesi’s command, were deployed in Novara to act as personal bodyguards of Prefect Vezzalini. On 25th April 1945, the part of the ‘Tupin’ (in Emilian dialect Mouses) deployed in Novara tried to reach Como with 2 AB41s and a truck. They attempted to reach Mussolini’s column of vehicles towards Valtellina, but were blocked by Partisans on a narrow mountain road.

Camouflage and Markings

The AB41s of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana in some cases received some particular camouflages. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘San Giusto’ covered the original Kaki Sahariano Chiaro (English: Light Saharan Khaki) monochrome scheme of its armored cars with medium brown and dark green wavy stripes.

The Raggruppamento Anti partigiani covered its armored car with a similar three-tone scheme but with different types of stripes and with a small flag of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana on the superstructure’s side.

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ AB41s were painted in Kaki Sahariano Chiaro until mid-1944 when they were repainted with a three-tone camouflage scheme with dark green and reddish brown spots. The coat of arms was the red ‘m’ intersected by a lictorian beams and with the acronym GNR painted in red. These were applied on the superstructure’s sides, turret rear, and front fenders. When they received the new camouflage scheme, the coat of arms were covered in some vehicles.

The AB41 of the Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana received unusual dark green and reddish brown spots painted on the original khaki camouflage.

Some of the AB41s of the I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ received a German-style splintered scheme with defined outlined three-tone camouflage. It can be noticed in a few photos, for example, the one of the soldier with the MG42 in front of the armored car. The colors were probably the original Kaki Sahariano Chiaro and gray-green with brown stripes. The numbers on the turret were painted in red with white outlines.

Another photo of the AB41 of the I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ with splintered with defined outlined three-tone camouflage. The commander is scanning the horizon in search of Partisans. Source: Paolo Crippa

In a photo of 28th March 1944, Lieutenant Colacino, commander of the I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ poses near an AB41 in the Marche region. The vehicle was painted in standard Kaki Sahariano Chiaro. This makes us presume that not all the armored cars were painted with a German-style camouflage even if we do not have the certainty that this armored car belonged to the unit.

The photo of the AB41 with Lieutenant Colacino in Sarnano on 28th March 1944. Source: … Come il Diamante, italie1935-45.com and I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45

Conclusion

The AB41 medium armored car was a great reconnaissance vehicle that demonstrated its performance also with poorly trained and equipped troops of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana that used it almost exclusively in anti-partisans and escorting operations. The majority of the AB41 armored cars in service with the RSI were recovered from Regio Esercito and were slowly repaired to be used by the new Fascist units loyal to Benito Mussolini.

Autoblinda AB41 of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani in its three tone camouflage.
Autoblinda AB41 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in its standard Kaki Sahariano Chiaro monochrome camouflage. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

AB41 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.20 x 1.92 x 2.48 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 7.52 tons
Crew 4 (front driver, rear driver, machine gunner/loader, and vehicle commander/gunner)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA 6-cylinder petrol, 88 hp with 195 liters tank
Speed Road Speed: 80 km/h
Off-Road Speed: 50 km/h
Range 400 km
Armament Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 (456 rounds) and Two Breda Modello 1938 8 x 59 mm medium machine guns (1992 rounds)
Armor 8.5 mm Hull
Turret Front: 40 mm
Sides: 30 mm
Rear: 15 mm
In service with the Repubblica Sociale Italiana 667 in total, unknown in RSI service

Sources

I Carristi di Mussolini – Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MVSN alla RSI – Paolo Crippa
… Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45 – Marco Nava and Sergio Corbatti
I Mezzi Corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa
Italian Armored & Reconnaissance Cars 1911-45 – Filippo Castellano and Pier Paolo Battistelli
1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione – Marco Nava

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